If the lights go out, we rely on the swift action of utility workers to restore services. So it makes sense to gear them up with technology to make their jobs easier. When Queensland electricity supplier, Energex, wanted to ‘tech-up’ its mobile workforce, it enlisted the help of TLC Data Systems. The integrator is a specialist in ruggedised computing and was tasked with devising an on-the-road notebook solution.
On the road again
Energex covers the South-East Queensland region, spanning an area of 25,000 square kilometres with a population of about 2.8 million residents. It manages 50,000km of underground and overhead electricity cables and has more than 3500 staff.
A portion of employees were remote workers driving around and performing domestic connections, maintenance and repair. The group also includes a rapid response team to deal with emergency situations.
Three years ago, the company embarked on the Field Force Automation (FFA) project to digitalise its mobile workforce. A tender was opened and was won by TLC.
“Energex wanted to arm all those workers with devices in their vehicles so they could automate job schedules, so to computerise dispatch, along with a GPS so they can be tracked particularly for emergency response so the company can track the nearest vehicle and send them in,” TLC director, Rob Boogers, said. “Energex also wanted to give the group access to the intranet so they felt more connected to the company.” At the time of the tender, the Panasonic Toughbook CF18 was the only device to met all of the client’s requirements. As the FFA is an ongoing project, newer vehicles commissioned by Energex are now being installed with the Toughbook CF19, replacing CDMA Internet connection with next-generation HSDPA technology. To date, TLC has serviced a fleet of 1000.
The integrator provided the notebook as well as designed and installed the solution, which involved formulating suitable mounting equipment for each type of vehicle. Each mount had to be certified under the Australian Design Rules (ADR) so if there were any mishaps, Energex would be covered under insurance.
“There were more than 20 types, so everything from larger trucks right down to utility vans and 4WDs,” Boogers said. “Then you have to consider the different makes and models.”
A bumpy ride
Timing was an issue when implementing the mobility solution, as installation typically took half a day and workers were constantly on the move. Organising with individual depots became an essential part of the process.