Yes and no. While this might put the pressure on you to maximize your efficiency while still retaining and attracting customers, it doesn't mean that the route to intelligent operations only comes in a box.

Before you weigh trash, you must weigh your unique business needs against what is available on the market. Before you compute customer billing, you first must compute the financial reality of purchasing a new system.

In short, before buying a new software or scale system, do your homework and commit yourself to the time and work necessary to maximize your new tools' capabilities.

Researching software and scale systems can be daunting, especially if you still free-associate the term "mouse" only with a rodent. The good news is that you're not alone, and similar organizations that have gone before you can prove to be valuable resources in pointing you in the right direction.

Ideally, prior to purchase, you will investigate how well a number of systems work in environments similar to yours and bat around ideas with manufacturers and colleagues outside of your organization. This knowledge will allow you to hone your individual needs and requirements more realistically as you shop.

When searching for a new software and/or scale system, World Wastes believes that nothing beats talking to peers who are a couple of cybersteps ahead.

Thus, we invite you on a techno-tour where 10 companies and municipalities share the ups and downs of using waste industry technology.

Starting from Scratch Can you imagine using a calculator as your sole billing tool? Cornelius Andres, superintendent of public works for the town of Bourne, Mass., can.

For two months after the new regional construction and demolition (C&D) landfill opened in July 1996, the Department of Public Works had the scale to weigh customers in and out, but since it opted not to purchase the manufacturer's software, Andres had nothing in place initially to aid with billing.

Since the site was new, the scale installation took priority over software. After researching the options and visiting other operations, the department elected to go with an above-ground scale rather than a pit scale.

"Since we're under construction, we went with a steel deck scale, which is relocatable," Andres explains. "A concrete scale is nice, but it will be there for the long haul."

Their pick was a 70-foot long, 11-foot wide unit from Cardinal Scale Manufacturing Co., Webb City, Mo. "The 11-foot width was really a good choice," he says. "A lot of people go with the 10-foot width, but the drivers truly appreciate that extra foot."

The two-day scale installation did not take as long as the site preparation, which included grading and paving. "The way we laid out the site worked out well," he says. "We have the scale on a sloped section so that one side is flush with the road and the other side is about two feet high. This allows the water to run underneath the scale and gives us easy access for cleaning. It is really beautiful for drainage."

Since the site sells recycled material such as cardboard, plastic, glass, tin and metal, Andres says it is "comforting" to run the material over his own scale. "We know the numbers are right. When you're selling recyclables, it adds to your whole bottom line and helps you meet recycling goals," he says.

Once the scale was in place, the next hurdle for this 200-ton-per-day facility serving Cape Cod and the South Shore was to find the most applicable software. Writing its own program was ruled out immediately. "We have good, quality employees, but they're not computer programmers," Andres explains. The town evaluated several software packages before deciding on WasteWorks from Carolina Software, Wilmington, N.C.

After two months of using a calculator, the landfill needed to get wired ASAP. Fortunately, the scale's digital weight indicator that connected through standard wiring made interfacing a snap, and software training took only two days.

"[The software] did not require major customization," Andres says. "We could change prices, add new products and keep track of all our recycling on it."

While purchasing a ready-made software program was the way to go at the landfill, one of Andres' customers found gold by striking out with a home-grown variety.

Like the Bourne landfill, Rochester Environmental Park, New Bedford, Mass., a privately-operated facility which processes primarily C&D and difficult-to-manage materials, was new. However, unlike the landfill which could make do without software for a couple of months, Rochester had to hit the ground running technologically when it opened in June 1997.

Designing a software package might have bypassed the hassles of selecting a vendor, but it certainly didn't alleviate the decision-making headaches when it came to choosing hardware - a process which took about two years.

"Initially, I wanted to use Macintosh, because I'm a Macintosh devotee," says David Mackey, operations manager. "We wanted [a system with a] GUI-graphic user-friendliness that would interface with our financial accounting system and the sales and marketing database and would perform word processing."

The ultimate goal was to be able to "go to one computer and do anything," he says. Although Mackey eventually was swayed from Macs, he still wasn't satisfied with the more complicated DOS environment. The happy medium? "We decided it would be less expensive if we designed our own network based on Windows," he says.

