A non-hazardous waste services company is about to take the first step towards doing away with paper-based order fulfillment by equipping its service technicians with handheld computers.

National Challenge Systems Inc. says it chose a mobile platform developed by Toronto-based Octane-wave Software

Inc. to manage the handhelds and link them to E-Path, the centralized dispatching system it uses from Path Information Systems.

One of the company’s drivers will use the handheld in a pilot project. The remaining 40 drivers will adopt the technology within a few months.

National Challenge’s service technicians typically start their day with a stack of paper orders at its terminal facility and are assigned a route. They have to bring those orders back in at the end of the day, at which point the orders are tracked and rated.

Handling thousands of pieces of paper is cumbersome, according to vice-president of operations and CFO Ian Kelland.

“”With handhelds, the work orders are right on the handheld units, and the tracking of all that paper is happening automatically.””

Drivers will simply report whether they have completed an order and it will be automatically rated and invoiced.

“”There is a big back office process that we think is really going to be expedited and cleaned up,”” he says. “”From an operating point of view, it allows us to move work orders around between technicians on a live basis.””

If the company has an emergency, for example, or if a work order is cancelled, central dispatchers can reassign employees. This is a manual process today – drivers are called by telephone and discuss changes with dispatchers.

The handheld GPS system, in contrast, allows the company to know where its trucks are at all times and how far along they are in their routes.

Octanewave created the platform by identifying with Path what fields needed to be transferred to a handheld, says Stephanie Perrin, Octanewave’s vice-president of sales and marketing.

“”You can’t port the whole application. There’s significant performance impact,”” she says. “”To make sure that it’s fast and efficient, we just pick what’s going to help drivers the most.””

Field service customers typically seek out mobile computing solutions in order to increase route profitabi-lity, give drivers geo-location information about where they need to go, and pass on contact details in order to speed up pickup and delivery.

Although mobile computing gives more central control over how drivers will spend their day, Kelland says he isn’t worried about the transition. He equipped drivers with handheld technology at CN Intermodal – where he was in charge of a fleet of about 500 cross-country trucks – and centralized dispatching into a single location in Brampton, Ont.

“”You don’t have to input lots of data. In most cases it’s making a choice. It’s like using an automated teller machine,”” he says.

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