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Economy Down? Take a Wireless Remedy

Sat, 11/01/2008 - 8:10pm
Brad Smith

Companies find the use of wireless technologies are helping them
keep their costs of business down in this age of economic uncertainty.

With the state of the economy on the top of everyone’s mind, what are enterprises doing to cope? One answer is in the use of wireless technologies, especially using navigation and telematics coupled with business tools.

Technology companies such as TeleNav and WebTech Wireless have seen a jump in revenue because of enterprise interest in using location-based services (LBS) and telematics services. WebTech, which has headquarters in Vancouver, Canada, reported a 36% increase in year-over-year revenue through July. Investor-financed TeleNav has been recognized as one of the fastest-growing companies in the Silicon Valley.

Motorola’s Mobile Computing unit, the former Symbol computing company, has had great success with its GPS and wireless wide-area networking (WWAN) computers for vehicles. Motorola recently announced a new fixed-mount mobile computer, the VC6096, aimed at improving driver productivity, reducing costs and improving customer service for transportation and logistics companies.

ON-TIME DELIVERY
One of the companies looking at Motorola’s new computer is UPS, long an advocate of using WWAN-enabled computers to help its delivery personnel meet their schedules and provide good customer service. UPS is getting ready for the next generation of its delivery information access device (DIAD), which likely will use Qualcomm’s Gobi software defined radio chips.

Motorola recently surveyed more than 255 IT and telecom executives from transportation and trucking companies and found that enterprises using GPS for the field workers saw a labor savings of about 54 minutes a day. That time savings amounted to a dollar savings of $5,484 per employee annually. The survey found that 90% of field workers had difficulty finding new stops during the course of a month.

Other benefits of using GPS, according to the study, included a 53% reduction in travel downtime, 26% increase in employee accountability, and a 7% reduction in overtime. But the main benefit of using LBS was a reduction in fuel consumption because of an average reduction in weekly travel of 231.2 miles, accounting for $51,582 annual fuel savings per employee.

Sheldon Safir, director of Motorola’s Mobile Computing unit, said the new mobile computer gives enterprises the ability to tap into a delivery vehicle’s mechanics to provide real-time information about how the vehicle is being operated. Dispatchers can use the computer, which has voice capabilities as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, to give advice to drivers. The VC6096 also can tap into the truck’s cargo, for instance a refrigerated trailer, to keep track of the shipment.

Sal Dhanani
Dhanani: Productivity gains and fuel savings matter especially in this economy.

INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY
TeleNav is perhaps best known for its consumer-focused TeleNav GPS Navigator used on mobile phones on 15 networks globally. It also has an enterprise service called TeleNav Track. Sal Dhanani, co-founder and senior marketing director, said more than 9,000 enterprises and other organizations are using TeleNav Track.

The company has seen a “substantial” increase in interest in the product in recent months, prompted initially by the rise in fuel prices, he said. TeleNav Track includes GPS-enabled tracking and navigation, plus time sheets and wireless forms. TeleNav recently announced that Intermec will use TeleNav Track in a new rugged mobile computer, the CN3, for enterprises.

Dhanani said TeleNav Track makes it possible for enterprise dispatchers to keep track of their mobile workers, the status of jobs, assign new jobs based on employee locations and run reports on fleet performance. Workers also don’t have to go into an office to clock in and out. The information is available online through the TeleNav Enterprise Service, which can be used to integrate third-party applications for CRM, payroll, accounting and dispatch.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about costs and making business more efficient,” Dhanani said. “Instead of doing five jobs in one day, they might be able to do six.”

He said customers also have seen a quick return on investment using Track, typically in the range of 4 to 6 weeks. TeleNav has numerous case studies to back up those claims, including the trucking company C.R. England, the Carilion Patient Transport Services company, and Western Towing.

Home Depot is using TeleNav Track to monitor its home inspection line of business, which uses outside contractors. Home Depot has seen a 300% increase in productivity by using wireless forms on BlackBerry devices, Dhanani said.

WebTech’s system architecture
WebTech’s system architecture, showing principal components, connectivity and data flow.

WebTech Wireless recently partnered with Canada’s Rogers Communications, NetTech Logistics and Foster Park Baskett Insurance on an LBS/fleet telematics services offering called NelTrak. The offering includes an oilfield services package for fleet management in the oil and gas industry.

WebTech’s products include hardware and software running over cellular and satellite networks and the company has business in 41 countries.

Harald Fritz, senior director of ASP sales and services, said the company’s customers realize an ROI “relatively quickly,” with the return depending on the size of the company and its implementation. The ROI on the hard costs, which might be 6 to 12 months, doesn’t include intangibles like improving customer service and being more responsive to customer needs. Some enterprises with a green initiative also see a benefit by reducing their carbon footprints.

Companies also sometimes use LBS data, especially on vehicle usage, to determine what kinds of equipment they need, he said. Maybe a smaller vehicle can be used. Companies also might decide it is wiser to pay for a driver to spend the night in a motel than in the cab of a truck that is kept running all night for warmth.

Other benefits include the ability to alert drivers or dispatchers if the truck brakes are applied too hard, or to meet government regulations for oilfield workers that require lone workers to check in periodically.

Fritz said the economic downturn could mean that some companies might put off buying an LBS/telematics solution but the savings in efficiencies, improved maintenance and lower fuel bills quickly add up.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “it comes down to driving operating efficiencies, having real-time visibility to your assets and how they are being used.”

John Killeen
Killeen: UPS has 100,000 DIADs in use daily around the world.

UPS is sold on mobile computing tied to WWAN connectivity, according to John Killeen, director of global network systems. The company has about 100,000 DIADs in use globally on a daily basis so its delivery people can route packages most efficiently, have recipients sign they’ve received the package and then have that information recorded immediately for customers.

UPS expects the next generation of its DIAD, the DIAD 5, will start deploying in 2010 and will be capable of using either a GSM/GPRS or CDMA network. In the United States, UPS currently uses Verizon Wireless and Sprint for CDMA and AT&T Mobility and T-Mobile for GPRS. The current DIAD is only single mode, though, so UPS has to chose a CDMA or GPRS model depending the home area and the coverage. Qualcomm’s Gobi chips will allow the DIADs to use either technology anywhere in the world.

The DIADs also have an infrared scanner, 802.11, Bluetooth and GPS. Bluetooth was put in the machines so delivery people could printout information on a customer or UPS Bluetooth-enabled printer.

Each generation of the DIAD gets better, helping UPS see more efficiencies and better customer care, Killeen said. Two decades ago, UPS used paper forms and clipboards to record deliveries, with the information being hand-entered into a database back at the office. It’s first DIAD went into use in 1990 and soon after that UPS was working with cellular operators.

“Customers want information almost immediately,” said Killeen. “To be competitive, we have to introduce the capabilities our customers demand. They now want it at a moment’s notice. The DIAD makes that possible automatically.”

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