PDMS helps Manx Gas convert houses to natural gas using mobile technology to provide real time access to key information

Background

Manx Gas, part of the International Energy Group, is a one stop shop for all gas needs on the Isle of Man, from supplying and maintaining the gas, through to planning and installations and support. It also maintains more than 250 miles of underground pipes.

In 2003, Douglas, the capital of the Isle of Man was converted to natural gas and in 2011 Manx Gas embarked on a project to convert the rest of the Island (over 6,800 homes and businesses) to natural gas. This was a two year project to be undertaken in two phases – the first phase covered the pre-conversion survey of the properties to identify all connected gas appliances, capture information on all the parts required to convert to natural gas and also perform a gas safety inspection. Once this was completed, the second phase was the actual conversion which involved disconnecting properties from the gas supply, converting or replacing appliances, reconnecting to the new natural gas supply and performing safety checks.

The Manx Gas Natural Gas Conversion Project Team was set up as a mini organisation to deliver the conversion project safely, on time and on budget for the benefit of many thousands of customers. Changing the gas type in a gas network is a complex technical and logistical task that requires robust and detailed processes and procedures to complete safely. The aim was to give every customer a positive experience and make the changeover process as simple as possible and with the minimum of inconvenience.

Challenges

The key challenges of the conversion project for the team were:

  • Converting over 1,700 different make and model appliances from central heating boilers, cookers and fires to Bunsen burners and industrial Combined Heat and Power (CHP) units
  • Ensuring every appliance (over 10,000 in total) has a conversion kit or a replacement appliance, and that the kit or appliance is in the right place at the right time
  • Accessing 6,700 homes and businesses on a date and time not set by the customer without resorting to statutory powers
  • Delivering the project safely, on time and on budget

The Manx Gas project team recognised that the largely paper-based system used for the natural gas survey and conversion process in 2003 was inefficient and that by making use of technology they could administer and manage this conversion project more efficiently and effectively. A new central IT system could be used by the engineers in the customer’s home to capture survey information on site, in real time, which would deliver significant benefits not only to the project team but ultimately to the customers too.

How could PDMS help?

Aidan Baglow, the Project Manager heading up the Manx Gas conversion project, came to meet with us to find out more about our credentials. Manx Gas were looking for a technology company they could collaborate with to deliver a new system that would help manage and administer both the surveying and conversion process. The project delivery time frame was tight, 32 weeks for a major line of business application with immovable deadlines, so Manx Gas had to be confident we could deliver. We were able to demonstrate that our tried and tested  Foundations platform and components could give us a head start in the development process and also, that our existing work with clients such as Centrica gave us insight into some of the issues and corresponding solutions to mobile working. We were also able to provide the solution on a managed service basis, providing all hosting, maintenance and disaster recovery. This was not only cost effective for Manx Gas but also reduced pressure on their own internal IT infrastructure and resources.

From the outset, the teams at Manx Gas and PDMS worked on a partnership basis at all levels, with input from the conversion project managers and supervising engineers  to the individual call centre staff and surveying engineers. It was seen as absolutely vital to work very closely alongside the people that would be managing appointments and conducting surveys to ensure that the system delivered would be an exact fit. It was this involvement, from the initial specifications at management level, to PDMS developers attending training sessions with engineers and call centre staff that allowed the system to be tailored to meet the exact requirements of the project. We participated in regular requirements walk throughs with the team at Manx Gas and demonstrated progress with the software to them at regular intervals to ensure the project was firmly focused on achieving the right outcomes. 

What did PDMS deliver?

Manx Gas and PDMS then embarked upon the first phase of the project to design and deliver an IT solution, known as the GAS system (Gas Appliance Survey) that would meet their very precise requirements. The new GAS system managed the whole survey process from the initial contact letter through to the call to arrange the site visit and then captured appliance information on-site and details of parts required for the conversion kits.

Manx Gas’ engineers were able to capture all the information they needed on a mobile device whilst at the customer’s property and uploaded the information in real time back to the central server. The GAS Central system integrated seamlessly with the existing Manx Gas customer database, and allowed the call centre staff to schedule the engineer visits, manage and record customer contact, and maintain up to date contact information to assist the engineer whilst on site. It also captured all appliance data, gas appliance and parts suppliers and the precise parts required for the conversion kits.

The survey part of the project was successfully completed ahead of schedule. The second phase of the project was the conversion stage which involved enhancing the GAS system.

The data collected in the survey process was used to break the work into a series of tasks that could then be assigned to individual engineers, and monitored by supervisors in real time.

