Cybertrash: A Virtual Reality

The emergence of waste-industry-based software and ever-improving scale design has given buyers a myriad of choices - so many, in fact, that they are overwhelmed with the possibilities. "What software system best fits my needs? How much maintenance will the scales require? Can I train my staff on this new technology without business interruption? Can the software I just bought interface with my present scale system? What will be my return on investment? Will I get burned?"

Such important questions are enough to give a buyer permanent mental whiplash. If you're confused, you're not alone. Across the nation, professionals like yourself are running pilot programs, surveying vendors, reading product literature and monitoring recent developments that alter this technological market.

As you do your research, remember that for every company you talk to that is happy with its software or scale purchase, there are others that have been sold something useless or impractical. And what works best for a competitor may not work for you. The bottom line when investigating expensive technology is a little cynicism can go a long way.

Getting Support "Ten years ago, the question was: Should we purchase a computer system or not?" said Alan Mastic at AOL Technologies (WAM), Reno, Nev. "Now that most people have computers, they are wondering how to choose a software program that will work well for them. Unfortunately, customers don't always know the right questions to ask when looking."

In order to avoid a costly mistake, you must determine your needs prior to purchase and gauge how the investment will affect your staff and business operations. Most potential buyers of software and scale systems, regardless of their computer expertise, rank training and customer support as a top priority when selecting a vendor.

"Technical, I am not," said Beaneita Hunt, compliance manager of Valley Landfill Inc., Corvallis, Ore. "I can read a manual, but I need the practical, hands-on experience to really learn how a system works."

In April 1996, Valley, a 1,000-ton-per-day, regional landfill servicing parts of six counties, switched from a system designed for dump truck drivers to waste-industry specific software. "The first system was bought by upper management who had no idea about computers either," she said. "It worked well for quarries or for long-haul truckers, but we had to do a lot of upgrades to make it work for landfill use. All it did was weigh trucks when they came in and out."

The software wasn't golden for office duties, either. Every day, Valley employees had to input scale information into the office computer, print out a hard copy and send it downtown to an accounting office to be input again into an accounts receivable file.

Additionally, there was no archiving capability with the old accounting system, reported Hunt. "You couldn't have more than one month on at a time," she said. "After a month, you had to delete it and store it on diskette and hard copy. So, if you needed to do any investigating, there wasn't enough space to reload the data." To complicate matters, the system's programmer lived across the country.

Valley worked in this manner for a couple of years, before Hunt called it quits. "We knew we needed an up-grade, but we all dreaded it," she remembered. "I didn't know anything about software - I'd never even been on a computer before we bought our first system in '92 - so I went out and talked to people to get some ideas."

She noticed that a sister company was using a software system provided by Norwesco Computing Inc., Belle-vue, Wash., and said she was "im-pressed with its speed and the way it captured information." Converse to her old system that could only read one of her two scales at a time, this system could capture information from both scales and from the two drivers' stations.

Knowing that the system was capable of billing as well as tracking waste, she requested a demo. After loading in some sample accounts and "playing around with some reports," Hunt decided to take the financial plunge.

Since implementation had to be quick and seamless, training began early at Valley Landfill. Accounting had never been done onsite, so the staff had to learn accounts receivables as well as the new system. "The learning process for accounts was the most difficult part at the time," Hunt said. "We had an accountant from downtown come in and give us a crash course."

Employee software training began at the site in November 1995 to prepare for the April implementation date. Then, in February 1996, the senior cashiers traveled to Bellevue to receive hands-on training.

Valley Landfill had one day to switch from their old system to the new. On the eve of April Fool's, a nervous Hunt stood vigil over the installation. The software provider worked through the night to ensure that the system would be ready to go by 7:30 the next morning. The crew was finished around 3 a.m., and were back on hand for the start of the work day.

"The first couple of days were scary," said Hunt, who expressed relief that the reps were there to walk her staff through the paces until they felt secure enough to solo - which for Valley was the second business day.

Seamless transitions depend on proper training, but staff experience dictates the training need. "It's difficult to change from one system to another," said Mastic, who believes that a gradual training approach is good, but that vendors must be willing to work at their customer's pace. "Even if the new system is 10 times better than the old, they know the old system, even if it works poorly. There's going to be that transitional phase where they have to relearn things that, before, they could do in their sleep."

However, the technologically savvy buyers can afford to be a bit more maverick with their training style. John French, a management analyst for the San Joaquin, Calif., county solid waste division, decided not to pay for training and installation of his new billing and waste management system by Carolina Software, Wil-mington, N.C., because he and his staff of 58 were "familiar with PCs and how to use them for ticketing."

