Managing information in a mobile working environment February 13, 2015

Mobile worker by Michael CoughlanThis week we had our regular digital implementers group. Our session topics are set based on the opportunities and challenges which are at the forefront for the group members. Establishing a robust mobile working environment is becoming important for a large number of organisations.

The group members, as always, represented a large and diverse cross section. Information and Records Managers, ICT Managers, project managers and hands-on practitioners were all in the room sharing their diverse perspectives. These members represent government departments and agencies, state owned corporations, local government, and cultural institutions.

Current state of mobile working

As usual, the meeting began with group members sharing the current status of their projects and, in particular, their status with the session’s topic of information management for a mobile working environment.

Many of the members have a significant mobile workforce, responsible for some of the most important work conducted by the organisations. Almost all saw a need for executive mobile applications, including email and document management, as well as finance and HR approvals.

However, the clear message was that while they are beginning to adopt mobile technologies, the information and records management functionality is frequently underestimated.

Case study

This was not the case with all organisations, however. One member of the group presented on a wide scale implementation of mobile working in their organisation. This organisation has:

  • a large mobile workforce performing complex technical tasks
  • high value, long term assets with broad geographic distribution
  • significant worker safety hazards to manage
  • stringent environmental and public safety requirements

The organisation has a mature and well-used EDRMS system. The mobility project required a system optimised for the technical tasks performed by the mobile workforce. It was therefore understood that certain data would be specific to managing the work processes within the system, and that certain documents produced by the process would be managed in the EDRMS.

The presenter noted that, although they were not involved in the project planning as early as they could have been, it is widely recognised that the project is an opportunity to improve the quality of the organisation’s records and the efficiency with which they are captured.

The system is currently in a pilot phase. The benefits of the project are expected to include:

  • Documenting hazard assessments. A mandatory hazard assessment can now be completed and filed from within the system. The system is able to require this before work commences, providing assurance that it occurs at the appropriate time. This also reduces manual paperwork, outputting a key document which can then be managed in the EDRMS.
  • Accuracy of work instructions. The system delivers digital work orders, reducing paperwork at the depot and allowing technical staff to get on the job quicker. This also eliminates paper work orders, meaning there is one less category of paper records to consider.
  • Accuracy and completeness of task documentation. Documentation of work performed is completed digitally, which allows for greater speed, accuracy and completeness. It eliminates manual data transcription, and allowing for immediate review. The single integrated system for conducting the process also provides confidence in the record for long term purposes.
  • Seamless capture of photographs. Photographs are crucial for a lot of the work types, so providing a direct solution to manage them in association with the asset from point of capture was a very compelling benefit for the project.


Group discussion

After the presentation, there was lively discussion about the issues raised in the case study and by mobile working in general.

Standard project frameworks need to incorporate records and information requirements

Everyone agreed that mobile working could vastly improve records and information management in their organisations, and noted that the only problem tended to be that consultation didn’t occur early enough in many projects. While records and information management requirements for these projects were usually well received by the project team, it was more challenging to bring them in at this later stage. In many organisations, this is because the organisation’s project management framework does not include a sufficient role for assessing the records and information management requirements.

Mobile decision making

Another member noted that the only reason one senior executive comes into the office is to sign paper briefs because they don’t have a digital solution for this. The executive is travelling all around the state constantly, and that having a digital solution which works on the go would vastly improve their ability to perform their role. Considering the number of people who have to wait on decisions to be made, the productivity gains provided by a mobile solution with this functionality would be significant.

This was confirmed by a number of organisations, who said that their executives were also keen to have something which allowed them to make decisions while out of the office. However, several people said that the opposite was the case in their organisations. Staff and business managers had successfully adopted fully digital processes, but executives insisted on paper documents despite their hectic schedules and constant travel.

Selling the benefits

The group was very optimistic that further progress was going to be made on this issue, but they emphasized that it was not going to come easily. It relies on understanding what the real challenges are for their colleagues and how better management of records and information can address those, and then finding a way to demonstrate this opportunity to managers and executives.

The year ahead

The group has a rapidly expanding set of opportunities and challenges in front of them in their organisations. The next sessions are going to be looking at how enterprise search technologies can contribute to records and information management, and how organisations can efficiently perform digital disposal.

If you are a Records and Information Manager in the NSW Public Sector and would like to join the group, please let us know via the contact us form. If you’re in the broader industry and have some thoughts about the challenges and opportunities of these technologies, let us know in the comments below!


Image credit: “Mobile Worker” – Michael Coughlan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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