Customer experience is the top priority for field service

A report into Australian Government mobility trends and issues undertaken by Tech Research Asia says that more than 80 percent of Australian government agencies believe mobility can improve their efficiency, yet almost half have no idea of the costs.

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Government agencies keen to embrace mobile technologies

A report into Australian Government mobility trends and issues undertaken by Tech Research Asia says that more than 80 percent of Australian government agencies believe mobility can improve their efficiency, yet almost half have no idea of the costs.

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Melbourne Water’s journey to enterprise mobility

Melbourne-Water-s-journey-to-enterprise-mobility

Melbourne Water is midway through a multi-year journey to equip its field workforce with mobile technologies to boost operational efficiency. It detailed progress to date and plans for the future at the recent Field Service Management conference in Sydney.

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Beware of mighty mobile malware

Beware-of-mighty-mobile-malware

As the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend gathers momentum so do concerns about the security implications. The good news, according to network software vendor Nominum, is that data theft directly attributed to end-user mobile devices still represents the minority of cases. The bad news is that the bad guys are starting to recognise, and exploit, the unique capabilities of mobile malware.

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On the road to a mobilised Australian Government

On-the-road-to-a-mobilised-Australian-Government

The Australian Government has released a roadmap for the widespread adoption of mobile technology throughout the Australian Public Service. The aim is to generate benefits on two distinct fronts: improving operational efficiency and staff mobility for government agencies; improving communication and engagement with Australian citizens.

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Governments need to think strategically about mobile technologies

Agencies at all levels of Australian Government - federal, state and local - are using mobile technologies in multiple ways to try and streamline their operations and find new ways to serve the people they are charged with governing, but there is no overarching or co-ordinated strategy. The OECD thinks there should be.

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Strategy to help local governments build better workforces

Australia’s local governments are coming under ever increasing scrutiny. The Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) has just come out with a report Future-Proofing Local Government: National Workforce Strategy 2013–2020. It co-incides with the release last month by the NSW Government of a plan to rationalise the state’s 152 local councils into a much smaller number of larger councils, which we reported on last week.

The rationale for the ACELG report, prepared for it by the Local Government Practice Unit of Local Government Managers Australia (LGMA), is “to move the sector towards a more sustainable workforce through retention, attraction and development to 2020 and beyond, at a time when Australia is confronted by decreasing supply and an increasing demand for skilled workers.”

The report sets out eight strategies designed to achieve this goal, one of which is “Improving Productivity and Leveraging Technology”. Under that topic the report touches on, but does not explore in any depth, the enormous potential for mobile technologies such as field workforce management systems like FieldTec’s FOCUS to improve the efficiency of council operations.

It gives only one Australian example of the use of mobile technologies by Australian governments, but the example given is of state not local government: the West Australian Police. There, the report says: “Officers now have mobile PDAs (personal digital assistants) and other such devices to assist them with field operations, whereas previously they had to call the station to conduct routine checks.”

Rather than cite any other local examples the report falls back on references to the US and to a 2011 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) M-Government: Mobile Technologies for Responsive Government and Connected Societies.

The report claims that “Local government in Australia has yet to fully experience the benefits of ‘e’ or ‘m’ government but the process is in train. It is, however, already popular with local governments in America. For example, one local government in Massachusetts is using technology to increase productivity.”

It quotes the OECD/ITU report as saying: “Given [the] unparalleled advancement of mobile communication technologies, governments are turning to m-government to realise the value of mobile technologies for responsive governance and measurable improvements to social and economic development, public service delivery, operational efficiencies and active citizen engagement. The interoperability of mobile applications, which support quick access to integrated data and location-based services, paves the way for innovative public sector governance models based on the use of mobile technology in support of public services and information delivery.”

To increase the use of technologies by local governments the report calls on state and territory agents and local government authorities to encourage councils to invest in technology and automation in order to improve their workforce productivity and to research and publish leading case studies on technological innovations that increase productivity and capacity.

They should talk to FieldTec. They have plenty of FOCUS implementations doing just that.

About FieldTec
FieldTec are leaders in field workforce and asset management solutions for local Government and utilities. Their dedicated mobile workforce management solution FOCUS provides organisations the ability to collect data about both planned and reactive works at the worksite, and view that information in the office in real time resulting in better operational decisions and improved customer service.



Ten technologies to help utilities in tough times

Utilities are being challenged by heightened environmental sensitivities, changing policymaker attitudes and consumer expectations, not to mention the need to maintain the security and reliability of aging physical assets. Research firm Gartner has identified the key information technologies they need to help them meet these challenges.

Gartner expects Australian utilities to spend more than $2.6b on IT products and services in 2013, an increase of 3.69 percent over 2012. According to Kristian Steenstrup, Gartner vice president and Gartner Fellow a top priority for the industry is to find the business models that will address these issues and generate shareholder returns. “Public and private utilities are looking at how technology can reduce cost, drive efficiencies and enhance competitive advantage,” he says.

Steenstrup says that the industry -- once considered conservative and slow-moving -- has seen a wide range of innovation from within and outside the traditional IT organisation. He believes that utilities must understanding business if they are to create a successful IT strategy. He has recently authored a Gartner report which identifies the top ten information technologies that Gartner expects will impact the energy and utilities sectors in 2013.

These are, in no particular order.

Social Media and Web 2.0
Gartner says that social media can be used to acquire and retain customers, to drive customer participation in energy efficiency programs and for crowdsourcing distributed energy resources coordination. “Social media for outage communications is also rising in importance and value for utilities and customers experiencing outages,” Gartner says.

