IT changes working practice

Severn Trent explains how laptops will streamline maintenance work

Workers responsible for mechanical, electrical and instrumentation maintenance at Severn Trent Water will be given laptops in the near future. The company is investing in over 300 Panasonic Toughbooks which will give maintenance staff access to all the information they need to carry out their work and provide instant records on completion of the task. The need to improve dependability of assets is the driver of the project, as well as the need to meet OFWAT's price determination, but the company believes it will have many other benefits.

Under the present scheme, operatives dealing with the maintenance of equipment and instrumentation at Severn Trent's water supply and sewage treatment works will have their own laptops. Through this they will be able to access all information required, at any time and from any location. They can then feed-back all the relevant data. "The way things operate at the moment the men come into the depot, collect the day's job tickets and then complete their jobs," explains Julian Garner, project manager for the MFW scheme. "Once a job is completed, the details are recorded on the tickets which at the end of the day are passed to the central office for recording. The details have then to be input manually, which takes time."

Under the new system, men can work independent of the depot. Job tickets and health and safety information will be issued electronically, so staff can go directly from home to their first job. Details of work carried out will also be passed electronically into central records. This means asset management information is available within 24h rather than several days later.

Severn Trent Water has more than 1,000 works spread over an area of 21,600km². Maintenance operatives are required to visit a larger number of sites in a day and cutting out the time spent travelling from home to the depot can save anything up to an hour. With larger areas to cover, local knowledge is often less readily available, but the laptop will give maintenance staff on-site instant access to the relevant information. This is now possible through the Navigo system, developed for Severn Trent by Cognica, in which all Severn Trent operating manuals were made available electronically. Once the laptop is plugged in on-site the engineer has everything he needs to carry out the work.

Severn Trent Systems is currently in the final stages of refining the dedicated software for the laptops and integrating it into the existing business procedures. The programme incorporates elements of the existing Scheduler resource management application and FieldIT mobile work manager. Once the software has been finalised, the company will start on an intensive training programme to familiarise staff with its use.

The software is designed to be simple and straightforward, and is specific to the proposed application. The hardware has also been selected after careful assessment. The Panasonic laptops have been chosen because they are designed to tolerate tough handling. "They are waterproof and can put up with the odd bang without damage," says Julian Garner.

The MFW project will mean a new way of working, and the effects on the whole organisation are considerable. "This is a substantial change in practice and involves re-engineering business processes to support the use of IT," Garner points out. "Also, we need to find out how the workmen respond to working from home, and it's not just they who will face change. Currently managers see their maintainers on a day-to-day basis, and under the new system this will go."

All change
In spite of the radical nature of changes in business practice and the substantial investment in hardware and software, Severn Trent is confident it will pay-off. More efficient deployment of staff, swifter completion of routine maintenance and repairs, speedier response to emergencies and more effective and up-to-date information on asset condition will all contribute to better asset management and better management of resources. Severn Trent is already considering a similar fieldworking system for those responsible for pipe laying and pipe maintenance.

The company expects to begin testing the system in August 2002 and will then begin a roll-out programme on a county-by-county basis. "We hope to go live early next year", says Julian Garner, "and complete the project in September 2003."


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