NECS, Inc.

Software for Food Distributors

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Interfacing entrée V4 with the Anoto Digital Pen


Updates from NECS

Interfacing entrée V4 with the Anoto Digital Pen

Jul 07 2015
Since releasing Version 4 of entrée last year, we've been extremely busy as we get ready to announce new features.  These new features include a re-design of  our Purchase Order system, warehouse slotting and our Anoto Digital Pen interface.

Out of the above mentioned items, the Anoto Digital Pen interface has been generating the most excitement.  It allows you to easily automate some of the work your drivers do, while saving you paper and paper costs.  In this Blog entry, I'll give you an overview of how this works and how it can really benefit your operation.

At the Dot Food Show in St. Louis this past May, we gave customers a preview of how this works.  Needless to say our booth was jamming all day, with many people bringing back other people from their company just to check this out for themselves.

Who is Anoto?

Anoto is the company based in Sweden behind this amazing yet simple to use technology.  They are the worldwide leader in digital pen and paper technology, enabling fast and reliable conversion from handwritten text into a digital format.  NECS has licensed their technology for use with our entrée V4 software.

Below is a picture taken at the 2015 Dot Food Show in St. Louis on May 8th, where I'm showing two members of the Dot Foods team how the Anoto Digital Pen technology works.  Everyone was amazed to mark up an Invoice, sign it, check the "X-MIT" box then have it appear perfectly in entrée in a couple of minutes.

Why the Excitement?

The first thing that captures our customers attention is their dramatic savings in paper costs, related to printing invoices.  Currently many customers print their invoices on multi-part forms and run them through dot matrix printers.  This type of paper is expensive, especially if you have your form pre-printed.  Other customers print multiple copies of the invoice on a laser printer, again an added expense while using 3 x's the paper than you should.

Of course you do this for two main reasons: 1)You need the customers signature on the invoice as well as any notes written on the invoice by the driver and 2) your customers usually demand a paper copy of the invoice from the driver.

First Problem Solved: Savings of Paper Costs for your Invoices

Using the Anoto Digital Pen technology, you have the ability to print only one copy of the invoice. I know most of you reading this will immediately have some doubts, but how this works is quite amazing, so please read on!

First of all, training your drivers on how to use the pen is really simple.  They basically need to know how to write with a pen and what boxes to check on the invoice when they are finished with the delivery. This is not a high tech device that requires a lot of training or technical expertise. Within just a few minutes of training, your drivers will become comfortable and ready to go! 

When using this new interface, your invoices will print on a laser printer on regular plain paper and regular toner. However, the invoice will have what appears to be a light shading behind it. This isn't shading, but the "Anoto Digital Ink" pattern.  When your driver writes on the invoice (with the Anoto Digital Pen and its regular ink), the pen's optical camera then records all the pen strokes.

The Anoto Digital Pen has Bluetooth which can communicate with the drivers smartphone (Android or iPhone) and gain access to the Internet, if available, to immediately communicate with your entrée V4 software.  If the smartphone isn't available, they simply drop the pen into its charging cradle when they return to the warehouse, and all the documents are instantly uploaded off the pen into your entrée V4 software.

The last steps for the driver are:
  • 1. Put a check mark in either the "Review" (indicating their were problems with the order) or the "Complete" box (indicating everything was delivered without issue).
  • 2. Customer signs the invoice.
  • 3. Driver checks the "X-MIT" box which indicates he is finished and tells the pen to send an electronic version of the invoice with all his notes, etc. into your entrée software.
  • 4. Driver leaves the original invoice with the customer, leaving the customer mystified as to where your copy is.  An image of the invoice appears on the drivers smartphone to verify it was properly transmitted.

From the time the driver checks the "X-MIT" box, the marked up invoice with customer signature will appear in your entrée V4 software at your office in about 3 minutes.

The pen also records the time and GPS location of where the invoice was signed, so you can verify the document was signed at the customers location and exactly when.

Here is an example of what your Invoice might look like.  Note the "Complete", "Review", customer signature and "X-MIT" boxes at the bottom of the form:

What's the difference between the "Complete" and "Review" box at the bottom of the Invoice?

When training your drivers how to use the pen, it's important to explain the difference between the "Complete" and "Review" box, because they should check either one, not both.

If the order was delivered without any issues, then it is appropriate to put a check mark in the "Complete" box.

