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PepsiCo took a chance and gave iPhones to 4,500 hourly employees -- and it's paying off
Last year, PepsiCo handed out more than 4,500 iPhones to its army of hourly employees who drive around to stores making sure products are placed correctly.
Companies often give smartphones and tablets to managers and mobile salespeople. But the merchandisers who work for PepsiCo are not your typical information workers.
"These merchandisers are young, many work out of their home, and they're hourly employees," explained Mark Uppaluri, the Director of PepsiCo's go to market systems, who led the initiative. Their job is to follow closely behind Pepsi's delivery drivers, and arrange the products on shelves in a very specific order. They have to be fast -- if the product sits too long on a stockroom floor, retailers will call to complain.
But the old process was inefficient. Merchandisers would come in for a weekly meeting and get a stack of paperwork with their assigned route and instructions for arranging the products on shelves, and they had to place frequent calls to their managers to check in.
So Pepsi created an iPhone app that automated the process.
"Everything they needed to know was loaded onto the iPhone in real time," says Uppaluri. "They didn’t have to make a phone call to say 'I'm starting my shift.' The timecard is on the iPhone itself. They didn’t have to tell their manager what store they were in -- ahead of this project, we put bar codes in every one of our 400,000 retail outlets. So when a merchandiser shows up at the store, he scans the barcode using the camera on the iPhone."
At the same time, Pepsi rolled out 1,500 iPads for managers, with a custom app that lets them keep track of where their merchandisers are and what they're working on. A second custom iPad app lets managers access SharePoint to view things like pricing and contracts.
Building the apps only took full two full-time developers four months from concept to rollout, and Pepsi did the entire thing in house, despite having no iOS experience at the time.
"We're mostly a Windows shop, with some Java of late," said Uppaluri. "I have a background in computer science, so I downloaded the development kit and I was able to figure it out pretty quickly once I got Objective C. Apple did a fantastic job of documenting it, all the developer tools were seamless."
Once he decided the project was ready to go, it was critical to pick the right developers. They had to be able to build the apps, while also getting cooperation from PepsiCo's 400-person IT department, who needed to revamp some back end systems to present data to the apps.
"The one group we had to have on board was IT. When I'm done with this project, they're the ones who have to live with it. We had to get them to drink the Koolaid."
Uppaluri went with a two-person team: a senior developer and a junior developer who was a couple years out of school.
"We kind of handpicked these people," he said. "They had institutional knowledge, an engineering background, plus the outside-the-box thinking of a young college graduate."