Computerworld Excellence Awards: Gadgets and gearheads

The use of IT in Customer Service finalists are...

A food retailer, travel agent chain and a national organisation of the blind and partially sighted in New Zealand duke it out in the Computerworld Excellence Awards Use of IT in Customer Service category this year. Despite the disparity of their businesses and budget sizes, these organisations have produced IT solutions with the focus on improving and extending their customers' experience.

Foodstuffs Wellington Cooperative Society is better known for its retail outlets, Pak'n'Save, New World, Write Price and Four Square. The Wellington regional Foodstuffs cooperative submitted its CWEA Instore Customer Experience entry based on a case study of its Pak'n'Save supermarket in Napier. This opened in 2004, and houses 70,000m2 of prime retail space, with a large number of individual outlets.

The Napier Pak'n'Save IT solution utilises five servers, over 100 wireless access points and around 50 personal computers. It is the first retailer in New Zealand to implement customer self-scanning of goods, electronic shelf labels and large scale deployment of Windows XP.

House of Travel developed the web-based House of Travel Online booking solution to meet the challenge of keeping its travel agents relevant in the new online world. Its Online Booking solution aggregates all possible carriers on a route and allows the customer to be supported throughout the transaction by retail travel consultants. House of Travel says this multi-channel approach is a world-first which has not been developed before.

The Online Booking solution was developed in Microsoft .Net and the website was launched in an aggressive 18-week timeframe. Four senior House of Travel executives form the project team, each from different areas of the business. Thanks to the website, House of Travel now says its customers can book flights outside office hours and get pricing and availability for multi-flight trips, with each booking being a fully traceable transaction.

The Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind says it's a common myth that blind or vision-impaired people get all the news they require from radio, audio cassettes, Braille newspapers and magazines, or via the internet using screen-reader software. The truth is that the blind do not have an easy time when accessing news, because many do not master Braille or have computers.

Most, however, have telephones, and the RNZFB developed a unique Telephone Information Service (TIS). With this, its members can dial in and navigate voice menus through the phone keypad in order to listen to news and information from newspapers, radio and TV programme listings, situations vacants and classified ads, and much more. TIS was developed by Clive Lansink and Mary Schnackenberg, both of whom were born blind. The system started off running under DOS, but has now expanded to twelve networked PCs located strategically around the country. With the help of XML RSS feeds and speech-synthesis software, TIS creates content and vital information for RNZFB members.

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