Barnsley uses SAPUI5 apps to help housing field staff work smarter

Council IT staff work alongside Bluefin Solutions in agile project to digitise maintenance work carried out on social housing estates

Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council has made the field workers who deliver services to its 200,000 tenants more efficient by using SAPUI5 mobile applications.

The council’s IT staff worked with Bluefin Solutions on an agile project to digitise the work carried out by about 400 electricians, gas fitters, plumbers and other workers employed by Berneslai Homes, a property management company tasked with managing social housing in the South Yorkshire town.

David Robinson, the council’s head of application support, says that before the project kicked off in February 2015, workers were using an old SAP system that was out of support, on an old generation of Windows phones. The new system has been in use since September 2015, delivered to iPads.

The council engaged IT consultancy Bluefin Solutions to design and implement the solution, using an agile approach, in collaboration with the council’s SAP team, Berneslai Homes management, and a group of field workers.

Andrew Gunn, head of public sector at Bluefin, says the project was on the “far right-hand side” of local authority digital transformation initiatives.

Berneslai Homes is responsible for managing more than 18,000 properties and providing landlord services to council tenants on the authority’s behalf. Before the new solution, workers were spending a lot of time completing paper timesheets, which then had to be reviewed and approved by operational managers before the information was manually entered into SAP.

The situation was rather different for tradespeople, who had been using SAP Mobile Asset Management since 2006 to receive their work allocations and record time. But the ending of SAP support for that product was a spur to find an alternative that could also be used offline and be reconfigurable for future work.

Berneslai Homes’ management also saw a chance to improve the way it managed its work schedules, the process for tracing and managing stock movements between the centralised stores and job sites, and the production of CP12 gas certificates.

Bluefin advised the use of custom SAPUI5 applications to support time management for agency workers, to increase stores’ management visibility and enable the digitisation of CP12 gas certificates. These applications also allow for offline/online synchronisation to get round patchy 3G/Wi-Fi connectivity in the field.

Tradesperson management app

One of the apps, a tradesperson management application (TMA), enables gas engineers to electronically record and automate the inspection and production of CP12 gas certificates. When a tenant signs the CP12 certificate electronically, a printed version is generated for them and an electronic copy sent to, and stored in, the council’s SAP system.

This app was developed using SAPUI5 and Phonegap, an open-source technology that supports offline execution of SAPUI5 applications on mobile devices. “It is a container-based framework that allows you to run UI5 applications on mobile devices in an online and offline mode,” says Bluefin’s Gunn.

Phonegap synchronises data collected offline back into SAP once a tradesperson is connected to a network, he explains.

Read more about digital and local authorities

The council has reported gains in time efficiency and productivity. Two hundred workers are saving an hour each week by being able to order up and have delivered what they need on jobs.

Gunn adds: “It has been a pleasure to work with an organistion willing to put digital into its processes and disrupt those for the better. It has smashed paper-based processes and can keep tradespeople in the field without having to go back for stock.

“The degree of business user involvement, right from the start, was a key successor factor. It was incredibly collaborative.”

From the council SAP team’s perspective, Robinson says: “The speed of design and deployment, and the levels of engagement were the main things. The guys at the user end really grasped the agile concept of detailing what requirements are, and it is encouraging that we have a steady stream of those.

Agile delivery

“We are now on this iterative cycle. That’s what I’d pull out as the success. We had been dipping our toes into agile delivery. The whole SAP custom app thing has got legs and it will run for a while.”

The project’s business sponsor, Berneslai Homes commercial manager Alan Davies, said in a statement in September 2015: “The use of the applications will continue to have major benefits for Berneslai Homes. Additionally, we are now thinking about how we can develop other areas of the business in the same way.”

Luke Sayers, service director, information services at Barnsley council, said in the same statement: “Bluefin Solutions brings a truly agile approach to software development. This has tremendously helped our IT team to prove that delivering projects can be done quickly by working with the business and moving through swift iterations of an idea.

“The projects delivered felt more like a collaboration than a contracted piece of work – something we have found invaluable in the months we have worked together.”

Read more on Mobile apps and software