Duskin's inventory management improved with mobile app
This Musashino Duskin case study is based on an article published by iMagazine Japan. www.imagazine.co.jp
The case study illustrates how a mobile app for sales staff on the road has improved the accuracy and speed of inventory management and account settlement. Key to the mobile solution’s success was its capability to integrate directly with the company’s IBM i-based ERP system when sales staff is online, while allowing sales staff to work offline when no connection is available or needed. The mobile solution was developed with LANSA’s LongRange.
Musashino Corporation, under leadership of its president Noboru Koyama and based in Koganei city, Tokyo, is well-known in Japan for its management philosophy and management consulting business. The company also operates the Duskin franchise business in the Musashino area of western Tokyo, from which it derived its name.
Musashino’s Duskin division offers three types of services. ‘Duskin Cleaning Service’ provides rental and sales of floor mops, door mats, air & water purifiers, towels & hand dryers and other cleaning goods and equipment. ‘Duskin Care Service’ provides professional cleaning services and pest control. Last but not least, ‘Duskin Home Instead’ provides nursing and care services for senior citizens.
This case study is about how Duskin Cleaning Services, the largest and longest operating business division of Musashino, has achieved efficiencies by providing its sales staff with a mobile app.
Sales staff of Duskin Cleaning Services visit clients in order to collect used commodities, such as door mats, towels and mops, and replace them with new products. On a typical day staff members visit between 50 to 60 offices and 100 homes, while also looking for potential new customers.
Before implementation of the mobile solution, sales staff carried printed customer lists with them on which they manually confirmed or corrected the number of products they collected from and distributed to each customer. Upon returning to the office, these details were then entered in Musashino’s IBM i-based ERP system, from which sales invoices were produced and the inventory was updated.
On the day before scheduled customer visits, inventory workers would print these customer lists, consolidate them by sales person, take the required number of replacement items from the warehouse shelves and set these items aside for the salesperson to collect, together with the customer lists.
This paper-based method was prone to mistakes. Furthermore, data entry and inventory taking would often continue well into the night. “Reducing the employees’ workload was one of the top priorities," says Mr. Hiroki Takahashi, PMS section manager Internet division, IT Department.
Reducing the employees’ workload was one of the top priorities
The Search for a Solution
Mr Takahashi developed the plan for a mobile app for sales staff, as he recognized that it would provide a solution to the overtime problem, as well the issue of inaccurate sales and inventory data.
The choice of which mobile device type to use was already made. In 2012 president Koyama had started a program of distributing iPads to employees and contractors. Over 400 iPads were already in use, mostly for internet and email access, plus a few standalone apps developed with FileMaker.
"The main concern was which tool to use,” explains Mr Takahashi. “At first, we were looking at FileMaker. We were quite familiar with FileMaker, but we had little experience integrating the FileMaker apps to our enterprise system. The prototype we developed didn't work well when linking to the DB2 database on IBM i. In addition, the solution relied on a VPN connection, which has its limitations. These issues prevented the prototype from functioning properly. We decided to postpone the project."
"Later that year LANSA Japan released a new version of LongRange, its native mobile app development tool. We used it to develop a prototype app, which very quickly evolved to become our current system," says Mr. Takahashi. “The main reason for selecting LongRange was its compatibility with IBM i."
"We could have developed a mobile web app using LANSA's web development tool. However, this option was discarded since web apps need an Internet connection to function. The mobile solution being sought had to be able to work both online and offline. In the end, we chose LongRange which met all our requirements."
Requirements definition started in November 2013, followed by design, building and testing. The mobile solution was in production four months later.
The mobile solution had to be able to work both online and offline
The daily routine for sales people now includes touching the ‘download’ icon on their iPad first thing in the morning, which lets them download the required client lists for the day. Client lists are similar to draft invoices, showing the expected number of commodities to be collected and to be delivered. Viewing and updating the client lists does not require an internet connection, since the data is stored on the iPad. When visiting a client site, the sales person can correct those numbers, which is only needed in case actual and expected numbers differ.
Upon their return to the office, sales people drop off their inventory of commodity items at the warehouse, where it is quickly checked by back-office staff against the inventory data in the salesperson’s iPad. When the data matches, the iPad data is uploaded into the enterprise system for immediate processing.
"Thanks to the new solution, the whole process of inventory management - collection and distribution of products and account-settlement - is more accurate and carried out in a consistent manner."
"It's faster as well. In the past, daily data entry used to take about 20 to 30 minutes per sales person, now it is instant. As a result sales staff and back office staff can finish the day earlier. The monthly stock-take, which used to take 3 to 4 hours, is now no longer needed because of accurate daily account settlement," states Mr. Takahashi, pointing out the benefits of the system’s implementation.
In the past, daily data entry used to take about 20 to 30 minutes per sales person, now it is instant
Musashino is planning to sell its mobile inventory solution in the future. According to Mr. Takahashi, "Any distributors in any industry can make use of this system. This action is part of president Koyama's management philosophy, which encourages you to put your own experience to practical use."
The whole process of inventory management – collection and distribution – is more accurate