AGSCO sells seeds and agricultural chemicals to growers in the northern United States and Canada. AGSCO salespeople often meet with growers in fields or small town coffee shops where Internet access and wireless communication is not available. All sales- related activities (taking orders, confirming deliveries) were paper-based, which was time-consuming and error-prone. In fact, salespeople even hired administrative employees to input handwritten information into the company’s back end system, Great Plains.
“Our salespeople needed a mobile sales solution that provided access to customer records and inventory,” explains Bert Burkholder, AGSCO’s IT director. “We needed to capture information [product data via bar codes] at the time of the sale, with or without an Internet connection.” AGSCO wanted to increase productivity, reduce administrative support, and improve order accuracy.
AGSCO considered several mobile solutions. Its focus to equip salespeople with handheld mobile devices that worked in a connected or disconnected mode and periodically synchronize with back end systems led it to the Sybase iAnywhere OneBridge Mobile Data Suite.
“A few things sold us on OneBridge,” Burkholder recalls. “Customizing the synchronization procedure meant that with a single synch, salespeople could transmit sales transactions while receiving updated inventory and customer information.” The ease of setting up the mobile devices was another selling point. AGSCO now remotely reconfigures a device with dead battery, uploads software updates, and changes the data synch. This compatibility eliminated the need for devices to be sent to a service center to be reconfigured. OneBridge encrypted transmissions, which eliminated the need for a VPN (virtual private network). AGSCO provided 35 salespeople with Symbol PDT 8000 and PPT 8800 handheld PCs with bar code scanners, running the OneBridge remote sales application. During synchronization, XML files are transmitted to and from Great Plains. Salespeople record as many as 40 to 60 transactions per day. These include taking the customers’ orders and fulfilling them in the same day (by scanning bar codes of empty containers, picking up the products at one of AGSCO’s 45 remote offices, printing a delivery slip, and delivering the products to the grower). Salespeople synchronize their transactions using OneBridge Mobile Data Suite at least once a day whenever an Internet connection is available.
“Processing orders now saves a significant amount of time compared with the paper-based system,” says Burkholder. “Salespeople previously spent 2 to 4 hours per day manually entering their transactions into the Great Plains system. With OneBridge, they synchronize handhelds with the Great Plains software, which takes only a minute and a half. The solution provided an extra 2 to 4 hours per day for salespeople to sell products and service customers. In its first year of use, we calculated that OneBridge saved us approximately 26,000 man hours.” AGSCO also experiences more accurate orders and improved inventory accuracy.