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Mobile Deployment at Lance Increases Productivity

By Michael Barbella

For nearly a decade, the delivery sales staff at Lance Inc. used the same mobile device to conduct business. The Charlotte, N.C.-based company manufactures and markets snack foods throughout much of the United States and other parts of North America. But last year, the devices delivery sales staff had been using since 1998 finally began to show signs of age.

“There was a hardware problem with them, really,” said Mark Carter, VP of strategic initiatives at Lance. “The devices were slow, and the LCD screens had faded so much that it was very difficult to read them. We knew we really needed to update the application as well.”

In May, Lance completed an upgrade to its Handheld Sales and Inventory System. The company replaced the Intermec devices with Motorola MC9090s that run Windows Mobile 5.0 and a route sales application called RouteACE from Apacheta Corp.

The Bluetooth-compatible upgrade enables the company's 1,500 sales reps to create invoices, process payments, place orders and run reports. Sales reps can print those reports and invoices via a cradle connection (to a printer) that also enables them to exchange data with a retailer's own sales and inventory records.

“Our sales reps maintain full responsibility for their inventory and are personally accountable for all aspects of their business, so we had very stringent demands for a mobile route solution,” Carter noted.

Among the demands were a long battery life (so sales reps can charge the devices in their vehicles), a rugged exterior that could withstand drops and exposure to extreme temperatures and a Windows operating system. “Most of our work is in a Windows-based environment,” Carter explained. “We were comfortable working with that platform.”

Lance officials also wanted the upgrade to be rolled out quickly. In order to do that, the company decided not to change business processes. “The way a sales rep creates an invoice and the way a case is reconciled, all those things really didn't change,” Carter said. “We were able to hand these devices to our staff and say to them ‘These [devices] work largely like your old ones did. They have a color screen and they don't break.' ”

After choosing the MC9090s last fall (they were the favorite among field staff) and conducting some field tests on them, Lance rolled out the new devices in January. Carter said 150 sales staff were given the new devices each weekend through late April, and told to use the new system at the start of the new workweek.

Though Lance left the business process for sales reps virtually untouched, Carter said the company is planning to make some changes to that process over time. He said Lance is looking into ways of simplifying sales reps' jobs and standardizing some of the methods they use.

With the deployment still so new, Carter cannot provide an estimated savings to the company or an ROI. But he said the upgrade has cut data transmission times in half and has given home-based sales reps more ways to communicate with the home office.

“We haven't put a number on it just yet,” Carter said. “But our [data] transmission times are good and the units aren't breaking down as they were before. And with the speed of this device, we are gaining productivity.”