Getting From Point A to Point B
By Joanna Cosgrove
New software and technology can make distribution easier
Successful beverage manufacturing doesn’t end when the product rolls off the production line. It must get to the retailer in a timely fashion. Sounds easy enough, but factor in curveballs such as new customers, last-minute order changes and things as unpredictable as traffic jams and all of a sudden the notion of timeliness doesn’t seem all that plausible. That’s where high-tech distribution technologies come in. It used to be that routes were pre-planned on paper, using actual paper maps. Welcome to the 21st century.
For most companies, the basic distribution process begins and ends with a back-end host system. Host system companies handle “route accounting,” meaning they collect all of the raw sales, inventory and route data, and feed it to logistics companies that analyze and streamline the route logistics — determining the physical location of the routes and the mapping needed to deliver to all the stops on the route based on criteria such as distance and other factors such as road construction and school zones that could impede delivery times. After the data is processed by a logistics arm, it is fed back into the host system, which furnishes beverage company with the critical and ever-changing route stop sequences it needs to get its products on-shelf.
“There are so many route variables on a daily basis,” explains Jennifer Hamilton, vice president and chief executive officer at Ram Systems, a host system company based in La Crosse, Wis. “There’s always some human intervention involved in the process, but today’s software can manipulate scenarios impacting thousands of daily stops in a monthly route. Good data analysis that couples back-end inventory, raw sales and route details goes a long way in determining the most efficient route scheduling.”
“Any beverage company that relies on integrated software solutions needs to be reassured not only that their provider is able to keep pace with the increasingly rapid evolution of technology, but that their particular platform can absorb the new technologies to their benefit,” comments Henry Ferguson, vice president, Internet Strategies for Coaxis Inc., Portland, Ore.
Advances in Internet technology, wireless technology and highly portable and increasingly powerful devices such as tablet PCs and GPS locators necessitate that route accounting systems be able to absorb solutions quickly, without the long development cycle previously required of older programming languages and methodologies, Ferguson says. “The longer an organization resists this evolution, the more painful it will become. ‘Bolting on’ new technologies without addressing the underlying architecture is a dangerous game to play and greatly complicates ultimately switching to the newer, better solutions from the ground up.”
Budget is always a consideration, but many times it isn’t the most critical variable because old software will be a budget buster. Old software can lock wholesalers into older, more expensive, less productive hardware technologies. New, modern software is cheaper because it can allow users to use new, less expensive hardware technology that can be implemented across a wider business range. “For example,” explains Ferguson, “a beverage company may decide that regardless of cost, their sales force needs to integrate WiFi-enabled tablet PCs with GPS locators and signature capture that communicate wirelessly through the company VPN directly with their route accounting system. The problem won’t be the cost of that hardware (which continues to fall), but that their legacy systems simply can’t be made to understand the new technologies. Worse yet is cobbling together different moving parts from different providers requiring a tangle of equipment, underlying technology, service centers and support.”
Brian Hodgson, director of marketing at Trimble, Sunnyvale, Calif., agrees, adding that new handheld technologies boast more processing power, memory and wireless connectivity, enabling improvements in three areas: more selling information is available to sales reps on a per-item, per-store basis; detailed sales information provides better store-level demand forecasting to eliminate out-of-stocks (related to promotions and seasonal sales, etc.); and wireless order transmissions back to the warehouse streamlines the fulfillment process. “Prior to this, the orders were all submitted at the end of the day, which would cause demand spikes and may require overtime to fulfill properly,” he says.
From software to handheld devices, technology designed to streamline beverage shipping and distribution is evolving at a breakneck pace.
The latest software suite from Insight Distribution Software, Hunt Valley, Md., implements a three-pronged approach that reaches from the front office to the warehouse to field sales and delivery, allowing all of the wholesalers’ employees to benefit from the rapid advances of technology.
The RS2 module code at the core of the software suite combines the ease of use and the graphical look and feel of an internet browser while connecting users to data through a single database. From order receipt to warehouse picking, route scheduling through delivery and reconciliation, the daily route accounting processing functions are simplified by graphically presenting information in an easy-to-read and use format.
The sales module combines the elements necessary for mobile order taking, coupled with territory management and sales execution software, giving beverage sales staffs the information and organization they need to be effective in today’s competitive environment. From full-screen tablets to PDA/Smart Phones, wholesalers can mix and match these devices to give their sales organizations the tools they need.
The operations productivity module for beverage distribution combines financial inventory information with a warehouse management capability that gives operations employees and management accurate up-to-date information about what products are in individual or multiple warehouses, where these products are located, what products are scheduled to come in, mobile automation of the product receipt process, complete inventory tracking and product forecasting.
Houston-based Satellite Logistics Group recently unveiled the next generation of its trademarked Kegspediter System with enhancements that allow brewers to realize even greater efficiencies in the keg return process. The system’s newest enhancements allow forecasting, online services, e-mail count requests, wholesaler count confirmation, new deposit notification methods and a new invoicing format.
