Mobile Processing

Using mobile technology saves time and money while improving accuracy and customer service. After being in the welding supply business for a long time, being very successful at running the business, and upgrading to the latest computer technology, you keep hearing people say you need to consider something called mobile processing. What exactly is mobile processing, and why should you give it a second thought? 

What Is Mobile Processing?
Depending on whose talking, a variety of definitions will be given. One very simple definition is performing work away from your office. For example, mobile processing includes any time a call is made back to the office to find out what a customer owes. Another example is when drivers sell something off of their truck and write up a ticket in the field to give to the customer. Any work of this type performed in the field could easily be described as mobile processing.

When GAWDA talks about mobile processing, the definition typically involves the use of technology. When technology is added to the mobile processing equation, the benefits can be tremendous. Here are a few examples.

Improved Customer Service
Most distributors have outside salespeople calling on customers. Those customers often have questions that require a call back to the office. Questions like: "Did you receive my last payment?” or "What is my price for that helmet?” or "How many cylinders do you have me charged with?” If the salesperson does not have a printout with them, then they have to call the office and get someone to stop what they are doing to look up the answer for the question.

Suppose that a salesperson has a laptop or cell phone. Instead of having to call back to the office, the questions could be answered immediately for the customer. The customer gets their information quickly, the salesperson isn't wasting time calling back to the office, and the inside salesperson is free to continue working on other tasks. 

More Accurate Cylinder Records
One of the big headaches for many distributors is cylinder balances, specifically, keeping them accurate. Here is where mobile processing can help a company and it's customers. Even if cylinders are not currently being tracked by serial number with a PDA, ruggedized handheld computer or cell phone, the cylinder information could be downloaded to one of these devices. This would give the sales team and drivers the capability to perform cylinder audits when visiting customers. The sales team would be able to perform audits and immediately alert the customer to any discrepancies. At this point, they could begin working toward resolving the issue before they get out of control.

In this example, mobile processing with a mobile computer opens up the opportunity to improve the accuracy of cylinder records, reduce the number of meetings involving cylinder discrepancies and demonstrate to customers a higher level of customer service.

Processing Orders at the Point of Delivery
Many distributors stock extra cylinders and inventory on their trucks in case the customer decides they need a few more oxygen cylinders or some extra tips. Regardless of whether the order is generated ahead of time or at the customer site, changes to the order have to be made when the customer wants more products. How do these changes get back to the host system accurately and efficiently?

In many cases, what happens is that the driver writes down the changes on the ticket and brings those back at the end of the day. Then someone else deciphers the handwritten changes and manually enters the changes into the host system. Hours every day are spent on this repetitive, potentially error-prone task. 

Mobile processing gives the capability to streamline this operation. Instead of writing down the changes on a printed ticket, the driver simply brings up the ticket on their mobile computer and notes the changes. At the end of the day, the mobile computer is returned to the office and the orders, with all of their changes, are updated to the invoicing system. No one has to enter the changes that were made. No one has to enter the number of empty cylinders picked up because those, too, are in the mobile computer. Hours of data entry can be saved.

What is Needed to Get Started?
Mobile processing has come a long way in the last few years. The choices available are as wide ranging as the products you offer to customers. Some distributors download data to laptops every day and are already reaping the benefits of mobile processing. Other distributors have worked with their software suppliers to set up VPNs (virtual private networks), allowing them to use the laptop computer to access their host systems from wherever they happen to be.

If you think smaller is better, then take a look at the latest generation of rugged handheld computers with built-in bar code scanners and even transponder readers. These make it possible to do everything discussed above, plus track cylinders by serial number.

Don’t forget about that cell phone you're using. Instead of just using them to call back to the office or synchronize with email, download tons of information about customers’ buying patterns, cylinder records and even payment history. 

Maybe it’s time to give mobile processing a second look. Your software supplier can probably get you set up with one or more mobile processing options in no time flat. Not only will this save time and money, but think about how many trees will be saved by not printing out those inventory reports and price lists that the sales team are carrying with them.

This article originally appeared in the First Quarter, Winter 2008 issue of Welding & Gases Today Copyright ©Data Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. Authored by Jim Broughton.