The good news, if you’re reading this, is that you are interested in learning how to automate the field service installation.
The bad news is that most existing work order systems are not designed to handle the specifics of meter installations. Specifically, they aren’t designed to:
- Dispatch to one or more installation crews versus a technician
- Automatically capture GPS readings (for buried meters, the GPS reading is critical and may need to include sub-meter accuracy)
- Attach pictures to the work order (a picture of the old meter with meter reading and a picture of the new meter with the meter reading and serial number)
- Import work orders from the utility
- Schedule exports of completed work orders to automatically send to the utility
- Allow custom fields and other data specific to an individual utility customer
The following is a list of needs we’ve heard from customers related to automating field surveys and installations.
- No programming – customers don’t want to have to write an application. They want something out of the box that can be used right away.
- Easy configuration and changes – customers want to be able to add fields or change fields and NOT have to get their IT staff or the vendor involved for simple changes
- Fast setup – customers want the option to have the system installed at their location or run on a hosted basis
- Multiple hardware device support – customers want the ability to use existing hardware. This requires API’s specific for each rugged device manufacturer. goRoam has support for Intermec and Motorola SDK’s built-in. This means that if you have an older model MC70 or CN3 with a 2D imager (cameras were not available), we support it. You don’t have to to upgrade to newer models such as the CN4, MC55 or MC75 that has a separate barcode scanner and camera – of course, we support those devices too.
- Temporary use – meter installations are project based work. Customers want the ability to scale up for a larger installation but not continue paying for devices and the software service between projects. goRoam is available on a hosted basis (per month, per user) and we have the option to rent devices.
- No lost data – the data on the mobile device needs to sync based on complete transactions (e.g. work order) versus a basic database table replication. Using tools to build mobile apps versus using an off-the-shelf complete system has resulting in hearing stories about customers who lost data and ended up losing the meter installation job. goRoam uses transactions and does not lose data.
- Automatic software updates – any changes to forms should be pushed down to users automatically.
- Easy integration – getting data into and out of the system should be easy, and it should not require a significant amount of programming.
In this walk through, we’ll show you how to quickly setup and implement mobile, wireless work orders for AMR meter or SmartGrid device installations. The installation is based on BizSpeed’s goRoam system. goRoam runs on the web for dispatchers and on rugged, wireless handheld devices for installation crews. goRoam can be used standalone or it can easily be integrated with existing work order systems.
Step 1 – Create the installation form
goRoam.Inspections is a module that allows rapid assembly of mobile forms without programming. Forms consist of pages, pages have questions, and questions have attributes (ex. textbox, checkbox, GPS, picture, etc.). Mobile forms can be ‘dispatched’ pre-populated with the work order information from the utility company or your work order system.
Logon to the goRoam server and create a new form. Name the form (ex. Meter Installation) and set the icon for the form.
Step 2 – Manage the form
Save and click ‘Manage’ to access versions of the form and start adding pages and questions.
You will see the list of versions of the form. Each time you want to update the form, you can create a version to work on before pushing it to the field. Once ready, you can simply ‘publish’ that version and it will be deployed to the users.
Step 3 – Add pages and questions
You will see the pages and can simply start typing to update the page name. To reorder pages or questions, drag and drop them to the new location. Add questions and set the question information. This is what will show up in the mobile form. You can see the list of question types listed below.
Questions can be of type:
- Combobox – drop-down list of values
- Numeric – includes precision such as 2 decimals
- Multi-choice group – drop-down list where the user can choose one or more values
- Radio button group – radio buttons where the user can only choose one value.
- Signature capture – this includes signature capture form on the mobile for the customer to sign with an electronic signature on the device. This also supports free form drawing.
- Time – time control
- GPS capture – supports capturing GPS from built-in or external GPS devices
- Image capture – inserts a picture from the device camera. This also supports image capture from Intermec and Motorola 2D imagers (barcode scanners).
- Label – read-only text. This is often used to display customer agreements, etc.
For each question, you can set numerous properties such as how it is populated, whether it is required, and conditional logic.
Step 4 – Preview the mobile form
Step 5 – Publish and assign to work crews/roles
Once a form is set, you can publish the form to one or more groups of users. These are typically going to be the roles you setup for your work crews.
Step 6 – Setup your post-completion handler (optional)
If you want to automatically email the completed survey, you can add a post-completion handler. This is a standard .NET extension that allows you to be notified when a survey comes in from the field and is marked complete. Typical uses would be to email copies of the survey or to perform other actions based on the results of the survey, such as creating a follow-up work order.
Step 7 – Import Utility Work Orders to Create Field Dispatches
Most utility companies will provide a flat file that contains the list of work orders they want completed. These include the customer name, address and basic demographic data. These can be imported via web services, scheduled jobs or our import utility. The import utility allows you to open a flat-file (CSV) and map the import fields to your survey fields. This will automatically create dispatches for each imported work order. Note that import profiles can be saved to quickly re-import additional records.
Step 8 – Field users receive and complete work orders
The technicians receive all dispatches for their role (work crew) or for them individually (as a user). To start a meter installation, the tech taps the screen to see the work order. The forms are configured per utility company specs – so this installation example includes the following:
- Pre-installation checklist
- Installation – work order details including customer info and contact
- Communications gateway – for a multiple devices that use a single communications gateway
- Location information
- Service call resolution
- Info on additional devices installed (if any) – for instance, monitoring units for HVAC, water heaters or pool pumps.
- Embedded pictures, GPS, customer electronic signature and barcode scanning of installed and removed devices
- Optional printing – each form has built-in printing support and can be printed using mobile printers like the Zebra RW420
Orders are sent and receive wirelessly in the background. Once complete, the order can be exported to the utility in a batch file.
Step 9 – Export data to Utility Company
Using the goRoam.MobileHub, the dispatcher can manually export orders or can setup a scheduled task to export completed orders to the utility company via FTP.
These results can be exported to a CSV file – the easiest way to view is in Excel.
If you made it this far….thanks! We’d love to hear from you. Please contact us for more info or leave a comment.