Mobilizing field sales and deliveries with handheld computers and software isn't a foreign vision for Lance Inc., a Charlotte, N.C.-based snack foods company. But using a near-decade-old system of devices and software was opening the company up to unacceptable failure rates and inefficiencies that could no longer be tolerated.
"We've had handheld computers on our routes for many years now," said Mark Carter, Lance's vice president of strategic initiatives. The company last replaced its devices back in 1998, when it upgraded to its first graphic unit and a system that ran on a subset of Windows 95. The application the company ran was on visual basic.
After almost a decade in use, the software was holding up, but the old Intermec handhelds were starting to die. The time and cost to replace the fading units was taking its toll, not only in loss of productivity but in loss of time and money.
"We were getting failure rates that were unacceptable," Carter said.
While Lance set out looking for something new, the company decided it needed to deploy graphical devices. With a force of roughly 1,500 field workers using the devices and the number of routes steadily growing, Carter said, Lance needed more freedom to run more applications on the devices while also adding new routes into the mix, two things the outdated system could not accommodate.
"It becomes difficult adding new routes when you can't find the hardware," he said.
After a thorough search, Lance rolled out Apacheta RouteACE software on Motorola rugged MC9090 mobile computers to its route sales and delivery operations, Carter said. From signing the contract with Apacheta, which is Motorola's enterprise mobility business, it took only eight weeks to enter the pilot phase. Now, roughly 1,500 devices running the RouteACE software have been deployed.
Because Lance drivers and sales reps essentially own their inventory, the company required a solid solution, Carter said.
"Our sales reps maintain full responsibility of their inventory and are personally accountable for all aspects of their business, so we have very stringent demands for mobile route solutions," he said. "The RouteACE application has been an overwhelming success with our drivers because it allows them to accurately track and manage their inventory, service their customers efficiently and view customer reports to better manage their business."
Carter said using RouteACE allows Lance to develop unique applications. The company can take basic components and customize modules for specific requirements.
"We weren't changing functionality," he said. "We were putting together a system that the sales reps were used to using."
One key requirement of the deployment, or Lance's "spear in the ground," Carter said, was to ensure that the new system didn't require specific business process changes but instead acted as a platform to enhance business processes.
Users work out of stockrooms where field reps have inventory stored. They load the truck and use the handheld to punch up order information. They print out a "pick list" and load the appropriate inventory and print an invoice. From there, reps go to specific stores and scan the delivery and stock the shelves. Using the devices, workers can capture signatures to confirm delivery and accept payments.
The devices, Carter added, can also talk to the inventory management system at each store and intelligently know when certain items need to be restocked, replaced or replenished.
When dealing with direct store delivery (DSD), time is of the essence. The key to a good system is allowing field reps to deliver the most product in the shortest time. Carter said the new system of RouteACE running on the Motorola MC9090 is much faster than the old system.
"The transmission [time] of data is cut in half, easily," he said.