On Thursday, I participated in the Information Technology in the Workplace conference in Omaha.
My favorite presentation of the day was by the Customer Operations Technology group of the Omaha Public Power District. The team described “OPPD?s Mobility project which implemented the hardware, software and communications technology to support a mobile computing environment. The implementation included mobile workforce management software which provides scheduling, routing and dispatching of service orders to field technicians.”
Their project was a great example of an organization successfully following the “seven steps to the power of mobility” described in my book.
Here’s what I remember from their talk set against the seven steps:
- Digitize: In my book, I ask “What are the processes that define your business and what data is essential to the success of these processes?” For OPPD, that data includes maps of their service area with the equipment they maintain overlaid and all manner of information about that equipment. The Customer Operations Technology group has made that digitized information available to their field workers through the Mobility project.
- Connect: I also ask “now that you’ve digitized your business, how will open networks amplify the value of your digitized data?” One powerful application that OPPD has built is a mash-up of Google Maps with location data from work crews moving across the district.
- Evaluate: “Will mobilizing your service make your employees more efficient? Will it accelerate information flow, resulting in fewer costly mistakes? Will it eliminate paper processes and duplication of effort? Will mobilization reduce data entry requirements and associated human errors?” Prior to the Mobility project, OPPD technicians would make a paper record of their activities. Those records would then be entered into the District’s systems by the Data Entry department the next day. Today, a technician has to enter very little data into a mobile device. The rest of the information is automatically populated across the wireless network from centralized databases and based on current time and location.
- Limit: “There are four factors around which you should consider limiting the mobilization of your product, service, or process… wireless technology, network provider, geography, activities.” OPPD’s initial Mobility deployment used WiFi at their main depot and a private wireless data network while technicians were scattered across the district. They limited some activities to occur while the vehicles and devices were within the WiFi network footprint to ensure reasonable performance and support.
- Position: “Building mobility into your product, service, or process requires investment and introduces change for your employees and customers. That change may be embraced, or it may be rejected.” In introducing the Mobility project, the Customer Operations Technology group had to ensure that the changes introduced were acceptable to union leadership. Specific concerns included classification of work between technicians and data entry clerks, as well as GPS-based location tracking of employees. At first, employees were wary of the new technology, but have come to embrace it and now complain when the GPS navigation tool isn’t working.
- Protect: “The most obvious new expenses are from mobile devices and the service plans to keep your employees connected.” OPPD technicians often need to go off-road to reach service locations. Once they arrive at the service site, the mobile devices get carried out of the vehicle into extreme environments. The Customer Operations Technology group carefully researched devices that could handle the vibration, mud, cold, heat, and impact they were likely to experience in real world use. The district also needed to invest to retrofit vehicles to effectively hold the new equipment.
- Learn: “In reality, you simply can’t know how your customers and employees are going to change their behaviors once you take the first steps into mobility.” The first feedback the Customer Operations Technology group heard from users was that the private wireless data network wasn’t fast enough to support the level of activity technicians were generating. By upgrading to Sprint’s EV-DO network, the group increased data throughput from 9.6kpbs up to nearly a megabit per second. Now that the faster network is in place, technicians are asking for field-access to more internal applications. The Customer Operations Technology group counts these requests as an indicator of success of the overall project.
It was exciting to hear OPPD’s success and the value that Mobility is creating for them.? Please feel free to share your success stories with me!
Now playing: Caedmon’s Call – Trouble