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Following up on a survey that we conducted for February 2013 OPE, we recently completed a survey with the following companies and individuals regarding the latest technology and trends in business management software systems and website services in the OPE industry.

Business Management Software System & Website Services survey

Following up on a survey that we conducted for February 2013 OPE, we recently completed a survey with the following companies and individuals regarding the latest technology and trends in business management software systems and website services in the OPE industry. Their written responses, in the order they were received June 11-25, 2014, are as follows:


 


 


 




JIM PHELAN
VICE PRESIDENT & CFO
C-SYSTEMS SOFTWARE, INC.
(ARLINGTON, TEXAS)


1) What is the latest OPE industry-related news about your company?


Jim Phelan: This has been a busy year for OPE industry-related news for c-Systems Software. We made numerous improvements to our business management systems and have added many unique features to help our outdoor power equipment dealers operate more efficiently and profitably.


Foremost news from c-Systems Software, Inc. is our continued development of automated warranty claims transmission to many of the outdoor power equipment industry’s most prominent vendors. Last year, c-Systems’ Infinity business management system became the first and is still the only business system to provide this needed feature to dealers that carry the Ariens and Gravely brands. This year, we are extremely proud to announce that we have extended warranty claims transmission capabilities to dealers that sell Echo, Exmark, Kubota, Stihl and Toro. This new feature eliminates the tedious chore of manually keying and submitting warranty claims. Upon implementation of our warranty claims automation, dealers are reporting fewer warranty claim errors, a reduction in missed claims submissions, and faster payment of claims. What once took many man hours, and possibly the efforts of several people, now takes minimal time from dealership personnel.


c-Systems’ Infinity business management system is also the only system that integrates vendor warranty flat-rate labor times. Dealers use these labor times for automated completion of warranty claims, but they also find that using these labor files for normal labor repairs provides easier and more professional repair order billing.


The next big news from c-Systems has to be our new mobile capabilities. Early this year, our I-Count, Inventory Count/Maintenance Application became available and soon we will have I-Service, repair order entry, I-Stock, stock check, and I-PO, purchase order receipt applications ready for dealer use. Our mobile applications are all cross-platform capable and available for both Android and Apple users.


2) What are the latest trends and technological advances when it comes to business management software systems for the OPE industry?


Jim Phelan: Business management software continues to evolve with each technological advance. As technology improves, OPE software trends or tendencies are always about adding more automation within dealer operations. In the past few years, many business management systems have started providing features like automated product registration transmission and electronic inventory lookup/stock check at the vendor or distributor level. Store kiosks for customer self-service or as an additional sales aid are now starting to pop up in more OPE dealerships. You will see a trend toward more “Marketing Automation” functions within business systems to help dealers attract and develop new customers, as well as maintaining their existing customer base. These marketing automation functions will include provisions to track vital customer buying trends so dealer management can develop better marketing strategies.


Mobile applications are the “hot” topic with most dealers. Dealers want mobile apps for their use, as well as apps they can provide for their customers’ use. A few OPE business management systems have already started providing some basic mobile applications in response to this demand, but this is an area that will see tremendous growth in the next few years. Being able to perform these tasks from the showroom floor will help strengthen the customer-dealer relationship. Cross-platform capabilities for Apple and Android devices will also provide multiple options to fit each dealer’s preference.


3) Why should OPE dealers invest in a business management software system, and what should be their key considerations when shopping for one?


Jim Phelan: There are numerous reasons why an OPE dealer should invest in a business management software system. Business management software (BMS) is a significant investment for any business, but one that, if implemented properly, will quickly pay for itself by providing a tremendous increase in efficiency and most importantly, increased dealership profitability.


A business management system is an important tool to grow a business. It provides dealers with simplified access to dealership information and reduces the amount of entries needed to be done by hand. A quality BMS supplies the tools needed to quickly pinpoint and solve dealership problems.


A business management system will help you:

Improve efficiency and productivity.
Get organized and get things done.
Achieve goals with better results.
Stop procrastination and reduce stress.
Increase profits.
Do the right things at the right time.

Investing in a BMS is an investment in your dealership and your employees. When considering the purchase of a business management system, make sure the provider has a reputable track record producing these systems. Check the financial stability of the BMS provider and find out how long they have been in business. Then, how well do they know the outdoor power equipment industry? And what about their personnel; do they have experience in the industry? When you purchase a business management system, you are buying more than just a product, it is a long-term relationship. Make sure the company is able to meet your specific needs, now and in the future.



GREG CARRADUS
DIRECTOR OF SALES
IDEAL COMPUTER SYSTEMS, INC.
(CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA)


1) What is the latest OPE industry-related news about your company?


