BT and University of Essex collaboration slashes travel time using artificial intelligence

BT and University of Essex collaboration slashes travel time using artificial intelligence

BT-SoRFour years ago BT funded the University of Essex to collaborate on a research project to look at how BT could optimise the strategic deployment of its engineers for better service delivery.

A team of researchers from BT’s Technology, Service & Operations (TSO) unit, led by chief researcher, Gilbert Owusu, and Essex University looked at how BT could exploit the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Fuzzy logic technologies for optimising field force deployment.

As a result of the project, designing work patches for BT engineers become a whole lot easier and a product called iPatch was born, which is currently being used by teams in TSO, Openreach, BT Wholesale and BT Northern Ireland.

What is iPatch?

iPatch is a tool which uses artificial intelligence and algorithms to map out the best use of engineers’ time and skills.

Before, it took months and relied on spreadsheets and maps. But iPatch can produce up to 20 different designs in a couple of weeks. Teams can then choose which one they want to use and refine it using local knowledge about traffic hotspots to decide exactly where to draw boundaries.

iPatch has led to a significant reduction in travel time, which means BT engineers are able to spend more in exchanges fixing things that matter to customers.

BT’s Karen Giles was responsible for transformation in TSO and is supporting the transformation of TSO UK exchange engineering. She says iPatch has taken much of the pain out of designing geographical patches.

“It’s one of a range of initiatives that’s contributing to better service performance, which resulted in our best PSTN¹ performance in five years, last year,” she explains.

Collaborative work

This great idea to improve customer service and cut our engineers’ travel time has also won the 2015 Global Telecoms Business Innovation Awards.

Gilbert Owusu, BT, Head of Resource Management, Technologies & Innovation said:

“The project was a great success and it is fantastic to see how this collaborative project between business and academia has directly impacted on customer satisfaction, which is very much at the top of our agenda.”

Essex University’s Prof. Hani Hagras summed up:

“BT proposed the topic of Working Area Optimisation for workforce scheduling as a challenging topic of research, which was of importance to BT and also to the wider community. The project was jointly managed, that allowed us to mix the best industrial and academic expertise to solve this real world problem, which resulted in advancing the science of applying computational intelligence techniques for workforce scheduling, and allowing these techniques to be applied to a real world setting.”

Prof Hagras continued, “This has gained business benefits to BT and also great educational and research benefits to the University as this has resulted in a breakthrough in this area of work.”

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