By Galen Gruman, editorial director, IT Wireless
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Wireless Eliminates Time-Sheet Cheating
Like many employers that have on-the-road employees, cheating on time sheets was a big issue at Elyxir Distributing, a beer and soft-drink distributor in Watsonville, Calif., about 100 miles south of San Francisco in the agricultural Salinas Valley. Employees were supposed to start the clock when they arrived at a job site (just as office employees do when they get to the office), but some employees would instead start the clock at home. Others would claim a customer visit they did not make.
But Dave Webb, the company's operations manager, recently found a way to get accurate time sheets and tracking of employees' on-the-road activities using a wireless service combining cellular data and Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. Best of all, the service — using Xora's Web-based TimeTrack software and Nextel cellular phones equipped with GPS transponders — costs only about $46 per month per employee and had minimal setup fees and no maintenance fees. That was more than affordable for a small business with 44 on-the-road staff — deliverypeople, staff who regularly clean customers' dispenser spigots to ensure beer and soda on tap continue to taste fresh, and merchandising staff who work with customers to maximize product display. Elyxir rolled out the system in late February.
Webb can't quantify the ROI — "we don't know how much time we were losing" — but he's convinced it averages more than $46 per employee per month that the wireless tracking service costs. "It doesn't take a lot of time to recoup that amount of money." The system works simply: Employees use a menu option to indicate when they start a job, when they take lunch, when they're done with lunch, and when they're done with a job, as well as indicate which client they're servicing. The TimeTrack software then transmits that plus the GPS location data to a Web-based application that Webb and other managers can view and download for further analysis in Microsoft Excel to verify employees' locations and activities. "You know not only when they start but where they are." Webb acknowledges that many staff members did not react too well to the new system, since it prevents falsified time sheets and even lets managers uncover habitual speeding, excessive breaks, and so forth. "[The new electronic record] is their time sheet, that's what they're paid on. ... It has significantly improved the integrity of their time sheets. Now we know."
But for Elyxir, there are many business benefits: It can now track how customers are being serviced, ensure time sheets aren't late to payroll, spot service gaps or discrepancies, determine high- and low-maintenance customers more easily, and verify phoned-in complaints about driving or delivery problems (trucks have a sticker with an ID and a number to call about driving complaints, and employees have been both exonerated and proven guilty based on the GPS data, "so it works both ways," Webb says).
Webb says that in the three counties he serves — Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito — he's aware of no competitors using similar technology, so he expects a competitive advantage in terms of greater operational efficiency and better customer service. He's also looking to integrate the Xora software and data with the UPS logistics software he uses to determine optimal driving routes — by linking them, he can determine which staffers are following the best routes, which change throughout the day, and help guide drivers to better routes as circumstances change. Plus, Webb and other staff are still "playing" with the TimeTrack data to see how they can use it to identify both problems and opportunities.
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WIRELESS PRODUCT AND SERVICE GUIDE!
A subscriber exclusive! IT Wireless's Spring 2003 Essential Products Guide is now available to subscribers. The 18-page PDF file contains a listing of key vendors and service providers, with summaries of their offerings and contact information. Categories include wireless network and client hardware, network and client software, and IT services. Download the directory now!
WIRELESS PRODUCT AND SERVICE GUIDE!
The FCC is considering allocating more spectrum for use by 802.11a devices. The additional spectrum would match the so-called "middle band" spectrum available in Europe, so devices manufactured for the U.S. would also work in Europe. At the same time, the final IEEE 802.11g standard provides maximum performance of 36Mbps rather than the predicted 54Mbps (which 802.11a does deliver). Forrester Research says these two facts should increase the popularity of 802.11a devices, whose adoption has largely stalled due to lack of interoperability with 802.11b/g devices and shorter transmission range.
Broadbeam has updated its ExpressQ wireless platform. Version 4 adds seamless network switching for managing multiple wireless wide area and wireless local area network connections, enhanced security measures with Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) authentication, and Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) encryption to restrict access to unauthorized users, and support for additional client platforms and networks.
IBM has updated its WebSphere Everyplace Connection Manager software to increase security. The software supports connections and roaming across Wi-Fi, GPRS, and CDMA2000 networks and creates a mobile virtual private network (VPN) for both IP and non-IP (including private packet radio) networks with data encryption.
Elmic Systems has added an IPv6 module to its Voyager embedded-IP products for mobile devices. IPv6 promises enough addresses for every device in the world, unlike the IPv4 protocols in use by most devices and networks.
eLearning Dynamic has announced an 802.11b version of its LearnTrac wireless system for classrooms. The device creates a network between a teacher's computer and students' 802.11b-enabled Palm handhelds.
Many companies announced products or product upgrades to support Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2003 operating system, the upgrade from Pocket PC 2002: Boingo Wireless has a beta client for its 802.11 hot-spot connection software, PCTel has ported its Segue roaming client, and Intermec Technologies will use the new operating system on its 700-series devices this fall.
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A recent study by In-Stat/MDR found that wireless data adoption is growing in the business environment, but not at the very high "hockey stick" growth curves common during the Internet boom. Based on more than 1,500 surveys with U.S. IT decision-makers in seven vertical markets, In-Stat says the survey shows that implementation of wireless data in corporations is greater than many people might expect. But the extent and complexity of actual solutions within each organization vary significantly.
Many companies have simple point solutions (one device, one service, one application) in place today, while other deployments are far more intricate. The majority of current wireless data users plan expansion within the next few years, so growth will come not just from new installations, according to In-Stat's survey. Furthermore, the wireless data market has shifted back to focus on vertical markets rather than horizontal applications such as e-mail, and their needs are varied, diverse and often complex. Some of the earliest adopter industries —transportation and utilities, as well as finance, insurance, and real estate — have put wireless data to broad use and have been able to realize the benefits from using the technology. The health care industry has a strong desire to do big things with the technology, but outside of several early adopters the implementations in that industry remain limited.
The In-Stat study also found that:
In other market news: McDonald's is expanding its test of 802.11 hot-spot access at its restaurants to several San Francisco Bay Area restaurants; the burger chain began offering Wi-Fi service in selected Manhattan eateries earlier this spring. More airports have made 802.11 hot-spot service available to travelers: Newark, Miami, and Baltimore Washington are among the latest, each using NetNearU gear. Meanwhile, the city of Spokane, Wash., gained a temporary 40-block Wi-Fi network from Vivato for its Hoopfest three-on-three basketball tournament June 28-29. And Bluesocket deployed a Wi-Fi hot-spot network at the two-week Wimbledon tennis championships, which ran until July 6.
From IT Wireless
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