Trader Publishing Finds Mobility in AppForge

Trader Publishing was struggling with having to manually track the sales of its more than 400 publications in 73 sales markets throughout the U.S. Trader prints classified advertising and photo advertising magazines such as Auto Trader, Parenthood, Harmon Homes and Employment Guide.

About 3,000 drivers used to deliver Trader publications to more than 87,000 locations nationwide, and then record their inventories on paper. Drivers then returned their paperwork to one of Trader’s five data centers, where 20 entry clerks took a week to enter the sales data into the company’s systems.

Trader knew this process wasn’t working and sought a better way to track its publications. The company’s IT staff looked at PocketPC, PalmOS and other platforms that would not require committing to yet another hardware platform in addition to its existing systems.

“A lot of times with new technology [such as] mobile technology, it moves [forward]…and the software tied to the hardware is going to change, especially if it’s mobile,” says Bill Trembley, Trader’s software development manager. “We didn’t want to revisit [existing] code and change it; it’s easier to do it this way.”

Another key to its decision about what platforms to use was tied to being able to write apps in a language Trader’s developers already knew, which for Trader meant using Visual Basic 6.

Trader eventually selected AppForge Crossfire, a multi-platform mobile and wireless application development tool. Crossfire sits on the developer environment, acting as a “plug in” to Visual Studio, according to Trembley.

The delivery vehicle drivers now use Crossfire on Symbol SPT1800 devices to scan the magazines remaining on in-store display racks at the end of the month. Information is then synchronized from the PDAs to Trader’s backend, which consists of a Microsoft SQL Server and legacy Unix- and Progress-based systems.

Calling Crossfire “a calculator on steroids,” Trembley says the paperwork is gone, and Trader has exceeded the ROI it projected for the project. The company “reclaimed man hours,” and cut the number of five data centers from five to one. The company now provides forecasts in days, cutting 4 or 5 days off the time it previously required.

Trembley says drivers were initially hesitant about using Crossfire and PDAs, but they quickly came around. “Deploying any kind of software or mobile device into a traditional-based [business] is very tough, but once the design interface got into the hands of the drivers, it was 100-percent adoption,” he says. “If we tried to take [the PDAs] away from them now, we’d have a fight on our hands.” Drivers also shortened the time they needed to complete their routes with the new setup, he adds.

About the Author

Kathleen Ohlson is senior editor at Application Development Trends magazine.