Wholesalers are able to set seasonal peaks, such as Spring Break in Florida or ski season in Colorado and Utah and better prepare for these peak sales periods. “Direct customer input allows us to look into the future to plan, rather than referencing previous years’ performance,” says Kevin Brady, owner, president and Kegspediter System creator.
The updated Kegspediter System also manages requests for wholesalers’ keg counts on an automated basis through e-mail and provides a link to a secure Web site where wholesalers will update keg quantities instantly. Upon receipt of kegs, e-mail confirmations are automatically generated and sent to the wholesaler.
“The entire system is designed to give customers more control over their keg assets and online visibility through our integrated transportation management system and warehouse management system,” Brady says.
DistributionSuite from Intervolve Inc., Raleigh, N.C., is a Web and mobile application suite designed to help wholesalers in the direct-store-delivery market eliminate tedious, error-prone manual processes while simultaneously gaining visibility into vital market trends. The suite comprises eight modules, including a Sales Analysis module that provides on-demand visibility into market trends while measuring sales team effectiveness, allowing anyone to run custom sales analyses on a PC, tablet or mobile device.
Other modules are the Today module, which uses one corporate calendar and messaging system to plan, assign and post market activities. The Retailer Interface module uses the Internet to provide retailers a self-service platform to view pricing and sales, post service issues and place orders. The Point of Sale module combines handheld and analytical reporting to establish true chain-of-custody and better distribution of effective POS and signage.
Roadnet Transportation Suite from UPS Logistics, Baltimore, Md., offers a choice of software solutions that offer control over every aspect of the order-to-delivery process through comprehensive territory planning, street-level route optimization, automated warehouse loading, real-time delivery management and GPS tracking. What’s more, each of the company’s products, whether deployed individually or as a fully integrated suite for optimized results, can blend seamlessly with a company’s current operations.
As part of the suite, Territory Planner plans, balances and manages route-sales, pre-sales and standard route operations, while lowering related delivery costs. By considering all relevant historical data into individual territory solutions, it helps analyze, modify and optimize entire sales, merchandising and delivery operations from the top down, with the added capability of viewing multiple scenarios by seasonal demand or other criteria.
Also part of the suite is Roadnet, which offers on-the-fly, street-level routing passes that quickly generate customized routing assignments. FleetLoader streamlines each step of the loading process, designing loads (including pre-building, staging and exclusions) that integrate seamlessly to final loading and routing. MobileCast enables the real-time visualization of each vehicle on its respective route plan.
Portable Internet, Fair Lawn, N.J., recently announced the availability of “Planned vs. Actual Reporting of Routes,” an inexpensive option for GPS Tracker and GPS Workflow Editions. The company’s software as a service (SaaS) transforms GPS-enabled cell phones and PDA’s into wireless workflow systems for mobile workers, their customers and suppliers. The feature automatically measures and compares actual performance vs. a planned route. Routes can be optionally delivered to GPS handsets in real-time; however, the feature does not require dispatch of routes or any interaction by the mobile worker.
Last November, West Chester, Pa.-based MEI announced that it would incorporate Cantaloupe Systems technology into its new Easitrax Vending Management Solution, which delivers dynamic scheduling technology that increases driver productivity, along with the ability for machines to automatically contact operators when problems occur.
MEI’s Easitrax frees operators from traditional reliance on inefficient forecasting models, providing replenishment scheduling via constantly updated stock and usage information. Building on MEI’s remote data port — used for credit card transactions and first-walk elimination — the Cantaloupe Systems’ Seed Platform dynamically schedules machines for replenishment, effectively eliminating sold-out columns.
“Integrating MEI and Cantaloupe technologies means improved consumer and location satisfaction from higher fills and shorter breakdown duration, while the route efficiency drives operator profitability” says Tony Ioele, MEI’s business development manager for vending management solutions.
The rugged MC9097 mobile computer from Symbol Technologies, Holtsville, N.Y., provides mobile workers with a flexible, always-on voice and data connection to co-workers, clients and associates, as well as critical business applications and systems — all on a single device. High-performance processing supports rich applications, while superior sound quality and the onboard iDEN radio deliver robust voice communications, complete with Nextel’s Nationwide Walkie-Talkie functionality for instant, cost-effective voice connectivity. Assisted GPS supports location tracking applications, enabling more efficient routing as well as dynamic route changes. Seamless WLAN connectivity provides cost-effective voice and data communications in the office, hot spots and more. This single device eliminates the need to purchase and manage additional devices for all voice and data communications, thus reducing costs.
In April, Atlanta, Ga.-based LXE Inc., unveiled its ultra-rugged RX2 lift truck mounted RFID reader at Wal-Mart Supplier On-Boarding Forum and EPCglobal US Tech Expo. The RX2 addresses a need for a easy-to-install, vehicle-mounted RFID reader that can be used for standard RFID-based forklift pallet move applications such as shipping, receiving, picking and put-aways where EPC RFID-based identification of pallet loads and locations are used.
The RX2 ships ready-to-work with the Windows CE operating system and an 802.11 radio, and can run off its own battery or the lift truck’s power. The RX2 supports the reading of EPC Class 0, Class 1 and C1G2 (Gen2) tags. BI