Big Data
Smart grid development will increase data quantity by several orders of magnitude, driven by a host of edge devices, as well as new applications such as advanced metering infrastructure synchrophasors (devices for measuring the waveform of the alternating current in the electricity grid), smart appliances, microgrids, advanced distribution management, remote asset monitoring, event avoidance and self-healing networks. Gartner says that, “In addition to significantly impacting data volume, smart grid initiatives will produce a different variety of data, such as temporal, spatial, transactional, streaming, structured and unstructured.”

Mobile and Location-Aware Technology
Lowering costs and improving the accuracy and effectiveness of the field force are the main drivers for utilities to deploy mobile and wireless technologies such as ruggedised laptops, PDAs and smartphones and navigation, routing and tracking technologies.

Cloud Computing and SaaS
Security and reliability concerns have limited the take-up of cloud computing by utilities but solutions are beginning to emerge in areas such as smart metering, big data analytics, demand response coordination and GIS. “Early implementers of utility cloud and SaaS include organisations interested in providing common application and data services to multiple utility entities, such as cooperative associations and transmission system operators, smaller municipal and cooperatives without extensive infrastructure or budgets, and investor-owned utilities (IoUs) conducting short-term smart grid pilots interested in quick time-to-market, with minimal impact on production systems,” Gartner says.

Sensor Technology
Sensors are already used extensively throughout the supply, transmission and distribution domains of utilities but sensor fusion -- the addition of onboard digital signal processing and associated software development capabilities -- is accelerating potential applications, according to Gartner. However “Widespread utility adoption is challenged by specific implementation requirements, such as ruggedisation, electromagnetic shielding, temperature extremes, cybersecurity and remote access.”

In-Memory Computing
“Increasing use of in-memory computing (IMC) application infrastructure technologies as enablers inside multiple types of software and hardware products will result in rapid IMC adoption by mainstream, risk-averse IT organisations,” Gartner says. “The ability of IMC to support high-scale, high-throughput and low-latency use cases will make it possible for IT organisations to implement innovative scenarios, such as those addressing processing of the smart-grid-generated metering and real-time sensor data.”

IT and operational technology Convergence
Virtually all new technology projects in utilities will require a combination of IT and operational technology investment and planning, Gartner says, but it warns: “More than any industry, the utility sector faces the challenge of the separation between IT and OT management, coupled with the importance of hybrid projects that link IT and OT systems.”

Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI)
AMI constitutes a cornerstone of the smart grid by potentially providing a communication backbone for low-latency data aimed at improving distribution asset utilisation failure detection, and facilitating consumer inclusion in energy markets. However: “Different market structures, regulatory drivers and benefit expectations create different ownership models for components of the AMI technology stack, which favour different technology solutions across the globe.”

Communication Technology
The distributed nature of utility assets, combined with the need for more efficient asset management and labour use, makes mobility and supporting communication technologies high investment priority areas for utilities. The smart grid drive toward better observability of the distribution network requires machine-to-machine (M2M) monitoring systems.

Predictive Analytics
Predictive analytics has become generally used to describe any approach to data mining with four attributes: an emphasis on prediction, rapid time to insight, an emphasis on the business relevance of the resulting insights and an increasing emphasis on ease of use, thus making the tools accessible to business users. According to Gartner, “Common applications include understanding the future failure patterns of equipment, or the likely load from certain customer groups or regions.”

To find out more about FieldTec's Field workforce and asset management solution, visit: www.fieldtec.com

More: Australian Mobile Workforce Management Companies

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Western Water revamps asset management

WesternWater

Western Water relies on some 150,000 assets spread across 252 asset types to provide water, recycled water and sewerage services to some 47,000 commercial customers and 185,000 households. It has seen big gains through implementation of a new asset management strategy.

Western Water is a FieldTec customer operating FOCUS across its field staff, delivering workforce and field asset management.

Paul Louws, Western Water's Manager Asset Integrity, told last month's Field Service Management conferencein Sydney how Western Water achieved this, and the benefits it obtained. Louws said that, with each type of asset having different maintenance and management requirements and with many of these assets playing crucial roles in service delivery, effective and economical asset management was essential.

"We rely on a skilled in house workforce: seven different crews are responsible for 'area based' assets," Louws explained. "One of our challenges was that we had limited documentation, and limited capture of field maintenance activities.

"We embarked on an AM [asset management] improvement strategy to develop AMPs [asset management plans] for all key assets, based around the asset life cycle. We held workshops with key staff to ensure participation and ownership. Now these AMPs have become a powerful tool for staff, for reference, training and audits."

Louws added: "With about $650m in written down value, the policy, the strategy and the plans needed to be right. It was worth the work. A cost benefit analysis showed a payback in the investment in the new system over two years."

In just one example of the gains form the new system, Louws said: "In the dry area of Melton there is very low rainfall and trees are looking for any source of nutrient they can find, so blockages in the sewer system are quite common. By focussing on that problem we have been able to halve the number of blockages in the last two years, and half the number of spills as a result. It has been a big success."

To benchmark its asset management system, Western Water took part in the Water Services Association of Australia's (WSAA) Aquamark 3 2012 asset management improvement benchmarking project. "It was our first participation" Louws said. "It involved an extensive survey over 600 questions to people across the business. We had a comparative analysis. Western water were asked to present on three of the things we did. We were then all given the report to do self analysis. This gave us a fairly solid set of data on which to base our asset management approach."

Louws concluded: "The policy, the strategy and the plans need to be right. So it is worth the work. You need effective IT tools and efficient processes. You cannot pretend efficiency. You have to measure where you are to see where you are heading."

To find out more about FieldTec's Field workforce and asset management solution, visit: www.fieldtec.com

More: Australian Mobile Workforce Management Companies

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