Volume 8, Issue 5 - September/October 2006

Keeping In Touch
Wireless capabilities offer efficiencies for all size companies

One of the most significant ways business productivity has increased over the past decade has been the increased use of electronics to keep employees connected when they are out of the office. In our industry, this has meant providing an interface between technicians when they are doing mobile work and the home office.

According to Steve Davis, chief marketing officer for Econz Wireless, Newport Beach, Calif., several factors are converging to promote the growth of wireless technology. Mobile handsets have more capabilities, better wireless technology is available and it is being used in a personal capacity on a daily basis, and the carriers have made upgrades to their systems and can carry data better.

While there is a lot of electronic capability available for mobile work today, Gary Hart, chief executive officer and president of eDirectGlass, Scottsdale, Ariz., made the point that there is no single off-the-shelf mobile technology. “Each industry seems to create a proprietary model based on some industry standard platforms such as Blackberry’s and Windows Mobile Phone devices,” he explained. “The one common thing that all mobile applications rely on is wireless connectivity; be it cellular, radio or satellite. In almost every case, these applications rely on hardware devices that range from laptop computers to handheld personal digital assistants (PDA) and mobile phones. Data is exchanged via the wireless connectivity and for those areas that do not have wireless service, some data is cached to the device and later delivered when a signal again becomes available.” 

Most people today, he pointed out, use and rely on the ability to receive email on the go as demonstrated by the success of the Blackberry platform. “This constitutes the majority of electronic capability in use today for the masses, while more privatized programs are used by companies like UPS, FedEx, etc.,” he stated.

Slow Going
However, Hart makes the point that the AGRR industry is slow in adopting mobile electronic capability. “Most AGRR shops want to adopt mobile technology but see cost and training as two of the major barriers to entry,” he said.

“As AGRR shops struggle to find cost saving advantages and strategic movement against their competitors, the industry will begin to adopt and embrace mobile technology,” he predicted. “Mobile phone carrier pricing is not going to get any lower and handset prices are very reasonable. Mobile electronic capability is definitely in its infancy in the AGRR market and it will likely explode in the next two years.” 

Davis agreed that there will be enormous growth. “Companies are starting to realize that they have inherent inefficiencies—paperwork, knowing where mobile employees are, etc. More of them are going to take on solutions to make themselves more efficient,” he stated.

Is this technology right for all companies that have mobile operations?

“Enterprise and mom-and-pop shops share the same integration worries and challenges. Both groups cite cost, training, reliability and device/equipment loss as their primary concerns,” Hart explained. “They are afraid that technicians will have too much access to vital information and want assurances of control from a top level. Each group agrees that it will need to explore and migrate to an electronic model in the near future but are taking things slow. Shops are also interested in seeing how successful and what impacts new electronic capabilities have on their business such as electronic assignments and such,” he added. 

Davis made the point that owners and managers are very busy and have to manage day-to-day operations, so the people who are responsible and who would implement the new technological systems don’t have the time to implement new systems. “Change is always difficult,” he said, “but to stay competitive companies have to work out their inefficiencies.”

Wireless technology is good for companies of all sizes, he stated. “Large companies have had to become efficient. They’ve set up systems for their back offices that help them manage inventories, employees, etc. Mobile is what I call the last electronic mile. These companies have to be able to combine the operations of their back office with the wireless. They have to look for wireless applications that can be integrated into the back office operations.”

Smaller operations, he continued, “have to be able to integrate wireless into their operating software such as Quickbooks to become more efficient.”

Something for Everyone
In the past, mobile business solutions have been the domain of large companies and have been too expensive for small to medium sized businesses. That’s not true any longer. According to a report from Access Markets International Partners Inc., the small- and medium-sized businesses segment is expected to lead the market in the near term rising to nearly 16.3 million users this year, for a compound annual growth of 44 percent. 

Robust adoption is projected for these businesses due to the lack of internal implementation bureaucracy, the availability of more turnkey solutions, and increasing recognition of high return on investment, efficiencies and competitive advantage from the deployment of mobile business solutions.

Deploying a mobile business solution is a powerful way for a company to gain a competitive advantage.

Changes in the wireless market are converging to promote wireless technologies adoption rates. Key factors include:

• The desire to make mobile workers more accountable;
• Recognition of current inefficiencies;
• Importance of customer service;
• Comfort with use of cell phones;
• And the drive to improve the bottom line.

The Keys
In traversing this new electronic technology, Hart said that AGRR businesses need to be aware of the following key issues. First, any solution should be based on available technology that complements the wireless networks. The application should either work via the Internet or be available for Microsoft Mobile Edition, Palm and Blackberry systems. When it comes to a wireless carrier, almost all of the carriers in the U.S. have very inexpensive data plans that allow unlimited use and cover very large geographic regions. The devices that businesses purchase should allow for both analog (modem style) and digital (GPRS, etc.) data connectivity. 

When selecting the device, Hart advised, it is also important to be sure that the device can stand up to the conditions present in mobile repair and replacement. “For the application or solution itself, it should allow the mobile user the ability to view, create and complete work orders, process customer payments and have NAGS pricing lookup capability. Other items such as two-way messaging, driving directions and digital image management are also very beneficial,” he added.

Davis said that many companies just are not aware of what is available. “They have to educate themselves through Internet searches and talking to peers to see what their experiences were. The wireless companies are good sources of information. Go to your account manager and tell him or her what you want to do and find out how they would do it,” he advised.

Cost used to be a barrier to wireless technology, Davis said, but that is no longer the case. Figuring out how to change and making the change while running a busy business are more likely to be barriers to keeping connected today.

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