A closed corporate system for monitoring operations of field employees
The software package for Acosta Merchandising Agency, which is a system of online reporting and monitoring operations of field employees
The system consists of a web application for customers and employees of the company and a mobile application for merchandisers.
About the Customer
Acosta Merchandising Agency offers brand promotion services for retail chains in 300 cities of Russia, at 6,500 retail outlets, and the company's representative offices operate in 11 megacities. The company's customers include such brands as Red Bull, Macfa, Ritter SPORT, Slavyanka, BIC, Morosha, Khortytsa and many others.
The Task and Solution
Task
Acosta offers its customers merchandising services, viz. promotion of branded goods in retail chains. Customers are manufacturers or suppliers of well-known products. All the main work is carried out by merchandisers (field employees) in accordance with established regulations.
In the process of expanding the business, the company faced problems associated with the need to ensure a high level and uniform standards of customer service in a large number of outlets located in various regions of the country.

Despite availability of instructions and regulations, with the increase in the number of personnel, adequate control over activities of each specific performer at each particular point of sale was becoming more and more relevant (at the time of commencement of works related to the system, the company already employed more than 200 full-time merchandisers). Also, customers (brands) demanded accuracy of reports per all involved networks and outlets.
A unified concept was developed, according to which operations were to be carried out on projects inside the company.
When concluding a contract with a client, a Project is created, and the corresponding documentation contains information about the goods that need to be promoted, including covered cities, trade networks (TN) and points of sale (PS), as well as an algorithm for each field employee and information about the product and points of sale to be monitored.

A Project Coordinator is appointed, who's task is to develop a work plan per required cities, networks, retail outlets and analyze the need for field staff onsite.

Next, a work schedule is developed for each merchandiser involved in the project, in accordance with which the merchandiser must make visits to the points of sale assigned to him and to send reports and photos.

All reports are reviewed by the Project Coordinator and redirected to the client.

The client can accept a visit or reject it by sending comments to the coordinator and merchandiser.
It is necessary to implement this scheme by introducing a unified corporate online system, in the development process of which it is necessary to create tools for:
operations automation of merchandisers and project coordinators;
ensuring required control by the company over the work of a large number of merchandisers;
receiving by the company's customers of reliable information about the current situation at all points of sale (problems, placement, deficit, actions of competitors, etc.) and on the taken corrective actions;
provision of prompt feedback from and between customers, the company and field staff.
Decision
In the process of discussing technical specifications and design, the concept of the future service architecture was formulated.
Personal Account
It was decided that the basis will be a web application (Personal Account), access to which should be available through 2 different interfaces:

1. An interface for Acosta employees - coordinators responsible for the work of merchandiser groups and project managers, as well as subcontracting organizations;

2. An interface for customers in which responsible employees of the client will be able to perform online monitoring of results of the contractor's work at points of sale.
Mobile Application
The operational tool for merchandisers at points of sale, that will also serve as means of monitoring over their activities by the company and customers should be a mobile application running on Android 5.2 (smartphones on this OS are purchased by the company in large batches, which makes them more affordable).
Backend
For backend development, Django Framework for Python programming language was selected. One of the reasons behind this choice was availability of a ready-made administrative interface in the framework package, which was quite suitable as a workspace for managers and saved us some development time. To create a mobile application, the Kotlin language was selected.
The concepts that were used to create the system:
User
User is a member of the system. All users are divided into the following groups – customers, merchandisers, project managers, project coordinators, and agents. Each group has access to only one of the interfaces and its own set of functions.
Project
The totality of information necessary to fulfill Acosta's obligations before a customer under a service agreement. It contains detailed information about the client, a list of necessary routine maintenance, commodity items and a list of fields that should be filled out in reports per each commodity item, etc. Each project is tied to a user from the Clients group. The user may only view information on the project that was assigned to him/her.
Distribution network
A retailer with whom a customer has concluded a contract for supply of products. The network can operate in one or more cities.
Network Matrix
This is a list of items delivered to the selected distribution network within the framework of one project. Each project may contain a large number of commodity items, but not every item is delivered to all retail chains (for example, goods 1,2,3 are delivered to network A and 2,4,5 to network B).
Point of sale (outlet)
A store in which work is carried out to promote goods within one or more projects. Each PS is bound to the network, city, address and geographical coordinates, which are determined automatically when the name is entered into the system.
Visit
A unit of performance measurement of a field employee. This includes a visit by a merchandiser to a point of sale with on-site routine maintenance on the project and preparation of a report for the client and the management.
Implemented Functionality
Merchandiser User Group
Implemented in a mobile application.

