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What to do when your phone upgrade demands brawn over beauty

Largest US wholesale plumbing supply company, Ferguson Enterprises, needed rugged handset to support route optimization and customer service apps

By , Network World
December 13, 2012 05:17 PM ET

Page 2 of 3

As Ferguson worked with Descartes on preliminary requirements, Zanette says, the company saw more and more potential for an appropriate mobile device to leverage capabilities such as electronic proof of delivery and turn by turn navigation. Descartes suggested considering Psion's EP10 device, which Ferguson evaluated in late 2011 and began initial deployment in early 2012.

Psion rugged device
Credit: Psion
Truck drivers for plumbing supplies distributor Ferguson Enterprises are using a ruggedized smartphone from Psion, and new route optimization software from Descartes, to cut travel time, increase on-time arrivals and improve customer service with real-time, accurate data capture.

"It's a little bigger than a standard smartphone, and it runs Windows Mobile [technically Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5.3]," says Zanette. "It has the full range of voice, data and GPS capabilities that you'd get in a typical smartphone. But it's much more rugged than a consumer-grade smartphone."

And it looks it. The Psion EP10 is 6.2 x 3.1 x 1.2 inches, weighing a hefty 12.2 ounces with the rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, which is available in standard or high capacity options, and able to run for a full shift.

The front combines a 3.7-inch 480 x 640 VGA backlit, "sunlight readable" touchscreen (stylus or finger) with three keyboard options. It packs a 800MHz ARM Cortex A8-based CPU, with 256MB SDRAM and 2GB of flash. It has 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR, and support for multiband HSPA+ or EV-DO Rev. A 3G cellular networks.

There's an extensive security portfolio: 802.1X, WPA/WPA2-Enterprise, a selection of EAP authentication protocols; and several encryption options, from simple to complex. Sensors include: accelerometer, digital compass, gyroscope, light sensor and proximity sensor. There's built-in scanning for data collection, with a 2D omni-directional imager. It has a 3.2 megapixel color camera.

And the EP10 is tough: It meets standards for rain and dust protection, and its drop rating is based on surviving 26 5-foot drops, on each edge, corner and surface, to polished concrete, and "multiple drops" of 6 feet.

The EP10 can support an extensive stack of Microsoft mobile applications, such as Internet Explorer Mobile and Office Mobile 2012. But Ferguson treats the device as a pure business tool: It runs the Descartes dispatching/routing client and the client for B2M Solutions' Mprodigy mobile device management suite, which Psion offers as part of a managed service that includes Level 1 and 2 help desk support.

With this combination, Ferguson dispatchers and administrators have real-time location of all trucks, updated estimated-time-of-arrival, and an array of other location-based data, real-time data capture at drop-off sites, as well as full visibility into every EP10.

The route optimization and estimated arrival times now can be shared with customers, so they can meet the trucks on-site. Delivery documentation is on the device. Once the products are unloaded, a series of screen prompts guide the drivers to report "exceptions" (a delivery refusal due to an incorrect order, for example) or damaged products. With real-time data, customer service reps can contact the customer at once and start a credit process or work on arranging for an alternate product source.

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