Nortel beefs up mobile workers

Another boost in communications for the mobile worker sprang forth from Nortel Networks in January, adding another level of complexity to network and telecom infrastructure but giving field workers improved remote connection to corporate applications.

The Wireless Field Service and Logistics (WFS&L) service allows mobile workers to dial in to a corporate Web site and retrieve up-to-date information on customer accounts and cases, as well as inventory data, through a Wireless Application Protocol (WAP)-enabled wireless phone or a Web-enabled Palm Inc. personal digital assistant device.

“What the product basically does is it extends CRM (Customer Relationship Management) capability to a mobile workforce during the day when they’re out in the field,” said Seth Nesbitt, product marketing manager for Nortel. “The end result will be a more efficient workforce [that’s] more productive and one that’s better able to respond to customer needs.”

Only having just released the service in January, it is still too early for customer feedback, but Nesbitt said the WFS&L service helps make the field workers a more strategic component in a company. Nortel is targeting service providers, telecommunications companies, high-tech manufacturers and other companies that could benefit from greater efficiency in the field. So far, most customers are telcos, said Keith Knowles, a product group manager at Nortel.

“From a technology issue, we don’t see a tremendous amount of real issues [with WFS&L], but there are certainly limitations of the WAP devices themselves, as far as what stage of the functionality can be delivered to the WAP phone that’s going to be useable,” Knowles said.

According to Sheryl Kingstone, program manager, CRM strategies at The Yankee Group in Boston, communications field services have been around for a very long time, but the problem is a lack of a unified platform.

“So you kind of have to worry about architecting a solution that can handle multiple standards,” Kingstone said. In addition to so many different devices on the market (from WAP phones to PDAs manufactured by a score of different vendors), there is also a lack of standards in place for the devices. Kingstone is optimistic that these problems will be solved over the next couple of years.

If a worker is at the top of a duct in a building and needs to check on an available part, it would preferable if that worker didn’t have to come down and place a phone call to ask someone at headquarters if the part is available, said Kingstone. If that worker has a device like the WFS&L, he or she would cut down on wasted time by being able to check for availability right then and there.

“There are other things that I should be looking at while I’m up there,” Kingstone added. Service management is about having access to customer information, including customer history, or how long a part was last installed. It adds a proactive element to customer relationships, and it is providing “anytime, anywhere” access.

Nortel’s Wireless Field Services and Logistics service is available now throughout North America.