Can Handhelds Improve Support? Part 1

David Needle

Updated · Jul 12, 2001

A user calls the help desk with a problem. All your technicians are out in the field, but one who is near the new problem sees an alert on the wireless handheld he is carrying. After finishing the first job, the technician walks to the second, creates a trouble ticket using the handheld and gets to work. After finishing, the technician finishes the ticket and moves on to the next job.

The Holy Grail of most IT support desks is to lower the average time-to-close on support calls and, depending on the nature of your organization, wireless handhelds connected to your back end system can help. While even handheld vendors acknowledge that few large enterprises have moved in this direction yet, some interesting examples suggest that this technology can help many IT shops provide better support, more quickly for less money.

In Part 1, we'll examine two such examples and, in Part 2, we'll discuss whether this solution is appropriate your shop and, if so, how to implement it.

Example 1: The World's Largest Trade Show Network
At last May's Network+Interop trade show in Las Vegas, show manager Key3Media set up E-Net, which provided network access for about 850 exhibitors. Besides being what K3Media claims is the largest temporary network in the world, it is, according to Steve Wylie, Key3's director of network operations, “a highly exaggerated version of what happens in the real world. It's a very demanding environment.”

And interruptions on that network cost money — big time, Wylie says. “Vendors pay a lot of money to be at the trade show. Every minute the network is down, thousands of people walk past their booths and can't see their products.”

Until this year's show, when a network problem occurred in a booth, vendors walked to the help desk and asked for help. A ticket would be filled out and, eventually, a technician was dispatched to the booth.

“It could take five to fifteen minutes for the technician to walk to the booth, depending on its location and the crowds,” said Erik Cummings, lead engineer for E-Net. That didn't include the time needed to actually fix the problem.

For the 2001 show, however, Wylie and Cummings experimentally covered about 30 percent of the floor with roaming technicians carrying Pocket PC handhelds. Booth personnel in areas covered by those untethered technicians tracked them down when problems occurred. The technician would walk to the booth, fill out a ticket on the handheld, which was added to the Computer Associates Advanced Help Desk system. When the problem was fixed, the technician closed the ticket using the wireless device.

The improvement was remarkable, Wylie said. For the 2000 show, the average time-to-close was 17 minutes, he said. For the 2001 show, the average time-to-close was eleven minutes, fifteen seconds. That lower average includes support calls on the 70 percent of the show floor not covered with the wireless devices.

Example 2: The Outsourcer
Alpha Microsystems, which provides outsourced technical support for the mid-market and Fortune 500 companies, didn't bother doing a Return on Investment (ROI) study when it gave its field technicians wireless Palm VII handhelds. That's because it was obvious from the start that the firm would have an easy time justifying the expense.

“We had a payback in about four months,” Ray Collins, the company's business development manager. He said the company implemented the system with its 100 field technicians in March, 2000 and haven't looked back since.

A customer calls the call center or fills out a form by accessing Alpha Microsystem's extranet. That opens the service call and automatically alerts the nearest service technician via pager or wireless phone. The technician accesses the call record with a wireless Palm VII handheld, contacts the customer to get more details, then sets an appointment. All relevant information during these transactions is entered into the record via the Palm VII.

After arrival, the technician enters the fact that she's on-site and can use the handheld to find parts. After the call is completed, the technician enters relevant information like labor time and parts. The customer even signs off on the Palm VII screen using a signature collection application.

The bottom line for Alpha Microsystems: Significantly greater efficiency and less expense.

Use of wireless handhelds has proven invaluable for Key3 Media and Alpha Microsystems, but is it worthwhile for your shop? In part 2, we'll examine the circumstances under which it might be worthwhile and what you'll have to do to implement this new system.

Reprinted from CrossNodes.

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  • David Needle
    David Needle

    David Needle is an experienced technology reporter, based in Silicon Valley. He covers big data, mobile, customer experience, social media, and other topics. He was previously the news editor for Enterprise Apps Today, TabTimes editor, and West Coast bureau chief of

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