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By Darrell Dunn  |  Posted 04-07-2007 Print

The mobility hodgepodge is over. Companies are developing strategic mobile initiatives to improve efficiency and enhance customer relations and, most important, to boost productivity and profitability.

Take, for instance, Safelite Autoglass, a unit of Safelite Group Inc., where interacting one-on-one with customers and their vehicles is at the heart of its business of replacing broken windshields. By developing a mobile strategy, Safelite saw an opportunity to enhance the personalized attention it gives each customer while radically shifting its cost structure.

Safelite was founded 60 years ago, with a single store in Wichita, Kan. By 2003, the company had grown into a sprawling enterprise, with more than 700 sites in all 50 states. About a decade ago, the company began to replace windshields at customers' homes and businesses, rather than having customers visit a Safelite store. As these remote windshield repairs grew in popularity, Safelite closed all but 150 of its facilities, saving the company millions of dollars.

As more repairs occurred at customers' locales, Safelite executives agreed that supervisors needed a better way to communicate with its 1,800 field technicians, who had been armed with mobile radios and telephones. Safelite considered a variety of handheld and ruggedized computing devices, settling on BlackBerry wireless personal digital assistants from Research In Motion Ltd. At $200 each, the BlackBerrys were much cheaper than notebook or tablet computers priced between $1,000 and $2,000 a unit. "We wanted a model that reduced cost and made customers happy," says Safelite IT director Rod Ghani.

The BlackBerrys, with GPS capabilities, allow Safelite dispatchers (via home-grown applications) to deploy and monitor the whereabouts of field workers. One application allows technicians to access turn-by-turn directions to their appointments that appear on their BlackBerry screens. The devices also serve as electronic punch cards tied into Safelite's time-keeping and payroll systems. Once a job is completed, a technician creates an electronic invoice for the job, accepts credit card payment, secures an electronic signature, and provides a printed receipt, which proved to be a time saver.

A test conducted by Safelite shows its mobile strategy saved field technicians between 60 minutes and 90 minutes during an eight-hour shift, enough time for the technician to replace an additional customer's windshield. On average, a Safelite technician can now service five or six customers a day, up from four or five. "Not only do customers appreciate what we are doing," Ghani says, "we couldn't take those BlackBerrys out of our technicians' hands now, because the devices have so simplified their working process."

Ask Your CEO:
Have we thoroughly explored the new opportunities a mobile strategy could provide?


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