The county, which manages two landfills and a transfer station for an estimated half-million population, bought the scale and billing system in 1994 for $2,400: $1,200 for the home office and $400 for each of the sites (one site has since closed).

French had tried purchasing software once before. "A couple of years ago, we hired a local software developer that wrote for canneries, which use a lot of scales. We requested that they write us a one-of-a-kind program," he said. "As it turned out, they wrote us something that was designed on a mainframe, not a PC, and every time we needed something changed, it had to be done on that mainframe and transported back to the PC."

Training and support after the sale can make the difference between success and failure of these systems. "Support must be on a continual basis, because changes in personnel will require your vendor to assist new people," said Alan Birk of Automation Services Inc., Lexington, Ky.

For most buyers, like Hunt, this means "24-7" (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) support that will circumvent business interruption. At Mobile Computing Corp., Toronto, a software or scale customer in North America or Europe can call an 800 number and get a technician to dial into their sites via a modem to troubleshoot problems.

After diagnosing the problem, the representative will send software or upgrades over the phone lines to fix the problem automatically without having anyone fly out to the site, said Mobile's Kim O'Brien.

Interfacing Do you need to purchase new computers or on-board or stationary scales in order to properly interface your current technology with the new software you're buying? Maybe yes. Maybe no.

According to most software and scale vendors, you can mix and match most systems with their software. While this may be the case with some software, you should use caution before paying in full.

"As the whole solid waste industry moves toward charging both commercial and residential accounts on a weight basis, the importance of being able to integrate weighing devices, stationary and on-board, with the management software will be essential for maximum efficiency," reported Wayne Zwolinski of Supersource, Paradise Valley, Ariz.

However, due to consolidation and acquisitions, companies must deal with the various computer systems and scale technology that may exist at new sites - a situation that complicates purchasing a new system that will be compatible at all sites without being a huge financial drain.

"There is an on-going industry trend to consolidate operations," said O'Brien. "Larger operations have many satellite locations spread out, all with the same services. There is a lot of duplication of effort."

Additionally, most other refuse companies are facing problems such as: systems that cannot talk to each other; growing customer demand for information and services; management's desire for more accurate and timely information; and shareholders' requests for efficiency and detailed cost, said Patrick Sweeney of Trans-Comp Systems Inc., Anaheim, Calif., who is in the process of Beta testing a Windows-based system that integrates all functions of the refuse industry from billing and customer service to routing and container tracking.

Salespeople who promise potential buyers the world, and then don't deliver are a sore subject with those who have been burned in the past. A good rule of thumb, said Steve Furber of Specialized Computer Services, Port-land, Ore., is to "be sold by the software, not the salesman. He doesn't have to live with your purchases."

"Robbers is what they are," said Tony Colosimo, president of Artistic Waste Services in Des Moines, Iowa, of the software company that sold him a waste management package a couple of years ago that no one could install.

"I can see now why they wanted me to pay up front before trying to install it because it didn't do what they said it would," he said. "Happily, it turned out fine. I got my money back, but if I had paid them in full and then let them go on, I would have eaten $6,000."

The trouble started when Colosimo, who owns 25 trucks and collects commercial, residential, industrial and recycling for the greater Des Moines area, decided to purchase a program that would streamline the workload for his 45 employees.

For starters, he wanted a system that would keep track of his accounts and would allow him to run historical reports on customers detailing service level, container size and account balance.

Eventually, his plan was to branch out to on-board computers and mapping software that would interface with this office system.

At the time of purchase, Colosimo's staff was working on three unintegrated programs, and all data had to be input three times in order to generate accurate reports.

Colosimo thought he was on his way to a more effective business procedure when he purchased the problem software from a company self-described as "one of the nation's largest, with thousands of satisfied customers."

Before purchase, Colosimo made sure he asked the right questions, but in retrospect, said that the reps "just told me what I wanted to hear."

According to Colosimo, the representatives considered his current system's capacities prior to installation and told him, "you're fine, you'll have no problem."

In truth, Colosimo eventually discovered that he had to shell out "thousands of dollars" to upgrade his system to accept the software. "They should have told me that beforehand," he said. "If these salespeople think their system is so good, they shouldn't have a problem installing it."

So, this second time around, what is Colosimo doing differently? Nothing. He did it right the first time. "I'm a bit more skeptical, but I'm still asking the same questions," he said. "My patience is a lot lower than it used to be."