Greg Carradus: We have continued to make significant strides on our industry-leading mobile app. Last fall, we launched the inventory functions, which provide OPE dealers with the ability to take inventory counts from their Apple or Android device and easily adjust and upload quantities into the Ideal system. In April, we added service functionality to the app, which allows dealers to take pictures and attach them to a work order, view all open work orders and the details of the service straight from their mobile device. In just the short amount of time it’s been available to our customers, they’ve already seen benefits in the amount of time they’ve been able to save and the service they are able to provide to their customer base. This is a continuation in a growing set of mobile capabilities Ideal is developing to help its dealers reduce errors, access important data away from their workstation, and improve overall efficiency.


2) What are the latest trends and technological advances when it comes to business management software systems for the OPE industry?


Greg Carradus:


Mobile Technology


The whole world is relying on mobile functionality, which carries over to our everyday operations in the OPE industry. I think we’ll continue to see trends in the mobile capabilities of business management systems so dealers can conduct their business from anywhere at any time.


B2B Communications


The OPE industry’s continued development of streamlined communication between dealer and vendor also continues to be a trend. We currently have over 75 dealer-to-manufacturer/supplier integrations with our system, and those numbers continue to grow.


3) Why should OPE dealers invest in a business management software system, and what should be their key considerations when shopping for one?


Greg Carradus:

The level of support provided from the software vendor.
The software vendor’s track record of performance in the OPE Industry.
The software’s ease of use.
The software’s ability to fit your OPE business and workflows.
The software vendor’s long-term product strategy for OPE.


ANNE SALEMO
PRESIDENT
CHARTER SOFTWARE INC.
(LITTLETON, COLO.)


1) What is the latest OPE industry-related news about your company?


Anne Salemo: Early last year, we officially announced the availability of ASPEN Lite, a streamlined and affordable version of our ASPEN business management system suitable for smaller, single-location enterprises like OPE dealers. ASPEN Lite has many of the same tools featured in our ASPEN system to manage parts, work orders, rentals, customers and sales, but it allows dealers to retain their existing bookkeeping software. Because many smaller dealers don’t manage their accounting in-house or prefer to use QuickBooks, we included integration with QuickBooks. Dealers can also opt to export their accounting data to use externally to other programs. There is no initial hardware investment for ASPEN Lite because it is hosted on Charter’s web servers, making it affordable for dealers who either don’t have the staff to manage a server or the budget to purchase one.


Like ASPEN, ASPEN Lite also interfaces with popular OPE suppliers’ online programs for parts ordering, parts price updates and product registrations, and OPE electronic parts catalogs, all of which save OPE dealers large amounts of time due to the number of manufacturer lines they carry.


Also in the last year, we added some product registration integration to ASPEN and ASPEN Lite for Toro, Exmark and Lawnboy dealers through EZ-Link, as well as PSP Product Registration integration which currently supports Stihl products. The integration allows dealers to register their customers’ purchases at the point of sale directly through the ASPEN business system, eliminating the need to register products manually through the suppliers’ portal.


2) What are the latest trends and technological advances when it comes to business management software systems for the OPE industry?


Anne Salemo: More dealers are seeking and utilizing mobile access to their business data and are encouraging employees’ use of mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones for business use. Dealers want mobile access to parts, equipment and customer information, so business system vendors are adding this and other functionality. Some examples include the ability to clock onto work orders and managing customer communications from mobile devices.


Many OPE dealers are finding that renting out equipment is a great way to boost revenue because of the continuous income it can generate when managed properly. Dealers don’t want to have to purchase and maintain a separate rental system, so they are looking to their business system for these tools. Financial utilization reporting, depreciation management, a configurable rental calendar, the ability to track lost sales, rent units with multiple durations, and bill recurring rentals are all very important features for dealers to have in order to serve their large-scale customers and manage the ROI of their fleet. Allowance for additional capacity is another important system feature that allows dealers to rent out units outside of their rental fleet, so they can actually use units out of their inventory if all their units are rented.


3) Why should OPE dealers invest in a business management software system, and what should be their key considerations when shopping for one?


Anne Salemo: Any equipment dealer who is trying to limp by relying on their current business system, or without using any system at all, is very likely losing money as a result. There is so much insight to be gained from using a BMS that is updated with the latest technology — and much to risk by not using one at all. Being able to determine each department’s contribution to the dealership’s overall margins, knowing what to stock by season, tracking and analyzing technician’s time, harnessing the power of customer management, and streamlining communication with suppliers are all critical to maintaining the health of a dealership in this competitive industry.


1. What are the system’s unique features? Ask what the vendor can deliver that their competitors cannot match. Does it have an integrated CRM system, integration with suppliers, and internal communications tools?


