Where's the cable guy? Track him and see

By Jennifer Alsever, contributing writer

(CNNMoney.com) -- One day in 2001, Yuval Brisker was stuck at home, expecting a cable TV technician to arrive for a service call. First he waited. Then he waited some more. Brisker reflected that people all over the world were stuck in the same position, wasting hours without knowing when -- or even if -- a service person would show up.

"I thought, 'How come people have to sit around waiting in a world where we're connected by cell phone and where we can track a package online? Why has this problem never been solved?'" recalls Brisker.

Comcast is working with TOA Technologies to keep customers updated on when a service person will arrive.

The idea: With that question in mind, Brisker launched TOA Technologies two years later in Cleveland. TOA provides field services management software that allows companies to track and schedule their technicians more efficiently. Customers can go online to get updates on a technician's arrival time, much like they can track a FedEx package. Or they can receive the information as a text message, an automated phone call or an e-mail.

The risk: TOA's software has attracted such customers as Cox Communications, Bright House Networks and ONO, Spain's largest cable TV provider. So why, after five years, are most consumers still waiting for the cable guy to show up?

Because telecom companies are slow-moving behemoths. It's daunting to change how they operate and manage thousands of people in the field. "These companies have to go through a pretty serious transformation, both operationally and culturally," says Brisker. That's not an easy sell -- especially in the cable TV industry.

"They are really tough to work with -- that's the industry's reputation," says Jimmy Schaeffler, chairman of the Carmel Group, a California cable and satellite TV research and consulting firm. "They don't let outsiders in. You have to be really good. You have to have a real killer app."

TOA is now rolling out its technology with Comcast in California, but Brisker admits it could take another two to four years for the technology to reach the company's entire 39-state network.

The reward: Despite the challenges, TOA has a big selling point: Companies that can predict when technicians will arrive don't get as many irate calls from customers who feel their time is going down the drain. That all translates to improved productivity, better customer service and reduced operational costs.

The software helped Cleveland-based Arhaus Furniture cut $250,000 from its annual operating costs and reduce its window for furniture delivery times from four hours to two hours, says John Roddy, chief logistics officer for the furniture chain, which has stores in 13 cities. It's been a TOA customer since 2003.

"Before, I had to sit in staff meetings with a football helmet because we weren't good at being there on time," Roddy said. "Now I sit up there pretty proud and don't have to take too many shots."

In 2008, TOA snagged a $13 million investment led by Intel. The 150-employee firm has also lined up 20 Fortune 100 clients and, despite the recession, grew its revenues 50% last year. To top of page

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