Accenture Technology Labs' "Digital Pen and Paper Mobile Workforce Prototype" (DPPMWP) (Okay, who's responsible for our acronyms? Anyone? Anyone?) is one of many sales force automation tools we've developed over the years. It uses a digital pen (for input) and a cell phone (for communication and output). It works like this:
The sales rep fills out a form printed on paper that has a fine pattern of tiny (almost invisible) reference marks. As the pen moves over the paper, its miniature camera tracks the reference marks in order to stay oriented--and thus divine the strokes the sales rep is making with the pen. (This technology is available from Anoto.) When the form is filled in, the rep checks the "finished" box and the pen sends the stored strokes via mobile phone to a server, where they are interpreted (turned into text) and processed. Shortly thereafter, a result comes back via SMS to the mobile phone and is given to the customer. (It might, perhaps, be an insurance quote.) Circle complete.
The digital pen sometimes gets a bad rap ("Where's the output?"), but there are reasons to like it. First, it's cheap. The pen/phone setup is much less expensive to purchase and maintain than a tablet PC. Second, it's non-threatening, which is helpful when the user base is unfamiliar with computers (a shrinking group, I grant you). Third, training is minimal. Fourth, you can stick to your current, forms-based work routines (which may or may not be a good idea, but at least it's an option). Fifth, it's light. And, finally, preserving the paper--the physical paper, not an image of it--may be a legal requirement in some industries or countries.
The DPPMWP resolves the output problem pretty well, with the SMS message sent back to the phone--this technique will work when just a little information (such as a quote) needs to be communicated. And it certainly wins on friendliness: there's no computer between the rep and the customer, just an apparently conventional form being filled in by an apparently conventional pen.
Accenture's success with digital pen-based systems has been significant, particularly in Europe where Banking and Utilities have shown great promise. As long as PCs are expensive, forms are necessary or training is an issue, DPPMWP-like systems are likely to be extremely attractive. (Plus the acronym's growing on me.) If you'd like to learn more, please get in touch with Gaelle Le Roux Digital Pen), who is leading the charge in this space.