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Stop abusing the term enterprise mobility

By Damien Moriarty

 

There are few terms more used and abused in the realm of computing technology as enterprise mobility --- used to describe anything outside the four walls of the office environment and abused when referring to simply accessing your corporate email on a laptop with cellular connectivity. Enterprise mobility has a significant impact driving organizational profitability in many industries, and there are still great opportunities with energy utilities. 

Naturally, any gains are proportional to worker impact. For example, an app that 100 workers use for a half hour each month is not going to have the gains of one used by 1000 workers 8 hours every business day.  The impact of the application comes down to the user groups and usefulness of the application. Operations and maintenance groups are a great target user group due to size, but how do you make an impact?

Collect relevant data

One of the key reasons cited for implementing mobile applications is data collection, however best results come from putting relevant information in hands of people performing critical tasks. The challenge in doing this is that information is needed from a range of different sources, making the distribution and presentation challenging. Information should be collated automatically making it available at the worksite in the context of the tasks being performed. 

Traditional business intelligence (BI) provides the ability to assist decision-making through presenting relevant information based on an inquiry. Within a process, it is possible for this inquiry to be performed ahead of time allowing effective decisions to be made at the jobsite. It doesn’t make sense for a field engineer to have to launch a BI application to view historical results for a task. Rather this should be presented graphically as the new result is entered including relevant information from an asset management system, SCADA and other systems. Traditional BI thinking is based on inquiry rather than facilitating a workflow, whereas workflow presents the best opportunity for mobile applications.

Ensure compliance and enforcement

In addition to presenting and capturing information, the best practice for a strong mobility strategy is to enhance compliance and improve productivity through workflow enforcement. One example is enforcement of personnel and process safety checks before work commencement based on OSHA requirements, but this is only a small part of internal and external compliance requirements. By having the application workflow move through the process step-by-step automatically recording task, time and location information, data entry takes a fraction of the time of paper systems and helps track required daily tasks more effectively.

Interact with IoT devices

There has been much written about the Internet of Things (IoT) and in many ways this technology has been used in power generation for many years. New technologies provide new ways to interact with remote sensors and equipment for the automatic capture of asset performance information or the provisioning of smart meters. Mobile devices can interact with smart meters ensuring accurate deployment of sensor and account configuration while ensuring this information matches the relevant customer record.

Providing the ability to capture information automatically, or even manually, at the job site improves the quality of the data returned to management systems. This, in turn, provides a more granular management of systems such as asset performance management allowing more targeted and efficient maintenance practices to be employed while improving asset reliability. Timely return of information allows more current management of elements such as costing and staffing requirements for projects and ongoing efforts.

Gain end-user adoption

Poor user adoption can quickly erode any mobile initiative’s performance gains. In many business cases, these initiatives are often written with the assumption of complete user adoption, yet many of these projects expend little effort to ensure this. Complete user adoption is not simply everyone using the system, it’s everyone using the system in the manner it was intended. The latter is often more dangerous as working around a new system can see a degradation of efficiency when compared to the process being replaced, poor use of a system can be worse than no use. As a general rule, people will follow the path of least resistance; therefore, utility managers should ensure their enterprise mobility system makes end-users life easier driving adoption and ownership. 

In considering whether the mobile application is fit for purpose, we must not only take into account its match to the work process, but how effective it is in the work environment. Subtle greys and pastel colors are not much use in direct sunlight, simple online inquiries for historical data provide no benefit if the jobsite has no network coverage and complex information tree structures are difficult if finger touch devices are used. With the growth of enterprise mobility strategy, the quality of impact toward end-users serves as the key.

Damien Moriarty is international delivery manager with Retriever Communications. 

 

Get more insights into mobile strategies, plans and abused terminology at Mobile Utility Summit next week in Dallas. There’s still time to register and walk-ups are welcome at the conference if you’re local. Get more info here: http://mobileutilitysummit.energycentral.com

 

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