A goal for any integration company should be to establish best practices and repeatable processes to drive sales and to increase profits on every project. Part of that mission involves strong leadership from owners and managers, of course, but perhaps equally important is the implementation of business software tools to create professional proposals, track jobs, and bill clients. At CEDIA in October, the leaders in this category offered key enhancements to their well-established packages, and there were even new players joining the category as well.
In a press release for his company’s latest product enhancement, Simply Reliable CEO Jonathan Knapp echoed the message that a proper process is essential for custom integration companies.
“Our mission for SmartOffice has always been to drive best practices through software,” Knapp stated about his company’s flagship project management product. “The customization of the business process through a common ecosystem allows business owners to use SmartOffice for every function of their business or integrate the functions and features they love with other cloud-based solutions they also love for a complete solution. SmartOffice is designed by custom integrators for custom integrators.”
BidMagic has added new QuickBooks online integration, payment plan options, labor difficulty factors, and a new product search window that speeds up proposal creation.
SmartOffice Online is cloud-based software available in multiple editions including The Sales Edition, The Core Edition, The Business Edition, and The Field Edition. The Field Edition is free with a subscription to The Core or Business Editions. A 30-day free trial is available at simplyreliable.com.
At CEDIA, the company showcased its integration with TRX.IO for inventory management; SupplyStream, which will supply a live feed of product data and personalized pricing for mutual customers of both cloud services; AVIQ, a product data feed focused on the pro AV market; and QuickBooks Online for accounting integration.
The company’s application includes the entire business process from contact management, proposals, change orders, purchasing, invoicing, accounting and inventory integration, scheduling with Google Calendar and work orders. And the pricing ranges from free to $99 per user per month. The coming year will bring many additional integrated solutions into the SmartOffice Online Ecosystem, Knapp said.
BidMagic, whose software was designed to be the fastest and easiest way for AV and security integrators to create professional proposals, has added new QuickBooks online integration, payment plan options, labor difficulty factors, and a new product search window that “radically speeds up” proposal creation. Optional MEGASPECS now gives users access to more than three million downloadable AV and security products from top suppliers.
BidMagic software, which is available in Standard, Pro, and Enterprise versions to fit the needs of any size company, builds a complete workflow solution, including sales pipeline management, service tickets, purchase orders, project management, and mobile features. This builds a system for integrators to manage their products, prices, and labor.
At CEDIA, D-Tools Inc., previewed what it called “a major new release” of its flagship software platform, System Integrator 2016. Available in Q1 2016, the new SI 2016 release adds new productivity features and enhancements that enable residential and commercial AV integrators to streamline business processes and increase profitability. SI 2016 will be available as an upgrade for existing customers and will be provided at no cost for customers participating in the D-Tools Software Assurance program.
SupplyStream has partnered with SpringDeck and D-Tools to define and illustrate all the “steps” or “stages” of a project.
Building upon the architecture of the System Integrator platform, including a robust D-Tools Cloud infrastructure, SI 2016 makes it faster and easier to perform key functions of an integrator’s business, such as estimation, system design, and project management. SI 2016 also offers improvements in virtually every functional area, including project and data management, integration with SupplyStream and QuickBooks Online, purchase requests, as well as significant improvements to the current change order capabilities.
“This upcoming release of the D-Tools System Integrator platform moves the company one step closer to an enterprise-level cloud-based solution,” said Randy Stearns, CEO of D-Tools. “Importantly, D-Tools continues to form new and strengthen existing relationships with select software providers. We are particularly excited about our new partnership with SupplyStream through which real-time product cost and availability information will be made available to D-Tools users. We are also announcing deeper integration with the QuickBooks family of products that will serve to reduce redundancy and improve efficiency. Lastly, we continue to enhance critical workflow processes such as purchasing, change orders and managing service agreements. Collectively, these productivity enhancements enable our customers to take their businesses to the next level.”
In its SupplyStream integration, SI 2016 users will be able search SupplyStream product catalog and access pricing and availability information (requires SupplyStream account). QuickBooks Online integration will enable one to sync the D-Tools product catalog, send estimates and purchase orders to QB Online, and sync vendors when creating “items” in QB Online.
The SI 2016 release comes on the heels of a new version of FreeTools PSL, D-Tools’ system design companion application that provides Microsoft Visio users with multiple libraries of industry-specific plan view symbols and Visio drawing templates that make it easier to create system designs using universally accepted industry standards.
