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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

AA Salt Doubles Productivity with Cloud-Based Mobile Workforce System BigChange

February 20th, 2020 by Susan Smith

UK gritting company AA Salt has a real Return-on-Investment story since it has doubled the productivity of its gritting operators following the introduction of a cloud-based mobile workforce system from BigChange.  The system combines real time vehicle tracking and mapping with a mobile app that synchronizes in real time with back office management software as part of a 5 in 1 solution for paperless working.

According to company materials, AA Salt provides commercial gritting and snow clearing services and the productivity gains are due to improved routing and job scheduling using BigChange Schedular software and greater efficiency through the elimination of paperwork. As part of the system the fleet is also fitted with GPS tracking so gritting operations can be monitored 24/7 and this, coupled with live status reports from gritting operators, has allowed AA Salt to boost customer service.

For those not in the know, gritting is rock salt, not grit. It is used to keep roads clear of ice and snow as in the UK, they don’t plow much because of light snowfall. Spreaders or “gritters” go out if temperatures drop below freezing.

“As demand for our gritting service increased we knew we had to automate more,” says Ben Tanner, Sales and Operations Director, AA Salt. “When extended freezing conditions hit the UK in 2019 we had just started using BigChange.  Without the system we would never have coped with the demand and BigChange has basically allowed us to double our business.”

AA Salt answered some questions for GISCafe about the BigChange cloud-based mobile workforce system they have employed.

What type of GIS is used by BigChange? Is it their own proprietary solution?

They use the most appropriate mapping services as their platform – typically Professional Google Maps so users can take advantage of all the Google features.  Users add layers and data, such as customer locations, to customize the system for their business.  AA Salt for example mark out geofences and add CAD-type drawings of their sites such as car parks and private roads that are color coded so operatives can see which areas to clear of snow and which areas to salt, by spreader or by hand, such as sidewalks and access roads.

Does the BigChange solution integrate with other tools outside the companies’ offerings and if so, how is that accomplished?

Yes.  BigChange software is provided as a Software as a Service (SaaS) which make integration easier using standard industry data formats.  Integration with other systems is important since BigChange provides real time data on mobile operations. That data includes live and logged GPS tracking and alerts from geofencing (vehicle entering a barred area, approaching a low bridge, entering a congestion charge area, or unauthorized movement ‘out of hours’).

However for integration the most important data comes from the BigChange mobile app called JobWatch.  Mobile workers use a phone or tablets to replace traditional paperwork such as proofs of delivery, inspection sheets, service reports (Job sheets) customer sign-offs on glass, photographs on arrival and on departure, for example.  The data is often required in other systems especially financial software like Sage and Zero, plus specialist systems used for managing transport and plant hire booking. This synchronization of systems gives everyone concerned real time visibility and proof of service delivered.

Do subcontractors need to pay for the JobWatch app also or can they use it for free through the original contractor?

If both contractor and sub-contractor are users of the BigChange system, they can collaborate seamlessly and at no extra cost via “The BigChange Network”. If the contractor wants to work with a sub-contractor that is not a regular user of the BigChange system, they can download ‘contractor licenses’ and there is a small cost of $1.00 per job processed in this way.

How long has AA Salt been using BigChange?

First introduced in 2018.

Do they have any specific ROI results from using the solution?

Yes. BigChange allowed AA Salt to more than double the productivity of its field operators.  The biggest gains are from optimization of the work schedule and smarter routing where they estimate they are saving 5 minutes per job and reducing driving time by a total of 4 hours each night.  Before the system was introduced they could only manage 100 jobs a night; now they can do up to 450.

What types of problems did they have prior to installing the solution and how have they been remedied now?

Previously AA Salt were relying on paper reporting and some spreadsheets to manage their operations with voice communication to operatives via cellphone.  As work increased dealing with paperwork and the cumbersome manual entry of data for customer reports and invoicing meant that they were overloaded in the office and could not take on more work.  Reporting from field operatives was also inconsistent and limited.  If a customer raised a question about a job, the response was slow and limited in detail. Previously we were too nervous to outsource work but that has changed with JobWatch.  Now if we need to contract out the contractor can use exactly the same JobWatch app on their mobile phone so we can have the same level of control and seamless reporting to the customer.

Now the system provides not just live information for immediate reporting but also an indisputable audit trail of work done including time and location referenced photographs from each site – proof that the job was done.   So BigChange has not only allowed AA Salt to take on more work with the same administration resources but customer service is considerably improved.  In addition they can pitch for work with bigger national customers who require a higher degree of reporting.

Does JobWatch integrate with a larger GIS solution or is it standalone?

It is standalone but data such as tracking logs could be exported.  AA Salt does not service the municipal and highways sector who manage public roads.  Most customers are private land owners with sites such as sports clubs, universities, businesses and hotels where GIS is generally not used.

How much GIS experience do users of the BigChange product need?

None, it is simple to use and GIS functions are straightforward.  Consultancy is provided mainly for setting up the system in the first place with training if required.  However, being a standard browser and app platform the system is very familiar and intuitive.

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