After getting a network in place, the facility purchased accounting software (Proven Edge) and programs for word processing and sales/marketing.

With the help of a local software engineer, Mackey designed an overlay which "works like a shell that tares trucks in, registers them, weighs them out and then sends the data to the account."

Currently, Rochester has six computers. The software development took six months from start to finish, and the network and software cost approximately $10,000. That half year afforded Rochester the time to shop for its scale, purchased from Cardinal, which was installed at the same time Rochester booted up its network.

With the plethora of waste-specific software on the market today, is producing your own software just reinventing the wheel? You've certainly heard the horror stories of employees/consultants who created original software for companies only to vanish a year later, taking with them the software's secrets. Can in-house developed software really be viable for the long run?

There's no question. The oldest currently-operating waste management software probably belongs to the Southeastern Public Service Authority (SPSA), Chesapeake, Va.

This regional integrated solid waste management system which serves approximately 2,000 square miles in southeastern Virginia, created its software system in 1985, years before the first waste-specific package hit the market. In fact, the system SPSA developed was so effective that back in the mid- to late-'80s, organizations up and down the Eastern seacoast inquired about purchasing it for their own use.

In 1985, SPSA looked for months for a system that would read scale data and track tonnages and costs at its Suffolk landfill and various transfer stations and then translate that data to a central computer to compile invoices and reports. They found that no such software existed.

"We put out a request for proposals to find the parameters we wanted in our system, then hired a consulting firm to not only write the system, but also to advise us on the hardware needed to make it work," says Terry Forehand, director of administration. SPSA selected Hewlett-Packard hardware and still uses the brand, upgrading every five years. A staff, headed by Data Processing Manager Al Ankers maintains the system with occasional consultant support.

Forehand highlights the software's invoicing and reporting capabilities as most valuable: SPSA can generate invoices on its 1,700 customers immediately at the end of each month and then malail them only a day or two later, which diminishes payment float time.

It also enables the authority to track factors such as tonnages, types of waste, customers, times and vehicles on reports. This is a boon for an organization that must manage 81 waste transfer vehicles which pick up and deliver waste to eight transfer stations and two other major disposal destinations that work on various shifts.

"The key to our system is that we can store a vehicle's tare weight n advance so that when the truck pulls onto the scale, that calculation is done almost immediately and our credit customer is not on the scale more than 20 or 30 seconds," Forehand says.

And, currently in the works is SPSA's next generation: a "quasi-real-time system." "Telecommunication has changed rapidly over the last few years," Ankers explains. "We are designing a new system to collect data from the scalehouses on a more quasi-real-time basis instead of relying on each station to download the information once a day and modem it to a central site," he continues.

"This will enable all of our sites to see immediately how many tons are on a particular tipping floor."

"When you cover 2,000 square miles, knowing where your waste is is important," Forehand adds. "The assurance of having the right trucks in the right place is the payback for going real-time."

Complete Systems Overhaul Metro Portland (Ore.) faced a unique stationary scale dilemma when it began revamping one of its two transfer stations. Metro South and Metro Central each handle approximately 30,000 tons of trash monthly from both franchised haulers and the general public - both of which must be weighed on the same stationary scale.

"Until seven years ago, we had a flat fee based on volume for residential customers, but that caused a lot of problems and arguments," says Penny Erickson, operations superintendent for the regional environmental management division.

"This meant that the scalehouse had to visually or actually measure the load to determine the value," she says. "To complicate matters, we drew a line that anything more than 9 cubic yards must be billed by weight."

Given the obvious inaccuracies of this system, Metro decided everyone must go over the scale. But finding the right scale was easier said than done.

"We needed an industrial truck scale that also could weigh the public's lower weights, but most scales aren't certified to weigh so low," Erickson says. "This requirement rules out many scale manufacturers."

With the help of the general contractor who is redesigning the facility, Metro found that a 40-foot Uni-bridge scale from Uni-bridge Scale Co., Knowles, Okla., fit its specs. Although Metro South has five scales, currently, it is just adding this one. Erickson predicts that the new scale platform will be in place by early March.

"The longest part of the process is pouring the scale pit," she says. "There are some stiff requirements to ensure that the support is accurate. This scale has a concrete platform that takes a couple of weeks to cure, extending the process."

