Afaria Helps Water Corporation Overcome the Tyranny of Distance
To support handheld devices in the field, the utility originally deployed its mobile computing solution to support the enterprise SAP Plant Maintenance (SAP PM) module.
While the mobile computing solution enabled field crews to transmit basic information to and from the corporate backend system (SAP PM), the platform was no longer supported and offered limited management support thus increasing the difficulty of managing devices in the field.
Field service crews across Western Australia undertake a diverse set of business processes using SAP work orders. To support these processes, crew members used corporate mobile applications (e.g. spatial tools) other than the work order application. However, while these applications were linked to the mobile computing application, they were not based on the same technology. As the existing mobility platform didn't support remote upgrades, management and maintenance of Water Corporation's large mobile fleet with multiple applications was a time-consuming and cumbersome process.
"Previously we upgraded our PDAs only once or twice a year, as a support person had to perform the upgrade directly on the device. For field crews, this involved travel to one of our major regional centers, with some being as far away as 186 miles from their nearest base. Our annual upgrade process took up to two weeks, and involved several support staff," says Rune Mikkelsen, program manager, Business Initiatives at Water Corporation.
"Besides being a time consuming and disruptive process in our statewide 24/7 operation, the infrequent software upgrades also resulted in functionality issues. Our field crews weren't always able to use the latest software version that was available to them, which could have delivered improved business outcomes or resolved technical issues."
The lack of remote training capabilities was another reason why Water Corporation decided to investigate a more comprehensive mobile device management solution. Previously, field crews needed to undergo application use training onsite in regional centers, followed by refresher sessions as changes occurred. The initial training typically took three days. Despite this significant investment in training, field staff sometimes had trouble using the application and were unable to effectively obtain assistance when required.
"Our field crews were getting increasingly frustrated as the mobile applications were complicated and difficult to handle. This led to user disengagement, with only half of our user base regularly using their PDAs to full capacity," says Mikkelsen.
Security, Scalability and a Low Administrative Overhead
To manage Water Corporation's large mobile fleet, the company selected Sybase Afaria in a competitive bid. With Afaria, the corporation's mobile computing support group can proactively manage and secure multiple device types, applications, data and communications critical to supporting field crews. Over-the-air and on-device encryption, together with advanced mobile security features such as mobile firewall and anti-virus, ensure the best protection against security threats and compliance issues.
"We were looking for a robust solution to protect the data on our field service crews' mobile devices. Following a comprehensive review of the device management solutions available in the market, we selected Afaria due to its comprehensive feature set. Afaria was not only the best solution in terms of functionality but also has a low administrative overhead," says Mikkelsen.
Implemented by Sybase technology partner, CSC, Afaria enables the Water Corporation's mobile computing support group to centrally manage its field crews' mobile devices in an effective way. Field staff use their devices to provide updates to the SAP system with job status, work and event details as well as information about crew labor allocation. A work order typically changes status between 5 and 10 times during its lifecycle, with more than 400,000 work orders created annually in the system. The mobile device management platform also allows the Water Corporation to send work to crews in near real-time when their PDAs are communicating to the enterprise systems.
Afaria Drives Confidence in Mobile Computing
With a reliable, secure and scalable mobile device management platform in place, the Water Corporation has significantly grown the number of handheld devices in its mobile fleet.
Mikkelsen explains, "The success of the Water Corporation's mobile computing rollout has been far greater than we had anticipated. A like-for-like mobility replacement wouldn't have had anywhere near the uptake in our organization."
Key drivers behind this success were Afaria's ability to remotely push software upgrades and updates to mobile devices in the field, which means instant access to the latest features and functionalities of the mobile applications, even for workers in the most remote corner of rural Western Australia. Additionally, Afaria Remote Control offers real-time remote control capability for Windows based PCs and handheld devices, providing the option to interactively assist in training end users on new applications, updates and upgrades or troubleshoot specific devices. Using this capability, Water Corporation was able to reduce face-to-face training for new staff to just one day, with further training and ongoing support supplied using this feature. As a result, user engagement has significantly improved and the vast majority of field work orders are now being processed remotely through the mobile system, replacing manual processes. This in turn has led to better visibility of activities and events for field crew at the frontline of customer service delivery.
"With Afaria's remote connectivity, we can minimize the impact on the end-user and deal with up to 99% of failures remotely. This has instilled confidence in our field crews, who can now obtain assistance when required. This allows the integrity and timeliness of the data the field crews provide to be utilized by the corporation to keep our customers better informed and provide better service," says Mikkelsen.
"The Sybase solution has enabled us to push two major and multiple minor upgrades of the Sky application to our mobile fleet. Afaria's flexibility also allowed us to add an asset management component as well," adds Mikkelsen.
Mobility from Field to Office
Moving forward, the Water Corporation intends to leverage its investment and migrate more applications to the mobile platform supported by Afaria. These include its operational data storage system, and a meter-reading application. Another project in the pipeline is customized application access. Having Afaria in place allows extension to additional applications and makes the devices cost effective.
"We can manage and support a whole range of applications across multiple device types. We plan to push tailored application packages to each device, and then to take this one step further by activating individual user profiles for each worker supported by Afaria managing the device configuration," says Mikkelsen.
"The Water Corporation is currently considering purchasing a number of other device types for management and office workers in our organization. These options can now confidently be considered as they previously presented a security and device management risk, concludes Mikkelsen.