IBM Automates Project Data Recording with WAP Technology
Lindgreen, Connie, Management Services
Situated near Nice in the south of France, IBM's La Gaude laboratory employs approximately 800 people who develop, supply, and support communications, networking, and e-business solutions throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). Many are support consultants whose principal role is to travel across the region and provide on-site support to IBM customers. Recording the amount of time spent with each customer and establishing how that time should be charged has always been a major challenge for both staff and management.
"Until recently, staff simply recorded their hours on paper and, once a week, the information was passed on to the administrators who had the job of trying to sort it all out" said Connie Lindgreen, Vice President, NetGen Innovation and Solutions Offerings EMEA for IBM.
"There was always a potential for error and for people forgetting to record information. We needed to find a better way to handle time and expense data. At the same time, we realised that this is a problem that affects many other companies and if we could develop a practical solution for ourselves, we could also offer it to our customers."
"So we began to investigate the options. We felt that the development of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) mobile phones for the capture of data might provide an answer, but we understood that there were many issues that had to be considered - especially the development of the software and the interfaces that would enable us to integrate data collected in that way into our internal systems. That led us to Maconomy."
IBM had a well-established reseller partnership with Maconomy. Maconomy specialises in supplying net-centric business and financial management software designed specifically for service industries that bill for time rather than goods. Maconomy has been particularly successful in developing Web-based end-to-end business management systems using Web data collection methodologies and it had begun development of a system for making use of WAP phones to collect time and expenses data. "We have a close working relationship with Maconomy," explained Jacques Philibert, senior market analyst at IBM, La Gaude, who helped to coordinate the pilot WAPTIME project. "We were particularly interested in the WAP-based applications that Maconomy was developing and we felt that there was an opportunity for us to work together to deploy a completely new business solution that could benefit both IBM and its customers."
"Collecting time and expenses data is a major issue for most of our customers," explained Robert Lentz, general manager of business development for Maconomy. "And it is particularly important where they have staff who travel widely. After consultation with customers, we had already developed browser-based T&E capture that enables employees to log on via the Internet. But for employees who are constantly moving from one customer to another, that still meant that they could only update their timesheets once a day or even less. The development of the WAP-based T&E data capture dramatically improves the efficiency of the data collection and ensures that online information that is available from the system is much more up to date."
The Maconomy WAP-based T&E front-end is based on WAP industry standards, including the Wireless Markup Language (WML) - as defined by the WAP Forum consortium (Nokia, Ericsson etc). For the WAPTIME pilot, IBM chose the ICMS Support Team for EMEA. Their role is to provide software support for IBM's ICMS billing product. The 20 support consultants travel widely and must record many detailed elements on each project. In addition to time spent with each customer, they must also keep an account of the type of fault to which they are responding, the current status of the fault, and the time taken from reporting the fault to resolving it. Under the previous system, this information was recorded on paper time sheets that were collected and entered into IBM's corporate support management system - RETAIN. …