Sunday, 13 April 2008

Mobility and the environment – bridging the gap in local government

Environmental performance across government is firmly on the political, social and media agenda. Local authorities in particular are faced with both the opportunity and the pressure to set an example and act in the pursuit both of long term sustainability, while also being mindful of current issues such as strongly rising fuel costs.

These are a unique set of circumstances, dictating radical change across a very wide range of local authority activities, processes and policies. Yet in some key areas the pace of change has been slow. With reductions in carbon output at the heart of the whole debate, it has surprisingly been the private sector which has moved more quickly in the use of technology to reduce amount of carbon produced by their workers operating on the move.

In local government in general, there are a huge range of job functions and activities to which mobile and flexible working technology could be applied to significantly reduce environmental impact. These range from social services activities, environmental services and building control to home care, parking services and housing – the list is almost endless. What they have in common is the potential to optimise how job schedules are organised and as a result by how much the overall amount of travel undertaken to carry out the jobs can be reduced.

These field workers perform vital roles across the country for local authorities – many of them travel a great deal to perform their duties. The adoption of mobility technology can radically improve efficiency of remote workers out in the field, and as a result eliminate unnecessary journeys, save very large sums in fuel and reduce the amount of paper used in day-to-day activities by a huge amount.

One recent private sector example offers an exact illustration of what can be achieved. By deploying a field mobility solution with fully integrated satellite navigation, one organisation was able to make more efficient use of their workforce and considerably reduce the average miles covered per job, resulting in a staggering saving of 3.6 million miles per annum. This equates to a carbon reduction of 1,159 metric tonnes of carbon per annum, or the equivalent of 26,953 light bulbs being left on for a year.The company was also able to remove 1.5 million pieces of paper from their business annually, equating to a saving of 17.5 trees’ (60 feet high) every year. Previously, the paper was shredded then incinerated resulted in the production of 7.2 metric tonnes of carbon, or the equivalent of 171 light bulbs being left on for a year.

While the use of mobile phones is practically ubiquitous among field workers, effective and efficient use of broader mobile technology is another matter altogether. Yet the environmental and business impact using mobile technology to make improvements can be considerable, and are by no means mutually exclusive objectives.

Using a private sector example illustrates where we are, in general, with the adoption of mobility solutions across local government. For local authorities, the adoption of mobility technology to capitalise on these opportunities – and it’s not just environmental benefits, but performance and service improvements - has been less rapid.

Recent research carried out by The Mobile Data Association into this precise area found that although many authorities were seeking to pursue additional mobile and flexible working options, there remained some general barriers to success. In particular, getting projects from the pilot phase into full use has provided ongoing difficulties across the UK and as a result there are still relatively few really strong examples of mobility technology in use within local government to the benefit of the environment.

On the other side of the coin, there are just a few very good examples of local government leading the way. The London Borough of Lewisham has been a strong advocate of using mobility technology for environmental and service benefits for a considerable time. By implementing a mobility solution for its building and maintenance craft workers and replacing the previous job allocation and paper-based processes the Council has saved an estimated £6,000 per year in reduced paperwork, and over £5,500 in fuel costs.

In simple terms, instead of going into work every day to collect paper-base job schedules which have to be returned later for processing, the craft workers receive optimised job schedules directly to their handheld PDA and visit each site in the most efficient order. The mobility solution provides the intelligent communication to and from each worker, saving time, unnecessary travel and masses of paper. Their work hasn’t gone unnoticed, when the project became an award-winning example of best practise at the end of 2007 with a Microsoft People Moving Business Award,

In the great scheme of things, this is one of not very many case studies across local government. While research can provide the insight into the reasons why, ultimately there needs to be an acceleration of effort from within local government to adopt what is now proven and affordable technology in order to directly address these headline issues of long term sustainability and immediate fiscal benefit.

No comments: