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Remote data exchanges: Hiland Dairy needs no script files with PC-based system.


Hiland Dairy wanted the freshest possible sales and product inventory information from its bottling plants and distribution centers in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

"But we weren't getting it," explains Data Processing Manager Sam Everett.

"Our route drivers were bringing their delivery tickets back to the branches, where the route-settlement information would be keypunched, then delivered by transport truck to our headquarters (in Springfield, Mo.) for batch processing. If there was a problem with the route being out of balance, it wouldn't be caught for several days--and by then who could remember?"

The solution was a company-wide network with an IBM System/36 as host. That network is now being installed with PCs at two Hiland Dairy bottling plants and 12 distribution centers.

Key to the exchange of data between the host and the remote locations is XChange software from Commtech International, Atlanta.

File transfer takes place at night, when the remote sites are unattended.

"We wanted to be able to upload and download information to and from the branches on a daily basis," says Everett, "and if any of the branches had a problem, we wanted to be able to go in remotely and fix it."

Everett had a clear preference for remote PCs over non-intelligent terminals, which would have required that long-distance phone lines be left open all day, every day.

The PC route, however, appeared to demand that script files be written to control file transfer.

Didn't Want Script Files

"None of the PC communications products I've used--including Carbon Copy, Crosstalk, and Procomm Plus--would do the job the way we wanted.

"Then one day, I got a flyer in the mail advertising XChange," he says. "It's very simple, costs little, and does what we want."

XChange handles the unattended transfer without the need for script files. It also has remote-control capability. "Just before they leave at night, someone at each branch starts XChange. At 12:30 a.m. we poll the sites, pick up their data, and leave ours. The program automatically reboots the PC in each branch at 6 a.m. to start processing the data that's been received. By 8 a.m., when the branch people report to work, they are all set to go with the latest customer and price information, ready to start the day."

The ability to set up and run the PC network efficiently has given Hiland Dairy a significant price/performance gain over remote terminals. Everett estimates that for the price of a terminal and modem, the dairy could install 386-based PCs with color monitors and 70-megabyte disk drives plus Epson printers.

Even more significant is the difference in long-distance line costs to operate the network--30 minutes for all branches, compared with eight hours for each branch.

Hiland Dairy has installed PCs at four branches since August 1989 and plans to expand the network at the rate of two branches per month.

"For the branches that are on-line, we're now able to catch mistakes and correct them at the source. That's obviously starting to save us a lot of money," Everett says.

The software was simple to install, and the technical support from the company is "super," he adds.

"XChange is ideal for anyone who wants to avoid the cost and the hassle of remote computing. "You let it work at night and you're at home not worrying about it. You're making efficient use of your phone lines, there's no slowdown at the office, and you have the same benefit you'd have if the remote sites were on line.

"All I had to do was tell XChange who to call and what files to exchange.

"From there it did everything I wanted it to do."
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Communications News
Date:May 1, 1990
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