GIS data is indispensable to utilities. From the back office the data provides essential views and information about the service territory on which critical decisions are made. Leveraging that data out to the field provides even greater benefits like streamlined regulatory compliance, operations and maintenance. There is no real argument on whether or not to empower utility field crews with GIS – the question is how to empower them. The right hardware and software will make a big difference on utility field crews getting the most out of Mobile GIS.
How do you go about selecting the right hardware and software? Start by taking a look at how the utility worker performs his work. Take a look at the different mobile workflows and define a list of requirements. For hardware, questions should include:
- What environment is the worker primarily in?
- How remote are employees?
- Can you rely on “an always connected” application, or do you need “store and forward”?
- Do your workers need a higher amount of power, specific carrying case or a vehicle mount?
- Is a barcode scanner or camera needed?
- What operating system is needed to run all the software systems?
- Is data entered more easily with a keyboard, a stylus or by touch?
- How sensitive is the work being performed and what level of security is needed?
We think you’ll find after answering these questions and others that typically, a utility worker will require a mobile device that can be easily docked and undocked in a vehicle, is easy to carry and use – and is also rugged enough for the field environment. In addition, the utility worker regularly uses bar code scanners, RFID readers and magnetic stripe readers to complete their work. Making sure the mobile device includes these features will further streamline their work day. The hardware will also need to include external battery chargers and wireless connectivity as well as run an operating system that supports the software.
And what about that software? Again, start at the beginning…take a look at how the field worker works and make a list of requirements. What will truly enable them to get the most out of the GIS? In addition to being easy to use, the application should provide automated data replication, seamless interface with enterprise GIS, high performance and configurability.
Going mobile the right way is possible with a bit of time upfront. Work with your end-users to clearly define their work day and specific workflows that will include the Mobile GIS. You will be glad you did, your bottom line and end-user acceptance will show it clearly.
Britton K. Cronin