What set Flowfinity apart was that it gives the business user the power to quickly create apps with deep functionality such as custom workflows, integration, and flexible data capture features without any programming. This greatly reduces the IT resources required, because ongoing changes and new applications can be implemented by the business group.
City of Cincinnati Optimizes Field Services with Workflow Apps
Local Government: City of Cincinnati
Division: Utilities, Wastewater Collection
Function: Field Service Management, Customer Service Management
The Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati's Wastewater Collection Division is responsible for managing and maintaining the city's sewer infrastructure and providing customer service for over 1 million residents and businesses. The division manages the activities of 150 full-time field technicians plus contractors to perform critical maintenance, construction, and customer support activities.
Like many field service organizations, the department was using several software systems to manage daily operations. Field technicians would carry around paper forms to report on jobs, which required time-consuming data entry and often led to missing and inaccurate information. Crews were also equipped with ruggedized laptops for accessing information in the field, but keeping the laptops up-to-date consumed IT resources, and the applications were not user-friendly.
Field technicians perform a wide range of tasks including mechanical maintenance of pipes, physical construction, pipe cleaning with high-pressure trucks, condition assessments with robotic cameras, site inspections, and more. Because of the many different types of jobs and varying levels of employee training and experience, it was difficult to ensure all the proper information was written down.
The city was also facing challenges in efficiently staffing a 24-hour call center to handle customer service requests. "Overall we have a high volume of service requests, and we have many different employees and contractors providing intake and response," said Katherine Rahtz, Assistant Superintendent, Wastewater Collection Division. "The demand for service can vary greatly, and is largely dependent on the weather. In times of high call volume, we need to depend on support staff with a wide range of experience levels, which makes it very challenging to provide consistent, high quality service."
The management team sought out a software solution that would help them deliver quality service and more value to their customers. They wanted a solution that would guide field technicians and other staff through a wide variety of complex business processes in easy-to-follow steps, allowing employees to gather complete and accurate information anytime, anywhere.
The solution needed a robust, offline mobile client to support the replacement of laptops and paper forms in the field with iPad devices. Replacing paper and laptops with mobile apps would provide more accurate, timely data to support even better resource planning. The management team also wanted the ability to create and maintain custom apps themselves, without requiring IT or development resources.
After evaluating a number of solutions, the City of Cincinnati selected Flowfinity for its depth of functionality to support their full requirements and its flexibility to quickly modify, update and deploy apps without any programming. Flowfinity enables business users to create easy-to-use enterprise mobile apps using a web-based editor, and includes a centralized database and flexible integration features.
"Flowfinity is a valuable tool to guide our employees through complicated situations so they make the right decisions, take appropriate action, and document activities completely and consistently," said Rahtz.
With Flowfinity, the City of Cincinnati has achieved the following key benefits:
- Hardware replacement cost savings of $87,500 - by replacing expensive ruggedized laptops with iPads, the Wastewater Collection Division has reduced hardware costs.
- Annual call center cost savings of $76,000 - With more efficient staffing for fluctuating call volumes, clearer call-by-call instructions and a better follow-up process, call center costs have been reduced.
- Significant IT savings - By using a software product that supports business app creation and maintenance without any programming, the city was spared from expensive custom app development. Additional savings were achieved by reducing the software maintenance required on laptops.
- 30% more time available - The division expects to increase wrench-on-bolt time with a new Flowfinity work order management system, achieving higher value for labor dollars spent.
"Flowfinity is a valuable tool to guide our employees through complicated situations so they make the right decisions, take appropriate action, and document activities completely and consistently."
Q & A
Mike Pittinger, Wastewater Collection Superintendent at the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati, spoke with Flowfinity about what led their team to Flowfinity and the benefits that the city has realized with the solution so far.
What were the main problems you were looking to address with a mobile solution?
Our crews were using laptops and paper forms in the field, and we were having problems keeping laptops up to date with information. Training was difficult because our staff and contractors perform such a wide range of jobs with complicated workflows, and the software we had was not very user friendly. Keeping track of information on paper meant that mandatory information was not always gathered, leading to missing or inaccurate data.
We wanted to take these complex workflows and present them in a very simple user interface that would allow our staff to capture the right information at the right time.
Why was it important for you to replace paper forms in the field?
Replacing paper forms with mobile apps leads to more accurate data, and cleaning up the data is priceless. As a utility that operates based upon asset management principles, tracking our work history on assets is critical to helping us make the best decisions in deciding when to repair, rehabilitate or replace them. Bad or inaccurate data leads to non-optimized spending and higher life-cycle costing. Accurate data leads to better, more informed decision-making.
