In The Know

— May 01, 2006

Real-time alert applications, whether complementary features within rich mobile solutions or stand-alone money-saving solutions in themselves, have become prominent features of supply chain solutions, used to raise the red flag should anything go amiss along the many-step path from manufacturer to end user. Their use, however, is expanding, as enterprises across countless verticals discover the benefits. The proactive nature of alert solutions helps to keep costs low and savings high, and make it worth taking a closer look at who's benefiting and how.

Omnicell is a provider of hospital patient safety solutions for aiding more effective medication use and the medical-surgical supply chain. Hospitals run Omnicell's narcotics-dispensing cabinets on its vSuite software solution, which is built on Questra--an intelligent device management solution. The cabinets communicate to a server, and through the Questra engine in vSuite, hospitals can define parameters they want monitored and have an alert raised if a parameter isn't met. A common situation to monitor is whether nightly server backups are being performed. "We've caught a number of backups that aren't happening," says Michael Cline, VP of service for Omnicell. "If you've ever been through a server event, it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of man hours, so the savings can be really significant. It's really a cost-avoidance type of tool."

Omnicell generally directs all alerts through its help desk, though "there's a ton of communications options," says Cline. "If the hospital wants, it can automatically page one of the engineers, or whoever wants to be informed there's an issue."

MIR3 is a maker of intelligent notification solutions; its inTechCenter is a secure, carrier-grade application that can find and alert designated people over landline, satellite or mobile phone, email, pager, SMS or fax. Cushman & Wakefield, one of the largest third-party property managers in the world, relies on inTechCenter to help it manage facilities for Sun Microsystems.

"We use it to automate ticket routing, ticket notification, ticket acknowledgement and acceptance in situations that are basically our most critical work requests," says Tom Ebert, program manager for Cushman & Wakefield. "The technology is like the Terminator--it's relentless until it finds somebody who will actually accept responsibility for the ticket, which could be a power problem, fire alarm going off, floods, etc."

Ebert echoes Cline's sentiment that the greatest benefit is simply avoiding costly situations. "The potential business lost is literally millions of dollars if the ticket doesn't get routed properly or promptly," explains Ebert. "Some people estimate that the data center downtime is as much as $2 million or $3 million an hour. So it's really along the vein of risk management or asset protection. It's a very clever, very thorough mechanism for trying to mitigate the risk of tickets not getting routed promptly."

SaviTrak from Savi Networks is a more RFID-based solution, and many of its customers use it to extend supply chain information to clients in ports; in addition to tracking, it can send alerts based on specified parameters, such as if a shipment doesn't arrive.

Even Microsoft is in on the action, offering an Intelligent Notification Service, or INS, as part of its WebSphere Everyplace Access software. Mobile users can subscribe to notification services--asking to be alerted to the arrival of a particular email, for example, or a change in a stock price--and choose how they'd like to be notified (voice message, IM, SMS, etc.). The available options are as broad as the potential benefits.

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