If the order was deliverd but their were issues such as an item shortage, then the "Review" box should be checked.  When this happens the system will email a copy of the Invoice with the drivers markups, etc. to a special email address you designate per customer.  For example, this could be the DSR in charge of the account.  The Invoice will appear in the DSR's email for them to take action such as calling the customer to rectify the situation.  This is an excellect customer service tool.

It has been reported that the DSR would call a customer back about a delivery issue.  The customer would be amazed because many times your truck hasn't even left their property, they didn't see the driver call anyone, and they are impressed with how quickly you were able to respond to an issue.

Where can I see the signed Invoice in entrée?

One of the places you can view / email / print the invoice is in Change Invoice.  It will appear on the right side side of the screen in the "DOC / Anoto" tab where the status panel is displayed.

Of course this document is also available via your entrée.NET online system, so when your customer logs in, they also can view / print / email / etc.

You might be wondering about what happens if something goes wrong (such as the driver turns his smartphone off or does not have cell reception).  Keep those questions in mind, we'll get to them further down in this article.

Second Problem Solved: You No Longer Need to Scan Your Invoices When the Drivers Return

Many entrée users have benefited from our entrée.DOC document scanning system.  No longer do they need to save and store paper copies of their invoices, but instead scan them in via a document scanner when the drivers return from their routes.

This attaches a digital copy of the invoice into their software which is always available to be printed or emailed.  No longer do they have to search through dusty old boxes to find specific invoices.  

Because the invoice already has the digital copy saved into your software from the pen, there is no longer a need to scan anything.  In fact your drivers will come back without any invoices.  They don't need to, as you already have them.

 The time savings it takes for someone in your office to scan the invoices is eliminated with this technology.  Another great advantage!

Another Problem Solved: Organizing Payment Collections from Customers

Another task that many drivers are asked to do is collect money from the customer.  This is especially true if the customer is on COD terms or has past due invoices that need to be paid.

To help organize this process, you can choose to print Cash Collection Sheets for specific customers that automatically print with the invoice.

The Cash Collection Sheet is a new form in your entrée V4 software which was designed for the Anoto Digital Pen.  What makes this form unique is that it utilizes the excellent handwriting recognition of the pen.  Below is a copy of what this form looks like:

You'll notice that the driver simply writes down in the correct column the Invoice Number, Check Number or Cash and the dollar amount.

The Anoto Digital Pen interprets what was written and transmits this information into your entrée V4 software.  By the time the drivers return, you know exactly how much cash and checks they have and where to apply it.  We created a special Cash Collection Sheet process where you can view this information by Route and once approved, quickly apply via Cash Receipts.

The below screen shot shows our Anoto Cash Receipts process and what your office staff will be able to utilize when your drivers return to quickly verify monies received and post to accounts receivable. Note that the left side of the screen shows all the payment information as intrepreted by the pen, and you can view the actual Cash Collection Sheet that the driver filled out on the right side.

How Exactly Does the Anoto Digital Pen Work?

As your drivers write on the Invoice or Cash Collection Sheet, the Anoto Digital Pen's camera automatically takes digital snap shots using the Anoto Ink Pattern (what looks like shading) enabling the pens microprocessor to know the exact position of the writing.  

The captured digital data is stored and can be immediately sent via Bluetooth to the drivers smart phone, then the Internet, then into your company's local server where your entrée V4 software is installed.

In case the smart phone is off or does not have cell reception, the data is stored in the pen until it is dropped into it's charging cradle and then transmitted via USB into your entrée V4 software.

Note that when charged, the pen will hold the charge for up to two weeks!  So you'll never have to worry about your drivers pen dying on the road.

The pens come with a one year warranty to be free of all defects, and you can extend this warranty for an additional 2 years for about $27.

We specifically use the Anoto Live Pen 2 which is Anoto's second generation pen.  One of the first questions customers ask is how much does the pen cost?  The retail is $249 (you can even find them on Amazon) but we offer them to our customers for a fraction of the cost at $195 / each.

Feel free to contact us for a complete breakdown of all the costs.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how affordable this interface is.

What Happens When Things Go Wrong?!

Because the drivers leave the office with only one copy of the Invoice and Cash Collection Sheet, and how important it is that these forms return to your system with the customer signature, etc., I wanted to go over the safeguards the system has.  Some of these have already been mentioned above, but a recap here is important.