Metro's scale program is routed through Weighmaster software, manufactured by Information Systems Inc., which is run on a network and can be accessed at either site.

When commercial and residential customers are weighed, the software prompts the scale attendant to enter the customer's identification or the transaction type.

If the customer is a commercial account, the information will be placed in a hold file for monthly billing. The program grabs the weight automatically and registers it. On weigh-out, the employee enters the truck's number, and the program calculates the weight and produces a ticket. Since there are no stickers on the public transactions, residential customers are given a small, plastic identification board with a number that they use when on-site.

This system is far from state-of-the-art, and Metro, known for its innovation in the waste industry, is toying with new technological tricks to speed the process and boost efficiency at both its sites.

Metro's solutions are successful because it understands the premise that many others miss: Technology is not simply a tool to be "used." It must be applied.

The main snag in Metro's operations was weighing the more time-consuming residential customers who bottlenecked the scale as frustrated commercial clients checked their watch and bit their nails awaiting their turn.

To increase efficiency, Metro started automating the commercial scales at the five-year-old Central site, using Weighmaster and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.

This system, which was implemented a couple of months ago, grabs the identification off the franchise vehicle, collects the weight off the scale and gives the truck access to the site. Its identification is read again at weigh-out where the hauler receives his ticket.

"RFID increased our efficiency enormously, because now we are able to keep the facility open 24 hours a day without hiring additional staff or increasing service cost," Erickson says.

"In the past, we closed at 7 p.m. and didn't have activity start again until 3 a.m.," she says. "Now, we are receiving trash all evening long, and probably are picking up an extra 12 to 15 transactions during that timeframe. I expect that number to increase as word gets out and the haulers become more comfortable with the system."

Metro, realizing that any new program will have kinks, had the forethought to install a video camera system that allowed it to tape the process. "So, if a truck has a problem, we can view it on tape and backtrack to determine the cause," Erickson says.

By freeing up the times the commercial accounts can access the site, Metro can devote the necessary staff to the public customers who have more problems and questions.

What's next? Using separate scales for commercial and residential customers to allow the commercial accounts to move even faster. On the heels of Central's success, Metro will be installing RFID at South soon.

While RFID worked well for Metro, it should not be used as a catch-all to efficiency. For example, RFID would be impractical at Bourne's landfill. "Our customers change trailers so much that it would be difficult to be consistent with identification," Andres says.

And, SPSA, which tickets manually at its landfill, has other, more pressing concerns. "We're looking at RFID, but it just hasn't come to the top of the list yet," Forehand says.

With so much shakin' goin' on at Metro, customer and employee education was a must. The 16 scalehouse employees still are worried about losing their jobs to automation, but Metro has been able to make staffing adjustments by not filling some vacancies and by shifting employees to the public scales where cash handling is required, Erickson says.

In addition, Metro briefed haulers every step of the way to alleviate their concerns. A quarterly newsletter continues to keep them abreast of research, and Metro staff is present at local hauler association meetings.

"They were receptive to the fact that we came to them in advance to tell them what we were looking at doing," Erickson says.

The Software Switch On the Left and Right Coasts, two private haulers got a handle on inefficiency by analyzing the redundancies and "holes" in their operations and using appropriate software to get their businesses back on track.

East Windsor, Conn.-based Somers Sanitation has been in operation since 1974, handling mainly commercial accounts with recycling, front-end and roll-off services in Connecticut and Western Massachusettes. It has three sites to connect: a main billing office, a transfer station about a mile away and another transfer station in Waterbury, Conn., which is an hour's drive.

Prior to April 1996, Somers' hauling software was different than that used with the transfer stations, and the company sought to centralize all of its operations on one network.

A mere four months later, on August 1, 1996, Somers went live with a UNIX-based program from Target Market System, Rochester, N.Y. "Altogether, we spent about $100,000 between the software, hardware and labor time to write a data conversion from the old system," says Bill Conley, MIS manager, who notes that Somers paid out of a general debt within the company to avoid direct financing.

The switch-over was completed in a weekend, and the company didn't have to run the old and new operations simultaneously. "We did continue to keep the original system operational for a few months in case someone had to go back and look up details on an account that wasn't transferred," he adds.

Somers did not experience any difficulties interfacing the software with its Cardinal scales, and since the scales are all on the same network, the system allows for running unmanned facilities if necessary.

