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.

on Thursday said it had chosen a mobile platform developed by Toronto-based Octanewave Software Inc. to manage the handhelds and link them to E-Path, the centralized dispatching system it uses from Path Information Systems.

The company on Friday will ask one of its drivers to use the handheld as a sort of pilot project, with the remaining 40 drivers adopting the technology within a few months.

National Challenge’s service technicians typically start their day with a stack of paper work 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 pretty cumbersome, according to the company’s 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.””

With the handheld devices, drivers will simply report whether they have completed an order and it is automatically rated and invoiced.

“”There is a big back office process that we think is really going to be expedited and cleaned up,”” he said. “”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 highly manual process today where drivers are called by telephone and discuss changes with dispatchers, Kelland said. 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, said Stephanie Perrin, Octanewave’s vice-president of sales and marketing.

“”You can’t port the whole application . . . there’ s significant performance impact,”” she said. “”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 profitability, give drivers geo-location information about where they need to go, and contact details in order to speed up pickup and delivery.

Although mobile computing puts more central control around how drivers will spend their day, Kelland said he isn’t worried about the transition. He has experience in equipping drivers with handheld in a previously job 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.

“”It’s not that hard — I mean, the screens in these handheld units are all strapped down boxes,”” he said. “”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.””

Perrin said Octanewave usually advises customers to begin rollouts slowly and in consultation with users.

“”There is some hesitancy on the part of the drivers — you don’t want to overwhelm them,”” she said.

Octanewave executives first encountered Path at a wireless trade show and have been working together for about a year, Perrin said. The two firms hope to offer their combined solution to other organizations who are looking at route optimization with a mobile component. “”This is not something we’re going to do once,”” she said.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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