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Issue Date: Vol. 41, No. 4 / April 25, 2001 -May 24, 2001, Posted On: 4/25/2001


Silent Partner's Handheld System Automates Collection Procedures


N. Montano
nick@vendingtimes.net

ROLLING MEADOWS, IL - Incredible Technologies' Silent Partner division reports that it has completed the portable data collection module for its "Windows"-based "Silent Partner" route management software.

Called the "Automatic Data Collection," the new product is based on "Silent Partner" software, "SP15," designed to run under "Windows CE," which is resident on a Hewlett-Packard "Jornada 540" handheld computer. A Seiko Instruments' "DP-3445" handheld printer also is supplied with the system.

By automating the collection process, observed Silent Partner's Len Smikun, the handheld technology will reduce the time required by a field collector to service a location. More importantly, posting at the office is eliminated.

"The goal of this system is to simplify and shorten the collection procedure where the collector writes all of the information on a collection ticket," Smikun explained, "calculating commission and returning the ticket to the main office where data has to be reentered into a computer."

To eliminate this time-consuming, error-prone operation, the "Automatic Data Collection" system works in a manner similar to today's popular pen-based portable computers, such as those made by "Palm," in which a stylus, the "pen," is used to enter data on a touch-sensitive screen. The user employs the stylus to select items from a menu and to enter data, which can be done with the handheld's onscreen keyboard or character recognition feature for hand-written entries. "In most cases," Smikun pointed out, "the collector only has to touch the screen with the stylus, so the need for typing or writing is minimal."

EASY TO USE

To begin using the system, the operator downloads the collection information and schedule from the office computer running "Silent Partner" to the handheld computer. The handheld program receives and stores data about locations, games, commissions, taxes, expenses, "rounding" and other route-specific variables. "You can download a whole week's workload, even for a large route," noted Smikun, who added that IT has tested the system on a route consisting of 120 locations and more than 400 games.

After system startup, a list of locations is the first screen to appear. The collector goes to the first stop and begins working with a location by touching the location name with the stylus. The program then displays a list of equipment residing in the location.

The program can be adjusted to accept only collection totals for certain locations, Smikun explained. "This may come in handy if an operator services a location that has five pool tables and does not keep track of individual totals," he said. "To do this, the operator can select any location on the office computer and denote totals only, and the handheld program will skip the individual machine screen."

Accessing necessary information about each piece of equipment on location also is automated by the pen-based feature: the collector simply touches the name of the machine. The collector scrolls through the list (a scroll bar appears on the right when there are more than eight machines) and selects any machine for posting. After receiving information for a selected machine, the program returns to the equipment list screen where another machine can be picked. When information has been entered for all of the location's equipment, the collector touches the "totals" button and proceeds to the next step; or he or she quits posting and returns to the previous menu by touching the "back" button.

After totals are recorded, the handheld program displays a screen for input of new meter readings. It can hold up to five readings for each machine, or none if the operator prefers. In the latter case, the program can be instructed to skip this screen and go directly to the next step.

The user also has the option to input refund revenues and such expense data as crane plush costs, which also can be calculated on a per machine basis or as a location total.

When data entry for a machine is completed, the collector stores that information by touching the "save" button, and the "Silent Partner" handheld program returns to the equipment list screen where the collector repeats the process for each machine. When each machine has been tallied, the collector touches the "totals" button on the equipment list screen to instruct the handheld program to calculate the location's commission. The commission amount is displayed in the "Cmsn Paid" box. Collector authorization to change commission amounts can be enabled or disabled by the office computer running the primary "Silent Partner" software.

Except for entering numeric values, Smikun emphasized, most of the electronic collection procedure is achieved without typing.

Now that the commission has been calculated, the collector finishes working with the location by touching the save button, which instructs the program to ask him or her for the option to print a receipt. "You can skip printing entirely," Smikun pointed out, "or you can print one or two receipts. And the receipt can be very detailed or very brief. It's up to the operator."

VERSATILE ROUTE TOOL

At the end of the day, collection data can be uploaded from the "Jornada" handheld to the office computer. If a collector does not return to the office every day, he or she can upload the handheld's data to any computer and send the data by e-mail. After the data from the handheld is transferred, "Silent Partner" quickly provides a posting batch, which can be viewed or edited before it's added to the database.

The handheld program's application is not limited to collection functions, Smikun added. It can store location contact names and phone numbers, along with last and next collection dates. The program also can record a machine's movement between locations, and upload recorded information to the main database to bypass manual data entry.

IT acquired Silent Partner in September 2000. Smikun, a talented computer programmer, has been developing the route management software since 1984.


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