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Mobile Technicians Go Paperless with Custom BlackBerry App
By Jeff Goldman
Columbus, Ohio-based Safelite AutoGlass provides automobile glass repair and replacement services to nearly 4 million customers each year. The company has 4,000 mobile technicians deployed nationwide, most of whom travel to the customer's home or workplace to do any and all repair work onsite.

Chris Delong, Safelite's director of operations, says the company uses 3,600 BlackBerry devices to help those technicians manage every aspect of repair and replacement -- the techs who do the repair work in retail stores don't receive BlackBerry smartphones, Delong says, but every mobile technician does.

To assist its mobile technicians, the company developed its own custom BlackBerry application, called Mobile Resource Management (MRM), which it built using Dexterra's (now Antenna Software) mobile framework. In addition to the BlackBerry devices, the solution uses Datamax-O'Neil portable printers and ExpeData's Enterprise Digital Writing platform based on Anoto's Digital Pen and Paper technology.

The result? Safelite's mobile techs are now completely paperless, Delong says, "to the tune of saving about 8 million pieces of paper a year."

When a customer schedules a windshield repair or replacement, the order is automatically transferred to a dispatcher, who forwards it to the appropriate tech. "[The technician] has the glass on his truck, he takes his BlackBerry, he takes his pen and he takes his printer, and off he goes out into the field," Delong says.

The app gives the technician point-to-point directions to the customer site, which are verified using GPS on the BlackBerry device. "The technician shows up, he pops out his BlackBerry and does a pre-inspection, filling in any damage that might be there already on the automobile, and prints out a pre-inspection form that you sign," Delong says.

And that's when it gets really interesting, thanks to the ExpeData/Anoto digital writing solution. "You sign the [printout] using the ExpeData pen, and that image is then transmitted immediately back to our office here in Columbus, Ohio from anywhere in the United States -- and we have an immediately copy of that in a PDF form here in our office," Delong says.

That's enabled by the fact that the paper in the Datamax-O'Neil printer has Anoto's dot pattern on it, allowing the digital pen to read and transmit the customer's signature. "We print out the actual form that the customer signs," Delong says. "He signs it with the ExpeData pen, which picks up his signature... then we merge that signature and the form together, and transmit it back to the office."

The same process is used for an authorization form, which has to be customized for the state where the transaction takes place. "All the 50 states have different rules and laws, so we would print out a different form for our customers in Florida than we would for our customers in Minneapolis," Delong says. "And all those images come back here to our office."

The signed form is then given to the customer to keep, and the technician repairs or replaces the windshield. "Then we use a card swipe on the printer and we do real-time credit authorization through the BlackBerry back through our back end here in Columbus, authorize the credit card, print a receipt out using the O'Neil printer and the ExpeData pen, they sign it, we hand them that piece of paper -- and head off to the next job," Delong says.

One of the key benefits of the solution is that the company is able to track where its technicians are and what they're doing at any time. "Whether they're getting a pre-inspection, a pre-auth or a receipt, we know exactly where they are and what part of the process they're at," Delong says. "All of that comes back to us in real time, so we have a real-time, nationwide, companywide view of where all our technicians are and what they're doing at that moment. And we have real-time stats on things like how long the job takes, where they are, drive time -- all that real, actionable information and data."

Overall, Delong says, the company was surprised by the number of improvements enabled by the MRM solution. Thanks to the point-to-point directions and the GPS, he says, the average number of miles driven has dropped. Customer satisfaction has gone up, and the technicians enjoy using the device. "They really like the idea of having something cutting edge and technical," he says.

And, of course, the entire process of handling paperwork has been sped up enormously. "We're in all 50 states," Delong says. "[Previously], all that paper was collated in the stores, one copy was filed, the other copy was put in an envelope, that envelope was mailed here to Columbus, we then microfiched it or imaged it, and then we took that paper and we stored it somewhere. All of that handling, all of that time, and all of that cost... has been eliminated from the ecosystem."
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