Household products distributor drives mobile strategy with Palm Treo smartphones

The renewed preference for smartphones over PCs is ushering in a new era of computing and employee productivity — but how are modern-day CIOs and IT managers coping with the fast-paced use and development of mobile devices in the business?

Empowering the Sales Force

In the case of Philusa Corporation, a marketer and distributor of personal care, pharmaceutical, baby care, and household care products, the use of mobile devices is central to their business process. In 2007, the 43- year old company with a deep experience in wholesale business operations decided to overhaul their sales process, in response to the growing need to streamline the entire firm’s operations.

“Prior to deploying mobile units for our sales force, the process was done purely on paper,” relates Arlan Dimalanta, the company’s IT manager. The process goes as follows: the sales person gets the customer’s order, logs it on to a sales order form, and brings or faxes the report to the office. Then, the office personnel keys in the order and prints it out, and the designated officer approves the order.

“Before, it takes more than a week for some orders to be submitted, processed and completed,” Dimalanta laments. “That resulted in customers ordering products from us only once a month.”

Philusa Corporation implemented a mobile solution by arming their sales force with Palm Treo smartphones. These mobile phones are equipped with a custom-built application created by a third-party developer that connects seamlessly with their SAP software, enabling sales orders to be inputted automatically to the system, as well as call planning and reporting from people in the field. The approval system of orders has also been automated.

The devices were initially rolled out to their pilot team in Central Luzon, consisting of seven sales employees. “Within 8 months of deployment, we were able to equip 80 sales personnel for a nationwide implementation,” Dimalanta says, adding the first 3 months were relegated for refinement of the system.

The immediate effects of the new system were overwhelming. For the customers who used to have a once-amonth sales-order cycle, the company is now able to take orders and deliver twice in the same period. “It’s a win-win situation for us and for our customers,” shares Dimalanta. “Quotas are being hit, so 2009 proved to be a good year for us.”

Change Management

For their part, Dimalanta says deploying the system was easy, “but user adoption, that, more than anything else, is the common system implementation challenge.” The IT manager says he had to do thorough change management, because the system was not an IT project, but a business project aimed at improving the sales process.

“Not all our sales people are technology-savvy,” Dimalanta points out. “So we had to think of a buy-in.” To encourage their sales agents to be open about the new system, Dimalanta and the Business Process Development and Implementation team conducted trainings pooling young and old sales people alike. There was also wisdom in starting off with a pilot team: “Sales people listen to sales people,” Dimalanta shares. “So when they saw the pilot team at ease with the system, they welcomed it. It was also important that the Sales head was also driving the project forward.”

Guarding Data

Keeping employees productive even beyond office walls is becoming a widespread trend, but it also poses new concerns for the IT division, especially in terms of keeping their data intact. “According to Symantec’s latest Internet Security Threat Report, 63 per cent of vulnerabilities reported in 2008 affected Web applications,” shares Luichi Robles, country manager, Symantec Philippines. “In 2009, we also saw the first smartphone botnet that took advantage of users’ contact lists to spread itself via SMS.”

As smartphone adoption in the enterprise continues to boom at breakneck speed, cybercriminals see opportunity in targeting early adopters of the technology. Dimalanta says there is no data leak prevention system installed just yet, “but security is addressed more on the policy and user education aspects.”

In terms of overall network security, the company policy remains as a complete lockdown. “Our gateways and firewalls are accessible only on corporate-issued devices,” Dimalanta explains, adding that end-users can’t just simply bring their devices in and connect to the network. “We are not 100 per cent sure of the security features on these personal laptops [and other mobile devices], so we are not risking it.”

Totally blocking off the network from other mobile devices, however, can be a management feat in a time when cellphone and smartphone prices are falling steeply and very quickly. For those who dare tread the less-traveled path into an open network system, Symantec offers specific solutions to ensure data integrity is retained.

“Symantec Network Access Control Mobile Edition works with our Endpoint Protection Mobile Edition to enforce compliance with security policies [so that] only secure, policy compliant devices can access the network and email on Microsoft Exchange,” Robles says, adding that a centralized logging, reporting, and alerting system further enables firms to proactively monitor the status of managed devices.

Nokia, on the other hand, a Symbian-based phone brand that is increasingly popular for consumers in the Philippines, also offers a host of security solutions for enterprise mobile devices. “Nokia smartphones support implementation of various device management IT policies such as mandatory use of phone lock code and remote wipe of phone data, as well as data encryption of the phone memory and memory card,” shares Benoit Nalin, general manager of Nokia Philippines.

Ease of deploying mobile solutions, according to Nalin, is also important. “Nokia offers a direct access, no additional middleware investment, easy to deploy solution,” he says. “We also designed various solutions on our smartphone to help these professionals manage their work during ‘downtime’ hours.”

Part of these solutions include messaging features such as integration with Microsoft Exchange’s ActiveSync protocol, Lotus Notes Traveler for real-time access to IBM Lotus Notes push email and PIM synchronization, Nokia Messaging for consumers, and Ovi Mail, the only e-mail service that enables users to create an account directly on their mobile phones, for the general public.

Reducing Complexities

Security, however, is just one side of the two-faced coin of issues that CIOs have to address. As more handset companies manufacture different kinds of devices in their attempt to take a bite off the mobile devices market pie, end-users would have a bevy of mobile devices and brands they can use in the enterprise, given there is an open system.

“With a growing workforce, IT is tasked to support a greater number of [mobile] device types and user types at any location,” recalls Nicolo Hallare, managing director and COO of Sybase Solutions Corporation.

Hallare said IT managers are coming down with pressure from executives and end-users alike to support additional mobile platforms and personal mobile devices. This is a given, considering the wealth of brands and types of mobile devices out there.

Having to manage a densely heterogeneous and interoperable mobile environment, however, becomes the trade-off.

“Blackberry, Symbian, and Windows Mobile continue to be strong platforms but the strong entrance of iPhone and Android will make it exciting to watch,” Hallare relates. “We believe that the market will continue to be varied in its use of platforms and as such, we have increasingly supported the new and upcoming platforms in our Mobile Enterprise Solutions.”

Sybase helps enterprises deal with the most common issues with mobile devices in the organization through their security and manageability offering called Sybase Afaria. The solution offers a centralized, powerful device management suite that gives IT the full control of the range of devices and applications deployed, viewable on a single console.

Additionally, Afaria allows IT to deliver fixes, upgrades and refreshes to mobile users remotely without the users’ involvement, ensuring mobile workers have the right software in the field.

Mobility for Growth

Philusa Corporation’s Dimalanta reveals that they are planning to phase out their Treo units in favor of newer mobile devices that provide more features, such as Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, and the iPhone. “In 2007, hands down, the Palm OS was more stable and easy to use compared to other operating systems,” he shares. “There were no viruses for the Palm OS, and the interface is easier to use, lowering the learning curve.”

The non-availability of Palm OS devices in 2009 prompted the change, according to Dimalanta. Incidentally, just recently, Palm offered itself up for sale after a lackluster performance in the mobile race, succumbing to now-industry giants Apple, Google Android, and the Windows Phone.

“If enterprises open their eyes and look at areas to be improved by mobility, then they stand to reduce costs and increase their sales,” Dimalanta notes. “Solutions are all around, and we have proven that it can be done. It’s time for more enterprises to adopt the technology.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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