case study If you're in sales, the last thing you want is to be stuck in the office with paperwork.
Up until three years ago, that was what the retail sales representatives at noodle manufacturer Myojo Foods Co. (Myojo) in Singapore faced every day. After meeting customers--mini-marts, petrol kiosk and sundry shops--and recording their orders on paper, these busy executives returned to their desks and spent hours calculating and compiling sales totals.
In 2002, Myojo's senior management found a way to improve workflow and better manage its human resources. The solution was the size of a hand.
Myojo bought Palm handhelds and installed the personal digital assistants (PDAs) with business software, ACCPAC. The project was carried out by Stone Forest IT.
"We are definitely better off with the PDAs today," says Nelson Wong, general manager of Myojo, a 100 percent-owned subsidiary of Myojo Foods Co. in Japan.
Sales staff enter orders into the Palm handheld when they are at a customer's shop.
Today, sales staff enter orders into the handheld devices when they are at a customer's shop, and spend as little as 10 minutes updating the sales order and inventory system when they return to the office. The benefit: the company shaved 1 to 2 hours off the overall time spent tallying sales orders daily.
"Previously, all the sales executives returned to the office and spent a lot of time totaling the orders, cross-checking prices and checking stock availability," says Eugene Tan, manager, Stone Forest IT.
According to Wong, his staff are able to accumulate more sales now. But that is not all. By automating the data capturing process, Myojo was able to improve the accuracy of the data. Illegible handwriting and other human errors had previously resulted in poor data capture.
"All they need to do now is take down the number of cartons, for example. They don't need to worry about the price which is all controlled by the system," Wong explains.
By replacing the old pen-and-paper way of order-taking, Myojo also addressed product allocation issues, Tan says. Previously, all sales staff totaled and sent in their orders at the same time. "And if the total order exceeded the amount of stock that was available, there was the question of which customer would be allocated the available stock," he says.
Today, equipped with the PDAs, each sales employee is able to report back to the office as soon as they confirm their orders. Tan explains: "Each staff can come back to the office at their own time, synchronize the data with the office system and stock availability is automatically managed by the system."
Myojo is now hoping to improve the recording and tracking of field sales data by "going online". Wong explains: "Right now there is no wireless connection, so staff have to (physically) return to the office to submit the order information.
"But if we go 'online', our sales people will be able to automatically send the information wirelessly to the office while they are out in the field," he adds.
And since staff will not need to return to the office, that will mean savings in petrol and transport costs, too, Wong notes.
Wong says the company is targeting to implement this next phase of the project within the next 12 months. "We'll have to consider the additional cost to implement wireless (capabilities), and the reliability and security features, too," he notes.
According to Wong, Myojo has taken its own initiative in using IT to enhance the business. In Singapore, there are still pockets of the industry, including noodle manufacturers or distributors, which have not jumped onto the "computerization" bandwagon. "Some noodle brands are manually taking and keying in orders into a PC," he notes.
Using technology to keep pace with the business environment and customers' requirements is something that Myojo will continue to do, says Wong.
Myojo's other group of customers, which are supermarket chains, hypermarkets and high-traffic outlets, have also sought a fast route--the Internet--to place orders.
For example, NTUC FairPrice, Cold Storage and Carrefour built an Internet-based procurement system a few years ago, Wong said.
Myojo Foods Co.
When large customers like the supermarket chains introduce new procurement systems and processes, Myojo will have to be ready to toe the line.
And although implementing IT often does not come with a cheap price tag, as in the case of the PDAs which Myojo forked out S$200,000 (US$119,000) for in new hardware and software, one must always consider the overall long-term benefits, Wong said.
Not all small and medium-sized businesses can afford or are willing to invest in IT, because the initial setup cost may be high, he notes.
And cost, is not the only main barrier to IT adoption. "It's also the organization itself. You need support from staff. If they are not IT-literate, they may object," Wong says. "Rejection from staff should be expected."
Recounting his experience, Wong says: "We had to convince our sales staff, but the retail sales people are now used to using the Palmtops."
Contrary to reports that mature workers are not able to cope with today's new working environment, Wong said one staff member, a man over 60 years old, adapted very quickly.
Invited back to work after his retirement from the company, the senior sales executive became comfortable with the new order-taking process within a week. "He had no experience with the Palmtop, so we had someone guide him. And we supported him by asking him to call the office if he had difficulty keying in the information into the device," Wong says.
"During the first week, you can expect it to be tough. But after some practice and ensuring he had our support, he was able to pick it up."