Thursday, August 15, 2019

Computers in the Workplace

I work for a natural gas company. When I came to work here, I was surprised to learn that local natural gas providers are transportation companies. We build and maintain infrastructure for transporting gas from our national provider to each of our customers. We bill for the amount of gas used, yet do not sell the gas itself. Technically, we charge for the transportation of natural gas. Computers are integral to the way we do business.

We depend on computers at every level of our business. Every employee is computer literate, with skills ranging from minimal (login, mouse/keyboard, enter data) to expert (computer-assisted design, geographical mapping, call center, help desk, cybersecurity). I think every large company will have a similar structure, and all employees have to be minimally skilled on a computer. Since I am most familiar with employee roles in my department, I will discuss the functions of computers in my department.

My department is technical services.
  • Measurement Technicians maintain our distribution pipelines. They document their daily activities on a Panasonic Toughbook using a custom application written to comply with the Department of Transportation guidelines. A measurement technician must have at least minimal computer skills.
  • Measurement Specialists have the same skillset as technicians, but also install and monitor remote telemetry using applications that communicate with electronic instruments. They need to understand serial port communications and CDMA modems. A measurement specialist has intermediate computer skills.
  • Communication Specialists program and electronic repair instruments, interrogate instruments for recorded data and maintain archives of distribution system performance. A communication specialist has expert computer skills.
In the last five years, the technology my company uses changed from 2G to 3G and is now moving toward 4G communications for our mobile workforce computers, telemetry modems, and GPS fleet tracking. Last year we upgraded all phones from the flip-style to iPhones - more computers.

In the next ten years, tablets will replace most Toughbooks. Apps on those tablets will replace the DOS-based compliance applications now running on Toughbooks. A small percentage of the workforce will still require a Toughbook for fieldwork on instruments that have serial communications (our instruments have a long lifecycle). Next-generation mobile radio systems will incorporate smartphone features for a private communication network we can count on in the event of a large scale disaster. The radio system will also support data transfer for telemetry sites removing the need to depend on a cell provider.

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