Four Tips to Jump-Start Effective Workforce Mobility Apps

Posted to Esri in the Digital Utility Group
Pat  Hohl's picture
Director - Electric Industry Solutions, Esri

Pat Hohl, PE, is Esri's director of electric industry solutions. He was a pioneer in the use of GIS for electric utilities. He has over 35 years of experience in utility engineering, technology...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Sep 25, 2018

I recently used the Jersey Mike's smartphone app to preorder an impressive cheesesteak while I shopped at a nearby store. I saved my preference for no peppers and paid for my purchase in just seconds. Grinning, I watched as my lunch came off the grill precisely at my selected time. The app was effortless and easily saved me 20 minutes. Rather than agonizing in line, waiting for someone to scribble my order onto paper, I found my sandwich ordering experience almost fun! Mobile apps have the potential to also bring enticing improvements to the utility workforce.

It's not difficult to see where a cool app would top a coffee-stained paper inspection form lingering in an in-box. Such apps provide timely information and communicate outcomes instantly to everyone that needs the information. As utilities comb their work processes seeking efficiency gains, they often realize that incomplete pieces of paper are relics of a bygone era.

Using apps, field employees can better manage timekeeping, work assignments, and data collection. They can access detailed location-aware reference information using apps that can be realistically configured in days. One Texas utility gave transmission crews an app that shows all the culturally and biologically sensitive areas affecting their work location in real time. This app provides all the necessary information, instructions, and even reference documents, making it easy for the workers to do their work while following the necessary protocols.

Here are four tips for deploying mobile workforce applications that can quickly deliver impressive business value:

  • Make the end user's life much better
    A compelling use case begins and ends with the needs of the users. Actively listen to the end users who know best how they work. Ask them what they need to be effective, and they will become the greatest advocates. If an app is easy to use and makes their work life better, they will demand access and quickly come up with additional ways to take advantage of this capability. If not, return on investment (ROI) will come up short when users resist the change.
  • Bring your own device
    Many users resist carrying an additional device. Modern apps can be deployed on the smartphone currently in the user's pocket. Some utilities follow a bring your own device (BYOD) strategy, allowing users to use their existing cell phone, and may offer a small stipend for use of a personal device. Consider producing a short list of approved devices that can run compatible operating systems with the necessary security features.
  • Plan the data flows including reporting needs
    Take time to document the data inputs and outputs of the workflow. This will help focus the app and set expectations for touch points to other workflows. Resolve any underlying data issues at the beginning. What reference information is required? Cut out anything that is unnecessary to the workflow. Finally, determine any output reporting needs and select the metrics that will measure your results.
  • Don't reinvent the wheel
    Take advantage of the many existing solutions and templates for your mobile apps. Start simple and build on success. If you start simply and enjoy a win, you’ll be in a good position to expand your mobile capabilities. As Scott Morehouse, Esri's pioneer software guru often stated, "simple scales and complex fails." Use the simplest approaches and look for everything that can be done automatically inside the app, freeing the user of mindless busy work.

If field inspectors repurposed their time currently spent shuffling papers at the start and end of their day, how many more inspections could they complete? Utilities around the globe are using mobile apps to provide greater transparency, improve record keeping, document field conditions, and increase efficiency.

With ArcGIS, deploying mobile apps is straightforward. Immediately share results, maps, and dashboards across the organization for superior efficiency and collaboration.

The next time you see someone smiling while ordering lunch on their phone, consider that the same capability is readily available to improve utility workflows and customer service. For more information about how the ArcGIS platform enables electric utilities to improve business workflows, read our latest case study showcasing Denton Municipal Electric.


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Pat  Hohl's picture
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