Most asset managers at European utilities, telecoms, transport and related service companies are aware of the benefits of providing real-time information to field engineers, but few are implementing strategies to make this possible.
This is one of the key findings of a survey by research company Coleman Parkes, which interviewed 292 managers at companies in these sectors in the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden.
The research, commissioned by IT services company LogicaCMG, looks at the challenges, performance and potential for improvement for mobile field work on physical assets such as pipes, cabling, and roads across Europe.
"We commissioned the research to get a better understanding of the value of mobile technologies to companies that carry out field work on physical assets across Europe," said Nigel Spooner, group director for enterprise asset management at LogicaCMG.
He said most of the results were in line with LogicaCMG's expectations. The research found that although most companies in these sectors share the same needs and concerns, some were of greater importance in some sectors than others.
The inability to reschedule workloads was the greatest concern for utility companies (83%), access to real-time information was most important to airports (84%), and improving customer information in the field was the highest priority for telecoms companies (86%) and utilities (84%).
However, the research found that relatively few companies had any strategies in place to meet the needs they had identified.
"One of the most surprising findings was that an average of 46% of companies surveyed did not yet have a single repository for asset information. That is a significant proportion. We thought it would be much less," said Spooner.
The research also found that most companies do not yet have a strategy to integrate geospatial information relating to location with other information about their assets.
"Without this, they will struggle to unlock the potential productivity improvements of around 9% identified in the study," said Spooner.
On average, 54% of companies said that the increased use of contractors meant that their systems did not get the right information at the right time. This figure was the highest in the utilities sector, where 84% reported this problem.
Spooner said although most asset managers recognised the problem, many were being prevented from solving it for a variety of reasons.
"Financial constraints are inevitably a factor for some despite clear business cases. Technology is also evolving rapidly, so many are adopting a wait-and-see approach in the hope of getting more for less in future, but most simply do not have access to the right information," he said.
The research report noted several new communications and geospatial technologies had emerged in recent years to enable companies to be more agile, backed by improved information exchange between companies and workers in the field. Despite this, there had been comparatively little investigation of the effectiveness of mobile workforces across Europe.
For this reason, Spooner said LogicaCMG would make the research report freely available. He said the finding would be of most use to managers or directors of companies with large work crews involved in construction, maintenance, or repair work and whose activities were not yet optimised.