Think Globally, Experiment Locally

Over the past 35 years, my long-suffering wife has had to tolerate my many peculiar habits, not the least of which is my hatred for left-hand turns while driving. So when we were watching ABC News one evening last month and saw the story about how UPS drivers use a wireless location-based application to avoid left-hand turns and thus save gas, I felt vindicated. I might even have made some crack about my genius behind the wheel.

She responded, Yeah, maybe, but youd get into a lot of wrecks in England.

Besides making sure I dont get a big head, my wife had hit on something. No corporate wireless application should be deployed today without considering the ramifications for business across the globe. Given the worldwide distribution of manufacturing, engineering, software development, financial markets and even marketing, IT has to think beyond its own borders for just about everything. Executives who travel abroad for business can get significant productivity boosts if their mobile apps are able to join them on their nation-to- nation hops. And given the breadth of standards in the wireless industry, building applications that follow those standards globally makes it possible to deliver services to road warriors wherever they may be.

But IT shouldnt let the global aspirations of an organization slow down wireless mobile applications for specific regions. Theres too much to be gained right now. In fact, while its important to consider the global implications for wireless mobile apps, its more critical that you act on them locally, because thats where the biggest benefits lie.

It turns out UPS doesnt use its right-turn-only wireless software in England but not because it would be difficult to reprogram the software to make primarily left turns there, a spokeswoman told me. Its volume-based, she said. If enough drivers needed to make lots of deliveries in a given territory, it would be worth UPSs investment to localize the software for that place whether its in the U.S. or abroad.

Nonetheless, by deploying the application only in high-volume delivery areas in the U.S., in 2006 UPS saved more than 3 million gallons of fuel. It was also able to keep 1,100 trucks off the road as a result of improved delivery times.

Tom Dillon understands why you shouldnt wait for a wireless mobile application to have a global use. Hes senior vice president of solutions and services at Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A. Inc. in Ramsey, N.J. That means he runs field service operations in the U.S. Dillon is part of a global organization that has field operations in dozens of countries.

Dillon wanted to equip his 1,400 mobile technicians with a real-time tool that could give his back-end systems data about the work the techs do to maintain Konica Minoltas multifunction printer devices on customer premises. The application, built on global standard bar-code tools and GPS technology, as well as carrier-agnostic communications software from AirClic Inc. in Newtown, Pa., has the potential to be successful on an international scale. But its a winner today in the U.S.

When a Konica Minolta tech shows up to service a customers machine, he scans the devices bar code to verify hes at the correct one. Then, Dillon says, he starts the clock on the labor activity in real time. The tech scans each part thats put into the machine, updating inventory levels in real time. When hes done, the mobile technician uses the AirClic tool to log out of the service call; the system then begins timing how long it takes him to get to the next stop.

The real-time data on service and travel times is vital, Dillon says. It helps Konica Minolta develop competitive and profitable pricing models for service agreements.

It also dramatically improved the accuracy of our field parts inventory, Dillon adds. Each field tech has about $8,000 worth of parts in his vehicle, and Dillon estimates that the AirClic tool cut parts loss by $500,000 the first year.

Today, each Konica Minolta field technician establishes his own route for the days scheduled calls based on his knowledge of the territory and customers. In the future, Dillon wants a dispatch system that is fully automated ­ one that knows the skills of each tech, as well as his location and availability and the service-level agreements of each customer. That way, the right person can automatically be dispatched to the right place at the right time. Naturally, this future software will give directions with the best route to the customer site. But Dillon didnt say whether his ideal field workforce of the future will make any left-hand turns.

Mark Hall is a Computerworld editor at large. Contact him at mark_hall@computerworld.com.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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