I am often asked if route handheld computers are really necessary for companies that are looking at telemetry solutions that can offer pre-kitting. It is a fair question, because in theory, once a system is set up with accurate inventory levels, telemetry alone should be able to monitor activity and tell the drivers what to bring.
In practice, however, handhelds are still needed because vending is not an exact science, and handhelds allow the driver to collect additional information in the field. They also serve as a backup option to provide DEX data to your vending management software (VMS) if the telemetry system fails.
Besides managing product inventory, the handheld allows the driver to record refunds, coin tubes fills, recycler fills, and spoiled product. If inventory levels are not correct (this can happen for a variety of reasons including VMS failures), the handheld will identify this and allow the driver to quickly make corrections.
Finally, the handheld allows a driver to make a product change by scanning a new product as needed because the inventory is not on the truck. If you are not using a handheld, this information can be recorded on paper and later entered into the system, but in practice, it often isn’t.
Keep in mind there are other uses for the handheld besides filling vending machines — many vending operators also do OCS deliveries with invoicing and delivery confirmation supported by the same handheld. And for operators that are not pre-kitting routes, the handheld is used for driver check-in/check-out procedures and truck inventory transactions.
More vending operators are facing challenges in deciding how to employ technology. Some are diving in and adopting software systems and/or remote monitoring with handhelds that use machine specific planograms to track item level sales in vending machines.
Tracking sales at item level is the first step to utilizing cost saving technologies such as pre-kitting and dynamic scheduling. Using a DEX handheld that tracks at the item level gets you into the cost saving game.
This article is designed to help operators planning on deploying handhelds, and also deals with the challenges involved in moving to item-level tracking.
Item-level tracking provides enormous benefits to your bottom line by enabling:
Pre-kitting — Defined as packing bins in the warehouse for each machine. Companies can consolidate 25 percent of their routes by implementing this.
Dynamic Scheduling — When software tells you when to visit a machine instead of on a regular schedule. Companies can consolidate another 20 percent of routes on top of pre-kitting.
Merchandising — Using computer tools to optimize product mix or space to sales. Companies initially looked at merchandising to increase same machine sales, however, when used in conjunction with dynamic scheduling, service intervals can often lengthen 50 to 100 percent by doubling up on the best sellers.
Vending operators seem to be taking two different approaches to get into item-level tracking.
They are rolling out handhelds as an extension of their VMS as an upgrade to their existing system, or as part of a change to a new system.
They are trying item-level tracking on a few machines that are being monitored by wireless solutions.
Both approaches are valid and may work for operators of different sizes. A small operator can start monitoring a few machines on wireless and use the tools provided by the wireless provider to prove the value proposition (knowing when to service a machine and what to bring).
Larger companies typically cannot manage a few machines or routes on wireless unless the system is integrated into their existing VMS, but they can often migrate a few routes at a time onto item level tracking with handhelds.
Regardless of the size of your company and the approach you take, one of the most important choices is in choosing the initial route and driver that will use the new system. The driver you choose should be an honest and technology adept. He should also be well respected by the other drivers because he can influence them.