Now, builders spend a fraction of the time entering the data, and they don't have to get on the telephone at all. At the end of the day, they synchronize their Palm devices with a desktop computer located in the building site trailer. Once downloaded, the information is sorted, and orders and instructions are e-mailed directly to the subcontractors. Sending the subcontractors their orders through e-mail saves the company time, and the subcontractors are happier because they receive their directions in writing, not over the telephone, which cuts down on miscommunication.
Soaking up survey suds
Before automating the process, Anheuser-Busch reps went into each retailer with a paper survey about five or six pages long, which they filled out by hand, according to Richard Sleight, senior developer in the sales and marketing department. The survey looks at everything from the price of the beer to the condition and placement of the company's neon signs.
In June 1999, Anheuser-Busch bought 75 Jornada PDAs from Hewlett-Packard Co. and fully automated the survey process. Now surveyors use pull-down menus to enter all the data, according to Sleight. "The surveyors love it because there is no writing involved," he says.
Before the handhelds, surveyors returned to a hotel room used as headquarters, where a data entry person worked from 6 p.m. until 4 a.m. inputting the data into the company's main computer. Now at the end of the day, the surveyors return to the hotel room, connect with a cell-phone line, and download the data to the company's computer in St. Louis. "They're done in minutes," Sleight says. The handhelds have helped the company save thousands of hours of data entry and reams of paper.
Anheuser-Busch uses Casio Soft Inc.'s MobileLink software to conduct its nationwide retailer surveys and to process the collected information. The software, which lets the company create its own questionnaires, stores the information in a database. All the data is later synchronized to the company's main computer. And while the company's distributors used to have to wait two or three months before receiving the results of the survey, now they have the reports in their hand at the end of the week, according to Sleight.
Anheuser-Busch officials hope to extend the handheld fleet to all its field salespeople nationwide in order to keep track of clients.
Practicing for practice
PDAs have made such a splash in the corporate realm for just these reasons--they save time, they cut the errors inherent in doing things by hand, and they are a breeze to use, even for nontechnical people.
Handheld devices make a lot of sense, according to Jack Gold, senior program director at the META Group Inc., in Stamford, Conn. They are lightweight and easy to carry, as most are pocket-sized. They are also inexpensive, easy to access, and convenient. "Most of the time, you don't need a whole lot of information," says Gold. "You don't want to lug around a laptop to get someone's telephone number."