For example, Conley notes, if the dispatcher in Waterbury is out of the office, the transfer station an hour away can weigh trucks and print out the dispatch ticket.

At presstime, Somers was preparing to install an on-board scale from Hardy Instruments, San Diego, which will be used initially for commercial route audits. "Right now, we do all of our hauling routing with Target," Conley says. "Once the on-truck system is in place, we'll import that scale data into the Target system." With so much at stake, security is an issue for Conley. Although he doesn't use all the security options available, the system is password-driven, and Conley can give access on a per-screen level.

Wayne Zwolinski of SuperSource, Phoenix, couldn't agree more with the emphasis on security. "Access to software should be governed by passwords," he says. "It is even more desirable to control not only access to the programs, but also to provide different levels of access to different areas."

Let's face it: While good employees may be your most valuable asset, greedy ones could be your downfall.

"All too often we hear from new clients and prospects about how they have been ripped off by employees," says Rick Ericksson of Norwesco Computing, Bellevue, Wash. "A good program will provide audit controls and other features that will monitor not only funds, but also material flow."

On the Left Coast, Crown Disposal, one of the largest private haulers in Los Angeles, spent a couple of years seeking an effective reporting program to manage its commercial, industrial and multi-unit accounts and its transfer station.

"We did most of our homework at WasteExpo, where we looked at all of the programs available," says Kathy Wander, office manager.

After a year of additional research, Crown put its money on WAM Software Inc., Reno, Nev., because it "accommodated both our hauling [operation] and the transfer station," she says.

WAM gives Crown "reports that we weren't able to get before," Wander says, noting that she was particularly impressed with how the new software has saved the company money in time and labor costs. For example, compiling a daily report used to take three hours. Now, it is on the boss' desk in a half-hour.

Also, due to permitting, Crown must do a lot of reporting to the city, which was "a big job for one person," Wander notes. "The software saved us from hiring about one-and-a-half new employees."

Installation and training were a snap: Crown did not have to purchase new hardware and no employees were laid off or restructured.

Smooth Sailing with Routing A year ago, Sawyer Environmental, Bangor, Maine, merged with its largest area competitor and doubled its customer base overnight.

Operations Manager Darryl Lyon was given the unenviable task of immediately eliminating route duplications for the company's fleet of 12 roll-offs, nine front loaders, 17 rear loaders and six recycling trucks that serve commercial, industrial and residential accounts in the greater Bangor area.

"I was given 'yesterday' as a deadline for straightening out the routing and maximizing the front-load fleet," he says. Fortunately, Sawyer already used software from Soft-Pak, San Diego, which has formed an alliance with RouteSmart Technologies, Columbia, Md., to develop an electronic interface, and Lyon was able to implement the routing system immediately onto his IBM-compatible PC.

Lyon gave the new system a test run himself. "I accompanied the driver on the route to time it," he says. "The program told me when I should arrive at a customer, and each time I tested it, the system predicted the time within seconds."

Learning to effectively use the software was a no-brainer for Lyon. "The employees don't have to be trained," he says. "I off-load the file from my PC, reroute it on RouteSmart, then send it back to Soft-Pak, which originates the routesheets that I give to my drivers."

Lyon is especially pleased with how the system handles peculiarities such as restrictions and geography. "It compares a street data set with a customer data set," he explains.

"Through the street data set, you can compensate for factors such as one-way roads and truck weight requirements," he says. "Per customer, you can stipulate latest arrival restrictions, such as is the case with hotels that won't allow you to pick up before 8 a.m.

"In this region, we have a unique situation where we only have one disposal site," he continues. "The municipalities are interlinked with this site, so for tracking purposes, all my commercial waste has to go to the site without mixing any other city's trash with it.

"I have to dump one account, and then go collect the other," he says. "[The software vendor] really wasn't prepared to compensate for this, but we worked around the edges and figured it out."

Sawyer also employs one on-board scale from Wray Tech Instruments, Stratford, Conn., another Soft-Pak interface alliance company. "We had this image of coordinating these three data centers to exchange information," Lyon says. "While it's not really a complete loop since there's no interface between Wray Tech and RouteSmart, Wray Tech gives you the time-on-location variable that you need in RouteSmart."

