Regardless of the industry, all companies are aware of the importance of having mobile applications for their customers. This form of technology has surpassed being a ‘nice-to-have’ and is now widely thought of as the norm. In the utilities space, leaders would agree that customer-facing apps allow for a highly-personalized experience that can empower the user base and increase company loyalty. But are those same leaders — are YOU — considering the validity of employee-facing mobile applications? In an industry that faces an aging workforce, mobile apps for utility companies and their field workers can take productivity and cost savings to the next level.
Due to the work I have done in partnership with a large, Texas-based utility company, I had the opportunity to share my experience on the best practices for mobile applications for industry employees at the Maximo Utilities Working Group Conference.
Project Overview: Transformer Install and Material Issue & Return
From the plethora of developed functionality, we selected two specific mobilization use cases to discuss at the conference: Transformer Install and Material Issue & Return. Both of these areas of operations relied heavily on manual, physical, and paper-based documentation for many key processes. By leveraging the technology from field operations and warehouse operations mobile apps, the team was able to use barcodes, readers, and mobile devices to create efficiencies that boosted productivity and cut inefficiencies.
For Transformer Install functions, custom-developed field operation workflows enable field technicians to use barcodes to complete E2E transformer installations. Crews were able to replace the paper-based transformer and work order information with mobile solutions that not only expedited their work but also reduced delays and manual-entry data errors.
Meanwhile, Material Issue & Return was able to standardize and streamline material issuance, while also improving inventory data accuracy and visibility into transactions. Handwritten material requests were replaced with digital and mobile solutions, and Storekeepers were able to issue project kits and additional materials requests directly to field personnel from the warehouse operations app.
What It Means for You: Best Practices for Implementing Mobile Apps for Utility Companies
When considering a long-term, enterprise-wide mobile strategy, you must consider four crucial phases:
1. Preparation: Senderoans, like many of our utilities clients, are big believers in preparation. Planning and prep work allows time to solicit end-user input on how mobile solutions could be used to streamline processes and improve efficiencies. This is pertinent in the success of mobile solution implementation because companies need their investment to benefit those that are utilizing it.
For Sendero, prep work included defining specific hardware, network, and security strategies that would:
- Ensure compatible, appropriate hardware across the supply chain
- Assess and confirm network stability across all warehouses and yards
- Confirm that the dispersed company-wide mobile connection model was safe and secure
Preparation also included defining success metrics, to help keep the focus on driving use, and on achieving the desired tangible results after implementation.
2. Design: Once requirements are gathered and key objects of the application are identified, iterative and agile design cycles that capture the holistic workflow need to occur. Otherwise, users will revert to legacy processes. In previous client engagements, material handoffs from warehouse storerooms to field operations were a particular challenge. Standardizing upstream processes for dependent downstream mobile processes helped ensure user buy-in and create greater efficiencies.
This approach is applicable to several workflows and areas of business. Ensuring upstream activities do not bottleneck downstream activities, and vice versa, is a challenge all industries should consider when thinking through the design of an employee-facing solution.
3. Testing: Because of the rigor required to effectively test the complexities of these mobile applications, there are various testing phases that are critical to incorporate into a mobile strategy solution:
- QA Testing
- Hardware testing
In mobilization, thorough testing is at the heart of quality assurance (QA). It’s also vital for end-user buy-in. For large utility companies, teams need to ensure that hardware, such as hand-held barcode scanners, are tested with a full accessory set-up to identify gaps and defects. User Acceptance Testing (UAT) should be conducted in real-world settings whenever possible. For Sendero’s client, on-site testing at warehouses, yards, and in the field helped simulate the physical work processes and network constraints — as well as how well-suited the mobile devices were for the task at hand.
4. Training: Even in cases where employees are aware of legacy inefficiencies, in-person training is critical to drive the acceptance and use of new mobile applications. In-person training not only helps the development team gather vital feedback, but it also helps ensure that field technicians, storekeepers, and other end users are comfortable with the new technology.
“I came into training not expecting to use this application; I did not think it would be something I’d have reason to use,” said one Distribution Ops Supervisor. “But I left this training feeling like I will really use this!”
A Distribution Crew Supervisor echoed this approval, saying, “New Transformer Installation and Reclose Requests through [the field operations app] are ten times easier.”
On the surface, it seems counterintuitive: In order to achieve success in automation and digitization efforts, it’s imperative to not overlook the high-touch, hands-on fundamentals of preparation, collaboration, onsite testing, and onsite training. At Sendero, we help companies develop effective mobile strategies and translate them into user-friendly solutions and processes that will be embraced after the implementation is completed.
To find out more about how Sendero can help ensure that you have all the elements for a successful transition, contact us using the form below today to arrange a no-obligation consultation.