Mobile applications (Apps) are now a major feature of most utilities, as an effective mobile workforce is critical to efficient operation. However far too often the Apps are not intuitive, are disjointed, and focussed on serving the backend rather than those in the field. Unsurprisingly such Apps have delivered far less value to the business than originally envisaged.
So what will keep everyone happy? Firstly, the Apps should be based around the actual job function. There are many deployments where ‘standard’ Apps have been used based on core network applications, however that often leads to field operatives having to use several Apps to complete a task. Workflows on the Apps can also be generic, meaning the operatives have to jump between screens to complete tasks. Unsurprisingly this leads to inefficiencies, not only in time field operative time, but also in inconsistences of data between the various Apps.
Secondly good Apps (i.e. the ones we all use on a daily basis) tend to be intuitive, requiring little training. This is generally because those who developed the App have a good understanding of the end user’s needs. However, in utilities it is unfortunately all too common for those writing the Apps to have very little knowledge of the needs of the field staff.
Thirdly many utilities operate in areas where there is limited connectivity, and yet too many Apps rely on connectivity to deliver their service. It is vital that the user can obtain or enter the information at the location of the work or asset. If field operatives are unable to find or enter information at that location, there can be health and safety risks, as well as inefficiencies.
Keeping everyone happy with their Apps is not difficult as long as the basics of being task based, intuitive and working offline are followed. If they can also help the field operative identify issues with assets before failure, then the benefits are even greater, however that is another story.