WHEN CRAIG STONAHA CAME ON BOARD A few years ago at Greth Homes in Reading, Pa., to run the builder's marketing operation, he couldn't help but notice that the company's computer systems and processes were antiquated.

Greth's supers were still spending too much time signing off on paper invoices, schedules were handwritten on paper, and the company lost hours of productivity by having salespeople and supers drive back from remote jobsites to the main office in Reading to hunt down information. Back at the office, the administrative staff was overwhelmed by all the paper.

Stonaha took it upon himself to learn more about information technology. Ultimately, he proposed that the 160-home-a-year builder deploy a wireless network. Stonaha reasoned that letting salespeople and field supers access back-office company data wirelessly in the field would help reduce the inefficient paperwork and drive time.

The plan was approved by the vice president of sales and marketing, and the tech rollout started in October 2003. For about $4,500, Stonaha built a wireless local and wide-area network (LAN/WAN) for daily business traffic and a virtual private network (VPN) for remote access to the corporate network.

Stonaha installed five Cisco Aironet wireless access points to cover Greth's 24,000-square-foot main office and rolled out Linksys access points at six of Greth's eight model homes. He says all eight homes will have wireless access points by year's end. The access points at the homes have a coverage area of about 300 feet. Stonaha installed the setup on his own, except for a final review by a Cisco engineer.

Now, salespeople can search for company information remotely over the Web from model homes, or if they need to take a customer back to the main office, they can simply place their wireless laptop at an empty desk, turn on the machine, and it's up and running. All they need is a laptop with a wireless card. The salespeople are typically employees of local Realtors, not Greth, so the ability to come and go with laptops is a big plus.

In addition, the wireless network makes Greth's supers more productive. Many builders have wanted their supers to use handhelds in the field to access company data for several years, but wireless coverage has always been a problem. The 300-foot coverage access points Stonaha set up at Greth's model homes may not be perfect, but they certainly help remove a long-standing barrier.

Although they balked at first, Stonaha says the company's six supers are starting to use the Dell Axim handhelds he gave them several months ago.

“The supers can now work from the model homes,” says Stonaha. “They don't have to make special trips to the main office to retrieve information,” he says. “The supers can drive up in a truck, synchronize their handhelds with the main office, and drive away.”