Magazine Article | August 1, 2005


Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Wireless handheld devices and delivery management software help a beverage distributing company cut driver time by 250 hours per week.

Integrated Solutions, August 2005

As the largest distributor of liquor and wine in Arizona, Alliance Beverage Distributing Company (ABDC) must maintain maximum operating efficiency throughout the supply chain. The company has 500 employees who sell and deliver many brands of liquor and wine to licensed retailers around the state; its drivers service about 70 delivery routes daily. ABDC provides direct-store deliveries, as well as bulk deliveries to warehouses owned by such retail grocery chains as Albertsons and Safeway.

Historically, ABDC used a combination of paper-based methods and proprietary technology applications to track beverage deliveries and customer inventory counts, manage sales orders, and keep tabs on customer payments which, in accordance with Arizona law, must be remitted at the time of delivery. However, this cobbled-together system made the process of generating payment credits time-consuming and cumbersome. Four ABDC employees were needed to complete various parts of the job: a driver to take the payment, a cashier to accept driver collections at day's end, a staff member to perform payment reconciliation, and someone to manually enter transactions into a host system.

To streamline its operation without compromising its customer service, ABDC sought a solution that could automate many of the transactions it handled on a typical business day. Management wanted the solution to integrate into retailers' existing systems, including DEX and NEX, which are standardized methods used by large retailers for conducting supplier/merchant transactions through direct computer links or over telephone lines.

ABDC teamed up with solutions provider Tolt Technologies to configure an integrated distribution and delivery solution based on Microsoft Windows Mobile software. The solution includes approximately 70 Symbol Technologies' rugged PPT 8800 Series Pocket PC and Agentek's Route Delivery Solution software. Through the handheld devices, the software provides ABDC's drivers with complete delivery-stop information in real time. Such data includes continually updated customer and product delivery details.

The handhelds' screens offer a view of information that is similar to what drivers would see on traditional paper forms, such as basic customer information. Drivers use tabs and drop-down menus to view and enter information, including quantities and types of beverages delivered at each stop, payments received, and comments about individual customers.

Information gathered by drivers is synchronized with the distributor's AS/400 computers at the end of each day. The solution uses different methods for transmitting information to and from the handheld devices and the servers. Certain kinds of data – for instance, new instructions on a route or last-minute changes to a customer order – are delivered to drivers wirelessly, through a CDPD (cellular digital packet data) network. Meanwhile, once drivers are done for the day, they synchronize their mobile PCs to LAN-connected synchronization cradles for uploading data into the AS/400 servers and to download data on the next day's routes and customers.

The solution has helped ABDC eliminate paperwork completed by drivers, which saves the company an average of about 250 hours per week. "Spread out over 70 routes, this translates into reduced overtime pay and gives us the ability to assign more stops to individual drivers, making them more productive in a standard workday," says Jon Willis, ABDC's state operations manager.

Long-range information storage has also become easier. "We are required to keep at least three years' worth of transaction documentation, including customer signatures," Willis explains. "Three years of invoices on paper produces a very large physical amount of documents that we have to manage. Then, if we have to find a particular document, that becomes another time-consuming venture." Converting route delivery processes to a mobile solution paves the way for an efficient document management system that is simpler to manage and renders it easier to find information when it is needed.