Rogers mobilizes field workers with mForms

Rogers Communications Inc. is targeting Canada’s three million field service workers with the launch of a new wireless offering that the company says will transform paper-based business processes into electronic mobile transactions.

In partnership with Hewlett Packard Canada and mobile services platform vendor TrueContext Corp., Rogers hopes to tap into small and medium-sized businesses that employ a mobile workforce with the promise of increased productivity at a lower cost.

The new wireless offering, dubbed mForms, runs off HP’s iPaq Pocket PC devices equipped with Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system.

Using the mobile forms technology developed by Ottawa-based TrueContext, mForms offers templates that can be customized to provide the forms field service agents need when performing a service call – inspection and reporting, dispatch and delivery, survey and utility location, license compliance, patient care, financial advisors, sales force enablement and mobile office.

Once a new assignment is received by a field agent on the iPaq, work order details can be viewed. Field employees can easily find content on the device – such as job history and service manuals – which would help them accomplish the task at hand. Once a job is completed, the customer would sign the form electronically and the field employee could then transmit the completed form wirelessly back to the main office.

The entire job order process is accomplished through the mForms iPaq device, eliminating the need for traditional paper-based forms and the time spent driving to and from the office for data entry. The transmitted information through mForms is linked with back-office applications for invoicing and database updates, using Web services and XML for integration.

“Most SMBs don’t want to build their own IT infrastructure and want predictable IT cost. With mForms they will no longer rely on paper,” said Mansell Nelson, vice-president, planning and business development, Roger Business Solutions, based in Toronto.

By eliminating paper forms and helping field agents to get their jobs done faster, businesses could realize huge cost savings and start seeing a return on investment within three to six months of deployment, said Nelson.

The mForms templates will be customizable to an SMB’s specific requirements. Forms will also be pre-filled so users can choose from a list of drop-down menus. The device will serve as a multi-media clipboard that could send and receive – either through e-mail or SMS – communication between the field agent and the office dispatcher.

For SMBs, mForms simplifies the process of mobilizing a workforce by offering an out-of-the-box, yet easily customizable, mobile forms platform, encompassing the operating system, software application, wireless data network, mobile device and help desk support, according to a Rogers’ statement.

Rogers has been collaborating with HP as early as last year on how mobile technology can be utilized by businesses to improve productivity, said Reg Schade, vice president and general manager, HP Services in Mississauga, Ont.

“The whole concept of mobility is not about cool devices anymore. It’s about simplicity and optimizing technology to improve business,” said Schade.

Although the mForms offering is initially being targeted specifically at SMBs, the goal, according to the HP executive, is to ultimately extend the technology to the enterprise level. The next step is to enable other bigger applications such as CRM, sales force automation and mCommerce on the mobile platform, he said.

Eventually, the mForms mobile device could be extended to other larger industries such as insurance and financial services, utilities, oil and gas, and other businesses that rely on field service agents as a big part of their operations, said Schade.

According to a Microsoft survey, 73 per cent of SMBs are looking to increase productivity over the next 12 to 18 months. This market segment comprises over 99 per cent of businesses in Canada.

“SMBs are significant engine growth in Canada,” said Eddie Chan, research analyst at Toronto-based IDC Canada.

“With organizations continually looking to gain a competitive advantage by accessing business-critical information anytime, anywhere, IDC Canada continues to see increasing interest in extending the rich mobile device platform to include field services and other customer relationship management applications.”

The mForms proponents also stressed the need to address security, specifically in the transmission of critical data from the field to the main office.

According to TrueContext president and CEO Alvaro Pombo, all transmissions go through a secure channel, and can be encrypted if the customer wants that. The devices are also fully managed, that in the instance a device gets lost, all information on that device could be deleted wirelessly.

Rogers mForms is being offered at a monthly base price of $124.90 per user.

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