United Parcel Service (UPS), the world's largest express carrier and package delivery company, is a leading commerce facilitator, offering an unmatched array of traditional and electronic commerce services. The company has won numerous awards for its web site and information technology infrastructure, including two Computerworld Smithsonian Awards. The Atlanta-based company operates in more than 200 countries and territories and employs more than 340,000 people worldwide. UPS reported 1999 annual revenues of $27.1 billion. You can visit the UPS web site at www.ups.com.
Research shows that at the beginning of 2000, 400 million wireless devices were deployed worldwide, with that number predicted to grow to one billion by the end of 2002, says Robert Conner, director of interactive marketing at UPS. "The way people receive information in the future is going to be totally different than the way they're doing it today. Companies like UPS need to be on top of this and be sure we're providing for our customers' needs," he says.
Being the world's largest small package transportation provider means that UPS customers expect the company to be the market leader in every aspect of its services. "These days, the information that goes along with each package we ship has become as important to the customer as the package itself," Conner says. "Factors such as just-in-time inventory have made it very important that customers be able to receive time-critical information about their shipments."
"For example, we deliver 13.1 million packages each day. Customers track three million of those 13.1 million packages each day via the UPS website," he continues. "These customers, as well as research firms, told us that they wanted to be able to access UPS shipment information while traveling, as conveniently as they can from their office desktops, without having to call our phone centers or find a place to plug in a laptop. With the majority of these mobile customers having access to hand-held wireless devices, we felt that the best way to meet their needs would be to make the information accessible to them via a wireless solution."
UPS began its search for a wireless platform by identifying and evaluating 10 of the top companies in the industry. After a thorough review, the company selected Air2Web's mobile Internet platform, "Air2Web was much better than the competition," Conner says. "We wanted to reach the broadest piece of the mobile market possible-and that's what Air2Web offered to us. Most of the other solutions we looked at were limited to WAP phone solutions only, and that just wasn't enough. With Air2Web, we are able to deliver shipment information to our customers via one-way and two-way SMS phones-which are the biggest piece of the mobile market-WAP phones, the Palm VII and RIM pagers. As long as users of these devices have text messaging activated, we can hit 94 percent of the mobile audience with the Air2Web solution."
Air2Web's platform shields companies from the many challenges to going wireless and lets them quickly and easily make the complex leap into the wireless world. Air2Web specifically enabled UPS to quickly create and implement a robust strategy for delivering wireless content, develop an application specifically optimized to the capabilities of all current and future wireless devices, and deploy interactive multimedia applications to any digital wireless device, on any carrier, or across any type of network. Air2Web powered applications leverage a company's existing back-end systems-all in a secure and scalable environment.
Prior to selecting Air2Web, UPS had determined that the four wireless access features customers wanted most were:
- To be able to track a package they had sent
- To find out how much it would cost to ship a package using either next-day, 2-day, or 3-day air or ground service
- To know the exact in-transit time, and
- To find the nearest drop-off box.
Years ago, when making these same four features available to customers via the Internet, UPS had developed customized application program interfaces (APIs) for each of these functions.
Having these APIs already written gave UPS's wireless solution a significant head start. The company was able to simply give Air2Web access to the existing code, which Air2Web then cut and formatted to tie the data in to its wireless platform and make it available to any mobile user regardless of carrier or device. As of September 2000, UPS customers have been signing up for this wireless service at no extra cost by registering online at the company's website www.ups.com.
Conner and the UPS administration are extremely pleased by the success and popularity of its new wireless services. "In the first month alone we've had thousands of customers sign up, and we haven't even started our PR or advertising campaigns," he said. "The customers signing up have just been visiting ups.com and discovering on their own the link to our wireless service. They have been registering, and actively using, their devices to track their packages, find out how much they cost to ship, where they can drop them off and what the time in-transit will be. We've heard nothing but positive response to this service."
While the initial launch of wireless services via Air2Web's platform was US-based, UPS plans to roll the services out internationally early next year. "As we move forward globally, we will continue to seek to deploy wireless functionality to additional types of devices," Conner says. "We want to be able to serve all types of PDA units, in addition to the PALM devices, and all types of pagers so that any device with text-messaging capabilities will be able to access UPS shipment information. As we grow, we will continue to deploy and expand our wireless strategies, and I am 100 percent confident that Air2Web will make that possible."
UPS also anticipates that its Air2Web solution will result in increased cost savings and the opportunity to generate new revenue. "At this point, all of the wireless services we offer have been value-added at no additional cost to our customers," Conner explained. "We do, however, anticipate gaining a return on our investment through cost savings resulting from a lower demand on our phone centers, as people access information through their wireless device rather than calling in. We also plan to offer premium services, such as automatic notification when an urgent shipment has arrived or been received. Customers have told us they are interested in these types of services, and we are in the process of determining which to make available first."
"The overriding benefit or payback Air2Web's wireless platform has given us is increased customer satisfaction and customer retention," Conner concludes. "We have been able to beat our competitors to the marketplace when it comes to wireless applications. UPS has the broadest solution available, and our customers expect that. UPS is committed to getting shipment information to our customers any place, any time, and with any device. This is our strategy and our goal when it comes to wireless, and Air2Web's wireless platform has made the solution much easier and much faster than we ever could have done on our own or with any other provider."