Morrison Utility Services fills in holes faster with ETAdirect

Morrison Utility Services is digging and filling in holes in the road more efficiently by using cloud-based mobile workforce management tool ETAdirect from TOA Technologies

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Morrison Utility Services is digging and filling in holes in the road more efficiently with cloud-based mobile workforce management tool ETAdirect from TOA Technologies. Reported benefits include a 15% reduction in travel time and reduced fuel costs of £2,288 per field team.

For this business process improvement it recently received a Computer Weekly enterprise software award in the cloud category.

Andy Carter, head of business process improvement at Morrison Utility Services (MUS), recalls that jobs used to be allocated manually, with supervisors (each in their own particular geographic area) working with sheets of paper and juggling resources and variables in their heads. “Quite often they’d be in the office till 8.30pm trying to get the work allocated for the next day. You can work that way with a small volume, but as it increases, especially around filling the holes in, it’s just too hard.”

The Stevenage-based company supplies infrastructure repair and maintenance services to electricity, gas, water and telecoms companies, mostly on highways.

Carter says his team of 16 project managers and business analysts provides “the link between the operations guys on the front line and process and IT changes. We do have industry-leading IT, most of which is built in-house.”

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IT consists of a development team and a support team that manages IT and network infrastructure. The development team is outsourced, both onshore and offshore, to India-based Zensar Technologies, and Carter’s team manages that relationship.

ETAdirect is used to direct ‘reinstatement’ operations – the filling in of holes created by roadworks or excavations. Each job can consist of 20 or more, often interdependent, tasks, and involves specialist vehicles, sourcing and transporting materials to the correct specification to many sites, and deploying staff with the right experience, accreditation and skill sets.

All this has to be managed in compliance with client service level agreements and notice and permit periods under street works legislation. The reinstatement element is particularly sensitive as it comes at the end of the notice period that MUS will have given the local authority, and time is at a premium. If MUS overruns its notice of work period, it is fined. “We don’t want to overstay our welcome,” says Carter. “No one wants holes all over the place.”

Cloud-based scheduling app

The cloud-based mobile workforce management software takes a time-based approach to scheduling. It uses field data to work out the best match between tasks and resources, and provides van drivers with the shortest routes between jobs. It is integrated with MUS’s own cloud-based workforce management system Isis, built on the platform

ETAdirect automatically pulls reinstatement tasks from Isis, including data on the type of work that needs to be done, surfacing material, location, street works constraints and SLAs.

The system was paid back within a year. It is something we show potential clients. It gives us a competitive advantage

Andy Carter, MUS

MUS field staff can use the HTML5-based ETAdirect mobile app on any device via a web browser. 

To begin with, they used a Motion F5v, a Windows-based rugged tablet. “It was a bit patchy,” says Carter. “Besides, we feel now that the devices will be looked after. People have these in their personal lives, so now we’ve gone for a Samsung Galaxy tablet, with a case.”

An MUS team usually consists of two workers in a van, with a trailer and a digger. Equipped with their tablets, they no longer need to visit the depot so frequently, and can record work information and take photographs on the spot. Their activities are automatically updated in Isis and progress is tracked in real-time throughout the day.

Most jobs are completed within a working day. “We realised about four years ago that we needed a clever scheduling solution. We looked around and chose TOA, partly because their technology is cloud-based and fits nicely with our workforce management system. The other thing we really liked was that it has a learning engine within it. So, for instance, it learns how long travel takes and how long activities take. Let’s say you guess it takes two hours to dig a hole. Well, the system might find out it takes, on average, 1 hour 56 minutes to dig a hole of that type and size, and it will build that into future scheduling.”

MUS has been running the system for two years. It first engaged TOA in autumn 2011, and deployed late July 2012. At the end of the first year, MUS did a “detailed analysis of what we had got out of the product”. The list of benefits in the first year of operation included:

  • £76,000 in savings by reducing the time that agents and dispatchers spend scheduling and assigning work manually
  • Increased workforce productivity by eliminating time spent visiting depots to return/collect paperwork and intelligently scheduling interdependent tasks
  • 15% reduction in travel time
  • Fuel cost savings of around £2,288 per field team (roughly £110,000 in total) by reducing trips to the depot and optimising routing between work sites

“The system was paid back within a year,” says Carter. “It is something we show our clients and potential clients. We feel it gives us a competitive advantage. 

“For example, we hosted a reference visit for TOA, showing Eon how we use ETAdirect. And we are piloting it in other parts of the business, and might use it in a smart metering contract, for which we would need a scheduling system.”

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