US 6633900 Mobile crew management system for distributing work order assignments to mobile field crew units

ABSTRACT – A system for multi-crew management comprises an enterprise computing system, a mobile field unit, and wireless communication network which supports terminal control protocol/internet protocol (TCP/IP). The enterprise computing network comprises application programs through which work orders may be assigned and managed, various server machines containing data related to the work orders, a local area network (LAN) connecting the server machines, and a gateway to the TCP/IP wireless network. A mobile field unit comprises a computing device and modem for communicating over the wireless network to the enterprise computing system. A mobile field unit and each machine in the enterprise computing system has a unique IP address assigned to it. Accordingly, commands and data can be communicated freely between all machines.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates generally to management information systems and more particularly to automated systems and methods for work order assignment and field communication.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Businesses such as utility companies which deploy numerous employees over a wide geographic area to service a dispersed infrastructure or client base are faced with the particularly cumbersome task of communicating work assignments and related data to personnel that are dispersed in the field. For example, a utility company is faced with the daunting task of maintaining an infrastructure that spans a potentially very large geographic area. When outages occur in a utility grid, field personnel must be dispatched to address the problem. Typically, field personnel are already in the field when new service tasks or work orders are generated. Thus, utility companies are faced with the very complex task of receiving work orders, identifying field personnel that are best suited for the job as dictated by training, experience, and proximity to the work area, and communicating to field personnel that a particular work order has been assigned to them. In response, field personnel must communicate to the dispatching operator an acceptance or rejection of the work order. Furthermore, if a work order is accepted, it may be necessary to gather information and data regarding the work order. Such data may include for example the type of equipment that is to be serviced, the maintenance history of the particular equipment item, and information regarding other equipment in close proximity. Upon completion of the work order, field personnel are responsible for updating the central office with information on the status of the work order as well as any changes that may have been made to the infrastructure as a result of the work order. Of course other types of organizations such as delivery companies, facilities maintenance companies, and any other types of organization which must assign work and communicate data regarding those assignments to personnel already deployed in the service area are faced with similar problems.

Generally, field personnel and centralized dispatching operations communicate by two-way voice systems such as wireless phone or radio. Such systems allow for communication of voice and in some cases, with the advent of fax machines, data. But by either voice of fax, the amount and type of information that can be easily communicated to field personnel is limited. Indeed, while all of the relevant data necessary for completing a task may be located in a central office, very little of it can be communicated to field personnel. For this reason, field personnel carry with them information resources such as maps and data sheets. Unfortunately, these often quickly become outdated which can lead to a dangerous work environment for field personnel.

Of course, systems have previously been developed to facilitate work assignment and data communication. These systems, however, have used proprietary technology. Further, maintenance of prior systems typically has required manually updating individual nodes of the system through non-network means.

Although these existing systems are useful, there is a need for more advanced two way data communication between field personnel and a central office. In particular, there is a need for a system whereby tasks can be assigned and automatically communicated to field personnel with little or no dispatcher intervention. Field personnel should be able to access on-line the most up-to-date data related to the work order. Additionally, there is a need for a system whereby field personnel are able to update system records to reflect physical changes resulting from their work as well as update system records to reflect changed work order status. Furthermore, such a system should use non-proprietary technologies and be easily maintained.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Briefly, the present invention provides a system for assigning work orders, communicating work orders to deployed field personnel, and communicating at the request of field personnel, up-to-date data related to an assigned work order. The system comprises an enterprise computing system, a mobile field unit, and wireless communication network which supports terminal control protocol/internet protocol (TCP/IP). The enterprise computing network comprises application programs through which work orders may be assigned and managed, various server machines containing data related to the work orders, a local area network (LAN) connecting the server machines, and a gateway to the TCP/IP wireless network. A mobile field unit comprises a computing device and modem for communicating over the wireless network to the enterprise computing system. A mobile field unit and each machine in the enterprise computing system has a unique IP address assigned to it. Accordingly, commands and data can be communicated freely between all machines.

According to another aspect of the invention there is provided a method for managing work order assignments. There is also disclosed a method for distributing map data. According to still another aspect of the invention there is provided a method for monitoring communications in the system.

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