Seamless solution fits the bill

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This article appeared in the June, 2009 issue of CRN magazine.

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Seamless solution fits the bill

Finding the right software for your business is vital, and nobody appreciates this more than a reseller.

Being able to turn around quotes efficiently and accurately directly affects the bottom line. Sundata provides IT services to more than 150 corporate, government and school clients across Australia.

It needed something that would streamline its accounting systems and give it more time to focus on what it does best - helping its customers.

Matthew Parker, director of operations, Sundata, explained that the product had to manage the company's inventory, the service engineers and billing.

It also needed to manage the quoting and procurement, purchase orders and invoicing. Then it all needed to be able to interface into the accounting system and management reporting.

The previous solution Sundata had was a product that had been developed in-house, and although Sundata had the expertise to rewrite the existing product to incorporate these new functions, Parker decided to have a look in the market place and see if there were any products available off the shelf that could do the same job.

"Our in house-developed product was about 10 years old," Parker says.

 "We had written it and were utilising it and believed it was serving us well, but it was due to be refreshed. It didn't do rejevunation into the distributors' databases so we weren't able to drag data down.

"Though we could have created that feature ourselves we went back to the market instead of going through the time-consuming process of rewriting and integrating our product."

Previously Sundata had been using an in-house purchasing and invoicing system with a CRM attached to it and that had been interfaced into MYOB.

"We'd written it in Lotus Notes," says Parker, "and that wasn't the best environment to write a transactional-based application so there were issues with having to use the report writer, there were issues with the fact there was a manual interface with the Lotus Notes solution and MYOB.

"We didn't have a full stocktake inventory system  -- it was predominantly an invoice and purchasing system."

 Solutions happen

Having a successful accounting and inventory solution is vital and when it's time to install a new one it is imperative to consider all the services needed for the business, particularly when managing a large customer base. 

Parker recognised the need to put time aside and comprehensively research exactly what was available. He knew it wasn't a decision to be taken lightly - or rushed.

"When we first looked at the market we started with products that would enable us to sell and quote better and run our accounting systems more efficiently.

"We looked at the traditional products that did that and then we actually stumbled across the Happen solution.

"Their solution actually covered the service engineer's billing so it does both the service consulting billing, the inventory management, the quoting and invoicing, and it has a full accounting system integrated, which was  the sweet spot to bring all of those things together," Parker says.

"On top of that they had an interface to distributor's data feeds so we could bring the data feeds into our database and get pricing and stock holding.

"They have a web-based inquiry solution, the e-business site that allows us to do supply and extend the access for our customers into our ordering, stock-holding and service jobs."

Encouraged by the capabilities of the Jim2 Business Engine, Sundata started researching the product and found out it was already deployed at a number of reseller sites.

"I believe it was already installed at over 150 sites. We rang a number of those sites and had quite lengthy referral discussions with them to find out how they had used the system and what the issues had been with it."

Parker also made a point to inquire about the response from the software developer, to find out how Happen Business had resolved any issues that had come up and how helpful they had been in solving problems.

He liked that there was a local developer which meant they could put in requests for changes or support and the response time was fast.

"Certainly the references we got back said that the team at Happen  Business was quick to respond and also very willing to accommodate the requests that were coming from the userbase.

"We looked at the time frame it would take us to implement the product. With our own knowledge of SQL, we knew we could easily extract out of our own database and pump data into the SQL database, meaning we would have a quick transition from one product to the other."

With any major software installation there is a learning curve to go through so the team at Sundata went through a number of training sessions well before they started to implement the system.

Parker made sure he had all of the team on board and understanding the direction that the new product would take them.

"It was important everyone understood the benefits it was going to bring us to make sure that we had a single focus from our team to make that transition successfully," he says.

"We looked at the way the system runs and the way the system presents. The terminology is different to the way we had our own system. They talk about jobs as being the key vehicle in producing a quote and invoice; a job can be either services or product and that was a different concept to us.

"The system was also going to be integrated, so our staff would be able to look at accounting details and see credit holds and what issues the customer accounts might have, where they weren't able to see that information previously."

 The install

Sundata was keen to adopt the Jim2 Business Engine system with the fewest modifications possible. Parker explained that only around four changes were needed to tailor the system to their needs, and the changes were only very minor.

Staff from different areas of Sundata undertook two weeks of training split over six weeks and featured a combination of face to face and web-based training.

This provided the main opportunity for everyone to get an understanding of the product, to look at the demonstration system and come back with a more in-depth example of how things were going to change.

In addition to the training it took only a couple of days before and after the installation, but the whole  project was up and running within 24 hours.

Although they had some minor transitional issues with bringing some of the data across, it was all ironed out within the first month and they were soon able to see the benefits of the product.

 Distribution link-in

The sales and distribution features of the Jim2 Business Engine product include an on-screen automatic list featuring products based on availability and delivery times, serial and batch number tracking, unlimited selling prices available and most importantly accurate tracking of stock levels.

One of the key features of the Jim2 Business Engine product is its ability to link in with a distributor's database. The product currently holds stock information for Ingram Micro and enables Sundata to see what is available and how long it will take to receive the products.

Currently Ingram Micro is the main distributor providing its data through the Jim2 Business Engine but Happen Business has had talks with Express Data, Dicker Data and Manaccom.

Having the ability to see the products available from distribution outlets and their estimated time of delivery has improved the time it takes for Sundata to produce quotes for customers.

 Streamlined workflow

Parker has seen a great improvement in the flow of the business and is very impressed with the product.

"It's certainly given us time efficiency," he says.

"We've removed the manual integration step, we've reduced our time to quote from about 40 minutes down to about four minutes so we've got a huge improvement in the way we were doing our quoting.

"That's $40,000 or $50,000 quotes with multiple products that were taking some time to do previously," he explained. "Our accuracy of our costs of goods and our management of inventory is certainly world class now and our management reporting is now more up to date than it was previously."

With the in-house product Sundata was using previously it was experiencing a lag of several days before they were seeing transactions processed through.

Now that is happening on a minute by minute basis. There has also been increased productivity and overall the product cost Sundata considerably less than if it had developed the product  in-house, even though it has its own developers.

"It was certainly much less of an impact in doing the transition because we had very professional advice coming from the Jim2 Business Engine team and I think that's key.

Responding to our clients' requests and meeting their expectation on delivering a quote is paramount to us and this means our cycle time to respond to a request is very important.

This system allows us to respond to a request within minutes which we couldn't do that previously.

We had a dedicated project team that met weekly through the whole four-month cycle so we were on track to go live, and there was a representative from all parts of the company. It's a full time job to change the system."

Sundata was not a reseller of the product before it heard about it or installed it but it does have customers that would be in the market space for this sort of product.

"Would I recommend it to other people?," says Parker.

"Yes I certainly would. If it is something I think we could deploy, yes I think we could. It is suitable for anyone who is a reseller of a product or a service agent, so it would be good for someone like a photocopying company, or someone that looks at phone systems.

"Any combination of inventory and services would work best with this product," Parker says.

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