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Number 53
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Special theme:
Cognitive Systems

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< Contents ERCIM News No. 54, July 2003
SPECIAL THEME: Applications and Service Platforms for the Mobile User

Mobile Communication in Newspaper Distribution and Transport

by Olli Kuusisto and Janne Pajukanta

Newspaper distribution and transport are time-critical operations in which a large number of people are required to work in a coordinated manner. VTT has developed a pilot system based on mobile communication to solve production and communication problems in the newspaper distribution and transport process.

Even though this process is, in principle, repeated every night, varying disturbances and problems can occur each time. By utilising mobile communication, people working in different locations can be reached, and problems solved. It also enables reporting of up-to-the-minute information on the entire production process, and communication between supervision and employees as well aswithin a team. With the help of real-time control and tracking, the entire delivery process can be optimised and the quality of the process improved. Pilot systems and solutions were developed to enable work-related communication in newspaper distribution organisations, and experience was gained in practical field tests. The tests made clear what kind ofbenefits can be offered by the use of these new tools, as well as showing how currently available technology is able to meet the challenges of professional usage in a real working environment.

At present, the flow of electronic information in newspaper production ends at the post-press department. Tailoring of newspapers, new subscription alternatives, new products and predicted shortage of deliverers will increase the challenges for accurate and reliable distribution. In practice, distribution will evolve, and is predicted to function more and more through teamwork, where teams will be autonomous and the need for supervision will decrease. These challenges create a demand for new systems of communication and transmission of data.

The objective of the mobile communication pilots was to plan and implement mobile control and tracking in order to obtain empirical information on the suitability of the system and the portable wireless devices used. The pilot system included following functions:

  • on-time and deviation reporting to the distribution organisation
  • instant messaging to deliverers
  • communication between and among the foreman and the deliverers.

The preliminary requirements specification was made based on interviews with deliverers, their foremen, van drivers and management from several distribution companies. In particular, opinions concerning portable devices and features of the system were gathered. Typical working methods and the need for bilateral communication were also examined. At the pilot stage, the operation of the pilot system was first presented to the pilot companies and deliverers, and feedback was gathered accordingly.

Web-application architecture was chosen since individual applications to different terminals, as well as the control of the state of the application, would have been troublesome, the latter resulting from at the time not so reliable GPRS-connection. The application can be run on any general Web browser. Typical layers in such architecture are client application, www-server and database. Web browsers served as the client application at the different terminals. HTML pages were created dynamically with help of Java Servlet technology based on the database.

Mobile communication pilot system overview.
Mobile communication pilot system overview.

The pilots took place in 2002-2003. The pilot system made communication and the flow of information easier to manage between deliverers and their foremen, and within the team of deliverers. It is expected that the schedules of the entire delivery process could be optimised and the quality of the process improved with the aid of real-time control and tracking. The users found the pilot system easy to use and navigate. Information from the production stage at the printing house was useful and helped to plan the deliverers' work. The communication system was found to be useful, as there already exists a high frequency of communications between deliverers. At the moment this is handled by cell phones, but it could be more easily managed with PDAs.

Pilot-like real-time control and tracking gives accurate data on sources of disturbance, which enables a fast reaction and increases quality. Reporting of the start and stop times of delivery gives specific data to foremen and to customer service. If the deliverer has not registered the start time as scheduled, he/she can be contacted without delay. Traditionally it is necessary to either physically check the starting points of delivery, or to wait until customers complain. Fast and accurate feedback can also be given to previous working phases. Registering of the extra copies needed by deliverers enables better and more accurate control of the edition and makes it easier to tackle the causes for ordering extra copies. Also, an electronic control system enables the optimisation of the daily schedules of distribution, which brings savings in decreased waiting time costs.

Please contact:
Olli Kuusisto, VTT Information Technology
Tel: +358 9 456 4760