Victoria has been the first state in Australia to install new Smart Meters state-wide. Smart Meters are electricity/gas/water meters that can transmit consumption readings automatically without needing to send staff out in the field to carry out quarterly manual readings. NSW and Queensland are set to begin installation of these Smart Meters in 2011.
The process of removing the old electricity meter and installing the new Smart Meter requires collecting data while in the field, such as:
- the last reading of the old meter
- the type of electricity board
- the location, the strength of signal from the new meter
- the meter serial number; and
- the position of the new meter.
Once these paper forms were returned to the office, the information would be ‘manually’ entered into the computer database. The same concept applied to web-based solutions, which required paper forms and computers to enter the data back into the system.
Now, Techs4Biz Australia provide Pervidi PDAs (personal digital assistants), handheld devices that can replace this manual data collection with automated field data collection and remote transmission of information back to the office in real time.
These handheld digital devices should provide the information for Smart Meter installations that already exists on paper forms or on the desktop, and at the same time improve one’s ability to access and utilise the data. For example, if a technician fills out a routine inspection report, ensuring OH&S steps being followed comply with OH&S regulations; the handheld device should fulfil the same function.
A handheld digital device user can pick from a list of possible choices and write or type in information, according to the organisation’s specific requirements and preferences. The handheld digital device should also easily incorporate the option to use the built-in camera to take photos of non compliance events.
Handheld digital devices specifically designed for Smart Meter installations should deliver the following functionalities:
- list all information required by a technician to perform their safety inspection tasks, including task list, activities, instructions and references to relevant codes and policies
- provide easy to use navigation, search capabilities and quick access to information
- allow technicians to enter as much information as needed
- automatically track labour and apply it to timesheets (if applicable)
- enable technicians to record recommendations, take photos, GPS reading, time stamps or record audio notes
- provide for electronic signatures
- produce custom-made reports, as required, using portable printers.
Handheld digital devices are also designed to minimise the amount of data entry and keystrokes required by incorporating a variety of techniques, such as pick lists and check boxes, through to look-up lists and automatically generated results and shortcuts.
By minimising the amount of data entry that the end user has to perform accuracy, efficiency, speed and ease of use are improved, not to mention a significant reduction in costs.
Finally, the software on handheld digital devices should be able to run on multiple hardware platforms, providing flexibility and utilisation of future technology without avoidable and costly software upgrades.
There is a wide range of handheld digital devices available with differing functions, such as:
- Bluetooth and wireless capabilities
- voice recorder
- scanners (barcode and RFID); and
- imaging capabilities.
To maximise utilisation and return on investment, handheld digital devices should be designed to collect, display, and manipulate information, and transfer it to and from a desktop application.
The desktop application should provide a variety of operational and management functions including:
- corrective actions
- follow ups
- management functions and reports; and
- analysis tools.
Using handheld digital devices in conjunction with desktop applications will automatically transfer the Smart Meter installation data without the need for further data entry or data reformulation.
Additional benefits of using handheld digital devices for the collection of Smart Meter installation data include:
- ensure the company is in compliance with OH&S codes, which in turn ensure employees and customers well being
- improve operational efficiencies and minimise unnecessary administrative tasks and data entry
- increase productivity and profitability
- enable effective completion of tasks
- simplify repeatable tasks
- provide staff with easy to use tools that focus on performing tasks
- incorporate mechanisms to focus on exceptions and ensure proper execution of tasks
- ensure that installations are performed according to guidelines and regulations
- improve controls and accountability leading to better quality of work.