Voortman Bakery (formerly Voortman Cookies Inc.) has been a premier baker and distributor of cookies for over 50 years. Voortman’s famous cookies are baked at the companies sole production facility in Burlington, Ontario, where over 400 workers are employed. With over $100 million in sales in 2016, Voortman Bakery products can be found in nearly all major grocery and supermarkets across North America.
Voortman Bakery sells their products to 500 independent distributors across North America, who in turn sell product to retailers. The distributor is the front-line representative of Voortman to the retailer and is responsible for ensuring the right Voortman products are lining the retailer’s shelves at all times. They must be forward-thinking individuals, ensuring all product is ordered in the correct amounts beforehand.
To ensure the ordering and sale of product is as seamless as possible, the distributors require a sophisticated mobile solution that can:
- Handle product orders
- Handle product sales and returns
- Provide clear visibility into historical sales trends, product pricing and financial positions.
- Track all financial transactions
- Track product inventory, including current stock levels, inflows and outflows
- Print receipts, invoices and other reports in real-time to a wireless thermal printer.
The Client Challenge
The 500 Voortman Bakery distributors were already equipped with a legacy mobile solution to handle the majority of their requirements. The solution was deployed on ruggedized hand-held devices that were now well past their end-of-life date. The legacy software was designed to take advantage of the specific hardware platform, and the task of finding devices to replace those that were dying in the field was becoming difficult and expensive.
While the legacy software was mature and stable, it was built on the Windows Mobile operating system. This platform was designed in an era before consumer smartphones became mainstream and as such the overall user experience lacks many features that users now expect in a mobile software solution.
Voortman found themselves faced with the difficult challenge of replacing this mission-critical solution to a modern platform, on modern devices.
The transition from legacy to a new platform must be seamless, as a system outage would result in lost revenue for both Voortman Bakery and the front-line distributors. A new solution must be carefully architected to plug into existing infrastructure and allow for side-by-side operation with the legacy system.
A new mobility solution was needed for the distributors to replace their aging devices. The Voortman IT team selected a replacement device: the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-X1. This device was ideal for their hardware requirements due to its impressive specifications:
- It ran Google’s Android operating system. Deploying a new solution on a modern mobile platform was important because the vast majority of end users are already intuitively familiar with user interface patterns and paradigms being employed.
- It came equipped with the necessary peripherals. In addition to standard network radios (WiFi, Cellular etc), it also has laser-based barcode scanning capability. Finally, the device was capable of interfacing with DEX storefronts. Many distributors transmit invoice information to customers electronically using DEX, which requires a special cable that links the mobile device to the customer’s DEX terminal.
- It was also equipped with a Bluetooth radio, necessary for the software to send reports wirelessly to a portable Bluetooth printer.
With a hardware solution in place, Voortman selected PHD Solutions Inc. to provide the software solution. We were selected for our extensive experience in developing enterprise-grade mobility solutions for the DSD and Logistics industries. Voortman Bakery trusted us to custom build this bespoke product for them, charging us to carry it from conception to reality in under 5 months.
PHD Solutions Inc. leveraged its extensive partner network to ensure the necessary expertise was available for all aspects of the project. We worked closely with our technology partners at The Code Chemistry, who provided necessary development resources required for us to deliver the solution on time and on budget.
The Technical Challenge
PHD Solutions Inc. was tasked with architecture, design and development of a complex, bespoke mobile solution from the ground-up. This mission-critical solution was to be deployed in a live environment within 5 months of the start date.
Our goal from the outset was to design a solution that complements the end user’s daily activity without adding unnecessary friction between them and their ability to perform their job. Our solution must add direct value to both the end user as well as corporate stakeholders.
Immediately we set to work with a plan to tackle these challenges:
- Distill complex business requirements down to a set of functional application workflows that minimized user interaction and streamlined the process for maximum efficiency gains. We set out from the start to provide a solution that would work for the user, not against them.
