Business management system survey

By Steve Noe


With the constant evolution of computer business management systems (BMS) and those providing them (i.e. Toronto-based Constellation Software Inc. recently purchased both Paulson Computer Systems and Ideal Computer Systems), I recently surveyed several BMS providers to bring you up to speed on what’s new with them and their product offerings.


Specifically, I asked them the following four questions:


1) What is the latest news about your company?


2) What are the latest business management system technology trends in the OPE industry?


3) What impact can a business management system make on an OPE dealer’s bottom line?


4) When shopping for a business management system, what are the top-five factors that OPE dealers need to consider?


Following are the written responses that I received in the order they were submitted:


 


JIM PHELAN


CO-OWNER/PARTNER


C-SYSTEMS SOFTWARE, INC.


1) What is the latest news about your company?


Jim Phelan (JP): c-Systems, the leader in business management systems designed for Outdoor Power Equipment dealers, is proud to announce the release of version 5.0 of its Infinity Business Management System. The best software in the industry is now even better. Included in this latest version are numerous features designed to save valuable time and increase dealer profits. Infinity has gained significant improvements across the board, featuring much simplified multi-store reporting, user-defined repair status codes, increased functionality to scheduling processes and many new enhancements to the information panel displays.


Also, in partnership with Toro and Exmark, c-Systems has recently finished development on a completely new EZ-Link interface. This new c-Systems EZ-Link integration features a very simple and much easier installation procedure.


Dealers integrating EZ-Link with their c-Systems business management system will eliminate two very time-consuming tasks by automatically:

Registering Toro and Exmark equipment for warranty.
Enrolling dealers in most Toro and Exmark rebate programs, eliminating the need to gather data and fill out forms requesting reimbursement.
Plus, look for future EZ-Link enhancements to include electronic Warranty Claim Transmission from within your c-Systems business management system!

The new c-Systems EZ-Link interface controls access and maintains absolute data security so that only specific information regarding registration or rebate programs is sent to Toro or Exmark.


The EZ-Link application and support is free to all Toro and Exmark dealers who use a compatible c-Systems Software business management system.


2) What are the latest business management system technology trends in the OPE industry?


JP:

Customer relationship management (CRM): Increased competition will continue to foster dealers’ reliance on CRM in order to find new customers and retain those they have. Business management systems will continue to add and integrate technologies such as CRM, that help automate sales and marketing processes to attract new prospects and improve customer relationships.
Increased mobile and tablet device integration: Tablets and mobile devices offer increased mobility and are seeing adoption by more and more companies. These devices will, in many cases, remove the need for desktop PCs and allow the employee to access information immediately without the need to be tied to a desk or counter.

3) What impact can a business management system make on an OPE dealer’s bottom line?


JP: A business management system provides the dealer with a foundation to be as efficient, profitable, and easy to manage as possible.


Benefits that impact and improve the dealer’s bottom line include the following:

Improved productivity: Streamlined business processes allow your employees to accomplish more in less time.
Reduced labor costs: Automating applications can reduce the number of people required to support your business.
Increase financial performance: Accurate financial reporting can improve payments on your receivables and give a more accurate picture of your company’s financial health.
Improved inventory management: Optimizing your company’s inventory levels can reduce carrying costs, increase inventory turns, decrease the number of slow-moving products, and help remove obsolete/dead products.
Accurate pricing: Up-to-date manufacturer price databases help improve and maintain margins on your products or services.
Increase customer revenue: By managing and recognizing customer needs, you can increase revenue per customer and reduce customer turnover.
Reduced technology maintenance and support: Modern technologies are more robust and require less to be spent on maintenance than old legacy systems.
Automation: Reduce costs to do business. Optimize and enable effective processes. For instance, incorporation of electronic (e-mail) billing can reduce paper invoices and mailing costs.

4) When shopping for a business management system, what are the top-five factors that OPE dealers need to consider?


