Taxis, trees, tubes and survey-takers go mobile

Four mobile workforce finalists in Computerworld Excellence Awards 2005

You would think the only technology you would need to manage tree trimming would be a chainsaw and possibly a ladder. However, vegetation management has become a big part of working life for electricity lines companies and managing the mammoth task of deciding which trees are a danger, where to trim and when has become quite an issue.

Invercargill-based PowerNet’s solution is one of four finalists in this year’s Computerworld Excellence Awards mobile workforce section.

PowerNet wanted to integrate any mobile solution it developed into its back-end systems without increasing the workload for either admin staff or for the arborists contracted to PowerNet for tree trimming work.

PowerNet uses the FAS (Field Access Systems) AssetWare application for in-field data capture and needed to integrate that data capture with its back end EMS-WASP database. Having done that, so as to provide arborists in the field with instant access to the list of trees needing work and without having them constantly calling admin staff for support, was a key priority. PowerNet says that process is now “invisible” to admin staff as arborists are constantly updating information directly into the system rather than through them.

The arborists themselves are also pleased because they receive more accurate information about which trees need trimming, saving them time and the occasional embarrassment. In future the database will be extended to all trees, not just new trees, and the arborists will be equipped with printers to print notifications on the spot. Photography may also be added in at a later date, requiring arborists to carry digital cameras.

PowerNet isn’t alone in wanting staff to have quick, seamless access to the back office systems. Research company ACNielsen deploys thousands of survey takers managed by hundreds of field supervisors each asking questions of hundreds of respondents. Collating that data, avoiding troublesome double entry and ensuring field staff are asking the right questions at the right time has been a time-consuming effort in the past, involving paper-based questionnaires that need to be transferred to an electronic system en masse.

ACNielsen decided to introduce an electronic version that would report back the results of surveys on the fly and would, in turn, be updatable from base so as to ensure the field staff were filling their quotas and not over-subscribing any one particular survey.

Staff now take to the streets with Hewlett-Packard iPaq 2100s which upload completed surveys, download new survey questions and can receive updates to applications remotely. The mobile user applications had to be written so as to integrate with ACNielsen’s existing back end survey writing software. New surveys are deployed, and the resulting data compiled in less time and at less cost to the business than under the old system. Users are pleased to be seen to be upskilling with new technologies and to be carrying far less in the way of heavy paper-based questionnaires.

Lugging paper-based catalogues from customer premises to customer premises is part of the rational behind Steel and Tube’s decision to upgrade its sales reps’ access to electronic ordering system.

Steel and Tube took the unusual step of using Vodafone’s Blackberry service, traditionally the purview of chief executives and government department heads, to do more than just deliver email to the mobile user.

Prior to the rollout, mobile staff had no email access while on the road and carried enormous catalogues of Steel and Tube products. Today, the Blackberry 7230 gives the sales reps cellphone access, email and catalogues as well as access to the corporate intranet and backend databases containing information previously only available at Steel and Tube branch offices.

Calls to the company’s various product information and customer care lines have dropped dramatically since the sales reps were equipped with their Blackberries and remote order confirmation rates have increased as well.

Alert Taxis wanted to provide greater ease of payment to its customers while making life easier for drivers to process payments while on the road. New Zealand’s love of Eftpos made a mobile Eftpos solution the ideal choice and Alert was first cab company off the rank to offer a mobile solution.

Being able to offer Eftpos solutions in the cab meant a dramatic increase in the number of customers carried as well as reducing paperwork for drivers.

The solution chosen, delivered by Telecom subsidiary Gen-i, meant drivers no longer felt at risk working late at night when clients were less likely to carry cash. They no longer had to accept cheques and because they carried less cash in the cars they were less likely to find themselves a target for robbery.

Payments are made directly into bank accounts, usually overnight, unlike some taxi card systems which can take up to six weeks. The terminals could also be configured to allow up to eight merchants to use them, enabling a number of drivers using the same taxi to have payments directed to individual bank accounts.

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