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25 June 2007  
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Home - Smartphones - Article


Smartphones add to mobile productivity

Smart handheld devices have carved a niche amongst the mobile workforce in government departments and the corporate sector. These devices are doubling as computers for the mobile workforce in these organisations and are being used to access vital data. By Abhinav Singh

The Bangalore Traffic Police had been going through a harrowing experience of tracking 2,500 challans issued daily to traffic offenders. These challans had to be despatched to the addresses of traffic violators and tracked to boot. The problem was such that more than 75 percent of the violators did not take these challans seriously and did not pay fines. Additionally the traffic violation report had to be manually filled in by a police constable and it was difficult to check the past record of a violator, as capturing the vehicle registration number was difficult at times. This data then had to be tallied with the data available with the RTO and then the challan was generated and despatched by post. The Bangalore Traffic police have now embarked on an

Rs 2 crore project wherein 280 Blackberry handsets are going to be used to generate traffic challans. The Bangalore Traffic Police is the first law enforcement agency in the world to use Blackberry devices on such a scale— the Los Angeles Police Department in the US is using 100 Blackberry devices. This is one of the examples of how handheld devices and smartphones have transformed the way organisations work.

"Besides checking e-mail, the mobile workforce can receive attachments, Excel sheets and PowerPoint presentations on their smartphones"

- Myilravanan Nathar
Country Manager,
Sales - India, O2

Smart Handheld Devices or SHDs have started boosting the productivity of the mobile workforce who are finding them easy to carry and due to their small form factor as well as easy to use. Be it the sales force in an organisation or the health workers in a municipality or the traffic inspectors in a police force, handhelds and smartphones are being used everywhere. However the prices of certain handheld devices can be as high as Rs 45,000 depending upon the configuration. Myilravanan Nathar, country manager, Sales India, O2 says, “Besides checking e-mail, the corporate mobile workforce can receive attachments, Excel sheets and PowerPoint presentations on their smartphones. These smartphones can be connected to a projector and presentations can be made easily and shared immediately.”

Poised to grow

As per the IDC’s India Quarterly Smart Handheld Device (SHD) Tracker, 1Q 2007 the data-centric SHD (Smart Handheld Devices) market has grown from 24,978 unit shipments in 1Q 2006 to 74,713 unit shipments in 1Q 2007.

According to Piyush Pushkal, manager, Computing Products Research, IDC India, “The data-centric converged device segment is expected to see increased competition as more players enter the market with a variety of models. The share of various operating systems in this segment is expected to change. In CY 2006 Symbian led the market with a share of 41.1 percent. Amongst the vendors Nokia, Motorola and Blackberry (RIM) were the major players in CY 2006. Other players like i-mate, O2, and Dopod have also started to pick up.”

Fuelling productivity

"SHDs are broadly being used for data collection and offline and online transactions are the two categories of applications for which most enterprises buy these devices"

- Dr Swami Manohar
CEO, PicoPeta

Government departments along with the corporate world have been major users of SHDs. In today’s world the mobile workforce needs to document various operational parameters and this task needs to be undertaken on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis. Consolidating this information is time-consuming. Newer SHDs have improved speed, memory and graphics capabilities, as well as offer greater flexibility when it comes to customisation. A customised SHD can store and generate maintenance or compliance data collection worksheets as well as checklists that include logic structures to guide a user through the process. These SHDs enable field personnel to gather information in an electronic format while reducing opportunities for transcription errors and permitting more efficient processing and utilisation of data.

Dr. Swami Manohar, CEO PicoPeta, says, “SHDs are broadly being used for data collection and offline and online transactions are the two categories of applications for which most enterprises buy these devices. There has been a spurt of SHD usage even in the SMB segment in the past few years. For example, a jewellery boutique is using our Amida Simputers for inventory management. The Delhi Traffic Police is using dual smart card enabled Amida Simputers to book traffic violators. Over the past few years the inclusion of GPRS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth into handheld computers has enhanced their unique selling proposition.”

