Streamlining Your Business

The FedEx and UPS drivers have them; the Schwan’s food delivery drivers have them; the Pepsi and other soda delivery drivers have them. Today, almost every household delivery service relies on portable handheld computers to process orders and bill customers while on the road. Why are these computers becoming so pervasive? Because improved technology has made the upfront investment economical, while drastically minimizing redundant office work.

By utilizing handhelds on seven routes, Kirk Crump, operations manager for the WaterProfessionals located in Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, said he was able to save significant time and reduce his office staff. By having the driver actually enter the information instead of office personnel, the number of input errors also was reduced drastically.

How Do Handhelds Work?

Handhelds replace the standard route books and delivery tickets for bottled water (and salt) routes. This helps eliminate doing double the work. Drivers can record the number of bottles delivered and returned for each customer while on their routes. Instead of making the office personnel input the same information twice, they can simply upload the stops for the day (or week) to a handheld computer. The driver then inputs the information into the handheld while on the route with taxes, discounts and deposits automatically calculated. At the end of the day, the data can be downloaded easily, automatically including all deposits, signatures and payments, back into the database.

Improved Office Efficiency

It is amazing how much time is spent on daily tasks such as printing, tearing, sorting, billing and filing daily delivery tickets. So, how much time can your office save with handhelds? Well, ask yourself how many bottled water drivers are on the road every day? How long does it take your office to print, tear and sort tickets at the beginning of the day and then complete and bill the tickets at the end? The time to file tickets should be included as well. Now, replace that time with three to five minutes per driver per day for uploading and downloading data to the handhelds.

In addition, how much time do you spend on pre-printed multi-part delivery tickets every month? The receipts used for handhelds cost about $0.005 per receipt, compared to $0.05 to $0.07 for each pre-printed multi-part receipt. An office with two routes per day averaging 35 stops per route will save about $5,710 annually in ticket and labor costs.

Handheld computers also can store more delivery history, an “unlimited” amount of comments for each customer, and track the time each delivery is made. Reports to determine average stop times are available and can be compared to the mapping system integrated into a receivables package to further optimize the delivery routes.

Lessons Learned

“Don’t let your route driver run the handheld over with a hand cart,” said John Keener from Toledo Water Conditioning, Toledo, Ohio, making it clear that these type of accidents happen, but he agrees that having to stop utilizing handhelds for his single route is definitely less efficient, and he can’t wait to get a replacement.

For your own comfort, make sure your handheld vendor allows you the ability to run handhelds and your standard tickets concurrently to ease the transition and to easily switch back to the standard method if any issues arise. In addition, be very careful with printer choices. Infrared technology, for instance, is “directional”—meaning you have to have the infrared ports of the handheld and the printer lined up to send any data.

This directional technology is less reliable than more robust wireless technologies such as Bluetooth. Bluetooth technology also allows you to print receipts from 30 ft away in case you decide to leave the printer in the truck while making deliveries. Unfortunately, not all Bluetooth stacks are the same, so send me an e-mail if you need to know which handhelds to avoid.

Costs

Ruggedized equipment is generally dustproof and waterproof, and can withstand several (or many) drops to concrete without an issue. Instead of investing completely in ruggedized units, a common method of ensuring you always have handhelds for your routes is to purchase backup handhelds and utilize the ruggedized printers. Your software vendor should be able to work with you to establish a reasonable solution for your dealership. Just make sure your handheld vendor doesn’t store the data on the handheld directly. If your customer information is stored in the handheld memory and it dies while on the route, you will lose everything. Instead, request the data be stored on a removable Compact Flash or SD card to easily slide into your backup handheld if issues arise.

In our fast-paced, computer-driven world, understanding the technologies that can make your life easier while increasing profit margins is becoming imperative. Handheld delivery computers happen to be one of those technologies that can do both.

Bryan Trilli is systems specialist for KDS Moses, Inc. He can be reached at 800.676.6109, ext. 12, or by e-mail at btrilli@kdsmoses.com; www.kdsmoses.com.

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