Standard mobile infrastructure the way ahead for delivery firms

TNT Express is rolling out up to 24,000 Microsoft-powered mobile devices over the next three years, reflecting the increasing...

TNT Express is rolling out up to 24,000 Microsoft-powered mobile devices over the next three years, reflecting the increasing importance of standardised wireless technology to the delivery sector.

The implementation starts in January with TNT Express drivers and will then be rolled out to warehouse operatives and sales staff. The move follows a successful trial that took place in November.

Jim Flood, architecture and technology services manager at TNT Express, said the roll-out, which will be developed around the Microsoft .net compact framework, would improve customer service and IT efficiency. The .net compact framework provides TNT with a Windows-like programming interface for building mobile applications.

"Standardising to Microsoft from our seven existing systems will help us reduce costs and implement best practice across the organisation," he said. "Moving the IT infrastructure into the cab and giving drivers the information earlier will also improve the level of service."

The firm has not decided on a hardware provider, but it will be able to choose from 38 suppliers depending on where the devices will be used, Flood said.

The company will first use GSM connections with some use of GPRS. Warehouse connectivity will be over 802.11 wireless Lans.

TNT Express is not the only delivery company to standardise on Microsoft's mobile technology. Rival delivery company UPS is also a Microsoft user.

Graham Nugent, strategic information services manager at UPS, emphasised the importance of standardisation when rolling out mobile devices.

"We have implemented many solutions and, every time the scanning devices are updated, a new platform, application code or, in some cases, operating system will have to be implemented," he said.

When UPS upgraded its systems to the point where it had 17 different scanning platforms with two scanners for each driver, Nugent said he was forced to take action.

He said, "We chose Microsoft CE, developed our applications using Visual Studio with Ethernet, and used 802.11b wireless Lans with Bluetooth in our buildings." According to Nugent, this set-up enabled UPS to consider multiple standard devices from a wide range of suppliers.

US-based delivery firm FedEx announced last year it would be rolling out 40,000 GPRS-enabled devices, based on technology from Motorola, across its US operation in an attempt to save £13m a year, predominantly by cutting paper costs.

Delivery company Parcelforce Worldwide is standardising on Symbol mobile devices and wireless Lans to track its deliveries, after signing a £1.5m contract with the supplier.

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