The Bangalore Traffic Police is expecting phenomenal success from its Blackberry project. The Blackberry devices are operated by inspectors of the traffic police and the handsets can provide real time information. Traffic inspectors enter the registration number of the vehicle and forward it to the automation centre where further processing of challans it undertaken on a real time basis. The history of the offender is checked for past violations and a charge sheet of the current violation is prepared. Notices are generated through Bluetooth-enabled wireless pocket printers, which can print challans quickly. This can help the inspectors issue spot fines. The Blackberry devices are connected to the main server using the Airtel GSM/GPRS or EDGE network, which allows them to communicate and carry out these tasks. A leased line has also been drawn from the RTO commissioner’s office to the central automation centre to update vehicle registration data. All this has greatly reduced the time taken to issue challans manually.

M.N Reddi, additional commissioner of Police, Traffic, Bangalore City, explains, “We expect the number of challans issued by the Bangalore Traffic Police to increase from the present 2,500 to about 5,000 challans in the next few months due to the steady increase in the number of vehicles in the city and this activity will be eased by the Blackberry handsets.” The complete set-up which includes the back-end infrastructure, which connects the system from the Blackberry handsets to the automation centre to the RTO has been pegged at Rs 2 crores. Reddi adds, “We evaluated many other vendors for the project but went ahead with Blackberry handsets because of its push technology, handiness, Bluetooth enabled printer interface and back-end driven functionalities.”

The Kolkata Traffic police are not far behind their counterparts in Bangalore and are getting ready to use a handheld device (Amida Simputer 4200) for slapping fines on traffic violators. The idea behind introducing this gadget was to speed up the process of penalising traffic rule violators. The Kolkata police will use these devices in handling seizure and compound cases. If someone violates traffic norms, sergeants will issue a Simputer-generated challan, which cannot be tampered with. About 180 Simputers with 32 MB flash and 64 MB Random Access Memory have been purchased by the department.

Making field health workers more productive

SHDs have done wonders for field health workers of the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation (AMC). The Health and the Family Welfare Department of AMC is working with some NGOs to execute the Reproductive Child Health (RCH) Project. Under the project one health worker from an NGO is appointed to cater to a population of 10,000 people within municipal limits. Each worker allotted to a particular area goes from door to door to collect details of pregnant woman or newborn babies for pre-natal and post natal care. On finding either the health worker persuades them to get registered at the Health Centre run by the AMC so that the health parameters that affect a pregnant women or newborn baby can be monitored. Furthermore a newborn baby is tracked for various immunisations (BCG, Polio etc) Vitamins, De-Worming and monitoring their weight for malnutrition. To ensure full coverage by health workers a data centre has been set up in Aurangabad. The data centre records, processes, generates and maintains the information collected by the RCH project on a central server and clients for information exchange. The data centre also transfers the data collected by various health workers from field to server running the Main Application Software.

About 100 Simputers have been given to the health workers for mobile data collection, which was earlier done manually. A schedule of various tasks and events, which are required for the mother and the child, are collected from the server and fed into the Simputer. The Simputer reminds the health worker of the daily tasks which need to be undertaken. Muhammad Farooq, director, Upward Systems and Software Pvt Ltd, and the implementers of the project says, “The Simputers have been customised to store information of different clients and the health parameters which are being monitored for that particular case. The handheld will have specific information such as blood pressure of the mother and how it has remained over the course of the pregnancy, the doses of medicines can be administered to the mother and the child etc. A health worker also feeds information pertaining to a child and mother which can be tracked monthly for malnutrition.” The AMC has placed orders for 70 more units for the project as they intend to increase the number of health workers in the project.

