Shipper Transforms With Wireless
Last year the company went through a major upgrade of the handheld devices its drivers use in the field, shifting from the Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL) 2800 models to the MC9060 units from the same supplier. The difference, says Golden State director of technology Allan Chandler, has been profound: "With the efficiencies these have brought to our system, we literally could not return to the way we were doing things a year ago."
The major change, says Chandler, has been providing wireless capability to the drivers in the field, who previously were using the Symbol 2800s for scanning only. Now, the drivers can ensure that their loads are accurate and complete, access up-to-the-minute package status and delivery information from their trucks, and more easily plan their routes, as well as providing the company with valuable data for later analysis.
Thanks to the rollout of the new devices, GSO has reduced the loading time each morning from around 45 minutes per truck to just 10 minutes, thus giving each driver more time to actually deliver packages on his run.
Founded in 1995, Golden State first began using the Symbol 2800 devices in 2000, eventually deploying 500 of the handhelds in the field. Because the 2800s were relatively crude, early-generation devices, and because the task of cradling and updating 500 devices (while taking them out of the field) was daunting, Chandler and his team never upgraded the device software or added functionality in the five years the company used the 2800s.
"We develop all our own software for our core operations," explains Chandler. "We spent 10 years writing software to manage this business, but our largest employee group -- our drivers -- never got much benefit from all the backend tools we'd written."
The company needed a platform on which it could deliver more functionality to the drivers to manage their workflow, and which could also collect more data from the field for later analysis.
Having considered devices from Intermec and Tech Logics, GSO settled on the new MC9060 units in mid-2005 and began distributing them to drivers last August. The deployment took about three months. The benefits became apparent almost immediately.
For one thing, the drivers appreciated having a device with a keyboard, instead of having to "peck on the screen," as Chandler puts it. For another, the task of reconciling the scheduled truckloads with what was actually on the loading docks every morning became much easier.
"For a lot of different reasons what's staged is never exactly what has to actually go on the truck," comments Chandler. "Before, each driver had to do a manual paper-based reconciliation. Now, with the WiFi capability in the handhelds, they just scan those packages and it comes up red, green, or yellow, and the greens go on the truck."
Golden State delivers more than 9 million packages a year, with about 1,000 trucks operating out of 25 distribution centers -- each now equipped with a WiFi network. The company has rolled out about 850 triple-radio MC9060s, giving the drivers access to wireless LAN communications at the distribution centers and wide-area voice and data capabilities when they're on the road. Total expected cost of the roll-out, including software development time and installing WiFi networks in the distribution centers: around $5 million. That's enabled the carrier to increase package volume 16 percent in the last year without adding a single driver.
Another benefit has been that the supervisors in the warehouses have begun using the devices to run their own operations to stage loads over night for drivers to pick up in the morning. "We found that we had 75 devices originally intended for drivers being used in the facilities," laughs Chandler. Now he's rolling out 50 new handhelds to warehouse managers to help improve their productivity, with a newly developed software application the company calls Operations Connect. Chandler's team has already rolled out 10 to 12 software upgrades to the mobile devices in the field, in the year the MC9060s have been in use.
"Our business is all about time," observes Chandler. "For us a minute saved here and a minute there, on 40,000 packages a night, ends up being hours and hours saved each day, which is gold to us."
— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung