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8 Considerations When Evaluating Utility Mobile Workforce Management Software Solutions

As utilities engage in substation inspections, asset management, meter replacements, regulatory requirements, increases in sensor data, and normal day-to-day field operations, there becomes a driving need to mobilize the field workforce, orchestrate volumes data, utilize data analytics and ultimately improve business efficiency.

Utilities are evaluating a wide range of mobility solutions for the field workforce. They vary in complexity from simple mobile forms creation tools, to “build your own applications”, to large back-office middleware that requires customized software to be written. Listed below are some top items to consider when evaluating a mobile work force solution:

  1. Standalone vs. Web-based – Consideration should be given carefully to whether the mobility software needs to be installed and managed as standalone software, or as web-based (typically called cloud-based or SaaS). There are pros and cons to both methods – standalone software typically requires extra IT cycles to install, maintain and upgrade, whereas some web-based solutions can have unaddressed security issues.
     
  2. Off-the-Shelf vs. Configurable – It is hard to predict what your future needs will be, and you want to make sure that you find a solution that has the most flexibility in form creation and data orchestration – what data is pulled from the back-office, and how those systems are updated from field data. You don’t want to fit the way your field workforce works around your software.  
     
  3. Security – Careful thought should be given to how your vendor implements security. Is there encryption with mobile devices, especially for offline use? If a mobile device is lost, or stolen, is the data accessible? Are they using 2048-bit SSL (Secure Sockets Layer), 256-bit encryption? If using a cloud-based solution, is your data encrypted in a safe mode where only your company has the ‘key’? Consider how well the solution can work with your current VPN, Firewall and IT infrastructure.
     
  4. Back-Office Integration – According to Field Technology Magazine’s Field Mobility 2015 Report, the number one criteria for selection of mobile workforce management software is “the ability to integrate with current back-office systems”. How well does your mobile solution integrate with CIS, GIS, databases, OMS, Milsoft®, Salesforce® or other systems? Is there true two-way communication with these systems? Solution can range from drag and drop integration, to requiring software development (and maintenance) to properly interface to these systems.  
     
  5. Workflow Configuration – Workflow is considered to be the orchestration of data, documents and services from one step to another. It is important to consider solutions that allow flexibility and customization of what data is pulled from back-office systems, blended with other data, displayed in custom field forms, and then input back into various back-office systems.
     
  6. Work Order & Forms Automation – A utility field worker’s day begins with a work order and most of the work day is driven by work orders, from the dispatch, scheduling, routing, tracking, approvals, field photos (with markups) and signoff. Automating the work order process is an important step in streamlining a utility’s operations. Keep in mind all the work order functions you will require, especially the ability to customize your field forms to align with your current processes. Solutions range from a static set of templates to highly customizable ‘smart’ forms. Smart forms are mobile field forms that can have field dependencies depending on what data is entered. Consider if you’ll require photo capture with markup, barcode capture, work order creation in the field, route optimization, GPS tracking of teams and users, vehicle tracking, maps, etc. 
     
  7. Offline / Online – Many times the field workforce is operating in remote areas where there is little or no wireless connectivity. It is important that the mobile workforce solution has automatic data conflict detection, synchronization and version management in either offline or online scenarios. Without this feature, data can get misaligned, outdated or duplicated.
     
  8. Standardized vs Proprietary Mobile Devices – Does the mobile workforce solution run on standard tablets and phones such as iOS Mobile Client and Android Mobile Client? Does their web application run on standard browsers such as Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox? Make sure to consider their system requirements including all required hardware (memory, screen resolution, camera, GPS, etc.) and software versions (operating system, browser, minimum versions, etc.).
Glenn Booth's picture

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Chris Maldini's picture
Chris Maldini on Jun 8, 2015 6:00 pm GMT
Nice write-up, Glenn. I think you've laid out some great items to consider for mobile workforce solutions.

Any recommendations on applications? I've been doing some research for my agency and have found EasyData. We're going to begin testing it out and will be sure to use some the points you've outlined for guidance. Thanks for sharing!

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