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Internet World - September 2002

THROWING AWAY THE MANUAL

Building an intranet drives Avis into the efficiency fast lane, finds Janine Milne.

IN A NUTSHELL...

Renting a car couldn't be simpler. Armed with just a driving licence and a credit card, you could be happily stuck in a traffic jam within minutes. But under the bonnet, of course there's a host of complex processes that go into renting you that motor.

International car rental company Avis goes through this rental procedure a million times a year for its 700,000 customers, with each booking processed through its mainframe based real-time reservation, rental and billing system, called Wizard.

But while the 30 year-old Wizard deals well with your average holiday-maker rental, it's not an ideal system for the company's many corporate account customers. No two corporate customers have the same rental agreement, so that means when a company employee wants to hire a car on account, the rental rep has to check the details of that agreement. There are an initial 30 different pieces of information for each of the 320 corporate customers, including insurance details, the minimum age of the drivers and rates for VIP renters such as company presidents. Until recently, this individual client information was held in paper based manuals, which were sent out to staff at its 140 rental locations.

Hard Labour

Every month, typically five or so companies would renegotiate their yearly deals and these changes needed to be communicated to each outlet. According to Avis IT customer account manager Sharon Rigler: 'You have to update these manuals - and it can take as long as two weeks for changes to be sent out into the field.'

Even when this information was sent electronically, the agent would still have to print off the updates and update the manual by hand at an estimated cost of 70,000 a year. Inevitably, mistakes crept in when staff had to find the right booking information and key in codes into the Wizard system, especially if there was a queue of customers waiting. 'We needed to find a better way of managing the process,' Rigler points out.

In early spring last year, Avis started looking into the problem with the help of its existing technology partner OCS Consulting. It wanted to get rid of the manual system, to reduce mistakes, make it easier for staff and, ultimately, give customers a better ride.

An intranet seemed the logical way of achieving these aims. Avis was clear that it needed to be easy to use and not require staff to do any coding.

Another key element of the project was the ability to print off maps. For example, if someone hires a car in Mayfair, but is returning it in Bath, it's a nice touch to print them off a map of downtown Bath and the drop-off point.

'We didn't want to take the manuals as they were and put them on the intranet. We wanted to take that information and make it work better for us,' says Rigler, OCS began by working with the three most used manuals. It talked to the people who update the manuals and observed how the reps used them at the rental points and from that information built a prototype. The system needed to be fast - staff were used to Wizard responding in half a second.

Avis trained 30 staff in how to use the intranet, and these people went out to the branches to show everyone else how to access the system through Wyse Winterms running Internet Explorer 5.

Step Forward

The next step is to put the other manuals on the intranet and then to include more training or HR information, such as current vacancies and training courses.

Not only will the intranet save the company 70,000 a year on printing costs, but a further 13,000 will be saved per quarter by reducing mistakes and improving service. 'There will be a return in less than a year on just some straightforward easy to quantify numbers,' says Maurice Aroesti, group chief executive, OCS Consulting.

As well as the investment returns, there have been other benefits, including better communication between sales and rental agents. The intranet certainly speeds up searching for process codes and location information - and it also abolishes multiple, different versions of the same document.

'There's so much confidence out there that the information is correct. It helps people manage their jobs better,' says Rigler. 'But we realise that what we've got is just a drop in the ocean and we can do much more.'

Copyright Internet World , September 2002

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