Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm
Many small and medium-sized businesses in the services industry have discovered the important affect a back-office software application can have on the front-end of the business. Accounting applications can create invoices and manage expenses and accounts payable for a business owner who is busy managing employees and out at job sites. Customer relationship manager (CRM) applications can manage customer contact information.
The problem some business owners find is that CRM software is either too expensive, too complex for their needs or that many options in the software are not applicable to the company.
Milwaukee-based Shining Brow LLC has developed a new CRM application specifically designed for services industry business owners, including field service and medical equipment services.
The company’s product, called The Service Manager, is more than just a traditional CRM, which focuses on managing client contact information, according to Michael Lilek, president of Shining Brow.
The Service Manager has different skins that make the application customizable per industry and even per company.
Shining Brow, a Microsoft-certified company, is located in the Technology Innovation Center at the Milwaukee County Research Park at 10427 Innovation Drive in Wauwatosa.
"The traditional CRM is focused on selling a product, and we are focused on selling services including the initial sale and the long term relationship," Lilek said. "The traditional CRM maintains contact information where we focus on the customer site, the history of services, plans, routes and schedules."
Even the language of the application can be changed to fit the needs of the customer.
Lilek and Steve Fastabend, executive vice president of Shining Brow, have experience in developing service management software for enterprise class companies and used their knowledge of the industry and of management software to create The Service Manager, Lilek said.
Shining Brow considers a mid-sized company to be a firm with 25 to 500 computers and 50 to 1,000 employees.
The Service Manager solution offers features that are not always available to businesses from other CRM products, Lilek said.
"Customers come to us, and they are used to the type of products where if they want to go industry-specific, they would have to change their accounting system," Lilek said. "We can just add The Service Manager on top of their existing accounting system with the option to run the system as a stand-alone product."
The Service Manager can be seamlessly integrated with accounting software packages, including Microsoft Office, Microsoft Small Business Financials and Small Business Accounting, Great Plains and most QuickBooks applications, Lilek said.
"The Service Manager is a product of customer-centric development," Lilek said. "Before we wrote the code, we talked to prospective customers and invited some to be on an advisory board. Salespeople, service managers and frontline people guided the decisions we made when building the application."
The advisory board helped Shining Brow develop some key takeaways in how small and medium-sized businesses in the service industry operate, Lilek said. Advisory board members had internal issues including islands of data in multiple applications that were not integrated with each other, a lack of communication between the sales and marketing and services departments and too often data was being entered and re-entered into different systems manually, Lilek said.
The Service Manager is available in essentials, basic, professional, enterprise and online editions, as well as editions for each industry.
Features of the Service Manager include a customer site database, service work orders, scheduling and route planning, estimating and quotes, contracts and profitability tracking, invoicing and cost tracking, an Internet-based customer portal and employee portal, a reporting and manager’s dashboard, accommodations for branch office locations and accounting system integration.
The system price, which includes one user license, is $495 for the essential edition, $795 for the basic edition, $1,990 for the professional edition and $5,780 for the enterprise edition.
Additional user costs range per edition from $99 to $495, and annual maintenance plans range per edition from $149 to $1,156. Customers can also purchase an annual support plan, implantation services and per-incident support calls.
Joe Neuman, co-owner of Interiorscapes Inc., a Milwaukee-based commercial interior landscape business, recently purchased The Service Manager for his business and has integrated the system with his Great Plains accounting system, he said.
Neuman purchased The Service Manager because he can customize it for his business needs, instead of changing his business to fit the requirements of the application, he said.
"We have a wonderful accounting system and do all of our payable and receivable with it, but we were looking for software with features that would generate proposals, track costs, labor and plant replacements," Neuman said.
Before purchasing The Service Manager, generating proposals was time-consuming because of the amount of data entry needed to estimate costs, Neuman said.
Interiorscapes has 30 employees and 450 accounts, Neuman said.
Because Interiorscapes takes care of live plants, the company replaces about 150 to 200 plants per week. The replacement is free to the customer but can be an extra cost to Interiorscapes. Being able to track the amount of replacements per client is one advantage of The Service Manager, Neuman said.
"We associate the cost with each client, and then on a regular basis, we can see which accounts are profitable and which accounts are not," Neuman said.
HK Systems to build new plant in Utah
New Berlin-based HK Systems Inc. is building a new 87,000-square-foot distribution center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The new plant is needed to accommodate the company’s growth in its material handling and supply chain software solutions business.
