Brewing a better delivery engine

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

While Labatt Brewery has equipped its delivery people with handheld computers to facilitate

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

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

And unlike the previous model, which was equipped with a text interface, the 740 is based on Microsoft’s Pocket PC operating system.

“”The new devices are much easier to use and the training was simpler than we imagined,”” Mantha says. “”Our delivery men are much happier.””

Mantha says the brewery 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,”” Mantha says. “”That’s why we chose an evolutionary approach. 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’s delivery fleet will be able to carry out their tasks more easily, Mantha says.

Drivers 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 arrive back at their home port, the drivers transfer the data to Labatt’s central IT system, thanks to a business intelligence application customized to the brewer’s needs.

Mantha says the brewing company will be investing several million dollars to upgrade to the new PDAs.

Brian Lang, Intermec Canada’s general manager, says in an environment such as Labatt’s, device durability is paramount because “”it’s not a question of will handheld the be dropped, it’s a question of when. The market we service has that requirement.””

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

The VAD sits in select vertical 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 vertical application device.””

Parts of this article originally appeared in Direction informatique Express, a French-language sister publication. English files from Gary Hilson.

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