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Case Study: How Coke Uses BlackBerrys

With nearly 4,000 BlackBerrys across 75 countries and numerous carriers, Coca-Cola boasts one of the largest deployments of RIM's signature handhelds. At the Wireless Enterprise Symposium in Orlando, Florida, one of Coke's top techies revealed the challenges of managing mobility on a global scale.

According to Chris Morning, manager, executive technology at Coca-Cola, the BlackBerry was first introduced into the company in 1999. "An executive brought it in and pretty much forced it on us. BlackBerry entered most companies that way," he said.

Now, the soft drink giant is rolling out the devices to between 100 and 125 new users every month and has 90 mail servers across the company.

Coca-Cola has already moved its deployment beyond wireless email with a number of custom and off-the-shelf apps, for both techies and sales execs, that can be accessed through the BlackBerry handhelds.

Morning said: "We started to approach BlackBerry applications with small, quick hits." For example, BlackBerry security applications for "execs [who] lose them like candy" and mobile server administration were among the first to get pushed out to users.

Morning also revealed that CRM is now mobilised at Coca-Cola but, thanks to the company's legacy systems, in-house techies were tasked with creating an application for the handheld.

He said: "We looked at the BlackBerry-friendly CRM applications out there but we have a whole bunch of legacy... We decided it would be better to use Domino [from IBM's Lotus business] as the middleman."

Coca-Cola also now has a Blackberry-friendly version of the poker game Texas Hold 'Em available for staff. Morning joked: "For some of the folks on my team, that's a core business app now."

The dependence of Coca-Cola execs on their BlackBerrys means that, when it comes to disaster recovery, the devices are now as important as the company's SAP-based finance system. "It can be down for many hours, BlackBerry can't," Morning noted.

But the deployment has presented its own series of challenges for Coke's techies.

Network operators are one challenge. Morning revealed the company has encountered mobile operators which can be reluctant to replace problematic devices that are 11 months into a 12-month warranty.

Morning also said some operators' inability to cope with the sheer volume of traffic generated by BlackBerrys and similar devices can prove troublesome. "The last mile is always the problem," he said. "We put huge effort into disaster recovery, redundancy... then it's 'Does the Cingular tower have enough capacity?'." Coca-Cola is now working on tools to send problem reports back to the carrier.

Internal problems can also bug global deployments, particularly on the helpdesk side, Morning said. "There might be a couple of dozen users in Mexico, so deskside support may not be as familiar with the BlackBerry as in the US."

The Coke man may have already found the answer. Morning said he has spotted a tool that will allow deskside support remotely to a user's BlackBerry screen across the enterprise by simply connecting the device to a PC with a USB cable. Coca-Cola's techies will be able to circumvent the human connection and read those pesky error messages for themselves.


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