What happens if the drivers smartphone does not have any reception?

The Anoto Digital Pen will store the document in the pen and on the phone.  Once the driver returns to an area with cell reception, all the pending documents will be sent at once.

What happens if the Anoto Digital Pen runs out of battery?

The Anoto Digital Pen will work for up to 2 weeks on a single charge.  Because you'll be charging your pens every night, there is virtually no chance the pen will run out of battery after using it for just one day.

What happens if the driver turns off their smartphone or it runs out of battery?

The Anoto Digital Pen will store the documents on the pen.  Once the driver returns to the office, they will drop the pen into it's charging cradle and via USB all the documents will be taken off the pen and uploaded into entrée.

What happens if the pen breaks, gets dropped in a deep fryer, etc.?

First off, we have been told from a customer experience that the pen will stop working if dropped in a deep fryer.  It sounds funny, but this type of thing could happen. The bottom line is that if the pen stops working, there isn't much that can be done.  You could purchase spare pens for your drivers but this would increase your costs.  You could also print two copies of the Invoice, but then you are raising paper costs again (however slightly).  It must be said that the Anoto Digital Pen is very, very reliable.  Anoto tells us that only one pen in a thousand ever has an issue.  If you have the warranty or extended warranty from Anoto, a new pen would be overnighted to you.  With all of the above said, there is another option if the pen breaks, is lost, etc. by using the camera in your drivers smart phone.  More information on this is next.

Can the driver take a picture of the document with the camera in their smartphone?

Another fallback option if the pen is not functional or available is for the driver to take a picture of the docment with their smartphone.  The picture would then be sent into your entrée V4 software and be attached to the invoice document.

What happens if the pen runs out of ink?

The ink in the pen should last the typical driver at least a year.  You can purchase a box of 150 ink refills for $107.

How can the driver be sure that the Invoice / Cash Collection Sheet was transmitted from their phone into entrée?

Once the driver checks the "X-MIT" with their pen, they will feel the pen vibrate.  This is the first signal that the pen has begun the process of transmitting the documents.  Within about 60 seconds, their smartphone will display the documents transmitted as shown below.  Once they see this on their phone they are assured that the document has made it to the remote server and it's on the way to your entrée software.

The above screenshot is from the "Formidable" app running on the drivers Android or iPhone smartphone.

As you and your drivers get used to using the Anoto Digital Pen and how it interfaces with entrée, your confidence will quickly build and it will become an important part of your daily procedures.

What Kind of Laser Printer Do I Need to Use?

Here are the basic guidelines that your laser printer will need to properly print the Anoto Digital Ink Pattern on your Invoices and Cash Collection Sheets:

* Color laser printer (600/1200/2400 DPI)
* Adobe Postscript 3 (very important)
* 128MB RAM (minimum)

Recommended printers are the Xerox Phaser series and the Okidata C610 or C711 series.  Note that the Xerox ColorQube laser printers are not compatible because of the glossy printer ink used.

You can verify that your laser printer can properly print the Anoto Digital Ink Pattern by downloading and printing this PDF document.  After printing on your laser printer, send us the original copy and we will verify it will work.

What is the Status of this Project? or When Can I Get My Pens!

There is a customer in the Chicago area currently using this technology who has about 80 trucks / pens on the road everyday.  We've gotten some great input from them and their experiences.

Also, Tony Vlahos (programmer in charge of this project), Brittani Phillips (our newest employee assigned to marketing, providing demos, training, etc. for the Anoto Digital Pen) and myself recently journeyed to New Orleans to help another beta customer with about 20 trucks to go live with the interface and pens.  As soon as we get the thumbs up from everyone using this, we'll begin to roll it out to our customers.

I consider this a mission critical type system that must be extremely easy to use for your drivers.  And it must provide you with peace of mind that your invoices with signatures will always be there for you and that your payments from customers are always perfectly accounted for.

Here is your Anoto Digital Pen team in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago:

Currently our plan is to officially release this interface in October, 2015.  We want to start with a one-day meeting in October where we show in detail how this technology works for all those customers interested.  As soon as we have the details and location set for the meeting, we'll be sure to contact all our customers (via email) with the specifics.  

If you would like more information, have questions or would like to see a complete cost breakdown, please contact Brittani Phillips.  You can reach her via email at: