With so many aspects incorporated in business software — CRM (customer relationship management) and sales tracking, scheduling, invoicing, purchasing, and more — it’s important to assess what’s out there and select what works best for your company.
One of the biggest problems found inherently in AV is a lack of oversight, says Brian Good, VP, sales and marketing, iPoint LLC. “Using multiple systems with no inherent integrant is dangerous,” he says. “An example of this might occur when a proposal platform doesn’t integrate with billing, ordering, project management, and scheduling. You really need a CRM system to get business and to track how profitable you are.”
Systems that don’t talk to each other are difficult to manage and are dangerous because employees don’t have access to all the information they need, as the CRM may not be updated to provide correct invoicing details, for example. “An inclusive platform empowers employees to make successful decisions based on relevant facts and circumstances,” says Good. “That’s the biggest benefit of an all-in-one platform.”
iPoint Solutions was developed by an integrator, iPoint CEO Brooks Swift, specifically for the AV industry. It streamlines the workflow process and includes notifications, such as creating an invoice, scheduling, purchasing, and actual project management for installation with a punch list. “We built the platform on a native app so the tech team can access it from iPhones and take photos of a job, then upload into the platform to ensure that everybody can see the job in progress, in live mode,” says Good. “There is also an offline mode for spots with no service. We sell the platform as a permanent license and maintain a backup server for new features, training, and tech support. Everyone using the platform has full access to the entire project team, with unlimited tech support.”
ProjX360 also was designed by a seasoned integrator, CEO/founder Doug Greenwald, a 25-year industry veteran who still owns an integration company. ProjX360 was initially created for use there: “We can manage integrator projects from the sales process to proposal generation, and project manage when the proposal is approved, all from one platform,” he says. “This capability streamlines integration processes so the integrator can instantly see if a project is going over budget. Integrators can also manage the service calls after the project is completed from our platform.”
Reduce Yet Increase
Generally speaking, software increases productivity, improves operational efficiency, reduces staffing costs and the likelihood of human error, and enables enhanced communication between team members, says D-Tools CEO, Randy Stearns. “Now in its 20th year, D-Tools accomplishes these objectives by reducing design oversights through the use of packages and required (and/or optional) accessories, calculating accurate labor estimates, reducing the likelihood of underbidding labor, and reducing time required to generate proposals by 50 percent, increasing the productivity of sales staff.”
In addition, time to create drawings and to issue purchase orders is reduced. The software automatically creates wire lists and labels, saving time and reducing the chance of missing wire runs, he adds. “Our platform includes access to a massive product library that is inclusive of labor phase, labor hours, MSRP, product specifications, and more, substantially reducing the time required to assemble a product catalog for bidding purposes. It also Includes Visio shapes and AutoCAD blocks, simplifying the drawing generation process.”
At Simply Reliable, co-founder/CEO Tom Coffin tells us smartOFFICE and designMACHINE were both designed to create process in the business workflow for custom integrators. “Prior to its inception we spent two and a half years working with The Gerber Group to define every process in the custom installation channel,” he says. “We concluded the only way for an integrator to succeed was to have a repeatable business process. And the only way to have a sustainable and repeatable business process is to design software that would act as the operating system for the business.”
The custom installation industry is unique, he notes: “It’s not construction, it’s not retail, it’s not product distribution, and it’s not computer coding. Yet, it is some of all of those. Simply Reliable excels at connecting disparate items together in a logical way that allows the team to go from qualifying a project all the way to a final invoice. Each step of the process assists the integrator in minimizing expensive mistakes, such as ordering the wrong items or not ordering the right items at the right time and causing expensive unneeded truck rolls. It limits emails, phone calls, and meetings. The average subscriber to smartOFFICE and designMACHINE will save the price of one employee. They can use those funds to increase their sales and installation potential.”
Choices and More Choices
As an integrator, how should you assess and choose the best business software for your shop?
“One of the biggest challenges and limitations the integrator has is time,” Coffin says. “These companies are usually small and do not have a lot of extra time. They are running around at max level all the time. So they start looking to solve specific problems such as a proposal tool, a project management tool, a time tracking tool, a drawing tool, and an accounting tool. Yet none of these play well together. This is time consuming, killing efficiency and adding expenses.”
Every integrator needs a world-class enterprise software, but often times they cannot afford the time, the opportunity cost, or the cost of the product, he adds. “We designed smartOFFICE from its inception to be a complete business process — including CRM, proposals and change orders, purchasing, invoicing, eCommerce, client gateway, inventory, project management, drawings and installation documentation, work orders, service orders, time tracking, job costing, WIP, and reporting.”
Onboarding with most software takes months, according to Coffin. “Some integrators purchase expensive software and then are too intimidated with all the time and work they need to invest to get it up and running,” he says. “Simply Reliable has cracked the code on the onboarding process. We provide a 30-day free trial. Initially, an automated process gets the trial ready with things such as selecting a proposal template, both digital and pdf, uploading a logo, and setting tax and labor rates. This takes less than five minutes. Then, the trial subscriber selects the brands they want and, instantly, not only are the products loaded in their database, but the custom quickSPECS are also loaded, which provides the ability to create sophisticated proposals quickly. And the last step is the trial subscriber’s choice.
“Feeling lucky? Jump in and start playing with the software,” he suggests. “Self-taught? Click on the YouTube link and view hundreds of training videos on virtually every feature. Integrators, even those without a ton of time on their hands, can schedule a one-hour L2 Onboarding Session where a Simply Reliable customer success rep will work with the integrator to build a proposal, turn it into a job, create the invoice, order the products, create the work order and schedule the work, download the app, and utilize it for in-field technicians. Basically, we cover the entire business process in less than an hour. Add that up. Enterprise software, configured, loaded with smartDATA, and the subscriber is 90 percent trained. They are ready to use the software in their business right then and there.”
Software selection should always be a proactive, planned, and intentional process, D-Tools’ Stearns explains, “which means integrators should establish their ideal software product requirements, a budget, a timeline, and an evaluation process, as well as a task force to ensure effective product evaluation, integration, and deployment.
“To help ensure integrators are successful with our platform, D-Tools offers a multi-channel pathway to initial learning and mastery of its software that includes online training, on-site training, regional trainings, webinars, and eLearning programs. There are webinars, blogs, videos, and a knowledge base — just about everything anyone would need to harness the power of D-Tools.”
Don’t overlook the importance of searching for a user-friendly UI so your team can learn the software quickly and easily, ProjX360’s Greenwald says. “When looking for software, you should be looking for a user-friendly UI so your team can learn the software quickly and easily. Also make sure the software is built in the latest platform so, as technology changes, the software can easily change with it and doesn’t have to be completely redesigned and learned by your team. ProjX360 is built in the latest responsive design platform with a easy-to-use UI, and our pricing includes unlimited training and support.”
Before you decide, do this, iPoint’s Good advises: “The first step for integrators is to document their process. A good software platform will support that process and offer the most flexibility. Several platforms out there provide one or two aspects, but not many that cover every aspect of a project. A good software product also will have good workflow, so you know as soon there is a problem. And be sure to see a platform’s start to finish to access what’s being offered.”