John Splude, chairman and chief executive officer of HK Systems, said, "HK Systems is excited about expanding our ability to provide innovative solutions that improve customer service, reduce inventory and delivery time – basically, lowering the costs of manufacturing, distribution, and transportation – in the robust business community of Salt Lake City. Offering an experienced and committed workforce, HK Systems looks forward to growing our Utah employee base as our customer base continues to flourish."
The site is being developed by Chicago-based First Industrial Realty Trust Inc., the nation’s largest provider of diversified industrial real estate.
Milwaukee company is haven for working moms
Data Dog Interactive Marketing of Milwaukee has been named among the "Best Small Companies for Working Mothers" in the United States by Working Mother magazine.
The company, which provides e-mail marketing and interactive solutions for businesses, has eight employees, three of whom are working mothers.
In giving the award to Data Dog, the magazine stated, "Moms create flexible schedules that include shortened workweeks. Top-notch technology allows them to remain connected to clients from a home office. Moms can also bring their children to work, and the whole staff chips in to take care of the young ones … New moms can relax in a designated lactation room equipped with a refrigerator to store breast milk."
Johnathan Crawford, president of Data Dog, said, "There are a tremendous number of potential employees that simply need flexible schedules to make their work lives dovetail with their personal lives. We’ve taken advantage of this fact, and it’s worked well. Working Mother magazine recognized some of the things we’ve done to accommodate the needs of our employees."
Racine Federated acquires new product line
Racine Federated Inc. has acquired the J-TEC line of industrial vortex flow meter products from J-TEC Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
"J-TEC has long been recognized as one of the leading manufacturers of vortex shedding flow meter solutions," said John Erskine Jr., president and chief executive officer of Racine Federated. "We are very excited about the growth opportunities and synergies this creates for the Racine Federated flow measurement group."
The addition of vortex shedding technology enhances Racine Federated’s offering of flow measurement technology and fluid management solutions. The new line will be integrated into the Racine facility’s production processes.
Inacom wins Cisco Partner Award
Inacom Information Systems, a Madison-based technology solutions provider, was awarded Cisco System’s Most Innovative Partner Award at the 2006 Cisco Partner Summit in San Diego, Calif.
Inacom was honored out of hundreds of partners throughout the nation for its Extreme Wireless Makeover! marketing campaign that began last November. The campaign is designed to motivate Wisconsin businesses to transform to wireless environments. With the support of information technology experts such as Cisco Systems, Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, EMC and McAfee, Inacom will provide the latest technology to the winner, Dane Manufacturing, which is based in Dane, Wis.
More Than Computers Inc. does business as Inacom Information Systems, which provides technology consulting, education and procurement. The company has additional offices in Brookfield and Appleton.
Milwaukee expands electronic notification service
The City of Milwaukee is combining its current E-Notify program with the Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS) address-based data system, enabling subscribers to be notified whenever significant changes occur at any property they are watching.
New ownerships, most complaints, orders from DNS and building permits will trigger an e-mail about the change and alert the interested subscriber about 24 hours from when it is entered by DNS. The service will be available at no cost to subscribers.
"There are numerous benefits to expanding the use of E-Notify in this manner," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. "Landlords will be able to subscribe to their properties and when a complaint is made, perhaps be able to fix the problem before an order is issued. Property owners can also track conditions around their property to see changes in their neighborhood and neighborhood groups can monitor blocks for code violations or new redevelopment efforts through permit activity."
The City of Milwaukee home page features a link to property information at www.city.milwaukee.gov. Click on the E-Notify link on the lower right of the page, and register to receive the service.
Payne presents research in Switzerland
Ulice Payne, president of Milwaukee-based Addison-Clifton LLC, recently spoke and presented a research paper on international biotechnology trade issues at a conference in Zurich, Switzerland.
At the conference, entitled "The U.S. Market for Biotechnology – Opportunities and Challenges for Swiss Biotech Companies," Payne helped present the findings of a new study that examines opportunities in the United States for foreign biotech companies.
The study, organized by Swiss trade officials, includes Payne’s analysis and review of regulatory issues and challenges regarding the importation of biotechnology products into the United States.
Payne’s presentation focused on increasingly complex U.S. Customs and trade regulations and offers recommendations for developing compliance systems regarding the importation of foreign biotech products. Payne’s analysis also offered recommendations for Swiss biotech product manufacturers seeking to sell and distribute their products in the United States.
"Global distribution is an increasingly important part of the growing biotechnology industry. Biotechnology companies from Switzerland and throughout Europe are looking closely at the United States and Wisconsin. New biotechnology applications and different biotechnology products will only make the international economic equation more complex," Payne said. "This is a tremendous opportunity to help share new information with international business leaders who may be looking to start or expand their distribution into the United States."
