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Ever since the advent of computerized dispatch systems, ready-mixed concrete producers have debated the relative merits of dispatching from a central location versus letting plants locally control their own orders and load scheduling.

Proponents of central dispatch are quick to point out the increased truck productivity and efficiency gains. Local-dispatch proponents contend that familiar personnel who know the specific requirements of their customers must take orders at the local plant. Another common argument made by local-dispatch proponents centers on the perceived expense of communication equipment and high-speed telephone lines sometimes required for central dispatch operations.

Because technology is allowing producers to link their computers to networks and access specific information with Windows software, dispatching is no longer a central-versus-local decision. More producers are finding that the click of a mouse button benefits both dispatching arrangements.

Major design changes to information flow have decreased setup costs and increased the flexibility of central-dispatch programs. Central computers no longer totally control workstations at satellite plants. System designers install resident programs on remote computers, and the programs evaluate data requirements and recall only necessary data from the server located at the central office.

With the flexibility of both central and local programming, producers can customize their programs to match customer requirements.

When one plant is exclusively supplying a large job, the local order-taker can assume responsibility for dispatching at that plant. And, even though the remote plant is running in a local dispatch mode, management personnel can view activity online from any location on the network. In this type of network environment, companies can also elect to have their different offices assume dispatch responsibilities for certain plants at various times as conditions warrant.

Producers can realize additional benefits from this type of network environment, such as the ability to instantly check and verify credit information while taking new orders. If the current order value increases the customer's open receivables beyond an established credit limit, the system can instantly notify order entry personnel while the customer is still on the telephone. This type of online network can also reduce the risks of double-booking the same order should a customer call two different plants.

Ready-mix companies with remote locations and plants spread over a wide geographic region may find that a Windows Terminal Server (WTS) network can help them use truck-tracking devices, which otherwise may have been impractical.

A WTS network, however, minimizes specialized equipment and also can provide other advantages. Company-wide e-mail and access to meeting schedules for personnel normally based at multiple locations are just a couple of examples of the networking benefits.

The article also discusses how much a producer should pay for a WAN phone line.

Keywords: central, local, dispatch, network, computer, software, Windows, fleet, Kurtz Gravel, truck, WTS, Systech, WAN, T-1