First-responder teams at Tube Lines work all day, every day, to ensure safe and timely travel on the London Underground, which has now been enhanced with the re-architecture of an iPad app to run as a touch-enabled app on Windows 8 tablets.
With emergency data at their fingertips, responders work faster to protect passengers. Engineers also carry the tablets to securely access maintenance data, expediting fault resolution on the lines from days to hours.
A subsidiary of London Transport, Tube Lines maintains and upgrades 320 kilometers of track, 255 trains, and 100 stations for the London Underground. More than 3,000 Tube Lines employees work around the clock to ensure the safety of passengers, who take more than 500 million journeys every year.
“Our task is daunting: the London Underground has been running for more than 150 years and some of the infrastructure is that old,” says Adrian Davey, head of IT for Tube Lines. “To keep the system running on time, our crews require the latest technology to access the information that they need to prevent passenger delays.
“However, information exchange primarily occurred on paper. It could take up to 10 days to identify a system fault and fix it.”
Engineers carried operational manuals and electrical circuitry maps.
“Searching through reams of pages to determine if a current is running before you can touch anything is a time-consuming way to access critical safety data,” says Bhadresh Sachania, head of the project management office at Tube Lines.
The Tube Lines Emergency Response Unit (ERU) delivers rapid response to developing problems and critical incidents for Tube Lines. Team members also regularly printed thousands of pages from more than 450 safety documents.
This was expensive — it cost £1,000 to distribute just three of these documents to the team — and impractical.
“Whether we are attending a derailment or a medical emergency, our response to incidents could mean the difference between life and death,” says Gary Burnham, ERU training competence and performance manager at Tube Lines.
“Working in wind and rain and stressful circumstances while trying to read paper and make phone calls for information makes it challenging to solve problems quickly.”
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Tube Lines needed a mobile computing platform for its maintenance and emergency staffs. And as part of its IT streamlining and standardisation initiatives, Tube Lines wanted mobile devices capable of replacing PCs, laptops, and phones in multiple computing scenarios — at work and at home.
The organisation began developing an iPad app to deliver information to ERU workers on the job. However, when the IT department began working with Microsoft to standardise and refresh its client and server infrastructure, it found a better alternative.
“With the iPad, we had to add third-party solutions to provide secure access to our corporate system and to manage the devices,” says Sachania. “But with Windows 8 devices, we already have the security and accessibility features we need, built into our Microsoft infrastructure.”
Unlike with the iPad, Tube Lines can manage Windows 8 devices remotely by using the Microsoft System Center 2012 family of system management products.
With Windows 8, IT staff can use BitLocker drive encryption technology to enhance the security of Tube Line data and the Trusted Boot feature to help ensure that engineers and ERU team members can upload maintenance and safety documentation, regardless of connectivity or location.
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Also, Tube Lines workers can connect directly to corporate network resources without establishing a virtual private network (VPN) connection by using the DirectAccess feature in the Windows Server 2012 operating system.
“Windows 8 is revolutionary: it’s the first truly mobile platform from Microsoft that enables us to complete our vision of delivering IT at the right time and place to our mobile employees,” says Davey.
Tube Lines worked with Microsoft Services Consulting to create a touch-enabled app for the ERU team. The team uses the app on HP and Lenovo tablets running the Windows 8 Enterprise operating system.
The app provides ERU team members with a continuously updated electronic version of their emergency manuals — available both offline and online.
“The London Underground sees Microsoft as a key partner,” says Sachania. “Microsoft has provided overall strategic support with infrastructure and architecture design guidance, helping us optimize an end-to-end technology stack that supports mobility solutions, such as Windows 8 Enterprise, that meet our use case scenarios.“
By the end of 2013, all 3,500 employees at Tube Lines were using PCs, laptops, and mobile devices running Windows 8.
According to Tube Lines, ERU team members, who wear emergency vests with pockets newly designed to fit their tablets, have more emergency information at their fingertips to help passengers and resolve issues faster.
“We’ve never carried information like evacuation points for different stations before,” says Burnham. “Because we can access digital information immediately, Windows 8 makes it easier to ensure public safety on the underground.”
Now, when inspectors’ notices fractures in the rail, they can use their tablets to take pictures, record videos, and input information by uploading the data to a Microsoft SharePoint site.
The data can then be accessed by the planners in the office, who can use it to instigate a repair.
“With our Windows 8 mobility platform, we can reduce fault resolution from days to just a few hours,” says Davey.
Tube Lines is delivering new capabilities to its operational staff without adding management overhead.
“With Windows 8, our employees are more mobile and productive, yet in IT we can maintain and secure the devices exactly the same way as all our endpoints,” says Sachania. “As we migrate more employees off iPads, we can retire third-party management products.”
Working with Microsoft, Tube Lines said is evolving an IT philosophy that dissolves the boundaries between work and home.
“We want to provide a single device for people that meets their expectations: to provide information at work and fun experiences at home,” concludes Davey. “Windows 8 works on both accounts.”