PG&E Builds A Common Mobility Platform

By  Susan Nunziata — November 30, 2009

(Want to know more about Mobile Workforce Management? Read our feature report, Mobile Workforce Management: The Brave New World.)

Imagine dealing with a mobile environment that's been built up piecemeal over more than 10 years, encompasses 30 different line-of-business solutions and uses all manner of wireless connectivity, including cellular, satellite and WiFi.

Such is the case for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), a San Francisco-based utility that services business and residential customers spanning 70,000 square miles. In fact, the term mobile workforce management really doesn't do justice to the scope of the project PG&E is in the midst of undertaking.

The mobile solutions currently in place throughout the company "grew up organically and independent of one another," says Shawn Crossley, Enterprise Platform Architect, Information Systems Technology Services with PG&E. The existing solutions are a mix of custom applications and off-the-shelf solutions. "These things grew up when networks weren't pervasive, applications weren't integrated," he explains.

The solutions serve some 10,000 mobile workers in various divisions, including emergency workers, field service and repair technicians, meter readers, crews responsible for inspecting and maintaining utility poles, and workers responsible for managing the growth of vegetation around utility lines.

The goal is to create a common user experience across the organization.
This means:

  • giving mobile workers in various lines of business a common way to log onto their mobile device;

  • providing a seamless and transparent way to persist network connectivity for devices in the field; and

  • enabling IT to commonly manage the devices.

This idea, which started as "a glimmer in someone's eye" in 2005 began to take real shape in 2007 with the building of a business case, says Crossley.

"It takes some time to build the business case [and] get people rallied around it," he says. "How we've done this differently than in the past is that this is pervasive across all our business units. We've got senior leadership support across our entire business, whereas in the past you might have gotten one specific business sponsor for one specific part of your business, and that's how that thing got off the ground."

The challenge at that stage, says Crossley, was "really making sure that we could identify benefits across all lines of business and then making sure people were comfortable with those benefits and signed up for those benefits." Those universal benefits include:
  • Improved reliability and efficiency, which ultimately enhances customer service;

  • Ability to adhere to regulatory compliance;

  • Environmental benefits from reducing mileage and other routing optimization options.

"The duration of 2008 was refining the business case, developing the roadmap of how we're going to deploy the technology, and then doing the design work for some of the foundational components like the Enterprise Mobile Platform."

Unwired Revolution worked with PG&E to build the scalable Enterprise Mobile Platform using Sybase's iAnywhere and Afaria device management and application enablement tools. The utility is working with McAfee and other security providers on additional security components, Iron Mountain on data backup services, and NetOp for remote control and support. Cellular service is provided by Verizon and AT&T, while satellite connectivity is also being incorporated.

The 75-100 inspectors in the company's Pole Test & Treat division -- responsible for maintaining millions of wood utility poles -- are the first slated to be deployed using the new platform. The division's legacy application was rewritten using Syclo's Rapid Application Development framework to reside on top of the new Enterprise Mobile Platform. A handful of inspectors have been piloting the solution, with the entire crew slated to go live by summer 2009. The pilot includes testing various types of mobile devices, and a final decision is pending regarding which device will ultimately be deployed.

The remainder of 2009 will be focused on the design and build of the company's Schedule & Dispatch application for its field operations. The renewed application will continue to allow for PG&E to better serve its customers and is scheduled for deployment throughout 2010.

"What I'm excited about is really building a common set of devices, a common way to interact with the device for the broader community at PG&E," says Crossley. "We're 20,000-plus employees. Today, we're really talking about field crews and those types of things. Why can't the same technologies be leveraged for the office worker who spends a lot of [his or her] time outside the cube? Or people working from home? There's a lot of cool stuff that comes after this, and we're using the mobile initiative to drive that."

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