"Needless to say," says Fein, "there was a lot of room for error. But just as important, companies couldn't analyze the information they got. How did you know which products sold most frequently? How did you know what was in stock? You had to send someone to the warehouse to go see."
That has all changed. Eliminating paper and substituting digital technology has made it possible to track that information in real time, and the Daydots operation is typical of how many companies have made the change.
The first difference is in ordering. Orders phoned in to the Daydots call center are keyed into the company's computer system and sent electronically to the warehouse management software system. At the same time, the order is sent to the accounting system. Those orders that come in electronically via the company Web site - currently, about 10 percent - are sent directly from there to the warehouse and accounting systems. Not only is there no paper, but the process takes just seconds.
The warehouse management software compiles what's called a pick list for each order, which replaces separate pick tickets. A warehouse employee calls up the pick list on a PC, selects the necessary items, prints out a packing list, and then scans a bar code on the pick list when he is finished. That piece of paper - the only one in the process - is then boxed with the items as the packing slip.
As soon as the order is completed and scanned, the warehouse system notifies the accounting system, which then generates an electronic invoice. Yien's invoice will be printed and mailed to his restaurant, but a growing number of Daydots' customers, like McDonald's, get an electronic invoice and then make electronic payments.