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Hollywood Video Uses Pocket PC Applications to Audit Store Operations

Hollywood Video uses Pocket PC applications to handle their audit processes
Hollywood Video uses Pocket PC applications to handle their audit processes

Hollywood Video is one of the country's largest video chains, with over 1800 stores in nearly every state. One of the keys to the company's success is well-run stores that follow accepted retail practices. This includes an effective loss prevention program, since shrinkage is an unfortunate fact of life in the video rental business.

Hollywood Video conducts periodic audits of its stores to ensure that correct polices and procedures are being followed, holding losses as close to zero as possible. Approximately 20 loss prevention managers around the U.S. conduct quarterly audits on targeted stores. The audit consists of over 110 questions that address various areas of store operations.

Until recently, the audit was performed using a 12-page paper form that was then faxed to corporate headquarters and keyed into a database for analysis and reporting. With 300-400 audits every quarter, this represented a huge volume of faxed pages to deal with, and a massive data entry backlog.

Handheld Forms Eliminate Paper
Hollywood Video is now using a new handheld application that puts the entire audit on a Pocket PC. Rather than wrestle with paper, managers tap their way through the audit questions on an electronic form. Drop-down lists and other design elements allow the audit to be adapted for the constraints of the Pocket PC screen without sacrificing clarity or convenience. The program automatically calculates scores for each section of the audit, and assigns an overall grade to the store. Audit data is downloaded from the store directly into an Access database at headquarters, eliminating all paper-based operations and making audit data available for reporting the same day it is collected.

The audit application was developed using Visual CE®, an easy-to-use Windows CE database development tool from SYWARE ( Forms and underlying databases are created on a desktop system and then uploaded to the Pocket PCs. Audit questions can be easily changed, added, or re-arranged, and the changes synchronized to the handhelds - eliminating the cost of printing paper forms.

"I recommend Visual CE to anyone planning a Windows CE development project," says Jason Rackley, Loss Prevention Specialist and creator of the Pocket PC audit application. "The design interface is simple and clean, which makes the software very easy to use and certainly faster than Visual Basic."

Comprehensive Audit of Operations
The initial audit screen is used to enter identification details about the store, such as the address, phone number, and store managers. The remainder of the audit consists of questions to ensure that the store is following all security policies and procedures to eliminate shrinkage, whether from employees or customers. These questions address all the criteria that define a well-run retail business, and which, if followed correctly, should prevent loss of products. Questions are grouped by key areas of store operations, such as whether store personnel are managing inventory correctly, following customer service guidelines, and maintaining records properly.

Audit questions are in Yes / No format or multiple choice to select from a range (i.e., Excellent / Good / Fair / Poor). Stores are awarded points for answers that reflect best business practices, with more points assigned for correct answers to particularly important questions. The Pocket PC application calculates the results as a percentage, and indicates whether the store passed or failed in each category, as well as the overall score. The ratings are used to help headquarters and store managers determine what type of remedial training or other action is appropriate to meet any identified weakness.

When the audit is complete, the auditor synchronizes with an Access database at headquarters, making the audit data immediately available for reporting. Visual CE interoperates with MS Access and all other ODBC-compatible programs, allowing data captured on the Pocket PCs to be readily shared with desktop database applications. The audit is also printed on the store printer for review by the manager and other personnel.

Factoring the Savings
The new approach eliminates all the headaches associated with handling thousands of pages of faxed audits. About 10 minutes were previously required to process each audit, which may not seem like much, except that every quarter, the Loss Prevention department would receive several hundred faxed audits, each 12-13 pages. In addition to the redundant data entry, there were also inefficiencies associated with tracking down lost fax pages and deciphering unclear text - as well as the sheer cost of paper and faxing. Now Rackley and his colleagues simply open the Access database and run whatever reports are needed.

Another key benefit is improved accuracy. The application performs calculations automatically as questions are answered, eliminating the need for mental arithmetic or to consult a calculator. "The more hands that touch the data, the more chance of a mistake," notes Rackley. "Now the auditor enters the data and it goes straight into the report. There's no chance of a math error or a name being entered incorrectly during re-keying. The Pocket PC application does everything for us."

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