Snack Delivery Workers Get Fed New Handhelds

Food company puts off operational changes to speed up hardware rollout

Late last month, Lance Inc. completed an upgrade to new handheld computer hardware and software for its 1,500 snack-food delivery and sales workers a rollout that took less than four months.

Mark Carter, vice president of strategic initiatives at Lance, said the Charlotte, N.C.-based company was able to finish the upgrade project quickly because it decided not to make any significant changes to internal business processes for the time being. Instead, Lance plans to make incremental changes over time, Carter said.

We were anxious to replace the old hardware, and it was important to make it happen quickly, he said. 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.

New Devices, Same Steps

The field workers, who take snack-food orders from retailers and then deliver the goods to stores, were given ruggedized Motorola Inc. handhelds running Windows Mobile 5.0 and a mobile sales and distribution application developed by Apacheta Corp. in San Diego.

>Lance's delivery workers now carry ruggedized Motorola handheld devices.

Lance's delivery workers now carry ruggedized Motorola handheld devices.Communication functions have been changed somewhat on the Motorola MC9090 devices, Carter said. But business tasks are processed using roughly the same steps as they were on Lances older handhelds, which ran Windows 95 and had been in use since 1998. Those devices were made by the former Norand Corp., which is now part of Intermec Technologies Corp.

Taking a phased rollout approach, Lance distributed the Motorola handhelds to 150 users each weekend. The sales and delivery reps can use a Bluetooth connection and put the handhelds in a cradle connected to a small printer to create invoices and related records, Carter said. The cradle can also be used to exchange data with sales and inventory systems at retailers.

Bob Egan, an analyst at TowerGroup in Needham, Mass., said delaying business process changes until after new hardware is deployed lets end users get the latest and greatest handheld devices without having to learn an entirely new environment. And it allows a company to ramp up and rely on the skills of the workers, Egan said.

Lance does plan to eventually change the way its sales and delivery workers do things from a business process standpoint. Were looking at ways to simplify their jobs and to bring standardization to the methods we use, Carter said.

He noted that the company is continually adding new delivery routes and drivers and that it wants to use its supply chain technology to provide predictive ordering capabilities. That way, even an inexperienced worker could quickly supply a retailer with the correct types and amounts of snack foods based on its actual inventories, Carter said.

Such changes should be simple to implement, according to Carter, because Apachetas RouteAce software is based on prebuilt components that can be altered easily. He said it took only a month for Lance and the software vendor to build a prototype implementation for the new handhelds.

Lance spent millions of dollars on the upgrade, Carter said. He hasnt calculated an exact cost-savings figure, but he said the time that sales and delivery workers spend transferring data has been cut by more than half.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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