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Field Technicians Equipped with Ruggedized GPS-Enabled Cell Phones
DS Waters Increases Efficiency and Profits with GIS and LBS
DS Waters, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, is the U.S. leader in home and office water delivery. DS Waters' bottled water products include leading regional brands, such as Alhambra, Belmont Springs, Crystal Springs, Hinckley Springs, Kentwood Springs, Sierra Springs, and Sparkletts. Water is bottled at more than 25 manufacturing facilities and then delivered by a fleet of more than 2,000 delivery trucks to millions of homes and offices across the country. DS Waters employs approximately 5,500 people in more than 30 states with annual estimated revenues of approximately $1 billion.
DS Waters experienced explosive growth over the last few years and wanted to continue its growth as well as scale for the longer term. It recognized an opportunity to improve its productivity and service levels by looking to standardize its internal applications and leverage mobile technology.
What's Really Happening in the Field?
DS Waters has a highly mobile workforce across different work areas using multiple systems and devices. DS Waters has been competitive and has done well in its market.
"But we knew we could do better," says Bob Bramski, vice president and CIO of DS Waters. "We knew if we could get more detailed, accurate information about what our employees were actually doing in the field, we could improve our operations and become more profitable. But we have routes and deliveries going on all over the country, and closer field supervision would just cost too much."
Considering the sheer volume flowing through the company on a daily basis, keeping track of everyone involved in manufacturing, delivery, and service has become a Herculean effort. In addition, getting the right information to customers was increasingly becoming a larger challenge. Customers were growing impatient and frustrated with the lack of easily accessible information. "We knew we had to address these issues, and we also knew technology was out there that could solve our problems," adds Bramski. DS Waters began researching wireless and GPS technology that it hoped would help manage and monitor field activities and technicians.
Can Technology Really Make a Difference?
DS Waters embarked on an aggressive plan to deploy wireless devices and software to make field technicians more productive while making customers happier by being able to provide them with accurate information. WorkTrack, the GPS-enabled time, job, and location tracking system, was selected after an evaluation of three competing vendors. DS Waters evaluated many criteria during its selection process, including support for specific business processes, accuracy of the system, and ability to integrate with multiple back-end systems. It found that the WorkTrack solution from Aligo, Inc. (San Francisco, California), offered the most flexibility, security, and scalability, as well as the support necessary to grow with DS Waters' needs now and in the future.
In addition, Aligo's strong relationship with Esri made a difference as Bramski was a user of ArcSDE and ArcIMS products from Esri for DS Waters' delivery routing. At first, the program was piloted to DS Waters' field service techniciansapproximately 100 employees who install and service coolers and filtering devices in homes and offices across the country. Each technician was given a ruggedized GPS-enabled cell phone with the application loaded, along with a training session on the use of the application over the phone. However, given the intuitive nature of the application, field technicians found it easy to use after a few days. While the initial pilot was conducted with the field technicians, DS Waters ultimately rolled out the system to the delivery drivers-for a total of more than 2,000 drivers.
Is There a Silver Bullet?
The assisted GPS technology allows back-office dispatchers and operations managers to view the location of technicians or drivers in the field using ArcWeb Services. "We started out thinking that keeping track of employees," says Bramski, "would be the key factor in improving productivity, but tracking thousands of employees with hundreds of thousands of routes just was not practical."
He discovered that management by exception was his silver bullet to making this technology work successfully. Bramski explains, "You know the data is there if you ever want to see it, but being alerted to issues, such as when a technician is running behind on his job by more than one hour or a delivery truck has not moved in the last 30 minutes, was the greatest benefit we saw early on." This capability allowed DS Waters to manage its employees based on triggers that were determined to be critical to operations. They were able to run standard weekly or daily reports as desired, but this approach led to major productivity and service level increases.
DS Waters' operations can track the location of delivery people using ArcWeb Services through WorkTrack. Field technicians rely on the system to accurately capture their job hours and status. DS Waters' system integrates directly with many different systems, such as Cignify, Kronos, and Oracle, saving time and money while achieving government compliance.
With this new technology, a technician runs through a simple menu on his cell phone to enter shift, job, and break information. The information is transmitted to the back-end system, which enables the dispatcher or operations manager to know when the technician is available or unavailable for another job. Because the system tracks where the employee is, the dispatcher can smartly dispatch the next job to the closest technician, thereby optimizing service levels. The technician receives the new job and can also obtain information regarding that job, such as address and driving directions, through ArcWeb Services.
Hard-Dollar Savings Demonstrated
Before the system was implemented, field technicians relied on radios, cell phones, and two-way pagers to communicate with dispatchers and often waited hours to receive a new job. Today, no paperwork is required, and tracking of specific parts purchased can be captured and sent back to the system in real time. In addition, Bramski states, "Every other Friday was a nightmare in our corporate office, trying to process thousands of time sheets for all our field employees." Frustration levels for field employees were growing as fax machines were usually busy for hours at a time, and many times the paychecks were fraught with errors that took weeks to correct. "Now, we simply pull the employee time report from the system and approve it for processing in our payroll system," Bramski explains. To date, DS Waters estimates that WorkTrack has saved each technician approximately 1520 minutes of productivity a day, which translates into approximately $1,500 per worker per year. For 2,000 employees, this means an annual increase in productivity worth more than $3 million per year.
Bramski says he sees many possibilities for new uses of WorkTrack and expects the project to continue delivering benefits well into the future. "I love hard-dollar savings and short return on investments," he explains. "This is how technology is supposed to work in a business; nothing about the gains I have experienced to date is theoretical, and that is the way I intend to keep it."