EZ Connections
Posted: 06.01.05 - By Kassandra Kania

On a top-10 list of unproductive activities, waiting for service is probably close to number one. Nothing is more frustrating than spending precious minutes staring blankly into space or fixating on the bald spot of the person ahead of you in line.

To improve the quality of its customers’ waiting time, Southern California–based oil-change company EZ Lube deployed SonicWall VPN technology to provide its guests with secure wireless access at each of its 53 locations. The company also wanted to improve efficiencies and streamline operations via a secure wireless infrastructure.

Bruce Carter, IT director for EZ Lube, chose SonicWall’s TZW Series wireless security appliances to connect each of the company’s locations via a secure VPN. “What convinced me to go with SonicWall is that they had converged two technologies—the firewall and Wi-Fi,” says Carter. This provided Carter with an integrated solution in one unit. The TZ 170 wireless unit also allows Carter to layer different security solutions on one box without having to purchase multiple technologies, according to SonicWall’s regional sales manager, Adam Towle. “One interface controls it all,” he explains.

For Carter, the firewall is the most important part of the equation. When he first started working for EZ Lube in April 2002, the company did not have much in the way of a secure system. “They were using modems at the stores and e-mails to transfer the data back to corporate,” he relates. “There was a lot of manual work going on.” Carter introduced new technology to create a secure, integrated broadband network on which to base future management and customer service solutions. The initial deployment was a nightmare, says Carter, because there were no firewalls in place, and he had trouble with viruses.

Getting budget approval was also difficult. Carter had to take baby steps to prove that the technologies introduced were improving efficiency. And then one weekend, the company was hit with the Sasser worm. “It wasn’t until that happened that I was able to get the attention of executives and convince them that the expenditure was really necessary.”

One of Carter’s concerns about rolling out the SonicWall devices was signal strength. “All of the stores are built like a mini Fort Knox, with corrugated steel running through the concrete floors,” he says. But Carter’s concerns were soon put to rest. The coverage—as he describes it—is “phenomenal.” Carter was also concerned about deployment difficulties, but once again he was pleasantly surprised. SonicWall assisted the company with site surveys and recommended the appropriate units based on the results. After some initial training and help with configuration, EZ Lube was ready to take the lead. “They deployed the units themselves in just over a week, which speaks to the ease of use of the devices,” says Towle. Carter concurs: “I spent a day with SonicWall working on the initial configuration at the first store. Once I had that squared away, it was a breeze. I had all of the devices preconfigured in about two-and-a-half days.”

Each SonicWall device provides wireless services for waiting customers and also securely connects EZ Lube’s wireless Symbol point-of-service (POS) handheld devices, which are used for customer greeting. Each store consists of two greeter stations where employees use Symbol handheld scanners to scan each vehicle’s VIN number. Instead of manually entering customer information, the handhelds allow employees to automatically populate the work order. In addition to the greeter stations, each store has four to six bay terminals where work orders are processed. The bay terminals are connected to the POS server at the cashier station. Eventually, Carter plans to upgrade the POS server so that all the stations will run wirelessly back to the central server. SonicWall’s firewall has also helped Carter solve information needs for EZ Lube’s eight district managers. The managers now have wireless access to statistics feeds from the POS server on car count totals and net sales from other stores.

As EZ Lube gears up for future acquisitions, Carter plans to add additional SonicWall units. Typically, he is given one week to do the POS conversion at a new store. The company has plans to add 19 new locations in the next month. Instead of rewiring the stores completely, Carter will move to a wireless infrastructure, giving him greater flexibility. As EZ Lube scales up to 100 stores, SonicWall’s Global Management System will allow the company to manage its entire enterprise of firewalls from one location, says Towle.

Initially, EZ Lube’s employees were hesitant to adopt the new technology, but now they can’t live without it. “If you tried to take it away from them, there’d be an EZ Lube civil war,” jokes Carter. Likewise, customers are grateful for the opportunity to make waiting time more productive. EZ Lube will continue to enhance the customer experience by allowing them to access their vehicle history information in the store via a kiosk. Without a secure connection in place, says Towle, the company would not be able to offer this service. Anyone sitting within range of the wireless radio could easily capture wireless transmissions, explains SonicWall’s Ed Gradek, senior systems engineer. Such attacks could affect productivity and sales and even open the door to possible legal action, should a customer’s information fall into the wrong hands.

Eventually, Carter plans to use the SonicWall solution for wireless invoicing and inventory management. He is also in the process of deploying wireless tank monitoring systems for bulk oil. “SonicWall is laying the foundation for Carter to introduce a lot of interesting business activities, as well as improve the customer’s interaction with EZ Lube,” says Towle. And although it may be too soon to gauge ROI, there are certainly signs of the deployment’s success. “My employees are happier, we’re getting numbers faster and we’re getting the reports we need,” says Carter. “And customers contact me personally to thank me and say it’s great.”


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