As part of its strategy to improve fleet management and product delivery, Ferguson in 2010 began deploying a route optimization application, by Descartes, in conjunction with a drive to automate its dispatching process. These efforts led Ferguson toward a mobile solution for drivers that could leverage fully these new capabilities.
Initially, the dispatching-routing upgrade goal was to create efficient routes for product deliveries, a process that's less about minimizing the distance traveled and more about minimizing the time spent traveling. This involves creating or adapting routes that minimize back-tracking and left-hand turns across traffic, for example, while creating the shortest possible time from the last delivery location back to the distribution center.
And in Apple's App Store, there's apparently not really an app for that. You can find personal routing apps, such as Route4Me and Smart Route but comments by users show these have a variety of limitations for commercial use, such as handling no more than 10 stops. Some apps may simply create the shortest distance between points without regard for the overall efficiency of the route, including the return trip.
As Ferguson worked with Descartes on preliminary requirements, Zanette says, the company saw more and more potential for an appropriate mobile device to leverage capabilities such as electronic proof of delivery and turn by turn navigation. Descartes suggested considering Psion's EP10 device, which Ferguson evaluated in late 2011 and began initial deployment in early 2012.
"It's a little bigger than a standard smartphone, and it runs Windows Mobile [technically Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5.3]," says Zanette. "It has the full range of voice, data and GPS capabilities that you'd get in a typical smartphone. But it's much more rugged than a consumer-grade smartphone."
And it looks it. The Psion EP10 is 6.2 x 3.1 x 1.2 inches, weighing a hefty 12.2 ounces with the rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, which is available in standard or high capacity options, and able to run for a full shift.
The front combines a 3.7-inch 480 x 640 VGA backlit, "sunlight readable" touchscreen (stylus or finger) with three keyboard options. It packs a 800MHz ARM Cortex A8-based CPU, with 256MB SDRAM and 2GB of flash. It has 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR, and support for multiband HSPA+ or EV-DO Rev. A 3G cellular networks.