Going Green with Mobility

By  Martha Walz — January 11, 2011

Green computing, or green IT, is an effort to use technology in a more environmentally friendly way by using power more efficiently, reducing waste, and creating more sustainable computing products and technologies.

The next big thing in green IT is the mobile enterprise. From telecommuting to mobilizing data to automating your supply chain, mobility can have a positive impact on the environment as well as your bottom line.

Remote Office Workers
The simplest implementation of the mobile enterprise is telecommuting. This is when a traditionally office-based employee works from home and communicates with the office electronically, either over the phone or through e-mail.

There are a host of environmental benefits of telecommuting. There is a considerable decrease in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions related to travel, as the employee isn’t physically commuting to a job location.

In addition, the power savings can potentially be huge. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average office building in the U.S. uses between 17-23 kWh/ft2 of electricity annually, with nearly 70% of that going to heating, cooling, and lighting. With an increase in the number of telecommuting employees comes a decrease in power demand, and thus its associated cost, at the office. 

Mobilizing Data
Getting data out to workers in the field can save time, money, and fuel. Such is the case for police officers in Yavapai County, AZ. Yavapai County covers 8,100 square miles, an area larger than several U.S. states, lying between suburban Phoenix and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Topography in the region includes Sonoran desert and mountains rising nearly 8,000 feet. “The conditions and type of terrain within the county make it difficult to have reliable mobile service, which poses a public safety problem for emergency response personnel,” says Lt. Brian Hunt, Technical Services Bureau Commander for the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office (YCSO).

Before Steve Waugh was elected Yavapai County Sheriff in 2005, he retired from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which had mobile data device components since the late 1970s. When he took office in Yavapai County, Waugh saw the need to implement similar mobile data technologies so the officers could better serve the county. The strategy was to find a solution that would cut down on officers’ commuting and optimize their time.

Commuting was a necessary evil for officers because they took handwritten notes during investigations and then were required to drive to the nearest sub-station, which was sometimes 40 to 100 miles away, to log into the computer system to file the reports. This not only wasted the officers’ time, but also wasted substantial amounts of fuel.

“We needed a way to reduce commuting time and miles so our people could proactively patrol and be more available to county residents,” says Hunt.

The YCSO reviewed industry testing reports and standards as well as doing its own testing with different manufacturers’ products. “It was necessary for us to do our own testing because of the unforgiving environment of the American Southwest,” explains Hunt. “These products have to be durable and able to stand up to extreme weather conditions and rugged, sometimes off-road terrain.”

To address the major challenge of mobile connectivity, the YCSO purchased mobile signal boosters from Wilson Electronics to help officers stay connected in weak signal areas and limit the reach of “dead zones.”

“In Yavapai County this is huge because of the county’s size and spotty mobile service,” says Hunt.

The signal boosters enable deputies to use on-board computers and cellular modems to access the department’s computer network and search for needed information or file reports directly from their vehicles, even in remote areas of the county.

“[The solution] gives us the connectivity to better serve Yavapai County because we are able to patrol more proactively and be more available to the community,” says Hunt.

The green benefit of reduced fuel consumption is obvious. “We have seen a huge decline in miles driven...that’s something we have been able to measure,” says Hunt.

Automating The Supply Chain

Managing your mobile workforce more effectively can pay off in environmental benefits as well. Staples, the office supply chain store, has more than 2,000 stores in 26 countries. They fulfill tens of millions of orders in the U.S. each year. To increase its competitive advantage through better customer service, Staples took to automating its supply chain.

Staples looked to lower its costs and increase the efficiency of its delivery operations and to deliver perfect orders every time without increasing the costs associated with those orders. And they realized huge green benefits in the process.

Initially, Staples was printing thousands of sheets of paper per order to prove that the order was completed. This manual method of recording and capturing data was costly, cumbersome, and was causing delays and mistakes in the back office. To alleviate these problems, Staples implemented Airclic’s Order Perform for Office Supplies Distribution.

With Order Perform, Staples’ managers now have visibility into where their shipments are throughout their routes in the “last mile” of the supply chain--critical information that was previously not captured. In addition, Order Perform replaced hard copy paper manifests with handheld devices, providing back-office managers with real-time visibility and the ability to track and manage all aspects of the company’s delivery operations.

Order Perform has also resulted in tremendous efficiencies. It has allowed Staples to stop printing hard copy paper manifests that were printed to capture a customer’s signature. Each day, the company saves thousands of sheets of paper by capturing customer signatures digitally--saving $9 per day per truck in paper and paper-handling costs.

Order Perform also realizes efficiencies in dispatching and routing drivers, resulting in time and fuel savings. It takes the drivers’ route plans, puts them into the drivers’ handheld devices, and they then deliver the products to the customers in the most efficient sequence. The handheld devices alert the drivers exactly where a product is when they go to look for them in the truck, thus saving time at each stop.

In addition, managers can see their drivers’ locations and workloads in real time, so they can make the best decisions on which drivers to dispatch. Breadcrumbs track individual drivers and alert managers of speeding and unnecessary idling, catching productivity issues and resource drain at the start.

Enterprise mobility, in its many forms, can boost your business, and, as seen here, can benefit Mother Earth as well.


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