Openreach: Mobile engineers and their managers get today’s tools to raise productivity and improve the company’s image

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Next-Generation Field Apps increase Openreach engineers productivity

Follow Openreach engineer, Karl Whittaker, as he uses custom apps on an iPhone to efficiently organise customer appointments, field installations and exchange visits.

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Follow Openreach engineer, Karl Whittaker, as he uses custom apps on an iPhone to efficiently organise customer appointments, field installations and exchange visits.

Getting it right first time

Openreach is the guardian of the BT local access network, a critical national asset that delivers data and voice services to homes and businesses throughout the UK. For all service providers licensed to use that network a team of Openreach managers and field engineers installs and repairs broadband and phone lines, HDTV set-top boxes, and other consumer and business products.

With millions of customers to support, getting the right engineer with the right skills to the right location has always been a management challenge. Back in the old days, things ran on paper. Then Openreach armed its field staff with a range of tools including ruggedised laptops, GPS locators, handheld testers, and mobile phones.

While these worked after a fashion, multiple bulky devices that didn’t talk to each other were not ideal. Worse, the laptops’ slow boot up time could easily delay engineers for 20 minutes before they could start their first jobs; and that could be repeated four or more times every day.

A meeting of inventive minds

A more elegant solution combining everything into one easy-to-use, up-to-the-minute device was sought and Openreach adopted transformational technologies from BT. An integrated set of Next-Generation Field Apps running on Apple iOS replaced the multiple devices previously in use.

Peter Bowden, business engagement and change delivery manager in BT Technology, Service and Operations, says: “Apple was chosen because its spirit matched the innovative nature of what we were seeking to achieve. We were further reassured by the simplicity and security of the iOS operating system, which accelerated our time to market.”

In fact, BT and Apple are working closely together not only on the Openreach solution but also on application suites for other BT customers. Kim Gasson, FFA product owner and CTO at BT Global Services, says: “Apple has made BT an Apple Authorised Systems Integrator for use of its products in enterprise mobility.”

The BT application developers started by shadowing Openreach engineers to understand workflows and practical issues. “The BT people refined performance in partnership with Openreach end users to precisely meet their requirements,” adds Peter. “And they did it very quickly; the entire process took only a few months.”

Field testing was used to tweak applications to fit daily tasks. To speed up the process the developers joined the iOS Developer Enterprise Program, which provides rich tools for designing proprietary in-house applications.

Imran Patel, operations director at Openreach, says: “That development programme resulted in 35 field-savvy iOS-based apps of extraordinary elegance and efficiency, precisely tailored to the needs of the job.”

Transforming the entire customer journey

Openreach distributed a total of 16,000 iOS devices, each loaded with the BT Next-Generation Field Apps, to 2,000 managers and supervisors and 14,000 field engineers. Each also incorporates standard Apple features like satnav, email and a camera, integrated with the BT apps.

This initiative forms the foundation of plans to transform every element of Openreach field engineering processes. For example, the Enhanced Customer Journey consists of three apps that build a complete picture from the moment an engineer is given a task right through to job closure.

Other apps are designed to make Openreach engineers more effective, while supporting them in delivering exceptional quality. The apps don’t disregard the need for better collaboration either.

Greater engineering efficiency and productivity

The use of the all-in-one field tool significantly increases mobile workforce efficiency. Unlike the old laptops, the Apple device is always on and uses fast 3G or 4G service and low cost Wi-Fi technologies – including the BT network of hotspots and home hubs – to speed the exchange of data. Security’s enhanced with passwords and encryption to protect data.

Prior to BT Next-Generation Field Apps deployment, engineers had to return to their vans time and again to boot up laptops, find information, and make reports. With the new solution, it’s just a matter of taking the Apple device out of their pocket to use it in real time.

“We’ve established a vastly more efficient and productive workforce,” says Imran Patel. “In parts of our organisation we’re seeing engineers remove 40 minutes of unproductive time per day. That means each of them can connect two extra customers to our network every week.”

