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3 MVW in practice: providing facility services in Italy

3 MVW in practice: providing facility services in Italy

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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-


Robert M Verburg et al.

vided by TIM, the largest Italian mobile operator, to replace the old ones.

Operating costs are low and predictable and contain primarily telephone


12.3.3 Benefits and drawbacks for the organisation

The system provided some benefits for the organisation. By means of the

system it is possible to provide real time data to optimize interventions’ effectiveness and improve technicians’ productivity. Data are now directly

transmitted to a database. No second data entry by someone at the headquarters is necessary anymore. The quality of the energy consumption control process is improved too as formal data entry errors are now automatically checked online. At the moment a formal performance measurement

system has not been developed but the positive effects on efficiency and

effectiveness have been widely recognized by all the interviewees.

The application is also perceived and sponsored as a tool aimed at improving customer service. During the maintenance intervention, data about

technical aspects are collected thus permitting the customer to control

them in real time through the web. Previously, information about work in

progress and work closure were communicated to customers by means of

telephone calls, fax and file transmissions. The real time customer involvement also avoids some of the previous misunderstandings and complaints.

12.3.4 Benefits and drawbacks for employees

At the beginning of the adoption process there was some friction and resistance among the group of technicians. This is often the case when a new

information system is introduced. Reasons were essentially related to perceived changes in work habits and difficulties in using the new system.

Moreover, maintenance staff perceived the possibility of an increase in

control on daily activities as negative. After an introductory phase among

maintenance team leaders, the reluctance was overcome. New incentive

and reward policies were implemented in line with the changing nature of

the work of the maintenance staff. After a period of one year, the maintenance staff was fully used to the system and recurrent practices. As an interviewee underlines:

‘In my area, Sardinia, there is only one peripheral office of my firm,

which serves a large region. I appreciated the tool as it helped me in

performing my daily tasks’.

12 Case Descriptions of Mobile Virtual Work in Practice


Technicians improved their abilities in scheduling activities and benefit

from easy access to updated data about plants. Headquarter and local offices staff benefit from better coordinating technician work. Although the

tool provides limited and simple functionalities, because one-way communication was provided and only pre-defined forms could be filled, it fully

meets the requirements of the users for conducting their remote maintenance tasks.

12.3.5 Conclusions and lessons learned

Previous research projects (see chapter by Corso et al. in this volume)

show that it is necessary to align task characteristics with the characteristics of a mobile support tool in order to contribute to business performance

and employees satisfaction. Despite the high number of customers, Siram

maintenance tasks do not involve high variety as the firm is focused on a

specific type of facilities (heating and air conditioning). Maintenance procedures are repetitive and standardized with known routines for handling

them. As well known from Perrow’s model of technology and structure

(1967), in this case, systems based on procedural guides, operation manuals, task codification and rigid lines of reporting are expected to be effective in terms of degree of control and codification.

The present case study seems to confirm and reinforce the assumption

that routine situations with low information needs may benefit mostly from

simple systems aimed at supporting users’ activities in the mobile environment. The mobile wireless devices adopted by Siram are mobile

phones: such devices are cheap, in this case they were even provided for

free by the telecommunication operator, and characterized by tiny a screen

and a keypad difficult to type on, each key representing more than one

character. Nevertheless, they did not provoke frustration among users. The

amount of data to be transmitted is limited and standardized (e.g. travelling

time, processing time, closure time), and, in the same time, they do not require huge training activities for users. Mobile devices have a limited

memory and functionality and wireless connections are slower than those

of wired devices but in the described MVW it does not matter because users do not need quick responses or feed-backs, since the communication

between mobile workers and headquarter is mainly one way. Furthermore,

as already indicated operative costs are low (just the phone calls).