The system allowed administrators to assign installations to Team Leaders, and the Team Leader to assign individual tasks to his engineers. Each task, along with all the information relating to that task was automatically downloaded to the assigned engineer’s laptop. The engineer can then easily see the work that has been allocated to them. Then, as tasks are completed and recorded on the laptop, they are automatically synchronized with the central system in real time, so progress can be monitored by the Team Leader.

To reflect the different stages of the conversion process, a sector undergoes a distinct set of status changes, managed within the system by a sector supervisor. For safety reasons the transition from one status to the next is dependent on the tasks within that phase of the conversion being completed and verified by the Team Leaders. Only once all the tasks for that stage have been completed, could the status be changed by the sector supervisor, initiating the next phase of the conversion process.

Ensuring that the correct ‘conversion kits’ for each appliance, and the new replacement appliances that were to be installed in customer’s homes were available in advance was essential to the smooth running of the conversion process. The system produced a variety of detailed reports based on the gathered survey and conversion data to ensure that the right conversion kits were available for each sector, and that new appliances were effectively tracked.

In addition to controlling the workflow for the sector, the system also managed the production of letters that were sent to customers, and customer information that had been received by Manx Gas. Attached to each task, the engineer had available on his laptop any details that the customer had left with Manx Gas, so that any instructions left by the customer were known to the engineers, access can be gained to the property in the customer’s absence and mistakes are kept to a minimum.

Each engineer was provided with a compact laptop installed with the GAS Remote system. This linked to the GAS system over the 3G mobile network, and once survey visits were arranged and assigned by the call centre staff, the details were synchronised to the individual engineer’s laptop to provide a daily schedule.

Over the Air (OTA) software updates were pushed to the Remote laptops directly from the Central system to patch bugs or implement new features. Before the data synchronisation process began, the remote system performed a check of its software version against the central system. If they did not match, the remote system initiated a download of a new software update from a web server location configured on the central server. Once downloaded successfully, the update was applied to the remote system on the laptop and data synchronisation could commence.

The outcome

The natural gas conversion project was extremely successful and the work was completed ahead of schedule – converting over 9000 appliances in 6700 homes and businesses. Both phases of the GAS system were delivered to time and to budget with the system containing information on over 10,000 appliances with more than 1700 different makes/models.

By effectively using technology to help administer the natural gas conversion project, the following benefits have been achieved:

  • Improved customer satisfaction – the system has helped the project team and engineers to deliver high levels of customer satisfaction by providing immediate access to the right information. There has been a significant increase in customer satisfaction levels in comparison to the previous project, confirming Manx Gas commitment to positively engage with customers from initial appointment to completion of the survey visit
  • Enhanced safety – For example, the open flue systems were subject to an additional inspection and this verification check was built into the system. To ensure safety, 100% of open flued appliances received an additional check by a separate qualified gas work auditor. This process was led by the GAS system and ensured that, once surveyed and audited the record was locked down as a verified inspection. These additional checks went above what was required under current gas safety legislation. Engineers removed 420 dangerous gas fires, made safe 114 immediately dangerous appliances and resolved 4,200 minor safety issues for customers and at no cost to the customer
  • Significant cost savings – the use of technology meant that the number of people required to administer the conversion project was dramatically reduced – delivering a substantial cost saving
  • Efficiency – the system encouraged best practice as it was designed to limit key strokes and had an intelligent menu
  • Data accuracy – the system helped improve the quality and accuracy of information which was crucial for this project as it was essential that the right parts were ordered for the conversion
  • Improved reporting – The 3G data link provided real-time updates. This enabled the project team at Manx Gas HQ to receive real time progress reports on each engineer and review their current status. They could see when an engineer had logged on in the morning, downloaded his appointment diary and monitored his/her workload
  • Reduced administration – the system generated reports on parts and allowed Manx Gas Supplies department to quickly order, design and build the correct conversion kit for each property

Manx Gas won a coveted Customer Service Award at the 2012 gas Industry’s prestigious annual awards in recognition of their achievements.

PDMS helps Manx Gas convert houses to natural gas using mobile technology to provide real time access to key information quote image
The collaborative way of working with PDMS was fundamental to the success of our project considering the tight time and budgetary constraints. The PDMS team quickly became integrated into our project team, the result was the delivery of a fully featured application that seamlessly delivered safety critical processes and workflow that was easily adopted by our office and field based teams. The flexibility of the application and the modular delivery ensured that the finished result was exactly what we needed to complete what was a very complex technical and logistical project safely, on time and on budget. Aidan Baglow ICT Manager, International Energy Group