Going mobile in a high-pressure environment

Mark Peake

Mark Peake of AMT-SYBEX explains how gas networks can benefit from a flexible, unified mobile platform

For any company that manages a large network of assets, operational complexity is inevitable. As the number and variety of assets increase, the complexity of the business processes required to install, inspect, maintain and replace those assets also increases proportionally.

This is particularly true for gas networks because their operating model requires very different levels of response to asset-related issues.

On the one hand, they have to carry out routine processes such as planned maintenance, riser inspections, connections for new customers and mains replacements. These tasks are important and need to be completed in an efficient and timely manner, but they are not immediately safety-critical.

On the other hand, they also need a rapid response capability to investigate and repair leaks and other dangerous faults as quickly as possible. Third-party damage or a major leak can be a significant threat to public safety, so gas companies need to act on leak reports with just as much urgency as the emergency services do when they respond to a 999 call.

Historically, many gas companies have handled the complexity of these different work types by separating responsibilities, using specific best-of-breed systems and specialist teams—or even different contractors—to handle different tasks.

This helps to achieve clarity within each domain, but it also creates silos of data and expertise. As a result, it can be difficult for gas networks to get a consolidated view of operations, or to make smart decisions about how to handle emerging incidents.

For example, imagine a technician is working on a routine inspection when a gas leak is reported in the next street. If the control centre operator can’t get a real-time view of where all their technicians are, they won’t be able to make the best choices about who to dispatch to assess the leak. And if the technicians who work on routine inspections don’t use the same mobile solution as the technicians on the emergency response team, it might not even be possible to assign them to the job.

The best option is to create a single platform for mobile enablement that is flexible enough to handle all of a gas company’s different requirements. This can either be a single tool, or—more likely—a suite of mobile tools that are integrated with back-office systems to provide situational awareness across the whole field of operations.

For example, to work on a mains replacement programme, field operatives may need access to geospatial data on a mobile device that helps them identify the location and arrangement of network assets. By contrast, more routine tasks, such as fixing a leak in a customer’s property, may be better served with a simpler, workflow-based mobile app. As long as both types of app can share data with the control centre and push new instructions or tasks to operatives, then gas companies will still be able to monitor activity in the field and optimize operational efficiency.

The other major advantage of having a single, coherent platform for mobile enablement is the ease of change management. Regulatory and business requirements for gas companies are in a constant state of evolution, and existing processes need to be continuously reviewed and improved to ensure that they remain up to standard (for example, performing riser inspections to ensure compliance in multi-storey buildings). When priorities change, multiple business processes may be affected, and it will be easier and safer to make the required changes in a single platform than to update multiple siloed systems individually.

Solutions like AMT-SYBEX’s Affinity Suite can help to simplify change management even further by making it easy to build and edit these processes through configuration, rather than coding. Line-of-business teams can develop forms and workflows without support from external consultants, saving time and cutting costs.

With a flexible mobile platform in place, the possibilities are practically endless. To give one example: gas companies are increasingly assessed by the regulator on customer service, yet the industry currently lags behind other sectors in its ability to interact with customers. Mobile solutions can help to bridge that gap.

For instance, if a customer is waiting for an appointment, gas companies should be able to send them a message to confirm the name of the operative who will be visiting them, and let them know the estimated time of arrival. Or if there’s a network problem and an entire housing estate needs to be taken off supply temporarily, it should be possible to send updates to all the residents to let them know when their gas will be back online. If your mobile platform is able to provide true situational awareness of what’s happening out in the field, these types of applications become much simpler to implement.

At AMT-SYBEX, we’re working on innovative mobile projects with SGN and other gas companies across the UK. Get in touch if you want to find out more about how a holistic approach to mobile enablement can fulfil all your mobile needs.

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