Sawyer, whose customers are 75 percent commercial, has ferreted out many accounts that have been over- and under-charged. The company certainly has achieved its goal of being more competitive through reducing costs, making routes more timely and boosting customer service.

"We have the competitive edge, because I know our trucks are running efficiently," Lyon says. "They aren't doing things that are unprofitable."

Unprofitability can be deadly for private companies and municipalities alike in today's competitive arena.

"It's no secret that the major players in the waste industry have been on a feeding frenzy for the last year, buying up independent operations at a break-neck pace," SuperSource's Zwolinski says.

"As an independent facing the specter of competing against the conglomerates, having an operation that is at peak efficiency becomes even more imperative - if not only to compete, but to raise your ultimate business value," he says.

All Plugged in with Nowhere to Go Sometimes, when a system doesn't do quite all that you need, you must improvise.

In the early 1990s, Santek Environmental, Cleveland, Tenn., which manages publicly-owned landfills in the Southeast, purchased WasteWorks to make its scalehouse operations more efficient. At the time, this was the only software available geared specifically to solid waste landfills.

Santek purchased the software outright and paid $7,450, which included the original version and software for the individual sites. Currently, Santek is on its fifth upgrade, but its president, Ed Caylor, admits that using the system effectively involved some elbow grease and jerry-rigging on his company's part.

"WasteWorks is a DOS program, so the biggest obstacle we had to overcome was its inability to interface with other applications," he says.

"This posed a problem if a customer wants a more detailed report than [the software] can perform. Although [the software] has a lot of fields in which to enter data, it is unable to download all of that information into one report."

Caylor says this deficiency didn't become apparent until one of the landfills Santek managed increased its customer base from 100 to 2,000.

One of this landfill's biggest customers is a large municipality that required greater detail reporting. The solution? Santek purchased Crystal Reporting, a Windows-based program that allows them to convert the information.

Despite these problems with the weighing software, Caylor says that as a software program for landfill personnel, it's user-friendly. "The scalehouse attendant doesn't have to be a whiz to manage it," he says. "It also can be configured to meet a customer's individual needs."

This is especially helpful in allowing each landfill's municipal owner to access data daily to verify waste tonnages and types via modem and software connections.

Get On-Board with Scales "Scales are becoming more of a necessity for attaining and maintaining profitable operations," says Hardy Instrument's Carol Williams.

"They allow haulers to manage the bidding process better, identify unprofitable accounts and adjust their rates accordingly," she says. "They also are a key component in moving toward making trash collection a utility."

In order to get the perfect on-board scale, it is essential to determine its application beforehand.

All states will allow billing by weight, Williams says, as long as the hauler has the scale tested and approved by the state weights and measures office.

What do you look for? "Your chosen vendor should be able to fit your scale with limited modifications to the truck body to optimize productivity with no inconvenience to employees," notes Victoria Matthews of Mobile Computing, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

According to Williams, there are a few key features you must look for when scale shopping: accuracy, an on-board truck computer and low maintenance/calibration requirements.

Depending on your operational needs, it also might be important to consider in-motion scales, which do not require any slowing of the collection process, or scales that are National Type Evaluation Program (NTEP) certified to allow haulers to bill by weight.

NTEP is a cooperative effort between the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Conference on Weights and Measures, the states and the private sector that establishes a uniform set of criteria and test procedures for evaluating weighing devices.

The requirements for commercial weighing and measuring devices are stated in NIST's Handbook 44 (H-44), which is updated annually. To receive a copy of H-44, write: Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402-9325 and request code "CODEN:NIHAE2."

"If you choose to not take to the NTEP option at this time, you may want to ensure that the scale you decide to purchase is upgradable," Williams advises.

Currently, most haulers use scales for commercial route audits and for price determination, and although there are pilot programs in the works, haulers aren't racing to bill by weight.

Conrad Pawelski, district manager of Coast Waste Management, Carlsbad, Calif., uses Hardy on-board scales to price his multi accounts at the University of California, San Diego, by weight, but is not seeking to bill this way any time soon.

"The University sub-bills each department, so we need to make sure we charge them accordingly," he explains. "We give them the total amount that we dumped, and they divide it up accordingly. We don't bill the university on each bin by weight, but we go on gross-by-weight.

