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In many cases, the installations for operations across a wide area involve many computers and a complex, dedicated communications system. Neenah Springs, Inc. (Oxford, WI), which bottles and distributes naturally-pure artesian water products, has seen improvements in sales and distribution through installation of a pen-based computing system from Norand Corp., a division of Intermec.
In January 1997, Neenah Springs, Inc. completed installation of an automated route accounting system that interfaces directly to the company's existent host computers system. The company has sites in Oxford, Rockford, IL, Peoria, WI, Milwaukee, Bensonville, IL and Princeton, MN. Now the company's route drivers can manage accounts in real time, with improved account accuracy, route profitability and company cash flow.
Handheld Computers Track Water
With a total staff of 44 and sales of $3.6 million, Tom Rogers, Neenah Springs president, runs a diverse operation with few computers. His drivers deliver directly to home and office customers, supermarkets and distributors, who in turn deliver to homes and offices. The company's territory crosses the upper Midwest from Indiana to Nebraska. To track field information across this far-flung operation, the bottled water company uses 10 PEN*KEY® 6100 handheld computers from Norand, Corp., a division of Intermec.
All route drivers are using, operating Water Base Software. Eventually, the semi drivers will also use the handhelds to track their deliveries to supermarket distribution centers. The installation was made by Ram Systems, a VAR based in La Crosse, WI.
"When you've got multiple locations," explains Jennifer Hamilton, marketing director and national sales manager for Ram Systems, "physical tickets must be keyed into the computer onsite, and then are transferred back to the host location at headquarters. The time delay creates a major delay in getting sales figures and inventory levels."
Drivers Don't Need To Return To The Main Office
In addition, because of the large geographic area covered, some drivers return to the plant only a couple of times each week. "By using handhelds," says Hamilton, "drivers can transmit data from where they are." Drivers who are away from their distribution center use a modem and telephone line. Those who return to the plant place their handheld computers into a communications dock, where the information is transmitted by cable connection. Information from the mobile computers is uploaded to a Hewlett-Packard Net Server 5/133LC at Neenah Springs headquarters. There, Ram Systems' software, designed specifically for the bottled water industry, generates company-wide sales reports, tracks performance of each of the three divisions and handles other daily accounting functions.
"Tom Rogers can instantly retrieve data from any location at his host system in Oxford," says Hamilton. "He doesn't have to wait for someone in Minnesota to complete some reports and fax them. By accessing his computer, he has his finger on what is happening throughout the company."
Delivery Tracking Is More Accurate
"With the installation of the Norand System, we are far more effective in tracking deliveries, says Rogers. "We are more accurate and we can determine route driver efficiency. Cash flow immediately improved because some customers by directly from invoices."
Customer account information is downloaded to the 6100s, and appears automatically on the computer screen in route-stop order. The driver knows immediately what products to deliver and special delivery instructions or messages about that customer appear on the screen too. Drivers can make changes to the order at the stop. When the delivery is completed, a Norand 6805 infrared belt-clip printer produces the invoice in a matter of seconds. If a customer wants to pay the driver directly, account balance information is easily accessed on the computer, and a payment receipt is printed.
Human Error Has Decreased
Before the handheld computers, drivers had to fill in product quantity and calculate the price extensions and invoice total. "The handheld computers have saved the drivers a lot of writing, and have eliminated errors in arithmetic," says Ellen Reirson, Neenah Springs company controller. "Product price discounts come up automatically for each customer. There is no guesswork involved in pricing, or chance of giving the customer incorrect pricing. This has saved us a lot of time and money.
With the efficiencies gained through using the mobile computing system, Neenah Springs can continue to grow, increasing market share in existing markets, and if it chooses, expanding its reach to other regions. The company plans to use the 6100s for signature capture capability to record delivery and installation of coolers at customer sites.