Tools That Help Businesses Prosper
Fred Kfoury Jr. vividly remembers how limited communication in the business world was in 1964 — the year he began his career in distribution.
“When I started in business, Wite-Out hadn’t been invented yet,” the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Manchester, N.H.-based Central Paper Products Co., recalls. “A calculator was bigger than a computer screen and it could only divide, multiply, add and subtract. Electronic typewriters were just coming in and nobody knew what a computer was.”
Oh, how times have changed.
Kfoury now has clipped to his hip a Palm® Treo™ smartphone, an all-in-one, “goes where you go,” device. “I can do all kinds of stuff with it,” he says. “I can make phone calls with it, synch it with my computer, I can go onto the Internet, send an e-mail and I can check my e-mail.”
In today’s business world, business owners don’t dare to look forward without looking to the past.
Jack Jurkowski, chief information officer (CIO) at Eastern Bag and Paper Group, Milford, Conn., says because distribution is typically a low-margin industry, business owners have to be very smart with their investment dollars.
“There’s not a lot of investment dollars,” he notes. “So you have to spend wisely and try to focus on projects that give the biggest bang for the buck. Look where you can get the most return for the dollars that are spent.”
With the “next best thing” lingering overhead, business owners are keeping their eyes and ears open for any worthwhile technologies that can streamline their operation and give them a leg up on their competition.
On The Go
Kfoury explains that businesses must embrace technology with open arms in order to stay up on current trends.
“People always say, ‘I’ll wait a year and see what happens,’” he says. “You can’t wait. You have to jump on the technology bandwagon because if you wait it’ll be a loss.”
Central Paper has long been ahead of the pack when it comes to technology implementation. Kfoury says all of the company’s salespeople had laptop computers in 1991, and was among the first in the industry to launch a Web site with online ordering.
Like Central Paper, mostly all businesses supply their sales force with some sort of communication device with Internet capability such as a laptop or a PDA device.
Kellermeyer Co., Bowling Green, Ohio, prides itself on giving its sales staff the freedom of choosing what tech tools to use in the field, says Jill Kegler, president and chief operating officer.
“We allow our sales staff to choose the technology that best fits their individual business methods,” she says. “We don’t force our sales staff to use laptops because for some people it’s a ‘paperweight.’ Once you find a solution that works for one person it doesn’t necessarily work for everybody. Some people are going to find it very useful, while others are happy using PDAs.”
Jurkowski says it is critical that each of Eastern Bag and Paper’s salespeople carry a laptop. “They receive information every morning from the enterprise system so they have fresh data regarding items available, inventory receivable information and then they can place orders throughout the day remotely,” he notes. “Most of these guys are carrying wireless cards in their laptops so they can be in direct touch with our enterprise system and they can be in touch via e-mail as well at any time.”
However, Kegler points out that with laptops, there are some disadvantages. “The biggest drawback is the time it takes to boot up if you’re in front of a customer and Internet connectivity,” she says. “You’re not always sure of a signal and nothing ever seems to be fast enough.”
Ask any distributor to name the technology tool they can’t live without and the computer will more than likely be near — or at — the top of their list.
“No business can operate without a computer,” Kfoury says. “They would need an army of people to do the volume of work the computer does.”
Today, the lifeline of businesses runs through the computer and its plethora of offerings. Computers allow distributors to streamline their operation with communication from the warehouse to the office; to keep track of inventory levels, customer purchasing history and financial information; allow e-mail communication; and, most importantly helps operate online ordering via their Web site.
Distributors say the biggest advantage to online ordering is that it frees up workers from answering phones and punching in orders that would originally come in via telephone or fax.
Most distributors are solely adopting online ordering as their only ordering method in the quest to go completely paperless.
But for most distributors, numbers for online ordering are still not at a desirable level because customers choose to order in a way that’s most efficient for them.
Thirty percent of Eastern Bag and Paper’s total sales is through its online ordering. Jurkowski says the company expects that number to rise to 50 percent in the next couple of months after implementing a software package that optically reads incoming fax orders.
Voice Driven Warehouse
Distributors are quick to say business success is determined in the warehouse. Time is money — if inventory isn’t being moved in and out in a timely manner and being picked with accuracy, money is lost.
Warehouse management software (WMS) providers have recognized the growing concern with inaccuracies in the warehouse and have developed what Eastern Bag and Paper’s Jurkowski says is the successor to barcoding and radio frequency — voice picking.
In April of this year, Eastern Bag and Paper deployed a voice-driven warehouse management solution from Voxware, a software supplier for the supply chain, as part of an effort to minimize errors and increase productivity in its warehouse.
The company installed the software in its 170,000-square-foot distribution headquarters in Milford, Conn., on wireless mobile computers, and was up and running at 100 percent within only four weeks. Jurkowski says after the implementation the company quickly noticed a reduction in picking errors by getting paper orders out of the hands of the workers and directing them instead via voice instructions.
“How it works is we send the picking information to the Voxware system and the pickers wear headsets and they’re totally directed by voice as to what to pick,” Jurkowski explains. “Then they confirm via voice what they have picked and then at the end of their run through the warehouse that information gets loaded back up to the enterprise system instead of having to key it all in.”
Jurkowski says an added bonus is the solution’s multiple language capability which allows the worker to perform all aspects of their job using the language with which they are most comfortable.
“There’s no paper, it’s totally voice driven,” Jurkowski notes. “The system can speak to the pickers in a language they’re comfortable with. It knows multiple languages and they can speak back to the system in their native language. On the picking shift here there’s a lot of Hispanics and some don’t speak English well and they are very comfortable speaking to the system in Spanish.”
So far, the investment is paying off nicely and Eastern Bag and Paper has not experienced any setbacks to the relatively new solution. Jurkowski says the company plans on implementing the solution in its other two warehouses over the next year.
Enviro-Solutions Improves Web Offering
Enviro-Solutions, Peterborough, Ontario, has recently added new features, updates and improvements to its Web site, www.enviro-solution.com.
Highlighting the site’s focus on new features is the addition of the company’s entire product line with descriptions of all products to the site.
Other new features include a ”Resource Center” that includes ”GreenTalk” and ”Green Selling Tips.” These are pages designated for jan/san distributors to learn more about green cleaning, and selling tips.
Also featured on the site’s ”Technical Reports and Presentations” page are numerous PowerPoint presentations outlining green cleaning in different settings, cost calculators and dilution guides.
Security: A Top IT Concern
According to a poll conducted by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), www.comptia.org, nearly a quarter of 1,100-plus information technology (IT) professionals say security technology is at the top of their lists as the technology slated to have the biggest impact on business in the next 12 months.
Wireless data applications came in second, and convergence solutions, such as voiceover Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony and unified messaging, placed third.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) showed up in seventh place, trailing open source solutions, virtualization technology and Web 2.0.
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