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Melbourne Water pushes mobile out into the field

Melbourne Water pushes mobile out into the field

The organisation is equipping field workers with mobile devices so they can directly enter data on site

In the next 12 months Melbourne Water plans to integrate the mobile platform with its corporate systems such as asset management, spatial and permit to work, so that field workers can access those systems via their devices while out in the field.

Courtney said this will further improve efficiencies as it will allow field workers to consolidate their work activities and save on having to make multiple trips to a site over a week.

“As an example, a field worker is looking at assets to assess their current condition. They might be looking for corrosion, free operation, physical damage or other problems,” he said.

“While that field worker is in that area they might notice other jobs that need to be done such as some fencing needs to be fixed, or some weeding problems.

“When we have our corporate system integrated with the tablet they will be able to raise work order on the spot, they will be able to do permit to work, risk assessment, etc. While they are there they don’t need to travel and stop what they are doing to initiate another transaction or interaction.”

Going down the mobility path is a “very disruptive process”, Courtney said, and the organisation faced challenges such as how to ensure that field workers who are in areas without telecommunication services won’t have their work interrupted.

“The difficulty, from an IT perspective, is people in a mobile working context may have some Next G signal where they happen to be at the time, but when they move into an area where there aren’t any Telstra comms or other comms services available then that changes the operating mode.

“So we’ve looked at a mixed-mode client, something that can manage the need to data to get back to Melbourne Water without intervention by the field user.

“For example with the Kern system, when our operator saves a completed form the Kern client will determine if there are any data comms services available. If there is, the data will be transmitted back to Melbourne Water. If there aren’t, then the user doesn’t have to do anything as Kern will hang onto that form until such a time when there are comms available and will authenticate and send the form through.”

When it comes to training, Courtney said the technology is quite intuitive and doesn’t require much effort from the end user. However, he did set aside “a good couple of days per team” to train the workers on using the power user administrative levels so that they can have control over their own forms.

“Pretty much all our people use all our systems so we don’t tend to have piecemeal systems that only one business group would use. We’ve taken a very deliberate decision to actually empower our field teams to manage their own forms.

“The reason we have done is this because the people in the business who know the most about the forms are the people filling them in so it’s in their interest to keep them as simple and as streamlined as possible,” he said.

“We haven’t just thrown them in the deep end, we’ve created a governance structure and templates and a lot of tools to help them in that process but also to establish a template approach to this. So we have forms that are created in a similar manner even though the data that each form would contain is unique.”

Another project that Melbourne Water is embarking on, Courtney said, is using drone aircraft to inspect hazardous areas, such as the tops of dams and tops of spillways, so people don't have to operate in highly dangerous environments. He said a couple of trial flights have already taken place and the testing period will be completed over the next three to four months.

Courtney said the drone aircraft will also be used to better measure greenhouse gas emissions from waste-water treatments and the like.

“The way that we measure the emissions from our treatment lagoons all happens at ground level and we use a mathematical model to extrapolate figures from reading to take in at ground level.

“What we are keen to do is get a better idea of the actual measurable quantities so we are working with a contractor at the moment to equip a suitable drone with measuring equipment to fly over the area and actually do proper measurements.”

Follow Rebecca Merrett on Twitter: @Rebecca_Merrett

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Tags Asset Managementdata qualitydata collectionmotion computingMelbourne Waterfield workersmobile field workersPanasonic Toughpads FZ-G1electronic formsFrank Courtneydrone aircraft

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