"[To bill by weight] almost requires that you be on level ground, and San Diego is pretty hilly," he says. "If you have a static pressure on a set of hydraulic arms that's sitting at a 30-degree incline, it doesn't have the same kind of characteristics to weigh and pick up that load that it would have on level ground."

However, the bin locations at the university are "relatively flat," Pawelski says. "So, we don't have a problem with that."

Two trucks are outfitted with the scales. One is used at the university, and the backup is used to run weight audits on other customers.

These audits help Coast Waste determine which prices need to be adjusted to ensure profitability. "I wouldn't say that using the scales saved us a lot of money, but it gave us another tool that helps us manage our business better," Pawelski says. "It's been well worth it."

David Peck of Waste Industries, Raleigh, N.C, has hit upon the perfect software-and-scale cocktail for his Jacksonville, N.C. location: an interface between Soft-Pak software and Mobile Computing Corp.'s (MCC) scale system.

The December 9, 1997 installation replaced Peck's old software system, which consisted of two programs working simultaneously, but independently.

"The MCC system that we had previously was PC-based and stand-alone, which forced us to duplicate our efforts to keep the same customer files on the PC that we had on our home office's AS 400 mainframe," he says. "So, whenever we'd update one, we'd have to go and update the other. The chances for error were great, and our administrative staff had to do twice the amount of work."

This running of two different systems initiated Waste Industries' interfacing of MCC and Soft-Pak. "We wanted to run mainframe, real-time, but we wanted to be able to transfer our information directly to the trucks through an on-board computer so that our routes would appear on a computer screen versus a print-out," Peck says.

Although Waste Industries operates in 27 locations, it selected Jacksonville for the interface's beta test because it had to provide the city with the weight for every user in the city's limits. "That's what forced us into this to begin with," he says. "We wanted to test weighing systems anyway."

Since the interface requires an AS 400 and a UNIX-based PC, the company had to convert the AS 400 language to UNIX, so that UNIX could transmit the information to the selected truck's computer.

Currently, Waste Industries is taking all of its commercial routing information and transmitting it to five trucks that have the systems installed.

It took four weeks during the staff's spare time to ensure that the records between the two former operating systems were in synch. Then, the on-board computers and the office computers had to be programmed and configured so that they could communicate.

"Most of the legwork was done by MCC and Soft-Pak before they came to our location," Peck says. "MCC tested it at their offices to make sure that the information would download and upload properly."

Once MCC and Soft-Pak came to Jacksonville, the process took four days.

Fortunately, the drivers already were well-versed in using on-board computers. "Since our trucks already had the technology on-board to receive and send information to the PC, we simply wanted them to be able to convey that information to the mainframe and only run one system."

Now, an administrative person downloads the necessary information from the AS 400, where the routing information is stored in the home office, to the UNIX which sets up the routes that are transmitted to the trucks.

At the end of the day, the data cuts back to the UNIX via a radio link. The UNIX processes it, and the administrator makes a file copy to upload into the AS 400. The file transfer is "quite fast," Peck reports.

Peck's goal: Provide the highest level of service at the lowest possible cost to his customer.

Although he does not charge customers by the pound, he says, "scales alleviate the 'best-guess' situation. They allows us to come up with a range of weights that a certain customer will fall into. It gives us more accurate information when we discuss pricing with a current or new customer."

Although this interface is technically a beta test, Peck already has accepted it as permanent. "Part of our contract with MCC was to test the interface," he says. "If it worked as suspected, we'd have the system permanently."

The bottom line when researching software or scale packages is to evaluate your unique business needs first and not be swayed by vendors' bells and whistles or by what your competition just bought.

"The three most important features in any software or scale system are: dependability, tech support and ease of use," says WAM's Alan Mastic.

"If the software generally performs the function you want it to, your next step is to ensure that these three basic features are available," he says. "If they are not, your

It's a bitter pill to swallow, but when it comes to technology, one thing is certain: The minute you purchase a system and take it home, it becomes antiquated.

World Wastes polled the experts to get their take on what's hot and what's not in waste software and scale systems. According to our sources, look for complete systems integration and real-time data recovery to become industry standards.

* Wayne Zwolinski, Supersource: With weight-based fees picking up even more followers, it is only a matter of time until the apparatus and software for on-board scales and computers becomes affordable enough to allow the technology to flood the industry.

