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Hong Kong Brewer Uses Palmtops for Order Capture

Hong Kong Brewer Uses Palmtops for Order Capture

This company's sales staff uses HP 200LXs, each equipped with a PC card modem, to take customer orders and transfer the data back to the sales department offices.

By Ross Milburn

This article first appeared in IT Asia, Asia's leading Information Technologies publication focusing on the application of information technologies in large organizations. IT Asia is published by the Newscom Group, which also publishes PC Week Asia, Channels Asia, IT Singapore, IT Malaysia and IT Myanmar. For more information on IT Asia, go to www.newscom-asia.com on the Web, or contact the US agent, Global Media Representative, Inc., at (415) 306-0880.

San Miguel, Hong Kong's largest brewer, has provided its sales team with palmtop computers to be used for order entry and uploading sales data to the company's distribution systems. San Miguel delivers about two million hectolitres of beer annually to thousands of bars, restaurants, hotels and shops throughout the Territory.

In the past, the company carried out its own deliveries with a fleet of trucks driven by salespeople, each assigned specific routes. Orders were taken by the salesperson, either for immediate fulfillment on a COD (cash-on-delivery) basis, or for delivery at a later time. All orders were recorded on handheld terminals from Marvel Technology Co. Ltd.

After an order was entered, the handheld terminal was connected to a printer installed in the cab of the delivery truck, and an invoice printed out. At the end of the day, the salesperson would take his terminal back to the office and upload the data to a PC, which then transmitted it by telephone line to the order entry system running on an IBM AS/400. "This system was very advanced when it was introduced, and San Miguel used it successfully for about five years," said Eric Cheung, the brewer's IT manager.

San Miguel has since grown rapidly to become a major regional organization. Also, competition in beer products has increased. To meet the challenge of changing market conditions, and focus on customer service and market data collection, the company decided to outsource the delivery aspects of distribution to a specialist distribution firm, the South China Warehousing Company, a member of the Tibbett & Britten Group.

In the new system, which was introduced in December 1995, San Miguel's sales team, known as pre-sellers, have been equipped with HP 200LX palmtop computers, used to take customer orders. The software program used, called the Sales Order Maintenance System, runs on DOS, and was written in about three weeks by a three-person team from San Miguel's IT department, using Clipper language.

The palmtops are equipped with PC Card modems, and at the end of each afternoon's sales calls, the salesperson uses this to transfer data by any telephone line to a receiver linked to a PC in the sales department. In turn, the PC uploads the information to the main order entry system, which is part of the accounts programs running on an AS/400. Both these applications were also written in-house.

San Miguel has located a printer and some terminals in the offices of the South China Warehousing Co. and authorized the vehicle route planners to access the AS/400, via a leased line. Delivery information is downloaded as required, and for cash customers, the invoice is also the delivery note. Invoices are printed out for delivery drivers to collect COD for small customers, while larger purchasers have credit accounts.

The new system allows San Miguel to concentrate on its core business - products and customers - while responsibility for warehousing and delivery is in the hands of an international specialist company. In the previous system, complex delivery schedules could conflict with the need for good customer liaison.

When San Miguel carried out its own deliveries, modern route optimization software was considered, but not adopted, said Mr. Cheung. "It would be difficult to maintain route optimization software, in the face of many fluctuating orders, frequent changes to the locations of outlets, and a road system subject to many delays and diversions. In these conditions, expert local drivers used by our delivery contractors may be a better solution," he said.

The new system frees the sales team so that, instead of just going to outlets to take orders, they can provide a better service to customers. One key function is to determine the kind of co-operative sales promotions activities that will benefit particular outlets. These include competitions, offers such as "buy two, get one free," and "promoter teams" (young ladies that promote beer sales). "In addition, more customer contact means better feedback on customer profiles, drinking habits and preferences, necessary for efficient marketing," said Mr. Cheung.

This company's sales staff uses HP 200LXs, each equipped with a PC card modem, to take customer orders and transfer the data back to the sales department.

[Reprinted with permission of IT Asia.]

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