Magazine Article | June 1, 2003

Let Them Have Invoices

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

After replacing its legacy mobile computers and printers with Bluetooth-enabled handheld computers and printers, Schwan route managers are able to print invoices on the spot for every customer and capture customer data on their handheld computers.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, June 2003

No matter what kind of products your mobile sales force sells, they can probably benefit by using mobile computers and printers. After all, if your office is your vehicle, it's not practical to drive 10 miles to look up information on a desktop or print an invoice. But, equipping mobile workers with mobile devices doesn't guarantee things are going to work as planned.

An Early Adopter Of Mobile Computing
In 1984, The Schwan Food Company (Schwan) (Marshall, MN) equipped route drivers with mobile computers and dot-matrix printers to process customer information in the field. The mobile computers had limited memory capacity, had a slow processor, and ran on a proprietary platform, which limited the kinds of applications that could be loaded onto the devices. In fact, because of the limited nature of the mobile computers, Schwan route drivers used manual route books to capture information such as directions to customers' addresses, comments about customer preferences, and other notes like 'Caution - angry dog.'

Additionally, the legacy mobile computers were bulky and awkward to carry - especially while trying to deliver customers' orders. Added to this was a cumbersome mobile dot-matrix printer that was both slow and noisy. Like most field workers, it was imperative to eliminate any unproductive time in the workday. For many route managers, this meant unplugging the mobile dot-matrix printers and printing invoices only when customers requested them. To make matters worse, route managers' route logs were difficult to maintain and made trend-spotting and training new workers more complicated.

Stick A Fork In Your 16-Year-Old Mobile Solution - It's Done
In 1984, Schwan's mobile computers and dot-matrix printers formed a viable mobile computing solution. Sixteen years later, however, the once cutting-edge technology was well past its prime. Maintaining the legacy solution resulted in an increased workload for support personnel. "We needed faster, more reliable mobile computers and printers to keep up with our route managers' busy schedules," says Ron Ruud, vice president of operations for Schwan's Home Service East.

Ruud and his team spent two years evaluating new computers and printers. The printers had to be fast and reliable enough for drivers to issue invoices with every order. One of the primary requirements for the mobile computers was they had to have a Microsoft operating system, which would enable the company to run Windows-based applications on their handheld computers. Additionally, Schwan needed mobile devices with enough memory to accommodate the additional customer contacts and sales histories that drivers would need access to as well as an open architecture that could support future enhancements. Finally, Schwan needed mobile computers that were durable enough to handle harsh weather conditions.

Unplug Mobile Dot-Matrix Printers (For Good)
Schwan found that the Intermec (Everett, WA) 700 Series wireless handheld computers best met its needs. The 700 series handheld computers feature Intel processors and Bluetooth connectivity capabilities. Additionally, the 700 Series handheld computers run on Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system, come with expandable memory cards, and have multiple radio options.

Since Schwan's 6,000 route sales managers are paid on commission, they have little tolerance for tools or procedures that inhibit their productivity. Drivers have quickly embraced the Intermec 700 Series handheld computers and wireless printers because they help them make more customer visits per day and satisfy more customers. "It used to take drivers several minutes to connect their computers and printers and generate receipts. Now, it only takes a few seconds," says Ruud. The mobile printers are small enough that drivers can clip them to their belts, which keeps them from having to make an extra trip back to their trucks to print receipts. Using a wireless Bluetooth connection, drivers can close out a sale on their handheld computers by pressing a button and immediately print out the customer's invoice.

Also, because the Intermec handheld computers feature greater memory capacity compared to their legacy counterparts, Schwan has been able to add a route planning application to the devices, which has eliminated the manual route books. By using a route planning application, route drivers are able to capture customer feedback on new food items and use that information to forecast demand. "By having better forecasting and analytics capabilities, drivers can load their trucks with products their customers are looking for and move more products during their workday," says Ruud.