Barcodes & Batches

By Susan Nunziata — March 18, 2009

Allgood Pest Solutions, Lawrenceville, GA, operates 11 branches that provide residential and commercial pest control services to customers in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee.

Its field technicians are responsible for monitoring and upkeep of termite control stations installed throughout their respective territories. The company deployed its first handheld devices -- a consumer-grade PDA  --  nearly 11 years ago, driven by supplier Dow Chemical, which was looking to improve the quality of the data it was getting about the use of one of its termite baiting products.

Dow's solution involves placing a dedicated barcode on each termite station. The technician scans the barcode and then uses the application to record the status of each station, such as the condition of the device, the amount of pesticide used and its effectiveness.

"Dow charges us for each site that we use that product on," explains Randall Piggott, CIO of Allgood. "Each month, we transmit the data to Dow so they can bill us directly."

About six years ago, Dow contracted the solution out to Service Pro, whose accounting and invoicing software solutions were already widely used in the pest control industry.

Allgood had already been using Service Pro in addition to the Dow appliction, but "the two didn't meet," says Piggott. The Dow solution allowed the company to track its pest control stations, while the Service Pro application offered extensive accounting, billing and invoicing functions. Service Pro ultimately integrated the two solutions.

Rugged handheld computers with integrated barcode scanners were an essential part of the upgrade, given the fact that the devices are exposed to dirt, dust, water, and temperature extremes. Allgood first deployed Datalogic Falcons and, about 18 months ago, began transitioning to the Datalogic Pegaso, which Piggott says is "much more efficient and faster" than the Falcon.

Although the Pegaso offers WiFi connectivity, Allgood opts to have its technicians come in every few days to download their data in batches and upload new orders. Piggott says the techs need to return to the branch offices to pick up supplies and having them connect during those visits is easier than training them on how to connect in real-time from the field.

All told, with hardware and software, the solution costs Allgood about $2,000 per device, plus a few hundred dollars each year for maintenance agreements and software assurances, says Piggott.

While the solution has dramatically improved the quality of data on the back end, for technicians in the field "The process probably slows us down," admits Piggott. "Each station requires stopping and doing something. If all you had to do was look at the station and [only] take care of the ones that needed taking care of, it would probably go quicker, quite frankly."

The value proposition comes in how the data is used. "There's an enormous amount of information we can gather from the standpoint of operations, all based upon using the handhelds, that would be extremely meticulous and hard to achieve if it was done manually with paperwork," says Piggott.  //

For more use cases and trends around the use of rugged devices in the field, see our Field Service Central report, Real-World Rugged.

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