By Joel Pirard
Are your plotted network schematics already outdated when they leave the office? Do you spend too much time synchronizing plans and documentation? Then you probably need to digitalize your field crew. Let me explain why and how.
The mobile revolution doesn’t stop at your business
Working in the field will never be the same again. First, the growing use of mobile devices for daily tasks like shopping, booking, communication, and entertainment has a strong impact on working situations where mobility is required. Second, digital maps have become a central way of how we consume information. You don’t just want to look up an address – you want to see where the shop or hairdresser is located and how it relates to other facilities, like similar locations nearby, parking possibilities, or subway stations. Today we take in so much information, and maps are one of the most popular ways to simplify our lives.
So, it’s time to use this knowledge and create the same opportunities for your field crew. They, too, work in an environment with network data that often, as a whole, is comprehensive and challenging to assimilate.
The way digitalization should work is right at your fingertips
Imagine that you have all your map drawings, schemas, measurements data, inspection history, disruption lists, risk classifications, realtime data, etc., in your pocket.
This might not sound new since smartphones have been around for some time. So, what’s the problem? Gathering all the information in one place and making it simple to access. Time-consuming processes and mistakes are some of the results.
I’ll give you a common example of a bad digitalization of fieldwork. Let’s say a team member has to document a manhole by taking a picture. Once at the spot, she takes a photo with a mobile phone in one application, makes adjustments to the photo like redlining and image enhancements in another application, uploads it to a specific folder in a cloud storage service, copies the link, opens another program to send an email with the required information, inserts the HTML link to eventually enable someone at the office to store the photo in yet another system. That’s a lot of separate steps.
You want all this to happen in one environment and without all the fuzz. Digitalize your field crew the right way and they will get one task in one application. In our example above, here’s what you do: just take the photo and save it in the correct location directly from your mobile device where everybody else has immediate access.
Now that’s mobility the way it should be.
Real-time data improves your documentation
Sustainable documentation processes are among the most important things to manage if you want to create an efficient organization. But it is really difficult to establish a good documentation culture. “I don’t have time, will do it later” is a typical excuse. This often ends up in not doing it at all, which causes loss of data and – eventually – a lower value of your network.
What’s the solution?
Make documentation processes simple and fast. Enable your field crew to update the network inventory in real-time, make it user-friendly and – this is vital – secure. Many of my customers express security concerns when it comes to using mobile devices. In the end, we are dealing with highly sensitive data which is part of a country’s most valuable infrastructure. But with the right solution, this concern can be almost eliminated – which takes us directly to our reason #4.
A connected data model allows secure data handling
Data security ranks high up on most people’s agenda – if not, it should be. But at the same time, everyone wants to access all information at all times and wherever they are. These two requirements often contradict each other and become big challenges. Adding a complex network inventory into the equation makes it even more complicated. Then it all comes down to how you have modeled the data.
A connected network model makes it possible to control the data in a more advanced way. For example, if the geographic outline of a trench is classified it is also possible to limit or completely remove the information regarding all child objects (like pipes, cables, etc.) in that trench.
So, it’s not only a challenge of how secure the login is or if the encryption algorithm is complex enough. It’s also a matter of how you are able to limit the amount of data that is provided to the field crew member in each unique situation. Tasks like finding and repairing a pipe, pulling the correct fuse, splicing or patching the fiber, inspecting a valve or handling a remark on the water pump all require specific settings.
Built-in mechanisms for better data quality
The need for the highest quality of your network data needs to be emphasized over and over again. This can be a matter of life and death, as in the electric power industry where field crews work with high voltage lines. But this also applies to other utilities and the telecom industries.
Mistakes happen everywhere, especially in stressful situations. That is why the data model needs to be surrounded by rule sets, preventing malicious data that could cause errors and lead to serious accidents. Sometimes you need several steps and instances to verify the data and thereby create a safe working environment for the field crew. Your system should, without a doubt, support handling rules for data quality and defined processes.
Don’t forget, the quality of your data is the foundation for everything. Decisions that are based on the correct information will naturally lead to better results.
Get field crew digitalization right, and get a competitive advantage
I think that most of you would agree with the advantages of digitalizing field crews, like time and costs savings as well as more up-to-date documentation. But all digitalization projects are not alike. They need to be done in the right way, and concerns regarding data quality and security have to be taken seriously.
Digpro brings 30 years of experience in helping utilities of all sizes to document and manage the most complex power utility and telecom networks. Mobility has been a key focus for us during the past years. Our field apps built for utilities and telecom companies will let you empower your field crews and change the way you work for the better.
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