Network Rail has spoken about the benefits of providing more than 22,000 iPhones and iPads to trackside staff as part of a major mobile overhaul at the organisation.
Network Rail first began considering how it could use new mobile devices in 2010 when the iPad was first unveiled, after upper management started using the tablet to make it easier to access information on-the-go.
The success of these unofficial trials by top execs led the organisation to look at how it could boost worker productivity using mobile apps, and the decision was taken to use iPhones and iPads across the business.
Simon Goodman, current head of programme and project services for Network Rail, was head of IT strategy at the organisation when the decision was taken.
“Part of the reason we chose Apple was for the user experience and because it has a very closed architecture, so there’s a tight developer ecosystem, with very little malware,” he told V3.
“That ticked a lot of security boxes and so we only have to put a thin layer of security over that without impacting the user experience.”
Staff are free to use the devices for both work and leisure, and cases are provided to protect them when on site.
An app for that
Since issuing the devices Network Rail has developed several apps designed to help staff in their work. One app, called Close Call, allows staff to report potential safety issues or faults on the railway network. Staff can add pictures and GPS information to reports, which only take a few minutes to complete. Since January 2014, there have been almost 63,000 submissions on the Close Call app, representing 80 percent of all safety reports made.
Scott Hewson, section supervisor at Network Rail based at Waterloo, explained to V3 that for staff working trackside the app is a huge improvement on the old paper form system.
“We always had so much paper work to do anyway, so people often didn’t have the time to submit more reports. But with the app it’s so much quicker and easier, and it just emails all the information there and then to the relevant person who can deal with it.”
This is just one of the ways that the move away from paper forms to iPhones and iPads has transformed working practices at Network Rail.
Another huge improvement has come with the MyWork app, which gives staff up-to-date information about their work assignments and allows then to notify managers when tasks are completed. This has help to make workers far more productive by eliminating errors.
“In the past, we would sometimes have staff walking miles down the track to fix a problem only to get there and find it was already fixed, wasting an entire shift,” notes Hewson.
Furthermore, with paper forms there was always a risk of them getting lost, or wet or damaged in other ways, again impacting efficiency.
The mobile app also means that once a problem is fixed the worker can close it live from the site and inform colleagues in the control room, who can then check to see if the fix has worked in almost real time.
Since the MyWork app has been launched a staggering three million jobs have been closed via the app, underlining just how quickly it has been taken up by the "orange army" of Network Rail maintenance staff.
Looking to the future, Network Rail says it is considering how it could incorporate wearable devices into its operations, to be able to better monitor workers health for signs of fatigue or unnatural heart rates.
Like Network Rail, Eurostar has also digitalised a number of work processes, with its CIO explaining to V3 earlier this year that ditching paper forms has had numerous benefits for its train drivers.
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