How A Window Sign Business Saved $40,000 Using Mobile Technology (Cut Paper. Save Money)

Mobile technology empowers businesses, saves them money, reduces time and has so many other benefits. Dean Stallone, CEO of PMD Promotion shares his story here. How he used iPods, iPhones and a custom FileMaker Pro database to save $40,000 in a formerly very manual process.

Remember that poster you saw in the window of your local salon or café advertising the latest hot album, television drama, or hit new movie? Chances are, one of our people put it there — and in exactly the right spot to catch your eye.  My company, PMD Promotion, is the leading Windowposter™ advertising company in the U.S. Our 125 display contractors cover more than 22 cities to help our clients get seen in more than 50,000 independent storefronts nationwide.

Although our business is highly mobile, our business processes weren’t – until fairly recently. By replacing paper-bound and manual processes with a simple, custom-developed application that runs on the iPod touch or iPhone, and our back-end operations system, we cut $40,000 a year in administrative overhead and created more productive, motivated field personnel.

Our Path to Modern Mobile

Our display contractors are quite literally our “feet on the street,” and the poster installation process is labor-intensive. Our contractors must work to exacting standards, removing poster displays when campaigns are over, and coordinating all activities with our venue partners (the storefront management). Before we went mobile, our field personnel dragged around clipboards, paper forms and their digital cameras to document the Windowposter displays and create extensive reports for our clients.  That’s a lot of baggage – and a lot of paper.

Plus, our contractors had to transfer their digital photos via FTP and send campaign details by email and fax. This required our home office staff to re-key data and manually pair up photos with disparate data coming in from the field. It became pretty clear that we had to bring our operations into the 21st century.

Fast-forward to life with our custom mobile solution, which we’ve dubbed PMD Mobile. With the help of Colibri Solutions, an independent developer, we built it using the FileMaker Platform, which combines database software on the desktop with a mobile app for the iPod touch and iPhone.

Saving Steps – and Trees

From the moment our field contractors clock in, they handle their entire shifts using PMD Mobile on the iPod or iPhone. Starting with a WiFi download of the day’s route sheets from headquarters, our reps hit the streets fueled with precise instructions, maps and tips for each assignment. As they travel, they jot notes and details into the PMD Mobile database and snap photos of each installation using the built-in digital camera on their mobiles.

The up-to-the-minute information and images are stored in each rep’s mobile database, which is then uploaded via WiFi to our New York headquarters and automatically synchronized with our central database. The images, notes and venue details from the field are input directly into one record – no more re-keying data from printed forms or hand-written notes required. Everything now resides in a single resource that’s easily accessible to our entire staff.

As a result, we generate reports in about 80% less time, and the chance of error (from double data entry) has been virtually eliminated.  In a matter of minutes, we can create 200-page PDF reports that integrate 500 photos, venue lists, statistics and location maps in a single, easily digestible document. Reports are automatically uploaded to the web, where clients can review them on demand. A bonus: we can generate reports more frequently, keeping our clients totally up to date on the status of their campaigns. PMD Mobile has revolutionized our business.

Four Tips

If you’re thinking about using mobile technology to streamline your personnel in the field, let me offer a few tips from our experience:

Think end-to-end: Our main goal in “going mobile” was to save time and drudgery for our field contractors, but the big payoff came from tying tightly into our back-end administrative systems. We replaced a bunch of fragmented steps with a smooth, connected process and a single database. Everyone’s more productive – and happier.

Be relentless about eliminating paper: Every time someone handles a piece of paper it costs money, wastes time and creates risk – not to mention kills trees. Multiply that over hundreds (or thousands) of transactions a day and you can see the productivity hit. Cut the cord to paper.  Yes, it’s hard, but you won’t look back.

Simplify, simplify, simplify: Get yourself out of the integration business: let the software do the heavy lifting. FileMaker Go let us consolidate many functions in a single streamlined device perfectly suited for our reps. On the back end, we were able to offload multiple manual integration tasks – from data entry to report generation and dissemination – from our home office people to a single, centrally located database.

Don’t go it alone: Deciding to team up with a professional software developer really sped up our ROI: it took them only a few weeks to build the system from scratch, a turnaround time that far exceeded our expectations (and our own internal capabilities). There are many good professional developers out there, with expertise in your specific problem and even in your industry. Google them!

Beyond delivering financial savings and happier employees, our PMD Mobile solution has reduced reporting times by 80%, improved customer satisfaction, and converted staff resources to sales generation activities. Best of all, we’re now able to focus more energy on “show time” and less on behind-the-curtain details.

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Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com . Editor and Founder, Smart Hustle Magazine Full bio at http://www.ramonray.com . Check him out on Google Plus, Twitter or Facebook

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