Partnerships On The Horizon One way to ensure that you will be able to integrate your current hardware or scale systems with new software is to select a vendor whose salespeople will be your customer support after purchase. "If the sales person is the tech person as well, they won't promise you anything they can't deliver," said Mastic.

Another option - if you have the cash flow or financing that allows you to purchase a software and scale system concurrently - is taking advantage of the partnerships that are forming between the software and scale markets. Seamless interfacing between on-board and stationary scales and computer capabilities is one major benefit of buying a complete system that is marketed together by different companies. This complete overhaul will alleviate the headaches that could occur from trying to mix-and-match your current systems with the ever-evolving technology.

At this time, few software and scale companies admit they offer a joint marketing approach, although most report that they intend on selecting a marketing partner "in the near future."

According to Bill Beck at Wray Tech Instruments Inc., Stratford, Conn., which markets software systems with its scales, the advantage of buying one complete software and scale package is that you will receive a cost and customer service benefit. "The customer only has to call an 800 number to get his questions answered," he said.

Mega-alliances such as the one announced in September 1996 by Wray Tech; Soft-Pak, San Diego, Calif.; RouteSmart Technologies, Columbia, Md.; P.C. Scales, Waterloo, Ontario; and Collectech, Calabasas, Calif., could have an effect on how software and scales are marketed.

Buying through a partnership is not a major concern for Pouria Abbassi, a special project manager for the city of Los Angeles' sanitation department. Abbassi and assistant sanitation engineer William Fu are part of a technology team charged with testing software and scale products and then recommending them for use city-wide.

Always on the cutting edge, Los Angeles is looking at reporting software, computerized routing, automatic vehicle locaters, on-board scales and global positioning systems to help the city maximize the efficiency of its residential program which services 720,000 households - about a million-and-a-half people - in refuse and recycling collection. This software must be able to track Los Angeles' two million 60- and 90-gallon containers as well as be user-friendly enough so that the department's 900 employees can learn and understand the new technology.

"The most important thing is the scale itself, because the scales that are most available now are those put on the 6-cubic-yard bins, and that is not what we are looking for," Abbassi said. We want scales that will go on the truck and weigh the truck itself."

Los Angeles, the "largest automated collection program in the world," wants to capture every kind of data available from the trucks via on-board computers, Abbassi said, such as the number of containers picked up and the time spent at the landfills and on the road. The scales must stay accurate despite the constant movement generated by the automated truck.

According to Fu, the city will test three units - two scales on the rear and one on the front - on two pilot trucks. If successful, it will install the scales on five to 10 trucks and eventually will implement the scales on the entire fleet of 800 trucks.

Since the city doesn't charge residents by the container's weight, Abbassi said the most important function of the scales will be to ensure trucks are carrying the legal weight limits. "We have a big problem with police citations," he said.

Legal For Trade While Los Angeles continues testing its scale possibilities, scales that are legal for trade, allowing haulers to charge or rebate customers based on the weight of trash and recyclables collected, continue to develop. The latest in this movement is San Diego, Calif.-based Hardy Instruments' new product, which received National Type Eval-uation Program (NTEP) approval for an in-motion front end loader bin scale late in 1996.

Coupled with the company's STRATEGY collection system which provides driver display panels, radio frequency identification (RFID) and Windows 95-based management and reporting software, the scales do not require slowing or stopping during collection, reported Hardy's Carol Williams.

Cardinal Scale Manufacturing Co., Webb City, Mo., also has received NTEP certification for its truck-mounted scales that can be used to weigh cans. Other scale manufacturers report they should have NTEP-certified scales on the market this year. While many vendors say that they frequently receive calls about scales that can bill by weight or scales that can monitor accounts, few customers are actually putting money down.

"The heavy demand for on-board scales will come when they start making laws," predicted Mastic.

"Scales are nice, because they will help with profitability," he continued. "We can sit here and tell haulers until we're blue in the face that [scales] can help them get rid of unprofitable customers, but they consider software and scales - anything that's not a truck - an expense."

Derrick Mashaney of Fairbanks Scales, Kansas City, Mo., agrees that laws might jumpstart the scale market. "For example, Oklahoma's 1995 law mandating that all operating landfills over a certain capacity have a certified truck scale on the premises to log waste by the ton, rather than by the cubic yard, forced the state to go on a spending spree," he said. "The waste industry is heavily regulated, but scales will be a big expense. The industry also has a low profit margin, so it has to spend wisely."

