Then and Now – A look at the changes to parts and folios

Technology is constantly moving forward. Every year we have the next cutting edge smartphone or game-changing IoT-enabled device. Of course, the technology behind information management and data processing is no different.

For several years, Infomill has processed data for a multinational energy and home services company. Using the data that we process, their engineers can visit a domestic property secure in the knowledge that all the parts and servicing information is available at their fingertips to help them service, fault find and repair an appliance. We strive to make the data and associated illustrations 100% accurate so that the engineer only has to visit a property once to service the appliance or effect a repair. We all know the importance of the First-time Fix Rate! After all, faster fixes result in happier customers and reduced service costs. The company prides itself on efficient service and the work we do for them plays an important factor in achieving this goal. A small, but significant cog in the field service wheel.

I joined the project in 2000. As you can imagine, things were different back then. Parts lists were processed using a system called FADASPI, which could be fiddly to say the least, as parts lists had to be entered individually, line by line. Technology moved forward, as it tends to do, and Data Retrieval Using Interactive Devices (or DRUID for short), was developed. The DRUID database held all the parts lists, exploded views, service information and other associated documents. To get the technical information into DRUID, the data was received from the manufacturers in varying formats, ranging from hard copy, .pdf, MS Word and plain text documents. A benefit of DRUID was that we also moved from manually entering the parts lists to an electronic import of the whole list, which made the whole process significantly faster. Framemaker was used for processing servicing documents, where the structured approach made for easier processing and a consistent output.

At the end of each quarter a snapshot was taken of the data and the updated information was  burned onto 5 Master CDs.  The data on the CDs was then checked AGAIN to ensure everything was correct before being replicated and sent to the field engineers for use on their laptops. This part of the process took approximately 10 weeks, which meant that a field engineer might not receive the data update until nearly 6 months after it was first received by us for processing .

Needless to say, a more efficient process needed to be developed and in 2004 a web based system for the data was developed to replace DRUID. The new system gave office-based users access to technical information in real time. The data for servicing documents moved from Framemaker to use of .xml with Adobe being used to zone the documents. CDs were still produced, although as the amount of data increased, the data moved to extra CDs and then eventually to DVDs..

Further developments by Infomill now means that the data no longer goes out to the engineers on DVDs. Changes made during the previous 24 hours are sent out over the air in small deltas that are applied to the database held on the engineer’s device. This system has been developed to run alongside the web based system that is still being used for processing the data.  The result is that data can now be processed, checked and sent over the air to the engineer who will receive it within as little as 4 days from initial receipt of the data.

Some might argue that this isn’t as exciting as smartphones and IoT devices. However, technology innovation is all about making our lives easier and more efficient, and certainly the innovations that Infomill has developed in the last few years is no different! Take, for instance, the fact that service engineers for this multinational energy company now receive up-to-date technical information within a week – a far cry from the 6 months it used to take back in 2000!