Centrica unties top execs with wireless

Case study: Mobile technology rolled out to 100 managers

Case study: Mobile technology rolled out to 100 managers

Utility giant Centrica has cut the wires binding its executives to their desks by rolling out mobile technology to 100 of its top managers.

While Centrica - which owns brands including British Gas and Onetel - already had 9,000 engineers out in the field using tablet PCs, the company's senior execs took some persuading that they should go wireless too.

The company hoped that giving mobile devices to management would save time and help it respond to challenges faster - but not all of the execs were convinced that the rollout could improve business processes.

Centrica CTO Kirk Downey told silicon.com: "There was a polarity of opinion - there were some absolute advocates, crying out for the stuff - [and] there were those that didn't understand what it would mean for them. We had to take time to educate them and see what they can get out of it."

Before taking the plunge into full-scale remote working, Centrica embarked on a pilot to encourage management buy-in of the scheme. Initially, 10 senior executives were picked to take part in the pilot.

"We ran project through our technology innovation programme and we worked with HP and Microsoft to co-fund and co-deliver," Downey said. "It was a joint investment and joint effort, which helped with the business case."

The pilot used HP TC1100 tablet PCs running on Windows XP Tablet, eight HP 6340 iPAQs and Motorola MPX220 Windows Mobile smart phones.

The company decided to opt for the devices because there were advantages to small form factor and the company already had a large installed base of PDAs, Downey said.

Because of the differing roles of the managers taking part in the pilot the devices had to be tailored to suit each individual. After a one-to-one session to discover each manager's particular work style and needs, a package was created for them, followed by a half-hour familiarisation session to bring them up to speed with the device and software.

The management involved in the trial were quite taken with their new gadgets.

"Once we had the devices, our users wanted them - we couldn't our hands on enough of them," Downey said. "We had to manage expectations."

He said that during the pilot, the users became much more engaged and vocal about what they would like to do.

According to Centrica, using the devices can result in a productivity gain of between 30 and 90 minutes per day for an individual, while the deployment also has an added and unexpected advantage of boosting productivity among teams.

"Teams are saving time in the day, they're making decisions quicker," Downey said. "It's saving time not having to chase people around."

Downey added that the mobility scheme also gave the senior execs the "soft benefit" of not being so tied to their desks, leaving them to spend more time with their families, and the mobile rollout has now been expanded to100 managers.