- Design an attractive visual styling that was immediately intuitive to understand and pleasant to consume. The importance of an intuitive and responsive UI/UX design cannot be overstated:
- When a user experience is well designed and responsive, it is pleasant to consume. A happy user is far more likely to embrace the transition from the familiar legacy solution to a new, unfamiliar one.
- The cost to onboard and train users on a system they find immediately intuitive is far less than if the users are presented with something completely foreign to them.
- Less pressure on the support team moving forward. Issues from users contacting with questions about how to navigate the application, or how to perform certain tasks are minimized.
- The mobile application is the end user’s primary means of electronically tracking his orders, sales, inventory and financial position. If the application is unstable or not working, it results in lost revenue, frustrated customers and frustrated users.
- The mobile application communicates with Voortman internal backoffice servers to exchange data. Part of our task was to build a new scalable API on the server side to handle all communication between the server and the new devices.
- The new solution must read and write data into Voortman’s central servers in exactly the same formats as the legacy system, thereby ensuring complete backwards compatibility. This proved a challenge in some respects due to variances in the feature set available across both systems.
PHD Solutions Inc. set to work on crafting the architecture and taking on development of a few of the mission critical systems. PHD Solutions oversaw all aspects of the development process, working closely with our partners at The Code Chemistry. Together we have honed a finely tuned process for sharing development resources & expertise effectively, and leveraging their extensive application development knowledge was essential to the project’s success.
The application requirements necessitated construction of a native solution built specifically for Android, rather than one constructed on a “hybrid” or HTML5 based development platform. Going full native results in a more complex construction cycle but is always the right choice for sophisticated applications such as this one.
An impressive UI/UX concept was crafted by our talented design resources, and we set to work on implementing the complete feature set of the legacy solution.
PHD Solutions Inc. leveraged its pre-existing libraries of mobile solution building blocks as the solution scaffolding. These lower level components have been carefully architected and improved based on real-world usage in past solutions to ensure code maturity and stability.
Over the course of 4 months, our team dedicated themselves to:
- Implementing the approximately 80 screens and user flows correctly in an Android environment
- Completely replacing the client/server synchronization system with a brand-new API built using current industry best practices for scalability and security
- Designing and building a dynamic reporting system capable of creating data-bound reports on the fly in real time for printing on wireless thermal printers.
- Re-architecting the business logic & persistent storage layers, porting all business logic from the legacy system to the new Android platform with complete regression testing to ensure everything would perform to spec.
- Creating a store-and-forward communication system which would allow for online-offline operation. The application is always working, regardless of network availability.
Despite the complexity of the undertaking, the solution was delivered on time and budget with full functionality. Project construction commenced in early August 2017 and was feature complete by November 30, 2017
The solution was extremely well received by the Voortman project stakeholders and end users alike. As a direct result of increased system intuitiveness, responsiveness and data throughput performance, users are able to focus less on their mobile devices and more on the things that matter to them, like maintaining their client relationships. We expect the efficiencies realized with our solution will ultimately translate into increased revenue for Voortman Bakery as well as the end user distributors.
Some notable improvements of our solution relative to the legacy solution it replaced:
- Significant increase in overall application responsiveness, resulting in a very positive user experience
- Common (but mission-critical) tasks such as invoice creation and order creation can be performed in less than half the time.
- Introduction of a brand-new store-and-forward messaging system that allowed back office staff to be notified of invoices and orders in near-real-time, rather than waiting for the distributors to cradle and synchronize their devices.
- Client/Server synchronization sessions execute more than 13x faster than legacy. This performance increase significantly reduces resource load on Voortman backoffice systems, resulting in increased productivity for downstream activities.
PHD Solutions Inc. seeks lasting client partnerships, and we have found one in Voortman Bakery. We are excited to continue to serve Voortmans’s solution development needs now and into the future.
Interested in hearing more about how we can help your business realize operational efficiencies by mobilizing your field staff? Contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!
PHD Solutions is ready to understand your needs, and to create an intelligent software solution for your complex business challenge.