Microsoft began to develop the mobile sales assistant in January and it rolled out at KiMs A/S in September. To make way for the new system, KiMs tore out a 10-year-old mobile platform and replaced it with 46 PDAs from Symbol Technologies Inc. and 26 off-the-shelf tablets from Toshiba Corp.
Mobile sales assistant supports KiMs' 70-person sales force at a cost of about $5,000 each for hardware, software, installation, training, and wireless connectivity subscriptions to secure data transfers. "We've been using mobile devices for many years, but they've really been an equivalent to an advanced form of pen and paper," said Jesper Toubol, technology manager with KiMs. "Our salespeople weren't connected with KiMs main office during the day."
It seems a worthy effort. Toubol expects the $350,000 investment, more than half it's annual IT budget, will begin to pay off initially with a 75 reduction in missing chips, pretzels and dried fruits by keeping tighter control on inventory. He also believes a 20 percent boost in administrative productivity is possibly by eliminating the need to re-key orders into Axapta, an enterprise resource planning platform from Microsoft Business Solutions.
KiMs salespeople, which manage about 50 to 100 accounts each, can now upload store orders into Axapta remotely. Information on customer inventory levels, buying habits and electronic point of sales data pulled from KiMs' Axapta ERP platform into the mobile sales assistant helps the salesperson to suggest chip, dried fruit or pretzel promotions and purchases the store should make to increase sales. "Data mining lets us show customers they have sold most of their chips or peanuts on Thursday, Friday and Saturday," said Toubol. "With this information we can ask the customer if they've considered placing our peanuts next to beer to sell more of both prior to the weekend."
But more importantly, Microsoft's move sends a blunt message that the applications focus for its Microsoft Business Solutions division remains clearly on consumer goods and retail businesses. And it will continue to deliver tools that combine supply chain and customer relationship management functions.
KiMs' long-range plans could include integrating the mobile sales assistant devise with Microsoft MapPoint, and adding a feature to read and process electronic product code data from RFID labels, said Toubol. In January 2004, Microsoft launched a project with KiMs to integrate product tracking RFID technology in its supply chain.
Microsoft says the price per device will vary as the mobile sales assistant moves from pilot into production and into the hands of those in other companies. Its goal is to build a generic system to let customers customize the device. It uses general packet radio service or hot spots to send or receive data. The standard options include phone, calendar, contacts and software from Microsoft, including Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
The basic system operates on Visual Studio 2005, and is based on the Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 and Microsoft SQL Server 2005. Development partners include HandStep, Knudsen Consulting Aps, Symbol, Tectura Corp., and Danish telecom provider TDC Mobil, which provides data security.