Searching for a New Solution
The Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) inspects all electrical installations related to new construction, renovations or maintenance in commercial, industrial and residential settings. Each year, ESA receives approximately 350,000 new requests for inspections. This amounts to an average of 20 inspections a day for its 220 inspectors.
Managing this process in an efficient, cost-effective manner had been a complex challenge.
"In 1995, we implemented a homegrown, Windows Ò -based mobile inspection system to process requests for inspections, assign them to our inspectors, and synchronize inspection data with our consolidated database," said Mark Taylor, director of IT at ESA. "Although we were ahead of the industry in using mobile technology, that system ultimately wasn't able to meet our needs. We replaced it in 2000 with SAP's field service software, but after a few months we realized the SAP application was not able to easily meet the data access needs of our mobile frontline workers."
Using the SAP solution, ESA experienced slow data transfer rates, sluggish performance on its inspectors' laptops, data integrity issues and an inability to make changes to accommodate its evolving business needs without employing outside consultants.
Efficient Data Collection and Synchronization
According to Taylor, several factors led ESA to choose FieldWorker Enterprise, a mobile data collection and synchronization solution powered by SQL Anywhere from Sybase's iAnywhere subsidiary.
"It is a rapid application development tool, which meant we could develop solutions with functionality to meet our specific business needs at any given time without being hindered by cumbersome processes and without having to call in outside consultants," Taylor said.
FieldWorker also developed a "one-screen application" that allowed ESA inspectors to synchronize each morning to get work assignments, record the results of each inspection and synchronize that information with the SAP work order system and back-end Oracle database as frequently as desired. This one-screen application proved to be a real timesaver for inspectors, who previously had to tab through a number of screens to accomplish the same tasks.
"Previously, it took inspectors 20 minutes or more to synchronize their data at the end of the day," Taylor said. "FieldWorker slashed that to just two minutes. These performance improvements were huge for us because one of our major requirements for a new mobile solution was to reduce overtime among our inspectors."
FieldWorker Enterprise Powered by SQL Anywhere
Embedded within FieldWorker Enterprise is SQL Anywhere. The powerful solution allows organizations like ESA to exchange business-critical information between mobile workers and centralized systems. This rapid application development tool has been used by many organizations in a variety of industries to create applications such as work order management, inspections, asset management and tracking, customer service, meter reading and more.
"We embed SQL Anywhere in FieldWorker Enterprise because it provides us with a high performance, small footprint, scalable database as well as foolproof, bi-directional synchronization between mobile devices and back-end systems and consolidated databases," said Craig Tyndall, business development manager at FieldWorker Products Limited.
For the ESA application, SQL Anywhere resides on the inspectors' laptops and on a Windows-based server in ESA's main office where it functions both as a staging database and synchronization server.
"SQL Anywhere is ideal for use in the field and in the main office because of its minimal management requirements, particularly compared to Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server databases," Tyndall said. "SQL Anywhere is very reliable and it has performed very well at ESA, delivering dramatic business benefits."
A Tremendous Success
The selection and implementation of FieldWorker Enterprise has been a tremendous success for ESA.
"It's really enabled us to meet all of our project goals," Taylor said. "Inspector productivity has gone up. Synchronization times have been reduced by as much as 90 percent. And administration time has been slashed—in one instance from 10 or more hours to execute a simple staffing change to a matter of minutes. FieldWorker Enterprise is very adaptable and easy to use, which provides us with a great deal of flexibility from an operational perspective.
"Prior to implementing FieldWorker Enterprise, inspector productivity and morale were pretty low," he added. "Now our inspectors are very happy, their productivity is up and they're able to actually go home and have a life at night."