Excellence Awards: PDA brings about excellent improvement

Terrie Brown doesn't know how U-Bix did it. All she can see are the improvements that came out of her service provider's Project M-Power

Terrie Brown doesn’t know how U-Bix did it. All she can see are the improvements that came out of her service provider’s Project M-Power.

The procurement relationship manager at Auckland City Council says the service from U-Bix was “pretty haphazard” until its technicians began arriving on jobs clutching personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Now, she says, her service level agreements are being met and bettered, and the technicians work much more smoothly, quickly and efficiently.

The old phone and paper-based system, she says, meant technicians would mysteriously come and go without the council knowing, but now they keep her abreast with all developments concerning their work.

Project M-Power is a finalist in the Computerworld Excellence Awards’ “use of IT for customer service” category. The project brought together Onesource, ECONZ, Telecom Mobile, HP and Cosyn.

It means that instead of using paper and telephones, U-Bix’s 130 technicians now receive and send job details using handheld PDAs with wireless data cards and scanners. Barcodes ensure customers receive the right parts, stocks can be replenished overnight and people are billed correctly.

“I suspect they have a better handle on spare parts. There is less of a problem now when we want a spare part,” Auckland City’s Brown says.

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. The company says technicians are now 30% more productive, their work is more accurate, customer response times have halved from four hours to less than two, and fewer billing errors are made and jobs “lost”.

As a former director of the National Art Gallery, Victoria University associate professor Jenny Harper is conscious of the effort gone into developing databases of artworks.

The head of the art history department at Victoria commends the new website for the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki as “full and comprehensive”, praising its ease of use for academics and art history students across the country.

The gallery has more than 12,500 works of art but only 10% are publicly displayed in any one year. This makes it difficult to see the other 90% — assuming you even know it exists.

Previously, those wanting to see undisplayed items would have to book several days in advance. The art gallery has only enough staff to allow such viewings two days a week.

But after the gallery relaunched its website in March using Vernon Systems collection management software, 12,600 JPEG images can be seen day and night, at the viewer’s pleasure.

Following the website’s relaunch, the gallery claims tens of thousands of visitors every month, estimated at 11% of total New Zealand “art traffic”. The New Zealand art community is more aware of various art content, the gallery says, and customer response times, where customers find what they are looking for, have also improved.

“We feel that the development of this website is a model for other galleries and museums in New Zealand,” says Harper, whose university launches its own gallery site shortly.

After their cat went missing three years ago, Auckland couple Gavin and Kim Buchanan frantically searched for their beloved feline at the SPCA, various council pounds, kennels and other animal welfare agencies, and placed ads in newspapers. They were surprised there was no website to advertise missing pets, so produced one themselves.

Pets On the Net was created in HTML, using Microsoft FrontPage and other off-the-shelf software, and launched early last year.

Gavin Buchanan says the technology behind the website is nothing special but its use is what matters. Information can be fed daily, either by individuals or animal welfare agencies, avoiding a comprehensive ring-round by distraught pet owners. With details publicly available sooner, pets can be found or reported more quickly.

Auckland SPCA inspector Bob Kerridge says Pets On the Net has had “considerable success” in reuniting pets with their rightful owners.

He has no idea how many pets have been returned this way, but says the site is better than more recent ones like it. “It’s a very good service, one they are doing extremely well.”

Air New Zealand is the fourth finalist in the awards' for customer service category for ExpressCheck, an automated check-in system installed at Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch airports.

Developed in 11 weeks, the system uses a three-tier client-server model. Touch screens at kiosks accept identification data from customers (for example, credit card details). Application servers (transaction and management) provide the business logic, allowing the system to identify the customer. In turn, the kiosks are linked to the airline’s core reservation and control systems.

An enterprise application layer, using XML, handles transactions and allows customers to choose seats and check options.

IBM supplied the technology for the system, which went live last November. Air New Zealand says a fifth of customers now use ExpressCheck, compared to the 15% anticipated.

The “excellence in the use of IT for customer service” award is sponsored by EDS.

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