Using Ordinary Technology for Extraordinary Improvement
Personal digital assistants (PDAs) and global positioning systems (GPS units) are two of the more common pieces of technology in our everyday lives. PDAs - or smartphones, or handheld computers, or netbooks, or tablet computers - help us maintain our schedules, our contacts and our online connections. GPS helps us find locations for business meetings and restaurants, as well as directions when we're in unfamiliar places.
But even though these tools have become commonplace in some aspects of our lives, they can still provide a powerful means of improving processes and procedures when they're introduced in the work world. Just by combining PDAs and GPS, the city of Graz, Austria, has impressively streamlined work practices for city workers, saving time, paperwork and money.
Taking handheld technology into the field
In 2008 the city implemented a new program that put PDAs equipped with GPS capability in vehicles used by the Grunraum department of city-owned Grazer Wirtschaftsbetriebe Ltd., which is responsible for trees, parks and city streets. Working with Latschbacher, an Austrian distributor for durable mobile computers supplied by Handheld, the city ordered 60 TDS Nomad 800 rugged handheld computers - high-performance PDAs.
The program's process involved technical preparation, a test phase, an adaptation phase and then a two-stage rollout of the computers. Each Grunraum crew of two to four workers has one Nomad mounted inside a vehicle. Crews that come back to the central offices each day are equipped with a Nomad which uses WLAN technology to transfer data from the handheld to a central computer in the office. Crews that don't come back to the office daily have Nomad units which use GPRS cellular technology to transmit the data from the field.
The new tools were aimed at helping two aspects of the department's work: garden maintenance in the summer, and road maintenance in the winter.
Garden maintenance: From seven steps to one
The impact of the new technology was immediate in garden maintenance. The previous workflow for each project was done almost entirely on paper; the worker had to record the area and street being worked on, list the item number of the individual task, and then create and issue a voucher. Then the work record had to be transferred by typing data from the paper record into a dedicated software program and printing it out. That printout was passed on to the Grazer Wirtschaftsbetriebe invoicing department, where the data was again transferred, into the invoicing system. Then, and only then, could an invoice be issued back to the city. (The department invoices the city, which allows the city to bypass paying VAT.) If you're counting, that's seven steps before an invoice could be printed.
With the Nomad PDAs mounted in their vehicles, now workers simply enter all the initial data into the computer, using software developed with the help of Austrian vendor Mobil Data. That data, along with the GPS coordinates of each worksite, is saved and automatically transmitted directly into the invoicing system. That's one step to printing an invoice.
Road maintenance: Mapping without paper
As Grazer Wirtschaftsbetriebe crews clear winter-service routes - the sections of road that are maintained for winter travel - they must identify when each route is cleared, for insurance and invoicing purposes. In the past this was done by marking the routes on paper maps, a tedious process. Using the new Nomad PDAs, the work crews can instead do all the mapping on the computer screen, and the GPS capability of the Nomads ensures that the mapping matches up precisely with the actual roads being travelled. The route data is captured electronically on the Nomad and transmitted back to the city's offices, where the information can be distributed through the proper information and media channels.
Easy adoption by workers, better information for citizens
With any changes - and technological ones in particular - there is always the risk that workers will either resist them or be unable to adapt to them. But this wasn't the case for the Graz workers.
"Of course, careful consideration was given to making sure the drivers and other employees would be able to operate the new system," said Martin Nigitz, Division Manager for the Grünraum Division. "The Nomad is an easy tool for them to operate."
Having the PDAs offers other benefits as well. Supervisors are able to monitor the work logs of the drivers and other employees, given that the work data has all been recorded electronically. And when residents of Graz have questions, the state-of-the-art Nomads and their electronic data-capturing capability allow officials to respond to inquiries much faster, more precisely and more accurately.
For more information about the Nomad, visit our product facts or go to www.ultrarugged.com
Streamline record-keeping for municipal work crews by eliminating paper-based processes and automating data entry - without prompting resistance from workers accustomed to a low-tech approach.
Equip maintenance crews and vehicles with easy-to-use TDS Nomad rugged handheld computers that can use GPS, WLAN and GPRS technology to gather and transmit data.
Paper-driven processes that took seven steps are now done electronically in one. City officials can respond to residents' inquiries faster and more accurately. And employees embraced the change to handheld computers.