However, not all believe that laws will drive the scale market. "Man-dated billing by the pound would be very unpopular with residents who don't want to pay more for a 'fairer' system," said Rick Talbot of Vulcan On-Board Scales, Kent, Wash., who notes that economic feasibility will play a large role in scale purchases. "Somebody will have to pay for the implementation of all this technology."

Once certified scales are fully in the market, Beck predicts a change of attitude toward scales. Still, he said, necessity will play a big role in purchases.

Scale Pilot In Rochester The city of Rochester, N.Y., is six months into its on-board scale pilot program and already knows the game plan for the next six months. Funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the pilot was designed to determine whether weight-based billing of commercial accounts would have an impact on waste reduction.

Rochester's solid waste management division - which services 67,000 one-, two- and three-family homes and more than 3,000 commercial and industrial accounts, collecting 125,000 tons of waste yearly - equipped a rear loader with a scale from Precision Loads On-Board Scales, Seattle, Wash., employing six load cells installed between the body and the chassis. The scale weighs the entire body and its contents. The weight of a single pickup is determined by weighing the body before and after pickup then subtracting the difference. All calculations are performed by the scale computer, which has a capacity of 40,000 to 50,000 pounds.

The city collection division used the scale truck to select 92 accounts that had the greatest weight. This selection of customers varied in frequency (every other week to five times a week) and containers (from 6-yard dumpsters to 95-gallon carts).

The data gathered on these customers over the past six months has been an eye-opener: The city has been underbilling about half of these 92 test commercial accounts - 12 of which were not even paying enough through their per yard charge to cover the $56 per ton tipping fee.

Upon further investigation, division manager Lou Guilmette discovered that some of these commercial accounts were not taking advantage of the city's recycling service. "This gave us the opportunity for Glenn King, our recycling coordinator, and Liz Boddie, our commercial accounts representative to help them maximize their recycling effort," he said. "Since we're a municipality, we have to take every step to educate customers. So, once we work out a recycling program and implement it, then we can reevaluate the billing and raise prices."

Education has already begun. With the help of King; Boddie; superintendent, Karon Simoni; customer accounts rep, Barbara Dickinson and billing supervisor, Mary Torres, Guilmette is ready to use what he knows to increase Rochester's profitability. "We will give these troublesome accounts six months to reduce their tonnage," he said.

"With the help of the scales, we can show them the actual reduction and what their average weight will mean in dollars," he continued. "You can bank on it that in week 53 of this program, we're going to be in there, trying to get our revenues up. If these customers still can't keep their weight down at this point, we cannot afford to keep them."

Rochester will use the scale data by converting it to an average weight by collection, which is divided by the volume of the collection containers to give it density in pounds per cubic yard. This density is a convenient method of characterizing waste, Tom Higgins, a solid waste consultant working with Rochester said, noting that "over periods of months or quarters, missed pickups would have little impact."

Rochester's billing system incorporates a fixed charge per trip which covers the service cost plus an additional charge increasing with the container size. Implicit in this volume charge is an assumed density and a tipping fee: For Rochester, the charge per yard is $4.15 with a built-in density of 150 pounds per yard. "Chang-ing the standard density to a customer's actual density will allow adjustment of volume-based billing to cover the costs to heavy-weight customers with densities over the 150 pounds per yard," Higgins explained.

After December, Rochester will equip one of its dozen 25-yard rear loaders with a scale to float through the commercial system, auditing weights. "Every three months, we will get at least two weights from every account to justify the customer's billing category," Guilmette said.

Getting Audited Commercial audits are the hot topic among scale and software buyers. Underbilling is a costly business practice, and although the targets are mainly commercial accounts, haulers also are considering residential audits in the future.

For the past year, Bennie Anselmo, vice president of equipment procurement and maintenance at Norcal Waste Systems Inc., San Francisco, has been using an on-board scale from Cardinal Scale Manufactur-ing Company in a pilot program to monitor his commercial accounts and plans on implementing a residential auditing program soon.

Norcal, which operates a fleet of 800 Volvo GM trucks with rear-, front- and side-load bodies and operates 28 landfills and six transfer stations, provides everything from waste collection and recycling to medical waste removal and waste transfer for commercial, industrial and residential customers in approximately 50 Cali-fornia communities.

Using software and hardware marketed by Savcor Ltd., Atlanta, Anselmo can interface with the scales to record data such as bin and landfill dump weight. Current-ly, RFID tags are speeding the process even more.

