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Connecting with the field

Connecting with the field
By Linda Christie

When most mobile workers head for the field, they have to leave behind valuable data about their customers, products, order fulfillment, warranty history, repair parts availability, and so forth. "The field force worker has a lot of pressures to become a mobile customer ambassador," said John Corrigan, VP of marketing for @hand Corporation, a company providing an enterprise-level platform for deploying and managing handheld and wireless devices. According to Corrigan, the challenge for businesses today is getting data and business logic out into the field to better serve the customer, as well as improve productivity.

"Many mobile workers desire a streamlined interface that's designed specifically to meet their needs for accessing back-end applications," said Corrigan.

This is exactly the strategy employed by Rental Service Corporation (RSC), a national supplier of construction rental equipment.

"Our sales force needed access to equipment tracking information stored on the corporate AS/400 server," said Jeff Cummings, RSC's director of marketing and sales. "With our rapid growth, the paper-based system we'd used for tracking equipment availability and location, as well as customer information, had become too cumbersome."

So, RSC launched a custom mobile sales force automation application for Windows CE-based devices for 500 mobile sales

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personnel across the nation.

RSC recognized, however, that their people had different levels of experience and comfort with computer technology. Accordingly, the company rolled out the solution in phases. First RSC enlisted the help of a best-practices committee to evaluate the use of the application. Then over 40 sales managers examined the solution to see what worked well in their individual surroundings. Finally the solution was introduced at the national sales meeting where onsite training was provided so that reps could become comfortable with the device and software.

To reinforce this training, RSC provided district-by-district field training using outside trainers. The groups had only 10-15 people in them, so the sales force got four days of individual training during which time all the necessary data was loaded onto their units. By integrating their sales force with back-end applications, RSC has eliminated nearly two hours per day of paperwork for the sales reps.

"We can make more calls each week which in turn gives the company more opportunities to rent more machinery to more subcontractors on more job sites," said Cummings. "We've experienced less equipment downtime, increased corporate revenue, and improved our market share -- all without an increase in sales reps."

Corrigan advises companies investigating mobile solutions to seek vendors that will support their backend integration efforts. "Backend integration is wrought with complexity," Corrigan said. "Find a vendor that will help you deploy the application in days or weeks, not months or years. Also, invest in a scalable solution that will grow with your business over time."

For additional information on @hand, visit their Website at http://www.@hand.com/. On the site you will also find an article that "Field Force Automation" published detailing the RSC experience.

Linda Gail Christie is a contributing editor, based in Tulsa, Okla.

This was first published in January 2001

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