South East Water is implementing a more robust mobile communications system to save time for its staff in the field.
The aim of the project, conducted with consulting firm BPD, is to give staff direct access to near real-time information while in the field, and submit data the same way.
Previously all jobs were depot-centric: an inspector would have to visit a local depot to pick up documentation and return to the depot to file a report when the work was completed.
The project aims to cut down on paperwork to increase efficiency, and to gain a better estimate of work status, as many jobs 'in progress' were really awaiting data entry.
The company estimates savings of 363 man hours per year per inspector, which is equivalent to eight full-time inspectors.
Martin Giel, project manager on behalf of South East Water, explained that the existing solution, based on Citrix over a GPRS network, was not reliable enough and suffered from dropped connections.
This was solved by the implementation of a GPRS-enabled mobile Sarian router installed in the inspectors' vans and coupled to a laptop.
BPD was then brought in to implement a store-and-forward system that delivered data over the GPRS link in real time.
Job information can now be transferred to an inspector immediately and remotely, and status updates can be filed on the spot.
If an inspector loses the connection with the network, data would automatically be stored and forwarded upon reconnection.
"We cut the number of depots from 10 to four," said Giel. "And now we don't get calls from inspectors who have dropped connections."
South East Water has had four inspectors trialling the units for three months, and Giel expects to have the system rolled out to all 44 inspectors by the end of the month.
"The benefits will be more long term," he said. "Mostly savings on staff and response times, although the project itself came in very cheap at about £60,000."
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