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4 MVW in practice: mobile servicemen in Finland

4 MVW in practice: mobile servicemen in Finland

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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



Robert M Verburg et al.

Fig. 12.1. Servicemen’s job from the viewpoint of contextual complexity dimensions

12.4.2 Mobile reporting with the Palm computer

The Company launched a project during 2003 – 2004 aiming at a paperless

reporting routine in the tasks of servicemen. To achieve this, a palm computer with a special programme was implemented. The development of

software aimed at creating a transferable service entity applicable to the

equipment of various manufacturers. The objective of the development

work was also to offer employees a simple, easy to use and portable tool

for receiving tasks and reporting on them. The group of servicemen under

this study participated in the experiment.

The servicemen receive their work orders via the palm computer and report the jobs they have completed. In the reception of work orders, the servicemen themselves ‘commission’ monthly service lists into the palm

computer, and in acute situations the customer service centre sends a message to the serviceman’s palm computer. Reporting on the job takes place

immediately after the work has been carried out in the service location directly from the job location. Electronic work reports are the basis of payroll and also act as the basis for the client invoices.

12 Case Descriptions of Mobile Virtual Work in Practice


Collaboration between the employees in the service district is mostly

built on indirect interaction. Contact between the team members and their

supervisor are maintained by telephone and with text messages. The palm

computer can also be used for these tasks. The employee need not carry

several tools with him. The telephone was relatively recently implemented

in the experiment, and only a part of the employees, around 60, are using


The service work also has safety risks. Therefore, if the serviceman has

not used the software application in one hour, the application sends an inquiry about the situation. If the inquiry is not replied to, the application

sends a report to the on-call person in the client service centre. For this

reason, the inquisitive palm computer has earned nicknames such as ‘Tamaqotchi’ or ‘Tamara’, by the servicemen who use it. The use of Internet

features is forbidden because of the lack of virus protection programmes,

among other things.

12.4.3 Implementation

From the supervisor’s point of view, the challenges in adopting a new operational system have mostly been technological in nature. Uncertainty in

the smooth running of the technology has caused problems in the implementation. The user training was taken very seriously from the outset. All

users in the experiment have had hands-on training in the use of the system: the main thought has been to openly offer all users the same information and thus underline equality in the development of the implement and

the working of the services.

This goal seems to have been reached in the light of interviews. Many of

the interviewed persons claimed they were a part of the development work

and considered their own participation very important. When the development work shows a person his or her own ”thumb prints”, a new way of

working is easily committed to. The interviewees experienced their participation in the development work as significant, since they understand

that by participating, they are developing tools for their own work and for

themselves. The interviewees also know to whom they can talk about their

experiences of the use of the implements, and of their ideas for development.

12.4.4 Benefits and drawbacks

The need to visit the office has decreased – operations are increasingly focused on the service field. Earlier, the repair task codes were read with a


Robert M Verburg et al.

pen, the information of which was downloaded once a week at the main

office. At the same time, employees would submit their time sheets, which

were then the basis of payroll. The new practice has decreased office visits: now the office is visited once every two weeks to load the van and

once every two months for a team meeting. Otherwise, the hours are spent

in the service field. Both employer and employees are content with this

working mode.

Earlier, assignments and acute work tasks were sent to the device in the

van, and in crisis situations the customer service centre had to phone the

serviceman on duty in addition to sending the assignment to the device.

Now any sudden assignments can be sent to the work location, and the

servicemen do not need to return to the van to read the assignment. The

new practice has clarified the method of contacting employees.

Not using certain features is … positive? The palm computer could, according to the interviewees, be used also in the follow-up and control of

working hours, since the time of the ”first opened job” is recorded into it,

and also the out-booking each day is registered in the machine. It would

also be possible to monitor the routes taken and locations where employees

are. Employees feel that they are trusted, and, therefore, the monitoring of

beginning time, out-bookings or routes has not been implemented. Trust is

very important to them. On the other hand, servicemen conceive GPS

monitoring as a safety factor and an opportunity: if something were to

happen, the man on the move could easily be located.

Accelerated customer service is the main value and object. Although the

objective for mobile device development was to attain a portable reporting

method, the main value has been in customer service. On-the-go reporting

from the job location boosts customer service and invoicing. The reports

on maintenance acts could be forwarded to clients quicker than before.

Problems are linked with the reliability of the programme operations.

The Feature programme operations are unreliable and the programme can,

for instance, lose report information. The employee does not receive a confirmation upon reception of the information he has reported. Often, the loss

of report information is only discovered when the foreman asks for time

sheets. Employees keep a manual double ledger on their work performance

in order to remember the details, so that payroll and client invoicing can be

taken care of.

The development work on the added features, e.g. text messages and

telephone calls, continues. The telephone feature has only been tested for a

short period – the telephone development has not been the main issue. Because of the problems in the working mode of the phone some of the tester

employees have given up the use of the telephone. Answering incoming

12 Case Descriptions of Mobile Virtual Work in Practice


calls shuts off the other operations – the caller can hear this as a delay

when the call is answered. Some interviewees were bothered by this delay.

