March 23, 2006
 

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July 2003
Sorting Successful Solutions
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Mailing-solutions provider Pitney Bowes pushes the envelope with a first-class mobile deployment.  

By Eric Zeman




Sorting and processing mass mailings is no easy task. Large, complex machines are needed to run the batches in order to stuff, seal, address and apply postage to the envelopes. Pitney Bowes has been a leader in mail processing and finishing products worldwide for over 80 years. The company maintains sales, manufacturing and service units around the world. The Document Messaging Technologies Division of Pitney Bowes is a global provider of products and services designed for high-volume mailers such as financial institutions, utilities, retailers and direct marketers. The majority of its products are complicated machines integrated with electronics and software appropriate to meet each customer’s requirements.

Pitney Bowes field service personnel, augmented by support operations groups, service the majority of the installed base. Service is provided either per call or by on-site service agreements with customers. Per-call service is initiated through Pitney Bowes’ Customer Care Center agents or Web service requests from customers.

From the start, Pitney Bowes had always used an in-house, proprietary system to manage the servicing processes of its machines. It was an open-ended system, however, that didn’t have much audit capability designed into it, which meant the information generated by the system could be suspect. “The document messaging system and product family have some significant differences in levels of complexity in terms of customer support,” says Ralph Nichols, service program manager at Pitney Bowes. “The initial system was designed for a different approach than for document messaging technology.

“We needed a service management system that would be more customer focused and more proactive in delivering higher quality service more consistently to the customer base for this division,” continues Nichols. “We came up with some basic requirements that had to be met. The solution had to be intuitive, had to be easy to use and had to allow remote users who don’t have the luxury of having a help desk at their disposal to stay in touch. Workers had to be able to grasp the concepts quickly and have appropriate devices for the work the person was expected to do. Initially we were going to have notebook and desktop users depending on where they worked. We decided that notebooks were overkill for some classes of workers, so we looked at a lot of PDAs trying to find something simple, reliable and easy to use, and also affordable. Not just the device, but the cost of operation as well.”

Pitney Bowes found the answer to its problem with Siebel Field Service, Antenna Software’s A3 solution, the RIM BlackBerry 957 and Cingular Wireless. Antenna A3 for Siebel extends the functionality of the Siebel Field Service applications to mobile workers. The full-client software resides on the wireless device and utilizes the store-and-forward technology of the A3 Mobile Foundation to securely transmit data between the device, the network carrier and the back-end Siebel system. All of the complexities of this interchange are shielded from the users, who benefit by having access to real-time or near-real-time information, and by being able to perform their jobs whether they are within network coverage or not.

“It’s been a wonderful front end for our system and mobile users,” says Nichols. “It’s very simple to understand the application. Antenna’s solution lets users see everything in text, which is easy to understand, and all the data entry is done through pull down menus, requiring little stylus or key entry. In two eye-blinks they can get all the info they need to search for and find information about parts.”

As far as training was concerned, Pitney Bowes found it very straightforward. “Antenna came out and taught us to use the application and devices. Initial training took a bit less than a day and covered all the basic needs. The workers were able to go back to work and be productive right away,” notes Nichols. “The number of calls to the trainers for the first level of support or the help desk were very low.” Over 500 techs have been trained so far.

Service techs use the application to help them report back to management as to how they do their job. Deployed to customer locations where they work a shift as a break/fix service person at a facility, they use the wireless device to record and transmit their activities and parts consumption. “One of the big surprises,” comments Nichols, “is that workers previously reported only to the local manager on site, so everyone had a different system. We expected a big change-management issue with the onsite workers for the new info, but it turned out to be a non-issue.”

Pitney Bowes now enjoys higher quality information than ever before and techs are able to make many decisions independently, “without talking to three or four people,” adds Nichols.

User acceptance was extremely high because field workers gained a simple way to report their activities. “We discovered that not all problems are technical defects. Some are issues other than the product itself that can lead to stoppages or slowdowns. We focused
the training on our customers and productivity went up while processing costs went down,” says Nichols. This leaves Pitney Bowes more time to help improve customer relations.

The initial benefits of this new system were obvious in two areas: lower field service and support labor costs and lower inventory cost. Labor costs are down because field personnel find more knowledge immediately available that is timely and accurate—a necessity to help resolve issues at customer sites. This includes both product and inventory information. Remote workers no longer need to call colleagues to hunt for most information because it is commonly available through the same tool used by everyone.

Inventory costs are declining because there is a closed-loop process for tracking orders and parts movements, which is also available to everyone. This reduces duplicate and emergency orders because workers can view the entire process.

While hard numbers have yet to be calculated, based on Pitney Bowes’ projections inventory costs are expected to shrink at least 15 percent over present levels. The company also predicts emergency orders to fall as much as 90 percent from present levels. Inventory turns should double within one year from present levels. Reduction in callbacks is expected to be approximately 10 percent from the baseline in the first year alone. These percentages could potentially translate into savings in the millions of dollars for a company as large as Pitney Bowes, which expects to recoup its initial capital outlay within the first year.

“After that,” notes Nichols, “all those improvements will go right down to the bottom line. It’ll keep reaping benefits for years and will continue to produce meaningful and significant benefits for years to come.”
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