Out of sight, front of mind

Pfizer: the mobility veteran

Managing a mobile workforce is nothing new for Bill Catopodis, senior manager of business technology for Pfizer Australia, the local arm of the world's biggest pharmaceutical company.

Like many companies, Pfizer Australia has allowed its employees to use laptops, supplied mostly through an arrangement with IBM, for several years, and management has worked hard to streamline processes so that field workers can operate in harmony with the company's sales force automation systems. So last year when Pfizer Australia's employees asked for more flexibility, Catopodis didn't hesitate to expand on the broadband/VPN connectivity currently available to Pfizer Australia's workers and, with the help of the technology team, spent four months investigating the telco vendors' wireless broadband offerings before eventually opting to go with Telstra.

"Most recently, one of the big things that our organization has asked us to help them solve is the constant challenge of trying to deal with work/life balance," Catopodis says. "We needed to provide representatives with opportunities to deal with administrative-type tasks during the day - without them having to work a full day and then go home and deal with e-mail after hours."

Pfizer Australia's technology groups support about 2100 internal clients, of which about 1800 have personal computers (the remaining 300 or so work in Pfizer's local manufacturing operations), and of those 1800, about 500 are field representatives, salespeople who are spread across three divisions.

"Those 500 people definitely work all over the place, from home and in the field," Catopodis says. "The two biggest field forces, pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare, have laptops with wireless broadband. And there is middle and upper management, with 150 to 200 people, who obviously spend long hours working from home as well ."

Pfizer works hard to ensure that its employees and the community at large view the company as a premiere employer. In practice that translates to expressly-stated policies about staff's work/life balance and the flexibility of office hours.

"In modern management you manage people through objectives and through deliverables, you don't manage them by how many hours they sit in front of you," Catopodis says.

"At Pfizer Australia we take a strong approach to vision definition, which leads to mission, which leads to objectives, which leads to accountability."

It's all about flexibility and giving workers choices, says Catopodis. "You can't force people to work in their lunch hour or at home," he says. "But from an ROI perspective, we've quizzed them a lot internally, and conservatively speaking we're saving our field representatives one hour per day per person. That's 400 people in total. By using this technology, we're saving at least 400 hours a day across two field forces."

Despite these gains, Catopodis says security remains a constant battle. "Our biggest challenge is balancing access to new technology while at the same time managing security and compliance," he says. "You can't just roll out anything you feel like."

In addition to customary firewalls, Catopodis says there are other, more human-specific concerns that must be attended to. For instance, he never allows a computer to leave the office unless he's sure that a sales rep's machine will go into screensaver mode quickly and that it won't boot up unless there are passwords on hard disks.

"You've also got employee education and issues of occupation, health and safety," Catopodis says. "It's important that employees realize that just because they've got a wireless connection it's not okay to use the laptop on the seat next to you in the car while driving."

Catopodis measures how long people connect to the system and uses that and other metrics to help manage costs and understand how staff use the system.

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