Working increases meter reader productivity and the accuracy of readings by using smartphones for the meter reading system

The Working cooperative reads gas, water and energy meters in northern Italy on behalf of various multi-utility companies. It performs about 3,000,000 readings every year. Recently, some multi-utility companies decided to require a more flexible and reliable service, introducing some operational quality parameters as specific requirements for their competitive contracts.

Marco Milanesi, meter reading project leader for Working, explained, “There has been a revolution in how services are provided: instead of every month, we needed to organize daily, real-time, readings of 12,000 meters scattered over a very large area, and submit results each evening. Without a new IT system to support us it would've been impossible to compete for this contract.”

Working created the new meter reading system using Instant Developer, a high-productivity platform for developing mobile and web applications. Differently from traditional development solutions, which would have required months and months of work, with Instant Developer the goal was achieved in only 30 days, just in time to win the contract.

A new system for a lean way to work

The multi-utility companies required an integration with their internal corporate systems (such as SAP, Terranova, etc…) to transfer details of Working's 20,000+ readings it performs each day. The readings are geocoded, logically sorted to optimize the route, and distributed to the meter readers by 9:00am so they can begin their work. Each reading includes the GPS coordinates for the reading, a photo of the meter itself, and statistical analysis as a function of historic consumption, in real time. All the readings are delivered to the multi-utility companies by the end of the day.

To support this change, an independent light weight system based on a distributed mobile architecture able to communicate readings over a cellular data connection was needed. The system had to work as a standalone disconnected solution when meter readers were in basements or in poor reception areas where a cellular connection is unavailable.

Marco Milanesi told us, “We evaluated a number of solutions that were already available, but there wasn't a single one that could provide all the characteristics we needed. So we decided to develop a new system based on smartphones.”

A 100% all-inclusive solution

First, Working looked into using native development tools, but this choice would have required highly qualified and hard-to-find personnel, a great deal of expense, and most importantly an amount of time that would have exceeded the deadlines that the clients had set. Other rapid development tools did not guarantee the full offline functioning that was essential for Working, and could not guarantee that 100% of the features required could be implemented.

Marco Milanesi: “Only Instant Developer had all the bases covered, but we wanted to try it ourselves before getting started. We asked for a demo, and in just one day they presented us with a prototype including every functionality we needed. That's when we realized that this was the right solution!”

Performance can be multiplied

Without wasting time trying to recruit employees with a specific understanding of mobile architecture, Working decided to dedicate one of its own programmers, who became productive in using Instant Developer in just three days thanks to training courses organized by Pro Gamma.

Programmer Matteo Fagiolino said, “In Instant Developer I found programming techniques that were already familiar to me, but used in a model-driven way that multiplied my performance and allowed me to tackle areas I didn't already know, like multiplatform mobile development.”

In just 30 working days, Matteo successfully produced the first complete version of the meter reading system, which includes a web application installed in the cloud that integrates with the multi-utility companies’ corporate systems, geocodes and sorts the readings, and plans all work by distributing the work load among the meter readers in real time. Each meter reader uses a smartphone app for iPhone or Android to take the readings and photograph the meters in offline mode, and the data and photos are automatically synchronized with the servers in the cloud.

What really astonished everyone was the scalability and security of this system, achieved because of the efficiency of the Instant Developer RIA framework. A single server in the cloud can manage more than 10,000,000 readings and photos, support more than 100 terminals, and handle daily operations without any interruption in the work performed. The resulting TCO is less than 1 Euro per user per month, approximately a fortieth of the cost of competitor's systems.

Matteo Fagiolino added, “Working with Instant Developer's IDE is fun. Its model-driven programming engine takes care of all the repetitive tasks, leaving room for my own creativity. I was surprised at how well the integrated historic debug system was able to make issues clear so I could fix them on the fly.”

It's easier together

While creating the system, Working capitalized on Pro Gamma's coaching service, designed to help you choose the best foundations for the architecture in the system you're developing with Instant Developer.

Pro Gamma Consultant Davide Arrivabene explained, “even when working in different locations, we were able to easily share progress using the integrated TeamWorks. Reading the code written by other programmers is simple thanks to the dependency tracking system that Instant Developer is based on.”

Matteo also made use of the support provided by the highly active community of Instant Developer programmers, who are always eager to help. “No matter what question I asked, I'd get a concrete answer within the day!”

A winning pair

The results achieved were unbelievable. Not only did Working ensure that it could provide the meter reading service, but it optimized the entire process, increasing the number of readings performed each hour, decreasing the error rate from 0.8% (using manual procedures) to 0.01%, and lowering the additional work for each reading by 30%.

Luca Leardini, Chairman of Working, concluded, “We wouldn't hesitate to recommend Instant Developer to anyone who needs to get to market quickly, and in contexts that require skills in the most recent developments in IT.”

Pro Gamma is proud that Instant Developer has helped Working reach its goals, and will remain by its side for every technological challenge it faces in future.

Marco Milanesi, Project Leader, Working

About Working

Working is a cooperative company that operates in the services sector in northern Italy for important public and private clients. In 2011, 470 partners provided their services to the company. Working's business is organized into 3 areas:

  • Gas, water, and electrical services
  • Cultural heritage and institutional services
  • Light catering services

Working earned UNI EN ISO 9001 certification in 2004 with an assessment by TUV Italia. In 2012, Working earned the Occupational Health and Safety Management System certification OHSAS 18001 with an assessment by DNV.

Omniservice: a mobile solution for reading gas and water meters

Sector: Energy & Utilities
Company department: Management & Logistics
Advantages for the client: Service contracts awarded
Development time: 30 man-days
Technology: 100% Instant Developer
RIA Web Application: .NET 4.0
ArchitectureDatabase: SQL Server 2012, DB Size >1 TB
Mobile Application: iOS & Android offline
Data synchronization: Native
Alternatives rejected: XCode, Visual Studio