British American Tobacco is poised to connect Blackberry mobile devices to its core business systems, including SAP, as part of a project to allow 900 senior executives to place purchase orders and access management information on the move.
The company, which is among the first organisations to use Blackberries extensively for applications other than e-mail, believes that it can save senior staff at its London headquarters up to 55 minutes a day by enabling them to perform financial transactions and access corporate information during "dead time" on the move.
"It is very easy to show a return on investment," said David Sampson, head of IT at BAT's headquarters. "The ability of executives to access e-mail and information sources to carry out management transactions wherever they find themselves, be it in Rio, New Zealand or Canada, is key."
BAT plans to roll out the system in five stages over the next 12 months. These will include enabling executives to browse the BAT intranet securely and linking Blackberry servers to the corporate SAP system to allow managers to place orders and view information.
The company plans to offer the Blackberries to up to 900 members of staff, ranging from executives who spend most of their time travelling, to deskbound managers who could benefit from having the ability to work outside of the office.
"The number-one advantage is being able to make use of dead time. All our executives report that it is useful to be able to access information from the airport. The other aspect is giving people a choice about where and how they work," said Sampson.
He said one of the challenges would be integrating the Blackberry servers with BAT's SAP systems using a variety of interfaces and middleware.
The company has also invested in back-up systems to ensure that the Blackberry service remains in operation in the event of system failure or planned maintenance work.
BAT has worked with disaster recovery supplier Neverfail to install back-up systems that provide a seamless failover in the event of a system going down. The company tested the system in April during a project to update power supplies at its headquarters.
However, Sampson said the biggest challenge was winning the hearts and minds of the end-users. This meant conducting extensive research into how staff used their Blackberries and what functions they needed outside the office.
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