Into Thin Air

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

Wireless technology enables Avnet to offer real-time information to employees and provide a superior customer experience.

Into Thin Air

There’s no question that wireless technology can fundamentally change the way an organization interacts and gets work done. The ability to grab inventory data, enter orders and provide answers to customers in real time represents an enormous opportunity. But laying down the technology foundation to make the promise of wireless a bona fide payoff requires a robust IT infrastructure and a thorough understanding of business processes.

Pischke knew that a well-designed wireless infrastructure could pay enormous dividends for Avnet, which has two primary business groups in electronics marketing and components, upward of 200,000 customers worldwide, and a sales and support staff that numbers in the thousands.

In June 2006, the firm opted to make a major transition to wireless systems. By May 2007, it had a solution in place within its electronics marketing division.

As Pischke puts it, “We wanted to take business to the point of the relationship.” So, Avnet examined who had access to key business data and was concerned when it learned that the firm’s roughly 750 account managers—who spend most of their time in the field—had the least access of all.

Even worse was the fact that account managers had the greatest need for data. Most visited the office only once a week, usually on a Monday, and they found themselves syncing their notebook computers and PDAs in order to update transactions and other information. “We realized that we had to find a better way to manage and distribute data,” he explains.

So, IT began examining potential solutions. Avnet wanted to ensure that a wireless platform was vendor-agnostic, and Pischke wanted to use service-oriented architecture (SOA) components to speed the deployment of applications.

The company unveiled a prototype system that delivered ERP and CRM data to a test group of 22 account managers. After a six-month trial, IT polled the employees, and 21 of them provided favorable feedback and suggested a nationwide rollout.

“Account managers told us that it was revolutionary to sit with a customer and look up inventory levels and the status of an order,” Pischke says. “They didn’t have to make phone calls, and they didn’t have to send e-mails and tell the customer they’d get back to them at a later time.”

Placing proprietary data at the fingertips of account managers completely changed the interactions with customers, Pischke says. Instead of waiting for hours or even days to get answers, customers got requested information instantly. This improved Avnet’s image and boosted efficiency.

In fact, the company estimates that it has realized approximately $2 million in productivity gains. “We have customers who have commented that they have given us their business because of our ability to provide quick and seamless service in the field,” he says.

Avnet is now expanding its capabilities. It has the ability to access special product designs that the firm develops with customers, and it is making its lead-generation system available to mobile users.

In addition, the company is providing Evolution Data Optimized (EvDO) cards for laptop users so they can access enterprise data—and e-mail—while traveling, sitting in a coffee shop and even riding in a taxi. In the past, the typical employee racked up $125 per month in Wi-Fi charges, according to Pischke, who says, “Now we’re paying only $45 per month, per employee for 24/7 access.”

This article was originally published on 2009-02-18
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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