Though a highly traditional industry, fashion is fast moving into the wireless world.

Thanks to a Handheld PCs wireless mobile solution based on O2's Xda and the Intellisync Mobile Suite, Jacques Vert's travelling area managers now have continuous access to emails and the ability to send field information back to head office in an instant. This can mean the difference between securing a valuable retail location - or losing it to the competition.

Since the acquisition of William Baird in 2002, Jacques Vert is now established as one of the UK's leading retailers of womenswear for the stylish mature lady. The company's brands include Windsmoor, Planet and Prcis Petite and, together with the Jacques Vert brand, are available in more than 900 retail outlets, including department stores and standalone shops. While mostly available in the UK, around 30 outlets are also established in Canada.

"Our area managers have had their own laptops for some time, which they use to connect to the head office systems when they are at home," says Chris Chalkley, IT Director at Jacques Vert, adding, "However, the nature of their job means they are on the road most of the time checking on stores and also looking for potential new outlets and so could only get connected at the end of the day. We decided these managers would also benefit from the time that could be saved by having a satellite navigation system as they were often travelling to new sites."

He continues, "We looked at some of the available options and felt that systems like Blackberry were very limited in terms of what they offered. We were looking for something that had a familiar Windows look and feel that our area managers would be comfortable with and also enabled additional applications, such as the satellite navigation. At that time, we were approached by Handheld PCs who were able to show us the range of possible solutions available to us. In particular, we were very interested in the O2 Xda device, which had a Windows user front end and enabled emails to be viewed in a familiar Microsoft Outlook interface. Handheld PCs also recommended the Intellisync Mobile Suite, which ensure emails can be sent and received reliably at all times. This device also allowed us to install the TomTom satellite navigator."

Jacques Vert ran an initial trial with three devices given to key personnel, including the Retail Operations Director. "The feedback was very positive," says Chris. He adds, "The devices mean that people are in constant contact and has improved personal productivity immensely." Following the initial trial, the solution has been rolled out to cover all the area managers and senior directors in the UK as well as some brand directors who often travel to the Far East."

Chris continues, "The mobile solution has opened up many areas of improvement. For example, staff can use the in-built camera in the Xda to take a photograph of a potential site or a store layout and send this information back to head office instantly, allowing decisions to be made fast. The satellite navigation has also made a big difference, allowing managers to get to new sites quickly without ever getting lost."

More recently, Jacques Vert has rolled out a similar solution for its Canadian stores, also supplied by Handheld PCs. "We implemented a very similar solution in Canada and they are achieving similarly high levels of productivity and efficiency improvements. Handheld PCs has proven an excellent partner to work with as they are always committed to ensuring we have the best possible solution for our requirements and that it works in the way we want it to," says Chris.

Having established seamless communications throughout its mobile workforce, Jacques Vert is now looking to enhance its business by further exploiting wireless technology. "Business Intelligence information on daily sales and supply chain operations can be very useful for the area managers, particularly for information relating to sites they are visiting. We are working on a system that will allow us to prepare this information in a format that can be sent to the Xda's, enabling this key information to be available when and where it is really needed," he says.

Chris Chalkley concludes, "Mobile technology has revolutionised our business, and enabled our remote workforce to operate much more effectively and responsively. With the help of Handheld PCs, we have sorted through the mass of options available and been able to implement a solution based on advanced and reliable technology that delivers what it is meant to and can grow with our growing .requirements."

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