For the last 20 years Path Information Systems Inc. has been National Challenge Systems’ (NCS) primary software provider, but when it came time to implement a wireless solution the two companies had an important decision to make. Should Path build the application or should they look for an outside provider to take NCS into the mobile world?
The main motivator that propelled the Woodbridge, Ont.-based suppliers of non-hazardous liquid waste services towards looking at a mobile solution was a traditional one: too much paper.
NCS’ technicians would be sent out with a stack of work orders every day and when you have that much paper floating around, a couple of negative things can happen, explained Ian Kelland, NCS’ CFO and vice-president of operations.
With paper it is very difficult to change anything on the fly, so if an emergency comes up it takes a lot of work to shuffle the technicians’ work orders, Kelland explained. When the day’s tasks have been completed, the workers then have to bring copies of all the work orders back to the office. NCS then has to account for all the orders to make sure that everything is billed properly, he added.
“It’s a big accounting, administrative headache to make sure you get all this paper back in and [none has been lost] on the way.”
Remove the paper and insert a handheld device and NCS now has the ability to communicate with its drivers in real-time, Kelland said. Instead of carrying around stacks of invoices, that information now appears on the driver’s handheld unit.
“The [dispatchers have] the ability to move a work order onto and off of the handheld unit instantaneously,” Kelland said. “If they want to move some work around during the day, they can do that right from their dispatch screen…and it will automatically change on the driver’s handheld device.”
NCS knew it wanted to make Path’s software solution, E-Path, accessible to its drivers while they were on the road. E-Path is a routing, logistics, customer service management system that gives customer services reps the information they need to decide what work gets done, when and how. “It really just lets them see who needs to be serviced and lets them plan out how that service is done,” explained Bruce Mooney, director of IT for Path.
The one thing missing from NCS and Path’s wireless equation was the mobility software that would allow the E-Path application to be extended to handheld devices.
“We were heading down the road of custom building the application ourselves and it came to the point of, well, how do you connect to a wide area network and we just looked at each other and said, ‘We can figure this out I suppose, or we can [find someone],’” Mooney said.
Path stumbled upon Toronto-based Octanewave Software Inc., providers of enterprise mobility software, at a tradeshow last year. Path had already completed a review of most of the wireless platforms that existed and decided that Octanewave offered the best solution, Mooney said.
Octanewave’s Enterprise Mobility Platform 4.0 takes care of a lot of the complexities that occur in this type of system, including how to connect to the Internet and how to connect to a wireless network, he explained.
“You don’t need to worry how the connection occurs when you are writing an application….As an application developer you can assume that if there is an 802.11 connection, it will use it. If there is a 1X connection available it will use it, or if there is a direct physical connection it will use that as well,” Mooney noted.
What interested Octanewave about the project was its complexity, explained Stephanie Perrin, vice-president of sales and marketing for the mobility software provider. Not only did NCS want to tie this platform to its advanced routing application but the firm wanted to tie it into vehicle location and field dispatch.
There were several different components involved in this solution whereas traditionally Octanewave has found that usually customers are, for example, only looking to track their trucks.
A project this involved also gave Octanewave the opportunity to practise what it preached. “We’ve preached that the technology platform is very robust and it has quite a lot of functionality, so this was great for us to cut our teeth on and…combine all of these technologies into one solution,” Perrin said.
One piece of advice Perrin had for companies that are thinking about implementing a similar, solution is to start with the users requirements first because that is how a company is going to see the least resistance. Most companies do consult with the end-users but they tend to over scope, Perrin explained. “Keep it tight and deliver the functionality the users have prioritized as being the most important.”
So far NCS has had mixed reactions from its drivers about the new wireless solution, NCS’ Kelland noted. “You just have to walk through it with them,” he said. “I have done this before at other companies and it works out just fine.”