For an overview of technology trends, Arbor Age recently spoke with two of the premier providers of business management solutions for the Green Industry.
Arbor Age: What is the latest news about your company?
Donna Garner, Tree Management Systems, Inc. [ArborGold]: Tree Management Systems, Inc., developers of ArborGold software, released a new Cloud-based version. With the Cloud, users can access their data from any device with an Internet connection — including Mac computers and tablets. The Cloud version works seamlessly with the iPad app developed for mobile estimator. Crews can also access their work orders from any smart phone, customers can access proposals online too, to create a totally paperless system.
Diana Cardillo, Creative Automation Solutions, Inc. [ArborSoftWorx]: Since 1983, Creative Automation Solutions, Inc. (CAS) has been serving the technology needs of its clients — from small businesses to the federal government. CAS has been serving the Green industry since 1991 with its suite of software built for the Green Industry.
The ArborSoftWorx Commercial Business Management product continues to be a leader in professional Business and Customer Relationship Management solutions. Recent product releases have expanded offerings to include a debt management solution providing EFT (electronic payment) from within ArborSoftWorx; a web-based Customer Portal for clients to access their records online; and a document management system supporting any digital content file associated with customer records. Since 2008, we have offered “real-time” solutions for remote access to ArborSoftWorx, and continue to enhance our SaaS (Software as a Service) and Cloud-based solutions, offering “anytime, anywhere” access to secure servers using Windows laptops and tablets, MAC iOS devices such as MacBook and iPad, NetBooks, and other devices.
The ArborSoftWorx Green Asset Inventory Management (GAIM) product has seen significant growth. It is a robust inventory asset management system leveraging on our commercial offering with GPS and GIS on an affordable platform. Municipal, consulting and commercial arborists use this software with ease to perform street tree and property inventories for efficient management for small townships, communities, parks, schools, golf courses and HOAs. The GIS component has a small footprint and an affordable price. It is capable of utilizing ESRI ARCView, Google and Bing Maps, MapInfo, AutoCAD and other file formats.
Although GAIM is a separate product offering, many of the same inventory data capture capabilities including GPS and GIS are available in ArborSoftWorx Commercial Business Management.
AA: What are the latest business management system technology trends in the tree care industry?
Garner: Mobile access, on the go, more and more users wanting access to information from tablets and smart phones.
Cardillo: Mobility is a key factor in keeping up with demand for instant answers and instant client communications. The ArborSoftWorx suite of software is offered as a stand-alone or networked installed product on Windows, Linux, and MAC iOS systems. Also offered in the Cloud on cost-effective hosted servers for secure anytime, anywhere access from practically any device for management, office staff, sales, and crews.
The ease of incorporating digital content is important. For many years, ArborSoftWorx has provided the ability to incorporate digital images, photographs, maps, drawings and property sketches. ArborSoftWorx users can connect any digital content file with customer records meeting the demand to integrate: RFPs, spreadsheets, word documents, Resistographs, GIS plots, Google and Bing based maps, simple sketches and sophisticated layered CAD style drawings.
Ease of receiving client payments is critical. Most companies today process credit card transactions. ArborSoftWorx offers a secure e-pay module to accept credit card payments from within the application and a secure Web-based Client Payment Portal for their clients to view their invoices and make payments any time — eliminating receivables and increasing cash flow. This solution offers fixed amount recurring payment processing, does not require a terminal and offers secure access, and is 100-percent PCI compliant (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard).
AA: What impact can a business management system make on a tree care company’s bottom line?
Garner: Give companies a systematic way of managing data so that nothing slips through the cracks, including phone messages, appointments, making sure that services are scheduled on time, and help with marketing — to existing customers and to help generate repeat income.
Cardillo: In a few words, the wrong one can ruin it.
The right solution will help your business run more smoothly, increase productivity, improve client communications, provide faster turnaround to your clients, improve communications with crews, increase closure rates and volume of work, and help you build your business beyond just generating and tracking data. More importantly, the right solution will be scalable and grow with you and your changing needs.
You don’t invest in new technology simply because someone says it’s good for business. You don’t invest in new technology because it looks like a really cool gadget. You have to understand what you need and why you need it. The ArborSoftWorx industry specialists help you do just that. As IT engineers, we know computers and technology. We will work with you to add the right technology that makes sense for your business and budget, and guide you through improving your current processes, and procedures through the proper implementation of ArborSoftWorx.
From single-owner-operated businesses to large companies with multiple branch offices, capturing and maintaining quality data is important. This data can be analyzed and reported in a number of different ways — from a simple job costing report to complex sales commission calculations and profitability analysis. The information derived from capturing consistent, quality data is paramount in enabling ownership and management into making appropriate decisions and actions about their business.
AA: When shopping for a business management system, what are the key factors that tree care company owners need to consider?
Garner: How they want to access their information — through a Windows database or a web browser? Will they need access from mobile devices? How easy is the software to use, and does it come with a training program?
Cardillo: Deciding to implement or change a business management system can seem, at first, overwhelming. There are all sorts of applications in the marketplace, some specialized in the Green industry, others for any generic service company, and yet others that are wide open to interpretation. Each one touts the benefits of their offering versus the competition, and all seeming to have some plusses and minuses for your business. So where should you start? Well, unless you plan to build a system from scratch and spend tens of thousands of dollars, and countless hours while running a business, you may never find a 100-percent perfect fit.
