A little software, a lot of results

Systems give small firms new edge on their competition
Six years ago, Therm-Tech of Waukesha introduced a DOS-based FoxPro software program for order entry and invoicing. Implementation of the software, which was designed by Heartland Software Development, Inc., in Wauwatosa, cut the number of people needed to do the work roughly in half but doubled productivity.
It’s amazing what a little software can do.
About a year ago, Heartland Software wrote a new program for Therm-Tech, a metal heat-treating firm, using Microsoft Visual Basic and a Microsoft SQL Server. This program allows Therm-Tech to, among other things, cut orders 24 hours a day rather than 10 hours a day, perform a complete customer search simply by typing the customer’s name, search old work orders up to years ago and apply process information from old work orders to new orders for the same product.
Software systems intended to improve office efficiency, whether custom-designed or mass-produced, are not just for the large corporations and big businesses which must keep track of thousands of invoices and communicate with employees across the country. Small and mid-sized businesses have found that new software can improve their office efficiency, and some programs now on the market are designed specifically for small businesses.
“We saw a three-fold increase in productivity with the DOS program,” says Patrick Burdick, Therm-Tech metallurgist. “Now with the SQL server programing it’s very easy to train people so that our office staff can be cross-trained to help in all areas. The system really did a tremendous job for us.”
Burdick notes that the system is designed with the capability to be built upon as Therm-Tech’s needs grow.
“We have a vision of where we’re headed which has not yet been realized but we already know of some of the things Heartland will be able to help us do with this system,” Burdick says. “We’ve got a quality product that we can continue to build.”
Although the nature of his business is software development, Gary Edgar, president of Heartland Software Development, warns small businesses of a potential danger in purchasing customized software. Apparently 50-80% of custom software fails and this, Edgar says, is due to the presence of poor to mediocre programers who are soliciting and getting business.
“Purchasing custom software can be a big risk because if you don’t know who you’re dealing with, it is very possible that someone will design a program for you that doesn’t work,” Edgar says. “Be careful, do your homework on several programers, and see some of the work the programer has done before working with him.”
Edgar recommends a program called Act!, which is designed by Symantec for use with Windows systems. Act! can organize databases of customers, clients and contacts into various groupings and can search the databases in a variety of ways. For instance, if you have a group of new customers and you want to send a letter to all of them, you would type the name of the group in the “Group” field and your database of new customers would appear. Then, because Act! can work with Microsoft Word and tie into e-mail, you need only type one letter and let Act! do the rest. If it’s a printed letter in MS Word, Act! automatically enters the name and address of each new customer into the letter and prints all the letters and envelopes (if your printer has that capability). If you’re sending an e-mail, Act! sends the message to all members of the group you searched. Act! costs about $100 per workstation.
Another commercial product designed to help improve office efficiency and productivity is the Microsoft Small Business Server. The product is a bundled software program, meaning that it includes Microsoft NT, Exchange, Proxy Server, SQL and Internet software, and is geared to small businesses with two to 25 employees. When a business gains more than 25 employees it upgrades to a full Windows NT and Microsoft Exchange program, says Brian Weis of Core Computer Systems, LLC, in Milwaukee. The list price of the program, which is designed for Windows 95 or Windows NT systems, is $1,500 for a five-user license. Additional licenses can be purchased in increments of five.
With the Small Business Server, users can fax and receive faxes from the desktop, which not only saves paper but also increases efficiency because faxes are automatically routed to the person they are for; utilize the Internet to document inventory and take customer orders, which reduces the time it would normally take to receive orders over the phone; and send billing notices via e-mail rather than regular mail, Weis says.
“The Small Business Server can be a great asset to businesses that want to make the move toward electronic business,” Weis says. “It’s not for a business that has only one computer or a couple computers that don’t share information or printers. Business owners have to evaluate their needs before making the decision to purchase any kind of system.”
Additionally, Weis adds that the Small Business Server is Year 2000 compliant.
Kenrich Development, Inc. (KDI) in Milwaukee has designed what it considers a solution to the problem of trying to update customer records for remote or field sales representatives in a timely manner. The Team-In-Touch system automatically exchanges, or “synchronizes” data among all outside offices and remote sales reps every 15 minutes through secure data lines to a server hosted by KDI.
“Team-In-Touch allows businesses to improve communication with their field offices without having to invest in additional infrastructure, personnel, or training,” says Rick Chamberlain of KDI. “To hire an IT person to run a system in-house could cost upwards of $50,000 per year for his salary, not to mention the cost of adding to your infrastructure. Since KDI hosts Team-In-Touch, the business owner doesn’t have to worry about that aspect of it.”
Team-In-Touch costs $45-60 per user per month, depending on the length of the contract. It is run on Gold Mine software, which KDI can also provide. Team-In-Touch has been available since January.
July 1998 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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