A Refreshing Change

— April 01, 2006

Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company (HBC) is an Athens, Greece--based bottler of Coca-Cola beverages that serves 26 countries. Until recently, all of its processes and operations were paper-based, with a scant sprinkling of laptops and PDAs. And because of the geographic vastness and client diversity covered by HBC, there was also a lack of standardization.

"We were not mobilized at all," says Vagelis Ballas, IT mobile solutions manager for Coca-Cola HBC. "We had no standards in place, so most of the companies were acting on their own, with systems of their own. One of the major disadvantages we had to respond to was that we have to deal with 26 different entities, and that makes things very difficult, considering that each one of them has different business and technical requirements." To improve efficiency, productivity and customer service, Coca-Cola HBC decided to deploy an integrated wireless system.

The Real Thing
For Coca-Cola HBC's mobile workers, the paper-based solutions meant wasted time and extra work. Salespeople, for instance, had to go to the office twice a day to pick up and submit their sales reports. And they often had no access to critical customer information, as information exchange was primitive and cumbersome.

When Coca-Cola HBC first decided to mobilize its operations over three years ago, it developed an internal system called Phoenix, which focused on sales force automation functionalities such as order entry and merchandizing. Although the system simplified sales operations, standardization had yet to be achieved. Consequently, says Ballas, "About two or three years ago, Coca-Cola, as the mother company, realized the need to build and provide a common tool that was flexible enough to configure and customize to all of the bottlers. As one of its main partners, we worked together with Coca-Cola, and the result of this effort was the bMobile system."

The bMobile software covers three crucial functionalities: sales force automation, delivery and service. "These three applications pretty much cover the market relationship between all our operations and customers," says Ballas. "These are the main three interactions with our customers--when our salespeople visit them to do merchandising, take a survey or take an order; when our drivers visit them to deliver products; and when our technicians visit them to install or service equipment or to perform preventative maintenance. So through this bMobile platform, we are supporting all of our business requirements out there in the market."

Symbol was selected to serve as the hardware supplier of the solution along with Phoenix Pre Sales and bMobile Field Sales because of its reputation for flexibility and durability. Four customized versions of Symbol's MC9000 mobile computer were developed to accommodate the diverse needs of Coca-Cola HBC's business operations, which include tracking outlet sales history, inventory levels, product profitability and promotions; assisting delivery teams with route planning and accounting; and enabling electronic service management teams to maintain equipment.

Some Spills Along the Way
The deployment proceeded smoothly, with Symbol and Coca-Cola HBC working together to resolve any technical issues that did surface. The initial experience of the end users varied, however, most often according to their previous technical skills. "Considering that before [the deployment of the MC9000], we had paper-based solutions," Ballas explains, "and considering that a lot of people, particularly the drivers and the technicians, had never used a computer, it's very difficult to take this small machine to them and tell them that starting tomorrow they need to work with that instead of paper, which is the way they were doing things for the last 10 or 20 years." To Coca-Cola HBC, this was a critical issue, and a lot of time was spent training the workers--and re-training them when they failed to adapt to the device after initial training sessions, which was the case with about 50 percent of the workforce involved.

Most of the workforce did adapt with some time and extensive training, though, and now the salespeople and the service workers can exchange information with their home offices wirelessly using the Phoenix program. Reps receive an updated list of customers and the customers' needs and availability on their MC9000s each morning before their visits. And after the visit, they send the reports back to the office wirelessly as well. The MC9000 sends information to the workers' cell phones via Bluetooth, which then connects through its GPRS service. On average, this functionality alone is saving each worker two hours a day.

Although it was the software that simplified and sped up their work, the end users were most impressed with the MC9000's durability, ruggedness and reliability. Dispersed through 10 countries in Europe and Africa, the product has survived use in all weather conditions, and the bright, high-resolution color screen allows field sales representatives to be productive at all hours, with no need for light. In instances where an MC9000 took a tumble, it generally remained undamaged, to the contentment (or disappointment) of its user.

Next Steps
Currently, most of the MC9000-equipped workers are in sales, but the drivers' use of the devices is increasing. Coca-Cola HBC plans on having over 100 drivers using the bMobile Delivery application with the MC9062 using GPRS data services for wireless connections in the second half of 2006 for its sale force in Italy. Technicians will also greatly benefit from the deployment, as they will be able to receive updated job schedules, submit results of their service calls and manage spare parts inventories.

"So far, we have deployed some 3,500 MC9000s, mainly for Phoenix, bMobile Field Sales and ATOS Lot Tracking," says Ballas. "This year we will continue the implementation of bMobile Field Sales and will start bMobile Delivery and ESM." Coca-Cola HBC hopes to have 2,000 more workers mobilized by the end of 2006. The company also has big plans for the expansion and evolution of the solution. "Symbol is investigating different options, such as remote administration and management of mobile devices, as well as RFID," says Ballas. "Plus, we are investigating the option of moving to a different type of device, also coming from Symbol. So we're working with them in a multitude of layers, looking both at the present and into the future."

Rita Kushnir is the former Web editor of Mobile Enterprise.

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