Some key features you should look for in a business management system to make sure you get the best possible functionality for your business needs are:
Industry competencies/focus: Is the software geared toward your business? Does it address the required government agency reporting requirements for this industry such as DOD, OSHA, DEC or DOA? Does it answer the reporting requirements of other industry initiatives such as TCIA Accreditation? Is technology their core competency? Are there certified programmers, developers and IT specialists on staff? What are the core competencies of the organization that develops the software? Is software development what they do, or is it just a hobby to occupy the winter months?
ArborSoftWorx was built from the ground up by degreed engineers and IT professionals for this industry. The ArborSoftWorx team hold numerous technology certifications including those offered by Microsoft, Cisco, Intuit (QuickBooks) and others.
For decades we have been active members in both TCIA and ISA providing technology consultation and training to the industry. Members of our team have been guest speakers at numerous TCIA and ISA chapter conferences, and have published articles for the industry. The growth of the ArborSoftWorx suite of products stems from this involvement and the feedback of our user community.
Complete, robust solution: Is the software all inclusive? Does it have inclusive modules for marketing, sales, customer service and support, social channels and analytics? Is it a robust, complete integrated solution?
ArborSoftWorx is a complete solution and encompasses the basic functionalities every business needs, plus the advanced functionality of job costing, commission calculations, robust report designer, flexible calendars, e-mail support and more.
Cost, implementation and ease of use: How quickly can you get started? How easy and intuitive is it to use? Will your employees want and have the ability to use the system?
For small to medium businesses, speed of implementation and cost tends to be the focus. The latest technology gadget is flashy and attractive – often thought to be the “silver bullet.” We often find our clients have separate “point” solutions that have been stitched together such as QuickBooks, Microsoft Project, MS Word, a ton of spreadsheets and e-mail, Google Calendar, and so on. These solutions are cheap and quick, but integration between them is often glitchy, and critical data can get lost in the shuffle, and they have an annoying tendency to fall apart as companies grow — costing more money in the long-run.
ArborSoftWorx boasts the lowest cost of ownership and greatest return on investment due largely in part to the technology platforms used in developing the software.
A business management system is only as good as the data that goes into it. ArborSoftWorx is easy to understand and use. Our Team will consult with you and your staff on-site, in person, and in teleconferences. These sessions will ensure that the system usage and its benefits are maximized. You will never be told to “watch the video”.
ArborSoftWorx is intuitive and makes sense. Single click e-mail capability is essential in sending correspondence, delivering PDF proposals, invoices and other documents. ArborSoftWorx inherently generates PDF documents without the overhead of Adobe Acrobat, or other PDF generating software.
Mobility: Do they offer their solutions in a Cloud-based or secure hosted environment? How secure is that solution? Do they offer access control, encryption, internal security and disaster recovery?
With sales teams spending the majority of their time on the road, having instant access to pricing, business documents, and customer data in real time makes a lot of sense for most businesses.
ArborSoftWorx offers secure, hosted solutions in addition to traditional installations for in-office networks. Anytime anywhere access can also be made available in your own office environment with self hosting. The ArborSoftWorx database boasts a strong level of encryption to secure your data from prying eyes, and has built in access controls that the end-user can define and configure. Your data is your livelihood and should not be stored just anywhere by anyone without the assurances of implementation and technology security.
With regard to the mobile technology that is available in today’s world — everything is changing in moments or seconds. With every new day, we come to know about some new innovations in the field of technology, and our clients are confused about the choices, and are looking to us for sound advice. Simply put, there are two categories of technology: the ones for work (business class), and the ones for play (consumer class). The market is flooded with tablet and slate technologies available from any box store at incredibly low prices. These snazzy/snappy consumer products are actually designed as media devices — great for movies, books, video and Internet surfing. In other words, they are “technology toys” and gadgets. These gadgets are often productivity inhibitors not productivity enhancers. Sound business tools that are used to run and manage a business are considered business class, offer full O/S versions and productivity tools in addition to the media options, and do carry a higher price tag.
Product stability: Is the software stable? Will it work on my computer? Will I lose my settings or any of my data in an upgrade?
From our first version of the product to today, we are proud to report that not one of our customers has suffered from data loss during an upgrade or update. This is attributed to the selection of stable technology tools by our engineers. The back-end engine to ArborSoftWorx is based on Sybase, an industry-leading database solution that offers a competitively low cost of ownership and zero maintenance in comparison other Microsoft Access- or SQL-based systems that cost thousands of dollars to purchase, and thousands more to maintain, and, by design cause disruptions in service, and lost data during updates and migrations.
ArborSoftWorx offers the Power and Flexibility to handle data-processing needs from simple estimates to complex long-term landscape contracts; ranging from single user offices to multi-branch offices.
Product stability and reliability stems from the fact that the software is built by seasoned software engineers, using state-of the-art tools — not college-level techniques.
ArborSoftWorx is compatible with and not dependant upon other popular third-party software such as word processors, e-mail clients, spreadsheet programs, and graphics programs to name a few.
Customer retention: It is one thing to have a short list of current, happy customers — but it is something else entirely to maintain the customer relationship for years to come. The majority of our ArborSoftWorx clients continue on with us for years — even decades. Our ArborSoftWorx clients are located throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Dubai UAE.