Ensuring Automation

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Ensuring Automation

If Becky Schall is not at her desk, chances are she can be found testing new software or working to solve a technical issue occurring at one or more of the stores.

I"I work a lot in the store automation lab dealing with problems and simulating issues at the stores, as well as testing new software," Schall said.

If a call comes into the help desk and can't be fixed, her department is the next step -- especially if numerous stores are calling in with the same issue.

"We go to the lab and try to duplicate the issue first before we contact the vendor," she explained. "If we can't duplicate it and the issue occurred at one location, we sometimes wait to see if it happens again, but if several stores call in with the same issue, then we know it's a problem."

As the manager of back-office systems in store automation, Schall typically starts her day at 7 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. She started with the company 15 years ago through the Ultramar Diamond Shamrock acquisition, where she began in the maintenance department. After four years, she switched gears to work in the fuel-pricing department, and at the time of the acquisition, was working with store auditing. She spent two years in the store automation department, and six years ago, she moved into her current position.

The back-office group and Schall work closely with the point-of-sale (POS) and pricebook groups regarding functionality and ensuring everything from the POS gets into the accounting software on the back end, she explained.

"There are always multiple projects going on at one time, and there is no downtime," she said. "You never get bored."

Currently, the group is working on 29 projects, two or three are considered major, including a POS and back-office upgrade, and a cost-savings initiative to reduce the amount of paper that automatically prints in the stores.

The work continues to pay off. When Schall first started working with the store automation department more than eight years ago, it took two hours for managers to complete paperwork, and now it's down to approximately 20 minutes. With the current systems in place, everything is automated.

Five years ago, her team deployed PDI's store assistant handheld, which took the place of manually keying in inventory orders and added functionality for suggestive ordering. "This allowed managers to take the handheld onto the floor and scan the items to be ordered, and the suggestive ordering helps us not only stay in stock, but avoid overstock," she noted.

This feature started with perishable products three years ago, and last year the company finished rollout to the cigarette category. "We have reduced inventory a lot, while still supplying the customer with what they want," Schall said.

Additionally, the company is in the process of planning a rollout of a new Falcon handheld using Windows, which allows managers to work on everything from grocery, invoicing and ordering to spoilage and waste. At the time of CSNews' visit, Valero had 70 in the field.

"It's very user-friendly with a touchscreen, and it is easier to read with a more ergonomic handle," she said.

In addition to her technical duties, Schall works with the training department to write user manuals.

Her favorite part of the job is working with store managers and making their job easier to do. "We want them on the floor and not in the back office," she said.