JP:

Product support: This is arguably the most important factor when evaluating business management systems. Does the business management system company provide on-site training? What about phone support? Do they provide ongoing web training and regional seminars? Do they have a knowledgeable support staff to help keep your system up and running smoothly? Does the company have a dedicated customer support department?
Industry expertise: Does the business management system provider have a background and experience in the Outdoor Power Equipment industry and do they understand the specific needs of the Outdoor Power Equipment dealer?
Industry specific: Is the business management system designed specifically for OPE dealers and not a generic “fits all” product? Does the software have the necessary electronic interfaces with your vendors, electronic parts catalogs and industry functions you require?
Stability: How many years has the company been in business? Look at the size and ownership of the company too. Has the company been bought and sold? Will they be around when you need them?
Scalable: Is the business management system designed to grow as you grow? Will it meet your needs now, in 2 years, in 5 years? What about growth? Will the business management system handle increases in number of workstations; what about multi-store?


JULIE PRUITT


MARKETING DIRECTOR


BASIC SOFTWARE SYSTEMS


1) What is the latest news about your company?


Julie Pruitt (JP): Basic Software Systems is always updating our software with the industry’s daily changing trends. Manufacturer Interfaces to bar coding technology integrating from within the business management system meets the requirements of the highest of demands that dealers are expected of today. Our products and our company remain leading providers for business technology in the Outdoor Power Equipment industry today.


2) What are the latest business management system technology trends in the OPE industry?


JP: Most OPE dealerships are needing fast, convenient and cost-efficient technology tools. Bar Code scanners can be a huge time saver at the parts counter. Most business management system providers offer an exceptional bar coding system that will integrate with their software.


Another big trend or huge asset is Manufacturer Interfaces. These interfaces can provide real-time access to see customer-specific pricing, parts availability, supercession information and order status of desired parts. Distributors receive orders electronically, drastically reducing errors and mistakes commonly found in faxed or phone orders. One of these high-demand interfaces is the CODIS-Access Interface, integrating distributors Central Power Systems, Gardner, Consolidated Data, Gardner-Connell, Magneto Power, Medart Engine, MWE, PES, Power Source Canada, Preferred Power, RBI and SEDCO with the business management system provider. There are other numerous Manufacturer Interfaces available as well.


3) What impact can a business management system make on an OPE dealer’s bottom line?


JP: All dealerships are concerned about their bottom line, right? All business management systems should allow the dealer to capture sales history for all the parts and customers, which can then be used to reduce costly obsolete parts and equipment from tying up capital that can be used to operate their business. The dealer should also have the capability of knowing what parts and equipment each customer is purchasing which will help the dealer target specific sales incentives. If a dealer is not using a business management system that offers this capability, then they need to look at switching to a vendor that does care about their bottom line.


4) When shopping for a business management system, what are the top-five factors that OPE dealers need to consider


JP: When dealers are looking to integrate a business management system in their dealership, there is research that needs to be done.

A plan: Before calling a business management system vendor, get with your entire team — Parts Department, Service Techs, Accounting, Sales — and write out the needs each department is looking for in a system. This will cut down time in the long run but also make software demonstrations run smoother for everyone. Always have a plan.
Emotional buying: When shopping for anything today, a lot of our decision making is based on the way the service of the sale makes us feel. Every salesman is going to make the potential client “feel” good about their product, but if the customer of 10 or more years is not “happy,” flags should be raised and something should be looked at. Before any decision is made when purchasing a business management system, TALK TO THE USERS first. The vendor should give to you a list of customers you can talk to non-reluctantly.
Demonstrations: Never take a salesman’s “word for it.” Always request a demonstration of the product. Online meetings and webinars are very easy and convenient, especially for multiple store locations involved. Either request an online demo or an onsite demo; don’t just settle for a demo to play with. You need to be able to ask questions and see the software in action, answering your questions. Depending on the list that you should have prepared, the demo could last from an hour to several hours.
Investment: The dealers need to realize that technology does not come cheap. The price tag on a business management system should be based on the quality of the software itself, the flexibility it offers, and the functionalities that it provides for the complexity of the dealership’s needs, not based on the high-dollar AS400 platform hardware or the cosmetics of the software. Some of the biggest equipment retails store chains today are running on “not so pretty software,” but evidently that software works for their success.
Partnership: The business management system provider your dealership chooses will be a partnership with your company. They will be serving you on a daily, monthly, yearly basis. Choose the vendor that your dealership can grow with. You will be relying on their software every single day. A good vendor usually has the history of services in your industry to prove that they are doing something that is helping dealers succeed every day.

