Mobile Database Application Captures Critical Job Tracking and Inventory Data
The desktop PC has transformed the way people live and work, but you can't carry it around on your back. Many mobile users are looking for ways to increase productivity by extending their desktop business applications to their handheld units. The challenge is to provide customized business specific solutions on the handheld without spending a fortune in development costs.
Joslyn Manufacturing, a manufacturer of custom-formed plastic OEM components and point of purchase displays used in department stores nationwide, has a very high turnover rate for its products. This means that Brett Joslyn, as Chief Operating Officer, has to deal with a constant flurry of job quotes, purchase orders, and inventory data. Since much of his work takes place out of the office, away from his desktop PC, he decided to take the most important information on his desktop and transpose it onto a handheld PC.
Since much of his work takes place out of the office, away from his desktop PC, he was losing time trying to keep track of this essential information. When he's on the road visiting customers or on the manufacturing floor, he needs to be able to access and record information immediately. He also found that a laptop computer was too cumbersome to carry around.
Condensing Essential Information
He searched for database software that could interact with Microsoft Access, the database software running on his desktop. Research in magazines and on the Internet led him to Visual CE®, a highly intuitive database and forms building tool from SYWARE, Inc. (www.syware.com). "In searching for a database program, I found that Visual CE was the one that was touted the most. Now I see why, because it's so easy to use."
Joslyn used Visual CE to develop his own customized programs to run on a handheld PC. His created his first application to keep track of purchase orders, using Visual CE's drag & drop design functionality to quickly define his own tables and forms. He was also able to designate index fields to search for records alphabetically, by date, or other criteria. "It was incredibly easy to set things up and move things around," he notes.
First Application in an Hour
The program enables Joslyn to use a handheld PC to capture and access key information about purchase orders, such as customer name, date, product, and price. This information links to complete records on the desktop, containing additional details that are not essential for Joslyn's regular needs. Records are automatically synchronized in both directions based on the most recent information - another convenient feature of Visual CE. For example, an abbreviated purchase order record created on the handheld can be used to create a complete purchase order on the desktop, and vice versa.
Joslyn performs most of his work using a Compaq iPAQ 3650 palmtop, although he also uses an older unit from Casio. Forms developed using Visual CE conform automatically to the handheld or palmtop device being used. Unlike most handheld software, Visual CE also operates seamlessly with different versions of the Windows CE operating system.
"On average, I'm saving an hour to two hours per day," he adds. "All the key information that I need is now readily available - it's like having a mini database in my pocket that I can search whenever I need to."
Tracks Months of Job Quotes
"When you're doing five or six quotes a day, 360 days a year, you need something like this to stay organized. I don't have time to go back to my office and look through paperwork. Now when somebody calls and asks me if I remember that widgit I quoted back in July, I can use the handheld to pull up the record of the quote for the basic details that I need."
Joslyn's next goal is to create a simple database to keep track of finished inventory, with his handheld unit containing information such as part number, product name, quantity on the floor, and expected delivery date. This will provide him with immediate access to crucial inventory information when he is out of the office visiting customers.
"My goal was to condense critical things on my desktop onto the handheld unit," says Joslyn. "Visual CE has given me the tools that have allowed me to do just that."
Rather than manually writing product information on a paper form, an employee could scan a bar code to enter product information into a Visual CE form on the Symbol Technology handheld. The data collected on the handheld unit could then be transmitted to a desktop PC via an infrared port. This would enable real time updating of the company's ERP system used to manage production scheduling, raw material requirements, and similar activities. Real time updating of inventory information also enhances the company's just in time (JIT) delivery system, since the ability to provide custom-built product on a JIT basis requires tight control and tracking of inventory levels.
As part of Joslyn's vision, the scanning capability and real time updating of inventory can also tie in with plans to allow customers to check inventory levels online. A customer will be able to visit the company's web site to confirm if a certain product is in stock, or if it must be ordered. This eliminates the need to make a phone call during business hours to check on the inventory status of a product, and can be done around the clock and on weekends.
"My goal is to integrate the handheld units as much as I can into our existing operations," concludes Joslyn. "The ability to keep critical information in your pocket is a huge advantage - from a convenience standpoint, for efficiency, and to make us as competitive as possible."
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