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Midland Medical Supply Resuscitates Its Receiving Process With Mobile Technology


IT Administrator Ben Dinger found an inexpensive mobile solution that’s dramatically reduced the time it takes for his company to log inventory. Photography by Malone & Co.

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Customer: Midland Medical Supply
Headquarters: Lincoln, Neb.
Business: Medical supply distributor
Challenge: Improve the company’s order-receiving operations
Solution: Employs an mrc m-Power development tool to create Web software that lets warehouse employees use smartphones and bar code readers to streamline order receipt
Hardware: Power Systems server running IBM i
Software: mrc m-Power and DB2 for IBM i

It’s the small things that count. Just ask Ben Dinger, IT administrator with Midland Medical Supply. Instead of going with expensive, industrial-grade warehouse scanning devices requiring heavy-duty back-end systems to make them work, Dinger is using inexpensive, off-the-shelf Bluetooth bar code scanners wirelessly attached to commodity smartphones for nearly all aspects of his company’s receiving process.

Supporting that is a small, Web-based application created with an mrc m-Power development tool. This Web app lets users scan incoming products and immediately submit information to an IBM Power Systems* server. Customer service representatives can then gain on-the-spot access to what’s in the company’s warehouse, in keeping with Midland Medical’s goal to continuously improve customer services.

“We’re small and agile enough that if a client wants something, we can usually give it to them,” Dinger says. “It might be a specialized product, a customer-specific report or a customer-facing Web application. If it’s something we can do, we’ll provide it—and that’s typically anything they might request.”

 

Adapting Quickly

Customers’ requests include thousands of medical supplies ranging from rubber gloves to EKG machines. In fact, the Lincoln, Neb.-based company oversees some 30,000 items that it either keeps in stock or orders on a regular basis in addition to the larger, more expensive equipment, such as exam tables and defibrillators.

That may be why Midland Medical has such a loyal customer base, ranging from one-doctor offices to larger medical centers. Most of these customers—some of whom Dinger says he's known since he was 16—are located in Nebraska, although the company also works with organizations in Kansas, Iowa and South Dakota.

Most of the applications associated with its back-end processing, including those that run on its Power Systems server running IBM i, are homegrown. This, Dinger says, “gives us the ability to adapt more quickly than if we were using packaged solutions.” The one exception to this self-developed software model is m-Power, which Midland Medical has been using for nearly 10 years to build Web apps.

IT Administrator Ben Dinger found an inexpensive mobile solution that’s dramatically reduced the time it takes for his company to log inventory. Photography by Malone & Co.

“The reason we like m-Power is because it allows us to quickly deploy Web apps large and small, and it removes the complexity of having to figure out which bits of code should go where,” Dinger says. “It simply allows us to drag and drop functionality as we need it. And because it’s Java* based, we don’t need any specialized APIs to tie back to DB2* or our other applications. It’s all pretty seamless.”

That wasn’t always the case in Midland Medical’s receiving department. Prior to deploying the smartphones, Bluetooth scanners and the Web app m-Power created, most of the work in receiving was paper-based. Receiving employees pulled pallets off incoming trucks, compared the contents with a packing slip and then headed to a desktop-bound PC to enter the information into the company’s receiving application.

But Dinger notes this was a labor-intensive activity. “They would have a packing list in hand and have to go over every item, checking them off as they went along,” he says. “This was bad enough, but each supplier would have a different-looking type of list, so this would require almost having to rethink how to receive whatever was being delivered. The employees down there tried to compensate for this, with one of them sitting down with the list and checking items off as another one found them, but this was a pretty inefficient way of doing things.”

 

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.


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