Other trends to watch are GPS (Global Positioning Systems) which will allow an owner to track trucks and containers through the installation of minute chips. This advancement dovetails with weight-based charges.

Residential containers can have chips embedded that can be read by a scanner to identify the customer. Maybe one day, we'll tack a chip on the employees...

Also, some manufacturers have developed devices that will automatically call for pickup when they reach a predetermined level - just the answer for the restaurant owner who never seems to call soon enough to keep from piling the trash high in the hopper.

* Kim O'Brien, Soft-Pak: While a 486 PC is considerably cheaper than it was two years ago, you can no longer run the latest and greatest software on it because the newer versions require a 200MMX machine if you want to move at a decent speed.

* Steve Frame, MASS Corp.: With the analog networks becoming increasingly overloaded and remaining expensive, the digital information movement is definitely the way of the future. The growth in front-end loader systems, residential and roll-off, will absolutely explode.

I also see more uses of rugged computers in the vehicle rather than simple weigh-and-display-units. In effect, the vehicle will become a remote workstation where the employee is kept current throughout his shift. Purchasing a fully-integrated scale and software system is smart because it allows the end-user to deal with only one vendor, which eliminates the fingerpointing.

* Pat Sweeney, Transcomp: Client/ Server solutions developed from the ground up in the Windows environment were just making their debut last year. The Windows environment and products developed for this environment are continuing to mature and demonstrate significant results.

* Rick Ericksson, Norwesco Computing: Landfills are closing. And for every landfill that closes, at least one waste transfer station will open since the landfill's customers are more likely to use a transfer station in the general area of the closed landfill than they are to travel excessive distances to another landfill.

Newer landfills operate on a weight-based charge system rather than the old volume (cubic yard) rating systems, which means increased software and scale use to account for every pound. An alternative to local landfills are regional landfills, which often are fed via railroad. This creates more software demands to track each container's origin, customer, weight, destination, time, date and condition.

* Rick Talbot, Vulcan: I see a demand for front-fork scales for front-end loaders and scaling on other vehicles such as rear loaders, side loaders, roll-offs, container carriers, transfer trailers and load luggers. Certified scales will be used for some recycled materials payment programs but not for residential and commercial pickup.

* Victoria Matthews, Mobile Computing: The future in scales lies in certification, improved accuracy and preparation for user-pay systems. Although user-pay systems have been talked about for years, it is estimated that they will not be implemented before 2000.

For commercial front-end loader applications, technology in scale design is moving to a fork scale. This technology is proving to be the best place to put a scale for high accuracy and low susceptibility of influence by environmental conditions.

* Carol Williams, Hardy Instruments: More and more municipalities and private haulers are either researching or installing National Type Evaluation Program certified scales, which, with the approval of the state office of weights and measures, will allow the hauler to legally charge by weight.

* John Leary, North American Business Technology: Operating systems such as Windows NT are replacing Novell and UNIX operating systems, creating a demand for Windows-based products offering multiple functions. With DOS-based systems rapidly aging, now is the time to invest in a Windows-based system.

* Jim Manley, Information Systems Inc.: Radio frequency identification will be in increased use to provide hands-off processing of the vehicles as they arrive and leave the site.

* Leandra Castellon, Flagship Corp.: For a long time, computer system offerings for waste sites have been lagging behind what the available software development tools and hardware-packaging options were capable of providing. Now, the trend is catching-up with the computer systems industry.

* Derrick Mashaney, Fairbanks Scales: Modem diagnostic software was introduced in February 1997. This software actually allows the scale to be remotely diagnosed via modem. In addition to remote diagnostics, scheduled modem calls can be placed to help track and even identify problems.

* Lori Dohrman, Weigh-Right: Not every company can afford state-of-the-art technologies, nor do they necessarily need it to stay in business and be competitive. It can take a small investment to begin maximizing every load it hauls. In many cases, this investment can be recouped in 60 days.

Interested in improving collection efficiency, reducing operating costs and maintaining a leg-up on the competition?

Route optimization software uses computerized models called "algorithms" to assume the complex task of determining which stops should go on which routes and in what order those stops should be serviced.

Algorithms are like recipes: They instruct the computer to process data in an ordered fashion (the steps) and to account for various operational factors (the ingredients).

