USA: NuCo2 Plans RouteSmart Delivery System Nationwide, Plans Hook Up of Hand Held Computers to the Internet
The core system now in place has NuCo2 delivery drivers using hand held computers to record the amount of gas delivered, the time of day, the name of the person accepting delivery, and to print a receipt. At the end of a driver's shift, that data is uploaded and transmitted over the Company's intranet to NuCo2 headquarters.
But the people who deliver bubbles have plans to get very creative. When a NuCo2 driver shows up to work in the near future, the driver will enter a vehicle number, the date, and the current mileage reading from the truck into his or her hand held gizmo. The unit then tells the driver the customer stops for the day and, with the new system, what route to drive. And as if that weren't enough, the smart little gadget will also tell the driver which of those accounts have past due bills. Not that the driver of the future is presumed to be a robot -- a manual override can add stops to the route, so customer emergencies can be addressed and handled with a bit of a human touch.
It's almost like having an extra set of eyes along for the ride. At the customer's location -- typically for NuCo2 a restaurant using carbon dioxide to make soft drinks -- the driver uses the hand held reader to scan a bar code which then confirms that the driver is indeed at the right place. While the delivery is being made, the driver takes pressure readings off the local CO2 tank. Leaks are checked for and avoided. The driver enters in some numbers, the customer signs the device, and voila! Without any further input from a human being, a receipt is printed and at the end of the month, thousands of miles away, a bill is generated and dropped in the mail.
If the driver is unable to make a stop, a code is entered so everybody will know Mom's Pies is potentially low on gas. Once home at the depot, the driver records mileage and time in and then literally "puts it in the cradle." All is now known; the hand held device automatically uploads all of the information gathered over the course of the day to an IBM AS 400 mainframe computer. The device has recorded all of the driver's stops over the course of the day. The driver skipped Mom's Pies then three hours later made a delivery two blocks away at Dad's Barbeque Ribs. At the least, some explaining is in order.
Any reports on problems or skipped stops are automatically forwarded to a dispatcher. Mom doesn't have to worry. Her bubble supply is going to be OK. Another truck will pick up that stop tomorrow.
The data will be consolidated with data from hundreds of other routes. The Field Manager will access all of it through a website that encompasses a fully integrated database, a billing system and a performance management system. Most data entry is automated at critical points of product distribution and delivery. The back office, the manual writing and the posting of a traditional delivery ticket, will be eliminated. And yes, a dump truck had rolled over, blocking the one stop light between Mom's and Dad's, and our driver was stuck in traffic, and he couldn't get bubbles to Mom because of it.
This system strategy was critical in NuCo2's obtaining major service alliances with companies such as Coca-Cola. "We're in the process of developing programs for Coke. It is easier for Coke to control the quality of its product when it is in a bottle. But a soda fountain can have problems," says Sellian. "Not only the ratios of water to syrup and CO2, but the quality of CO2, the kind of tanks it is stored in. All CO2 isn't the same. And the customer can taste the difference. We're a tool our customers use to maintain quality control."
What is a simple concept becomes a tactical nightmare when trying to put quality control in place at hundreds of thousands of separate production locations throughout the country. Each restaurant has a miniature production facility -- a soda fountain mixing water, gas and syrup. So NuCo2 computerized and standardized and mechanized the process, enabling a nationwide system of controlled distribution to small accounts. A national bubble route serviced by little trucks with hand held computers enabling more and better quality control and with that, an alliance that made sense to a giant like Coke.
NuCo2 is developing new software that further analyzes the data they collect with the goal of predicting customer bubble consumption. At every stop, at every restaurant, on every route. Using proprietary technology, NuCo2 will analyze a customer's delivery history to accurately determine usage and from that, predict future bubble requirements. Sellian comments, "We hope to be able to predict frankly how many bubbles a restaurant will use. The computer will adjust our daily delivery routes, and our driver's time will be utilized much more efficiently. To our knowledge, it will be the first installation of its kind for the delivery of a bulk commodity to individual business users in the United States." The possibility of running out of bubbles is diminished. Delivery efficiency is increased. Costs are contained.
NuCo2 faces a unique problem. It has some 70,000 accounts from coast to coast. Most generate some two hundred dollars or so per quarter in revenue. Although its products have high margins, efficient delivery systems are, according to Rob Ranieri, Chief Operating Officer, "An absolute necessity. We need a system like this, and we went shopping for it. But nobody could give us this software off-the-shelf. So we are creating it."
One major concern with having 70,000 accounts coast to coast is hiring drivers who know or can figure out where the accounts are...Try delivering bubbles in L.A. and see if you don't get lost. And just as difficult is finding and hiring field managers who know that Mom's Pie's is only two blocks down that street from Dad's. So Ranieri and his crew turned to Intergis for geocodes and mapping information to integrate and computerize at the hand held level what, until now, had been done manually. The Intergis system, according to Ranieri, has gotten "rave reviews" from companies that have used it. The special twist on NuCo2's use of the Intergis system is that it ties mapping-- the route the driver is going to take for the day--to inventory delivery and control. The route is generated by the mainframe, and downloaded to the handheld "in the cradle". The driver gets some well deserved help. He or she will not only be shown graphically the stops to make, but also the most efficient route to take, that having been determined by the Intergis mapping system.
70,000 restaurants spread all around the country using his product means, for Randy Gold, NuCo2 Vice President for Sales, that there could potentially be 70,000 accounts calling in to get problems fixed -- at once. "That is my ultimate nightmare," says Gold, "So we've worked backwards from that nightmare to get to a place of maximum control and efficiency." The new system once fully installed will use computers and the Internet to make the nightmare go away. Using remote monitoring of system vital signs via land based phone lines, the tanks nationwide will all be hooked together over the Internet. The system will give a continuous reading for pressure, content, and purity level either by an automated telephone call to the tank or preset emergency readings. It will be a local call from anywhere -- from any tank in any restaurant -- by way of the Internet. "The initial equipment cost will be limited," says Ranieri. "The system itself is simple. It's set up to collect and retrieve data. And the data is conformed to and checked against the readings the drivers get. What makes it special is that it will be a fully integrated system that we will use throughout the enterprise. Look for it all to bubble out over the next two years."
Leave it to Mom to get the last word in. Mom isn't unhappy that a rolled- over dump truck blocked her key intersection for four hours. Besides Dad's Barbeque Ribs, Mom's Pies is the only restaurant in the area and does a landslide business to people stuck in traffic. At the end of the day, though, Mom realizes the NuCo2 bubble truck has not made its appointed stop. So she logs onto the Internet, brings up her account on NuCo2's website, sees she is past due but not that past due, and notes that delivery has been rescheduled for the following day "due to traffic." This webpage of the final phase of NuCo2's fully integrated system tells her that her bubble tank is down to the 10% level, so she makes a further mental note to watch for the driver the next day, logs off this system of the future and goes home. No phone call to NuCo2. The tank has already made the phone call for her. And the system has duly recorded it and scheduled for the next day the Mom's Pies stop.
This press release contains certain forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, which are intended to be covered by the safe harbors created thereby. Investors are cautioned that all forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainty, including without limitation, the ability of the Company to market and develop its products. Although the Company believes that the assumptions underlying the forward-looking statements contained herein are reasonable, any of the assumptions could be inaccurate, and therefore, there can be no assurance that the forward-looking statements included in this press release will prove to be accurate. In light of the significant uncertainties inherent in the forward- looking statements included herein, the inclusion of such information should be regarded as a representation by the Company or any other person that the objectives and plans of the Company will be achieved.
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