Magazine Article | November 19, 2008

You Must Manage Your Mobility Solution

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

For PODS, a mobile device management solution enables the company to remotely support more than 1,000 rugged handhelds with minimal reliance on its drivers.

Integrated Solutions, December 2008

It wasn't that long ago when do-it-yourself moving meant having to rent — and drive — the dreaded and often dilapidated moving truck. Times have changed a lot since then, and now one of the most popular options for moving and storage is Portable On Demand Storage, more popularly known as PODS. As the name implies, PODS delivers storage containers directly to customers, both residential and commercial, via specialized delivery vehicles. Since 1998, PODS has completed more than 175,000 long-distance relocations, exceeded 1 million deliveries, and has more than 137,000 PODS-brand containers in service. PODS' services are available in 48 states and throughout Canada and Australia.

Recently, PODS deployed Motorola MC9097 rugged handhelds to its drivers and warehouses in an effort to better manage more than 1 million annual rentals and deliveries. The handhelds, dubbed POD Pilots, were integrated with PODS' proprietary RBMS (retail business management system) and brought many benefits and conveniences to the company. Among these benefits are GPS technology, customer signature capture, and even bar code-based asset management capabilities. Despite these and other improvements, supporting more than 1,000 mobile devices presented significant challenges to the company.

The amount of tech support that could be required was a frequent concern when delivering a technology tool to end users that are not necessarily tech-savvy, as was the case with many of PODS' drivers and warehouse workers. "During the implementation phase of our POD Pilot program, some support issues became apparent," says Allison Pfifer, director of corporate training and development at PODS. One example, according to Pfifer, is the operational impact on a driver who experiences a device malfunction in the field. PODS set up a toll-free POD Pilot support hotline for its drivers, but calling in required the driver to pull over to the side of the road and work through a step-by-step troubleshooting sequence with the tech on the phone. "Our drivers are on a tight delivery schedule, and having to pull over to go through a lengthy troubleshooting process interferes with our operation and increases driver ETAs [estimated time of arrival]," says Pfifer. "Late deliveries are against our customer service standards, so a support solution that causes delays simply wasn't acceptable."

Ongoing maintenance and updates also were a challenge. PODS is continually making updates to POD Pilot, its proprietary mobile application, and getting those updates to the MC9097s required the users to cradle and sync the handheld devices. The process was both time-consuming and error-prone. Many times users simply would not sync the device, and those that did sync the device often had trouble completing the update once it was downloaded. This resulted in an increased incidence of device malfunction and calls to the support hotline.

The ideal solution for PODS would be one that enabled remote monitoring and support to keep the more than 1,000 Motorola MC9097s running smoothly. The moving and storage provider found the solution it needed when it discovered MobiControl from SOTI. Essentially, MobiControl is an out-of-the-box mobile device management solution that enables remote access to the handhelds.

Addressing device malfunction in the field no longer requires drivers to pull over to work through a problem with tech support, risking potential delivery delays. Instead, PODS' help desk staff establishes remote control of the device in question, much like connecting to Remote Desktop in a Windows environment. "Without any driver involvement at all, tech support can troubleshoot, diagnose, and repair the handheld in real time," says Pfifer. The remote connection occurs over the Sprint Nextel IDEN network. "We can even perform a reboot of the device, if needed." PODS also limits the amount of time spent on tech support. If the help desk can't get the device back online and running normally within 5 minutes, a new device from a pool of spares is immediately sent to the driver with instructions to return the inoperable unit. 

MobiControl also eliminates the challenges that accompanied routine maintenance and program updates. Updates to PODS' proprietary software, such as a new function button to appear on the handheld screen, are automatically pushed to the device overnight, when the devices are not in use. The updates are then automatically installed as soon as a driver turns on the device in the morning. Besides automatic updates, PODS configured MobiControl to connect to each device every 5 minutes to pull real-time data regarding deliveries into its RBMS. This includes details such as customer signatures, delivery timestamps, and bar code information from each container delivered to keep PODS' asset management system up to date. Additionally, all devices are GPS tracking-enabled, allowing PODS to instantly pinpoint the location of each driver.

The ROI for the POD Pilot program was focused on customer satisfaction rather than dollars saved. "The focus of the POD Pilot initiative was to maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace by ensuring on-time deliveries and great customer service," says Pfifer. According to Pfifer, solving problems and pushing updates remotely does indeed keep PODS' drivers on the road and on schedule. This was the key to enabling PODS to better serve its customers, and that, after all, was the ultimate goal.