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Lance snack delivery personnel get new handhelds

After a quick hardware rollout, new business processes will follow

May 8, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Lance Inc. just completed an upgrade to new handheld computer hardware and software for 1,500 snack food delivery sales personnel. The rollout began in January and took less than four months.

The last of the 1,500 devices was deployed early last week, the end of a rollout the snack food company began after a test program that started in December, said Mark Carter, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Charlotte, N.C.-based company. Contracts with suppliers were signed in September.

The quick upgrade was possible because Carter and his company decided not to change business processes significantly for now, with incremental changes planned down the road, he said. Sales representatives were given a rugged handheld device running new software, but they were able to learn to use it quickly because they were performing basically the same tasks as with older Norand handhelds. That hardware ran Microsoft Windows 95 software that had been used since 1998.

"We were anxious to replace the old hardware, and it was important to make it happen quickly, so we basically replicated the functionality of the old system in a new environment and did not change the way things worked for the end user," Carter said in an interview.

Each weekend, another 150 users received a new Motorola Inc. rugged MC9090 handheld and were told that while the communications tasks were somewhat changed with the different screen on the lighter, smaller device, they would use roughly the same business steps, he said.

The new handhelds run Windows Mobile 5.0 and a route sales application called RouteACE from Apacheta Corp. Sales reps can use a Bluetooth connection and put the handheld in a cradle connected to a small printer for creating invoices and related records. The cradle connection can also exchange data with a retailer's own sales and inventory records.

Over time, however, Lance plans to change the business processes that affect sales reps, Carter said. "We're looking at ways to simplify their jobs and to bring standardization to the methods we use," he said. Lance is constantly adding new routes and drivers and wants to eventually use its supply chain technology to provide sales reps with "predictive" orders. That way, even an inexperienced sales rep can quickly supply a retailer with the correct amount and type of snacks.

Such changes should be simple to implement, he said, because the Apacheta software is based on prebuilt components that can be altered easily, he said. It took only a month to build a prototype for Lance, he said.

As for the choice of the MC9090, Carter said Lance wanted a Windows-based platform that can adapt to upgrades of the MC9090 as Lance grows and buys more hardware, Carter said.

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