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Netze BW: A Digital Companion for Service Technicians

Intelligent technologies from SAP and an Apple Watch app help reduce the time to be at the scene of an accident.

“The well-being of our service technicians is very close to our hearts,” says Claus Jürgen Bader, product manager at Netze BW. “We want all our people to return home safely at the end of their work assignments.” With this in mind, Netze BW approached SAP in the second half of 2021 to work on a solution that supports its service technicians in the field. The network group belongs to the large German utilities’ provider EnBW and is responsible for more than two million customers in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

How Service Technicians Benefit from the “NeWa” App

Together with SAP, Netze BW started developing an Apple Watch app called “NeWa” (Netze Watch). This way, Netze BW’s service technicians can always be up-to-date on their assigned work orders and can directly submit data from the app to SAP systems.

In fact, thanks to the app they will be able to:

  • Reduce accidents and the time to be at the scene of an accident with the help of the dead man switch function.
  • Perform their jobs on-site with increased security with the help of the time slot alarm function.

Netze BW’s Challenge

Netze BW service technicians are responsible for maintaining public power, gas, and water supply infrastructure. For compliant reporting, their tasks and statuses must be updated in frequent intervals. All information they might require during their work in the field needs to be available so that they can submit details, such as damaged components, that are automatically identified and assigned. As the service technicians have shifts of up to 24/7 job availability, their jobs come with a lot of risk. What’s more, they often work at remote locations, many times under hazardous conditions and alone.

Conceptual Design from SAP within One Week

Netze BW and SAP outlined a solution with SAP AppHaus in a very short time. SAP sent off the high-fidelity screens to development in just four business days by applying the so-called “speedboat” method based on SAP’s human-centered approach to innovation. This approach focuses on understanding the users’ needs within their daily routine at work first, before technologies are evaluated to fulfill those needs.

Next to increasing the well-being and security of its technicians, Netze BW also asked SAP to show a solution that can ensure efficient bidirectional data exchange from Apple Watch to SAP and back – that is, between service technicians and central departments.

Working closely with Netze BW, the SAP AppHaus team conducted on-site research shadowing service technicians at work and created initial design wireframes that were immediately verified with the Netze BW service technicians. The final high-fidelity screens were then delivered remotely a week later.

Based on those high-fidelity screens, the Netze Watch (“NeWa”) Apple Watch app has been developed by Netze BW and EnBW in-house developers based on metering processes for utilities solutions from SAP and SAP EAM Work Order on Apple Watch.

“With the help from Apple and SAP we now improve and, in some cases, save the lives of Netze BW’s service technicians,” says Mark Zimmermann, head CoE Mobile Solutions at EnBW. “A big thank you to the design thinking method applied by SAP AppHaus. We had an extraordinary journey and learned a lot.”

The NeWa Apple Watch App

The NeWa app will soon be seamlessly connected to Netze BW’s existing workforce management iOS app on smartphones. It acts as a kind of digital companion that provides technicians with all details related to their current job or order and tracks a technician’s heart rate or detects if there has been a crash or signs of an accident. If the technician does not respond via the watch, then an emergency protocol is automatically triggered.

The NeWa app is running on iPhone and Apple Watch systems. This app and the Netze Mobile Workforce Management, or “NeMo” app, run on iPhone and enable data exchange with SAP applications like SAP S/4HANA via SAP Gateway.

The NeWa Apple Watch app offers additional safety features. Based on predefined triggers the safety control tower is automatically alarmed. Information from the Apple Watch is combined with task data from NeMo and sent to SAP backend systems with no extra effort.

The currently planned NeWa and NeMo app architecture looks like this:

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In the future, Netze BW’s IT team plans to replace the existing on-premise architecture – SAP Gateway and SAP Mobile Platform – with SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP) and the corresponding software development kit (SDK) for iOS, as well as SAP Integration Suite and SAP Extension Suite to connect with SAP S/4HANA for a best-in-class system architecture.

Click to enlarge

The following functionalities of the NeWa app support the Netze BW service technicians in:

  • Setting a job timer (dead man switch) on the Apple Watch: in case the timer is not canceled or extended, the safety control tower is notified and will take adequate measures, such as informing emergency services. Information from the Apple Watch, like location and duration, is cross-checked with job information available from SAP databases.

    Job timer functionality
  • Benefiting from the fall detection functionality: in case the service technician slips or collapses, the Apple Watch will automatically inform emergency services. The NeWa app recognizes this situation and informs the safety control tower about the situation at the accident site.

Netze BW Won a 2022 SAP Innovation Award

Due to the fast turnaround time of the Apple Watch app, Netze BW was announced as a 2022 SAP Innovation Award winner in the Adoption Superhero category.

Simon Hartmann, software architect for Mobile Development at EnBW, says: “We at Netze BW and EnBW were delighted to receive an SAP Innovation Award. It encourages us to continue driving forward for not only productivity, but also the safety of our service technicians. Our special thanks to not only our internal colleagues, but also to Apple and SAP for the initial trigger and to SAP AppHaus for the support we received in the project itself. It helped us incorporate the UI and UX components together with the service technicians right from the start.”

A Day in the Life of a Service Technician

Before the NeWa and NeMo apps:

  • Dispatching service technicians and data exchange including documentation was mainly based on e-mails and paperwork. In addition, bad data quality occurred due to media discontinuity between digital and analog processes.
  • There were no standard solutions available for reducing the risk of working alone. Individual arrangements existed at a team level as well as stand-alone technical solutions like activating additional devices as interim solutions.
  • Long waiting and response times were common due to no consistent digital solution being available.
  • Previous implementations did not meet the requirements regarding user-centricity

    Fall detection functionality

After the apps:

  • Service technicians have access to SAP databases via their mobile devices, iPhone, and Apple Watch, and can submit task data and status information immediately.
  • Service technicians are automatically informed about new jobs that have been assigned to them.
  • Health and safety applications on the Apple Watch are linked to specific job information from SAP systems and enable a 24/7 safety control tower that may initiate further action.
  • Thanks to its open architecture, the NeWa app can also communicate with other apps on the employee’s iPhone and thus can be operated by other SAP systems, such as within the wind offshore environment.

What’s Next?

Netze BW is working closely with its internal colleagues from the EnBW development department to release the NeWa app with the planned implementations. A publication for companies in the DACH region is also planned. Clearly, the effects and results of the NeWa app have encouraged the company to continue on its innovation path. There are plenty of new use cases in discussion around new technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality. For example, in 2021, EnBW developed the REVisAR app running on Apple iPad. It focuses on renewable energy visualization with the help of augmented reality (AR) functionalities for building wind turbines out in the field.


Constanze Reichelt is Project Expert Communications at SAP.