Ask a Pepsi Bottling Group service technician whats been the best thing to happen to Pepsi recently, and hell probably say Britney Spears. Theres a chance, though, that hell say the new wireless system. Now equipped with handhelds hooked into a wide-area network, soda-fountain and vending-machine technicians can quench thirsts far more effectively.
No matter where you are, you dont have to throw a rock very far to hit a Pepsi vending machine. So as you can imagine, keeping those machines stocked and working is an enormous task, most of which is done by The Pepsi Bottling Group, the largest manufacturer, seller, and distributor of Pepsi-Cola beverages. In fact, PBG bottles about 20 billion containers of soft drinks per year just in North America, and net earnings top $193 million so far this year.
Prior to the wireless rollout, maintaining a staggering number of vending machines and soda fountains resulted in a Kilimanjaro-size mound of paperwork (over 6 million pieces of paper per year) and frustrating hunts for parts and equipment.
Then Melard Technologies and iAnywhere Solutions stepped in. Melard provided PBG with its “Hummer of handhelds”—the Melard Sidearm. Specially designed for rugged field work, the standard Sidearm is waterproof, runs on Microsoft Windows CE, and comes with a 206-MHz Intel StrongARM processor, 32MB of RAM, a large 75-key keyboard, and a touch-screen display that you can view in bright sunlight. The Sidearm is also designed to work with many wireless platforms, including RF modems, CDPD, GSM, and wireless LANs. “Its built to survive the environment its used in,” says Wright.
The final part of the equation was iAnywhere, which provided the fuel for PBGs handhelds. iAnywhere, a subsidiary of Sybase, equipped each Sidearm with a mobile database application called SQL Anywhere Studio. Operating over the Cingular Wireless cellular network, the application lets technicians around the country communicate in real time. PBG performed most of the implementation using its own developers.
The database includes an inventory of the repair parts on each truck, so PBG dispatchers know immediately whether a technician in the field has the right parts for the job and whether to send another tech. Once a part is used, the application updates the back-office system that maintains PBGs overall inventory.
Since Anywhere Studio is loaded onto the Sidearms, technicians can still use them even when theyre out of the wireless coverage area. One feature that iAnywhere specifically developed with PBG is priority synchronization. This lets technicians wirelessly synchronize only mission-critical data, then synchronize via a cradle the less important information after returning to headquarters. Priority synchronization also saves battery life on the Sidearms and saves money if the wireless network provider charges by the number of packets sent.
PBG estimates that over 700 technicians currently use the wireless system. And the return on investment so far is impressive. PBG estimates that going wireless saves the company $7 million a year. The technicians response time has improved significantly, and PBG says that the productivity rate of technicians has increased by one call per technician per day.
In the next few months, the company plans to give wireless capability to over 300 additional technicians in 20 more locations. Lets see Britney Spears do that.