How Digital Dish upgraded its operations with 400 Galaxy Tabs

by George Jones

January 6 2012

How does the process of buying and deploying tablets work? An Ohio satellite installation company explains all.

(This is the second of a two-part feature. The first half focuses on how Verizon uses its own wireless tablets with its corporate sales teams. Today, we complete the cycle; a medium-sized business explains how they purchased Samsung Galaxy Tabs from Verizon Wireless, and how they deployed them.)

In an effort to better understand the process a typical business would go through in order to purchase and deploy tablets across their organization, we spoke to Dean Anderson, who is the IT Administrator at Digital Dish.

A satellite installation company that services the entire state of Ohio for Dish Network service and installations, Digital Dish employees over 500 people. The company’s headquarters are in Millersburg, Ohio, which is about 60 miles south of Akron. Like all Dish Network installation shops, Digital Dish has been a Verizon Wireless customer for a number of years.

Anderson, whose family owns the company, started working for Digital Dish in the company’s main warehouse in high school before working his way into the IT Administrator role. He’s 25 years old.

“Towards the end of 2009, my IT partner Victor and I saw the need for a more cost-efficient solution,” Anderson said. Back then, the process and paper trail for installing Dish Network in a customer’s home entailed a ten-step process:

  1. Installation was scheduled
  2. Scheduling department printed paperwork for job
  3. Paperwork sent to the appropriate warehouse
  4. Installation warehouse dispatched technicians to do the job
  5. Technician performed the installation
  6. Technician used customer’s phone to call Dish Network to activate receivers
  7. Customer signed off on paperwork, technician affixed barcode sticker from devices to paperwork
  8. Technician delivered paperwork back to warehouse
  9. Warehouse delivered paperwork back to home office
  10. Records department filed paperwork

Once all of the above happened, the technician and affiliated warehouse would receive payment.

For Anderson, the paperwork alone necessitated the transition to a digital solution. “One of the things technicians used to get in trouble for was that if they had paperwork that they didn’t submit, they wouldn’t get paid for that job.”

Unfortunately, the iPad didn't exist in 2009, only clunkier, more expensive alternatives. 

“Originally, we were going to do phones, and give everyone Droid Xs,” Anderson says. “But we realized that the screens weren’t big enough for signature capture.”

The moment Apple released the iPad, Anderson saw the opportunity, although he was discouraged by the pricing. “Apple never gives you much of a discount for signing a contract on a device, so that was out of the question.”

A few months later in a Monday morning staff meeting, Anderson heard that Dish Network’s corporate office was developing installation/service software with mobile devices in mind.

“We didn’t know what mobile device Dish Network was going to use, so we decided to hold off on what we were going to buy, so that we could be compatible with the software, which is now called ETA Direct.”

Samsung 7-inch Galaxy Tab gets tapped

Digital Dish saw the utility for 7-inch tablets in the Fall of 2010 at a time when critics, led most famously by Apple's Steve Jobs, were still panning the form-factor. Although the ETA Direct software supported both iOS and Android, Digital Dish chose Android and Samsung’s Galaxy Tablet 7-inch for their initial deployment.

“Verizon had an effective price for them, and that was awesome for us.”

Beyond price, the main reason Anderson chose the 7-inch Galaxy Tabs was that the smaller form-factor makes them easier to handle, and a little less likely to break.

Every Galaxy Tab was set up with a 3G wireless account. Technician tablets, which only needed the data connection for setting up receivers, closing jobs, and GPS, received the 1GB plan.

Digital Dish’s managers however, frequently do remote meetings via WebEx, so not only did they receive 5GB per month plans, they also received iPad 2s.

What about 4G? "For what we're using them for, we don't really need that yet."

Digital Dish went to extra length to insure security and appropriate use of the data plans, but used Android Market apps to do so. Anderson uses an app named App Locker Pro to block access to all apps except those required for work. Technicians carrying Galaxy Tabs can’t disable the GPS and can’t browse the web.

For protection, Digital Dish bought Otterbox Defender Series cases for each of the 300 Galaxy Tabs it put into the field.

Problems? A few…

Set up was easier than Anderson expected. “I anticipated these things coming in from UPS, and I had a little production line set up at the office across 20 tables,” he says. “We got 300 of them ready in a day and a half, so it wasn’t that bad.”

For training, Digital Dish got all of the company’s warehouse managers and IT departments together in a banquet hall, where the ETA Direct team did some initial training on how to use the software. Digital Dish also did some basic training with the IT admins on installation and deployment for technicians.

According to Anderson, Digital Dish’s technicians got really excited about the deployment—at first. “I say at first because I locked the tablets down so bad that they couldn’t play with them.” However, Anderson says they were still very excited at the prospect of the greatly reduced paper trail.

Only two significant problems reared their head in the weeks following deployment.

First, it immediately became clear that Digital Dish’s technicians needed styluses. Finding the right one took some time. “The touch screen for the Galaxy Tabs does not like styluses,” Anderson says.

The company eventually settled on a Griffin stylus for capacitive touchscreens. “That’s the best one in our opinion.”

A far bigger pain for Anderson and Digital Dish’s IT team was the installation process itself. Unlike Windows or even iOS, the Android OS lacks the native ability to deploy complete installation images of OS, settings, and apps. Anderson sighed wistfully at the memory. “Whoever develops applications for Android, please make an application where I can just take my tablet, plug it into the USB port of a computer and have it upload an image. I would love functionality like Windows.”

He still hasn’t been able to find such an app that works, and he’s contemplating the commissioning of a custom app expressly for this purpose.

Also on Anderson’s wish list, but far less critical is the ability to use LogMeIn Ignition or a similar app to remotely access and trouble-shoot tablets in the field.

The end of the day

Digital Dish’s tablet project created massive savings around time and money, enough so that the company quickly added another hundred tablets to the program, bringing the grand total to 400.

The company now saves at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour on each installation thanks to ETA Direct’s automated account and receiver set-up. With multiple installations a day, that adds up.

And on the back-end, the elimination of several paper circuits has allowed the company to save significant dollars, although this does mean that Digital Dish employs a few less people to sort, file, and keep track of all the documents. 

George Jones is the Editor of TabTimes, and has been writing about technology since 1992

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