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Entrada Route Management Software on Microsoft SQL Server CE Speeds Eagle Rock Distributing's Field Sales Processes

  • July 01 2002, 1:00am EDT

REVIEWER: Tony Rucco, information systems manager for Eagle Rock Distributing Company.

BACKGROUND: Eagle Rock Distributing Company sells and delivers more than 6 million cases of beer annually to customers in the greater Atlanta area. Together with 12 breweries and a network of shippers, Eagle Rock provides the most extensive and effective beer distribution system in the industry from its state-of-the-art warehouse at the foot of Stone Mountain.

PLATFORMS: Operating system: Microsoft Pocket PC 2002. Database Server: Microsoft SQL Server 2000. Intranet Server: Microsoft Windows 2000. Client: Compaq Pocket PC.

PROBLEM SOLVED: As the pen tablet- based hardware that we previously used on our sales routes began wearing out, we wanted to adopt a smaller, less expensive hardware platform with intelligent route management tools as well as the ability to flexibly exchange customer-and inventory-related data with our back-end systems. The combination of Entrada and Microsoft software assembles all of the relevant information for each customer, delivers it to the Pocket PC in an intuitive format and analyzes the data to help our salespeople better advise their customers.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: When the salesperson selects a customer account on the Pocket PC screen, Entrada's Pocket Routebook loads the customer's order history, product information and other account data. The software displays all the product codes and prices for each item in a format that lets our salespeople quickly take inventory and enter new orders. They can verify the order on-screen, enter additional notes, calculate the customer's discount and generate an invoice. The devices can transmit data to Eagle Rock's back-office system from anywhere using a landline, a wireless phone connected to the Pocket PC modem or a network card. The newest version of Pocket Routebook is built on SQL Server CE Version 2.0 and will allow our employees to further improve productivity by increasing the speed of data loading into the handheald device. Early next year, when Entrada upgrades Pocket Routebook to take advantage of the Microsoft.NET Compact Framework, our sales force will be able to send and receive real-time information such as traffic reports, inventory replenishment requests and product availability updates.

STRENGTHS: The Entrada and Microsoft applications running on Pocket PCs cost about one-fifth as much as our old tools. Using Pocket Routebook to enter orders electronically and process them online saves our field employees at least 15 minutes per account compared to taking orders on paper, which gives them extra time to serve their customers' other needs. The operating system and software are so simple to use that we can train someone on Pocket Routebook in approximately half an hour. SQL Server CE's efficient programming and powerful processing tools allow our salespeople to analyze a broader range of customer data and make smarter decisions in the field.

WEAKNESSES: Pocket Routebook currently does not allow us to load product numbers onto the devices in different sequences for different customers, which would help us take inventory faster in some cases. We are looking forward to the implementation of SQL Server CE Version 2.0 and the 400 MHz processor on the Compaq iPAQ which will enable us to load information, process orders and transmit the data to our back-end servers more quickly.

SELECTION CRITERIA: The cost savings and our ability to get everything we needed in the smaller Pocket PC form set Entrada and Microsoft's applications apart. Entrada understands the consumer packaged goods industry's needs better than any other order management technology vendor. The flexibility of the SQL Server CE development platform also allows Entrada to continue enhancing its products to match our expanding needs.

DELIVERABLES: Pocket Routebook generates a complete sales invoice for each customer that tells the number of cases in the order, the discounting that was applied, the total cost and any special instructions for the delivery person. Our managers can also merge the individual route reports to analyze overall sales trends and identify ways to more effectively manage our retail customers on each route.

VENDOR SUPPORT: When we were field-testing Pocket Routebook, Entrada incorporated several of our suggestions for improving the product. Microsoft also responded quickly to resolve problems we encountered with data transmissions.

DOCUMENTATION: The materials were complete, easy to understand and delivered electronically, which allowed me to tailor them to our employees' needs with minimal effort.

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