Aseem Kumar Gupta, commissioner, Aurangabad Municipal Corporation, says, “We wanted to ensure complete Ante Natal Care (ANC) coverage, birth registration and child immunisation. Tracking of ANC cases and children for complete immunisation has improved quality, reliability, and completeness of reporting and registration of vital events. The Simputers have proved to be simple, easy to use, low-cost, rugged, dust resistant and shareable devices that are independent of the mains power supply. The device also has a built-in smart card reader and writer which allows only authorised access to the device.” The AMC also found that as the device had a built-in modem it ensured remote connectivity and saved time by obviating the need to physically connect to a host device. The device also has multiple connectivity options such as built-in IrDA, 2 USB ports, Serial port, CF-II slot Integrated GPS (Global Positioning System) subsystem which facilitates GPS based surveys. Gupta adds, “The Simputer has improve the data collection process by the health workers as it has improved data accuracy and reduced paperwork considerably. The device has also ensured collection of more complete information and has facilitated collection of more useful information. Besides this the handheld device has eliminated redundant data entry thereby reducing administrative costs.”

Advantage Handheld devices
  • Handhelds can replace paper versions of data collection worksheets and the data is collected in an electronic format and transmitted in real time to the main server reducing transcription time. Since the data is collected in an electronic format the chances of errors are considerably reduced. These devices reduce human error by instructing the user with logic structure-based informational questions.
  • Due to the compact form factor it can easily carried by the field work force. Handheld devices also score over notebooks as they are lightweight and fit easily into pockets. On the other hand a notebook cannot fit inside one’s pocket. An SHD can provide quick, convenient, discreet Internet access. Additionally it provides an appealing visual format for reports as it can generate PowerPoint presentations. It is also possible to edit and rework reports in the field.
  • SHDs have longer battery life and some can run for weeks on a single charge when compared to a notebook which lasts only three or four hours.

Sales force accuracy

"The entire handheld application area is being driven by the manufacturing sector followed by the FMCG and the government sector"

- Rajiev Grover
Country Category Manager – Consumer Portables, Personal Systems Group, HP India

SHDs have proved to be a boon for the sales force of many organisations. Prior to having a handheld device the sales force had to depend on manual, paper-based systems. It used to take a month to compile data collected from different sources such as dealers, distributors etc. The introduction of SHD has led to a tremendous increase in the productivity of the Sales Force (SF). Software loaded in the SHD enable each member of the SF to maintain, store and feed information, and then transfer the same. There are several protocols that sales people have to meet in different set-ups when they contact a distributor or retailer during their visits. They have to get information about products based on re-launch, regular purchase and different schemes. A salesperson does not spend much time with each retailer or distributor and the challenge of memorising all the parameters has minimised and this has reduced the time required. Due to SHD organisations have experienced an increase in sales and their workforce has become smarter.

Mark Mathias, director, Encore Software Limited, says, “Sales Force personnel have to demonstrate the features of some new products and want to finish transactions on the spot. For instance an insurance agent can now demonstrate the features of the policy on the spot and issue the policy right then and there. The handheld device has thus become a boon for the sales people who earlier used to rely on paper systems and could not have a strong sales pitch.”

Rajiev Grover, country category manager – Consumer portables, Personal Systems Group, HP India, says, “The entire handheld application area is being driven by the manufacturing sector followed by the FMCG and the government sector due to the fact they have considerable amount of data that needed to be collected by the field executive. One of the key reasons for the corporate segment to go in for handheld is due to the fact that they want to access e-mail while on the move and to download e-mail attachments with ease.” HP has sold its handhelds to a fertilizer manufacturing company whose sales force collects orders on the field and print invoices. Grover, explains, “The field staff of the fertilizer company can collect orders on the filed and can upload the data on their main server in real time and this helps in reducing the processing time. A FMCG is using 1,500 units of HP iPAQ hw6965 and its sales force personnel are using these to take orders on the field, checking stocks at the warehouses and then docking them to the computer to feed in the information.