Ever wonder why routing is such a complicated process? Think about it for a moment. How many possible ways can a single vehicle service five stops? The answer might amaze you: 120. The answer is determined mathematically by the following multiplication 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1.

Now, introduce a sixth stop. To arrive at this answer, multiply the five-stop answer (120) by 6. The result is 720 possible combinations of stop sequencing.

Now let's talk real world. A front-loader assigned to collect 120 stops has almost an infinite amount of possibilities of collecting stops on the route. As you layer in more routes, you exponentially increase the number of possible routing combinations for a given dispatch.

Algorithms, with their step-by-step approach to evaluating the best alternatives available for routing vehicles, break the complexity down to a simple number-crunching exercise for the computer.

A routing system takes the complexity of the real world problems, applies algorithmic techniques for modeling and determining the best answer, and provides an optimal routing solution for the daily dispatch.

Within the complexity lies the minimal cost solution for dispatching your operation. Every dollar squeezed out of operating costs goes directly to increasing the company bottom line.

What are the names of the latest techno-bandwagons? The Microsoft NT operating system and Graphical User Interface (GUI).

Some business people think that "if it doesn't run on NT, then it must not be very good." The truth is very different. NT is not a mature operating system and is less reliable than Novell or UNIX.

The installed Novell base still serves the largest network system population. And UNIX-based systems are geared for large transaction volumes and 15 or more users.

GUI applications are often referred to as a "windows system." If you can't point-and-click, is this old technology?

That depends. If you are posting receipts to the system or if you do a lot of typing, a mouse can be slow and is not very helpful.

However, if you are looking at information already entered through the use of a report generator system, a mouse becomes more useful.

The way we capture data will likely change the most in 1998, especially compared to where we were in 1996.

Several new data collection devices are available to ease information capturing, such as bar code readers, radio-frequency identification tags, automatic credit card verification systems, on-board computers and clip board computers.

Be careful when reviewing these products. While many sophisticated products are available, there are just as many that are unsatisfactory. If it is not a tested solution which is widely accepted, remember, the "solution" may disappear in a year or two.

While you should develop a detailed list of requirements and a list of bells and whistles, don't require that your program be a Windows 95, Windows 3.1, NT, Novell or UNIX system.

Listen to the vendor when he tells you how his system will function best. Don't force a vendor to use a 486 computer where a 586 is required.

Keep in mind that you can better control the revenue and expenses of your $150,000 truck by spending an additional $10,000 on an administrative computer system.

The old adage applies to the newest information systems as well: You get what you pay for.

Your truck is clean and checked out, and your driver is ready. Once they are in the field, however, do you know if they are operating efficiently?

On-board scales can help you monitor and, if necessary, improve your operation's efficiency. Each time your truck services a customer, this business tool records the weight collected and the amount of time spent at each location.

These factors, plus operating costs, are the main variables in a hauler's overall profitability.

Analyzing and optimizing collection time and weight can affect revenues. The combination of scales, truck-based computers and office software helps haulers collect, consolidate, analyze and report route data.

From this, you can identify trends and patterns which may lead to areas of potential savings.

Identifying variances in collection time or weight will help you fine-tune accounts to increase revenue, enabling a faster return on investment in computerized collection systems.

For example, consider a commercial account that is collected 12 times per month, with a three-minute stop collection time, a pickup weight of 460 pounds and $200 per month revenue.

If costs are $146 per month, including tipping fees of $40 per ton and truck operating costs of $60 per hour, this leaves a $54 monthly profit.

If everything else remains the same, but the collection time is increased to eight minutes, the costs per month increase to $206, with a net loss of $6 monthly. And, if you reduce the stop collection time to three minutes, but increase the weight to 1,460 pounds, costs increase to $386 per month, producing a $186 loss.

These examples illustrate how variables in collection times and weights can affect profitability and how easily a profitable account can become unprofitable.

On-board scales are useful when you are creating a pricing policy or strategy. For example, if your commercial customers are either heavy or light, you can adjust your rates appropriately.

You can also direct your sales team to focus on market segments and businesses that are the most profitable, and increase route density.

Every hauling company services commercial customers that are being undercharged. By identifying these accounts and using fair billing practices, your company will become both more profitable and competitive.