Managing your move into mobility

Summary:With the benefits of mobile data access well and truly taken for granted, the spectre of several false starts is finally far behind the market for smaller smartphone and PDA styled mobile devices.

The need to improve order turnaround has driven a major salesforce mobility project at Fossil Australia, the local subsidiary of the global fashion brand whose watches, bags, wallets, and other products are distributed through retail outlets in 90 countries.

Snapshot on Fossil

Source: Fossil

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With an extended supply chain that spans from large retailers like Myer and David Jones down to family-owned businesses in regional areas, the requirement to keep in touch with customers has long been paramount for Fossil.

Despite rapid growth that saw more than 50,000 product orders placed by retailers last year alone, however, the company was quickly coming to realise that its established manual processes were becoming a drag on the business. Field representatives would take orders for stock on the spot, but it could be three to five days before those orders could be entered into the company's Microsoft Dynamics NAV ERP system.

Also problematic was the fact that orders were being accepted for stock that often wasn't actually available in local warehouses -- or was already allocated to massive consignments for larger retailers. Since all of Fossil's stock comes from overseas, lag times for new orders were measured in the months; during times of high seasonal demand, such as the current pre-Christmas season, this was particularly problematic.

"It was a very traditional telephone, paper, fax-based system," says Markus Stanger, Asia-Pacific manager of the regional NAVISION Competence Centre. "If there was a backlog, it could take a considerable time to get the orders entered, and because of Australia's distance we have a bit of lead time. And the major problem was that we really didn't know whether we could deliver on those orders or not."

By the time the company began looking for a better solution to its order management processes, back orders had reached AU$500,000 and many customers were getting frustrated with the inability to know what products were coming down the supply chain.

Field orders
After discussions with a number of Navision partners, Fossil realised the best way to empower its salespeople was to put a mobile order entry application, linked back to the back-end ERP system via GPRS over the mobile network, into the hands of each of its field staff (more than a dozen).

One of the major considerations during design and rollout of the solution was the management of data between the devices and the back-end system. Given the significant delays already encountered in the paper processes, staff were eager to get data off the devices as quickly as possible, and this would also protect against the possibility of lost orders.

A number of available solutions took the approach of batching up orders between synchronisations, then transmitting the whole bunch in a single go once the device was connected to the office. In line with Fossil's goal of improving timeliness, however, the company looked until it could find a solution that would allow live downloading of inventory information as well as uploading of new orders in real time.

The company eventually enlisted specialist mobile application developer Spectra Interface for the task, introducing its Spectrax system to manage the flow of order and inventory information to and from the devices. Symbol Technologies MC70 PDAs were selected because they combined the flexibility of the Windows Mobile application environment with a barcode scanner, facilitating the entry of stock information for order handling.

"The absolute perfect thing about this solution was that it was fully integrated into NAV," says Stanger. "I've tried to do synchronisation and other solutions before, but compared with those I'm tempted to say we have almost no effort at all. It's fully integrated, and all the hassle you would have of integration, and trying to find a decent way of synchronising and managing the data, is taken care of."

Using Spectrax, inventory information is downloaded at the time an order is placed, so that sales staff can instantly see whether the company will be able to fill the order in time.

Ensuring mobile reps stay that way
As with all national salesforce rollouts, it was paramount that remote workers were well supported, and had a measure of self sufficiency. Many of the sales representatives "very rarely" return to head office, so it was imperative that they know how to handle the devices and how to get support in the field.

The devices were partly chosen for their ruggedness, to ensure minimal downtime because of breakages. To minimise risk and carefully manage the change introduced by the rollout, Fossil's implementation team worked with each sales representative individually, one at a time, so as to make sure their new operating processes were well understood.

Keeping data fresh is another issue: although live stock details for individual items are downloaded at the time the order is placed, the devices are also updated every few nights to reflect current inventory items, prices, promotional prices, customer account details, and other regularly changing information.

"There's a lot of information going across because we have a lot of changes," says Stanger. By having continually updated information on the devices its staff are using, Fossil has achieved the improved visibility that was the original goal of the rollout. More accurate orders have improved the company's bottom line by 20 percent, and have trimmed the order backlog to just AU$100,000.

"This is all about being able to deliver, and to get customers really satisfied," Stanger says. "From a customer service point of view, we have made a huge step forward."

Topics: Mobility, CXO, IT Priorities


As large as the US mainland but with a smaller population than Texas, Australia relies on ICT innovation to maintain its position as a first-world democracy and a role model for the developing Asia-Pacific region. Award-winning journalist David Braue has covered Australia’s IT and telecoms sectors since 1995 – and he’s as quick to draw le... Full Bio

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