Anselmo will use the software and scale paper printout report as proof that a customer has exceeded the standard weight category.

"Eventually, we'd like to expand scale use to the residential operations, but we're using them strictly on commercial routes right now," he said.

He said he also plans on using the scales in a recycling program. "We would like to capture a weight from each customer to record the amount and weight of commodities such as glass, cans, newspapers and cardboard," he said. "As we expand the system, we will be able to do this better."

Talbot believes that while individual residential pick-up weight is a big municipal issue, using scales to audit taxpayer waste can be tricky. "There's the potential for complaints that one neighbor puts his heavy garbage into another's so he won't be charged for the weight. Also, buying scales are not cheap."

Savcor's Chris Ronnblad notes that most customers who are interested in his software's scale interface are "mainly private haulers working commercial routes," but added that "municipalities have been showing interest in automated identification systems like RFID for residential routes, even though they don't have much interest in scales yet for this purpose."

In Des Moines, Colosimo is holding back on using scales for residential waste diversion. "Even if you knew per account what these people are throwing away, what would that information show, unless you have an established volume-based system?" he said. "Eventually, that should change, though. People who recycle should not be charged the same amount as those who throw everything away. Right now, the system is not equitable." Until that time, Artistic will continue to charge a flat fee for residents.

Will My Systems Fall Apart? No company wants to invest money in a product that will disintegrate or self-destruct.

Even the best software and scale companies might market a product that, for your particular, unique uses might go sour. For scales, this means purchasing a unit not designed to handle your weather conditions and waste load, and for software, it means getting bitten by the "millennium bug."

Precision Load's Tom Kendall recommended that haulers look for manufacturers that have a strong track record in places like upstate New York, Pennsylvania and New England. "Moisture and corrosion will eat through cables and seals, so you need to buy plated load cells and make sure your warranty covers environmental reliability."

Jim Doerksen of Adrian J. Paul Company, Duncan, Okla., suggested extending the life of load cells by "exposing them to the load only when the truck is in the stationary weighing mode, but not to the damaging shock loads when the truck is in motion."

Ronnblad warns that a load cell can "go bad gradually without anybody knowing it" - a situation that can make collected data worthless.

Speaking of worthless data, you may find your accounting program is billing customers for 100 years' of service if your hardware or software was not written to differentiate the year 2000 from the year 1900.

This accounting scare, which has businesses such as banks and large retailers spending millions of dollars on upgrades to circumvent this costly mistake is called the "Millennium Bug" or "Y2K" - the year 2000.

In data processing's infancy, programmers conserved memory and storage space by using our current standards for dates: MM/DD/YY (two-digit numbers representing the month, day and year).

Take a look at your computer screen and see if it reports 1997 or just "97." You may be in trouble if you see just two digits, because these computers think that when "00" is input, the typist must mean "1900" because the year 2000 does not exist in these computers' programs.

Whatever your financial situation, this problem demands immediate attention. While the cost for switching over depends on company size and account base, software industry experts warn that for complicated systems, it could take up to three years to overhaul accounts.

Money, Money, Money The bottom line in buying new technology is the bottom line. A quick return on investment, financing options and warranties are all important considerations especially if your cash flow is founded on taxpayer or stockholder support.

"Many companies are not buying the technology due to comfort levels with their current financial return," said Benjamin Butchko of Eaton Corporation, Clemmons, N.C. "It is easier not to invest the time and capital for a capability that is intriguing, but offers no immediate and tangible windfalls."

Purchasing software maintenance packages for six months or a year can be less costly than buying the constant upgrades. For example, San Joaquin's French said he has the option of paying $25 a quarter per license for upgrades. This deal will ensure that you will receive all upgrades for the package's term, and most end users recommend the expense.

According to most software and scale customers, the cost doesn't end with the system's purchase. There will always be upgrades. However, according to French, you can be smart about your purchases. "Get the cost and delivery dates in writing with legally-binding terms" before putting any money down, he said.

"Anything is possible for a price," said French who believes that "if you have all the time and money in the world, you can get that perfect system."

But with your business facing increasing costs and competitors breathing down your back, is now the time to invest? Or maybe the better question might be, how long can you afford to wait?

Before laying out cold cash for a system, you should know your needs, understand computer sales tactics and be able to translate the salesman's jargon.

Even if the salesperson is not a true "computer person," he has been close enough to computer programmers to learn buzz words that will impress or confuse you. If you know the language, you're one step closer to getting exactly the functions you need.

Following are some words that you will come across in your quest for the perfect program.

