Wireless Apps that work

Canadian business’s adoption of wireless technology is taking off. “”It’s the next frontier for major opportunity and growth,”” says IDC Canada analyst Lawrence Surtees.

Unlike consumer wireless, which is being driven by young subscribers looking for the next high-tech gadget, business has been

waiting for proven results. “”There’s no single application, but there are tons of compelling reasons,”” Surtees says. “”The killer app is enablement and mobility.””

Indeed, the big payoff for some of the most compelling wireless applications in Canadian business is the pervasiveness of data and business intelligence. “”The one thing they have in common is mobility,”” Surtees says. “”It’s about ubiquitous and instant access to information where and when you need it.””

How are companies making wireless work?

1. Asset management

Pickering, Ontario-based Cam-Scott Transport specializes in the transportation of perishable products in the busy Toronto-to-Montreal corridor.

Problem: The company’s valuable freight, even more than its fleet of trucks and trailers, has made it a tempting target for latter-day highwaymen. “”We had four loads of meat stolen in 1994 alone,”” recalls Glenn Weddell, Cam-Scott Transport’s general manager. The thefts hit the bottom line hard. After making an insurance claim for the meat, he’d have to decide whether to wait for the trailer to turn up, or or claim that as well. Either way, Cam-Scott got burned on the deductibles and the inevitable premium increases.

Solution: In 1999, the company implemented AirIQ’s Onboard wireless tracking system. Each truck in Cam-Scott’s fleet is equipped with a GPS-enabled system that periodically reports its location. A dispatcher at the head office, or Weddell from his home computer, can track every vehicle in the fleet. If a truck takes an unscheduled exit from the highway, they know immediately.

The Payoff: “”We have not had to make a single insurance claim since we installed AirIQ in 1999,”” he says. The company has saved up to $70,000 in deductibles alone and $250,000 in insurance cost increases.

2. Warehouse management

Adidas Salomon Canada is an immense operation that distributes Taylor Made golf equipment alongside its familiar running and skiing brands.

Problem: When the company moved into a new warehouse in Brampton, Ontario in 1997, it wanted to be absolutely sure that it would keep its 300,000 square feet of diverse stock in order.

The Solution: Adidas Salomon implemented Applications Solutions Inc.’s Maestro warehouse management system and outfitted its staff of 50 inventory pickers with Psion Teklogix wireless handhelds. When an order comes in, it can be sent to whichever staff person is closest, says Paul Leone, vice-president for supply chain, IT and logistics at Adidas Salomon Canada.

The Payoff: The wireless technology is the key to the system’s success, Leone says. “”We don’t have to waste time dispatching staff, and we don’t duplicate our efforts.”” The right product is picked at the right time, with as little delay as possible. And shutting down for physical inventory is a thing of the past. The company counts as it goes, saving time and, as it turns out, gaining precision. “”In the last count, we found a discrepancy of $84,”” Leone says. That’s less that the price of a new pair of Adidas shoes.

3. Field Service

Serving 3,500 pharmacies and convenience stores from an inventory of 10,000 products, Quebec-based AMJ Distribution’s 22 sales representatives have a lot to keep track of.

The Problem: Not too long ago, all of AMJ’s orders were received and entered manually, on paper and by fax, says company spokesman Mario Duchesneau. “”Our people had to keypunch everything into the system,”” recalls Duchesneau. AMJ’s sales force on the road never had the benefit of up-to-date inventory information. Without real-time data, there were constant mistakes — about 10 per cent of orders were for de-listed products.

The Solution: In 2002, AMJ deployed a wireless sales force management system developed by CyberCat Inc. in Quebec. Equipped with Palm Tungsten W wireless handhelds, the company’s sales representatives are in real-time contact with the home office and an inventory database updated every hour. Orders travel from the customer’s store into AMJ’s ordering system without getting bogged down in paper.

The Payoff: Duchesne says that it’s impossible to quantify the ROI in monetary terms. “”It’s more a customer-service question,”” he says. “”We only sell what we have in stock, and we’ve been able to reduce our delivery cycle from a week to two or three days.””

4. Logistics

FedEx Canada is the Canadian arm of the world’s largest shipping and third-party logistics companies. With 5,000 employees, a huge fleet of trucks and 13 aircraft, FedEx Canada gets 36,500 calls every day. The wireless-equipped FedEx courier has become a common sight.

Opportunity: FedEx was a pioneer in wireless shipping management. According to Terry Pavey, FedEx Canada’s managing director of IT, the company began using its digital dispatch technology in the late-1980s as “”just a part of doing business. If we can move information seamlessly through the system, we can do the job better. We were the first to see the value of these tools.””

The Solution: FedEx couriers are equipped with a wireless handheld developed in-house, and every package sent through the FedEx system has its waybill scanned and entered in the shipping database 10 to 12 times through the delivery process. The technology hasn’t changed much over the years, except that better communications uplinks have brought the tracking information closer to real-time. In the past, couriers would carry the data in their trucks and dump it at an uplink. Now, it’s done in real-time at a customer’s door.

The Payoff: “”The ROI has always been to be as efficient as we can get,”” Pavey says. In a just-in-time economy, that has become FedEx’s whole raison d’etre. “”If you can track your shipment info anywhere, you can plan your manufacturing cycle,”” Pavey says.

5. Collaboration

Sharpe Blackmore Euro RSCG is one of Canada’s top advertising agencies, with clients including heavyweight brands like IBM, Dell Computer and Microsoft.

The Problem: An advertising agency is a fast-paced, creative environment. “”It’s a very unstructured and hurried place, with all kinds of different deadlines,”” says Andrew Grasmuck, Sharp Blackmore’s IT director.

The Solution: Sharpe Blackmore has equipped its 80 employees with notebook computers based on Intel’s Centrino technology and deployed a wireless LAN, allowing meetings to happen anywhere. Clients come into Sharpe Blackmore’s offices ready to log into the DHCP server with their own notebooks and get down to work.

The Payoff: “”The returns are soft,”” says Grasmuck. “”But that doesn’t mean they aren’t real. When you can actually get increased productivity and creativity, that’s where it is.

“”Before, someone would bring a notebook into a meeting, make changes to a project, and everyone would have to wait until afterwards to see the print-out. Now, everyone in the meeting can work on a project — and see the changes — in real-time. That really encourages creativity.””

6. Health care

With 462 beds and annual admissions of more than 24,000, Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital is a busy place. Its ER treats more than 100 patients and its surgeons perform almost 50 operations every day.

The Problem: MSH’s mission is to provide the best quality care to its patients, says CIO Dr. Lynn Nagle. That means ensuring that its medical staff has access to all the information that they need, when they need it.

The Solution: In 2001, MSH began deploying cart-mounted computers and a wireless LAN. Nagle rejected the idea of outfitting every staff member with a wireless device as too cumbersome. “”Clinicians carry a lot of devices already”” she says. “”So we didn’t see the need for every nurse and doctor to have a PDA or a tablet.””

The Payoff: MSH was more concerned with improving patient care and efficiency than saving money, and the enthusiastic response from the hospital staff has convinced her things are working out well. “”There certainly are time savings,”” she says. “”We map all of our processes, and this technology has improved efficiency.”” The hospital will begin to integrate its voice and data in a wireless network, starting this summer. “”I think this is where we’re going to see the concrete savings,”” she says.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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