Got Handheld Computers?

VAR Portable Software Solutions, Ltd. integrated 1,800 handheld computers for a U.K.-based dairy company. You might say it's been a real cash cow for everyone.

Milkmen are not a thing of the past in the United Kingdom. In fact, milkmen at Express Dairies, a leading U.K.-based milk company, have gone high-tech. A recent installation by Portable Software Solutions, Ltd. (PSS) (London), a division of Vertex Industries, Inc. (Clifton, NJ), put handheld computers in the hands of 1,800 milkmen. The result is an "udder" success.

Previously, the milkmen (or roundsmen) were using what were called "roundsbooks" which contained their clients' addresses and their normal delivery routes. Reconciliation at the end of the day was time-consuming, according to John Kenny, managing director at PSS. An individual milkman can have more than 300 stops per day. In addition, Express Dairies did not have the full names and addresses of all its customers because these customers "belonged" to the milkmen.

Moving Toward Handhelds
Express Dairies was a part of Northern Foods Group until 1998, and heard of PSS through installations with other divisions of Northern Foods. Express Dairies' goals were:

  • to reduce administration time for each franchisee
  • to maintain more efficient and effective customer requirement databases
  • to deliver faster responses to customer requests
  • to monitor customer bases and produce more targeted marketing to new and prospective customers
  • to create a more professional image for Express Dairies
  • to promote franchisee morale by investing in new technology.
Rx1 handheld computers and top box printers from Radix (Milton Keenness, United Kingdom) were used in combination with PSS's VanPro software. The first phase of the installation concentrated on one depot of 20 milkmen and ran from February to May 1999. Rollout of the remaining 1,800 handhelds commenced in June last year and is scheduled for completion by this June. Solution features include:
  • call reporting and scheduling
  • customer information
  • product pricing discounts/promotions
  • opportunity management
  • order management
  • sales analysis
  • system administration
  • stock reconciliation
  • cash management.
All depots are equipped with charging and communication racks from Radix. At the end of the day, the milkmen place the handheld devices in docking stations. While the machines charge overnight, the racks gather information like delivery amount, time, and date, along with any changes in client data. The machine automatically calculates the stock and cash positions for each milkman. The information is then sent to a PC, which communicates with the AS/400 at the main office.

What gave PSS an advantage over its competition? "Our solution integrated the depot communications seamlessly with the Express Dairies' main office computers," explained Kenny. "We also had a more comprehensive ‘van sales' solution, due to our experience in this vertical market. The company can also build on our solution as its needs change."

A Strong Result
According to Kenny, the milkmen have been so receptive to the handhelds, that they didn't want to return them when the pilot installation was complete. Handhelds have been distributed to the remaining 1,600 milkmen. "Express Dairies is an acquisitive company and has bought other dairy companies in the last year. It has increased its market share in the United Kingdom home delivery market," Kenny said. "It's envisaged that the same hardware and software will be rolled out for these new acquisitions."

Nancy Senger