Let's start with "GUI": Graphic-al User Interface. This is how the Windows, OS/2 and Macintosh's master programs (operating systems) work. Simply put, the operating system puts pictures, boxes, arrows and icons on your computer screen, then lets you use a mouse to select the program.

When your computer is in GUI mode, icons - small pictures designed by the software company - are the key to starting a program. These pictures symbolize specific computer functions, making them easy to identify with one quick glance. Another way to start a program is by using a menu.

You probably will hear "file server" and "distributed network" when investigating software. Said simply, the file server is a central place where you will store most of your data, primarily customer information, so that everyone in the office instantly can use and update it.

A distributed network is a set of computers linked together, sharing each other's peripheral devices like printers, modems and disk drives. It is common for both file server and distributed networks to co-exist.

Consider how you want your staff to access and modify the databases (information stored on the computer). "Open systems" and "proprietary database" technology are methods by which a database can be accessed and updated. For example, you would want routing and billing system (RBS) information to be private and word processing and spreadsheet operations to be accessible.

You can attach a route optimization system that interfaces (talks) directly with the RBS to help your route manager get the most out of his crew.

You may want to link the RBS up with an on-board computer system, but be sure it demands little of the route driver's time. This will mean RFIDing (radio frequency identification) your service units. Be sure that your RBS can export revenue and receipt numbers from the RBS to spreadsheets like EXCEL or LOTUS. You want to keep your bean counters happy with lots of numbers to massage.

Purchase programs that will allow your general manager to analyze the customer and route databases. The ad-hoc program built into your RBS, plus a third-party report writer like FoxPro, IQ or MS Access will do the trick.

Finish your selections off with a word processor, contact management software, a task scheduler ... and some games. Yes, games. If your staff is not computer literate, games can provide an easy way for them to overcome computer phobias and thus facilitate their computer education.

The philosophy is simple: Each of your groups will be more productive with the proper software. Just as the task requirement for each group is different, the state-of-the-art which best suits the groups will differ.

When looking for a scale system, you should consider several points: * Type of scale and truck configurations. Scales can be used on a variety of collection trucks - front, side and rear loaders; recycling trucks; and roll-offs. Both container (bin or can) scales or body scales are available. Body scales measure truck body weight before, during and after route pickups. Dynamic, in-motion and static front end loader fork scales weigh each container. Semi-automatic tipper scales are available which collect weight data for roll-out carts. Discuss your current and future needs with scale manufacturers, some of whom are devoting significant resources to truck scale products for multiple truck configurations.

* In-motion verses static weighing. A practical difference between a static scale and one that weighs in motion is the amount of time needed to weigh the load. A static scale must stop at each pick up, adding an average of 20 seconds per stop. In-motion scales do not require this additional time.

* Ownership cost and maintenance ease. When comparing prices, look at ownership cost as well as list price. Consider the scale price, maintenance cost, calibration fee and manufacturer service contract charge. Do you need to purchase a maintenance contract? Some scale designs may require you to hire a dedicated technician for maintenance. If you choose the billing-by-weight option, additional costs are associated with National Type Evaluation Pro-gram (NTEP)-approved scale installation and maintenance. (NTEP-approved scales are "legal for trade," allowing you to charge or rebate customers based on the weight of trash or recyclables collected.)

* Modular scale systems. Consider a manufacturer who offers additional components to customize a scale system. For example, are you interested in on-board truck computers, automatic identification of containers and route management or reporting software? Choosing a modular system allows you to expand as your business grows and your needs change.

* Compatibility. Scale systems are a significant investment and should integrate easily with existing hardware and software. The scale will gather data that will be of little value unless it is tied in with a good truck computer. Scale systems also should be compatible with automatic container identification systems, routing packages and billing software, so that you won't have to purchase additional hardware or software.

* Reporting software. A scale will help collect weight data. When integrated with a truck computer, this as well as other route data, such as pick-up location and time, will help you fine tune and improve operations and customer service. Consider a scale system that provides reports or will be compatible with major route reporting software applications on the market.

* Scale weighing capacity. You must know the maximum weight that the scale can measure. If you choose to bill by weight, NTEP scales can be certified to 10 or 20 pound divisions for scale capacities of 5,000 or 10,000 pounds, respectively. This means, for example, that a 5,000 pound capacity NTEP-certified bin scale would show accuracy of 10 pounds per lift.

