BP Makes the Case for Connecting Field Workers
- To assess the viability and develop a framework for the controlled, sustainable implementation of mobile digital technology in BP's industrial environments.
- Research developments in mobile technology for industrial use; develop a business case; and create a framework and evaluation tool for BP business units to use when scoping a field mobility project.
- Digital industrial mobility was identified as a 'game changing' technology for BP; 15 controlled mobility projects were started within a year of the framework being developed; and BP expects 50 percent of its industrial workforce to use mobile digital applications in their daily jobs within five years.
In March 2005, CSC completed a six-month project with BP that enabled the global energy business to begin wide scale rollouts of mobile digital technology to its workforce. BP is aiming to transform its field workers into a connected, real-time workforce using mobile digital devices instead of traditional paper-based processes.
"At least 50 percent of our 100,000 employees work in industrial facilities without computer access," says Curt Smith, Director of Applications for BP's Chief Technology Office. "As they move about doing their jobs, they capture information on paper, or even keep mental records. Once back in an area with computer access, they may need to queue for a turn at the computer to record their activity. It's not very efficient, to say the least." By 2004, several business units had begun experimenting with mobile digital technology to improve the efficiency of their industrial operations.
Potential in the field
"Not long ago," says Smith, "there simply wasn't affordable mobile technology that could withstand the rigors of the industrial environment. Today, however, the total cost of ownership of a ruggedized handheld is only slightly higher than that of a business PDA."
"Another important enabler is the development of wireless mesh networks," he continues. "These provide the kind of reliable and scalable coverage needed in industrial environments. Together with rugged devices, they make industrial digital mobility a real possibility. So we needed to understand whether the time had come to endorse wide scale digital technology for industrial workers as a company strategy - to see whether it could be what we call a 'game changer'."
For BP, a game changer is a technology or technique that can improve profitability by at least $50 million per year, through cost savings or increased revenues. In September 2004, BP turned to CSC for assistance in assessing the game-changing potential of 'retiring the clipboard' in favor of the computer. As Smith explains: "CSC manages wireless infrastructure and mobile devices for some of the world's largest organizations, making them the ideal partner for research into mobility solutions. Additionally, we've worked very successfully with CSC on other projects to assess new technologies and investigate how they apply to BP's specific business needs."
CSC worked with BP to determine the practicality of digitizing BP's industrial operations and assess how significant the benefits would be. They conducted a thorough review of developments in mobile technology for industrial use, and assessed existing mobility projects in BP and other large organizations.
This research found that there were enormous possible savings in many areas, including operator rounds and inspections, work order processes, and inventory management:
- 1-3 hours saved per day per field technician, by capturing information directly to central systems, either via a wireless network or by later docking of the handheld.
- 25-50 percent improvement in problem diagnosis and other decision-making, by capturing more information, more accurately.
- 10-50 percent spare parts reduction, amounting to millions of dollars of savings.
- 33 percent reduction in average work order costs, by transferring information remotely.
- Improved efficiency and productivity by providing guidance at the point of work, for example, by prompting an operator to perform inspections and adjustments that help prevent breakdowns. This could reduce unscheduled downtime by as much as 90 percent and save hundreds of millions per year in unscheduled maintenance.
"The research satisfied us that we had a viable game-changer," says Smith, "but it also showed that you can't just put handhelds in workers' hands, send them off to do their jobs in the same way, and expect results. To realize the expected benefits, you need to re-engineer processes - do things in ways that are not feasible without the mobile technology."
Within a year of the framework being developed, 15 projects had started across the organization, without falling foul of any of the problems of uncontrolled growth. Over another five years, BP expects to see 50 percent of its industrial workforce using mobile digital applications as a standard tool in their daily jobs.
"We couldn't have got this far without CSC's help in the vital stages of researching industrial mobility and developing the framework," says Smith. "With this firm footing, we can migrate from the clipboard to the computer with confidence."