Operation POD Pilot

By  Teresa Von Fuchs — May 08, 2008

By Teresa Von Fuchs

When it was founded in 1998, PODS sought to change the way people moved and used storage by bringing storage to the customer. In fact, the company name is an acronym for portable on demand storage.

Currently, PODS service is available to more than 230 million consumers and businesses in the United States, Canada and Australia. To date, approximately 1 million reservations have been completed.

In order to keep up with growth, the company went looking for ways to streamline its operations. Although portability is central to PODS' business model, its drivers were relying on map books to find their way between jobs, and using an error-prone IVR system to time-stamp deliveries and paper customer contracts. Location staff were logging countless hours scanning contracts into a back-end system.

Operation Pod Pilot

PODS began looking into wireless solutions. Being software savvy from the beginning -- PODS has an in-house programming department that built its back-end systems -- it was only natural that the company planned to build its own field application.

PODS wanted a rugged device to help keep total cost of ownership low. It also needed a converged wireless voice- and data-capable handset in order to keep the solution simple.

PODS went with Motorola's 9000 series. Known for its rugged specs, the MC9097 also comes with a comprehensive three-year service agreement -- a driver could accidentally run the device over and Motorola would still replace it. For its wireless service, PODS chose Sprint Nextel, in part because of the carrier's established push-to-talk service and also Sprint offered it the best pricing information.

Since the MC9097 comes with GPS radios and multiple data capture options, PODS' in-house design team also tied in contract acceptance and a GPS-based navigational system for simpler route planning and better fleet visibility.

Time Saving Moves

The company reached full roll-out, with more than 1,000 devices in trucks and forklifts in June 2007. And some significant time savings have already been achieved with the solution.

Prior to deployment, drivers were given printed maps for each job. If schedules changed, managers called drivers, taking 10 minutes to 20 minutes to explain the changes. Now, location managers can push schedule changes to drivers, and using GPS, the device finds the most efficient route.

With the previous IVR time-stamping system, it could take anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes for a transaction to go through. Now, with bar code scanning a transaction is logged in less than 10 seconds. During a three-month period, the company logged nearly 160,000 time-stamped jobs, saving between 1,200 and 5,000 hours.

Signature capture also saves time for drivers. Now, customers view contracts online and sign the driver's device when he or she presents the container. The company had 20,000 Pod Pilot signatures captured in that three-month period. Tammy Carr, VP of training and development at Pods and the lead for the Pod Pilot project, estimates that the signature-capture process previously took at least five minutes. Now it's down to less than 1 minute, for a savings of 1,600 hours. And managers and location staff no longer have to spend on average 10 minutes per job scanning and filing paper contracts, so in the same period that's another 3,000 hours saved, she says.

"Managers can now use that time actively managing the fleet," says Carr. "Using the info that's coming to them from the wireless solution, managers can work on building the business rather than just making sure deliveries get made."

For the most part, the company has been impressed with the devices. According to Carr, the solution works best "Where drivers are really drivers and aren't on the phone all the time. In [some] areas the quality of [the] cell phone portion just isn't where we need it to be. It's better as a wireless device than as a cell phone."

PODS is exploring what it plans to do in those areas where it needs a less bulky cell phone. The MC9097 is part of a family of mobile computing solutions built on a common platform, meaning the devices all have common APIs, so PODS could easily migrate its custom solution to work with a variety of other Motorola enterprise-focused devices. This presents another cost saving measure for the long haul.

Preparing For Change

Before a successful deployment could happen, PODS knew that training and driver acceptance were key elements.

Virtual learning is a big part of PODS corporate culture; the company has a learning terminal in every one of its warehouses, and part of every driver's training is in a virtual classroom. Naturally, then, part of the Pod Pilot training was done through simulation.

Carr explains, "Before devices were ever brought to a location, a manager and driver would sit at a computer terminal and walk through how the solution was going to be used."

Other training material included a device user's guide and a company-developed training CD, called a manager's 'toolkit.' The company also set up a weekly Pod Pilot forum so that drivers and managers could communicate about their progress in using the solution. The company also used this forum to post changes that occurred. Carr says the forum was very useful for everyone to communicate about "both successes and obstacles." 

The company also used information from the forum to make changes to the solution. "Since we're the architects of the software, if we [were] hearing from the field that something wasn't quite right we were able to fix it quickly," Carr says.

To ensure a smooth transition into the field, PODS set up an in-house support line, so managers and drivers can call one number if they run into any difficulties. "We hoped we could take away that top layer of user nervousness and some of the fear that goes with change management," says Carr.

Since the solution has been fully deployed for less than a year, PODS is reluctant to give hard ROI dollar figures with those hours of time saved. But Carr notes a telling sign of success; nearly 85% of drivers responded to in-house surveys say that the solution made their jobs easier every day. That, along with up to 10,000 man-hours saved every three months and improved driver ETA, adds up to a solution that's improving customer service and enabling efficient business processes.

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