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MIS LogoLeading Edge Award Winning Mobility Solution Provides MIS with Real Time Advantage

Company background

Market Intelligence Services (MIS) is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Processed Vegetable Growers Association. Based in Louth, Lincolnshire they have over ten years experience monitoring retail prices. MIS produce numerous weekly reports that offer a snap shot of the retail prices at the major supermarkets, convenience stores and discounters around the country.

Using a manual paper based collection process, MIS invested significant amounts of time and labour in compiling the correct questionnaires for each of the required data collection jobs. It also had to ensure that these reached the right data collection agent in the post. This labour intensive process took a whole working day to complete. Then, each agent would be required to carry out various data collection jobs across multiple retailers and product lines. A separate paper questionnaire had to be produced for each job.

The agent would visit the appropriate retailer to manually complete the questionnaires. Completed questionnaires were then faxed back to MIS. The newly collected information would be manually typed in to update the legacy MIS system. This data would be cleaned and reformatted to enable production of each individual customer’s report. The finished reports in Excel spreadsheet format were then emailed to the customer.

The Business Need

MIS wanted to improve the quality and range of products it offered its clients. Analysis of the market place had led them to realize that whereas in the past they had concentrated on recording price and country of origin, there were now many other points of information that were valuable to their clients. These included such things as sell by dates, packaging type, and space allocation. Delivering that information to them in a faster, more up to date format was critical. In addition the system was to provide easy trend analysis of the data. Another overall business need was to improve the efficiency and speed of collecting and distributing the vast quantities of data collected each week. MIS also wanted to improve the accuracy of the data while reducing the administrative burden and associated postage costs.

A further aim of this project was the elimination of paper usage. MIS were becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of its paper consumption.

The Solution

The solution was built using a combination of the latest Microsoft .NET and Windows Mobile technologies, Microsoft SQL 2005 and Anglia’s own suite of .NET development tools and applications. The solution consisted of 3 phases:

Phase I – This involved the design and development of a powerful Administration Console at the core of the solution. This configured the parameters that define each data collection job. It also configured and maintained the captured data while also managing the customer account and subscription information. The Administration Console also performed the role of a customer relationship management system. This handled all of the engagement interactions with the customer. It included logging all of the customers’ activities while engaging with the web site which could be viewed by MIS administrative staff. The Console also gathers information on stores while also assigning store groups to them. It also facilitates the collection of manual data posted directly to the system.

The MIS Admin console

Fig 1: The Admin Console

Phase II – This involved the design and development of a state of the art easy to use mobile application. It was designed to be used by non IT literate personnel. This provided the data collecting agents with an electronic questionnaire on a handheld device which was used to physically capture the information. The mobile solution is then used to electronically transmit the data to the Administrative Console. This automatically updates the MIS database without further intervention by MIS staff.

The MIS mobile device main menu screen

Fig 2: Mobile Device Main Menu Screen

The MIS data collection screen on mobile device

Fig 3: Data Collection Screen on the Mobile Device

As a communications device, the mobile application can also be used to transmit messages between MIS and the data collection agents. It is also used to capture information on new products such as prepared foods. Messages can also be sent between collectors to alert to stock levels or special promotions, speeding up communications while reducing telephone costs.

The MIS messages screen on mobile device

Fig 4: Messages screen

Phase III - A Web Application to generate reports and enable customers to login and view any reports to which they have subscribed.

 

Web view of MIS generated customer report

Fig 5: Web view of MIS generated customer report

The Implementation

Anglia undertook a solution model exercise before any development work was started. The aim of the solution model is for both parties to clearly understand the scope of the proposed project. The deliverable from this exercise is a documented blue print for the project together with budgets and timescales.

The project was implemented using a three phased approach; the admin back office, the mobile data collection application and the web interface. This gradual approach consisted of an iterative development phase using application prototypes as proof of concepts. Involving users in the design phase in this way assisted in gaining user buy in to the solution. It also shortened the training cycle as users became familiar with the system concepts during the testing phase.

A key part of the deployment was the availability of a unique set of sophisticated application development aids. Over the past four years, Anglia has invested in the creation of a suite of re-useable .NET development tools. These are designed to reduce the deployment time and cost of advanced mobile solutions.

Anglia’s Drizzle Technology (DT) was used to enable the synchronisation of data captured on the mobile devices with the central database. DT’s store & forward functionality enables data capture to continue even when the loss of mobile network coverage means that the link to the database is not available.

Anglia’s DataMaker technology was used to rapidly replicate the required data repository on the mobile devices. This automatically matches the tables of the central MIS database to allow seamless synchronisation of the captured data.

Anglia’s AutoUpdate technology is used to automatically roll out any software updates to the handheld devices without the need for the devices to be returned to base.

The Benefits

Implementing this sophisticated mobile solution has provided MIS with a significant range of business benefits. These include:

The ability to quickly capture any relevant points of data in store, and ensure that the data can be processed and available to the clients in a much shorter time frame. It also enables MIS to make it a more “live” system, by monitoring information throughout the week, rather than just taking a snapshot on a Monday.

The time to capture and analyse the data has been greatly reduced. Whereas previously the arrival of the completed questionnaires caused massive workload peaks, staff now only have to verify and correct a small proportion of data prior to releasing to the core system. This has enabled personnel to focus on enhancing client service while improving staff morale.

Automating the production of the questionnaires has significantly reduced administration costs. It has also eliminated transcription errors leading to improved accuracy of the reporting aspect.

Apart from significantly reducing stationery and postage costs, the replacement of vast quantities paper by electronic means has enabled MIS to become more environmentally friendly. This was an important factor as the company wished to reduce its carbon footprint.

As the data store builds, the analytical tools available through the SQL reporting services enable the company to accurately analyse industry trends. This will prove an invaluable service to their customers thus improving client service and loyalty.

The success of the project means that MIS are ideally placed to extend the system to meet other data capture opportunities.

One unplanned gain was that the system provides a useful performance evaluation mechanism on its data collecting agents.

Business development manager David Tebbutt said: “Investing in this innovative solution has provided us with a significant commercial advantage in our chosen market. We are delighted to have found the ideal partner to work with on this project. We spent a lot of time looking at what it is now possible to do with the new technology and the opportunities are very exciting. Our state of the art system will enable us to offer a much improved and more comprehensive service to both new and existing subscribers.”

Hardware & Software
Microsoft .NET Framework
Microsoft® Windows Mobile®
Microsoft® SQL Server 2005
Microsoft® Reporting Services
Microsoft® Windows® Small Business Server
Microsoft® Visual Studio®

Services
Build and assemble PCs and Server hardware
Develop Custom Software
Install and Configure Hardware and Platform Software
Manage IT Implementation Project
Provide Post Implementation Support


For Further information contact:
Anglia Business Solutions Ltd
Harston Mill
Harston
Cambridge
CB22 7GG
UK

Tel: +44 (0)1223 873400
Fax: +44 (0)1223 873401
Email: linkfresh@angliabs.com

 



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