In-Depth

Pepsi Bottling Group has a thirst for rich data

Microsoft has continued its push into the mobile and wireless space with the official launch of its .NET Mobile Framework. An unofficial beta version has made its way to food and beverage giant Pepsico Inc. via sales- and field-force application provider ShelfLink Inc. Pepsico’s Pepsi Bottling Group unit is utilizing the technology in a pilot program for its sales operation in Dallas.

This final version of the new application framework will ship with the upcoming Visual Studio .NET 2003 IDE.

The .NET Compact Framework is designed to enable Visual Studio developers to begin building applications for mobile devices with little or no retraining. Microsoft expects the estimated 7 million VS developers to deploy the new framework in next-generation wireless enterprise apps that take advantage of Web services and rich offline data access.

The .NET Mobile Framework has actually been available to a small group of beta users since October last year. One of the early adopters was Cambridge, Mass.-based ShelfLink. The sales- and field-force software maker built a .NET Compact Framework-based mobile solution with Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 2003. According to Sean Going, senior software engineer at ShelfLink, the SmartSelling solution was developed in six months by 10 developers using a combination of Visual Studio .NET 2003 and the .NET Compact Framework.

The Pepsi Bottling Group (Pepsi) recently deployed a customized version of SmartSelling, called Power Presell, to handheld-equipped sales representatives in a pilot program in Dallas.

“[The Compact Framework] allowed us to split up the tasks and break everything down into different components that different developers could work on and [that could then] be iterated through with the Pepsi team on a component-by-component basis,” explained ShelfLink’s Going. “We weren’t writing huge chunks of the application every week. We were looking at one specific area -- one component that one developer was working on and it would not affect anyone else.”

Pepsi employs about 6,000 mobile salespeople who must manage an increasingly unwieldy pile of information in the field from increasingly disparate sources, explained Paul Hamilton, vice president of the supply-chain group at Pepsi. Historically, the company’s sales force relied on selling materials that consisted of brochures, binders and PowerPoint presentations. Although they carried handheld devices, they were simply equipped with standard accounting packages for recording prices and sales.

“It’s all about having the information you need at the moment you need it,” explained Hamilton. “These people have to handle hundreds and hundreds of SKUs. [SKU stands for stock keeping unit -- a unique item, such as a two-liter bottle of Diet Pepsi.] Our sales reps walk into a 7-11 and they’re supposed to know that this is Final Four week and that there should be a point-of-purchase display at the front of the store, a 100-case display by the register and a cold barrel somewhere else. It’s a huge amount of information; the best way to have them absorb it is to break it into easily digestible chunks and parcel it out at the moment they need it.”

The ShelfLink solution utilizes Web services to integrate data and push it to an app running locally on custom-built Symbol Technologies Pocket PCs. The new system enables Pepsi’s sales force to access route management information, real-time demand forecasting, inventory management, promotional info and authorized products from the handheld device.

“The application is designed to present information in the context of the environment in which the users are operating,” explained Ray Brown, director of Pepsi’s supply-chain technologies. “As they go to a specific customer, they get detailed info about and targeted to that customer.”

Interestingly, Pepsi decided to present this information in the form of rich media. “We had a tutorial written in a rich, animated Flash tutorial,” Brown explained. “We found that that kind of presentation helps to drive retention in the minds of our sales reps. It struck us that a valuable way to drive retention around our marketing programs, and to the features of our products and the benefits they offer, was to use rich media. Now they will have the key concepts at the top of their minds or the tips of their tongues, rather than trying to read a bunch of text to get that same information.”

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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