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Mobile data collection platform ices Blue Bell's transaction drops

Blue Bell Creameries was frustrated with an inflexible mobile data collection platform that frequently dropped transactions. So what to do?

LAS VEGAS -- Blue Bell Creameries had to rewrite mobile applications when upgrading its Oracle E-Business Suite ERP platform, so the company decided to simultaneously address lost transaction problems with its mobile data collection software, a move that ended up being the cherry on top of the project.

Blue Bell Creameries is a Brenham, Texas-based ice cream maker founded in 1907. It sells directly in 23 states while operating four manufacturing plants, almost 60 distribution centers, and a large fleet of its own delivery trucks.

"We have around 1,500 different vehicles running out on the road each and every day," Jim Kruse, Blue Bell's board secretary and controller, said during a presentation at the Collaborate 14 conference in Las Vegas. "No one else touches our product except for us."

Prior to 2012, the company's mobile data collection software was Gemini from ClearOrbit -- now called Take Supply Chain. But Blue Bell was having problems. Kruse said transactions would sometimes go kaput if an employee in the ice cream production facility or distribution center lost mobile connectivity in the middle of a transaction.

Win some Blue Bell Creameries ice cream

Do you like ice cream? Well, here's your chance to win some. Send in a question for Jim Kruse about Blue Bell's mobile data collection project. One lucky winner will get their question answered and a gift certificate for a free half-gallon of Blue Bell ice cream. Ask your question in the comment section below, or send them to mfontecchio@techtarget.com.

He gave an example. In addition to making as many as 200 mix batches of ice cream every day, Blue Bell produces many of the ingredients that are mixed into the different flavors -- cookies, candies, pieces of ice cream cones and so on. Whenever those ingredients are used on a production line and mixed into a batch, the company creates a data transaction. But because of lost connectivity issues, Blue Bell was seeing locked batches and external purchase orders, causing setbacks in its manufacturing, distribution and receiving processes.

EBS upgrade prompts mobile rethink

Jim KruseJim Kruse

Two years ago, the company moved forward with an upgrade from EBS 11i to R12. Blue Bell runs several EBS modules, including HR and payroll, financials and process manufacturing. When upgrading, Blue Bell had to rewrite its mobile applications due to a new table structure in R12, so it decided to evaluate different mobile data collection applications.

The company examined three products: its existing iteration of Gemini from ClearOrbit (or Take Supply Chain), Oracle Mobile Supply Chain Applications and RFgen Software's Mobile Foundations. Blue Bell's selection criteria for the software included the ability to minimize lost transactions and to support various mobile devices throughout its operations -- the cold storage facility, receiving dock, warehouse and shop floor. It also sought a vendor that was willing to integrate requested new features fairly quickly.

"As you go through your process, you're thinking that it would be nice if you could do this or that," Kruse said about vendor flexibility. "It depends on what kind of vendor you're dealing with. If you're dealing with a vendor that's not that flexible, it could be two years before you can get that into your solution."

Maximizing EBS R12's mobile functionality

Jim Kruse, board secretary and controller for Blue Bell Creameries, offered these tips on maximizing mobile functionality when upgrading to EBS R12:

  • Clean up your data prior to the R12 upgrade
  • Be aware of the need to customize R12
  • Mobilize and customize forms for high-volume transactions
  • Choose mobile software that doesn't drop data upon a lost connection
  • Choose mobile technology that is flexible, easy to modify and easily expandable

Kruse said that ClearOrbit's business model changed with new management. And with that particular product, Blue Bell "had a lot of drops. We had a lot of issues with that." He added that ClearOrbit's code is much longer and more complicated than some, and does hinder customizations.

A winning mix of mobile data ingredients

Similarly, Blue Bell steered away from Oracle because of its inflexibility in incorporating requested features. RFgen was the remaining vendor. Kruse said Blue Bell liked RFgen's compact code that could be customized. The company also was impressed with the technology's integration with E-Business Suite, its support for multiple mobile devices, and its ability to hold transactions when connections are lost.

"It will hold that transaction until you regain connectivity, and then you can confirm the transaction," Kruse said.

With RFgen, Kruse said Blue Bell has been able to move to EBS R12 without losing any mobile data collection capabilities while eliminating the problem of dropped transactions. The company also can now better track its own food products for compliance with federal food safety regulations, and it can use open source code to customize existing transactions.

"Choose a mobile solution that is flexible," Kruse suggested. "That is probably the most important thing. Something that you can use to modify, expand and fix your operations."

Mark Fontecchio may be reached at mfontecchio@techtarget.com. He's also on Twitter @markfontecchio.

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