Posted: Wednesday 2nd August 2017

Companies that rely on workers in fleets of vans to maintain, repair and upgrade their services must develop new ways to deliver information to mobile workers if they are to improve efficiency and services to customers, according to experts at a unique innovation festival.

A collection of businesses, academics and individuals, led by Northumbrian Water Group and BT, spent a week looking at ideas to streamline mobile workforces that work on complex networks, as part of the NWG Innovation Festival.

At the end of the week, they addressed an audience including water industry leaders and invited guests, outlining their idea of better delivering all of the information a worker would need before setting off to do a job.

This would include details of the work, the tools needed, recordings of the initial call from the customer, previous work that has been done at that location, and even relevant training videos.

Currently, the information is split between different systems, but by making it all available in one place, it will make workers more efficient when they are away from the office.

Additionally, ideas that were developed elsewhere at the festival, including comprehensive mapping of all companies' underground networks of pipes and cables, would also help to improve the efficiency of mobile workers. This would reduce the likelihood of causing a problem to another company's network and also ensure the worker would be better informed of what they will face beneath the ground before they dig a hole.

The ideas were among those that came out of Northumbrian Water Group's NWG Innovation Festival, a week-long event that brought together people from around the world, to address a series of issues which affect us all.

During the week, a five-day sprint saw around 50 people focussing on the issue of mobile working, taking it from an outline of the problem to ideas that can be developed. Sprints apply leading design thinking techniques to real world issues.

The sprint was addressed and attended by a range of people from various industries that use mobile workers, including the individuals who do the relevant jobs.

The sprint, entitled 21st Century Reach: How can we optimise a mobile workforce for a complex network business?was one of six such activities carried out at the same time at the NWG Innovation Festival, which took place at Newcastle Racecourse.

Stephen Law, Programme Director at Northumbrian Water Group, said: "It quickly became clear from the start of the week that the problems faced by our 1,201 mobile workers are reflected in a number of different industries.

"Computer and information systems that have been developed individually over the years do not necessarily link with one another effectively, so there is no single place where someone can find all of the information they need for a job when they are out and about.

"By solving this problem, we can reduce the number of times when a repeat visit is needed to resolve a problem and ensure that our people are fully equipped and informed before they even set off to do a job. This is great for us and, most importantly, for our customers and those of other companies that implement such as system, because it means we can react more quickly and effectively.

"We're already looking at how we can deliver this and are looking forward to building on the work of the NWG Innovation Festival to make improvements like this to support our customers."

The NWG Innovation Festival was supported by IBM, Microsoft, Ordnance Survey, BT, CGI Group and Reece Innovation.

It was also delivered in association with Newcastle University, Durham University, Genesys, Interserve in partnership with Amec Foster Wheeler, Costain Resources, PC1, Tech Mahindra, Mott MacDonald Bentley (MMB), Wipro, Virgin Media Business, Schneider, Wheatley Solutions, Sopra Steria, Accenture, 1Spatial, Infosys, Unify, ITPS, Esh-MWH, and Pen Test Partners.

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