Mobile Processing

Using mobile technology saves time and money, and improves accuracy and customer service.

You’ve been in the welding supply business for a long time. You’ve been very successful at running your business. You have even upgraded to the latest computer technology. But now you keep hearing people say you need to consider something called mobile processing. What exactly is mobile processing, and why should you give it a second thought?

What Is Mobile Processing?
Depending upon whom you talk to, you could get a variety of definitions. One very simple definition is performing work away from your office. For example, you are mobile processing any time you call back to the office to find out what your customer owes you. Another example is when drivers sell something off of their truck and write up a ticket in the field to give to the customer. Any work of this type performed in the field easily could be described as mobile processing.

But when GAWDA talks about mobile processing, the definition typically involves the use of technology. When you add technology to the mobile processing equation, the benefits to you can be tremendous. Here are a few examples.

Improved Customer Service
Most distributors have outside salespeople calling on customers. Customers often have questions that require a call back to the office, such as: “Did you receive my last payment?” or “What is my price for that helmet?” or “How many cylinders do you have me charged with?” If the salesperson does not have a printout with him, he has to call the office and get someone to stop what they are doing and look up the answer to the question the customer just posed.

But suppose that your salesperson has a laptop, a PDA or even a cell phone. Instead of having to call back to the office, the salesperson could answer the questions immediately for the customer. The customer gets his information fast, the salesperson is not wasting time calling back to the office, and your inside person is free to continue working on other tasks. You just saved time for your customer, your salesperson and your inside people.

More Accurate Cylinder Records
One of the big headaches for many distributors is cylinder balances, specifically, keeping them accurate. Here is where mobile processing can help you and your customers. Even if you are not currently tracking your cylinders by serial number with a PDA, ruggedized handheld computer or even certain cell phones, you could download cylinder information to such a device, giving your sales team and your drivers the capability to perform cylinder audits when visiting customers. The salesperson would be able to perform the audit and immediately alert the customer to any discrepancies, then begin working toward resolving them before they get out of control.

In this example, mobile processing with a mobile computer gives you the opportunity to improve the accuracy of your cylinder records, reduce the number of meetings involving cylinder discrepancies and demonstrate to your customers a higher level of customer service.

Processing Orders at the Point of Delivery
Many distributors stock extra cylinders and inventory on their trucks in case the customer decides they need a few more oxygen cylinders or some extra tips. Regardless of whether your order is generated ahead of time or at the customer site, changes to the order have to be made when the customer wants more of your products. This is a good thing. But how do these changes get back to your host system accurately and efficiently?

You can download cylinder information to a mobile device, giving your sales team and your drivers the capability to perform cylinder audits when visiting their customers.

Probably what happens now is that the driver writes down the changes on the ticket and brings those back at the end of the day. Then someone else deciphers the handwritten changes and manually enters the changes into your host system. Hours every day are spent on this repetitive, potentially error-prone task. Mobile processing gives you the capability to streamline this operation.

Instead of writing down the changes on a printed ticket, the driver simply brings up the ticket on his mobile computer and notes the changes. At the end of the day, the mobile computer is returned to the office and the orders, with all of their changes, are updated to your invoicing system. No one has to enter the changes that were made—they are already in the mobile computer. No one has to enter the number of empty cylinders picked up because those, too, are in the mobile computer. You can literally save hours of data entry every day.

What Do You Need to Get Started?
Mobile processing has come a long way in the last few years. The choices available to you are as wide ranging as the products you offer to your customers. Some distributors download data to laptop computers every day and are already reaping the benefits of mobile processing. Other distributors have worked with their software suppliers to set up virtual private networks, allowing them to use the laptop computer to access their host systems from wherever they happen to be.

If you think smaller is better, you might want to look at the latest generation of ruggedized handheld computers with built-in bar code scanners and even transponder readers. These allow you to do everything discussed above, plus track cylinders by serial number.

But don’t forget about that PDA or cell phone you are using. Instead of just using them to call back to the office or synchronize with your e-mail, you can download tons of information about your customers’ buying patterns, cylinder records and even payment history.

Maybe it’s time you gave mobile processing a second look. Your software supplier can probably get you set up with one or more mobile processing options in no time flat. Not only will you save time and money, but think about how many trees you will save by not printing out those inventory reports and price lists that your salespeople are carrying with them.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Jim Broughton Meet the Author
James R. Broughton is a member of GAWDA’s Management Information Committee and president of DataWeld in Bossier City, Louisiana, and on the Web at