March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 05.01.05

Selling Employees on Cellular

Fordís bid to bring the feel of the open road to the workplace.
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By Alex French




Executives at the Ford Motor Company—the manufacturing giant that projects a total automotive pre-tax profit milestone of $1.5 billion to $2 billion for 2005 and additionally owns car companies Mazda, Volvo, Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin, Lincoln and Mercury—are attempting to steer the sensations of freedom, self-possession and the open road into the workplace. This winter, in an aggressive, forward-thinking experiment aimed at un-tethering workers from their desks, Ford gave 8,000 product development specialists (most of them engineers) mobile handsets and (gulp!) took away their desk landlines.

According to Valerie Rosnik, a spokesperson for Ford, this wasn’t a price-cutting method, and it wasn’t a measure taken because the work of Ford’s employees was suffering with inefficiencies. Rather, says Rosnik, “The reason we replaced the product development team’s landlines with cell phones was really pretty simple: Here is a group that is constantly on the go.” Although this is not a solution that Ford plans on pursuing for each and every of its 300,000 global employees, it is a solution that Ford would pursue with similarly mobile divisions. “This was about providing our employees with the tools that best enable them to do their jobs. By replacing engineers’ landlines with cell phones we will be boosting their productivity, actively helping them to deliver more new products faster by providing them with increased mobility and flexibility.”

A New Road

The idea for the conversion was concocted by Ford’s Product Development team and first brought forward by Phil Martens, group VP of product creation. Martens delivered this idea to the IT unit, but making the project a reality required a coordinated effort from the IT unit and Martens’ team. In choosing the appropriate technology, Ford laid out two primary requirements that absolutely had to be met for the project to work in the way that it knew it could. The first requirement was the new mobile handsets needed to be equipped with a walkie-talkie function. According to Rosnik, the success of the project was almost wholly dependent on improving “the ability of Ford’s design engineers to react quickly to the changing needs of the business and make them more proactive in the testing and launching of vehicle programs.” The second requirement was it absolutely had to have extensive cellular coverage. In the end, it was decided that Sprint’s technology was best suited to meet these needs.

A Fortune 100 company with more than $27 billion in revenue in 2004, Sprint PCS has cultivated a reputation for engineering and deploying state-of-the-art network technologies, such as the United States’ first nationwide all-digital and fiber-optic network; an award-winning Tier 1 Internet backbone; and one of the largest 100 percent digital nationwide wireless networks in the country. According to a Sprint spokesperson, “We tried to provide an efficient and cost-effective way for Ford employees to communicate on-site and from anywhere on the enhanced Sprint Nationwide PCS Network.”

How did this all come together? To meet its first requirement (the walkie-talkie phone) Ford selected the Sanyo SCP7300, a CDMA clamshell handset with Sprint PCS Ready Link, a push-to-talk walkie-talkie function that allows the 8,000 members of Ford’s Product Development team to spend more time with clients and on the manufacturing floor than at their desks. Additionally, this technology presents Ford with a number of added capabilities. For instance, administrators at Ford can now easily manage company directories, update account information and group lists and push changes to employee phones via a Web-based administration portal.

To meet the second requirement (extensive cellular coverage) Ford requested that Sprint PCS build up cellular coverage in the manufacturing plants and testing facilities around Ford’s primary campus in Dearborn, Mich. There are about 60 buildings on the Dearborn campus and a number of plants that will receive increased cellular coverage, which entails installing cellular repeaters in the buildings to boost signals. Normally cellular signals can’t be received in most of these buildings due to interference, or the construction just doesn’t allow the signals to penetrate. It could also mean a weak signal from the cell tower.

The project is still in the implementation phase, according to Rosnik. It’s still too early to comment on what kind of improvements Ford is seeing in terms of employee efficiency or increases in revenue. Ms. Rosnik was hesitant to comment about what kind of measurement systems Ford has put into place to gauge effectiveness of the new system. But so far, she says, the Product Development team’s response to the new technology has been extremely positive, and the process of implementation—free and easy. To facilitate the move to the new primary phones, employees keep their landlines for 90 days. And in instances where the change-over has been counter-productive to the employee, a landline has
been left in place. As Howard Janzen, president of Sprint Business Solutions pointed out, the switch over to this wireless technology will bring new speed, flexibility and spontaneity to Ford.
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