March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 09.01.05

Working on the EDGE

Wireless data technology keeps associates connected 24/7.
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By Rita Kushnir




John M. Floyd and Associates (JMFA), a financial consulting firm, has worked with over 1,850 financial institutions in 49 states, as well as countries in Central and South America. JMFA offers support and consulting services from loan optimization and lending to expense control and operational effectiveness, focusing primarily on helping banks and credit unions gain more clients and reengineer their profits with technology.

The firm has just under 100 employees, and, with the exception of its administrative staff of about 10 people, all workers are highly mobile and go wherever business takes them. Often, business called them away on Sunday evening and they didn’t return home until Friday night. Even their short weekends at home found them answering e-mails and catching up on work, because Internet connections weren’t always available when they traveled. Consequently, John M. Floyd, CEO, and Cher M. Floyd, COO, felt that the company’s progress and productivity were being hindered by a lack of adequate connectivity.

Communication, a crucial aspect of the consulting business, was suffering. Mobile employees were essentially immobilized by their confinement to either a hotspot or a wired Internet connection. While on a business call, associates often had to hunt down a client’s phone line and connect through dial-up to demonstrate Web-based presentations of JMFA’s products and software. The data exchange was slow and frustrating. Important server data was also inaccessible without the Internet. If the associate couldn’t find a phone line in one of the banks or credit unions, he or she had to wait until they returned to their hotel room to catch up. JMFA relies heavily on large amounts of data and something needed to be done. “We wanted to keep our employees’ fingers on the pulse of our clients,” says Cher, “as well as everything else that’s going on.”

The Floyds turned to PC Cards, which, at the time, were emerging as an option. They realized that giving their employees a constant and reliable connection to the Internet would significantly improve their relationships with clients and the quality of their work. But with communications giants such as Sprint PCS, Verizon Wireless and Cingular all coming out with wireless data networks, the Floyds had a tough decision to make. They set out to research all three major providers.

Drawing from the Three

“I started out with Sprint,” says Cher, “and I got so frustrated with it. One of their highest peak speeds is [supposedly] in Reno, Nev. It should’ve been working so well, but it kept dropping. Every time I tried to bring in some e-mails, it would disconnect.” Sprint was quickly eliminated from consideration.

To compare them and speed up the decision process, the Floyds decided to test Verizon’s and Cingular’s wireless networks at the same time, from New England to California, over a one-month period. “We would travel to different parts of the country,” says Cher, “and John had a Verizon card, and I had a Cingular card, and we’d run them side by side to see which was faster and which had better reception in all those different areas.”

When they came back 30 days later, Cher spoke to Verizon. “‘I’m happy with you guys, but I’ve got to tell you that the EDGE technology was much faster and it dropped the data less. I was able to go everywhere and use it where yours didn’t [work].’” For the Floyds, Cingular’s EDGE network surpassed Verizon in both speed and reliability. But it had yet to survive the ultimate test.

The Floyds set-up a 30-day trial period and gave PC Cards to the employees with the most chaotic travel schedules—the salespeople. Their comments after the trial would decide the fate of the deployment. “I received so many positive results from my sales team,” says Cher. “They were so happy with their improved communications and reduced downtime. They were so excited about it, that I deployed [EDGE] companywide at our annual employee meeting to all of our 80 [mobile] employees.”

The deployment was very quick and went quite smoothly. “I had two representatives from Cingular come in,” she says, “and within about 30 to 45 minutes, we were able to get everybody up and running.”

Data on the Move

At the time, Cingular EDGE technology offered the fastest national wireless data network in the United States, with speeds that exceeded those of 56k dial-up by two to three times in more than 7,500 cities and towns and along 30,000 miles of interstate highways. (EDGE has since been surpassed by Verizon’s EV-DO BroadbandAccess and Sprint’s to-be-named EV-DO data services.)

And the Floyds were not disappointed. Even when caught off-guard by Hurricane Dennis in Grand Cayman, the EDGE network didn’t let them down, providing reliable, though expensive, Internet access.

Now that almost everyone in the firm has EDGE technology, communications have improved considerably and overall downtime has plummeted. Employees receive and return e-mails faster, gaining the confidence and loyalty of their clients. They are also able to keep each other up to date on their proceedings. “They can stay on top of what the latest situations are,” Cher says. “If something happens or if they have a lunch somewhere and it gets cancelled, they know right away and reroute instead of having to wait.” And while attending dozens of trade shows each year, they no longer have to pay for expensive Internet access for the booth or hotels. EDGE also proved very useful for IT technicians: now they can respond faster to any type of problem salespeople encounter.

Traveling itself has also become easier now that employees can access Web directions. “One of my managers was going to an unknown area in Maryland,” Cher explains. “His flight was late and he wasn’t even sure where the client was. He stopped at a gas station and asked directions but no one spoke very much English and there were no maps. He pulled his laptop out, put the PC Card in, went on MapQuest and he was there within 20 minutes.”

Now employees are able to work whether they are boarding a plane or commuting to a client call. Since they get more done on the job, they have less to do at home. Cher sounds
particularly proud of this. “We are a very family- oriented business and our people travel all the time. Because they have all that data exchange finished by the time they get home on Friday night, they can enjoy the entire weekend with their family.”

The return on investment was also immediate. During training, one of the sales associates received an e-mail from a prospect requesting immediate information. The associate was already connected to the EDGE network and was able to quickly e-mail the information. He received a signed contract within an hour. The sale paid for the entire EDGE deployment for the first year.
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