 


PETE RASSEGA


VICE PRESIDENT/CEO


NIZEX, INC.


1) What is the latest news about your company?


Pete Rassega (PR): nizeX Incorporated recently released an enhanced F&I System that is directly integrated into its web-based dealership management system called “Lizzy.” The system also has a new Rental Module, and a new checklist feature was built into the Contact Management System (CRM) — a core integration to the overall Lizzy System. Lizzy now offers an Advanced Service Scheduling System for both current and future service appointments and new advanced dashboard controls for each department. NizeX, Inc. is in the completion phase of a new web-store module that will allow its customers to push items to a custom web-store, eliminating daily updates or extra integration requirements. All of these enhancements have occurred over the past 4 months. NizeX is excited and looking forward to showing its customers the new functionality and additional enhancements they will be releasing in the next 4 to 6 months as there are many new developments in the works.


2) What are the latest business management system technology trends in the OPE industry?


PR: The majority of the business management system companies have finally moved onto a Windows-based operating system. However, dealers are now looking for more advanced solutions that are more affordable, easier to use, and much easier to learn. Therefore, the new business management systems are now moving to web-based systems that offer an entirely new way to invest in technology called S-a-a-S (Software-as-a-Service) that is more affordable for the dealers. The technology of today and the functionality that web-based systems affords businesses will lead to other business management system providers moving to web-based platforms. The move to web-based systems will allow dealers to eliminate the expensive software installations and operate less-expensive hardware to run their technology system. Web-based systems will allow them to take advantage of things like data backups, price file updates, standardized model numbers, 24-hour/7-day-a-week access to their data from anywhere, automatic software updates, and other features that are not available in the Windows-based or older technology packages still offered today.


3) What impact can a business management system make on an OPE dealer’s bottom line?


PR: The central focus to the success and profitability of any business needs to be on Customer Satisfaction. A complete dealer management system should be capable of tracking every piece of information that moves through the dealership. This would include things like scheduling customer callbacks, sending literature and thank-you letters, sending mass communications, tracking special orders, and providing real-time feedback as the item moves through the system from order to pickup. The system should provide service notifications and do inventory analyses to aid in making sure you have the right parts on the shelf at all times and much more. The added benefit of having an advanced system should include doing all the accounting in real time while managing and tracking all of the business’s vital information necessary for decision making in the dealership. This provides the benefit of managing the business operations on a day-to-day basis and helping to identify problem areas requiring management attention. The business management system should contribute to improved efficiencies that increase productivity and customer satisfaction that ultimately leads to increasing the dealer’s bottom line.


4) When shopping for a business management system, what are the top-five factors that OPE dealers need to consider?


PR:

What is the initial investment, and what does it include?
What is the monthly/annual investment, and does it require a contract?
Does the system contain all the necessary software functionality to make it a complete system and capable of managing all aspects of the dealership, or do you need to add/invest in other technologies to make it a complete system?
How easy is it to learn, and how long does it take before they are live and using the system?
Flexibility to handle and adapt to everything that comes up in the dealership. This is a very important aspect of any complete system, considering the system is responsible for providing the owners and accountants with accurate, up-to-date accounting information. If the business management system lacks functionality, accuracy and speed, the data becomes less useful and ultimately leads to the mismanagement of the entire operation.

 


ANNE SALEMO


PRESIDENT


CHARTER SOFTWARE INC.


1) What is the latest news about your company?


Anne Salemo (AS): Charter Software is a provider of scalable, affordable, Windows-based business management software designed to increase profitability for OPE dealerships. We recently added Rental functionality to our base features of Accounting, Customers, Inventory and Sales/Work Orders in our ASPEN business management system. Built-in Standard Job codes and access to major manufacturers’ flat-rate guides are exciting, new time savers to enhance service. The job codes allow dealers to specify job description, job steps, and flat-rate hours. The ability to track flat-rate adjustments empowers the dealership to increase revenue, as well as track technician efficiency.


