Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company is eliminating antiquated paper-based processes in favor of an automated wireless system.

The Athens-based company, Coca-Cola's largest bottler outside of the US, announced on Monday that it has equipped 3,000 sales people with custom wireless handheld devices from Symbol Technologies.

The bottler had previously used small numbers of different handheld and laptop computers, but the agreement with Symbol marks a standardisation of equipment, opening the door for any of the 26 regional Coca-Cola companies under the Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company umbrella to adopt the common device and platform.

The problems of paper
Previously, salespeople had to stop by the office every morning to pick up a list of customers to visit, and again every evening to drop off activity reports. With the Symbol device, they are now able to wirelessly receive the list of customers to visit, with details such as the time each customer is available and the tasks to be handled at the customer site.

The salespeople can also wirelessly transmit activity reports back to the office. "It gives us two more hours in the day when they are available to spend more quality time with customers," said Vagelis Ballas, mobile IT solutions manager for the company.

A customised handheld
The salespeople are using Symbol's MC9060, a handheld device that was customised for Coca-Cola. The device now has a red housing that sports the company logo, and transmits data to and from the enterprise using GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) technology. It also runs Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003 software.

Salespeople can also wirelessly transmit product orders and customer stocking data back to the company.

The cost of deployment
Currently, the salespeople with the devices are spread across ten of Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company's European and African countries. The decision to introduce the product is made on a country-by-country basis, Ballas said. "Some countries don't have the financial resources to undergo such a product launch," he said. "The benefits are there, but you need to have the cash up front."

Deploying about 100 of the devices costs about €200,000 according to Ballas. "Some countries don't have that or can't justify it," he said.

Sales gets most benefit, but others will follow
The sales department was the biggest priority for getting the device because it can benefit the most . But the company is currently conducting a small pilot of similar wireless devices with drivers in Italy, Ballas said. Delivery drivers there are using a handheld device, also made by Symbol, that can be connected via Bluetooth to a mobile printer, allowing the drivers to print invoices. They can also capture electronic signatures with the handheld, wirelessly receive delivery schedules and keep track of stock on the truck. By the end of this year, 150 drivers in Italy should be using the system, Ballas said.

The company also plans to roll out the devices for technicians, who will be able to wirelessly receive their daily job schedules, keep a record of spare parts and input results from each call. The devices for the technicians are expected to be delivered to Coca-Cola in the first quarter next year and around 300 workers in Switzerland, Italy and Ireland will use them initially.

All of the devices run software developed by Coca-Cola and communicate with servers also using the company's own software. However, the company is considering migrating to software from SAP AG, which already provides applications for logistics and production operations, according to Ballas. If that transition happens, the devices would still run the Coca-Cola software, which would need to be integrated with the backend software, he said.