* Accuracy of each collected container or truck load. To ensure highly accurate container data, place a sample of a known weight in a container and test the scale's measured results. If you want to measure the weight collected for each customer, select a manufacturer that will focus on container weight, not landfill or tip weight accuracy. However, when choosing a body scale, the weight of the truck can be compared to the total truck weight at the landfill to measure its accuracy.

1. What you bill is less than the direct costs of providing the service in about 30 percent of accounts.

2. New accounts can be competitively quoted based on the rolling average weights collected over time.

3. Key accounts can be retained under competitive situations.

4. Billing can be based on weight collected, which requires accurate weights and measures certified scales.

5. Rebates or refunds (recyclables) can be determined based on the weight collected.

6. Disposal costs and/or taxes can be fairly apportioned to each waste generator.

7. Vehicle overweight conditions and fines can be avoided.

Do you view your computer as a tool to build profit or an expensive paperweight? If you don't use the system and its information to help control costs and maximize the efficiency of your collection operation, it's possible that you haven't been properly trained.

Maximizing paybacks from computerized information systems requires commitment to business improvement and personnel training, especially management. However, many managers may be flooded with cumbersome electronic or paper reports that become a business detractor rather than a benefactor.

Identifying unprofitable customers is a primary system benefit. By collecting and analyzing historic customer service costs with revenue history, an accurate picture of cost versus revenue can be determined for groups or single accounts. This highlights unprofitable accounts and identifies the extremely profitable accounts that are most susceptible to competitive takeover.

Acting on this information will directly affect the company bottom line. At the same time, it may point out poor decisions which were caused by a lack of adequate information or incorrect assumptions. A management team that understands these issues can more effectively deal with their business and provide guidance to the sales and operations force.

Using the data gathering and reporting capabilities allows customer service and operations personnel to address service exceptions when they occur. They can either remedy the problem before the customer knows it exists, or call them to resolve the problem before a complaint is received.

System use eliminates the need for manual route audits since they are performed daily. Audit information is transferred electronically to internal systems which reduces the need for manual data entry. The system can pinpoint areas of inefficient routing and quantify the impact of poor weather, breakdowns or consistent congestion at specific disposal facilities.

Training drivers, dispatchers, customer service representatives and the sales force is relatively easy and involves learning how to operate and control the system's features. Management training should start even before a purchase decision is made.

With the introduction of the system, certain processes within the business will become more efficient and some will change. Managing that change, while maintaining operation of the business, takes time, dedication and commitment. The real payback comes when management has been trained and can bridge the gap between system features and business application.

AOL Technologies (WAM). Waste accounting management software for haulers, landfills, transfer stations, MRFs and recycling and composting facilities; on-board scale interfaces. Contact: Robert Braden, 280 California Ave., Reno, Nev. 89509. (800) 282-8229. Fax: (702) 626-4910. E-mail:

Autocoach. On-board computers. Contact: Azor Phelps, 1419 Upfield Dr., Carrollton, Texas 75006. (972) 446-2046. Fax: (972) 446-2031.

Cardinal Scale Manufacturing Co. Manufacturer of scales and weighing systems. Contact: Stephen Cole, 203 E. Daugherty, P.O. Box 151, Webb City, Mo. 64870. (800) 441-4237. Fax: (417) 673-5001.

Carolina Software. WasteWORKS software for weigh-in, facility usage, billing, account aging, etc. Contact: Larry Blanton, P.O. Box 3097, 4006 Oleander Dr., Wilmington, N.C. 28406 (910) 799-6767. Fax: (910) 799-1177.

Computer Analysis & Planning Inc. Waste management control systems with scale control/ticketing, accounts receivable, manifesting, state and federal reporting, graphics and related modules. Contact: Michael Tillman, 9424 Newburgh Rd., Livonia, Mich. 48150. (313) 522-0750. Fax: (313) 425-1380.

Creative Information Systems Inc. Scale managment software including recycling, production tracking and complete accounting. Contact: Kevin St. John, 500 Harvey Rd., Manchester, N.H. 03103. (603) 627-4144. Fax: (603) 668-1150. E-Mail:

Eaton Corp. Trucking Information Services Division. Truck logistics and maintenance management system, including on-board computers and ground support systems. Contact: Jeffrey Skorupski, 6209 Ramada Dr., Clemmons, N.C. 27012. (616) 342-3818. Fax: (616) 342-3535. E-mail:

Environmental Data Resources. Manufacturers of a computerized information service which tracks more than 6,000 waste disposal and recycling facilities. Contact: Paul Schiffer, 3530 Post Rd., Southport, Conn. 06490. (800) 352-0050. Fax: (800) 231-6802.

