How one Utility Company commits to it’s employees
Early in 2001 we were approached by a utility company to design & deploy a software application that would help their employees ‘stay safe’. The software would have an acronym “TRMS” which meant “TRaining Management System”, and the utility company had some pretty grand ideas for how this new software would benefit several thousand field employees. They hoped that a renewed focus on training – would have a positive impact on employee safety. And in this line of business, they could not take risks with employee safety.
The utility company wanted not only a long list of features, but they also recognized that there were likely features that would be beneficial — that they weren’t even aware of at this stage of the design. So, they determined that they wanted the design to be flexible. What does a flexible design look like?
For the utility company, a flexible design meant that it could be easily extract content in nearly unlimited ways without requiring a programmer. They wanted to easily accommodate new reports, by allowing the users to control what content appeared in the reports.
In addition to a long list of features, and a need for a flexible design, there was one curve ball. The utility company’s IT department had declined developing the project AND would not support installing any 3rd party software on their servers. While this left everyone scratching their heads, it also meant, the technology options would be limited at best.
Despite these challenges, the utility company was undaunted in their desire to succeed for the behalf of their employees. They approached Cycon with a simple “What can we do?”
The Approach & Solution…
As we evaluated options for the utility company – we immediately checked off “ideal” solutions – such as SQL, Oracle or anything that would involve their IT department and their internal servers. We eliminated “web based” as an option – as again – it would not be approved by their IT department.
There really weren’t any good solutions from a technical viewpoint. Yet, we had to work within the limitations presented. If we chose a desktop database solution (such as MSAccess) – it had limitations for simultaneous usage and could be a performance problem on a network with bandwidth issues. Then we discovered that the bulk of the end users – would be those running reports. Data updates – could be confined to less than 20 simultaneous users. Just about the capacity of an MSAccess solution.
Perhaps we could use MSAccess – despite it’s limitations, and use it in a way that could accommodate a larger capacity of users who would need to run reports. We considered the elements that needed to be real time, and those that could be run in batches. We looked at the data entry cycle versus the reporting cycle. What if we separated the data entry from the reports? What if a reporting file was distributed on a 24 hour delay?
We wanted to find a solution that the utility company could use “today” and possibly later make a case to their IT department – to scale up to an enterprise edition.
Once we determined that the MSAccess platform was the best option available, we looked at how to extend it’s capability. With hooks to exporting content to Excel and allowing data to be imported from a variety of sources including SAP and CBT software – we could build in the flexibility that the utility company required.
We created flexible search criteria – allowing the users to pick and choose how to extract content. We created a combination of pre-formatted reports that were generated from flexible search criteria – that expanded the usefulness of the reports. We created data grids that could be filtered in any way that the user required – and then exported /shared with management beyond the TRMS application community.
We installed the initial version of TRMS in 2001, and the utility company was able to maintain and monitor employee training just as they had required. In 2008, and utilizing the expanded tool set of MSAccess v2007 – the original TRMS application was rewritten to a newer platform. In 2011 we upgraded TRMS to MSAccess v2010 and created a sister application CRMS to help manage Safety Compliance – all expanding on and using the framework from the original design elements: Flexible search criteria, easily export data, easily use pre-formatted reports in hundreds of different combinations. Despite the limitations to desktop based soltuions – these TRMS & CRMS applications continues to serve the employee field work community – where safety matters most.
TRMS and CRMS jointly managing utility training, safety and compliance programs to minimize risk and injury to employees.
Summary of Solution…
- Driven by safety compliance projects, and employee program tracts
- Platforms: MSAccess v2010/ ODBC / SAS & CBT-based
- Filter based access to data content – allows users to see exactly what they need
- Combines pre-formatted and Ad-Hoc reports
- Ad hoc reports are fully customizable to user, and can be exported to common formats (XLS, Word, CSV)
- Accommodates batch xfer of data (import and export)
- Manages hundreds of compliance programs, and nearly 5000 employees
- Allows for contact, and non-safety project activities to be tracked
- 3 tier User permission hierarchy, with different menus for different levels of access
- Drop down menus can be customized by customer
- Major releases: 2001, 2008, 2011, with continued upgrade support as needed