The start of the pandemic in 2020 brought social distancing rules into play, thereby creating an environment where remote working became the norm for office-based workers, but more importantly site-based workers had to alter their working styles if they wanted to minimise contact with others.

Connect Plus Services: how the pandemic accelerated the adoption of mobile apps by our M25 workforce

Connect Plus Services (CPS), a joint venture of Balfour Beatty, Atkins and Egis, and its workforce of around 750 people is responsible for operating and maintaining the 440km M25 motorway network around London on behalf of Connect Plus and National Highways, formerly Highways England. To support these responsibilities, CPS has implemented the AgileAssets desktop-based asset management system and integrated the Unity mobile application platform for our teams to use in configuring and rolling out ergonomic and effective mobile applications (apps).

Our teams in CPS have used the Unity platform to configure a range of applications from scratch in line with specific M25 needs. The team also manages the integration and automated transfer of data between Unity and other software in the IT architecture. Unity apps have been configured and deployed to address mobile business needs in a range of areas:

  • Defect recording
  • Defect scouting
  • Defect resolution
  • Work briefings and associated signatures
  • Traffic management recording
  • Safety fence repairs
  • Generic activity capture
  • Risk assessments
  • Structure condition inspections
  • Lighting condition inspections
  • Covid-19 close working permits

Pre pandemic areas were targeted for app configuration based on volume of mobile activity, safe working practices, addressing large volumes of paper records and trying to avoid inefficient work practices (trips to and from offices and depots).

Social Distancing Driving App Adoption

When the pandemic hit at the start of 2020, the social distancing rules put in place meant that remote working became prevalent for office-based workers, but more importantly site-based workers needed to change their ways of working in order to minimise contact with others.

Operational teams quickly realised that they could reduce the need for close contact by adopting apps available to them.  Here are some examples:

  • Lighting inspectors did not need to visit an office in order to collect paper-based inspection forms before heading out to site to undertake inspections.  Similarly, by directly digitising inspections on the Unity app, they did not need to visit an office at the end of the night to hand in paper-based inspection results.
  • Operations & Maintenance (O&M) teams made a change to conduct briefings in virtual meetings, with all pertinent information made available on a Briefing app, thereby removing the need for groups of people to meet together for a briefing.  All team members, wherever they were, could also add their digital signatures to the app as evidence that they had been briefed.
  • When going to work on the network, O&M teams could complete details of work completed directly on the app (e.g. defect repairs, safety fence repairs, traffic management set-up / takedown, litter picking).  Again, no need to visit the office to hand paperwork in at the end of the night.

The development and deployment of the apps removed a great deal of person-to-person contact and also removed waste from the existing processes. Social distancing requirements also led to new app demands, with examples of our teams conceiving, designing, building and putting live new applications in a single day to support operational teams.

The Numbers

Since the start of 2020, CPS has generated some impressive numbers for app adoption:

  • Over 4,000 close working permits issued and signed on the app.
  • 14,000+ lighting inspections recorded on the app.
  • 8,000+ briefings carried out and signed on the app.

Further Benefits

Pandemic related issues have driven the deployment and uptake of project configured apps, but the use of these apps is driving a number of other benefits, such as:

  • Efficiency gains. The asset data captured on site now goes automatically into our central asset management IT solution, so there is no need for someone to type the data into the AgileAssets solution.
  • Speed of decision. Because the data captured on site goes into the AgileAssets solution immediately, there is no delay and business processes and decisions can be accelerated.
  • Reduced travel time / costs. O&M teams can be briefed anywhere, meaning that they do not need to incur additional time and cost travelling to a briefing room.
  • Better data.  Because data is captured on site in a more structured format, it is easier to analyse, use and report on and is of a higher quality.
  • Media alongside data. At CPS, photographic evidence is often required alongside inspection results and other data that is captured.  With Unity, photos can be captured directly in the Unity app and sent back to the AgileAssets solution alongside other records.  This means that the user does not have to carry a separate camera with them, and then try to align photos from their camera back with other data when they visit an office.
  • Job satisfaction. App users have reported an increase in job satisfaction because they know that once they have captured their information on the app, “their job is done”.  They don’t have the additional tasks of a visit to the office, possibly several days later, to hand in paperwork or write up what they completed.

Based on the successes on the M25, our teams are now working with AgileAssets and Unity  to implement the solutions on the M40 project and the Asset Management and Augmented Infrastructure Practice within Egis is also looking at other projects where the experiences with Unity on the M25 and the M40 could support more effective mobile operational delivery.

This article was originally published on the Egis website here.