Payne has been invited to give a similar presentation at the world’s largest biotechnology conference, BIO2006, in Chicago at the McCormick Place Convention Center on April 9-12. The conference is organized by the Biotechnology Industry Organization and will include presentations on various issues relating to the business, science and regulatory climate for stem cell research, agricultural and industrial biotech. Other speakers will include former President Bill Clinton and ex-CIA Director James Woolsey.
More than 20,000 biotechnology executives, investors, scientists and others from an estimated 60 countries are expected to attend the conference, which is coordinated by the Biotechnology Industry Organization. A delegation led by Governor Doyle of more than 150 Wisconsin business leaders will attend, as well.
Payne also will give a seminar on how Wisconsin businesses can compete in China during the Wisconsin Business & Technology Expo, which will be presented by Small Business Times May 3-4 at Wisconsin State Fair Park. For additional information about the Expo, visit www.biztimes.com/expo.
Employer survey shows growing labor shortage
The biggest issue facing employers today is finding qualified and skilled employees, according to a new survey of 233 companies throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.
About 48 percent of the respondents in the survey cited finding qualified or reliable employees as their key concern, and another 36 percent said a lack of skilled employees was their main concern.
The survey was conducted by QPS Companies Inc., a Brookfield-based staffing company.
After staffing, the other most prevalent concerns cited by employers were: cost of materials, 39 percent; insurance costs, 35 percent; fuel costs, 22 percent; labor costs, 19 percent; overseas competition, 15 percent; technology changes, 12 percent; time constraints/just-in-time demands, 11 percent; and government regulations, 8 percent.
The survey also found that 52 percent of the companies plan to increase their hiring in the second quarter of 2006. Of those 52 percent, 68 percent plan on increasing their staff by 1-10 employees, 19 percent plan on adding 11-40 employees and 13 percent plan on adding 50 plus employees.
In addition, 71 percent of the employers surveyed expect to increase the salaries of their employees in the coming year. Of the 71 percent, 75 percent plan a salary increase of 1 to 3 percent, and 24 percent plan a 4 to 6 percent salary increase.
Meanwhile, in another new survey, about 6 percent of chief financial officers of companies in the Milwaukee area expect to hire accounting and finance professionals in the second quarter of 2006.
For the first time, the Milwaukee market is included in the Robert Half International Financial Hiring Index. The Milwaukee hiring outlook is well above the national hiring rate of 1 percent.
The local poll includes responses from 100 CFOs from a stratified random sample of companies in the Milwaukee area with 20 or more employees. To view the national results, visit www.roberthalf.com/PressRoom.
"Many of the companies that are hiring are doing so to accommodate business expansion activities during 2006," said Max Messmer, chairman and chief executive officer of Menlo, Calif.-based Robert Half International Inc., the world’s largest staffing services firm specializing in accounting, finance and information technology. "Firms also are adding full-time staff and working with consulting professionals for corporate governance-related compliance and remediation initiatives."
Business executives can receive advice on how to cope with the growing labor shortage by attending the Bravo! Entrepreneur Awards luncheon during the Wisconsin Business & Technology Expo at Wisconsin State Fair Park. The keynote speaker of the luncheon will by Jack Lannom, consultant and author of the book, "People First." Additional information about the event is available at www.biztimes.com/expo.
Wisconsin exports continue to climb
Wisconsin’s exports to foreign countries increased by nearly 17.5 percent to a record $14.9 billion in 2005, compared with a 10.6 percent national increase.
Exports to Canada, Wisconsin’s largest international market, grew by 8 percent to $5.24 billion. Mexico continued as Wisconsin’s second-largest export market, as exports grew 25 percent to $1.33 billion. Japan took third place with an 11-percent increase to $695.96 million, and China again ranked fourth with a 16-percent increase to $673.77 million. The United Kingdom took fifth place with a 24-percent increase to $642.84 million.
Industrial machinery, including computer equipment, continues to be Wisconsin’s top export commodity, growing by 15 percent to $5.14 billion. The other top export commodities were: medical instruments, up 22 percent to $2.00 billion; electrical machinery, up 42 percent to $1.83 billion; transportation equipment, up 4 percent to $1.00 billion; and paper and paperboard, up 14 percent to $781.94 million.
"Wisconsin exports have shown four straight years of incredibly strong growth, and our growth continues to surpass that of the nation," Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle said.