Case study: Engineering company switches devices for field service team
Mobile workforce management company Cognito has inked a five-year, £1.16m contract with GSH Group that will see UK field service engineers at the mechanical and electrical engineering services company swap BlackBerrys for ruggedised Motorola MC70 handsets.
Cognito's service will integrate with the company's existing asset management software system - Maximo 6.2 - so its 600 UK engineers will be able to use the handsets to receive, accept, update and close jobs in real time. Integrating with the system's GPS vehicle tracking also means engineers can be located and despatched to jobs based on their geographic location as well as skills.
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Maxwell Segal, the company's director of IT innovation, told silicon.com: "We are ditching the BlackBerry solution for our engineers, yes, but our managers and directors still use them for email devices…but as a field service solution no - every single one will be gone."
GSH had been using BlackBerrys for field service mobility since 2004 - and had developed a bespoke application to deliver jobs to engineers which also linked with Maximo. But the hardware being used had a number of limitations, Segal explained.
"It doesn't have touchscreen, doesn't have barcoding, doesn't have signature capture - whereas the Cognito solution has all of that and that was our next aim - to be moving to that sort of thing - because all our assets are barcode so we couldn't scan them with the BlackBerry originally.
"And of course clients want to know that when we bill them for a particular reactive [i.e. emergency call-out rather than planned maintenance] job that they've actually signed it off on site at the time and that they were satisfied with the work so signature capture is also very important," he added.
Segal also felt the BlackBerry development environment would become "problematic" over time. "There was only one or two languages available and I saw them both as being a little bit limiting in what they could do," he noted.
The company is aiming for paperless timesheets dream - something it hopes to achieve by early next year with the new system and which it predicts will save it £250,000 per year on paper and administration costs.
"Our expectation is that by January we will have eliminated all timesheets in the UK for engineers and we couldn't do that before with the BlackBerry because the way it was implemented didn't really record the times accurately for us," said Segal.
Another benefit of the managed service is it's audit controlled, said Segal. "The data is guaranteed, the data is auditable by every bit and every byte… They even know what time the engineer charged their device and how charged the device is so we know exactly whether an engineer's charging it properly, what time he put it on his docking station, what time he took it out, whether it ran charged today or whether he just left it uncharged - so you go down to that level of detail."
The devices are also "locked down", Segal added - "you can't play Solitaire on it, you can't play games on it, you can't load software on it, it only runs what we allow it to run so it's totally controllable as a field service device which gives us a lot more robustness and resilience."
GSH has been trialling around 100 devices in the UK since April and has added around 100 more in the last few months but Segal expects the full deployment to be completed by about the end of February.
The company is also about to deploy the tech to its Republic of Ireland operations, and is looking at rolling it out in the US in the next few weeks. Its other European operations may follow next year, he added.
Segal said feedback from engineers has been positive when it comes to the software - "it's very robust, it does what it's supposed to do and is relatively easy to use" - but there have been a few complaints about the device's relative size and gadget kudos when compared to the BlackBerry.
The company has additional plans for the handhelds: it hopes to be able to eliminate paper-based risk assessments by the second quarter of 2009, and to deliver health and safety information via the device as well.