The most serious obstacle for work was losing unfinished reports when

answering an incoming call. After ending the call, the work had to be resumed from the beginning. Employees would be keen to continue completing the report, which they consider a routine, even during a phone call.

And if there are many incoming calls, being able to continue writing the

report during them would be a time-saver.

The employees dream about the possibility to answer their incoming

calls while carrying out a maintenance task without having to stop working. However, when using for instance the (loud) speaker feature the receiver of the phone call is disturbed by a strong echo that prohibits the

message from coming or going through.

Using text message services (SMS) requires reasonably good eyesight.

Some interviewees find the service easy to use and say they ”even write

poems”; some hardly ever use the service because of having trouble seeing

the text.

According to both employer and employees the device encompasses

countless other possibilities for developing work and its processes. Both

groups are well disposed for further development steps. The employees interviewed emphasized the process of continuous joint development.

12.4.5 Conclusions

The design and implementation of a new device and software, and a plan

of action succeeded well, although technical problems have also been inherent such as losing information. Technical problems seem to be the main

challenge for future developments. Employees are, however, satisfied with

their new tool. The main reason for this is the involvement of servicemen

in the development work. Training to use the system was also emphasized.

The new practice has decreased office visits and time for the core operations in the maintenance area has increased. There are fewer face-to-face

meetings of employees and supervisors, and the employees have great

autonomy. The relationship between the employer and employees is trustful based on the results of work, and not on monitoring the detailed time

usage of employees. An employee starts his work from home and returns

there after service visits to customers. Co-workers are contacted to get help

and advice via phone. In addition, they meet sporadically on the road in

services stations during lunch and coffee breaks and for chatting and exchanging work-related information. In the future, technical deficiencies are

improved, and the use of new tools and practices will be disseminated.


Robert M Verburg et al.

12.5 MVW in practice: IT-support for home care in Sweden

A mobile information system for work support in home care organisations,

Permitto Care, was originally developed by Telia, a large Swedish telecom

company. The initial development was carried out in close cooperation

with the home care staff in Nordanstig, a municipality in northern Sweden.

Much effort was needed to make the system support the actual needs of the

personnel. Nordanstig’s community covers an area of 1380 km2 and has

10.000 inhabitants, i.e. approximately 7.2 inhabitants/km2. The home care

work is characterized by large distances between the clients, resulting in

much traveling for the personnel. This gives them limited opportunities to

visit the common premises and few possibilities to consult and share

knowledge with other colleagues. It also makes it difficult to perform various administrative tasks in the office. Figure 12.2 shows a group of proud

Swedish home care nurses with their mobile devices.

The mobile technical support system was very much appreciated by its

users and received much external attention; it was e.g. nominated for the

“Users price” by UsersAward, Sweden (www.usersaward.se). Other municipalities were also very interested in the system and it was implemented

in several other home care services in different communities in Sweden.





Fig. 12.2. A group of home care nurses with their mobile equipment, implemented

in a Nokia Communicator 9210i

12 Case Descriptions of Mobile Virtual Work in Practice


This case especially focuses on why a system, that is very efficient and

appreciated in one setting, is not equally well functioning in another setting. We are here interested in analyzing the effects of introducing the

Permitto Care system in a new setting.

12.5.1 Intended use

The mobile IT-system Permitto Care gave its users, the home care nurses,

a tool to improve their internal communication. Through the system they

could easily get in contact with colleagues, ask questions and share their

knowledge. A main objective with the system was to facilitate for the users

to start their working day from home, in order to quicker reach the clients

and carry out the morning visits. The time needed for administration and

planning could be significantly reduced. The mobile system could further

make it possible to access and enter information about the care taker before

and after each home visit. The events and care activities performed could

be instantaneously documented.

12.5.2 The system implemented in another environment

The Permitto Care system is today also used in Hökarängen, a densely

populated suburb in the Stockholm area. At the time of this study, the ITsystem had been used for one and a half years. Results and conclusions of

an interview with representatives from the personnel about their experiences with Permitto Care are here presented.

Group characteristics

In Hökarängen the area to be serviced is relatively small and the home

health care personnel can reach their clients on foot. They visit the homes

of the care taker often three times per day. The home care district is divided into two areas, where each area is daily served by a team of 10-13

active home care nurses. Each day, the nurses visit about 10-15 clients

each. In total, the district serves about 150 clients. The number of personnel is slightly reduced on evenings and weekends.

Aspects of mobility

A normal working day starts with a short briefing in the home care organisation’s office, then follows the morning round to the clients, lunch brake,

the afternoon round and finally an informal meeting in the office and a

rounding up of the day. The personnel mostly perform their rounds alone,

but more demanding clients require a coordination allowing help from an

assisting colleague or from the separate home health care team.

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4 MVW in practice: mobile servicemen in Finland

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