2. Vendor’s commitment to research and development. Ask the vendor about the frequency of their software updates and their plans for future functionality.


3. Ongoing costs value provided. Ask the vendor if there is an additional charge for enhancements, new releases, release training, etc.


4. Alignment with your industry and business processes. Find out if the software aligns with your business processes if you have special requirements. Do you have specific, unique processes/procedures, special reports, etc.?


5. Vendor’s industry reputation. Look for longevity, customer values, industry alliances and endorsements. Talk with them directly at a trade show; inquire about them when speaking with your suppliers, equipment dealer associations, Dealer 20 groups and other dealers you know.


6. Operating system, platform and technical specifications. Is the hardware platform widely and currently supported? Can the system be run over the Internet or is a server required? If you’re looking at an Internet-based solution, educate yourself on the three main platforms used: terminal server (“Thin Client”), browser-based applications, and Smart-Client.


7. Supplier integration. Look for integration with electronic parts catalogs and access to parts pricing. Manufacturer-specific integration is important for branded dealers and should meet the suppliers’ specifications for inventory ordering and financial reporting. Ideally, these transactions can be made from within the software, eliminating the need to log onto the supplier’s site or re-key data.


8. Accounting and payroll in the system. Look carefully at the BMS’ accounting system to see if it matches your methodology, and if it includes payroll integration. If you use QuickBooks and wish to continue to use it, find out if the system will work along with it.


9. Accessibility to your data and the configurability of the software. Do you have access to build your own reports or query your data based upon criteria you specify? What built-in reports does it include? Is there “drill-down” access? Is the system setup configurable? Can you set users’ permissions to access only the data you want them to?



JOY McCLANAHAN
SALES MANAGER
NIZEX, INC.
(MCDONOUGH, GA.)


1) What is the latest OPE industry-related news about your company?


Joy McClanahan: At nizeX, we’re constantly looking for new ways to make Lizzy, our business management software, better. While some people operate under the idea of, “If it’s not broken, why fix it?” we tend to see things a little differently. The best equipment manufacturers are always looking for innovation in their product line, and it’s that innovation that drives the OPE industry. Why shouldn’t the software you use to run your dealership be the same way? Our goal with Lizzy is to make the job of running your dealership easier than ever before. We want to save you time, reduce lost inventory, and help you be more productive. If we can make your day-to-day operations easier, you can get back to doing what you love — and be more profitable, too.


One of the biggest things we’ve been working on is an open-source program called merX that will allow dealers and vendors to send data electronically. Dealers spend a lot of their time placing orders, trying to update rebate information, and provide sales data to their vendors. merX eliminates that wasted time for dealers and also eliminates the considerable investment vendors face when creating their own electronic interface. There’s a host of benefits to using merX for dealers, including the ability to send purchase orders electronically with a single click, obtain rebate and holdback information for major units, send sales and warranty registration data to their vendors, as well as receive real-time inventory levels from their suppliers. Because merX is open-source, it’s free for anyone in the industry to use (vendors, business management software providers, and dealers), and we’re ready and willing to help anyone who’s ready to adopt it. We’re in talks with several large OEMs about implementing merX, which is very exciting. It’s a big step forward for the whole OPE industry!


2) What are the latest trends and technological advances when it comes to business management software systems for the OPE industry?


Joy McClanahan: Truthfully, I think the software industry isn’t bringing technological advances to the OPE industry as fast as they have in other industries, like powersports. There’s some necessity to that: OPE dealers can be more conservative about adopting new technology. They want to know that what they’re buying (and selling) has a tangible benefit — that it’s not just a flash-in-the-pan that will be outdated in a few months. However, dealers also rely on the expertise of their software providers to show them the optimal way to manage their businesses.


OPE dealers are great at running their dealerships. They know what to stock, how to treat their customers, and how to properly service equipment. But dealers that are looking for guidance on best business practices need their software company to be innovative and dynamic, and to understand the specific needs of their industry. When software providers partner with their dealer base, that’s when we can make real progress, because it’s organic growth — innovation driven by the industry itself.


We are seeing some technological advancements in the introduction of apps, where dealerships can access pieces of their business management software via specialized apps on their smartphone or tablet. These are especially useful for dealerships who provide mobile service work. In addition, as dealerships grow, they can utilize mobile devices to add additional terminals without having to add extra counter space. This can reduce wait time for customers by enabling employees to cash out an invoice from anywhere or create a repair order right by the customer’s unit. There are some dealers out there who are really seeing some substantial growth, but not really ready to do a large-scale renovation, and I think this is a great way to get additional mileage and revenue out of your existing space without a large investment. Software providers could go even further by being fully web-based, which would allow dealerships to access their entire software package from anywhere (rather than just a small portion), but there definitely isn’t widespread adoption of this technology yet.


