Excellence Awards: Mobile tech cuts time, costs

Field staff at a South Auckland Maori health provider are making 25% more home visits thanks to the use of a simple wireless tablet PC.

Field staff at a South Auckland Maori health provider are making 25% more home visits thanks to the use of a simple wireless tablet PC.

Mangere-based Turuki Healthcare, a finalist in the Computerworld Excellence Awards category of “use of IT for a mobile workforce”, is involved in a government pilot in which health workers make home visits to families with multiple health and social issues. Field staff previously used paper files and enter information once back at the office. But using this time-wasting method meant sensitive patient data could easily be lost, stolen or input incorrectly.

Eight months ago the provider adopted simple A4-sized Aquapads, from Asterisk and Cogent Communications, that operate in thin-client mode, using Linux and Firefly-X to transfer XML data over GPRS cellular in real time back to the server. Turuki says the Aquapads are easy to use and, unlike laptops, have no street value so are not targets for theft. The device has no hard drive and data is not stored locally.

Field workers enter data on a series of screen forms written in Borland’s Kylix Application Development for Linux. Open source application suite OpenOffice is used in the office with a web browser and email application.

Turuki Healthcare CEO Syd Jackson says the tablets allow staff to make five home visits a day instead of four, and the tablets have lower deployment and operational costs than rival systems.

Project M-Power saw the introduction of handheld PDAs for the 130 technicians at U-Bix.

As reported in the use of IT for customer service category of the awards, instead of using paper and telephones U-Bix technicians now receive and send job details using handheld PDAs fitted with wireless data cards and scanners. Barcodes ensure customers receive the right parts and are billed correctly, and stocks can be replenished overnight.

At the back end, monitoring ensures jobs are managed effectively and not overlooked. If the wireless system fails, messages can be transmitted using text messaging.

U-Bix says its system took 18 months to develop and paid for itself within 12 months. Technicians are now 30% more productive, customer response times have halved from four hours to less than two, and work is more accurate, says the company.

Mobile technologies are also helping Wellington confectionary wholesaler Falgoon Confection, which claims a nine-month payback from its $60,000 investment in salesforce automation.

As reported in the small business category, the growing company had already partly automated the process with a DOS-based field sales solution, but was frustrated because field orders could not be processed until the reps returned to head office with their laptops. This forced warehouse staff to work overtime to ship ordered products fast enough.

Falgoon adopted the aVya Sales Force Automation product using Microsoft Windows CE on iPac handhelds to deliver order entry, stock control, invoicing and other services. The handhelds transmit data wirelessly using Telecom’s CDMA network, via the internet to the Falgoon corporate LAN. Synchronisation of systems allows instant updates and downloads of data.

Falgoon managing director Ilesh Patel claims a 30% saving in sales reps’ time and 85% of overtime.

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Tags computerworld excellence awards

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