The BT Next-Generation Field Apps suite is integrated with Openreach back office applications for more detailed and accurate performance reporting than was ever possible in the past. This provides an overview of all resources and activities, enabling management to increase operational effectiveness.

Transformed customer service and staff satisfaction

Since launching BT Next-Generation Field Apps the quarterly Openreach employee survey has seen all-time high results with, for example, 75 per cent of engineers strongly agreeing they have the tools and equipment needed to do their jobs well.

Kim Gasson says: “Our approach dealt with cultural as well as technical issues, and we really got it right. The engineers are proud to use their Apple devices; plus they project an up-to-the-minute image.”

The BT Next-Generation Field Apps rollout has also improved engineers’ feeling of security. The Apple devices are valuable but less obvious than the old laptops and can be used in customers’ premises or inside vans, minimising the risk of theft or threat to personal safety.

The solution delivers other benefits. More mature engineers, who once may not have been comfortable with new technologies, have found their Apple devices make life easier. They’ve also incorporated them into their personal lives because Openreach allows a certain amount of personal use.

Mobile device management technology means new apps and updates to existing ones can be pushed out to the Apple devices, keeping everyone operating at maximum efficiency. Similarly, Openreach can speed time to market for new products because the necessary information can be sent straight to engineers’ Apple devices.

Imran Patel sums up: “The BT Next-Generation Field Apps suite has radically transformed ways of working for Openreach managers and field engineers and, most importantly, it enables us to deliver much higher levels of customer service.”

Finally, through this project Openreach has been declared a finalist at the Institute of Customer Service UK Customer Satisfaction Awards in the category “Best Application of Technology Award.”

Field Applications Suite

Enhanced Customer Journey

Of the 35 apps so far developed, three combine to form the Enhanced Customer Journey, which ensures all parties are informed of job progress end-to-end.

  • Ring Ahead guides the Openreach engineer to contact the customer in advance of the visit and records the outcome of the call. This data also updates licensed service providers’ systems, enabling them to keep their customers informed.
  • Prove It builds trust with service providers and their customers. For example, in the event that a customer is not in when an engineer arrives, Prove It uses a stamped photo to show the visit was attempted. The service provider can use such data to resolve disputed customer complaints. ProveIt is also used in the event of a car accident or other incident. Photos and notes may eventually be used as evidence in court.
  • Customer Survey lets the customer provide feedback on the engineer visit. This demonstrates to the service provider that Openreach has done what it said it would do. At project completion, the customer’s signature is scanned to certify the job has been finished to high standards.

Productivity and Efficiency

Many apps stand out for their transformational effects in terms of making processes and the engineers themselves more effective.

  • My Jobs transmits new jobs to field engineers the moment they’re assigned and allows individual engineers to quickly report progress and tests conducted during the working day. It also incorporates barcode reading to track materials used, and signature capture enabling customers to sign-off on job completion.
  • Assist comes into play when engineers require help. They no longer need to call the engineering help desk; instead they can use the Apple device to quickly locate the closest member of their team available to support them.
  • Integrated Satnav means that with one click from within their core work progression app engineers can access turn-by-turn directions to customer premises. That includes surrounding network information, for instance the thousands of Openreach street cabinets.
  • Video Calling enables engineers to get on-the-job support in real time from experienced desk-based teams.

Management and Communication

A significant number of apps are designed to improve collaboration between managers and staff, and sharing of information.

  • Wired helps iPhone users keep connected with peers and company news. As a social media app it enhances the Openreach sense of community, for example by viewing a weekly podcast.
  • Swap My Shift does exactly what it says on the tin. If a field engineer wants to swap a shift with a colleague he uses the application to see where team members are located, what skills each has, and their availability. The swap request is sent to the colleague, as well as the manager, to ensure coverage.
  • View My Team enables local managers to see where each team member is in the field and how they’re progressing with individual jobs in real time and as the day moves on. Managers use in-built satnav and GPS data to locate engineers and organise visits if required.
  • Field Quality Check allows managers to ensure that each job meets quality and safety standards and compliance.

Core Services

  • BT Next-Generation Field Apps


Case study