With more and more wine on offer online, the domestic wine market looking flat and competitors making tentative moves to support sales reps with wireless technology, it was time for Villa Maria Estate to take first mover advantage. The original plan was for the winery to roll out a complete personal digital assistant (PDA) sales and information system to its 30-strong nationwide sales team in September last year. But delays in the software development part of the project meant the PDAs were sent out with just email and data synchronisation software.
Only in the last month or so has the rest of the software gone live, to about six of the staff so far. But national sales manager Leanne Carroll isn’t perturbed.
“The programmers weren’t ready. That was quite a big concern for us, because it wasted money, but not in a major way. The advantage is that, otherwise, it would have been too much for people. This way, by the time they got the software they were very familiar with the devices.”
In the meantime, Carroll says, sales reps have fallen in love with the technology and found uses for the PDAs such as MSN Chat – which allows them to communicate in a very cost efficient way – and doing presentations on them.
“They’ve gone beyond what the software development was for and are using the tools for all sorts of other things.”
The PowerPoint-style software (Present-to-go) cost Villa Maria around $400 for the entire firm, and it is also investigating a PDA version of a popular global wine guide.
As well as these uses and the custom ordering and information system, sales reps are able to synchronise to an up-to-date database of wine tasting notes, abridged from a database on Villa Maria’s website.
Carroll says the impetus for the project was the changing nature and maturing of the wine industry, along with Villa Maria’s realisation there was a problem arising from its sales approach.
“We knew we had a problem. Things had just evolved. Up until last year we sold out of our wine every year, so it was never an issue. You don’t invest money when you don’t need to. There is much more wine online now – it is far more competitive. We knew we had to get more intelligent with the way we went to market and without putting on more sales people.”
She says Villa knew its competitors were investigating mobile technology. “The domestic market is flat – there hasn’t been growth. We have to protect and grow our share.”
With a flat market, the need for improved efficiency was huge – but there had to be clear benefit to the customer. “There’s no value in doing it if it makes us more efficient but doesn’t translate into increased sales.”
Because the reps have wireless information, Carroll says, customers will get a faster turnaround on orders and the required information can be provided on the spot. And there was a further justification for the project: Time savings. “There was a huge amount of duplication in our processes, because our systems were so manual and then there was a justification in terms of intangibles and what information could be accessed out in the field and how we could communicate.”
Carroll says she expects a 20 per cent increase in productivity as a result of the new system and a payback on its $160,000 investment within 10 months.
“Instead of making eight calls a day we’re expecting to be able to increase that to nine or 10 calls a day, simply because they can do all their administration on the road instead of having to drive home.”
There were also immediate savings to be made in phone call costs relating to stock inquiries. “We measured the time it takes for the reps to ring through an order and for its customer services division to punch and process that order. We’re saving time and even three quarters of a head in customer services. There are time, processing costs and credit issuing savings.”
Also, through using the system, Villa Maria can see what its reps are doing. This is expected to have an effect on performance. “We know how much time we will potentially be spending in front of a customer.”
Another major benefit is in tracking what competitors are doing and thereby measuring performance against them. “There are over 400 wineries, so it is difficult at the moment to see where we sit.
It will be a far greater understanding of where we’re spending our money, the level of discount, and product information by chains and stores and restaurants. Being able to say this brand is strong in this channel – that is hard. How we use that information will be critical.”
Carroll says from her sales team’s feedback so far, the system is removing previously experienced downtime and leading to much greater efficiency.
In preparing for Villa Maria’s wireless mobile project, a full scope was carried out.
National sales manager Leanne Carroll says a consulting firm was initially brought in to weigh-up the need. “Then we looked at a whole raft of hardware options. And that wasn’t just PDAs. We looked at suppliers, pricing, software suppliers - the research probably took more time than anything.”
In hindsight, she says, it would have been better to have consultants evaluate the software and hardware options and Villa Maria could have done the needs analysis itself.
On the other hand, having done the research on options herself, she acknowledges it has paid off in a greater awareness of what information technology can do for a wine business.
“Now, looking around the operation, the advantage for me as a sales manager is I can see so much more opportunity in other parts of the business.”
In the end, Rocom supplied the wireless hardware; wireless productive services came from Vodafone and Digital Mobile; and software development from e-Formation and COEUS, using Microsoft .NET. The hardware is Compaq Ipaq 3870 PDAs connected through Bluetooth using Ericsson T39 GPRS phones.
These are contained in specially made carry bags produced by local leather holster manufacturer Nutshell Corporation. And the firm is also investigating the use of Bluetooth printers through trials.
Carroll says an area where Rocom shone was in sorting out their back end systems, which were a mishmash of hardware and operating systems.
“We had to standardise and upgrade our server. The back end was as important as the hand-held device. We’re not using them in isolation.”
Villa Maria’s Easy Winery system is also used elsewhere, opening up opportunities to on-sell the technology.
Carroll says the wine industry has not been a great user of IT generally, although it is no stranger to technology in other aspects of the business. She says interest from other wineries is already rolling in, both here and in Australia.
Some compromises have been made to the winery’s original plans, she says, regarding what could easily be integrated with Villa Maria’s back end winery systems, and there were the timing issues with software development but, on the whole, the move to wireless has been positive.
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