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Put your Palm to work! (Practical Technology).

I'm not sure who it was that coined the phrase, "Work smarter, not harder." Perhaps it was one of those inspirational pictures in my doctor's office, or maybe it was Dilbert. Regardless, it's a motto that we follow in my technology consulting firm.

A while back, we made a significant improvement in the work-smarter category by automating our service order system to run on Palm handhelds. The result has been a tremendous increase in efficiency, profitability and customer service for our hardware and network support department.

Let me explain.

PAPER WORKED FINE

Until about three years ago, we used a paper-based system to track client service requests. My hunch is that it was much like any other manual service order system. And at the end of the day, the system worked fine. A typical service request would be handled as follows:

* A client called the Information Technology Group service desk with a service request.

* A service order form was drafted listing client, name, address, contact and description of the requested service.

* A service technician, or tech, was assigned to perform the work. Scheduling information was recorded on a paper-based calendar and also in an Excel service order log.

* The service technician visited the client site and performed the requested service.

* The tech entered a description of actual service performed on the hard copy service order form along with hours worked and any materials or supplies used to complete the work.

* The client signed a copy of the service order confirming that services were performed.

* A copy of the completed service order was returned to the main office where:

* Time and billing information was entered into the inter nal time and billing program for subsequent billing;

* The open service order was listed as completed on the Excel log;

* A copy of the service order was forwarded to the project manager for their information; and

* A copy of the service order was placed in the client's file.

The process was effective. But at each point along the way, the paper-based system created inefficiencies, costing my firm time and money. A creative solution--a new way of working smarter--was necessary to eliminate the inefficiency described in the above process.

IN SEARCH OF A SOLUTION

Our primary goals for the new solution were threefold. First, increase billable hours. Keep the technicians out of the office and in the field (i.e. billing clients). Second, improve turn-around time for the service order process. Eliminate the need for the techs to come into the office to receive assignments, turn in paperwork or enter their time. Third, reduce administrative requirements. Get rid of the need to enter the same data more than once (e.g. in an Excel spreadsheet, on a paper form and so on).

With these goals in mind, we automated the entire service order process. On the Palm side, we used Pendragon, www.pendragonsoftware.com, to both create forms as well as to synch the data on the forms back to the office and desktop PCs. Everything fed back into Microsoft Access, www.microsoft.com/office/access, and was routed from there. We wrote the Microsoft Access-based application at the same time we developed the Pendragon forms and synching system.

THE PALM SYSTEM

Here's how the new system works:

* A client calls the ITG service desk with a service request.

* An electronic service order form is drafted and e-mailed to a tech's PDA.

The form answers who, what, when, why and where. Client information fields are populated automatically from Goldmine, www.frontrange.com/goldmine.

* The service technician visits the client site and performs the requested service.

* The tech enters a description of actual service performed on the Palm service order form along with hours worked and any materials or supplies used to complete the work.

* The client electronically signs the service order on the tech's Palm confirming services were performed.

Are you still with me? Here's where it really gets good!

* The tech e-mails the signed service order form back to the main office where:

* The signed service order is faxed automatically to the client;

* A new service order is generated automatically for any remaining work;

* A call is placed automatically on the calendar of the quality control coordinator; and Time and billing information is entered automatically into our internal program for subsequent billing.

The system works on any Palm operating system-based handheld that has wireless Internet capabilities. Most likely you could create your own workflow system using handhelds and software as we did.

REAL BENEFITS OF IMPROVED WORKFLOW

The benefits to my firm and our clients have been numerous:

* Internally, everyone on our network has access to see the status of service orders.

* Work assignments are received remotely, eliminating the need for techs to travel into the office to receive marching orders.

* Technical documents are placed on the tech's handheld units, reducing their dependency on vendor technical support.

* Follow up to the service call is fast and efficient.

* Our clients are happier as they quickly receive a faxed confirmation of services performed.

* Our accounts receivable department is happy too, since they don't have to wait for the techs to manually enter service-related information into our time and billing program.

Do you service clients away from your office or want more freedom to work where and when you want to? Even if you don't service computer networks, existing technology affords great opportunities to work smarter regardless of your industry. As wireless technology becomes more affordable and available, you're only limited by your imagination.

David M. Cieslak, CPA, CITP, GSEC, is a principal in Information Technology Group Inc., a computer consulting firm with offices in Encino, Camarillo and Valencia. Cieslak, who specializes in Palm computing, systems development, project management and more, can be reached at DCieslak@itgusa.com.
COPYRIGHT 2002 California Society of Certified Public Accountants
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Author:Cieslak, David M.
Publication:California CPA
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2002
Words:962
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