The merchandiser according to the daily plan, which is available on a smartphone with the application, is obliged to pay a visit to a point of sale, carry out routine maintenance, independently create a "new visit" in the system and provide a photo report.

To standardize the work of all field employees, the mobile application was created according to the wizard principle, which forces the user to go through certain mandatory steps and simplifies navigation.

The interface consists of 9 screens.
- User authorization.
- Individual "Work Schedule" of a merchandiser for the day with a list of outlets that he/she needs to visit. Available schedule for the week ahead.
- List of projects (projects relevant to the selected outlet).
- A screen with an option of taking photos of shelves in an outlet and a list of previously taken pictures.
- List of commodity items (from the matrix of the distribution network associated with a selected outlet and project).
- A form for filling out a report on commodity items. The report on commodity items may, by decision of the coordinator, be mandatory, and unless completed in full, the system won't allow further operations.
- A screen with the ability to take a photo after routine maintenance and a list of already taken photos (in fact, this screen is shown twice to create photos of the main album and for photos of an additional point of sale).
- A screen for comments. The merchandiser views customer comments on the previous visit and is required to leave a response, and can also write a comment on the current visit.
- A list of unsent visit reports. This list is necessary because in some cases, due to problems with the Internet connection, it is impossible to send a report right away and one needs to save information for later. This list is generated automatically.

When developing the application, several interesting options were also implemented.

1. The option for a field employee to work offline within 24 hours and send accumulated information in one package when stable connection to the network becomes available.

2. Inability to start using in the application if data for the previous day has not been not sent out.

3. To optimize outgoing traffic when creating a visit report, the application compresses the images and converts them to base64, then marks the photos, "detaches" them from the visit and sends them to the server in the background, where they are automatically attached to a required visit.

4. When a merchandiser works on creation of the next visit, the application automatically determines his/her coordinates and distance from a required point of sale. In the event that this distance is unreasonably large, the employee receives a warning that he is not where he should be, and a corresponding notification is sent to his coordinator.

Functionality for all other user groups is available in Personal Account web application. As mentioned above, interaction with the system occurs through two different interfaces - one for Acosta employees, the other for customers.

Operations in the system are available from any devices, and the frontend is adapted. A large percentage of information is presented in tabular form. Therefore, for convenience purposes when working with mobile phones, special scripts have been written in order to rearrange table rows into consecutive blocks.
Project Coordinator User Group
В работе над любым проектом принимают участие сразу большое количество полевых сотрудников одновременно в нескольких городах, в различных торговых сетях и, соответственно, в значительном количестве торговых точек. Для организации слаженной работы этой массы мерчендайзеров и контроля качества их работы в соответствии с параметрами заключенных контрактов в Acosta и существуют координаторы проектов.

Каждый координатор имеет в системе свой Аккаунт, в котором есть все необходимые инструменты для реализации практически всех его функциональных обязанностей.

  • Раздел «Проекты». Координатору доступна вся информация по проекту, на основании которой он составляет план работы по проекту и организует работу полевых сотрудников.
  • Форма создания и редактирования расписания работы мерчендайзеров. В зависимости от условий контракта с клиентом координатор планирует работу каждого полевого сотрудника на неделю вперед (план визитов в ТТ, по какому проекту, по каким товарным позициям необходимы отчеты, состав мероприятий на ТТ и др.).
  • Инструментарий для оптимизации работы с постановкой и распределением задач: списки и фильтры по торговым сетям, городам, торговым точкам, матрицы торговых сетей, базы мерчендайзеров и агентских организаций.
  • Модерация визитов. Так как в процессе работы мерчендайзеры могут допускать ошибки, все визиты проходят аудит координатора и получают разрешение на публикацию в системе, после чего их видит клиент. Координатор может не засчитать некачественный визит.
  • Форма для взаимодействия с агентскими организациями (субподрядчиками – см.ниже)
  • Форма обратной связи с клиентами. Координатор видит все замечания и пожелания, которые оставляют клиенты по результатам визита. Он должен оперативно отреагировать на инцидент и проконтролировать устранение недостатков.

