Five years ago, the telecom company Starman (now Elisa) and Icefire developed the now legendary technician’s workflow planner (PDA), which is still used daily by all Elisa´s technicians. In this interview, we talk to Martin Havik, Head of Elisa IT and TV services about the background of the development and take a closer look behind the reasons why this project has stood the test of time.
I understand that the roots of the project lie in your experience of working in Elisa as a technician yourself?
MH: Indeed, I started up as a technician in the telecommunications sector in 2007 and did it for five years. Then I moved to IT and technology as a project manager. I knew the relationship between technicians and manual business applications very well: how much time preparatory activities take and what a technician has to consider on a daily basis. Together with Sven Oder (the head of technicians at the time), we had a dream of digital technicians and a great desire to fulfill that dream.
June 25 marks exactly five years since the introduction of the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). In fact, we started preparing the PDA in December 2014 and already in June 2015, the first technicians went “to the field”. I accompanied the first technician who used the PDA in the first days. I had done something so innovative and I was not capable of waiting for the results behind the office desk.
How did the work day of a technician look like at that time?
MH: A technician’s workday today and back then is like night and day. Years ago, a technician´s workday began as follows: they arrived at the office, logged into CRM (Customer Relationship Management), printed out the work orders and contracts for the day, and allocated the equipment with the right contracts. Back then we even wrote the customer addresses on post-its… Depending on the day, it took the technician 30 minutes to an hour to start the day. Before the PDA, we employed people, whose tasks included preparing technicians for their day: provisioning and assembling equipment and printing out work orders.
Also, the training period was long. First, technicians had to learn everything that came along with the job, such as dealing with equipment, installing an antenna or laying cables. Secondly, they also had to learn the system.
Coming from this environment, Sven and I had a clear vision: we need a solution that supports technicians in their daily work – not the other way around. This became the cornerstone of the project. We wanted a logical and smooth system that would not allow mistakes to be made. The technician only had to click-click-click to make the whole workflow passable.
From the IT side, did it seem like a “mission impossible”?
MH: We were so driven by the belief that we were doing something important. I heard about the fears only afterwards.
Of course, there were people thinking it is not doable, that it is just a nice dream that costs a lot and is technically difficult, if not impossible. It was also feared that the technicians would not accept it and the solution would be too complicated for the organization. There was also the fear that there is no internet in the countryside, although 4G already existed at that time. Some people were anxious about becoming unemployed due to automation. Some old school technicians were a bit skeptical: the old system had been used and things had gotten done.
Despite all, there was never really a fight to get the green light for the project. The decision-makers were immediately on board and thought along. A way forward to resolve the fears was to involve the technicians in the process. This collaboration is the main reason for the success of the PDA.
Within three months, we got all of the technicians to use the new system. Half a year later, I asked skeptics about their impressions. Although they came up with good ideas on how to make the system more convenient, they confirmed that they would never go back to the old one. No one lost their job due to the PDA. Instead, the PDA automated routine activities and gave time for more valuable work.
Do you also remember any obstacles?
MH: We did this project in a very agile way. We knew exactly the starting point and what we wanted to achieve. The only thing we could not anticipate was the process. Although customers and homes are different, the work process itself is the same. We mapped it and scraped down everything that could be automated. From the user’s point of view, there was no scrolling. Each page has only one activity. Once it is completed, it is possible to move on to the next.
Please explain the system in more detail: what are its functions and how does it combine different elements?
MH: The PDA guides the technician through the workflow: from the calendar view to automatically sending a signed document to the customer. While developing the application, we were clever and used as many previously created micro-services as possible. What is more, we planned the whole ecosystem so that microservices could be added to it.
PDAs are a modern reflection of our CRM. We created an application layer between the CRM and the PDA, to which we added all new micro services. We linked functions such as orders, equipment, warehouse, customers, documents and technician´s route planning. The most advanced functionality was (and still is) signing on the screen. Not a matchbox-sized screen, but a decent writing area across the entire board. The signing experience had to be similar to writing with a regular pencil.
What has this project given Elisa? Have you made calculations about additional sales, saving time and paper? What else?
MH: We made calculations only in the first year. Today, I have no reason to doubt that the benefits have amplified from year to year. Half a year after launching the PDA, technicians reached an average of one more customer per day. It may not sound like a big win at first glance, but if a large number of technicians make one more visit a day, it is a very big deal. The PDA made it also possible to order a technician for the same day, which was unbelievable at the time. Also the training period for technicians became much shorter. One more victory – by the end of the first year we had saved 80,000 A4´s thanks to the PDA. In 2015, we even won one green prize for it!
Five years ago, the PDA was without doubt a very innovative solution. How do you rate it today? Has it preserved well?
MH: The PDA is a very well-preserved solution to this day. There has been a lot of positive feedback. Other companies have also shown interest in how to develop such a good application.
How would you describe the cooperation with Icefire?
MH: The secret of successful cooperation is trust between people. We all wanted to be proud of the result in our team. The architect, analyst, developer and tester in Icefire immediately began to look for the real problem. We did not have a typical hierarchy or committee – regardless of their job title, all project members sat around the table on an equal level. Both sides learned from each other and therefore excellent business systems were built.
Anete Jalakas, Icefire (Head of Operations):
Business leaders face difficult decisions. Today´s investment must provide sustainable solutions that pay off in five years´ time.
The PDA is one example of a project that started with a company’s internal need. It was a challenging project, however, the decision to involve the technicians at an early stage together with Martin´s background were the keys to success. In my portfolio, this is certainly one of the most prominent projects. The PDA has helped the daily work of almost 100 technicians, and I remember until today their grateful eyes accompanied with sincere thanks. I am grateful for Elisa for this stunning opportunity that proved that as a result of cooperation, innovation and technological capabilities, it is possible to create an outstanding and award-winning solution.
Check also our case study for the technical solutions!
Written by: Liis Serk