Mobile computing delivers rapid ROI

Tim McCloskey,
Luminant Worldwide Corporation

When searching for ways to lower costs and increase productivity in the hyper-competitive era of deregulation, utility companies should consider the benefits offered by mobile computing solutions for field service employees. Not only do these solutions allow companies to maximize their technology investments, they also lead to substantial returns on investment (ROI).

Using traditional paper-based methods of data capture, field service personnel can become decoupled from their home offices and operations centers-necessitating more frequent trips to and from the office. Mobile computing solutions help field employees input and retrieve data from remote locations using personal digital assistants (PDAs), which lead to improved communication with home offices. This way, field technicians spend more time working and less time traveling to chase paper-based content. The resulting streamlined processes help companies reap savings rewards as early as the first day the technology is deployed. Benefits of mobile computing include:

  • reduced expenses through operational efficiencies;
  • increased work force mobility and utilization;
  • automation of manual tasks and business processes;
  • streamlined data collection and manipulation;
  • real-time, personalized data delivered to field personnel;
  • minimized data entry errors; and
  • improved employee morale.

Mobile computing technology enables streamlined operations via wirelessly synchronized data. Field service personnel have access to production data reports, health, safety and environmental bulletins, work orders, e-mail and custom applications. Virtually any information currently accessible at the office and operations center can be deployed to the mobile device.

Examples include GPS, GIS and field site information applications.

All data can be personalized to fit the needs of each individual. Portal technology permits operations centers to push role-based content to field technicians through the handheld devices. The elimination of extraneous data ensures optimal communication transfer time and mobile device performance.

Where the issuance and maintenance of controlled documents is a business requirement, deployment of wireless technology helps to ensure that the latest approved versions are available. Current approved document versions are posted to the portal and transferred automatically to mobile devices upon synchronization. Field service personnel accustomed to accessing paper-based documents in their vehicles have ready access to all the information they need on the handheld PDA.

Paper-based forms, reports and checklists can be completely eliminated in favor of electronic data capture. It is possible to transfer data instantaneously if a communication infrastructure is in place to support pervasive connectivity. If a constant network connection is not available or if the coverage is spotty, data can be cached on the mobile computers and transferred to operations center databases upon synchronization. When working in “disconnected” mode, the handheld computers can synchronize data through a variety of methods such as a wireless modem, wire-line modem or ethernet connection.

Electronic forms that replace paper-based documents can be constructed with a variety of graphic elements, such as drop-down boxes, radio buttons and check boxes. These elements simplify and speed up data entry while increasing accuracy. Field service technicians generally find the new technology easy to assimilate. Deployment of wireless applications typically requires only a two- to three-hour training session.

The typical timeframe for deploying Luminant’s mobile solutions is 60 to 90 days, ensuring quick time to market. Luminant’s technical architecture is designed to be device-, operating system- and application-independent. This means that existing investments in technological infrastructure can be leveraged and scaled into a comprehensive wireless deployment.

Strong vendor alliances are key to implementing the optimal solution. To deliver the most powerful tools to clients, Luminant partners with leading software and hardware technology firms to deploy the latest in mobile infrastructures.

The benefits available from these tech-nical solutions are substantial and demonstrable. From improved reporting and analytical tools to simplified audit capabilities, mobile solutions offer a tangible return on investment.

McCloskey can be reached at Tim.McCloskey @luminant.com.

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