Fast movers in the mobile age
Innovations in mobile communications technology create new opportunities for e-business, which is why the Mobile e-business Award spotlights organisations meeting the challenges of the mobile revolution
Ideal, part of Caradon, sells boilers to an extremely fragmented and disparate community of engineers, with some 40,000 companies employing 90,000 installers. Ideal and its competitors in the heating marketplace therefore struggle to manage relationships across this full range of customers: large companies like British Gas are relatively easy to deal with, but managing relationships with the smaller installation companies, which make up 55% of the operators in the domestic heating market, is bewilderingly complex. These are typically one- or two-man operations, working from a van, for whom the mobile phone is their main communication tool.
Clearly, there would be massive benefit to these kind of installers if much of the technical information that they need, when quoting or installing, was available via a mobile phone. The introduction of wireless application protocol (Wap) now makes this possible, and Ideal has seized the opportunity. It now supplies installers with free Wap phones which incorporate its Heating Information Service. This gives the operator access to information from boiler dimensions to spare part numbers. In addition, Ideal is working with Improveline.com to pass heating leads directly to installers who use the phone.
The full national launch of the system was in September, the climax of a year's development and £30,000 investment. The service is fully managed and hosted by BT. For the first time, Ideal has a direct communication route to mobile customers. It will also provide a valuable marketing tool when new products come online, as well as positioning Ideal as an industry expert, available to be consulted at all times.
Ideal Boilers is the first in its industry to provide technical information to heating installers via Wap phones. The company provides customers with a free Wap phone and a Pin number to enable them to access the site. This is an excellent example of how Wap phones can be used as a valuable business support tool. We were impressed with how Ideal Boilers is tapping into the marketing potential of Wap phones too, and using the technology to push out information about its new products. The company has been innovative in introducing mobile technology to people that might not have otherwise have considered the benefits of using Wap technology.
Policing in the UK traditionally faces a contradiction. The public wants to see officers patrolling the beat, but it also expects offenders to be caught. For police officers, that means keeping up-to-date with current crime intelligence, completing forms, entering data onto systems and preparing court files. Hence the contradiction, since all these demands take time which keeps officers off the streets.
Surrey Police Information and Knowledge Environment (SPIKE) is designed bring these two elements of police work closer together. It is a single environment within which officers can interact with all IT systems, sending the right information to the right people at the right time. But the really clever thing about SPIKE is that it takes data entry out on the beat too. From September 2000, Remote Officer and Vehicle Environment (ROVER) takes the functionality of the desktop onto the streets.
ROVER's mobile access is provided over the Orange GSM network via ISDN. Brand Communications Apollo IP software controls the use of the line through a 'spoofing' mechanism, only establishing the connection when it is required for interactive use. Security measures deployed include encryption and firewalls and logging on requires unique IDs and passwords. SPIKE operates through a thin client browser.
The project cost £80,000 to implement, an investment that will be recouped mainly though the time it saves officers having to repeatedly return to their desks. However, mobile access also means that information in the system is more timely and up-to- date, since there are no delays with input. Surrey Police are already seeing the positive effects of officers being visible on the beat and reductions in the cost of the running the organisation.
We were impressed by the approach that Surrey Police took in developing ROVER. Rather than creating a new mobile solution, the force "mobilised" its existing network The other factor that impressed us with ROVER is that it is device-independent. Officers can choose the display device that is best suited to their role, whether on foot patrol or front-desk duty. The devices do not contain or process data, so the information is processed within the corporate network and passed to the device through a compressed stream over the digital GSM network. As well as allowing for flexibility, this is also key to the security of ROVER. ROVER has already increased the public's perception of police availability, and it is great to see such positive and immediate results from a mobile e-services initiative.
The spread of mobile phones among the general population has been astonishing. No organisation which is serious about customer service can afford to ignore this fact, although until the emergence of wireless application protocol (Wap), the lack of functionality on a typical handset limited what could be offered. The Woolwich was the first British bank to seize the opportunity represented by Wap-enablement, by providing Internet banking services on the phone. Customers can now take advantage of this latest channel to view accounts and statements, transfer funds between accounts, and pay bills.
Being a young technology, Wap depends on speed of roll out, innovation and straightforward, good ideas to succeed. The Woolwich was in a strong position to act, since it had already completed the process of consolidating personal accounts so that the system has a single view of customers, regardless of channel. This means any new Wap service can be relatively quickly rolled out in tandem with existing channel operations.
The success of Wap also depends upon innovation, with customers wanting to see what advantages they are gaining. In this case, examples of what Wap allows include quick switching of cash between current and savings accounts to maximise interest earning potential. In this way, the Wap service has proved attractive to existing customers, helping to build loyalty, as well as encouraging some new customers to sign up. Users have reacted very positively to the service, regardless of their past experience of using electronic channels. It has also helped to maintain the Woolwich's reputation as a bank that takes the lead when it comes to technological innovation.
What really impressed us about the Woolwich's operation was not only the speed of its delivery, but also its vision of high technology banking and the company's willingness and commitment in taking the lead in mobile banking in the UK. It is much easier to follow trends than to forge them, and the Woolwich's leadership in this area is the beginning of a new digital age of banking. The Internet banking service that the Woolwich now offers its Open Plan account holders is making a real difference to the way these customers are banking. HP was impressed with the way the Woolwich, a traditional 'bricks-and-mortar' company, has influenced people's attitude to mobile banking in a very positive way, providing them with more choice in the way they service their banking needs.