Raising the service bar with wireless mobile communications

David Rosi

Cerulean Technology, Inc.

In an economy where information flow is just as important as cash flow, providing mobile workers with access to business-critical data can help utility companies increase employee productivity and efficiency so they can provide better customer service.

Customer service has always been important in the utility industry. But deregulation has raised the service bar even further, as utility companies are now seeing a direct correlation between service and profitability. Where utilities` rates used to be driven by the cost to deliver service, in the competitive future performance-based rates will tie service to profits. As they move forward in this competitive environment, utilities are investing heavily in wireless mobile communication to better serve their customers. But before they take the leap, utility companies should carefully consider their mobile communications goals before spending millions of dollars on an application that doesn`t meet their particular needs.

Wireless mobile communication technology enables utilities to provide their workforce with information in the field, such as dispatch, billing and inventory. These systems enable mobile workers to access multiple information systems and the Internet simultaneously and receive answers in real time. Information such as service call dispatches, customer billing history, and product service descriptions can help field workers increase productivity and provide better service.

Until now, when utilities wanted to implement this technology they had to install complex, expensive, back-office applications. If a utility company wanted to make outage management information available to the field, for example, it first had to implement the vendor`s proprietary outage management application. Gaining mobile access to incremental information requires yet another module. Once installed, the vendor could then make that information available to the field through wireless communications.

A new group of mobile application technology providers are emerging who offer utilities a simpler, highly customizable, more cost-effective alternative. Instead of forcing a utility company to implement an entire back-office application, these vendors extend a company`s existing applications to the field via a mobile application. These new mobile applications allow field workers to use highly intuitive Web browsers to quickly download only the pieces of information they need-from any number of applications-onto any handheld device, including laptop computers, personal digital assistants and smart phones. This easy access to critical information allows companies to provide better service at a lower cost.

Mobile workforce growth

Mobile workforces are not a fad. International Data Corp. expects the mobile workforce to number 47 million by 2003. This growth is creating a huge need for mobile information systems as more companies realize the importance of arming the employees closest to their customers with the information to serve them quickly and efficiently. A customer, for example, should not have to wait for a service technician to show up “some time between 10:00 and 3:00.” With mobile information systems, companies can better track their field service technicians and know exactly when they will arrive at a customer site.

Utility companies recognize the need for mobile information access. While many already have a wireless infrastructure in place, they still use paper-based processes in the field. If a customer loses power, for example, a technician would get the message on a post-it note to go check it out. Utilities are looking to replace this manual process with more efficient and streamlined communications via their wireless systems.

Some utilities have implemented work-management applications with a mobile component. These applications implement a complete work management, work outage or dispatching system. But not all utilities want or need to implement an entire new back office. Instead, they may simply want to extend their existing applications to the field. Fortunately, they can now turn to a new crop of vendors in the utility market who offer a simpler, cost-effective alternative.

Vendors such as Cerulean Technology provide utility companies with mobile applications that focus purely on mobile extension to enterprise information, and cost hundreds of thousands less than competitive solutions. Utility companies can easily adapt these mobile applications to their existing information infrastructure to extend their back-office applications, along with e-mail and personal information management applications, such as Microsoft Exchange and others, out over their wireless system. These mobile applications use standard Web browsers to deliver all the information mobile workers need where they need it the most-in the field.

Mobile applications like Cerulean`s are more efficient, sending only the information field technicians need, not the entire application. In addition, technicians can access needed information from multiple sources simultaneously and see it all displayed on the same screen. They can also customize their information view to make it easier to find what they need, increasing their productivity. These systems are bi-directional and real time, allowing mobile workers to collect and access information as if it were local.

Choosing wisely

Wireless mobile access to information is a huge step forward in creating a well-informed workforce that can better serve customers. As utilities take this step, they should carefully weigh the pros and cons of each solution to determine which one fits their information infrastructure as well as their customer service needs.

David Rosi is vice president, marketing, with Cerulean Technology Inc.

Previous articleELP Volume 77 Issue 12
Next articleELP Volume 78 Issue 1

No posts to display