At delivery company UPS, wireless and mobile technologies are critical to the business. This has been the case since 1991 when the Delivery Information Acquisition Device (Diad) was introduced to our drivers.
Diad enabled drivers to scan package barcodes, capture signatures and then up-load this data onto our mainframe from any telephone.
Every delivery our drivers make is automated; every completed drop-off or pick-up is recorded on the Diad before being sent over a mobile message switch to our mainframe.
GPRS, paired with analogue cellular and acoustic coupler technologies as a contingency, gives our drivers 100% coverage in most areas.
The advances in these technologies have enabled us to offer our customers a much better service in terms of keeping them up-to-date with the progress and location of their parcels. Now we can offer customers an update almost in real time.
For any business thinking of implementing wireless technologies, I would recommend trying before you buy. Telecom companies are also beginning to wake up to this way of working and are supplying test kits. Companies can then ensure that the technology performs at the level they require in terms of coverage, signal strength and how many messages are received first time.
As with any technology, cost is always an important issue. Sending data over GPRS is charged by the megabyte. This can be expensive, but the data packets we send are very small and comprise just the status, the date and the time of delivery. The size of the data packets is tiny compared to an average e-mail, so we get a lot of messages for our megabyte.
Standardisation is also something businesses should aim for. Over the years we have implemented many solutions and every time the scanning devices are updated, it is almost certain that a new platform, application code or, in some cases, operating system, will have to be implemented. Each addition requires a support infrastructure.
When UPS had upgraded its systems to the level of having 17 different scanning platforms with two scanners for each driver, we were forced to take action. At this point we revised our approach. We chose the Microsoft CE operating system, developed our applications using Visual Studio, with Ethernet, and used 802.11b wireless Lan with Bluetooth in our buildings. This set-up enabled us to consider multiple standard devices from a wide range of suppliers.
Roll-out of this new scanning platform is expected to take five years and will cover 200,000 devices in 1,700 buildings. This should lead to a 30% reduction in repair costs, a downtime improvement of 35% and a reduction in inventory of 35%, all from a process of standardisation.
Security is another issue that is always on the agenda when wireless technologies are discussed, especially with regard to wireless Lans. We use Wi-Fi at our hubs and package centres, utilising all the security and encryption options within the equipment, which offers more than adequate protection to the corporate network.
When wireless technology is first bought, it comes out of the box with all security options switched off by default. Some businesses can go wrong by not paying adequate attention to this; putting security functionality in place does require some effort and consultation with the hardware and software suppliers.
The security message is clear: you can have a secure wireless Lan but, to make it work, you have to put in a bit of thought and hard graft to ensure all parties understand what needs to be done to maintain a secure network environment.
What do you think?
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Graham Nugent is European strategic information services manager at UPS UK and a panelist at Enterprise Wireless Technology 2003 at London's Olympia on 19-20 November