Allied Beverage Group
iVoice Keeps Allied Beverage's Orders Flowing
Allied Beverage Group, Inc., of Carlstadt, NJ, has been using interactive voice response technology to allow service order entry from their field salesmen for many years now. Keeping their almost-15-year-old Missing Link ML/5250 40-line system alive was not a possibility. Although the ML/5250 system performed the needed tasks, it operated on older DOS-based technology, and the hardware that it ran on was breaking down and becoming increasingly difficult and costly to replace. When it was time to upgrade the Missing Link system, a few options were investigated. One was to invest in a wireless system that would give each of Allied's 200+ salesmen a PDA through which they could enter orders. This system was determined to be much costlier and more limiting than expected.
The PDA system didn't meet Allied Beverage's needs for a number of reasons. At the time they were considering the system, PDAs and wireless modems would have had to be purchased for each salesman. Additional costs on top of the PDAs and modems were a new server, software and the airtime for the PDAs to communicate with the server.
Vern Koppenhaver, Allied Beverage's IS Director, researched their options further. After seeing Don Rima's December, 2002 Honor Roll review on iVoice in the eserver Magazine iSeries Edition, Koppenhaver contacted iMessaging Systems, Inc. It was determined that upgrading to iVoice, instead of utilizing the PDA system, would meet the order-servicing needs of the salesmen at an expense of one-third what the PDAs alone, without the server, software or airtime, would have cost.
Koppenhaver stated that the upgrade to iVoice was "the easiest thing I ever did!" The new system was set up to perform the same functions as the old system, except that now the salesmen would be directed into one of three separate ordering programs, depending on the type of order they needed to enter. Allied Beverage has the option and flexibility of adding a fourth ordering program into the system if the need arises. In fact, with iVoice, Allied Beverage maintains complete control over all IVR applications and has the ability to expand the functions of their IVR system without the need to rely on iMessaging Systems. "iVoice provides an IVR platform and development environment that gives complete control to AS/400 shops to program in native languages like RPG," notes Rich Ollari of iMessaging. "Our customers love the flexibility and control this design offers." Koppenhaver noted that if Allied Beverage had gone with the PDA system, whenever a programming change was needed they would have had to call the manufacturer, put in a work order, wait for the revisions to be made and pay for the modifications. With iVoice, Allied Beverage can make programming modifications whenever they are necessary, at no additional charge.
One of the major hurdles of the iVoice upgrade was converting Allied Beverage's existing RPG II programming on the ML/5250 to RPG/ILE for use in the iVoice environment. Koppenhaver and his staff didn't have the time to dedicate to the conversion, so Allied Beverage contracted iMessaging to do the conversion in addition to the installation. "I was very pleased with the conversion of our old program. It was a seamless transition thanks to iMessaging's programming services," comments Koppenhaver.
Once the programming conversion was completed, iMessaging's staff went on site to service the physical installation of the iVoice system and perform system testing and training. "Originally, iMessaging estimated three days for setup, testing and training. I thought they were crazy – that's not much time at all," said Koppenhaver. "On the second day, the system was up and running. I'm still shocked!" According to Koppenhaver, the only needed modification to the system was to add pauses to the entered data and operating commands that are read back to the salesmen.
The two 24-line iVoice solutions (with a 3rd iVoice system as a backup) were installed in the fall of 2003, right at the beginning of Allied Beverage's busy holiday season. "The system performed like a charm," remembers Koppenhaver. "Many afternoons between 2 and 4 p.m., all 48 lines were going continuously. The system ran without so much as a hiccup!" In fact, Koppenhaver estimates that, during that quarter, the system was handling 3000 to 4000 orders per day. Allied Beverage's typical off-peak daily volume is 2000 orders.
The salesmen have commented that they prefer the new, programmed voice much better than the recorded voice of Koppenhaver on their old ML/5250 system. The iVoice speech is much quicker, smoother and easier to understand. Koppenhaver mentioned that when the system first went live, they left some lines on the ML/5250 system, so some of the salesmen would get Koppenhaver's voice on the old system. Many jokingly told Koppenhaver that they hung up and dialed in again until they got the iVoice system!
Koppenhaver noted that iVoice offers additional capabilities that Allied Beverage isn't taking advantage of because of limitations to their internal communications structure. One such feature is automatic call routing to the credit department if a salesman is delinquent. Another feature is integration with Allied Beverage's inventory database so the salesmen can receive real-time inventory counts.
Koppenhaver couldn't project an ROI for their iVoice system, but he feels that the system will more than pay for itself within the year. "We couldn't operate without it. To afford to hire the staff to do what iVoice does would be impossible! Besides, if an order is entered incorrectly, the salesmen have no one to blame but themselves!"