Remember when the BlackBerry was an executive status symbol? Now it's a front-line business tool. Consider Coca-Cola Enterprises, which this month rolled out a timekeeping and routing application to the BlackBerrys of 400 merchandisers who visit stores to make sure Coke products are well stocked and properly displayed.
The distributor plans to extend the app to 11,000 U.S. merchandisers so they can record on smartphones the time they spend in each store, instead of having to call a timekeeping toll-free number. And, using the smartphone's GPS, the app provides routes to the stores they visit in a day and lets Coca-Cola Enterprises track merchandisers' routes. It also lets merchandisers update their sales offices about in-store product displays.
The app, developed in four months, shows a new way of thinking about mobile devices for Coca-Cola Enterprises. Gone are the days when it developed a mobile app on a case-by-case basis, choosing a suitable device depending on the particular job. Now the company thinks in terms of "strategic enterprise mobility," says Kevin Flowers, the company's director of enabling technologies.
That means building the merchandiser app, or any app, to be device-independent. Coke wants the option of using Windows Mobile devices, not just BlackBerrys, for some of the 11,000 merchandisers who'll use the new app. It's also looking to extend the timekeeping function to truck drivers, who typically use ruggedized Windows Mobile devices. What's more, mobile devices aren't like laptops, good for several years before employees need a new one. "The pace of change of devices is faster than any company can keep up with," Flowers says.
Coca-Cola Enterprises used Software AG's integration software to build a Web services interface to its Kronos time management system. Because the distributor's mobile users often lose coverage in rural areas and inside stores, syncing data entered offline is critical, and that's handled through hosted mobile middleware from Antenna Software, which also provided a hosted environment for about 12 Coke developers to build the merchandiser app. That setup let Coke ramp up much faster than if it had been "worrying about building a server farm for developers," Flowers says, "as I could leverage development in the cloud."