Portable databases for MVP!: Page 2

Posted September 19, 2000

Neil Plotnick

(Page 2 of 3)

AT A GLANCE: The United Center

The company: The United Center, owned and managed by United Center Joint Venture, Chicago

The problem: Inventory management

The solution: Put PDAs equipped with mobile databases in the hands of memorabilia vendors and receiving clerks.

The technology: Braxton Butterfield Consulting's Fandemonium Information Management System (FIMS) uses Oracle Corp.'s Oracle8i Lite portable relational database and Symbol 1700, a PDA from Symbol Technologies Inc. of Holtsville, N.Y. A companion product to the Oracle database, Oracle iConnect, synchronizes data with central database servers.

In the second scenario, the database and a significant subset of its data are resident on a PDA or portable computer. Olofson says there are good reasons for this approach as well. "If you need to download and navigate a complex set of data, it may be better to have local storage on the device," he says.

Response times with this approach, naturally, are faster, he notes, and because portable devices might not always be able to get a persistent connection to the database, users might not be able to browse information they need on a Web server. In those cases, he says, it's better to have the data and database resident locally.

This second approach was the right one for the United Center. Braxton Butterfield's Fandemonium Information Management System (FIMS) uses Oracle8i Lite portable relational database and the Symbol 1700, a PDA from Symbol Technologies Inc., in Holtsville, N.Y. A companion product to the Oracle database, Oracle iConnect, synchronizes data with central database servers.

Today, employees in receiving compare the shipment being delivered with the purchase order stored on the PDA's database. When they finish comparing shipments and purchase orders, the receiving clerks dock their PDAs in their cradles and automatically upload the information to the main database, thereby synchronizing information in the mobile and central inventory databases.

T-shirts, hats, and other items are sold at one large central store and more than a dozen smaller kiosks throughout the building and in two parking lot locations. Previously, only the main store had cash registers, and all the vendors worked out of aprons. Now, all the vendors are equipped with Symbol PDAs and belt-mounted mini-printers. Vendors can use the bar-code scanner attached to their Symbol PDA and accurately keep track of each item sold.

For the shopper at the main store this means no more long waits in line to make a purchase; any kiosk or central store employee with a PDA could handle checkouts as all cash registers have been eliminated. Cash registers are more expensive than the PDAs. In the old system, there was a need to manually check cash register tapes and then enter the data from them. Credit card sales in the two parking lot locations required the use of a cell phone. With the new wireless solution planned, PDAs with optional card readers will be able to scan cards and get authorization over the wireless network.

For management, the differences are even more pronounced. With a much better handle on inventory, they can keep much less inventory on hand. Because of more timely reports, the United Center now uses just-in-time (JIT) inventory, which has reduced the $400,000 to $500,000 worth of merchandise it used to keep on hand to between $100,000 and $125,000. And there are no more 48-hour marathon monthly inventories to take. Today, the entire process--still done once a month--takes four to six hours, and FIMS has completely eliminated manual data entry.

Some custom programming was needed to create a link that ties the entire system into the United Center's Platinum ERP system. All general ledger and other entries can be done automatically. "Braxton Butterfield's solution has given United Center management the ability to isolate and identify theft of merchandise," according to Simon.

Initial deployment of the handhelds running Oracle8i Lite was accomplished in four weeks. Tying that to the back-end of the palm operating system (POS) was accomplished in eight weeks, and the tie in for inventory was accomplished in 12 weeks. The interface to the ERP and the handheld portion of the inventory was completed in the same 12-week timeline. Initial reports were generated within the 12 weeks, and a final set of reports was completed within 16 weeks. Documentation followed shortly thereafter. Total investment was $250,000 with a return-on-investment of less than two months.

Disconnected and on the move

The beauty of mobile databases is that they allow users to search and view data practically anywhere, at anytime, and--thanks to Java and other technologies--on any platform. The combination of mobility and cross-platform portability is just what Los Angeles-based fresh ground software LLC, a distributor of music clips to the entertainment industry, needed to maximize exposure of its product MusicSource Desktop.

"Our Holy Grail has always been a database that's cross platform," says Scott Herring, fresh ground's vice president, Internet services. The company's music clips are used in TV commercials, movie trailers, and other media.

The original fresh ground application, developed in-house, was done in DOS and then later ported to Windows. But that left Apple Macintosh users--and there are many in the entertainment industry--out in the cold. So fresh ground built an online database of its music clips that is accessible via the Internet. A pure browser based system called fresh ground MusicSource eliminated the Windows only nature of their earlier product.

After building this system, however, Herring says the company realized that not all of its clients would have Internet access all the time. Many customers work on location shooting commercials and feature films in remote locations. Or they travel frequently on airplanes, which doesn't permit them to have the constant connection they need to browse through the company's database of music clips.

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