Where Wireless Works

Mobile technology may work even better beyond the executive suite.

The phrase “mobile workforce” still conjures up images of smartly dressed executives hurrying through airport terminals while conferring with colleagues on cell phones and checking E-mails on their wireless-enabled PDAs.

But when it comes to boosting the bottom line by “going mobile,” CFOs would be wise to set that stereotype aside. Instead, they should consider what is happening at Seattle-based Starbucks Corp., where 600 district managers (DMs) have been outÞtted with mobile technology – a move that’s allowing them to spend more time in the company’s stores. “These are the most important people in the company,” says Anne Saunders, vice president of Starbucks Interactive. “Each DM may have 8 to 10 stores that he or she services. And while their primary job is outside of the office-in those stores-they still need to be connected.”

Until recently, staying connected often meant going into a regional office several days a week to fill out paperwork or access data such as sales figures or labor reports. In January, however, Starbucks teamed with Hewlett-Packard to equip these managers with T-Mobile’s wireless Wi-Fi networking capability and virtual private networking for their laptop computers.

Now, says Saunders, the managers have direct access to key information, and most check in at the regional office only once a week. The feedback from the field, she says, is that “this is the single best tool for the job.”

Starbucks isn’t the only company equipping employees outside the executive suite with mobile tools. Indeed, says Ken Hyers, senior analyst in the wireless group for In-Stat/MDR, thanks to the recent introduction of faster networks, “any kind of industry where there’s a need to react quickly” as well as “a high transaction rate”-from the food and beverage business to insurance-is starting to realize the benefits of wireless devices.

As a result, says Eugene Signorini, The Yankee Group’s senior analyst in the wireless group, the whole idea of the mobile professional is evolving. “Companies are beginning to realize that mobile and wireless technologies need to be deployed where decisions are being made and critical customer contact is occurring-which is at the edges of the enterprise.”

A Global Application

This push to outfit more front-line employees with mobile technology is not new. UPS, for example, actually built its own networks for monitoring package delivery before mobile telephony was available. IBM was an early leader in developing networks for field salespeople. Worldwide, the trucking industry and other logistics businesses have used mobile technology in the field for many years.

But even within those industries, mobile technology is penetrating deeper into the ranks. Just ask Hïkan DahllÜf, CFO of BT Industries, a SKr12.3 billion ($1.5 billion) Swedish truck manufacturer acquired by Toyota in 2000. These days when he thinks of a “mobile worker,” he pictures a technician in a rural warehouse somewhere in Europe. The reason: BT Europe, part of BT Industries, has been rolling out the latest mobile technology as part of a wider overhaul of its regional field services.

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