California company adds wireless connectivity to its back office.

By Charles Wardell

This magazine gets lots of questions about wireless. A common one is which application service provider (ASP) to use. But sometimes the best advice is "none of them." That's what Chris Gatley, senior vice president of Home Finishes ( in Livermore, Calif., concluded after surveying building industry ASPs and finding them wanting. Instead, he decided that the company would wireless enable itself--in effect becoming its own ASP.

The 10-year-old company, which does punchlist and warranty work for home builders, had 600 field workers generating 4,000 pieces of paper per week, all of which had to be manually entered into a Timberline accounting system. "We knew that electronically collecting the information and batching it into our back office would greatly improve efficiency," Gatley recalls.

So Home Finishes approached Xora (, a Mountain View, Calif., company that wireless enables enterprise software applications. Two Xora developers created a piece of software that sits beneath Home Finishes' scheduling and accounting applications. They also built a time-entry application. (Home Finishes didn't have one.) Development took 12 working days, and field workers were using it in three weeks. "One of my guys can go to a jobsite with a Nextel phone, go to lot six, and tap a few keys to see a work order," says Gatley. When finished, they can send time and expense data right to the back office.

Gatley says that wireless has transformed his business. "We were a reactive business. A builder would call, we would send someone out, and a month later the builder would get a bill," he recalls. Because Home Finishes can now give builder customers real-time accounting information, it has become a more valued part of the team. And wireless has cut two weeks out of its receivables process. In fact, return on investment took only three months.

According to Ananth Rani, Xora's vice president of professional services, there's nothing unique about wireless enabling a building industry firm. (The company has also worked with an HVAC contractor.) "We find out what the company wants to do and what devices they want to use," he says. (Home Finishes wanted to use Nextel phones.) "Then we build a prototype. Then we go through testing and deployment."

Success rests on three legs. "First we need executive buy-in," says Rani. "Second is we need a champion in the organization that will become our advocate." The champion needs to be someone in management who is respected throughout the company. "Third, we need to train key people in the organization."

Rani believes that any company with at least $25 million in revenue could realize a return on its investment.