Improving Workforce Connectivity

Information Technology

Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association (WHCEA) is an electric distribution utility located in Rockford, Minn., that has been serving Wright County and western Hennepin County near Minneapolis with electricity since 1937. WHCEA is a not-for-profit, member-owned energy and service cooperative dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of its members and providing reliable services. Its field operations department consists of 35 fleet members who focus on building and maintaining electric power lines.

In early 2004, keeping track of work progress with pen and paper proved to be a tedious and time-consuming task that immediately affected employees’ productivity in the field. In addition, customer reporting was delayed because managers in the corporate headquarters had to wait for mobile crews to return from the field and hand-deliver written notes. What’s more, annual member growth more than doubled, while workforce numbers remained the same.

The IT department set out to assist the field services group to find a solution that would streamline and automate documentation and process flow and increase mobile employee productivity. The company began evaluating a number of laptops, based on the following criteria:

  • Durability.

  • Touch-screen capabilities.

  • Wireless-connectivity options.

  • Overall performance in the field (reliability).

Following a thorough evaluation process, WHCEA chose the Panasonic fully rugged line of Toughbook laptops sold by Paradigm Systems Solutions Inc. The laptops’ reliable, tough exterior withstands accidental drops and spills in the field. In fact, during the first four years of deployment, WHCEA did not experience a single hardware failure (Figure 9).

9. Too tough to kill. Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association chose Panasonic’s Toughbook for its field crew’s computing needs. Courtesy: Panasonic

With the Toughbook water-resistant notebooks and fully sealed keyboards and ports, the WHCEA crew can work interruption-free during extreme weather conditions, such as heavy rains. In addition, the product’s 1,000-nit screens enable crewmen to view the displayed information in extreme sunlight as well as in dark environments.

To automate reporting capabilities, the IT department set up wireless hotspots throughout the 50-mile radius the crew operates in. With the Toughbook laptops’ Wi-Fi capabilities, the mobile workers can simply pull up to the designated hotspot area and automatically synchronize information from their laptops with the central server.

The mobile workforce’s productivity increased drastically over the course of the past four years, as field staff no longer need to take handwritten notes while on-site. This, in turn, helps them focus on their core responsibilities, completing more assignments in a given workday. In addition, the laptops deployed in the field enable employees in the headquarters to have more timely access to detailed job information. They can now provide reports to management faster, which in turn increases overall customer satisfaction because members get the most up-to-date information.

Because of its long-term relationship with Panasonic and the product’s dependability and reliability, WHCEA is continuously adding Toughbook laptops to its expanding mobile workforce.

— Contributed by Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association and Panasonic.