Finding A Pen-Based Solution
Neenah Springs increased tracking accuracy with the installation of a handheld computer system.
Neenah Springs, Inc. (Oxford, WI), which bottles and distributes naturally pure artesian water products, has seen improvements in sales and distribution through the installation of a pen-based, handheld computing system from Norand Corp., a division of Intermec Technologies, Corp.
In January 1997, Neenah Springs, Inc. began using an automated route accounting system that interfaces directly with the company's existent host computer system. The nine year-old company has sites in Oxford; Rockford, IL; Peoria, IL; Milwaukee; Bensonville, IL; and Princeton, MN. The installation was performed by Ram Systems, an 18 year-old VAR with 13 employees, based in La Crosse, WI. 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 staff of 44, Tom Rogers, Neenah Springs' president, runs a diverse operation with few computers. His drivers deliver to home and office customers, supermarkets and distributors throughout the upper Midwest. To track field information, the bottled water company uses 10 PEN*KEY® 6100 handheld computers from Norand Corp.
Route drivers use Water Base Software from Ram Systems. Soon, drivers will also use the handhelds to track deliveries to supermarket distribution centers.
Drivers Can Stay On The Road
"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 on-site, then transferred back to the host location at headquarters. Time delays create a hold-up in getting sales figures and inventory levels.
"By using handhelds," says Hamilton, "drivers can transmit data from where they are." Drivers who are away from their distribution center use a handheld with an internal modem. 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 tracks the performance of the three divisions and handles other daily accounting functions.
"Neenah Springs' President Tom Rogers can retrieve data from any location at his host system in Oxford," says Hamilton. "He doesn't wait for someone in Minnesota to complete reports and fax them."
Overcoming Obstacles To The Install
Initially, there was one problem with the installation. "While we were taking Neenah Springs off its previous system and putting the company on the Norand system, we encountered corrupt data at each of the locations," she says. These problems have since been overcome.
However, Neenah Springs' is now in the midst of another transition. According to Arnie Olson, Neenah Springs' CFO, the bottled water company has been waiting on an upgrade to the hardware.
"There are improvements in the plans to be made to the handhelds," Hamilton explains. "The upgrade is an effort to give us the best product possible, but it is taking longer than expected."
Delivery Tracking Is More Accurate
Customer account information is downloaded to the 6100s, and appears automatically on the computer screen in route-stop order. Driver know immediately what products to deliver. Special delivery instructions or messages about that customer also appear on the screen.
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.