Dozens of solutions providers wanted to take another crack at last months problem. Here, once again, is a summary of the challenge: Acme Treats ice cream trucks have routes in several counties within one state. Each truck sells various types of ice cream to local residents. The company wants each truck to provide daily sales and inventory information to a central-office server. The system need not be real time, because truck operators will likely update sales and inventory information only once per day. Please make your recommendations.
My Solution: Steve Robinson
Director of Marketing
Meritage, based in Columbus, Ohio, is a solutions provider that has partnerships with IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, among others.
Meritage Technologies proposes a simple, yet multifaceted real-time solution for Acme Treats.
Our solution uses a Java2 Micro Edition (J2ME)-enabled mobile phone serving as the client and a combination of Apache Tomcat, IBM DB2 and IBM WebSphere Voice Server as the server component. Java2 and VoiceXML serve as the core technologies leveraged throughout the solution.
Meritage believes that its proposed solution meets Acme Treats current needs while also positioning the company to easily scale the system, as business growth dictates.
Meritage proposes that each ice cream truck driver be equipped with a J2ME-enabled mobile phone—such as Nextels i85s—to facilitate daily updates of sales and inventory data. This phone will serve as the only mobile device needed and is currently available for under $200.
Resident within each phone will be a J2ME midlet application developed by Meritage, which will provide a simple user interface for drivers to enter their daily sales and inventory information. This application will communicate in real time with Acme Treats central-office servers via the data network provided by the phones wireless carrier.
In addition to the J2ME application, Meritage proposes to develop a VoiceXML application that drivers can leverage when out of range for wireless data communications. Or, if drivers prefer, they can use natural speech instead of data entry.
The truck drivers would use their mobile phones to simply dial a dedicated phone number at the central office to access the application. Once connected, the driver would interact with the VoiceXML system via natural speech and the phones keypad. This application would be developed leveraging the VoiceXML 2.0 standard, Java servlets and a voice-enabled app server like IBMs WebSphere Voice Server.
The proposed back-office system comprises an application server, a relational database like IBM DB2, and a voice server such as IBM WebSphere Voice Server.
The application server will manage the JavaBeans, Java servlets and database connectivity objects required by both the J2ME and VoiceXML applications. Additionally, the VoiceXML application will need to interact with a voice server to provide speech recognition and text-to-speech functionality.
Leveraging Meritages Business Partner relationship with IBM, the proposed solution provides Acme Treats an ideal remote-access system that can be extended to support instant messaging, e-mail, dispatch, emergency truck service and traditional voice communications.
: Michael Mudditt”>
My Solution: Michael Mudditt
ThinAir, based in Montgomery, Pa., is a systems developer that ties Palm- OS solutions to enterprise systems. Additional partners include Broadbeam and Sybase.
Well make the following assumptions before recommending a solution: First, each truck sells about 15 items per stop; second, each truck is dispatched with known stock; third, the truck routes will vary by day, week and season.
With those factors in mind, we recommend Palm VII wireless handheld computers. Those devices have been selected for their low cost (currently $99 per truck), robust one-piece design and vast wireless coverage area.
Whats more, PalmOS intuitive interface is very suitable for blue-collar users who lack computer skills. (By contrast, some users describe Windows CE devices as “too complex and scary.”)
The front-end applications also would allow truck drivers, products and routes to be created and named. Moreover, the app would provide data for standard business reports (volume per route, most popular products, revenue per driver, seasonal consumption, most valuable routes, product waste, etc.).
The trucks route, inventory and driver information would be held in a database on the Palm OS device. The user would interact with the database after each stop. The driver simply selects the stop, then the products sold, and enter the number sold. The device also would keep track of inventory.
While in transit to the next stop, the driver would send the results back to base wirelessly using our proprietary Oxygen technology, which transfers data from the Palm VII to the server for processing.
The mobile application works in a client/server arrangement. All back-end data would be stored in a Sybase iAnywhere 6 database running under Windows NT or Windows 2000 on a Dell Computer workgroup server (such as the Dell 1300) with integrated tape backup, a RAID 5 array for availability, 20GB of storage and 256MB of memory.
Custom C++ Win32 apps would enable feeding sales data to off-the-shelf accounting systems (such as Quickbooks and Great Plains).
A dispatch app would allow the user to apply a driver to a truck and a route for any given day. Once the truck has been “dispatched,” the Palm VII device is hot-synced to the system.
The office database would know all truck inventory in real time, so shortages can be dealt with dynamically.
The remote-access system would use either a cable modem or a medium-speed DSL connection. However, an ISDN or dialup connection would work, as well. Data rates from the Palm are low, but wed be able to tune performance using our Oxygen technology. II