Door manufacturer Steves and Sons had a business problem that was far from open and shut.
The San Antonio-based company had orders that kept getting damaged on the way from the warehouse to its customers, and it was costing the business thousands in replacement doors. Steves and Sons needed a way to document the state of its pallets during each step of the shipping process to determine when -- and by whom -- the damage was done.
"We had an issue where one of our freight carriers was not properly tying down our shipments, so entire pallets full of doors were showing up to our customers damaged," said Tracy Rickman, senior software developer at Steves and Sons. "Regardless of who actually damaged them, we were the ones eating the cost."
Fortunately, Steves and Sons didn't have to look further than its own backyard to solve the problem. It was already using the Avante Laserfiche ECM suite to digitize paper files, and decided to leverage that platform to build a custom mobile tracking application.
Steves and Sons -- which has seven plants and roughly 500 employees across the U.S. -- needed a way to capture and retrieve pictures of stacked pallets as they were loaded onto trucks. It wanted to confirm that the doors were being loaded properly and weren't damaged from the start. The challenge was to find a way to easily store and later find these images. The hallelujah moment came when the idea of storing the images in the existing Laserfiche ECM suite,
Building a custom mobile app
The next hurdle, according to Rickman, was how to get the images into Laserfiche.
"We didn't want somebody with a camera taking pictures and handwriting pallet IDs down, having to then manually enter those [into Laserfiche] one by one," he said.
The answer was to use the software's SDK toolkit to write a custom, in-house application that lets users scan the bar codes on the pallets, pulling up all related customer information. Up to three pictures of the pallet are then taken during loading, all of which are submitted and stored in the Laserfiche ECM system along with the appropriate metadata.
With Laserfiche's help, Steves and Sons built a custom, Android-based mobile app to track, manage, document and take photos of door orders each step of the way to their customers.
Steves and Sons chooses the Android route
The decision to create an Android app, versus one for iOS, came down to device cost, according to Rickman. The company was hesitant to put the more expensive iOS devices into the hands of truck drivers, and so it adopted less costly Android devices that still fit the bill. Rickman coded, completed and released the app in less than two days from the start of development. The result was a mobile user interface that passes the needed information back and forth from a Web server without actually altering the in-house Avante Laserfiche ECM software.
"It was initially buggy, but it was the first iteration of it," Rickman said of his app. "While it was ugly, it did its job pretty well."
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Today, Steves and Sons is running the mobile app on more than 100 Android devices, from the production floor to the road. Currently, the company is using Samsung Galaxy phones, which retail for about $200, as opposed to the pricier, ruggedized mobile devices found on some shop floors. Despite the dangers that a manufacturing environment poses to delicate smartphones, Rickman noted that it's actually cheaper to replace any device that meets its untimely end than to purchase the ruggedized versions in the first place.
The Samsung devices also come with mobile device management (MDM) capabilities that have alleviated any lingering fears at the company regarding mobile data security.
"We can lock these things down and prevent users from installing [unapproved] applications," as well as disabling lost or stolen devices, Rickman said.
From file storage to mobile and beyond
When Steves and Sons first adopted Laserfiche Avante six years ago, it was looking for a way to back up its paper files. The company keeps copies of its customer invoices on file for years after purchase, and the paper versions of these invoices can be very long, according to Rickman. With papers piling up, it was time for Steves and Sons to move to an electronic storage option.
Unlike most manufacturers, Steves and Sons doesn't have to go through a lengthy and complicated software selection process when new technology is brought on board.
"We're a family-owned company without the big red tape that some corporations have," said Rickman. The company owners stumbled upon a Laserfiche display at a trade show and found that it suited their file backup needs at that time. The rest, according to Rickman, was history.
"Basically, one of the owners heard about [Laserfiche], went to the CTO [chief technology officer] and said, 'Here, I want this.' And that was the decision," he explained with a laugh.
Today, Steves and Sons is exploring the possibility of expanding the workflow capabilities of its Laserfiche ECM and adding in data from HR, but there are no concrete plans at the moment. Additionally, the company is looking at moving storage of its purchase orders, shipping orders and shipment confirmations to Laserfiche, as well as keeping digital records of its drivers' signatures on shipment-related documentation.
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This was first published in February 2014