We also added a universal order export feature from our parts screen that allows a purchase order to be exported from the system and sent to any vendor. This is helpful to use for vendors without their own ordering interfaces. We’re also pleased to announce that we now offer an average of at least three selections of free ongoing web-based training a week for our customers. This provides a convenient benefit to new and seasonal employees, and those employees wanting to refresh their skills in specific topics such as Parts, Service, etc.


2) What are the latest business management system technology trends in the OPE industry?


AS: Dealers are seeking out more functionality from their business management systems like CRM features and quote tracking capability, including sales pipeline management. More dealers are also looking for rental management, the ability to manage accounting within the same system as parts and service, multiple-location management including easy inventory transfer between locations, as well as mobile applications.


3) What impact can a business management system make on an OPE dealer’s bottom line?


AS:

The ability to apply customer pricing and set credit limits, track accounting trends and profits, receivables/aging reports, etc., helps dealers keep a tight grip on finances and know where their cash is.
Maintaining customer history in a BMS allows for increased sales and service by targeting specific customers based on the equipment they own, their region, their seasonal buying patterns, service dates, etc.
Access to up-to-the-minute inventory reporting helps dealers to stay on top of unit interest accrual dates, and aids sales with quick access to unit availability at all locations.
Having the ability to view all available subs for parts minimizes on-shelf investment and parts orders, and the ability to associate parts and service charges to core parts, as well as associate attachments to units provides up-selling opportunities at the salesperson’s fingertips.
Access to manufacturers’ parts price updates ensures parts are being sold at the correct market price.
Tracking technician time for accurate billing, using flat-rate adjustments and keeping tabs on aging work orders all make a huge impact on the service department’s bottom line.
Honing skills on using the features and reporting functions of a BMS is an ongoing process that requires practice and training, and, when applied/mastered, has a dramatic overall impact on the entire dealership.

4) When shopping for a business management system, what are the top-five factors that OPE dealers need to consider?


AS:

Level of service provided. When purchasing a BMS, dealers are committing to a long-term relationship with the company; therefore, information about the software vendor’s reputation, longevity, customer values, alliances and industry endorsements are key in getting to know your provider. Find out about the vendor by talking with them directly at a trade show, or asking your suppliers or dealer association about them. Likewise, the quality and type of training and support offered are very important considerations. Being able to access designated support staff who know you and your staff personally is critical in the beginning stages of using the software. No one wants to be “just a number.” Dealers should also find out what kind of software training is available after their initial onsite training and be willing to invest additional training time post-implementation to leverage the software to their greatest advantage. Learning an entirely new system is an ongoing process that needs to be done incrementally to get the best return on investment.
Operating system, platform and technical specifications. Knowing the type of operating system and the hardware required for the BMS, whether the software allows for managing multiple locations, mobile accessibility, etc., are key items to be at the top of your list.
User interface and navigation. Requesting screen shots, viewing online videos and demos will help you to see how easily your staff will be able to use and navigate the system. Clumsy screens or the inability to multi-task will impede your staff’s efficiency. Investigate also how readily the software can be configured by system administrators to meet your unique needs.
Access to information. You are buying a BMS to access your information, so find out how readily accessible it is. Features like a dashboard showing graphical statistics, query tools, search engines, built-in reports and the ability to “drill down” to source records (such as to the origin of the transaction, etc.) are very important considerations to avoid “jumping through hoops” to get to the information you need. How information is exported may be important as well. Ask your vendor to supply sample reports and show you in your demo how information is accessed, manipulated, etc.
Departmental and Manufacturer Integration: The program should be fully integrated across departments, meaning that an item updated in one department should update or cross-reference to another. For example, a transaction done in a work order should also create a journal entry. Shortline dealers should have access to parts price updates and parts ordering through PartSmart, PartsManager Pro, etc. Manufacturer-specific integration is important for branded dealers, and should meet the suppliers’ specifications for inventory ordering and financial reporting. Ideally, these transactions should be able to be made from within the software, eliminating the need to log on to the supplier’s site or re-key data. Dealers will also want to consider ease of use for payroll integration and/or export with their payroll vendor.


