Wireless becomes the easiest part of Purolator’s day

VANCOVUER — Purolator Canada is preparing to begin the final phase of a wireless project that will cut the cord for its courier service, a process nearly three years in the making.

The company launched a phased technology

overhaul and upgrade two years ago, Paul Merrick, Purolator’s general manager of operations and fleet sales said Tuesday during a press conference with its provider, Rogers AT&T Wireless.

Phase one in August of 2000 saw the replacement of barcode scanners with handheld computers from Symbol Technologies. Phase two in February 2001 saw delivery route sheets and other paperwork eliminated with the physical download of information from the handhelds into Purolator’s computer system, which ships about 5.5 million packages a week.

The third and final phase, launching in pilot form this August and culminating in a full implementation by March 2003, will eliminate the need for the user to download. The data will be sent wirelessly directly from the handheld on a regular realt-time basis.

“”This project will provide an end-to-end wireless data solution that will ensure quick and reliable shipping information is available for Purolator customers across the country,”” Merrick said. “”Our customers will benefit from an improved tracking system that will enable the monitoring of shipments from the time they’re picked up to the moment they’re delivered, all in real time.””

Merrick says a number of vendors responded to Purolator’s request for proposal, but in the end Rogers AT&T offered the best value and the best technology, with its recently-launched GSM/GRPS wireless network.

“”The No. 1 criterion we had was coverage. We’re coast to coast and we needed reliable full coverage and a provider with a good track record,”” Merrick said. “”Rogers could give us that.””

While there might still be remote rural pockets without wireless coverage that will need to be accommodated, Merrick said the move to wireless will be a major benefit for the company, its customers, and the couriers.

For couriers, it means no more paperwork, or traveling to a central point to synch their handheld and upload the day’s information. Instead, the device will do that automatically without user intervention throughout the day. That will mean more accurate and timely information for customer service staff, and will let customers track their package through the process.

Merrick also predicted an easy transition for Purolator’s frontline employees into the wireless age. The most difficult part was getting used to the new hand-helds, but two years removed from their introduction, that’s done. The next evolution should be a seamless one, as those hand-helds are modified over the coming months to be wireless capable.

Mansell Nelson, vice-president and general manager of interactive mobile services for Rogers AT&T said the Purolator field force automation project is a good example of what the maturing wireless sector can bring to the corporate enterprise.

“”We’re very excited about this, it’s a very large implementation in Canadian wireless history,”” Nelson said.

The key today to a successful wireless implementation, said Nelson, is partnerships. It usually takes three players to put a solution in place: a network, a device, and an application provider. Rogers has partnered with companies like Sierra Wireless, Research and Motion and HP Canada to provide that end to end products for their customers.

Nelson said companies should also remember to focus on the applications they want to have, not the cool device, and remember that the greater value and return on investment are realized when the applications are pushed out of the executive suites and into the enterprise. Post-sale support is also of great importance, he added.

Correspondent Jeff Jedras most recently covered the MITACS conference for ITBusiness.ca

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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