Direct store delivery (DSD) has become a standard model for maintaining retail inventory levels of perishable food and beverages or demand frequent restocking for product freshness. This practice means product is delivered directly to the retailer by a supplier—bypassing a central distribution center or warehouse. By bringing goods directly to the store and eliminating the added step of a DC, suppliers and their delivery operations must be constantly connected with their retailer partner and be able to respond and deliver goods almost on-demand. This means drivers are updated and often re-routed in real-time based on retailer requests on an as needed basis. By communicating directly with retailers, suppliers get better insight into inventory levels, which in turn can drive sales growth.
According to PDV Wireless, approximately 37% of the world's working population in 2015 (1.3 billion people) are mobile workers, typically service technicians who have carried a mobile phone, a rugged handheld device for barcode scanning, a tablet for inputting data on the road and a mobile printer for issuing receipts. Today, the average mobile worker carries 3.5 devices and knowledge workers carry an average of four devices. That is a lot of technology for workers to carry, manage and operate—especially in a rugged field environment, where conditions and work environments are a constant challenge.
Purpose-built devices can help organizations solve this problem. Instead of multiple devices, having a single purpose-built device can fulfill many or all of the technology needs for workers on-the-go. When field service personnel have the right mobile device in-hand, they are empowered to do their jobs faster and more efficiently, which means increased worker productivity.
For example, a DSD worker who routinely needs access to real-time pricing alerts might carry a barcode scanner for labels in store, a smartphone to call the office for information, plus a laptop that remains in the delivery vehicle to keep it from getting damaged on the job. In contrast, a single purpose-built device such as a rugged tablet with multi-touch display featuring integrated 4G and GPS would make that mobile worker more efficient on the job and help them move more quickly from store to store.
Additionally, by interfacing with the store directly, DSD suppliers now take on tasks that would have otherwise been completed by the logistics and distribution center team. Such tasks include inventory management, delivery scheduling and tracking as well as capturing proof of delivery.
One of the most important tasks of DSD is DEX EDI (Direct Exchange EDI). DEX EDI is direct store delivery technology used to electronically submit invoices and receive e-signatures for quantity validation at the time of delivery. Today these tasks are usually completed using a mobile device and as more suppliers are discovering, mobile tablets and handheld devices are a good fit for the job. Below is a list of the top five features to consider when evaluating mobile devices for DSD needs.
1. Ergonomic Scanning
Inventory management and identification are at the heart of DSD and the devices used by delivery drivers must be able to quickly and accurately scan product barcodes or RFID tags and send data updates in real time. Multi-application devices not only fit into the worker's existing environment but offer a more ergonomic design. For example, couriers who use handheld scanners frequently throughout the day experience less wrist fatigue when the barcode scanner is built at an angle at the top of the device.
Mobile devices that also integrate barcodes and RFID tag-reading capabilities provide a single device that can be used for all the other tasks the driver needs to accomplish in a day; they help simplify the job and eliminate the need for multiple devices. Look for handhelds that include an angled scanner so the driver can scan and use the touchscreen at the same time to increase efficiency.
2. Battery Life
The need for real-time, constant connectivity and communications, as well as the ability to run multiple applications during shifts that often go beyond the standard eight-hour workday, makes battery life a critical consideration. Consider devices that offer extended life batteries so drivers can rely on their mobile device to last throughout the day, rather than having to remember to plug in and charge while on the go.
Rugged devices with high capacity and user-replaceable batteries extend the device's useable life, reduce waste and help prevent a disruption to workflow. Opt for rugged mobile handheld tablets that provide sufficient battery life so that drivers can make it through the day's deliveries without the worry of a dead battery.
While basic consumer devices may work well in an office, the demands of the DSD environment and the day-to-day tasks of delivery drivers requires purpose-built rugged devices that are built for field workers and can withstand the accidental drops and bumps that happen in the fast-moving DSD environment. And with the need for digital signature capture or other digital forms of delivery confirmation, a non-functioning device is simply not an option.
When considering technology your workers must rely on in the field, it is important to evaluate features like durability and reliable connectivity to ensure they can count on their mobile device when they need it most. Be sure to ask about product testing when selecting a mobile device and look for those with the lowest rates.
Drivers are constantly on the move and on-the-road field workers may find themselves in locations that have poor connectivity. However, they still need to transmit their location to receive updated delivery information. Research how devices are engineered and manufactured, as there are devices that have specially designed antenna that are able to connect wirelessly even in harsh conditions or remote locations. This design feature can help keep drivers on schedule and inventories up to date.
With retailer account and payment data at stake, suppliers must implement stringent security features in order to ensure this sensitive information is secure. While many device manufacturers now tout their device security, look for third-party validation through standards bodies such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology's FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard) 140-2 certification.
Changing worker demographics and the need for increased productivity and operational awareness are driving organizations away from legacy applications and systems. Today, there is growing demand for touchscreen-enabled mobile devices and applications that appeal to tech-savvy workers. These capabilities help improve productivity and are designed to serve multiple job functions with a single device. Field service organizations are faced with many mobile computing options and should select a device that meets their own operational requirements and provides greater levels of service for their customers.
Handhelds are increasing in popularity as they are much more portable than most tablets and can provide a higher level of durability than smartphones. Handhelds are generally smaller and can provide one-handed operation options, which is especially important for delivery drivers and other technicians who may have to operate the device while managing tools or traveling.
The bottom line is, purchasing and investing in mobile solutions without considering the demanding work environments many field service workers face is a recipe for failed mobile device deployments and less productive employees. The DSD model continues to grow and the demand for mobile solutions that fit this specific market's requirements are becoming better defined. Suppliers are quickly learning that basic smartphones fail to stand up to the job and are looking for rugged, multi-purpose tablets and handhelds that improve their business.
Jim Dempsey is executive business development manager at Panasonic Corp. (www.panasonic.com/global), a 99-year-old manufacturer of electronics technologies and solutions for companies in the consumer electronics, housing, automotive, enterprise solutions and device industries.