For more than 50 years, all service at Norris Public Power District in southeast Nebraska was dependent on a paper-based system. Equipped with service orders, the Norris linemen would gather their paperwork each morning and head out for the day with stacks of paper in hand. After completing their assigned tasks — performing maintenance work, completing meter cutoffs, disconnecting services, constructing new facilities, repairing and exchanging meters, and making upgrades and repairs — the linemen would fill out paperwork by hand at each job site. It wasn’t until they returned to the office the next day that they would turn in their service orders for customer service representatives (CSRs) to manually upload the day-old information into the database.

While the paper-based system worked, it was inefficient. The amount of paper moving in and out each day increased the possibility of lost or misplaced forms. In addition, the handwritten paperwork could be illegible, requiring the CSRs to send it back for clarification. Errors such as these would often require a lineman to return to the completed job twice. Storage also was an issue because of the ever-increasing amount of paperwork.

Mobile Computing Solutions

Norris began looking at mobile computing options to reduce the daily volume of paper that came into the office —a solution that would enable the linemen to reduce errors, become more efficient and support real-time communication with CSRs to ensure the highest quality of service possible.

Linemen are outside in all types of weather, so the utility needed a device that could stand up to rain, wind, snow and dust, and be able to take a beating. Linemen are not known for being gentle. Norris knew the devices would likely get dropped, so it was concerned about replacing the devices on a regular basis.

Other requirements included a Windows-based operating system, compatible with existing software applications; a powerful processor; a viewable display, even in direct sunlight; and the ability to be mounted in trucks and locked in place. The devices also needed to be light enough to be carried all day.

Norris began reviewing rugged laptops. Unfortunately, the laptops proved too heavy and cumbersome for linemen to carry around all day. It then looked at rugged tablet PCs. After reviewing all the options, Norris selected the Motion J3500 tablet PC, powered by the Intel Core i7 vPro processor with Qualcomm’s integrated Gobi mobile broadband.