Volume 44 Number 8
ComputerWare: Handheld Computers -- An Essential Tool for Any Route Delivery Company
Handheld computers are no longer futuristic technology.
They?ve become a necessity for companies in delivery/service industries -- no matter how small or large the company. This article addresses the purpose, uses and benefits of implementing such tools.
Implementing handheld computers has many benefits. Most companies find they save time, reduce data entry errors, increase communication channels and, ultimately, save money.
e software programs will allow you to validate transactions before the information is saved at the office. As the information is transferred back to the desktop computer, a batch file is created. This allows office personnel to look over the day?s data to make sure everything is accurate. It?s then posted to customer accounts and becomes a permanent record.
shelling out a large chunk of cash up front doesn?t appeal to you, then ask your potential vendor about leasing options. This allows you to spread out the investment to more closely match your savings cycle.
s also important to hold your vendor?s feet to the fire and prove your ROI (return on investment). A recent unscientific survey by one vendor found that the average payback for a handheld system is about eight months. Make sure you?re comfortable with the numbers presented.
Consumer -- These units are designed for personal use. Most small, consumer-type units are compact, very high speed and may have full-color screens. They work well in many business environments and are very affordable. The average life span of a consumer-type handheld is one or two years. This short life span will allow your company to replace the units with the latest technology as manufacturers are introducing new models every few months. Palm, Compaq, Hewlett Packard, Casio and Toshiba are a few companies making personal computing devices, often called PDAs (personal digital assistants). Prices start at $199.
Commercial -- Industrial strength units are more rugged, waterproof and have rated drop specifications to concrete to assure they can absorb high impacts. They?re best suited for extremely harsh conditions. They?re built to be durable and can withstand heavy use. The average life span for an industrial-strength unit is about four or five years. Symbol, Casio and Intermec (Norand) are a few companies that make commercial-type handhelds. Prices range from under $600 for consumer units to $2,500 for commercial models. Printers, scanners and other extra features can be provided at an additional cost.
It?s important to remember that there isn?t a handheld on the market that?s indestructible. Units will be damaged and destroyed no matter what model you choose. It?s an expense of automation, but the benefits of handheld computers definitely outweigh the cost of hardware repairs and routine maintenance.
Most handheld computers today use touch screen technology, which allows your service technician to operate the device with a stylus pen. It also allows your technician to obtain a signature while on route. Most units use removable memory cards such as compact flash, or secure digital media to store the data. This makes it easy for the information to be transferred back to the desktop. Plus, it also protects from data loss in the event that the handheld is broken.
Infrared (IrDA) technology allows the handheld computer to communicate with a printer so you can leave a receipt. Much like a remote control to a television, the information collected on the handheld can be transferred to a printer, a meter on your equipment, or another device without having to ?plug it in? or use bulky cables to connect the hardware.
The models that are currently available run on one of two operating systems, Microsoft Pocket PC (Windows CE) or Palm OS. There are pros and cons to each operating system, so make sure you carefully research both the units and software when selecting a handheld (see Table 1).
On route, the first stop is shown on the screen and the field person can determine what?s required. Once the work is done, it?s quickly recorded into the handheld, a signature is captured, and the customer gets a receipt on the spot. If a payment is collected, it?s also entered -- even credit card data.
As stops are completed, the data for each are being safely stored on a data card that can be removed if anything happens. Unplanned customers can be quickly serviced as the system holds as much data as is required. At the end of the day, the route is balanced out and inventory again counted. Data are uploaded and the employee finishes a half-hour earlier than he did without a handheld.
Clerical staff reviews the work the following day and then post the transactions. Customers get an accurate bill at the end of the month and appreciate the professional-looking materials they receive.
About the author
Table 1. Comparing Two Systems
Pocket PC---------------------------------Palm OS