Apr 19

Mobile solutions in enterprises pay: #2 – Field Support

This is the second of several assessments of mobility initiatives and the associated RoI.  It describes 5 instances of how mobile solutions improved field support:

  • In the first a company installing large scale solar power generation in remote sites (often without ready access to data communications) has a Quality Assurance (QA) process, that operates from project inception to completion. Originally the QA Team had used paper-based documentation. To replace this the company developed an app to place the paper-based QA processes and associated data capture on an iPad. QA now completes each QA process as part of each installation as the project proceeds, with data entered on site on the dedicated QA iPads. When an iPad is able to connect, it uploads the QA data to the main information systems. Over a complete project the company estimates the direct net savings as being worth US$900 per MegaWatt being being installed (for a typical 100 Megawatt power site this amounts to US$90,000 per project).
  • In the second the same company has a specific commissioning team with the responsibility for ensuring that each new power plant satisfies contractual obligations (and the sooner this occurs satisfactorily, the sooner payment occurs). Initially the commissioning team used paper-based documentation which was completed for each part of the process on a clipboard on site – with the data gathered input later into IT applications by the commissioning team. A mobile iPad application replaced the paper-based system with the result that the commissioning team completes the processes and data entry on site on the iPad and, whenever each iPad can next connect, the iPad(s) upload(s) the information. The result is both faster, for the commissioning team on the ground, more accurate (in terms of data entry) and takes less time (there is no wait as the data is entered manually). The estimated direct net savings are worth US$396 per megawatt installed. For each typical 100 MW solar power site this amounts to US$39,600.  In addition, earlier completion of the commissioning review means that the customer pays sooner, thus improving cash flow by some weeks.
  • In the third a utility company has introduced hardened mobile laptops to engineers in an effort to improve quality of service standards (to meet new regulatory requirements) and to reduce administrative costs. With this solution engineers are able to work offline as well as online (many locations where they have to work do not necessarily possess data coverage). This solution is reducing costs by 5%-6% per year and improving the regulator mandated quality of customer service. In addition more efficient use of engineers has occurred: in the past a certain number of engineers had to be retained on standby, to handle emergencies (leaks are, understandably, regarded as emergencies). With van-based laptops engineers can now be assigned prioritized maintenance work; if an emergency occurs the least urgent work stops and those engineers are released to address the emergency.  The effect is that more routine maintenance is done sooner by the same number of engineers without diminishing the quality of emergency response.
  • The fourth is a different energy utility operating in a country with extremely strict employment legislation which prevents employers from making productivity comparisons amongst employees or collecting data about employee performance. In the past engineers were given paper work sheets with work scheduling coming from its SAP MRS. Engineers then manually filled out these worksheets (at some point after completing each work task — completion might be at any time until the end of the month) with the completed worksheets returned for data entry of the completed task data. As might be expected such a manually-intensive process led often to the introduction of inaccurate data. By introducing some 450 laptop PCs, to go out with engineers to work sites, work tasks are downloaded before the engineer leaves his or her base (or home). Once a task has been completed the engineer enters the data about what time used, overtime, materials used, travel costs and data about the devices supported. Whenever there is a data connection (whether 3G or WiFi) this data is uploaded to the SAP MRS system. The primary payback derives principally from more accurate data entry plus the savings from not having to perform manual data entry from paper worksheets: on this basis this mobility project will pay for itself within 5 years. It is also expected to make the working environment easier for engineers.
  • The fifth mobility field service project involved a gas utility which introduced PDAs to field service engineers so that the latter can receive work orders and send status updates to dispatchers, via wireless and in real time. With status information more transparent, dispatchers have more flexibility to shift resources on the fly, improving service call completion. In addition field engineers are able to work smarter on-site — by accessing technical documentation and charts rather than having to carry bulky and often outdated manuals. While providing field engineers with new levels of capability, this solution relies heavily on leveraging existing core systems (including ERP and CRM ones) that power field operations. The payback is valued at some US$650K in reduced in administrative costs along with with a 30% increase in service call completion rates. Now that field engineers connect in real time wherever they go there is less engineer or technician downtime which in turn means customers are also experiencing faster response times, with customer retention rates improving.

Each of these five field service mobility examples is producing a positive financial RoI. As with the Sales examples (in the earlier blog post), the biggest payoffs come when two or more back-end systems link to the mobile device — most commonly CRM and whatever is used for field service support. Such solutions are not always simple or inexpensive to develop but investing produces positive benefits.

[In this, and future assessments, qualified mobile technology projects with quantified benefits are grouped into the following categories, each of which warrant examination:

– Sales (see previous blog post)

– Field Support (see above)

– Logistics/Delivery

– Local Government

– Administration(including of mobile devices)

– Changing the business model.]

(c) 2013 C3B Consulting Ltd

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