Wireless finally connects

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When the first combo PDA-phone devices came out three years ago, McDonald thought he had the answer -- only one device to carry around would mean his users wouldn't be weighed down. But battery life was a problem. The new devices -- especially the ones that used color screens -- didn't last more than a few hours unless the user was diligent about recharging, which most weren't. Worse, when the battery died, all the information on the device was wiped out. "You could back it up or recover the information, but that solution created a much bigger problem," says McDonald. For a while he abandoned his wireless ambitions.

In the past six months, his efforts have been reinvigorated, he says. The triggering event was the ability to use BlackBerry PDA-phones over cellular networks (until recently, BlackBerrys worked with only a handful of third-party data service providers approved by the vendor Research In Motion, or RIM). The new devices have a color screen and batteries that last up to five days. More important, they work with almost all the major U.S. cellular carriers. McDonald says that employees buy their own devices and that the company pays for usage -- including the data transfer -- though its wireless carrier.

Meanwhile, the ROI has been immediate. Optimus's sales force sells hardware as a commodity -- they'll get a request from a customer who urgently needs a piece of equipment, and if that customer doesn't hear back within a few minutes, he finds another dealer. In the first couple of weeks of the three-person beta testing, Optimus landed four deals that it wouldn't have without the wireless project. McDonald rushed it into production at a development cost of only $250 for each of the 60 salesmen.

Right now the employees are able to access the Lotus e-mail and calendar systems, but the success of the project has led McDonald to revisit CRM, which is housed in a Lotus Domino database. The project will move into beta testing at the end of the second quarter, and McDonald hopes to roll it out to the rest of the company by the summer. Before, he says, devices and networks couldn't handle what was asked of them. "Now they can," he says.

This story, "Wireless finally connects" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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