Thames gets tough
Thames Water, which serves London and the Thames Valley, is Britain’s biggest water and sewerage company, supplying more than a tonne of water a week on average to each of its 8.7 million drinking water customers, or some 2,600m litres per day.
As you would imagine, for a firm that prides itself on its ability to safely recycle 13.8 million peoples’ wastewater back into the environment – 2,800 million litres of sewage per day, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year – it runs a tight ship.
Doing so requires consistent communications in the office, on-site and in the field. To carry out all repair and maintenance activity on its water and wastewater network, it has been using approximately 1,090, mainly 2G, Toughbooks to manage its mobile field force, with every technician receiving their daily workload direct via the mobile network.
However, in a bid to drive efficiency and accuracy in the field the company is currently refreshing its deployment with 2,000 new Toughbooks from Panasonic.
As Aiden Heke, head of IS at Thames Water explains, the new Toughbooks are part of a strategic move that involves streamlining processes across the board for the firm: ‘Over the course of 2011, we’ll be refreshing our Toughbooks to the latest model to give our employees GPS and an on-board camera,’ he says. ‘This is part of a large programme of investment that includes replacing our mobile work management systems with the latest Click Software and SAP applications.
‘We’ll also be extending the use of mobile devices across our business and have selected Panasonic’s Ultra Mobile PC – CF-U1 – where a smaller, lighter, but equally powerful unit is required.
‘Like the Toughbook, these users will be plugged into our mobile network, giving them better access to the company intranet and other business systems.’
The move has signalled the extension of an existing eight-year relationship with the vendor, as it was felt that the new Toughbook deployment would prove an essential part of the company’s work and asset management transformation programme.
As the new computers are rolled out, mobile field workers on the Below Ground and New Connection teams will begin using the Panasonic Toughbook CF-19 as they go about their tasks, while the Above Ground engineers and Water Quality Sampling teams will use the smaller handheld PC, the Toughbook CF-U1.
Thames hopes the use of the devices will help make its business transformation programme as smooth as possible, with the new tools enabling improved asset management and efficiency, as
well as more effective job allocation, scheduling, reporting and communication.
All devices are fitted with an integrated GPS system to help locate network pipes, correctly record work against other fixed assets and provide live information to the scheduling teams to enable better customer experience management.
Addressing the job in hand
The use of wireless in conjunction with a new workflow management solution is enabling the National Grid to drive faster response times and improve operational efficiency.
The National Grid is busy rolling out a new SAP-based system to its frontline gas field force to replace the multiple systems currently in use.
Bringing together asset management, work scheduling, mobile and map applications for the company’s gas emergency, repair and maintenance and construction team crews, the move is part of its quest to become the most efficient and effective gas business in the UK.
Jobs will be issued from the National Grid’s operational centre and sent wirelessly to the 4,500 field engineers via Toughbooks fitted in their vans.
The Gas Distribution Front Office (GDFO) programme is a significant investment for National Grid and as such is being rolled out in three phases. At the heart of the new system is SAP and three supplementary applications – ClickSoftware, ESRI and Syclo – which provide the specialist software for scheduling, dispatch, GIS and mobile that’s required in order for staff to be able to put in good response times.
With the first release of GDFO having gone to over 1,000 maintenance employees it is now being rolled out to a further 1,200 emergency response staff, along with an integrated CRM system for a new customer centre.
This should provide much greater information on job progress and on previous work at a customer’s premises, enabling rapid wireless communication to and from the field in response to customers’ needs. The new system uses GPS technology to locate the nearest available team and auto allocation of emergency jobs wirelessly to improve scheduling and dispatch of emergency work.
The third and final stage of the rollout includes repair teams and putting all new construction and gas mains replacement work through the new system.
National Grid is using the integrated GIS software to pinpoint asset locations and record the work done directly using the map interface. It hopes this will enable better information to flow between teams on the nature of the work undertaken and enable it to produce faster updates on assets and improve response times in the process.
As Peter Massey, director of transformation explains, the new system will deliver big benefits to customers, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of operations.
‘The use of wireless technology provides us with faster response times, visibility of where our teams are and who best to send to respond to customer needs,’ he says.
While it is expected the new solutions will enable better ways of working, there are other benefits too. A single view of assets is expected to be one of those, as is the ability to swiftly match any field member of staff to a job, thereby limiting staff downtime.
‘The systems will help us to properly profile our workload and resources across the year and dispatch work to the right individuals with the right skills at the right time,’ he adds. ‘We have a challenge to become more efficient and GDFO forms the foundation to enable the wider transformation of our business.’