Sensis deploys 400 Tablet PCs

I spotted this article last night, while I was catching up on my email. Sensis is a leading Australian advertising and search company, owned by Telstra. They are the folks responsible for the White Pages & Yellow Pages, as well as Citysearch, Trading Post and WhereIs, and the recently launched "Search Engine for Australians" which has had some comments on blogs recently.

But enough of that, this is a terrific story about a large Tablet PC deployment - 400 Tablets PC isn't a small number that's for sure.  I wonder if this make Sensis the largest Tablet PC user in Australia? I also wonder if there are any custom apps that have been developed for this deployment. Anyone know?

Take one tablet before your visit
By Adam Turner
August 30, 2005


Thomas Arthur, vertical business general manager at Sensis. Photo: Erin Slattery

Telstra's online advertising and search engine arm, Sensis, put more than 400 Acer Tablet PCs in the hands of mobile salespeople this year. This allowed the road warriors who flog, among other things, space in the White and Yellow Pages to give customers on-screen proofs of their advertisements and then sign the contract right there and then on-screen.

A third of the project's multimillion-dollar budget was spent on making representatives comfortable with the technology so the tablets could be a sales tool and not expensive paper weights, says Sensis vertical business general manager, Thomas Arthur.

Training, scenario playing and interactive DVDs were used during the 15-month project to prepare for the move away from pen and paper. It included a large trial in Mildura. Staff could consult trainers for six weeks after they got their tablets.

"We even had a competency exam, so at the end of the training we had an expectation that they would be competent in using this tool and if they weren't they went back and did the training again," Mr Arthur says.

"It was very important that customers weren't being asked to amuse themselves for 10 minutes while sales staff figure out what they're doing."

Another important consideration was that the technology did not get in the way of the salesmanship.

"We needed a tool where the contract could be closed in front of the customer," Mr Arthur says.

"Making sure the Tablet PC is a sales aid rather than just an order-taking process is the single most important thing we have to ensure. It's very easy to take an order, but that's not selling."

Almost 90 per cent of customers sign electronically - one of Mr Arthur's key performance indicators. Sales staff are also successfully encouraging customers to buy bigger colour advertisements because they can quickly see how they will look.

Pre-deployment training, followed by detailed analysis of their use, is vital in any large scale tablet or notebook deployment, says Acer national corporate sales manager Frank Ugolini.

"One thing we push with our customers is not to just implement a new program and walk away, or else all you've done is just given staff a Tablet PC that's a great toy," Mr Ugolini says. "You've got to measure how they're using them, what value they're getting out of that and what the return on investment is. If you don't, it becomes a toy and it doesn't really provide value to the business."

After considering several lightweight alternatives, Sensis elected to go with Acer's 2.74 kg TravelMate C302 Tablet PC, with a 14.1-inch display, full keyboard and 1.6 GHz processor running WindowsXP Tablet PC Edition.

"Our view, and the advice we got from our legal people, was that in signing a contract it was very important that we could demonstrate that all relevant terms and conditions were available to the customer when they signed. It's very difficult to do that on screen smaller than 14 inches," Mr Arthur says.

"Even a 10-inch screen just couldn't show all the terms and conditions and we were looking at a situation where, if we were challenged, somebody could point out that."

Although the ability to write on the screen with a stylus is a useful annotation tool, a keyboard is still vital when out on the road.

"The annotation and sketching is great, but there's a lot of data entry and when you're doing that you need a reliable, full-scale keyboard, which you're comfortable using," he says.

"Even when they're modifying advertisements on screen, the sales reps increasingly use a pen to draw the line and the bubble, but the keyboard to enter the precise text. Why? Because then there's no mistake."

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