Think HBR

Cloud in the field boosts efficiency

Lake Mac ipad
A decision by Lake Macquarie City Council in New South Wales to prioritise putting tablet technology in the hands of its outdoor staff is proving the benefits of cloud-based storage systems in the field. Council’s Chief Information Officer, Brooke Humphries, said a recent trial that gave outdoor staff access to iPads has led to better documentation of maintenance problems and solutions, and better tracking of service requests through Council’s system.
The trial, which was conducted with staff in Council’s maintenance, horticultural and civil construction arm, CiviLake, is a key step in removing reams of paper from its field operations. “Mobile tablet technology gives staff access to the Council’s latest procedural documents and service requests remotely, using a cloud-based Dropbox storage system that automatically synchronises then updates across all devices,” Ms Humphries said.
In a business process review conducted in 2014, Council identified that paper-based systems were cumbersome and time-consuming for outdoor workers. Site supervisors reported that they were lugging around weighty procedural manuals and outdoor staff were making trips back to base to pick up and deliver hard copy service requests.
“We wanted to try to solve this problem by giving staff iPads so they could access the latest procedures and service requests electronically while in the field,” Ms Humphries said. During the six-month trial, Council issued 12 iPads in rugged cases to site supervisors across all areas of CiviLake’s field operations, from gardens, parks and trees to fire mitigation, roads and drainage maintenance.
One of these participants was site supervisor Bob Corse who, despite being a willing convert to a paper-free approach, admits he was a bit apprehensive at first.
“I’d never used an iPad before, but now I’d hate to be without it,” Mr Corse said.
Mr Corse has become a ‘high user’ of his new tablet, which he says is a great tool for supervision of drainage maintenance work.
“The service requests are all there in front of me on the screen and they are even sorted by suburb, so I can get on with the job instead of rummaging through the paperwork.
“It’s also given me a camera and access to email in the field, so I can just take a photo and send it to my coordinator when I need to explain something or get quick advice.
“The iPad has changed my job in a good way,” Mr Corse said.
His enthusiastic response mirrors feedback from other participants, who have reported that their iPads have enabled quicker problem solving because they put a wealth of searchable procedural information at their fingertips. This allows staff to deal with more service requests ‘on the spot’.
Ms Humphries said she is pleased with the results.
“Council is moving to a more customer-oriented approach, so improving the way we log, handle and respond to service requests is a big focus for us.
“Overall, we found the outcomes of the trial with outdoor workers so positive that we are introducing another 60 iPads this year for use by CiviLake staff.
“I think it’s a really important question for local government organisations to ask themselves which staff need new technology first, and in whose hands it will deliver the most value for the community.”