by Stuart Potchinsky
Stuart Potchinsky of AMT-SYBEX explains how combining mobile geospatial solutions with industry-specific workflows has transformed and improved field operations for asset-intensive companies
While utilities and transport infrastructure companies work in very different businesses, they face similar operational challenges. Customers expect them to provide services that “just work”, and seldom consider the prodigious engineering challenges involved in keeping the UK’s vast rail, electricity, gas and water networks online and available 24/7. Moreover, whenever there’s a signalling problem, power cut, gas leak or burst water main, both customers and regulators demand an instant response and expect services to resume quickly.
To keep your ageing and complex infrastructure in good condition, reduce the risk of service outages and react quickly when incidents do occur, you need to know exactly where all your assets are, both above and below ground.
That’s why most asset-intensive businesses are making significant investments in modernising their geospatial and mapping capabilities—replacing paper maps and manual processes with powerful, digital geographical information systems (GIS). These GIS platforms are also being integrated with their core enterprise asset management (EAM) databases to provide real-time access to asset information.
Making data actionable
However, capturing and storing detailed and accurate geospatial asset data is only half the battle. The benefits only come when that data is made available and actionable by putting it in the hands of the people who really need it—the inspectors, surveyors and engineers who are responsible for managing your assets in the field.
Technology has now advanced to a stage where industrial-grade mobile mapping solutions are widely available, enabling access to GIS data, maps and critical asset information in the field. Yet mapping alone isn’t enough—field teams also need a mobile platform that is flexible enough to support industry-specific asset management workflows, enabling them to manage, mark up and edit information and ensure timely, incremental updates to asset records.
As mentioned in a previous article in this series, many companies see mobile support as one of the weakest aspects of their current EAM platform. This is a clear driver for better solutions that combine both geospatial and asset data to support business processes from end to end.
That’s why AMT-SYBEX has spent the past several years investing in Geofield, our ground-breaking mobile spatial solution for field-based work management. In this blog, we’ll take a look at both what Geofield has helped our clients accomplish so far, and what’s in the pipeline for the future.
Geofield started out as a Microsoft Windows app, designed for use on the ruggedised laptops that were standard issue for field teams in the mid-2000s. As smartphones and tablets became both more powerful and more widely deployed, we recognised the potential of a mobile-first strategy and decided to re-engineer the product from the field workers perspective.
Today, Geofield is a multi-platform solution that runs on iOS, Android and Windows, and can be deployed on most modern smart mobile and tablet devices. As a result, users are no longer locked into buying their devices from a specific hardware vendor or supporting a single platform strategy: they can move between platforms with minimal effort. In fact, some of our clients are already actively moving their existing install base from a single platform to a multi-platform environment.
Multi-platform support is just one aspect of a wider focus on usability. We have not only redesigned the user interface to be intuitive to field users across a variety of mobile devices, we’ve also made Geofield much more open and flexible for business process owners and system administrators.
For example, from an integration perspective, Geofield is completely agnostic about the underlying GIS platform—it integrates with Esri, Smallworld and Autodesk, and connects to multiple back-ends within a single organisation.
And from an end-user perspective, creating or editing a workflow will soon be a matter of simple configuration by users, not coding by IT specialists. Built-in tools will make it easy to define new map layers and data capture forms with a few clicks.
As a result, there’s no need to rely on developers or external consultants—getting a new process into production is quick and easy, so you can be much more responsive to regulatory changes and new requirements from end users. Process changes will be much easier to deploy operationally, too: updates can be delivered to field users’ devices over the air, without requiring an expensive and time-consuming return to base.
In recent months, our clients have really taken the initiative and put Geofield to work in innovative ways—for example, integrating work order data from an EAM system with mapping data to enable instant mark up and map editing updates to asset information in the field. From a business process perspective, we’re now seeing Geofield used in all sorts of contexts—from contractor and third-party support to vegetation management, gas leakage investigations and storm damage assessment.
The road ahead
The next few milestones on the Geofield roadmap continue the theme of opening up the platform. We’re currently working on making it even easier to configure Geofield with new tools for building maps, data sets and even entire applications. This not only puts more power in the hands of our users, it also creates new opportunities for systems integrators and other partners to build new solutions on top of our platform.
We’re also opening up Geofield by extending its integration layer (or API) that will make it easier to link with third-party solutions—not just GIS and EAM solutions, but also cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure. Cloud-enablement will not only give our clients more options for how to deploy Geofield, it will also make it easier to take advantage of other cloud services, such as Microsoft PowerBI for analytics. Extending Geofield’s rich mapping capabilities for use by third-party contractors is another key area our customers are demanding, and we are working on several ways to enable contractor demands, such as “bring your own device” (BYOD) and map accessibility.
To learn more about our plans for Geofield and discuss how mobile spatial solutions can empower your field teams with real-time asset data, please reach out to us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.