GREG CARRADUS


SALES & MARKETING MANAGER


IDEAL COMPUTER SYSTEMS, INC.


1) What is the latest news about your company?


Greg Carradus (GC): As many people in the industry have probably heard, Ideal Computer Systems was acquired by Constellation Dealership Software back on December 1, 2010. Our former owner and president, Dennis Haefner, was looking to retire after 25 years of success and Constellation, which owns more than 120 successful software companies, was looking to purchase an industry-leading software provider in the OPE market. So, they felt Ideal was a good fit. Constellation also acquired Paulson Computer Systems (InvenTrakk) on June 1, 2011, for many of the same reasons. Constellation believes in long-term support and development of its individual companies, so our current and future customers can expect the same great service and support they are accustomed to.


As far as the Ideal product, we just released our newest version, Ideal 7.2.1, to our customers. We also have implemented a new data vault system that enables us to successfully back up and store our customers’ data outside of their business. We recommend this to all of our customers, so they can safely secure their data and get back up and running as quickly as possible in the event something catastrophic should occur.


2) What are the latest business management system technology trends in the OPE industry?


GC: I think you are seeing a more business-to-business connected world, which is making it essential for OPE dealers to move outside of a program, like QuickBooks, and implement fully functioning, industry-specific software. Dealers need the capabilities of their software system to interface with their manufacturers for purchasing and parts lookup. Toro’s EZ-Link product is another great example of the need for integration between your software and the manufacturer. In addition, dealers are also looking for more detailed and real-time reporting and dashboard analysis of their key indicators, so they can view trends in their business and make adjustments to mission-critical business needs.


3) What impact can a business management system make on an OPE dealer’s bottom line?


GC: Business management software impacts every aspect of a dealer’s bottom line. From improved transactions at the point of sale, to having the ability to keep your inventory lean and carry the products your customers want, to running a well-managed service department, to controlling your pricing points, to streamlining your purchasing and accounting, there literally isn’t any part of your business where a business management software system won’t make a positive impact on your bottom line.


4) When shopping for a business management system, what are the top-five factors that OPE dealers need to consider?


GC:

Support: This often gets overlooked when looking at software, but any BMS user can tell you that the quality of support you receive from your company is, hands down, one of the most important factors. You need to know the reputation of the company’s support department because that is who you will deal with throughout your software relationship.
Customer satisfaction: You need to do research and talk to current users of the software systems you are looking at and determine their satisfaction level.
Industry-specific: If you are serious about taking your business to the next level, you must look for something industry-specific that can handle your needs and is supported by people who know your business.
Ease of use: Every software system you implement will have a learning curve, but you must evaluate the project and go through a demo with the salesperson to determine its ease of use.
Robust in features and constantly evolving: You also need to find a product that has the features you want from a company that has a strong commitment to its research and development department and will continue to evolve the product with the ever-changing needs of your business.


MATT FERGUSON


SENIOR DEVELOPER


PAULSON COMPUTER SYSTEMS (INVENTRAKK)


1) What is the latest news about your company?


Matt Ferguson (MF): Constellation Dealership Software has completed the acquisition of Paulson Computer Systems, the owners of the InvenTrakk software suite. Constellation Dealership Software is the parent company of Ideal Computer Systems, Integrated Dealer Systems (“IDS”) and Constellation Automotive Services. The acquisition places two OPE industry-leading business management systems, Ideal and InvenTrakk, together under one parent software company. With this acquisition, OPE dealers everywhere have access to some of the best software service and products in the industry now available from one company.


2) What are the latest business management system technology trends in the OPE industry?


MF: Interconnectivity is the current trend. We are constantly striving to connect dealers to every powerful tool and technology available. Past examples include integration with parts lookup systems like PartSmart and PartsManager Pro and integration with powerful scheduling systems. A very recent example would include software integration with CODIS, which allows Power Equipment dealers to submit purchase orders electronically and instantly to distributors through their business system with no time wasted faxing or phoning in orders. This trend will continue as we work to provide dealers with every tool we can so that they can do their job as easily and effectively as possible. Look for further strides in mobile and web-based interconne

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