Project Managers User Group
It unites Acosta executives and managers, performing sales of company services, and possessing thorough knowledge of all executed contracts. The main function of the "Managers" is to create "Projects" in the system, monitor compliance with contractual obligations and the relevance of applicable information, appoint "Project Coordinators", and exercise control over the project progress and fulfillment of the agreed KPIs.

Users of this group have access to all information in the system, but they cannot influence upon moderation of visits and interfere with the work schedule of field employees.
Agents User Group
Designed to organize work with subcontractors. The need for this function arises if, under the terms of a contract with a client, it is necessary to provide services in a locality where Acosta still lacks its own full-time employees and requires engagement of partner organizations.

The functionality of the Agents User Group allows partner's employees to create and edit visits in the web application interface. Project coordinators have the opportunity to both expand the list of options available to the agent in the system, and to reduce it.
Clients User Group
Взаимодействие клиентов с системой осуществляется через отдельный интерфейс. Каждый клиент получает индивидуальный логин и пароль, регистрируется в «Личном кабинете» и имеет доступ к информации только по своему проекту.

Возможности, предоставляемые системой клиентам компании Acosta
  • Клиент видит информацию по визитам всех мерчендайзеров в торговые точки по своему проекту практически в режиме реального времени. Он получает отчеты по товарным позициям и фотографии основных полок и дополнительных мест продаж до и после посещения ТТ.
  • В случае обнаружения ненадлежащего выполнения полевым сотрудником условий договора, клиент может оперативно сообщить о недостатках непосредственному исполнителю и координатору проекта. В крайнем случае клиент может вообще не акцептовать некачественный визит.
  • Клиент может осуществлять выборку визитов по своему проекту по дате, городу, торговой сети, торговой точке.
  • Есть возможность экспортировать различные данные в Excel и 1-С, например, списки новых или отфильтрованных визитов, отчеты по товарным позициям проекта и др.
  • Клиент имеет возможность маркировать в системе просмотренные и оцененные визиты и, соответственно, отфильтровывать визиты, которые ещё не прошли его контроль.
  • Клиент может скачать архивы фотографий по отфильтрованным визитам. Также создана возможность работы с отдельными фото: можно масштабировать, поворачивать и т.д.
  • Для удобства клиента все фотоматериалы разделены на три альбома: фото до начала работ, фото основной полки, фото дополнительного места продаж, фото полок и мест продаж конкурентов. При необходимости клиент может запросить фотографии мест продаж конкурентов.

Achieved goals and KPIs
Implementation of this system boosted development of Acosta's business, as it generally led to improvement in the quality of customer service.
A tool has been created that allows the company to efficiently and inexpensively plan, standardize and control the work of a large number of field employees, which greatly simplified problems solving associated with the new scale and geography of business.
The work of merchandisers and project coordinators was largely automated, which increased their productivity and reduced the cost of production processes in general.
Implementation of the system pushed forward development of internal analytics of the company's business processes, as it allowed to see them from different prospectives: in terms of processing visits, the percentage of missed visits by merchandisers, coordinators and customers, and much more.
Clients acquired a practical tool for obtaining clear, reliable and immediate information on the progress of the contractual execution, as well as the opportunity to promptly respond to shortcomings during the campaign.
The system removed almost all control issues from the customer, greatly simplified communication and resolution of contentious issues. All this contributed to the growth of customer satisfaction, and, as a result, their loyalty.
Work on this project was carried out for a year and a half. Development and implementation of the system took place in stages, starting from the end of 2017. The latest mobile app upgrade was completed in March 2019.

However, even such a short history of system operation makes it possible to conclude on its high efficiency. Currently, more than 600 full-time merchandisers and about 50 customers got registered (a 3-fold increase in one and a half years!). More than 7000 visits to points of sale in almost 300 cities of Russia are processed daily.
Our company would like to express special gratitude to the senior management of Acosta Merchandising Agency for their sincere involvement in the process of creating the system, professionalism, constructiveness and efficiency in decision-making.