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2 MVW in practice: customs control in the Netherlands

2 MVW in practice: customs control in the Netherlands

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12 Case Descriptions of Mobile Virtual Work in Practice


Presently, assignments are on paper and picked up by controllers at the

office. They write the results during the control on a form, which is

brought back to the office and then entered manually in the system. In the

future large parts of the data exchange will be automated and the communication with the controllers will be done through new devices. In the experiment the following devices were tested: laptops, Smartphones (PDA

plus GPRS), and tablet-PCs. Depending on the setting controllers use either a PDA or a tablet PC. Planned assignments are generated by planning

systems and ad hoc assignments are allocated through the control room.

All assignments are send using GPRS to PDA and tablets of the mobile

custom controllers.

The experiment was successful; it has resulted in a Program of Requirements for a full scale implementation in the organisation in 20052007. For the technical support a tender is send out for European companies. Both Smartphones and Tablets will be used. Basic principle will be:

do not develop company specific solutions but use existing, commercially

available, solutions. The objectives of the development are to increase efficiency, i.e. more controls, with less costs, effectiveness, i.e. higher probability of discovering frauds, more flexibility of execution, and better relations with customers, i.e. less disturbance of client logistics, shorter control


12.2.2 Implementation

The customs agency is a relatively small case compared to the other cases

under review. However, it has been a trial and is decided to be scaled up

considerably. Though the organisation made a reasonably small investment, the usage of robust technology allowed to generate quite some positive value impact. The customs agency relied on proven technology for the

mobile work solution. Standard internet connectivity and access gateways

to the intranet where used in the case. The organisation tested different

end-devices as personal equipment for the controllers. At some periods the

controllers used Smart phones (wireless connected PDA’s), at other times

they used Laptops-with-wireless connections. Both have the same purpose,

but are used in different physical environments, for example PDA’s in

hangars, ships and Laptops in offices.

Relying on proven technology resulted in limited technical problems

and moderate need for employee up-skilling. However, the experiment

identified some technical issues in the area of data transfer speed, battery

duration, and certain ergonomic conditions, e.g. use of the tools in rough

environments like freeze-cabins.


Robert M Verburg et al.

The technology does not make use of personalization or localization

data although this would be possible within the current application. The

mobile solution is not yet integrated into other applications within the customs organisation and operates as a stand-alone application. It may be possible to make connections to adjacent administrative systems in the future.

12.2.3 Benefits and drawbacks

The mobile work solution allows for better control of and more efficiency

in work processes. The control assignments can be send to the controller

much faster, the controllers can send the results of a control almost immediately to the central control room, so controls can be processed faster. As

a result, goods can be cleared much faster for the client. This implies fewer

disturbances of client logistics.

In the Rotterdam area all custom officials involved were positive for the

following reasons:

The tools were perceived as very user-friendly. Employees appreciated

the reduction of waiting time between assignments and valued the significant reduction in administrative paper work. Customs information of the

assignments could be entered in the laptop or smart-phone during the control, rather than being transferred from a written form into a desktop computer at the office.

The tool enabled customs officials to perform information requests and

they could receive relevant information during the trip. The overall benefits of the mobile custom control solutions are the following:

Improved information availability for controllers

Higher flexibility of task assignment

Faster processing of results of controls

Goods can be cleared much faster for the client

Less waiting time for assignments at the office

Positive reactions by controllers

The tools are very user-friendly

Data have to be entered only once

Information can be asked and easily received during the trip

Improved image and employee motivation

In summary, the new mobile work solution increased employee motivation and is expected to improve the outside image of the agency. Profit and

loss implications have not been in the focus of the experiment. We rate the

overall value impact fairly high, since the set up of a running solution, and

the reduction of the administrative work generated a well-perceived moti-

12 Case Descriptions of Mobile Virtual Work in Practice


vation- and image-impulse for the agency. Negative experiences with tool

are limited and have to do with the sometimes slow data-communication

over the existing network. For security reasons employees need to log on

to the intranet several times during the day. Another small concern has to

do with limitations such as the duration of batteries.

12.2.4 Conclusion and lessons learned

As described above, the technology deployed to support mobile work in

this case is not highly advanced, however it generates a rather positive

value impact for the customs agency. The historical lack of advanced technology in this agency makes a relatively moderate technological solution

already a success in the eyes of the employees and the organisation. The

key challenges for a further improvement of the mobile work environment

will be the seamless up scaling of the trial and, possibly, the integration of

databases across various governmental entities (e.g. police).

