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Pitney Bowes keeps its antenna tuned

Thanks to BlackBerry devices and creative use of XML, Pitney Bowes' service reps gained secure access to back-end systems and applications, saving the company money.

Scattered across the U.S. are Pitney Bowes' 1,600 service technicians, who repair copiers, faxes, mailing machines and other equipment. Hammers and screwdrivers aren't the only implements in their tool belts. Each also carries a wireless BlackBerry device, made by Research in Motion of Ontario, Canada.

About three years ago, Pitney Bowes standardized its customer relationship management (CRM) platform on Siebel Systems software. Repair staff used desktop computers to access San Mateo, Calif.-based Siebel's CRM suite to manage contacts, answer e-mail, check inventory and schedule jobs.

Using the wireless devices to access the CRM suite, however, proved to be a different story. The handhelds were great for instant messaging or being alerted to new service calls, but Siebel's platform lacked wireless capability. Instead, technicians were forced to return to their office desktops to update customer account information, usually at the end of a long day of repair jobs.

"We realized we had to deliver a more consistent and greater level of customer service, because customer demands are increasing," said Mark Davis, vice president of customer service for Stamford, Conn.-based Pitney Bowes, a Fortune 500 company with revenue of $4.5 billion.

Aiding the cause is Antenna Software of Jersey City, N.J., which sells a product known as A3 Solution for Siebel. Its XML-based architecture provides the handshake between devices and applications. It is helping Pitney Bowes' service reps gain secure access to back-end corporate systems and applications. From there, they can review and update customer information while on a job. "This system gives us flexibility and scalability that our legacy system could not," said Davis.

Pitney Bowes is still rolling out mobile applications -- thus far, about 500 technicians, nearly one-third its total field-service force, use the new system -- but Davis is encouraged by early results. Better planning and forecasting models shaved inventory costs by 15%. Parts that may have gone unnoticed in Pitney's warehouses now can be quickly shuttled to needed locations.

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  • "If somebody needs an equipment part in Los Angeles, there's probably one in San Francisco," Davis said by way of example. "So instead of sending something clear across the country, it's cheaper, faster and more efficient to send it from San Francisco."

    Technicians are repairing more equipment in one trip, producing additional savings and boosting efficiency ratios. The new system has led to 90% fewer emergency orders, reduced service callbacks by 10%, and helped automate almost all reporting information, said Davis.

    The company's long-range goal is to pump up average daily service calls. Eventually that could free some field personnel to concentrate on growing more lucrative lines of business, including training, systems integration, installation, and management services for assets, inventory and supply chains.

    "When you change business processes so your people can do more work each day, that's real productivity," said Kevin Burden, an analyst with International Data Corp. of Framingham, Mass.

    To make sure there were no missteps, Pitney Bowes made classroom training a job requirement for those using the mobile system. The company spent money to train some of its employees to be instructors. Everyone from managers to repair technicians -- anyone using the wireless infrastructure -- is required to complete instructor-led coursework.

    Pitney Bowes chose A3 to replace a proprietary application that had been in use for two decades. The cumbersome legacy system lacked functionality. Pitney Bowes paid about $5 million for the Antenna product, a cost it expects to recover when the rollout is complete in 2004.

    Pitney Bowes is trying to succeed where other companies have failed. Wireless launches often are plagued by poor planning and follow-up, said Ken Dulaney, a vice president with Garter Inc. "In about 60% of cases, companies never try to ascertain their return on wireless investments. It happens maybe one out of 100 times."

    About the author:
    Garry Kranz is a freelance business and technology writer in Richmond, Va.

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