Despite the simplicity of the system, the impact on customer service has

been significant (see also Kumar et al. 2003; Zilliox 2002). Now customers

may be informed about the status of interventions and this means lower

customer service costs, mainly for managing late complains, and higher


Robert M Verburg et al.

customer satisfaction. Thus, the presented case may be considered as a

success. The solution is technically adequate and fits the way Siram employees work in their settings. Initial friction and “resistance” have been

overcome just after one year of use thanks to evident benefits in employees’ recurrent practices.

Siram is now planning to completely renew its information system and

introduce SAP or Oracle. Both platforms provide a MVW environment.

Technicians will adopt PDA technology in order to solve interface WAP

problems. Moreover, Siram is now introducing automatic remote control

systems to perform consumption reading and failure check in order to reduce technician’s manual work, for a foreseen cost saving of about 20 to


Nevertheless, it is worth noting that, in order to enrich and enlarge the

system to other functionalities, management should be aware of the necessity of adequate incentive and rewarding leverages in order to prevent

cases of resistance to change.

12.4 MVW in practice: mobile servicemen in Finland

The company under study is a large scale engineering and facility management enterprise employing people globally. Its customers are builders

and building owners. The case study observes one group of maintenance

personnel (in this section addressed as servicemen) responsible for the

maintenance and service of real estate. The persons interviewed (N=7) represent a group of twelve male employees working under one foreman in a

maintenance district, which is located in the Turku area. Data were collected during spring 2005. The objective of this case study is to describe

the work of one mobile servicemen group and their experiences of testing,

implementing and using a new mobile device with support software: palm

computer with the Feature programme.

12.4.1 Mobile settings

The real estates that need to be serviced are divided into districts. In the

Turku area, there are seven service districts, each with their own responsible foreman. The service districts are further divided into maintenance areas, each with one serviceman responsible for the maintenance. Maintenance work consists of the service tasks defined in the maintenance

contract, alarm situations demanding immediate response and possible oncall and specified tasks.

12 Case Descriptions of Mobile Virtual Work in Practice


The size of the maintenance area is some 20–30 square kilometres. The

number and the type of real estate determine the size. Each type of real estate has assigned points, which influence the bonus for the employee. The

division of labour has been implemented in such a way that each serviceman can accumulate the same number of points for his maintenance tasks.

Therefore, the number of estates to be serviced varies from 150 to 250 per

serviceman. The number of locations to be visited per working day usually

varies from 10 to 20 depending on how demanding the maintenance tasks

are. Sometimes a whole day can be spent at one location.

The weekly round per serviceman is roughly 50–100 kilometres depending on whether he participates in on-call duties, and other possible special

duties in addition to the normal task, for instance, specialised fault services.

Each employee uses a maintenance car, a transit van, for transferring

from one service location to another and all necessary spare parts and

maintenance equipment are transported in the back of the vehicle. The employees drive directly from home to the service area, where they start work

at seven o’clock in the morning. They visit the office only for specific reasons. The servicemen end their working day at four o’clock after which,

they drive straight home.

Employees assist each one another in tasks that cannot be completed

alone, for instance, for reasons of safety. This adds to their job moving

outside one’s own maintenance area. The factors impacting the time spent

on the move are not only the kilometres driven but also time wasted in

traffic jams in the city. Two or three hours can easily be spent in the car


The servicemen visit the main office in Turku perhaps every two weeks,

mostly to pick up equipment for the maintenance car. Usually during these

visits they may also meet their supervisor. Daily communications with the

supervisor are taken care of over the telephone.

Using Lilischkis’ (2003) mobile work typology, the servicemen could

be characterized as a combination of ‘On-site Movers’ and ‘Nomads’: they

have a well-defined district to move and work, but they visit the locations

in an occasional order. Figure 12.1 shows the requirements of the serviceman job. The spotted circles describe how the servicemen themselves

characterized their work and mobility requirements. It is shown that especially visiting many locations, moving physically around and using information and communication technologies increase the complexity of their

work, whereas time factors and the diversity of employees are not a special


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3 MVW in practice: providing facility services in Italy

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