Picking The 'Ripe' Solution

Nathel and Nathel delivers produce daily to more than 2,500 customers in the New York metropolitan area, and each delivery was producing stacks of paper that needed to be filed. The wholesaler's paper-based system was wasting its time, space and money.

Every order was printed out, and each was signed by customers as receipt of delivery. Then the tickets traveled back to the office where they were filed according to customer name. Valuable office space was being used to file cabinets teeming with tickets.

When customers called claiming missing heads of lettuce, for example, a staffer would have to dig through the files to see what had been delivered. If tickets were misfiled, they were often lost and the company would have no record of delivery, sometimes resulting in customers who didn't pay their bills.

In spite of its cumbersome system, Nathel and Nathel was no stranger to technology and had already implemented several innovations to streamline its business. It was already using scanners to keep track of the barcodes it was putting on invoices, and its order entry and accounting systems were running on an IBM AS/400. When it was time to incorporate the digital imaging and storage system, they called Strategic Business Systems, Ramsey, N.J.

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"They wanted a quick and easy way to store and to reconcile tickets. They wanted to have a way to scan [the paper tickets] and to be able to store them digitally for long-term retrieval," said Mitchell Gottlieb, account manager at the solution provider.

Gottlieb proposed a solution consisting of software from MetaFile Information Systems, Rochester, Minn. The product, called MetaView, would allow Nathel and Nathel to scan and index the information from each invoice ticket.

The system was configured to read and index the bar codes that Nathel and Nathel was already using to track its tickets. The software then checks the ticket against the database.

The system also tracks inventory and generates reports of what produce is in stock, what's coming in and what's is being shipped out.

Gottlieb estimated that the MetaView system would save the produce wholesaler between three and four hours a day in labor.

The investment was well worth it for Nathel and Nathel. The change has revolutionized the way the company does business, helping it grow from $40 million to $175 million without adding staff.

"It's streamlined our billing department and our inventory, and in all that, we're probably saving about 125 hours a week in labor," said Rich Bylott, CFO at Nathel and Nathel.

"Any computer-generated report is now on the computer for everybody to look at—if we had a ticket change, if we were short of something," Bylott said. "Instead of looking through big bound reports concerning any ticket changes that had been made, we just code in the product code, and it will tell you how many hits were made on that page," he said.

"The system couldn't work any better. It's a no-brainer. Our paper costs went down about 30 percent," he said.

While Nathel and Nathel is pleased with their new system, it did take a bit of convincing to get the company to sign off on the project initially.

"It certainly takes a little bit of selling, but they're one of the more forward-thinking companies, it seems, in that industry. They want to stay ahead of the curve," Gottlieb said. "But obviously, when it comes to anything like this, you have to figure your costs vs. what you're going to save in people time."

For Strategic Business Systems, the challenge to implementing any digital imaging system is tailoring it to the customer's needs.

"Like with any customer you've got to learn their business. In the beginning, it was tickets. How do these tickets work? Do they come back? Some come back later than others," Gottlieb said. "You're going to customize it to meet their needs in this case."