The September 2011 issue of Database Trends and Applications features an article written by Joyce Wells titled Megamation Systems Adapts Its Maintenance Management Software for Mobile Devices Using Revelation's O4W.
The DirectLine SaaS app now allows workers to access and transmit information on the go, using smartphones and tablets.
Smartphones, tablets and other handhelds are changing the way companies do business. And when these revolutionary devices can be combined with existing tried-and-true software for evolutionary change, as opposed to ripping and replacing, the results are even better.
Founded in 1984, and based in Oakville, Ontario, Canada with offices in New York State and the U.K., Megamation Systems provides enterprise asset and maintenance management services through its DirectLine brand to help organizations monitor every aspect of their physical infrastructure. In particular, Megamation targets its offerings at schools, universities and colleges, as well as the food services, healthcare, and manufacturing industries. Its software includes customized forms and checklists outlining and documenting procedures for on-demand and preventive maintenance for facilities and equipment.
About 10 years ago, Megamation moved from simply selling its software to companies, to a software-as-a-service model in which DirectLine is offered as a modular suite of all-inclusive maintenance management software and services delivered over the internet. Purchased by customers on a monthly subscription basis, Megamation's software helps companies streamline work orders, perform comprehensive maintenance, and adhere to evolving industry-specific practices. The company's server farm is in a Bell Aliant building and it provides offsite backup for the data, with 99.5% uptime of services guaranteed. "We are responsible for all of the infrastructure other than customers' access to the internet," Bob Mutch, Megamation's president, tells DBTA.
Megamation provides enterprise asset and maintenance management services to help organizations monitor their physical infrastructure.
In addition, for customers that want to integrate their maintenance data with other enterprise data for data mining and reporting, Megamation can take the MultiValue data from its repository and create a data warehouse in SQL format. Providing a true turnkey solution, not only is the DirectLine software molded to fit each individual organization, but Megamation also offers unlimited support and ongoing training for its customers' employees.
If a school playground must be inspected on a monthly basis for safety deficiencies that could result in accidents, the software will provide a checklist for the equipment at that specific site, detailing what is to be examined and how and how often, down to the chain links on each swing. For regular fire and safety inspection checks at a department store, the software will detail where on each floor the emergency fire doors, and sprinkler and valve systems are located that must be examined and precisely how that should be done. For a factory, DirectLine's software also can itemize the procedures and timing for preventive maintenance that will extend the life and decrease the downtime of machinery, with specific details on the methodology that is to be followed for each piece of equipment. "The idea is that we become their IT department for the maintenance application," says Mutch.
And this is not a small business. With customers mainly in North America and Europe, Megamation currently provides its services to 600 individual organizations, many with multiple sites. One customer, GE, has 50 sites using the solution, and another, Unilever uses the solution for 25 sites.
A Revelation Software shop from the beginning, Megamation started with Advanced Revelation, upgrading to OpenInsight (OI) as soon as it became available, and moving up with each new release that is offered. Currently on OI 9.2, Megamation's infrastructure is all Windows-based.
While Mutch was aware that the services Megamation provides were essential to its customers to help them streamline and document their maintenance practices, he understood that DirectLine could be improved even further when he saw the Apple iPad and the assorted of smartphones that have hit the market. "It took us about 6 months to realize just how significant it really was," he says.
Yet, considering the amount of customization to the application that Megamation provides for each client, offering its service via mobile devices was an engineering feat. All that changed with Revelation Software's Web 2.0 toolkit, O4W (OpenInsight for Web), which Mutch first heard about at Revelation's annual customer conference in 2010. And, since Megamation is a participant of The Works, Revelation's annual subscription program designed to provide developers with tools, upgrades, sample applications, and utilities, the company got O4W as part of its regular upgrade when it moved to the OpenInsight 9.0 platform. With O4W, Megamation is adapting its solution to handheld devices, smartphones, and tablets, thereby giving workers mobile access to instructions and forms that they need to complete, avoiding time-consuming trips back to the shop. The approach also gives managers the ability to communicate with maintenance crews in real time, and update instructions on the fly.
O4W allows Megamation to take a handheld device and adapt it to the specific needs of its clients.
"O4W allows us to be able to take a handheld device and adapt it to the particular needs of our clients and how they want to do business. That is our strength, that is what we want to do, and with O4W that was what was introduced - the capacity to actually use a handheld device anywhere in the world and be able to modify it and support it effectively," says Mutch. "As soon as Mike Ruane, Revelation's CEO and president, made the commitment that he would support multiple browsers and that the libraries he would choose would be generic, and would not be Apple-specific or Android-specific - there are some limitations when you make that decision but there are so many more benefits - we said okay, let's get on it." Gone are the days of taking notes on paper and then inputting the data back at the shop, or working offline in the field with a device that must sync up later with back-office systems.
Megamation is the first company to use O4W for mobile applications, says Mutch. "We don't normally do that. We are a maintenance shop. We are engineers, it’s not theoretical. We are the guys trying to apply it. We don't like to be leading edge but we were in this case because it was so significant."
Having O4W is greatly simplifying Megamation's mobile computing play for several reasons. Among them, the volume of libraries that are available in the market that each does something specific, and require the customer to figure out whether it applies to them presents a daunting challenge, says Mutch. "That was the big thing that surprised me - the number of people who had developed pseudo tools for the various devices and it was really fraught with danger if you picked the wrong one." Revelation is removing a significant amount of that complexity with its new library, says Mutch.
"Being able to build one application that can span across Android, iOS, and Blackberry devices is a big deal for us," adds Jeff Mutch, Megamation's director of marketing. "We will not be stuck trying to use one kind of device, and the client will not be stuck with one device from 3 years ago that we standardized on."
'Being able to build one application that can span across Android, i/OS, and Blackberry devices is a big deal for us.'
"In addition," says Bob Mutch, "Revelation plans to introduce a new forms designer on O4W in the next major release. OpenInsight has a forms designer and the company is going to develop something similar to that using true web technology. That is important to us. Right now, we are working around that by hard coding using libraries, so if someone says they want to change something, we actually go in and change code, but that will not be true if you use the forms designer. We want to eliminate that because we have thousands of lines of code that we have to maintain per client. That is not what we want."
Maintenance departments are typically the last groups to get new hardware like computers, says Jeff Mutch. But with Megamation's approach they are always up-to-date. "The idea behind using thin client software was to let people use whatever system they had in the maintenance department," he emphasizes. "We always say that as long as you can connect to the internet, you can use our software."
And, although still in what the company considers the pilot stage, Megamation's ability to offer maintenance people software to do all, or the majority, of their work in the field is "completely game-changing," Jeff Mutch explains. "A lot of their job is physically moving through the environment to be able to record information there."
Before, a maintenance worker would go out into the plant to fix something and when the job was finished, walk back to the shop - which could be a long walk in some of these plants - to ask if there was new work to be done, says Bob Mutch. Or, if a person had access to a cell phone, it was possible to call in and ask for new instructions and if necessary go back to the shop and pick up what was needed to accomplish the next task. Now, he says, supervisors know immediately if a work order has been completed, and they can send the person on to the next site, and have materials and equipment there waiting if required. "The efficiencies are just astounding."