Stretching The Boundaries Of Business With Wireless Communication

Going Wireless In The Field Helps Give Mediaone The Flexibility To Grow

Cutting-edge technology waits for no one. Seizing the opportunity to use that technology to your business's advantage means more than having clarity of vision. Sometimes, it means your business must have the flexibility to expand with the technology.

MediaOne, one of the nation's leading broadband services companies, wanted to be much more than a cable service provider. The company provides basic and premium cable television services to more than 5 million subscribers in 17 states. But, MediaOne had bigger plans in mind. Incorporating the newest broadband technology into its menu of services was part of the company's growth strategy.

"Our goal and our vision is to have one wire coming into the home, which would support a customer's cable and digital television, telephone, and high-speed Internet service," said MediaOne Director of Systems Integration Doug Skillins. This would eliminate the need for repeated visits from technicians installing dedicated wires for each type of service.

Making the vision a reality has involved big changes for the Englewood, CO-based company. Among those changes was replacing the inefficient, paper-based system MediaOne field technicians were using when making service calls. When it decided to install a wireless system for technician/dispatcher communications, MediaOne had a list of must-have qualities for any vendor under consideration. MediaOne selected mobile computers from Intermec Technologies Corp. and a wireless workforce management system from Intermec's Premier Solutions Partner, Mobile Data Solutions, Inc.® (MDSI).

"We were looking for a vendor that had a lot of experience with integrated wireless radios. Also one that had a good reputation in the industry and experience with large-scale deployment," Skillins says.

The equipment had to be rugged and dependable. "Our service areas range from south Florida, where summer temperatures in the trucks can reach 150 degrees, to northern Minnesota, where winter temperatures can fall well below zero," Skillins explained. "We needed one piece of equipment that could handle both extremes."

MediaOne outfitted each of its 1,200 field service technicians with an Intermecâ 6620 industrial mobile computer and will deploy another 1,000 this year. Once the MDSI Advantex™ wireless workforce management system was deployed, day-to-day procedures in the field were more efficient. So efficient, in fact, that MediaOne found itself freeing up 25 percent of employees to take over the added work generated from its expanded broadband service.

All paperwork associated with field service is automated and stored electronically in the mobile computers. Work orders no longer need to be handwritten by technicians and typed in by data entry clerks in the main office. The field technicians complete their own work orders using the 6620's touchscreen function keys. Once entered, the work orders are transmitted to the MediaOne office via the Advantex wireless workforce management system for processing. The technicians are also able to perform converter maintenance via the handheld, eliminating the need for dispatcher intervention.

Dispatchers are allowed to automatically route orders by proximity to the location of field technicians. Technicians are no longer sent across town for one service call only to have to journey back to the other side of town for the next. This efficiency has enabled technicians to take on more service calls during a shift.

For those technicians who don't have to drop off the company truck at the end of the day, using the mobile computers also means they can begin their workday from home. The technicians can just logon to the 6620 at the start of their shift and download the day's jobs. At the end of the day they take the unit home and recharge the battery overnight.

"The traditional way we were doing business was every morning all the technicians would come in for a roll call meeting. Essentially, we would lose a half-hour of productivity for each technician. Now they can use that time to do service calls," Skillins says.

At the customer site, field technicians deliver the ordered service, then enter the appropriate order information into the mobile unit. Any details about the order can be transmitted via a messaging feature on the 6620. The technician then sets the mobile computer into its docking station in the MediaOne truck. Data travels via a wireless network to MediaOne, where it updates the Advantex system and interfaces with the customer care and billing systems to accounts in real-time.

This wireless mode of transmission was the key that most boosted efficiency among MediaOne field technicians. "When the technicians were all on paper-based work orders, they also had radios in the trucks," Skillins says. "They would have to radio back to the dispatch department once a job was completed. A lot of times, there would be one dispatcher there to handle calls from 15 to 20 technicians. If a dispatcher was on the radio with one of them, you might have a number of technicians sitting in their trucks waiting to get through."

To make matters worse, before the mobile computers, at times the technician might try to call the dispatcher from the customer's home telephone, only to be put on hold while the dispatcher was busy with another technician. "Now the technicians love it because they never have to wait to talk with a dispatcher," Skillins says. "They can work much more independently." The system can handle data transmissions from multiple technicians at the same time, thereby improving productivity. Billing also gets done more quickly, because the work orders are processed after each service call instead of waiting until the end of the field technician's shift.

The 6620's messaging feature proved useful in unexpected ways. Veteran technicians began to assist newer workers by sending messages back and forth. This spontaneous training made everyone's day go more smoothly. If a truck should break down and leave a technician stranded on the roadside, a quick message gets help on the way.

MediaOne has been so pleased with the Intermec system that it plans to transition all new deployments to the Intermecâ 6640 industrial mobile computer. The 6640 features a 10.4-inch color or 9.8-inch monochrome screen and 32MB RAM, expandable to 128MB. It operates on Windows 98â and, like the 6620, weighs just five pounds.

MediaOne's existing MDSI Advantex solutions is completely compatible with the 6640s. The company expects to complete the upgrade by the third quarter of 2000. Staying competitive means being flexible enough to reach goals that might be just out of the company grasp. Joining forces with technology leaders such as Intermec and MDSI, has given MediaOne an advantage that other broadband service companies just don't have. Its new efficiency in the field makes MediaOne better able to respond to changing customer needs.