Mobile Devices & Managed Services Deliver Results
By Joseph Zanette
Ferguson Enterprises' fleet of 3,500 trucks is the foundation of our ability to deliver great products and service to more than 360,000 customers throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and Central America. However, all these delivery vehicles and the parts they carry present logistical challenges to our IT department, which has to provide business intelligence and shipment tracking.
Recently, we decided to replace our fleet’s consumer-grade smartphones with rugged mobile handhelds. The results have exceeded our expectations and provided returns beyond increased profitability.
Ferguson, a wholesale distributor of residential and commercial plumbing supplies headquartered in Newport News, Va., has 1,300 locations and 11 distribution centers from which we manage our supply chain. We sell construction products to both commercial and domestic customers, each with its own specific set of challenges for delivery tracking and customer relationship management.
For years, we had equipped our drivers with consumer-grade mobile devices so they could communicate with our dispatchers. Device management was handled internally, which was stressful for our employees. As a result, there was lax tracking of the phones, leading to costly maintenance and repairs.
We also had a manual delivery process in which dispatchers would print a document detailing each driver’s deliveries, and the drivers would organize their own routes. When the drivers arrived at a delivery site, the customer would sign a triplicate order form and keep one copy, while the driver would bring back another copy for central management.
This system was problematic because the foreman on construction sites was not always available to sign the receipt, leaving us without proof of delivery or the delivered item’s condition. These physical receipts also created issues on the back end as more customers requested digital receipts, forcing our central office to spend time scanning and emailing the documents to the customers.
In addition to proof-of-delivery issues, the consumer-grade phones were not equipped with GPS, so dispatchers could not track a driver’s location. This forced us to give customers a general delivery time and made it impossible for dispatchers to provide real-time updates. The consumer-grade phones were also prone to breaking because they were unable to withstand the rugged conditions of our delivery environment.
A Mobile Solution
We realized that although we had equipped our warehouses with the right technology, we had overlooked our delivery force. As a result, we decided to look for a new handheld device for our drivers and outsource mobile management for deployment and optimization. Our IT department began the search for a mobile solution that was rugged, Windows mobile-compatible and included a GPS, signature capture, wireless Internet and full phone functionality.
We turned to our partner Descartes for assistance in selecting a mobile management plan and new mobile devices. Descartes provided several options, and we eventually settled on Psion’s Managed Services and EP10 mobile devices because of the comprehensiveness of the solution. In early 2012, we began rollout of this solution.
By investing in provided managed services, we are able to receive real-time insight into our mobile environment, thanks to the data captured by the mobile devices. The EP10 devices are also used on delivery routes outside of our internal network, so the managed services provide an extra level of security.
We decided to outsource hosting, staging, configuration/compliance management, help desk management (levels 1–3), asset management and alerting.
In the field, we’re already realizing the benefits of the transition from consumer-grade devices. With the EP10 devices, our drivers now have access to several new features, including signature capture, which has enabled us to eliminate traditional paper processes and provides our central office with real-time proof of delivery.
If a customer is unavailable for signature, drivers now snap a photo as proof of delivery and condition of the order. This streamlined, paperless process has saved us both time and money.
The mobile devices’ GPS capability also allows our central office to optimize delivery routes and track drivers in real time, increasing customer satisfaction by providing more accurate arrival estimates. In addition, the unit’s ruggedness has led to fewer repairs, giving drivers a more reliable handheld device.
As a result of managed services and improved mobile devices, our delivery process is running more efficiently. We have better visibility into our entire logistics process, from the warehouse to the customer, and are seeing fewer unexpected costs. Because of this successful deployment, we are also piloting managed services on the Psion devices used in our warehouses.
Joseph Zanette is the solution manager for Ferguson Enterprises, a wholesale distributor of residential and commercial plumbing supplies. He is responsible for the IT strategy, execution and support of Ferguson’s supply chain systems, and has spent the past 15 years helping to improve the company's distribution network.