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LESSONS LEARNED IN IMPLEMENTING MOBILE COMPUTING TECHNOLOGY TO IMPROVE UTILITY FIELD OPERATIONS

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Having made substantial investments in information technology (IT) systems over the past decade, most utilities have done little to introduce technology to the largest portion of their organizations, their mobile workers and field crews. Enterprise mobile computing systems, also commonly referred to as a Wireless Systems, Mobile Data Terminals, or Field Work Order Systems, provide utilities the opportunity to equip this large mobile workforce with technology that enables dramatic improvements in efficiency and customer service.

Based on recent industry surveys, although a high number of organizations have implemented some form of mobile computing in their operations, less than 15% of the industry's field workers are using mobile computing systems. In addition, many early ‘pilot’ implementation have been focused solely on single work groups and specific service order dispatching functionality, lacking an enterprise approach to maximize functionality and return-oninvestment. If implemented properly, enterprise mobile computing systems can deliver up to a 30% annual improvement in efficiency and service, improve security, health and safety, and help with regulatory compliance and reporting.

The City of Phoenix Water Services Department provides a model case for implementing mobile computing to a large utility field organization. The project, named the Mobile Applications Program Solution, or MAPS, involved extensive investigation into field operations work practices and efficiency opportunities, including development of a business case with real world return-on-investment (ROI) figures, along with the design and implementation of a mobile computing solution to support the more than 400 field personnel in the City's combined Water Distribution and Wastewater Collection Divisions.

This paper will educate utility managers on the business case for implementing business improvement through field computing technology, provide an overview of the City of Phoenix mobile computing implementation project, and describe the many challenges and lessons learned in delivering enterprise mobile computing technology to utility field crews.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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