3G wireless not just for big shots anymore

EV-DO, other advanced mobile-data technologies getting widespread corporate adoption

Adidas has deployed 800 BlackBerries to its salesforce so staff can send and receive e-mail on the go. Now the athletic-wear company is finding new uses for its fleet of mobile devices.

Adidas has written several BlackBerry applications that let its sales staff access customer profiles, check inventory for product availability and get the status of outstanding orders when they're on sales calls. By putting this real-time information into the hands of its salesforce, Adidas is racking up additional sales.

The salesforce "loves it," says Tim Oligmueller, salesforce automation manager at Adidas. "When they see a sales opportunity when they're in a store, they can strike while the opportunity is hot rather than getting back to the customer later after they've looked up information at home."

Called Atlas-to-Go, the BlackBerry 3G application is a handheld version of Adidas' Atlas order-entry system. Atlas-to-Go took only three days to develop.

"We never did run an ROI because it was so cheap to develop," Oligmueller says. "We did it with in-house developers, and it took just a few days of work. We'd already invested in the devices, and the programming tools were all free on the BlackBerry Web site."

Next up for Adidas is to add a feature to the BlackBerry application that will let a salesperson create a custom catalog for a store based on the products purchased.

"We can create a catalog on the fly by putting in the order number," Oligmueller says. "The application creates a print-ready catalog that the customer can use in the store."

An increasing number of companies like Adidas are providing high-speed mobile data to employees, pushing up the rate of corporate adoption of Evolution Data Optimized (EV-DO) and other 3G technologies. The wireless-technology boom is expected to continue as companies move past trials and start rolling out mobile data to larger groups of employees.

The focus of mobile data rollouts has moved past e-mail and now is centered on such critical business applications as salesforce automation. CIOs are looking at how to create efficiencies in business processes or gain competitive advantage by providing mobile wireless access to network resources.

"Having e-mail so widely deployed out with the sales and marketing folks is now putting demand back into companies for other information," says Laura Johnson, executive director of enterprise solutions for AT&T's wireless unit. "Many companies have finished CRM projects, so the back-end automation is complete. With the adoption of wireless e-mail to end users, they are extending access to their sales reps. They can enter customer information, enter orders and get inventory updates when they are standing in front of the customer."

Among the industries equipping sales staff with mobile data are pharmaceuticals, financial services, insurance and media. Food companies and other consumer-packaged-goods manufacturers are providing their truck drivers with handhelds so they can access real-time inventory information.

"Coke and Pepsi have moved from the batch systems that they had for 15 years to real-time wireless," Johnson says. "Drivers are taking orders while on site and getting the orders delivered in real time to the distribution center. It used to be that the drivers came back at the end of the day, and the distribution center started all of its activities overnight. Now they can streamline that process throughout the day."

It's not just sales staff who are getting mobile wireless access to customer data. It's also utilities' and other industries' service staff in the field. Public safety officials are using high-speed wireless access to receive and transmit images, for example, police officers accessing offenders' mug shots.

Retail outlets find that it's quicker to set up mobile wireless in a new store than it is to wait for a carrier to hook up a traditional T-1 link. Even construction sites and such outdoor venues as fairs and stadiums are using high-speed wireless data because it's easier and less expensive to set up and tear down than a wired network.

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Carolyn Duffy Marsan

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