Mobile Workforce at home with new housing management technology

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Enterprise mobile technology group, 1st Touch, has launched 1st Touch Mobile Workforce, a new enterprise-wide software solution that delivers a complete mobile workforce management solution for social housing, property services organisations and local government. Existing clients include Coast & Country, Powys County Council and the Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust.

The system manages, supports and controls mobile operatives across all aspects of housing management including: property maintenance, inspections, mobile service provision, asset management, responsive repairs, utilities (gas and electric) and performance monitoring together with voids and contract management. 1st Touch Mobile uses low-airtime usage, "Smart Client" technology that automates the links between the field-based mobile operative's PDA and the housing organisation's back-office systems, its depots and the warehouse. In marked contrast to other costly "always on" mobile solutions, 1stTouch Mobile Workforce can work with or without a signal, transmitting encrypted, secure data in periodic small bursts. This innovative approach, it is claimed, reduces typical communication costs by up to 75 %.

1st Touch Mobile Workforce also supports adherence to the wide portfolio of best practice, compliance and legislative pressures currently faced by housing organisations including: Decent Homes standards; Lone Worker Protection guidelines; Health and Safety directives and regulatory compliance.

The resilient but flexible system also enables easy, programming-free, user-customisable solutions to be created; designed to simplify handheld form design and data capture applications. Any type of electronic form can be generated, replicating closely all current working practices without the need for Business Process Mapping. It also ensures that any future changes or updates required by the organisation can be incorporated without any need for code changes to the applications. This reduces any potential ongoing costs for the customer as requirements will inevitably change and grow over time.

The forms which can be pre-filled from back-office systems, with details such as customer name and address, are then sent electronically to field-based users' PDAs, to collect additional information. All the system's functions, together with information received or entered by the mobile worker, are operated and accessed via drop down menus and tick boxes, to ensure optimal usability and consistent data quality.

As visits to depots or material stores and customers are all allocated and sent electronically, the amount of travel undertaken by mobile workers is greatly reduced. Ongoing appointments can also be scheduled or amended in the field by the operative. This, in turn, cuts down head-office administration and creates an enhanced customer interface with residents, patients and the local community in general. Another major benefit is the increased staff morale of mobile workers, as their role is simplified and head-office administration seems more consistent and responsive.

A Field Report Generator allows the PDAs to automatically generate one or many field reports from a single data-capture exercise. A web portal delivers access to the field reports and the data collected. This has been designed to be completely configurable so that users can only see their own data and yet are able to share the results with customers easily, should they choose.

In the social housing sector, a particularly important feature is the 1st Touch Voids Module. This is a fully configurable set of forms and processes which enables the initial void inspection to be scheduled and despatched to the inspection team.

The system also incorporates a GPS Mapping module. Each operative's position is captured and viewable on a map at key points in the job process. Clicking on an individual operative on the map will bring up the full, current job information and the most effective route-plan. With this GPS mapping functionality Lone Worker Safety is provided by the ability to pinpoint the exact location of an operative and other operatives who may be nearby. A panic button facility on the PDA signals an alert to head office so that immediate action can be taken.

Other options include: online parts ordering and intranet access. Associated applications available include: Rent and Arrears, Social Care, Clean Streets, Communal Areas and Contractor's Compliance.

All the field-based, PDA functionality of 1st Touch Mobile Workforce is backed up by a robust, comprehensive and flexible back-office administration suite. The administration functions are also accessible via a web browser; enabling management to view data anytime, anywhere.

The enormous productivity gains that can be made in terms of Return on Investment, claims 1st Touch, provide a typical payback of less than twelve months and helps social housing organisations to meet the requirements of the Decent Homes Initiative and the recommendations of the Gershon report more effectively.

John Stabler, MD of 1st Touch believes that 1st Touch Mobile Workforce goes further than the market has previously been able to offer commenting, "Many mobile solutions are only partial answers, with specific vendors focussing on their own functional aspects of the mix. 1st Touch Mobile Workforce unifies all the different back-office functions providing the mobile operative and management alike with a single, easy to use integrated solution. The results are striking.

"This is especially true in the social housing sector. With The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister committed, in response to the Gershon review, to achieving savings of 274m, 550m and 835m in housing over the next three years, the efficiencies that mobile technology can bring to the management and maintenance practices of Local Authorities and Housing Associations are considerable.

"For example, to gain 3* status the National Audit Office (NAO) looks for organisations that have implemented the most efficient working practices available, to make certain that Best Value is delivered from the income generated and grants acquired. The main focus has been placed on electronic mobile working solutions and quite rightly so, as these systems can deliver significant benefits in order of 20%. This is not a best guess but is a well proven, verifiable and achievable return. As such, 1st Touch Mobile Workforce is a significant part of any such efficiency strategy.

"In the Property Services and Local Government sectors too, the drivers are just as significant. With the current economic backdrop, efficiency and cost savings are the Holy Grail of successful practice. Here too 1st Touch Mobile Workforce is there to deliver a real and substantial impact."

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