West Australian utility Water Corporation plans to refresh its ageing fleet of 500 GPRS-enabled PDAs with 700 3G-connected HTC Touch devices.
The state-wide water and waste water utility had been running a Windows-based Mobile Computing System (MCS) for 500 field maintenance staff since 2003 under a project called MCS1.
MSC1 integrated with the utility's SAP system via middleware from US vendor Telispark, a spin off from Deloitte Consulting.
Speaking at the SAP User Group Conference in Sydney, Greg Rimmer, applications analyst for Water Corporation's mobile platform, said MSC1 ran into trouble when the intellectual property of Telispark was sold to Canadian vendor InfoWave, which in turn ceased to support the product.
Water Corporation's local support contract with Deloitte, which originally recommended the Telispark product to the utility, expired in 2008.
Rimmer said the board and management of the utility was not content to "step backwards" into paper-based systems, even after being burnt on its first mobile computing venture.
Water Corporation plan to instead upgrade to a 3G-based Windows Mobile solution, integrated with its SAP system via middleware from Sky Technologies, and supported by integrator CSC.
Dubbed MCS2, the solution will feature push and pull email, enable attachment of pictures, and give administrators the ability to manage applications and updates remotely.
While the utility is yet to purchase new devices, Rimmer has his eye firmly set on the 'iPhone-like' HTC Touch.
Rimmer said Water Corporation covers water and waster water for one of the widest territories (for a single utility) in the world.
The MCS2 project will enable 700 staff to fulfil in the order of 1200 plant maintenance orders a day, allowing for real-time scheduling, dispatch and updates of work, plus field access to customer and spatial information.
"When you have staff digging ditches, fixing pumps, [they] are generally remote and could be anywhere," Rimmer said. "It's important for us to know what they are up to."
But despite the heavy manual workload of field workers, Rimmer said the utility will avoid the purchase of 'ruggedised' laptops and PDAs, opting instead for smartphones.
"I think 95 percent of what users will want, they can get from an iPhone-style device," he said. "Smartphones are instant on, have good battery life, and are cheap enough."
Rimmer admits smartphones "have some software limitations".
"But they are $1000 per unit, as opposed to $5000 per unit for ruggedised laptops or $3000 for ruggedised PDAs," he said. "As long as they don't break within six months, [smartphones] are cheap enough."
Rimmer said he expects the first of the new devices to be rolled out in November, with the remainder rolled out by mid-2010.
The SAP User Group Conference continues today.