SunTech arms sales staff with tablet PCs

A READY-TO-WEAR EYEWEAR supplier is using tablet PCs to help reps get up-to-date customer profiles, provide quick sell-through and replenish stock.

Vancouver-based SunTech Optics Inc., which sells sunglasses, reading glasses and accessories, recently deployed a sales automation application called EZ Route to increase sales efficiencies. But the application required a portable hardware platform, and its initial plan to roll out EZ Route on PDAs just wouldn’t cut it.

“Our programmer of 15 years gave us a year’s notice that he was retiring,” said Mike Chang, SunTech’s IT manager. “So we decided to take a hard look at our business.”

The company has been using a sales force automation application on laptops since 1990. “We had this legacy system that was built over 15 years and it just became this giant octopus and was really difficult to manage,” he said. “We were also operating off a Unix-based system but our accounting system was predominately a Windows environment using Dynamics.”

After deciding upon EZ Route, he started looking for devices that were capable of displaying route maps, product photos and multiple application windows. Reps required a bigger footprint than a PDA, without the bulk of a laptop.

SunTech decided upon Fujitsu’s LifeBook P1510D Convertible Tablet PC, which was big enough to display its sales templates, but small enough to carry in a briefcase or knapsack. It was also fully functional so reps wouldn’t have to go home and use a desktop to check their e-mail.

As soon as reps enter a wireless environment, they’re able to send orders. “We physically will send data back to a sales rep, which will update his inventory, receivables and also customer profiles,” said Chang.

“One of our programs is a reading glass program – there’s styles, colours and (magnifying) powers,” he said. “A rep on a PDA would be scrolling until the cows come home looking for a certain style at a certain power.”

This was a huge task because there was just too much information for a PDA, said Paul Moore, director of mobile marketing with Fujitsu Canada. “They also couldn’t get their e-mail, they couldn’t check inventory, they couldn’t capture signatures if they wanted to place orders.”

Moving to a tablet allowed them to switch from “gadget” mode to a real PC. “Everything is automated and it engages the customer,” he said. “When they go to place the order and the customer is allowed to sign on the screen, it’s even cooler.”

So far, SunTech has 34 tablets in the field and will have another 12 by the middle of November. By next spring, it will be using a total of 50 tablets.

Each tablet weighs 2.5 lbs. “(Reps) are used to carrying around seven or eight pounds,” said Chang. “It’s unprofessional to be carrying something that big into a store.”

The tablets were built custom-to-order and include extended-life batteries. If reps are just using the sales application, said Chang, they can go a week without a charge. “Our buy-in is very high,” he said. “Of the 34 I’ve only had one come back and that’s because the sales rep left the laptop on top of an infrared scanner and it scrambled the drive.”

The tablet market is taking off for a couple of key reasons, according to Moore. There are more hot spots out there with integrated wireless and more people want to use them. They also want something light and portable, but with the functionality of Office and e-mail. “Your vertical product is now a horizontal product,” he said. “When Microsoft (got into) tablet PCs and created a consistent environment that we could write applications for, it just took off.”

Ultimately, the eyewear industry is a fashion industry. “Once it’s out of style, it doesn’t sell,” said Moore, “so they need to be able to move relatively quickly.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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