Coca-Cola employees in Europe go wireless

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

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

The Athens-based bottler had previously used small numbers of different handheld and laptop computers, but the agreement with Symbol marks a standardization 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.

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 Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company.

The salespeople are using Symbol's MC9060, a handheld device that was customized for Coca-Cola. The device includes 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.

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

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