Saturday, December 1, 2001

Palm handhelds deliver mobility to growing ice business


By Christine Harland Williams

A truck carrying liquefied asphalt through Hilltown Township, PA tipped over last year, with the spillage threatening nearby fields. The township gave Rosenberger Ice a call, and the company quickly delivered to the scene 450 bags of ice, which were used to cool the asphalt and harden it, avoiding field damage.

This last-minute delivery request isn't typical for Rosenberger Ice, which manufacturers 360 tons of ice per day at plants in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Then again, Rosenberger Ice isn't a typical company.

Take its delivery process, for example. Rosenberger Ice truck drivers, who haul ice and other products that require careful cooling and timely delivery, now use Palm VII handhelds with a real-time order management system. Among other benefits, the system helps Rosenberger handle last-minute requests and changes by easily rerouting deliveries to accommodate customer needs. Just how the company developed the application is as innovative as the solution itself, and it offers a few slick ideas for anyone that wants more mobility for their business.

Low-tech ice business needs high tech help

Rosenberger Ice was founded in 1984 as part of Rosenberger Cold Storage, Inc. With about 3,000 customers from Scranton, Pennsylvania, south to the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay and into New Jersey, Rosenberger Ice serves retail convenience store, gas stations, beer distributors, liquor stores, and grocery stores. The company also supplies other small ice companies that don't have production capacity, as well as manufacturers who need large quantities of ice as part of their process.

Despite the varied customer base, it should come as no surprise that ice manufacturing is a low-tech business. "We freeze water, bag it, and deliver it," explains Tom Gorman, executive vice president of the Rosenberger Companies. "Our customers request deliveries by phone, not by fax or computer, and we have established delivery routes and timetables so that customers usually do not have to call in."

But things were quickly changed. Since 1998, Rosenberger's ice business has grown from $1.5 million in sales to approximately $4.5 million. Along with the growth came growing pains. This low-tech business soon began searching for a high-tech way to improve its paper-based delivery process.

Putting paper-based delivery on ice

Prior to using the Palm OS-based system, drivers began their day with a route printout generated from Lotus Approach software and a stack of blank invoice forms. At each stop, the drivers would write down what was delivered and the quantity, calculate the cost of the delivery, and collect money or note to what account it should be charged.