SMALL TO MID-SIZED COMPANIES face special challenges when it comes to choosing the right information systems technology. As in the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears, many options on the market just don’t fit — sophisticated programs are too costly, and affordable packages are too limited. This month, six operations executives discuss their choices.
We built our own order entry system from scratch. Since we had computer programming backgrounds, we found it easier to do it ourselves. We built the system, which is written in VisualFoxPro, during the past ten years, and we keep on modifying it. Doing it ourselves has allowed us the flexibility to make it just the way we want it, as opposed to trying to fit ourselves into other programs that are less flexible or expensive to customize. It costs about $30,000 to $40,000 a year to develop and maintain the system as well as our Web site, because we’re constantly tweaking and adding features.
We also were looking to provide better customer service and to reduce the burdens on CSRs. We wanted the flexibility to do this the way we conduct our business. We are a vertically integrated business-to-business provider of products including warehouse signage, labels, and label holders. For instance, most of the programs out there are consumer-oriented, and we wanted to store multiple contacts at a location.
We also customize the system to reduce the amount of time spent on tasks. For example, we try to make it easier for customer service reps to collect information without jumping from screen to screen. We use automatic confirmations for order entry and shipments. Each order prints out a specific laser form with a specific purpose, so we’re not duplicating paperwork.
The great thing about doing it ourselves is that if something breaks, we don’t have to wait for someone to fix it.
Jim Covert, President
Order Motion is our primary order processing and fulfillment system. We use Order Motion’s software to process about 250 SKUs, including books, videos, and DVDs, for our company, which has under $1 million in annual sales. We decided to get new software because the publishing industry invoicing system we used prior to Order Motion was unstable and limited. It often forced us to rekey shipping and Internet information.
Order Motion has improved the way we run our business. Customers receive notifications when an order is entered, shipped, or backordered — or if there is a problem, such as a declined credit card. Each shipment e-mail contains a link with either a UPS or USPS tracking number. This has tremendously reduced the amount of time our staff spends on the phone or in e-mail exchanges with customers answering routine questions. Another invaluable feature is the integration with other software such as UPS and Endicia for shipping, and our shopping cart. By importing and exporting data across programs, we’re able to eliminate the errors that used to occur in manually rekeying addresses, improving our package deliverability rates — and allowing us to free up a staff position. A downside of Order Motion is that there are a number of reports, for example, author royalty reports and accounts receivable, that are not as strong in Order Motion as in software that has a stronger accounting focus.
The installation cost about $250, which included quite a bit of customization to meet our specific business needs. The cost is on a per-order basis and we’re spending about $800 a month right now. Order Motion maintains all of the orders on its Web site, and upgrades and tech support are included.
The biggest paybacks are the time and money saved by no longer having to rekey orders, automating routine customer service interactions, and improved deliverability rates. Not to mention the peace of mind of being able to pick up the phone and talk to someone in tech support when something goes awry — it’s like having our own IT department.
Cynthia Kim, Co-owner
Our point-of-sale system is called Mail Order Manager (MOM) by Dydacomp. We use MOM for data entry, invoicing, accounts receivable, and credit card authorization. This system cost $8,000-$10,000, which was in our price range, since our sales are $800,000-$1 million a year, with 36 SKUS.
We decided to change our software because the system that we had before was in a DOS format and wasn’t being updated, and we had to retype many orders. We looked for a new system for a long time — seven years. Point-of-sale software can go way up to $250,000, and we couldn’t find anything else we liked in our price range. We had to ask ourselves, is it worth $8,000 to do this? Finally, we couldn’t keep up with the number of invoices we had. Now, MOM exports/imports data into UPS WorldShip and downloads orders directly from the Web site — that’s 150 orders a day that we don’t have to retype during our busy season, which allowed us to eliminate two part-time positions.
Now it’s simple to pull up any type of reporting query. My only complaint is that if we have multiple orders to different names at the same address, we have to retype the information for each order.
Glen Whaley, CFO
Grand Junction, CO
We use a product called Mail Order Software Plus from Datamann. We chose Datamann’s original platform back in 1983. We did some in-house customization and also some customization through that vendor to meet our specific needs.
We use Datamann for all of our back-end core business processing, including warehouse management; stock receiving; pick, pack, and ship; and inventory control on the purchasing side. It’s used for order entry and order processing — producing the pick tickets. We’ve adapted the receiving process to do bar code receiving. We also use the system to transfer product for stocking and restocking purposes, and we use manual pick documents. On the packing side, we take the package confirmation using a bar code scanner, which has reduced our picking errors substantially.
Also, 25% of our business is done through the Web. Since we were manually rekeying orders, in 2000 we turned to Multimedia Live to host our Web site, which we interface with Datamann through some in-house programming. We use an automated batch process to keep the flow of information going back and forth between the Web site and Datamann. On any given day, we might have as many as 800-1,000 orders, and one clerk can handle that in three to four hours — a substantial time savings.
Gary Bell, VP, Information Systems
Touch of Class
We have used Ecometry as an order processing system since 1998. We chose Ecometry because it was reliable, cost-effective, and scalable — it was handling companies far bigger than we were. Ecometry allows us to do a more effective job of capturing source codes and information and to easily manage mailings. Since Ecometry is totally integrated, it takes the order, automates credit card processing, and handles backorders. We can record information so that we can report on service calls. The software allows us to organize orders in the most efficient way for our warehouse. For instance, it prints separate labels for ship-alone orders.
We are now looking for a forecasting and inventory control package. When we were smaller and had a single warehouse, business was easier to predict. Now that our Web sales have exploded, our latest catalog was 232 pages, we have a dealer division, two warehouse outlets, and we’re stocking 12,000 products in a couple of warehouses. We’ve looked at Forecast 21 and are looking to see if there are other packages that work with multiple warehouses.
Glen Holt, VP, Marketing
We use Ecometry, which is a wonderful order entry system. It’s user-friendly and rich in the ability to take and to fill orders. It provides the ability to take orders online, process credit cards, manage product, and track inventory positions for individual products. The system also allows you to do upsells and cross-sells through the order management screens. You are able to process directly to your warehouse in a timely fashion to be able to maintain and move through the order sequence from ordering to shipping. There are barometers that really give you a full indication of what’s going on with your business — you can track your order flow and call flow, or set up offers. We went with the Ecometry package that allows us to take online orders and that enabled us to have a strong back end. When other e-commerce companies started out five years ago, they were wonderful up front, but they weren’t great on the back end. I think the reporting always needs to be improved, but it’s enough to build upon as your company grows and informational needs change.
Hank Rosen, COO