Category newcomer Cairnstack Software built its TRX.io software platform specifically for consumer electronics and integrator businesses after interviewing business owners and “people in the field” about their frustrations with “overly complex, expensive systems.” The company also took time to listen to their needs regarding inventory location tracking and the importance of being able to access the same information from multiple points. The result is a cloud-based inventory and asset tracking software that was designed to simplify the process of sharing information across a business, from the warehouse supervisor to the administrators who are responsible for ordering, invoicing, and project oversight to in-field technicians supporting customers.
A visual representation of Simply Reliable’s SmartOffice ecosystems
TRX.io tracks products as they flow into, around, and out of a business (hence the name “TRACKS-In-and-Out” or TRX.io.) Whether it’s bar code, QR code, or RFID technologies, the software can track inventory for its entire lifecycle from warehouse to fleet to install, and beyond. It allows users to view a full listing of every piece of inventory in stock and to track inventory by location, by what is on order for current projects, and by what items need to be purchased to fill current orders, all in real time. With TRX.io’s inventory management software, you have access to project locations and addresses, vendor lists with contact information, viewable orders, and detailed project information. Plus, you can view current projects and orders so that you know exactly what items you need to move a project forward or fill a current order. Live inventory lists, which are labeled by location and custody, give you real-time inventory knowledge to help streamline your operations. Once a product has left a business, LiveQR codes allow integrators to reach out to customers with information or new offers.
Another newcomer, Slateplan is marketed as a “floor plan-based sales software” designed to “dramatically improve the home technology sales process.”
“Customers are initially excited to design their home technology systems,” said Scott Marchand, CEO and co-founder of the Silicon Valley startup. “However, the process of choosing products and developing budgets can be incredibly time-consuming and complicated. Slateplan software solves this problem.”
Using its floor plan-based design, Slateplan software is intended to invite collaboration between homeowners, integrators, and builders. It also enables the integrator to instantly adjust scope and budgets in real time, show clients what they should be spending on technology, and help close the deal in the very first meeting. According to Slateplan, the software is so intuitive and easy to customize that a salesperson and his or her client can build a comprehensive home technology design in less than an hour.
One of the major selling points for Slateplan creators is how their software makes it very easy for customers to understand what they should be spending on home technology, and therefore easier for them to quickly approve budgets for even very large systems.
Looking beyond the proposal or project management phase and into labor allocation, industry veteran Marilyn Sanford’s new company LincEdge will soon offer a way to find employees and create trusted partnerships. Once established, users can share scheduling to help manage their labor requirements.
“Our intention is to be an inexpensive and effective tool to help integrators source talent on a just-in-time basis and to build trusted partnerships to help manage their peak requirements,” Sanford explained. “When business is slower or the firm is on hold pending completion dates, they can offer labor to other trusted partners, to help reduce their overheads.”
LincEdge has a planned roll out that will build its inventory of talent in key markets within the U.S. The company is currently heading into beta mode within the Vancouver market. It plans to launch in selected markets during the first quarter of 2016, contingent on beta results.
SupplyStream is another relatively new company that aggregates manufacturer and distributor product data, pricing, and availability in what it calls a “web catalog.” The goal is to help dealers save time creating proposals and purchase orders from a database that they never need to maintain. SupplyStream has made several improvements to its product, including updates to the proposal and purchase order tools and integration with QuickBooks Online (still in beta mode). The most exciting update, according to VP of dealer services Josh Willits, is the implementation of a promised API, for integration into other services.
“SupplyStream’s strength is our ability to manage product, pricing, and availability data for the entire industry in a single database,” Willits said. “In March we announced that rather than hoarding this data and trying to compete with other software solutions on data, we instead would take the ‘integration’ approach. We believe the days of building a complete end-to-end software solution that does everything exceptionally well are gone. Rather than expanding the scope of our software (to get into full sales and project management), we wanted to focus on the one thing we do best, go deep into that core competency, and then leverage APIs to integrate with other software.”
So SupplyStream has partnered with SpringDeck and D-Tools to define and illustrate all the “steps” or “stages” of a project. At CEDIA, the companies tried to explain the importance of distinct roles played by a sales tool like SpringDeck, which talks to SupplyStream to quickly build proposals, which can then push to D-tools to manage the project, then push back out to SupplyStream to order all the parts.
In the coming months, Willits noted, dealers will start to see additional software solutions get on board with this approach. “When we all commit to a stage in the install process that we can do best, then agree to integrate seamlessly, dealers win,” he said. “This is something the industry has been talking about for a long time–standardization, essentially. What encourages us the most is the new young leadership we have running these software companies. Big changes are coming and dealers are going to benefit big time!”