Wireless handhelds help Pepsi techs go paperless

Service technicians for The Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. (PBG) in the U.S. used to generate 3 million pieces of paper per year while making routine repairs to soda fountains and vending machines. But after a year-long roll-out of wireless handheld computers, that paper mountain has completely disappeared.

Besides saving the time once used to generate and complete work orders, the new wireless computer system helps the company manage its technicians better, according to Ray Oliver, director of operations at Somers, N.Y.-based PBG, the world’s largest Pepsi distributor.

The new system, built around a rugged Sidearm Windows CE computer from Melard Technologies Inc. in Armonk, N.Y., allows PBG to maintain a virtual inventory of parts on each technician’s truck linked to a database accessible by the company’s eight call centres, Oliver said. A dispatcher can quickly determine whether or not one of 700 Pepsi technicians equipped with the Sidearm has the right kind of part needed for a pending job, “and if it does not, we send another technician” with the right part, Oliver said.

Once a part is used, the service technician enters its number into the handheld computer, and the information is transmitted to the back-office systems that maintain the virtual inventory. The Sidearm uses a wireless modem that transmits data over the Cingular Interactive packet data network operated by Cingular Wireless in Atlanta.

PBG also uses the wireless network to dispatch all its technicians, and has no problem locating the one nearest a job site, thanks to Global Positioning System receivers built into the trucks. The receivers automatically relay location information to the call centres.

The system Melard developed for PBG hasn’t completely eliminated paper, according to Chris Reitz, chief operating officer at Melard. If a customer needs a copy of a completed work order, the technician can quickly furnish it from a small portable computer, Reitz said.

Yesterday, Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated in Charlotte, N.C., said it had equipped its service personnel with similar handheld computers and Jeff Kagan, an Atlanta-based analyst, said the two systems are indicative of the drive to push wireless handheld computing deep into the enterprise.

“This is taking mobile management to a new level,” Kagan said, something which “will provide companies with a competitive advantage.”