Delivering beer isn’t just a matter of depositing bottles. Routes must be planned carefully, delivered quantities and empties must be consigned and, ideally, a receipt must be given on the spot.

While Labatt Brewery has equipped

its deliverymen with handheld computers to facilitate its operations for 10 years, the brewer recently upgraded its fleet with next-generation personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Intermec 740 offers several advantages over the preceding versions, says Sylvain Mentha, Labatt’s IT manager. Weighing less than 3.6 kg, the PDA includes a touch screen to facilitate the data capture — the old model used a specialized keyboard — a color screen and a graphic interface.

Contrary to the old models, which were equipped with a text interface, the 740 are based on Microsoft’s Pocket PC operating system. “The new devices are much more easy to use and the training was simpler than we imagined,” Mentha says. “Our deliverymen are much happier.”

Mentha says Labatt has investigated wireless networks and the way cell phone capabilities are being integrated into PDAs, but the brewer is still weighing its options.

“We always try to be leading-edge with technology,” Mentha says. “That’s why we chose an evolutionary approach. Although it is not the case now, if our processes and business models can profit from the contribution of these technologies, we will absolutely make use of them. “

Thanks to the contribution of Intermec 740, combined with the use of Omniciel International’s Partner Road and Route Manager software, Labatt deliverymen will be able to carry out their tasks more easily, Mentha says.

Deliverymen download destinations to their PDAs before taking to the road. During their various stops, they can then seize the quantities of products deposited and recoveries and, by using a small printer, they can print a receipt when they receive a payment for the delivery. When they are back at their home port, the deliverymen transfer the data of to Labatt’s central IT system, thanks to a business intelligence application customized to the brewer’s needs.

Mentha says Labatt will be investing several million dollars to upgrade to the new PDAs.

Brian Lang, Intermec Canada general manager, says that in an environment such as Labatt’s, it’s not a question of if the handheld will get dropped, it’s a question of when, so devices such as the 740 have to be durable.

“The market we service has that requirement,” he says.

Eddie Chan, an analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto, says vertical application devices (VADs), which include pen-based and keyboard-based handhelds, accounted for 29 per cent of the overall market in Canada.

The VAD sits in select markets, says Chan, “obviously when you’re moving goods and services, primarily for distribution and logistics.” For the most part, he says, the ruggedized handheld makers don’t compete head to head with the business handheld makers, although their paths do cross occasionally.

“You need to look at the application in terms of how it’s going to be used in the environment,” says Chan. “If it’s in an industrial environment . . . you have to go with the VAD product.”

Parts of this article originally appeared in Direction informatique Express in French. English files from Gary Hilson.


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