Fairbanks Scales. Scale manufacturer. Contact: Kevin Dooley, 821 Locust, Kansas City, Mo. 64106. (816) 471-0231. (816) 471-5951.

Hardy Instruments Inc. Computerized collection systems using RFID, weight management, RF modems and Windows database programming. Contact: Dave Ness, 3860 Calle Fortunada, San Diego, Calif. 92123. (619) 278-2900. Fax: (619) 278-6700.

Information Systmes Inc. Weigh-in and out software for disposal facilities. Contact: James Manley, 803 Gleneagles Ct, Ste. 400, Baltimore, Md. 21286. (410) 769-9800. Fax: (410) 769-8045. E-Mail:

LTS Scale Corp. On-board weighing systems. Contact: Ken Filling, 1500 Enterprise Parkway, Twinsburg, Ohio 44087. (216) 425-3092.

Mobile Computing Corp. On-board computers, scale systems and mobile data communications systems. Contact: Kim O'Brien, 54 Lesmill Rd., Toronto, Ontario M3B 2T5. (416) 449-5757.

Norwesco Computing Inc. RICS software for haulers, recyclers, landfills, MRFs and transfer stations. Contact: Rick Ericksson, 14400 Bel-Red Rd., Ste. 207, Bellevue Wash. 98005. (206) 747-6355. Fax: (206) 747-7816.

PC Automation Inc. Geoware waste management automated system. Contact: Mark Wills, 925 Erb St. West, Waterloo, Ontario, N2J 3Z4. (519) 888-9304. Fax: (519) 888-9085. E-mail:

Precision Loads Inc. Fork- or body-mounted front loader weighing systems; body-mounted rear loader weighing systems; load pin, RF-based, on-board transfer trailer weighing systems; on-board computers; gross-, axle- and container-weight data collection. Contact: Thomas Kendall, 4775 Ballard Ave., N.W., Seattle, Wash. 98107. (800) 720-1192. Fax: (206) 783-4551.

RouteSmart Technologies. Route optimization and mapping software. Contact: Chris Walz, 8850 Stanford Blvd., Ste. 2600, Columbia, Md. 21045-5804. (800) 977-7284. E-Mail: DISTINCT@RouteSmart .com

So Cal Soft Pak. Waste management software. Contact: Roger Meheer, 3550 Cam-ino Del Rio, North, #208, San Diego, Calif. 91942. (619) 283-2338. E-Mail:

Sooner Scale Inc. Trucks scales, on-board systems, software and data management systems. Contact: Chris Bagley, P.O. Box 82386, Oklahoma City, Okla. 73148. (405) 236-3566. Fax: (405) 759-3444.

Structural Instrumentation Inc. On-board weighing and information systems; route management software. Contact: Stan Nelson, 4611 S. 134th Pl., Seattle, Wash. 98168. (800) 255-8274. Fax: (206) 246-7195.

Supersource Inc. Integrated software system for all solid waste management operations. Contact: Wayne Zwolinski, 4125 N. 42nd Place, Phoenix, Ariz. 85018. (602) 955-6450. Fax: (602) 955-4077.

Target Market Systems. Refuse management systems. Contact: Joseph Bshan, 1577 Ridge Rd., West, Ste. 117, Rochester, N.Y. 14615. (716) 621-5825. E-Mail: tmssol@

Thurman Scale Co. Floor scales, electronic and mechanical truck scales; indicators; printers and data weight management system. Contact: Tracie Walker, 255 E. Livingston Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43215. (614) 221-9077. Fax: (614) 221-8879.

Transcomp Systems Inc. Business software for solid waste managment. Contact: Patrick Sweeny, 2951 East La Palma Ave., Anaheim, Calif. 92806. (714) 238-9293. Fax: (714) 630-5843. E-Mail:

Vulcan On-Board Scales. On-board truck scales; on-board full load scales; on-board computers. Contact: Fred Houghton, 5920 S. 194th St., Kent, Wash. 98032. (800) 237-0022. Fax: (206) 872-9626.

Weigh-Right Inc. On-board truck scales; on-board full load scales; on-board computers. Contact: Lori Dohrmann, 11 N. Valley Pride, South Hutchinson, Kan. 67505. (316) 665-1123.

Wray Tech Instruments Inc. On-board computing and scales and Window-based report generating. Contact: David Wray, 555 Lordship Blvd., Stratford, Ct. 06497. (203) 386-1365.