What type of solution were you looking for?
We knew that we wanted to leverage the simplicity of mobile devices, but we still needed to track jobs and assets in our legacy CMMS systems, which have very specific requirements. We wanted to integrate them with a field-centric iPad app to help guide people through very complex workflows without them necessarily knowing how complex the logic was.
We needed to create a simple system with step-by-step instructions that would help employees get through specific tasks and jobs, and only show them what they need to see to do a specific job. This is especially helpful if they aren't involved in that type of job regularly.
Why did you choose Flowfinity over other solutions?
We were looking for a completely different way to provide our services using technology. What set Flowfinity apart was that it gives the business user the power to quickly create apps with deep functionality such as custom workflows, integration, and flexible data capture features without any programming. This greatly reduces the IT resources required, because ongoing changes and new applications can be implemented by the business group.
"What set Flowfinity apart was that it gives the business user the power to quickly create apps with deep functionality such as custom workflows, integration, and flexible data capture features without any programming."
The apps that we designed with Flowfinity are really self-guided and easy to use, which means the training required goes down dramatically. The ability to control which fields are displayed or mandatory in different layouts and at different points in the workflow is a really important feature, because it provides step-by-step guidance to our field technicians. We can also link to other systems straight from our Flowfinity apps such as our online GIS system to create a very seamless experience for the user.
Flowfinity was also able to meet the stringent security requirements set out by our IT group. We rolled out our first applications for production use literally within weeks. I really think it's a brilliant product.
What is the value of being able to build and modify your own apps without programming or IT resources?
Our business requirements also change often, whether it's continuous improvement or a change in policy. Changes happen with us frequently because we operate in a regulatory environment under permit requirements. We might have to gather additional information or be able report on the information differently. If we had a customized application and had to go back to IT to gather additional information or make a certain field mandatory, there would be substantial time and resources associated with that.
There are a lot of cost savings in eliminating some of those development projects, where we would have to convey to IT what the business needs are in an area they're not familiar with, and have them come up with an interface that makes sense for the average user.
The reality is that the IT department is so busy, that they may not even be able to develop custom apps for us at this point. What this would likely mean is that we would have to contract out the work to have custom mobile apps developed, and then supported, which could be very expensive. This would also take substantial time, which would result in lost opportunity cost due to delaying efficiency improvements.
Can you describe how the field applications are used?
Once a work order is created and assigned to a user in our CMMS, a record is automatically created in Flowfinity and assigned to the appropriate field technician with the right information for that particular type of work order, so that they can use the guided iPad field application. The information gets collected and populated back into the CMMS system including photos and signatures. It's a very comprehensive record of everything the field technician did.
It's designed so that for every work order, we have a record of actual time spent on the activity, which can be easily compared to our planned activity time. This means that we can readily measure what's happening down to the individual employee. It's designed around accurate measurement, which supports good management. I see Flowfinity as a core piece for enabling employees to capture the right mandatory information at the right time, and create an accurate record.
Was improving customer service one of your goals with this system?
Previously we did not have a way to send automated reports to customers. It's really important that we provide customers with a record of what we did, and what we found when we were there. We want to show people that we're trying everything we possibly can to make sure they get the best value for every dollar they spend, and Flowfinity will help us accomplish that goal.
Have you leveraged Flowfinity software for use cases other than guided field applications?
The other driving piece is that we are often in emergency mode because we handle service requests, and our work is highly dependent on weather. When we have heavy rain we can get hundreds of service requests coming in in a very short period of time. Out of necessity, we used to pull people who don't normally answer customer calls into that emergency role. That was very challenging because we needed them to follow very specific workflows and gather specific information to respond appropriately to every request. In a paper-based system where gathering information is more freeform, that's very difficult.
We identified a cost savings opportunity to leverage Flowfinity to move limited call taking functions to a contracted call service during overnight hours when the number of calls is regularly very low, rather than staffing our call center 24 hours a day, and to have additional resources to handle peak call volume during wet weather events. We wanted to provide the call service employees with a platform that would allow them to categorize the calls that were coming in, and guide them through a series of logical steps. The workflows and logic that we built into the application are quite extensive, and the employees simply have to follow the prompts. We are using lookups from different data tables to keep on-call supervisor information up-to-date, which makes it easy to close all the communication loops.
It works very well, and it has helped us save about $76,000 annually by only paying on a per-call basis. It's been a cost savings initiative that also allows us to provide better customer service.
Can you describe your experience with the Flowfinity support team?
Anytime I've had any questions about anything or sent anything to support, the response has just been incredible. I feel they are really listening.