In order to pre-empt isolation among the employees the agency should

actively manage the social cohesion. Since it is technically possible to send

assignments to the controller at home, who then goes directly to the client,

isolation of employees may occur. However, presently controllers come

still to one of the offices in the morning and in the evening, to pick up or

bring back the tool and the car they use that day. This situation is not likely

to change in the future as controllers do not have their ‘own’ car but make

use of a limited number of company cars that are only available at the office.

In summary, the case shows benefits in the area of operational efficiency and in terms of employee satisfaction. Implementation efforts and

technological challenges have been minimal, since the project was based

on a proven technology.

We recognize that the development in the Dutch custom agency is in

line with the general automation trend in the organisation. Organisational

processes and actual work practices were not strongly changed, although

this was technically possible. Therefore, the introduction of the new devices was quite easily done. Due to earlier experiences, the project was set

up with extensive involvement of the organisation and organised by a project team and participative development and evaluation.


Robert M Verburg et al.

12.3 MVW in practice: providing facility services in Italy

Siram is the Italian subsidiary of the leading European provider of facility

management services for public and private companies. Its service portfolio includes the management of heating and air conditioning facilities, the

operation of district heating systems, and industrial energy services. Siram

has locations throughout Italy and the head office is located in Milan. The

number of employees is 700, all of them with permanent contracts, and

450 employees are involved in the maintenance process. There are about

5.500 sites managed by Siram staff. The case focuses on the mobile part of

the maintenance staff. Except for a small group that is permanently located

in big plants the majority of the maintenance employees works mobile.

12.3.1 Mobile setting

The application introduced concerns field force automation and supports

technicians in their daily activities, providing intranet access through WAP

(Wireless Application Protocol) on mobile phones. The project was initiated by the Information Systems department (IS) in order to improve the

maintenance process. IS aimed to automate real time data collection directly from the field, monitoring repairs and having accurate statistical

data, as well as at removing all paper based activities and data transcription. Moreover, customers indicated to be not fully satisfied with the information they could receive over the phone and preferred more visual information in order to have a better overview on the overall progress.

Initially, an application with Microsoft Access was developed. This application did not satisfy the needs of the mobile users. It was therefore decided to develop a web-based application with WAP technology for the

remote access. The processes involved are unscheduled and routine interventions management, and energy consumption control.

The current tool provides the following functionalities to its maintenance staff users:

• Unscheduled interventions. The customer reports a system’s failure to

Siram call center, the operator inserts data about the problem in the

intranet in order to make them available to all local offices. A scheduler

assigns the call to a technician that receives the data through WAP, or if

the intervention is pressing, the local office calls the technician by


12 Case Descriptions of Mobile Virtual Work in Practice


• Routine interventions. The scheduling of interventions is available both

in the intranet and via WAP; technicians can find data on interventions

on a two weeks basis

• Intervention data collection. After every unscheduled or routine intervention, technicians insert data (travelling time, processing time, closure

time etc.) that are immediately available on the intranet. Local offices

can use such data to inform customers about the status of interventions.

Large clients are even allowed to read these data directly from the Siram

web page. Before introducing this tool it was not uncommon that customers had to wait a week to get information. Routine interventions are

driven by a technical hand-book and a predefined form to fill in, while

for unscheduled interventions technical guidelines are not provided

• Energy consumption control. The technician inserts consumption data

and an automatic formal error checking controls the data entry online.

This makes data entry easier, reduces errors and avoids extra trips to the

plant. Moreover, the administrative staff has those data available in real

time and can start the invoicing process faster and more easily

The system is composed by a server application and is interfaced by a

WAP mobile client that uses GSM/GPRS protocol. In the early stages of

adoption some drawbacks related to bandwidth and coverage of WAP

connection emerged; some interfacing problems are still unsolved. Mobile

phones were preferred to PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). Due to the

relative ease of use no training was required for the users. In this case a

mobile phone is technically adequate since the amount of data to be transmitted is limited and standardized.

12.3.2 Implementation

The project was designed and managed by IS but eventually top management was directly involved in suggesting applications’ improvements.

Nevertheless, the implementation process was not easy due to the different

stakeholders. The final version of the system is a combination of singular

modules developed during the time:

• an access application aimed at supporting maintenance scheduling

• a WAP application, developed by a consulting company

• in-house developed modules aimed at collecting incoming phone calls

and at recording energy consumption data

No cost-benefit analysis was conducted: modules have been evaluated

one by one, but without going into details. WAP mobile phones were pro-

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2 MVW in practice: customs control in the Netherlands

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