ZIFFPAGE TITLEMake the Mobile Case

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2006-05-06 Print this article Print

A Baseline survey shows that spending on mobile computing is on the rise. The top goal: getting data out to—and back from—remote workers faster.

Make the Mobile Case

But in some industries, a mobile computing device is essentially part of the uniform.

FedEx Ground is a case in point. The $2 billion FedEx Corp. subsidiary, which specializes in small-package delivery, is rolling out 25,000 devices from Hand Held Products, a maker of mobile and wireless data-collection products. Roman Hlutkowsky, FedEx Ground's vice president of operations technology and systems support, says that compared with the older devices the division was using from Symbol—originally deployed six years ago—Hand Held Products' Dolphin 9500s provide better battery life, color screens and built-in wireless network connectivity so drivers can transmit delivery data without having to return to their trucks.

The cost of FedEx Ground's project will be $45 million to $50 million over two years, which includes hardware, software and training, but not recurring costs like wireless data services.

And what's the return on this project? Hlutkowsky expects the new devices to result in savings because they will allow the company to migrate from networks that use Mobitex (a low-speed wireless technology developed 20 years ago) to more widely available General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) wide-area networks. With GPRS, he notes, FedEx Ground can transmit three times the data for two-thirds the cost.

But in Hlutkowsky's view, the main justification for the project is that FedEx Ground needs to update a critical part of its business with new technology. Mobile devices, he says, are now an inseparable part of its operations. "I made my business case for moving away from paper invoices in 1990," he says, adding: "When your laptop dies, do you do a cost-benefit analysis on whether to replace it?"

For the Virginia Lottery, meanwhile, mobile computing technologies are a more novel development. Though it posted $1.3 billion in revenue last year, the state lottery of the Commonwealth of Virginia realized it wasn't distributing its scratch-off ticket games efficiently, says sales operations manager Joey Philpott.

Each week, a team of telemarketers would call 5,000 retail partners to see which of the lottery's 56 scratch-and-win games they needed to restock. But because the telemarketers didn't have access to sales data, they didn't know which games were most popular, and stores frequently sold out of some of the hottest tickets. The lottery does have 74 field representatives, who call on individual retailers to discuss sales trends. But they didn't have up-to-date data—it could be up to a week old—and it was only available in printed reports.

Overall, Philpott says, "We didn't have effective ways to get products out into the market. We knew there had to be a better way to do this."

Last year, Philpott and his team gave mobile computers to the field agents, with the goal of boosting scratch-off ticket game sales. The lottery is using Hewlett-Packard TC4200 Windows XP Tablet PCs, which are portable computers that can function either as laptops or as display devices (to show a client on-screen information, for example). The tablets run Cole Systems' OrderPad software, which can show sales data from the previous day or week, identify the hottest kinds of games at a particular retailer and crunch other numbers.

The Virginia Lottery's startup costs for the project, including software licenses and hardware, were $800,000. Philpott believes the system will undoubtedly increase sales, though he wouldn't disclose specific projections.

In any event, as Philpott points out, the new system is an improvement in how the lottery deals with retail partners. "Before, we were doing this kind of blind with telemarketers sitting in an office," he says. "Now the sales reps are there right when they need to be—in front of a customer—with the right data."


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.