How the InfoLink System

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2005-11-21 Print this article Print

Is Actually Used"> "Mostly you have to worry about the UI [user interface]," Bradshaw said. "And you have to take into account that probably a lot of the users arent familiar with computers. So you really have to make it easy. And training has to be quick and the UI simple and intuitive." A typical workday for an RM begins with the individual plugging his or her InfoLink into a phone jack to connect with a Hallmark SQL Server 2000 database, which then synchronizes the mobile devices data and downloads any messages from the RMs manager, FPG officials said.
During the day, the RMs use a built-in bar-code scanner to reorder cards and other products. And the RM can scan the back of a misplaced card to see exactly where it should go in the card display, company officials said.
At the end of the day, the RM plugs the InfoLink in and transmits stock orders, query replies and other data created during store visits, while synchronizing with the database and picking up new messages, company officials said. Overall, the new system has given Hallmark a 10 percent boost in productivity, Blades said. "Our applications are fairly customized to our work processes," ODell said. "Hallmarks key roles in this project were defining the business requirements of the application, completing field testing to ensure functional performance, training ... 10,000 part-timers and orchestrating a three-month 10,000-user base deployment with our business partners at FPG and Intermec." Data sourcing and in-bound data processing were handled by Hallmarks in-house IT Solutions team, ODell said, using "our legacy application systems such as product tables, payroll, order processing and retail inventory management systems." Bradshaw said performance of SQL Server CE has been very good. "In fact, a typical SQL query against the 60MB database takes two-tenths of a second," he said. Meanwhile, Blades said that FPG serves as an ASP (application service provider) and maintains the central database to handle all the information supporting the InfoLink mobile devices. FPG hosts the database on SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition, which is running on the Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition operating system, which is the foundation of the Microsoft Windows Server System integrated server software, Blade said. The database runs on an IBM xSeries 365 four-way server with 16GB of RAM and is located at FPGs headquarters. A second copy of the database is hosted at Hallmarks headquarters. The two servers are connected through a VPN, FPG officials said. Bradshaw said the rollout for the InfoLink system started in June of last year and more than 10,000 users have received new handhelds. "This month [November], were rolling out to the Netherlands and the U.K. and [to] Canada in December," he said. "We also have a pilot for Hallmarks Gold Crown stores." ODell added, "The business case for deploying 10,000 devices was predicated on delivering a productivity boost to Hallmarks field service organization." With a 10 percent increase in productivity already, the company plans to expand the effort. "The InfoLink is now under development for deployment to several of our non-U.S.-based subsidiaries, and we are also preparing to deliver extended functionality to our Gold Crown card shop channel beginning in 2006," ODell said. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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