(For more on the challenges of providing mobile messaging to your organization, read our feature report, Navigating The World Of Wireless Email.)
Mobile messaging has evolved over the past four years to become a critical part of operations for Varian Medical Group. The Palo Alto, CA-based firm manufactures medical devices and software for treating cancer and other medical conditions.
In mid-2005, Varian deployed a unified Microsoft Exchange platform for email and added the BlackBerry Enterprise Server for mobile messaging. BlackBerry devices were initially provided to about 50 executives and IT staff.
"It has grown exponentially over the last several years into a full-blown enterprise product that we now have as a critical part of Varian's support and service business," says Matthew Morse, Senior IT Administrator at Varian.
Now, the company has about 1,600 BlackBerry devices deployed, and just over half the users are field technicians responsible for rapid response to any issues that arise with the company's equipment.
That part of the project is known as the Mobile Services Online, and it has enabled the company to meet its guarantee of connecting the customer with the appropriate service technician within 10 minutes.
"We create devices here at Varian that literally save lives," says Morse. "We have medical personnel who rely on Varian support and professional services personnel to deliver solutions in a very timely manner, sometimes even in a crucial life-or-death time."
The Mobile Services Online deployment has delivered considerable results for the customer support staff and the field technicians. The amount of time it takes a service agent to get the correct ticket information to solve a Varian case has dropped from 40 minutes-50 minutes per case to within 15 minutes-20 minutes.
The number of service calls required to resolve a case has dropped 70%.
In addition, the company has far exceeded its guarantee to connect within 10 minutes the customers who need service with a qualified doctor, physician, physicist, radiologist or appropriate technician on the Varian team who has the expertise necessary to solve the problem.
The BlackBerrys make it easy for a dispatcher to locate the appropriate technician, who can instantly log in and confirm that they're responding to the ticket. The mobile service communicates with the company's back-end SAP CRM solution via the BlackBerry Mobile Data Service and Varian's proprietary Java application.
"[Field techs are] essentially getting a simplified web page to their handheld from an icon they click on the BlackBerry," explains Morse. "It's as easy as that."
How To Support It All?
As the scope of Varian's mobile deployment grew, Morse says his IT team faced several challenges. He considers the internal employees of Varian to be his "customers" and says "We have to serve and support [them] with a service level agreement that meets or exceeds the requirements that we provide to our [external] customers from this service. We thought about the risks and the management of the service, and of course we talked about standardizing devices."
Issues included deciding on a common platform, ease of deployment, and support. "How are we going to guarantee our systems are really working?," says Morse. "We want to reduce helpdesk calls. We want to reduce the risk that a handheld could be out of range," and a field technician wasn't receiving a service ticket.
Last April, the company began piloting a mobile device management solution from Zenprise, which it fully deployed in August 2008. Morse says the solution has resulted in a 70% reduction in calls into the IT helpdesk from the company's BlackBerry users. Turnaround time to resolve issues has been reduced from an average of 20 minutes per caller to less than 10 minutes.
IT administrators use the tool to constantly monitor the health of the networks and devices, so they can proactively address problems.
Morse and his team are currently working on determining which admin support staff receive what type of notification messages to best keep things running 24/7 for the multinational operation.
We Don't Go To Sleep
"We're international, we don't go to sleep," Morse explains, "So [we're looking at] how we can best roll our support problems over to the next helpdesk time zone when one goes to sleep. With a product like Zenprise and BlackBerry's enterprise console and of course Microsoft Operations Manager, we're now able to have a unified dashboard that all representatives are able to log into through the Web, take a quick look, see what the problem is and save a phone call. You save lots of dollars and time and everyone gets happy."
The BlackBerry devices and service contracts are procured and managed by the regional offices, but the entire messaging and BlackBerry infrastructure is centralized out of the company's North American headquarters.
The Zenprise application enables an IT support person anywhere in the world to support a mobile worker in any location. "The Zenprise dashboard allows a support admin to look at the physical description of the handheld device status in real time," explains Morse. "So if we're troubleshooting a problem, we can see how much device memory is available, the level of charge on the battery, if the signal from the carrier was sufficient enough last time it checked in. It's amazing stats that you can get on the handheld that you don't even have to ask the handheld owner, the person holding the handheld, you ask them fewer questions because you have the information right in front of you."
The solution cuts out the long and sometimes frustrating exchange that can take place between support and end user in trying to discern the cause of a problem. "Being able to have a support technician decipher that problem without having to have a long conversation just to get to the next "press now" or "press ok" button means that the customer is taken out of that sometimes difficult conversation loop," says Morse. "It puts a little more ease and confidence in us as a support organization that we know how to help them without having to labor them through their own support woes."
The next step is to bring some 250-300 employees in the Japan division onto the BlackBerry solution, says Morse, with further rollouts planned for Asia and the Middle East.