SHDs in the market
Encore Simputer Encore Software
  • Shirt Pocket size
  • Intel PXA-255 processor with 200 MHz
  • 64 MB Memory
  • 32-64 MB Flash
  • 3.8 TFT LCD
  • Supports external GPRS/CDMA phone.
Xda Atom Life O2
  • Weighs 145 grams
  • 262k-colour 2.7-inch TFT QVGA LCD screen
  • 2.0 mega pixel camera with macro focus.
  • Intel XScale PXA 270 processor that clocks in at 624MHz
Amida Simputer 2200 Pico Peta
  • Intel StrongArm 206MHz SA-1110 Processor.
  • Intel Strata Flash 32 MB.
  • 64MB memory.
  • 3.8 inch 240 X 320 STN colour (4K) LCD panel with backlight.
  • 206 grams
HP iPAQ hw6965 HP
  • Intel PXA270 Processor
  • 416 MHz
  • 64 MB SDRAM, up to 45 MB user available persistent storage memory
  • Integrated quad band GSM/GPRS/EDGE, WLAN 802.11b, Bluetooth 1.2, IrDA

Integrated with the supply chain

Handheld devices are also playing an important role in material distribution at warehouses, distribution points and in transportation. Nathar says, “SHDs are increasingly getting customised to cater to different requirements of enterprises and this will be a key driver for the popularity of these devices as integration with a customer’s ERP or SCM can go a long way in making the enterprise more productive and agile.”

Take Solutions has developed a wireless technology that integrates RFID with handhelds enabling the real-time entry of data and immediate re-filling of goods at relevant places. In distribution and warehousing, SCM software vendors have provided comprehensive packages configured to capture transaction data and provide decision support systems for middle managers in operations. While the value of this information is recognised by middle and senior management the complexity of such packages brings up implementation challenges at the operating level. The need to deskill operations, capture transactions in real time, and retain flexibility in business has led to an inherent need to use handheld devices for executing traditional supply chain applications. Take Solutions has developed its own software [Van Sales Automated Systems] that captures the distribution and warehouse function using handhelds from either Symbol (which is part of Motorola) or Intermec. Depending upon the customer there are a variety of handhelds which are available. These handheld terminals come with an integrated camera, thermal printer and GPRS capabilities.

C. Gowri Shankar, executive director, Take Solutions, says, “The handheld does away with the inefficiency of manual reports. The sales executive or store manager does not need to file complicated manual, paper-based reports. Additionally when the data is entered into the systems it is sent to the central server via GPRS or it can be synchronised at the end of the day directly into the central server depending upon the criticality of the data. The greatest advantage of using a handheld is that real-time information is available at the disposal of decision makers and they can know the exact location of products, shipments and the routing details.” Additionally this application can be integrated with RFID to speed up the process and to gain complete visibility of inventory. Handhelds are playing an ever-important role in warehouse management. Shankar says, “A warehouse manager can check out a request for any material available from any customer, looks into what is the material to be delivered, back orders in the warehouse and many additional things on the handheld. Warehouse management is an important part of a SCM application running across an enterprise.”

Navigation through handheld

SatNav Technologies is offering a navigation solution that displays digital maps on a SHD. Its system covers 40,000 locations. SatGuide a navigation helps in highway navigation and it is already helping people navigate in six Indian cities—Hyderabad, Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore—by assisting them in locating the destination points from where their journey commences with an on-screen roadmap and voice feedback. The device helps a traveller identify where he is going and through it he can select the best possible route. The SatGuide is based on a GPS and it has a routing engine with a digital roadmap that holds all the information that the system needs to show the way. No matter where a person is located on the earth, it is possible to get the accurate positioning through the navigation tool. Digital maps have to be entered into the handheld and points of interest are taken into account when customising the handheld with navigation technology. The technology is basically a convergence of navigation and GPS technology. If at any point of time, the traveller misses the route demarcated on the map or gets confused while following the voice instructions, the system will recalculate the route and tell the traveller of the shortest possible route from that point. This ensures the user lessens his commute time and minimises his chances of getting lost.

Thus SHD have cemented their position in the Indian market and are expected to further become popular in the Indian market in the coming future. With a wide set of applications available on them, SHDs are here to stay.


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