BNSF Railway Company
“We chose SQL Anywhere for a number of reasons. We found it to be a high-performing and dependable data synchronization solution that enabled us to mobilize the user for those times and places that have no coverage while taking advantage of the investment in our existing architecture.”
Vice President Technology Services and CIO
The BNSF Railway Company—operating one of the largest railroad networks in North America—needed an offline version of an existing online-only work order management and timekeeping application for mobile employees. Integrating Sybase technology into the system, BNSF dramatically increased efficiency, productivity and savings.
- BNSF now has increased visibility of field activity, so managers can make more informed maintenance investment decisions.
- Remote user data entry time reduced in some cases by 50 percent
- Data entry-related labor/cost savings of $7,500 per day
- Easier and more reliable application distribution to remote users
- Improved end-user satisfaction
- More accurate and timely data—better business decisions
Timely Information Key to Maximizing Capital Investments
The BNSF Railway Company, a subsidiary of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, runs 32,500 route miles covering 28 states and two Canadian provinces. It is among the world’s top transporters of intermodal traffic and America’s largest grain-hauling railroad, moving enough coal to generate more than 10 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S.
Greg Fox, vice president of engineering at BNSF, says information
from the 8,000 employees working along the rail lines is critical for
budgeting and maintenance planning.
“For example, it costs the railroad $300,000 to replace one mile of rail and $120,000 to $200,000 to replace a switch” says Fox. “If the company replaces track or equipment a few years too early, it costs a lot of money that didn’t have to be spent at that time. On the other hand, if we wait too long to replace equipment, the impact could be a track outage resulting in service delays for customers’ freight.”
To keep track of the department’s payroll data and work performed, BNSF created an application called Planning and Activity Reporting System (PARS). The railway company implemented PARS in 2001 as a connected-only application designed to work offline, pending availability of synchronization tools. It soon realized, however, there was a problem.
SQL Anywhere Studio Solves Connectivity Problems, Increases User Productivity
The crew foremen and inspectors charged with gathering and entering the information into the system usually worked in extremely remote locations. Typically, they’d collect the required information on a clipboard. At the end of the day, they’d go to a remote company office or a local hotel, connect to PARS over a dial-up line, which was sometimes as slow as 2400 baud, and begin to enter the information collected manually throughout the day.
“What happened was that PARS was implemented as an always-connected system due to the availability of synchronization tools,” explains Don Dill, director of field planned maintenance at BNSF. “It would take users 15 or 20 minutes to enter the data, during which time nothing was being transferred over the network. So the ISP would disconnect, and they would have to re-dial and try again. Sometimes, it would take them as long as two to four hours to enter the information just because they couldn’t hang onto the connection long enough to complete the data entry. Needless to say, our field users weren’t very happy.”
To solve this problem, BNSF turned to Sybase. Using SQL Anywhere Studio from Sybase’s iAnywhere subsidiary, the company created PARS Mobile, an offline version of PARS. The application is currently running on 1600 Windows XP and Windows NT-based laptops.
PARS Mobile allows users to collect and enter information at anytime, anywhere. The information is entered directly into the SQL Anywhere Studio database residing on each user’s laptop. When all of the information is entered, the user can dial into the company network and synchronize with its back-end DB2 database using SQL Anywhere Studio’s MobiLink synchronization technology.
“By integrating SQL Anywhere Studio into PARS, we have reduced the time spent by users entering data into the system in some cases by 50 percent,” Dill says. “We’ve also virtually eliminated the dial-up connectivity problem because users only have to be connected to our network while they’re synchronizing. If for some reason there is a lost connection, the user simply re-dials and the synchronization process picks up where it left off. Thanks to iAnywhere, BNSF is realizing productivity gains and labor cost savings by making field users more productive in the task of data collection.”
“We estimate we’re saving 15 minutes per day per mobile person thanks to the elimination of dial-up disconnects,” Dill says. “That adds up to 375 hours per day which could be applied to other valuable activity or translates into a labor savings of $7,500 per day. That’s a significant savings for this important data collection task. We have also experienced vastly improved end-user satisfaction in the reduction of end-of-workday frustration. The end result is that management now has greater visibility into the field activity via more accurate and timely data so they can make more informed and more proactive maintenance investment decisions.”
SQL Anywhere Studio Chosen for Performance, Dependable Synchronization and Ease of Implementation
“We chose SQL Anywhere Studio for a number of reasons,” says Jeff Campbell, vice president Technology Services and CIO, BNSF. “We found it to be a high-performing and dependable data synchronization solution that enabled us to mobilize the user for those times and places that have no coverage while taking advantage of the investment in our existing architecture.”
Campbell added, “Engineering has a need for client-rich information tools and the iAnywhere products proved to be bandwidth-friendly in addressing the accessibility issues associated with client device management for the PARS Mobile application. Also our teams were able to develop the synchronization scripts required very rapidly and load the new application components onto the users’ machines without a performance or training impact to the mobile user. We also liked the small footprint of the SQL Anywhere Studio client software and the extensive documentation provided with the product, which made it simple to customize the database and synchronization to fit our specific needs – which all promotes the efficient and effective use of our IT resources.”