Pyxis Consulting is a leading provider of technology consulting solutions to the financial services industry. Pyxis designs and builds complex business systems, including a recent project for a large financial services client headquartered in New England. Their client enjoyed revenues of over $7 billion in 2000, with a diversified portfolio of products and services including variable, and term life, as well as long-term-care insurance, annuities, mutual funds, and investment management.
The company's family of mutual funds includes more than 25 stock, bond, sector, international and money market funds. Total assets under management exceed $30 billion, with over one million individual and corporate customers. Pyxis has worked with this client for over three years designing and building a variety of systems that support their mutual fund business.
Like many mutual fund companies, they market and sell their products through an in-house team of wholesalers. Wholesalers are responsible for driving revenue through 3rd party sales channels -- banks, financial advisors, and brokerage houses. They spend most of their time in the field, rarely returning to the company headquarters. In order to maximize their impact on relationships with their sales reps, they need access to large volumes of sales and contact data.
Pyxis Consulting had already worked with this client to develop their enterprise sales and marketing system. The wholesalers made little use of their laptop-based sales tools, due to the laptop's bulky nature and the need for a live connection. Pyxis saw an exciting opportunity to deploy targeted features and data from this system to the field sales force.
"It became clear that handheld devices could provide a valuable business benefit to the sales team, and that we could build and integrate such tools by leveraging the existing sales system," explains Todd Christy, Managing Director for Pyxis. "We were quite familiar with our client's sales and marketing operations, and their business priorities. We worked closely with key business sponsors to scope a very targeted project to deploy the existing sales and marketing system to Palm handheld computers."
The Handheld Solution
The vision for the project was simple - grant wholesalers pervasive access to key customer information anywhere, anytime. The ability to deliver the solution quickly was critical -- Pyxis had only four months to make it all happen. The project team began by analyzing the business and data requirements and expected usage patterns. They also worked with the corporate architecture team to select standard tools, products, and mobile devices for this client's first enterprise mobile computing application.
Large volumes of sales and contact data are stored in the enterprise sales system's 8 GB Sybase database. This data is filtered down to 2 MB of wholesaler specific data by applying business rules based on territory, channel, sales performance, contact activity, and others. The Palm Vx was selected as the standard client device, and a simplified version of the client/server sales and marketing system was developed. Many members of the sales force were already using Palm OS devices, so their familiarity helped drive acceptance of the new sales tool.
Pyxis put considerable effort into determining the best architecture to support expected usage patterns. After evaluating several approaches, an architecture based on data synchronization was selected. This approach utilizes a device-resident database, and allows the wholesaler to use the application without being connected to a network. Data synchronization is done once daily using the wholesaler's existing laptop and dial-in capability, connecting via TCP/IP to the enterprise database. After in-depth review of mobile middleware technologies, Synchrologic's iMobile Suite was selected.
"We considered alternative approaches including a forms caching product based on web technologies. The forms approach presumes a network-connected device, and cobbling data synchronization on top of it created some real data integrity issues," notes Steve Allocco, Project Manager for Pyxis. "Another option was technology from a database vendor, which performed well, but lacked the administration tools which were critical for our client. Synchrologic offered a reliable synchronization engine that scales well and handles our complex data needs, all controlled by a rich administrative console."
"Synchrologic further distinguished themselves during the evaluation with their responsiveness and detailed knowledge of complex data synchronization requirements," adds Christy. "Their interest in our success didn't disappear after the sale either. The Synchrologic team worked closely with us to ensure that we met our aggressive timelines and delivered the solution our client demanded."
True to their reputation for rapid delivery, Pyxis built the Palm-based sales system in less than sixteen weeks. The application was developed and tested, and the synchronization server integrated into the existing environment. The Palm units were loaded, tested, and deployed to sales staff throughout the United States.
Response from the sales force has been very enthusiastic. The application is straightforward and easy to use. The Palm device form factor and instant-on capabilities make it simple to keep informed on the go. Further, daily synchronization time is less than five minutes, allowing the wholesaler to quickly get the latest data and sales reports with minimal impact on their day.
The wholesalers' primary responsibility is to travel throughout their territory, building strong relationships and educating brokers about the benefits of their products. When a wholesaler has an appointment cancelled at the last minute, they use their Palm to look for other contacts in the immediate area, and make a replacement appointment.
Wholesalers are now able to target their reps through sorted views by location, sales performance, firm, and office. Reports in the Palm highlight those reps that have made big sales in recent days, making follow-up "thank you" calls a simple, yet valuable process. Other reports show the broker's product sales, presenting potential cross-selling opportunities.
"The mobile sales application allows the sales team to conduct several extra sales meetings per week, and reduces their calls to the inside sales team for low-value administrative tasks," comments Christy. "In the financial industry, handheld applications have the potential to drive significant increases in sales productivity. We expected the system to pay for itself in 2 years, and we're ahead of that schedule."
Pyxis and their client saw the potential for big returns on a business-driven investment in handheld computing. They moved aggressively, picked their partners well, and realized operational improvements in less than four months. The wholesalers are now able to provide more customer-centric service and be more responsive, increasing productivity.
"We have clearly demonstrated the business value and bottom line impact of deploying handheld applications. But just as importantly, we've put in place a powerful mobile infrastructure that will allow our client to easily deploy additional functionality and applications," states Allocco.
In the financial services industry where selecting investment opportunities wisely is the very definition of success, Pyxis and their client have demonstrated their prowess with a targeted high-return investment in mobile technology.