Handhelds Help Reuters Track Competition

FRAMINGHAM (04/10/2000) - Reuters Ltd. sales executives in Spain are supposed to gather information about competitors in the field, but the way they collected the information - on handheld computers that uploaded information through PCs to a client database - was creating major administrative headaches for the company's information technology department.

The Reuters Madrid office is trying to simplify this problem by synchronizing the Palm Inc. Palm V handhelds through a server, rather than through PCs.

Salespeople plug the units into synchronization cradles and upload the data to a server running XTNDConnect synchronization software from Boise, Idaho-based Extended Systems Inc. The server then moves it into an Oracle Corp. database.

The sales updates are considered critical to staying competitive in the fast-paced global financial products marketplace, Reuters officials said. The pilot project will soon be expanded throughout parts of Europe, eventually reaching more than 200 users.

"It is important for us to be able to gather information about the competition in the field and mark down quickly what the competition is doing," said Miren Polo de Lara, IT manager for the Palm/Contacts Manager project, based in Madrid. "We gave the sales executives a tool they could use easily and without much extra work."

The database includes information on competitors as well as customers and products. Reuters chose XTNDConnect partly because it links several databases to several platforms: the Palm operating system, Windows CE and Epoc by Symbian Ltd.

The password-controlled database also controls access to data, Polo de Lara said.

Cost vs. Benefits

During meetings with brokers, financial advisers or others, salespeople use clickable forms and pen entry on the Palm Vs to update contact information.

They can even keep track of which competitors' products Reuters customers are using.

Moving synchronization from the PC to a server is the key to keeping control of valuable data, as well as centralizing administration of the notoriously hard-to-monitor devices, said Peter Lowber, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut.

"I think it is easy to use," said Manuel Pineda, one of the Madrid-based sales executives using the system. "With one tick only, you can collect information on what your users are more interested in, what competition they have or what things you have to remember after a meeting."

Three executives in Madrid took part in the initial pilot test, and another nine will start using the system this month. Sales teams in France and Belgium will join in later. Software and hardware costs for the first 12 have totaled $15,000, which Reuters considers "negligible, compared to the business benefits," Polo de Lara said.

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