It’s frustrating: you can have all the technical knowledge in the world, but without some serious business acumen, you’re most likely going to have a tough time making your integration firm stand out. Fortunately, though, there’s a way to step up your business game without going back to school for an MBA–courtesy of the wide world of industry-specific proposal and project management software and apps. With the host of excellent tools available today, you can have your company copasetic in no time, leaving you free to do what you do best: designing awe-inspiring systems.
“Many integration companies are started by techies who love the technology and have a broad range of skills needed to design and install small AV systems,” said Rich Riehl, CEO of BidMagic. “The challenge is that very few of these techies have an MBA or extensive experience in business practices and project management. The bad news is that technical skills and sales skills alone are simply not enough for success.”
BidMagic provides integrators with a wealth of tools to help run their business, starting with the proposal. “As integrators build proposals in BidMagic, they are creating a system to manage their products, prices, and labor,” Riehl said. “BidMagic’s MEGASPECS includes four online search engines with over 3 million products to help dealers obtain accurate product information. Most importantly you can establish specific labor values for prewire, trim, and finish phases of the project. Defining the hours needed and including them in the proposal is the essential first step to a successful project.”
BidMagic provides integrators with a wealth of tools to help run their business, starting with the proposal.Portal–formerly SupplyStream–is designed to help integrators and dealers make the most of time.
Slateplan is another software solution focused on the all-important proposal phase. “With Slateplan software, the salesperson and the customer collaborate in real-time, discussing various home technology options and associated costs, and work together to design a system and a budget,” said Jason Wright, Slateplan’s co-founder. “Customers feel like they are in control of the situation, they get comfortable, and they spend more money.
“Slateplan is designed from the ground up as a customer-facing tool. It’s intended to help consumers easily evaluate different home technology options and budgets, and with the help of their AV integrator, quickly develop a design that works for them.”
Whether you’re a mom-and-pop operation or a Fortune 500 company, every business has the same amount of one resource: time. Portal–formerly SupplyStream–is designed to help integrators and dealers make the most of it.
iPoint is another software based around the challenge of improving communication, from design to installation.
The System Integrator software platform from D-Tools strives to provide integrators with a comprehensive project management resource.
“Everyone sees value in trying to minimize non-billable time and improve efficiency; and the best way to do this with existing resources is with software that reduces the amount of time it takes you to complete a task, especially administrative and operational tasks,” said Josh Willits, VP of dealer happiness at Portal.
“Our proposal tool is popular with dealers because it’s web based, easy to use, notifies dealers when their clients are looking at the proposal, and has a built-in digital signature with time-stamp,” Willits continued. “And probably most obviously, our software is free for dealers.” The software is also now available in a native iOS app, which was just released in October.
A common challenge for business owners in this industry is learning to grow from a niche service provider into a scalable, repeatable business. “If [integrators] believe they are in the ‘custom integration’ business and that every project is different, then they are running a one-off, charisma-based business and have only bought themselves a short-term job, not a sustainable company that will last for years,” said Tom Coffin, VP of business development at Simply Reliable.
According to Coffin, the company’s SmartOffice platform was the first cloud-based solution for custom integrators, launched in 2013. “SmartOffice is a complete business process solution, versus a proposal, project management, accounting tool,” he said. “It is designed around a deep understanding of the business process of a custom integrator, from first contact through to final invoice. It was invented to solve the problems of the growing integrator. In the typical integration company, chaos is experienced as they begin to grow. SmartOffice creates process in their business, allowing it to grow its revenues quickly while reducing the need to add personnel.”
ProjX360 also positions itself as an all-encompassing management solution, and it’s doing it with the help of integration with other software.Simply Reliable’s SmartOffice offers a complete business process solution.
As firms grow, it’s inevitable that the number of vendors with whom they do business will escalate as well, causing communication challenges. “Each of those vendors have different processes in order to do business with them, from sales and marketing resources to how you order, process, and purchase orders– everyone does it their own way,” said Ryan Sullivan, CEO of SpringDeck. “SpringDeck is a platform for dealers to centralize all of their vendors’ content, so they have one easy-to-use app to better communicate their offerings specific to the opportunity they are working on.”
According to Sullivan, SpringDeck is the only solution that addresses the problems associated with delivering content from manufacturers to their dealer networks. New features, including the ability for dealers to send feedback to manufacturer’s marketing administrator, help companies on both ends improve their processes, and the software’s integration with One Firefly helps dealers assist in ongoing service and support with clients’ systems.
SpringDeck addresses the problems associated with delivering content from manufacturers to their dealer networks.
iPoint is another software based around the challenge of improving communication, from design to installation. “iPoint handles this with digital work orders that provide real-time information about the parts in the design, stock status, and task status–along with pictures and notes from design,” said Brooks Swift, CEO. “iPoint then tracks the time on site, parts added, and additional expenses incurred in the field. We then allow designers to press a button to update the original sales order with all the changes from the field, in the form of quick-change orders.”
Enhancing its versatility, iPoint has added software integration with QuickBooks Online, for streamlining accounting workflow, and with Google Calendar, to help with managing schedules from a variety of devices. The company is also working on adding Google sync for contacts and Gmail integration.
Like iPoint, the System Integrator software platform from D-Tools strives to provide integrators with a comprehensive project management resource. “The D-Tools System Integrator software platform provides a complete end-to-end solution to help integrators manage and track all areas of a project, helping increase productivity and efficiency by bringing together estimation, system design, and project management into a single data-driven process,” said Tim Bigoness, VP of sales and marketing.
Slateplan is another software solution focused on the all-important proposal phase.
Bigoness said the features that set D-Tools apart from other management software is its integration with Visio and AutoCAD to drive engineering documentation and integrate detailed drawings into the estimation and system design process, as well as its management of product data. “We are the only platform that goes beyond managing basic product information such as manufacturer, model number, description and MSRP,” he said. “Our Data Library actually provides estimated install hours, and detailed engineering specifications such as dimensions and inputs and outputs that enable integrators to create detailed schematic drawings by simply dragging and dropping from their project file into either Visio or AutoCAD.”
ProjX360 also positions itself as an all-encompassing management solution, and it’s doing it with the help of integration with other software, including D-Tools and QuickBooks–both forthcoming. At CEDIA, the company debuted some other new features, such as its Sales CRM and Proposal and PO Generation Tool, to help round out the software. According to Doug Greenwald, the company’s founder and CEO, “We are fully cloud based, our UI is very user friendly, and ProjX360 is a single complete software solution for the custom integration industry, designed by a seasoned integrator for the integrator.”
As the calendar turns to 2017, the world is turning to software and apps for almost everything. If you’re still running your technology integration firm without the latest technology to help, well, that’s a compelling opportunity for a New Year’s business resolution.
Matt Pruznick is associate editor of Residential Systems and Systems Contractor News. Follow him on Twitter @Pruznick.