As dealerships focus more on improving customer service and experiences for their client base, I think we’ll continue to see business management software providers focus even more on integrating mobile technology. Customers are conditioned now to expect quick, efficient service, and mobile apps and web-based business systems give dealers the ability to deliver and meet those expectations.


3) Why should OPE dealers invest in a business management software system, and what should be their key considerations when shopping for one?


Joy McClanahan: Without a BMS (business management system) in place, the dealership employee may not know what to charge the customer and the dealership may lose money on the sale because they can’t keep up with the constant cost updates from their vendors. They can’t find service history on a customer’s unit when they need it, or keep up with special orders. It takes a lot more effort to stay organized and on top of things when you’re trying to keep track via pen and paper or even spreadsheets.


With a good BMS, once you’re through with the initial setup, many of these issues can be eliminated, and employees save time. When you eliminate the hurdles an employee encounters in their efforts to do their job, the happier and more productive they’ll be. Plus, the faster an employee can get a customer’s invoice completed and out the door, the better the customer’s experience will be — and that customer will be more likely to not only return, but also tell others about their great experience with that dealership.


When shopping for a business management software system, dealers need to consider several things. One, what specifically do you need the system to handle? You need to understand what the software you’re considering is capable of. If you have an e-commerce site, you need to know whether that BMS provider understands the needs of your business, and if the software can easily import your orders and handle your shipping processes. If your dealership does rentals, you need to ask whether the software provider already has the ability to handle rental units and invoices. It’s crucial to make sure the BMS you choose is equipped to handle your business. If it isn’t, it’s not a good investment.


You also have to consider whether you’re truly ready for a change before you take the plunge. Are your employees on board? Is the entire dealership equipped with the hardware it needs (computers, scanners, etc.) to properly implement the new system? Are you truly able to commit to undergoing the proper training you’ll need to incorporate the software? If you purchase a system and never use it, or never learn to use many of the features, you’re just throwing your money away.

One of the biggest considerations is whether to go with a locally-hosted or a “cloud-hosted” system. Many OPE dealers are used to locally-based servers, where they are responsible for updates and backing up their data. However, cloud-hosted systems (where the software vendor maintains the server from a location outside the dealership) are becoming more common, and for good reason. With a cloud-hosted system, you are no longer responsible for maintaining the server and your data, and if anything should happen to your dealership, your data is safely secured off-site.


However, there can be a downside to going with a cloud-hosted system. If you choose this option, read your customer agreement thoroughly before you sign up. While there are vendors out there who guarantee that you will retain the right to your data, even if you cancel service (nizeX is one), there are others who may refuse to give you your data or charge you a large fee to obtain it. If the language is unclear, ask to get an agreement in writing in terms you can understand. You just can’t be too careful in preserving your right to your data (before you actually need it).


Finally, there’s a question of price. Ask the vendor you’re evaluating exactly what their software package includes. Some vendors charge additional fees for adding on different “modules” like accounting or inventory, and may also charge additional fees for you to update manufacturer’s price files. It’s also a good idea to find out: What up-front fees will you be charged, and what do those fees cover? Will you be locked into a contract, and if so, what are the terms? What training packages are offered, and what are the costs for each? Will you have to pay an additional fee for tech support? Choosing a business management software system is one of the biggest decisions a dealer can make, and when you know what to look for, you’re much more likely to find the software that truly fits your needs.




TONYA QUICK
PRESIDENT
PATHFINDER COMPUTER SYSTEMS, INC.
(BARBERTON, OHIO) 


1) What is the latest OPE industry-related news about your company?


Tonya Quick: More developments come fall.


2) What are the latest trends and technological advances when it comes to business management software systems for the OPE industry?


Tonya Quick: Having a software provider that is innovative and able to keep ahead of the technology and having the resources that are able to maintain that technology.


3) Why should OPE dealers invest in a business management software system, and what should be their key considerations when shopping for one?


Tonya Quick: A business management system allows the dealer to see what parts are fast moving, what their inventory status is at a glance, having their manufacturer pricing current and up-to-date so as to stay competitive. A key consideration is also the flow and ease of use of the software. If it is not easy to find what you want in a few clicks or access the information you want readily, then the software will not work for your business. Your employees must be able to use the software fluidly and efficiently on a daily basis.




CHANSE McGUIRE
BUSINESS SYSTEM CONSULTANT
BASIC SOFTWARE SYSTEMS
(TEXARKANA, TEXAS)


1) What is the latest OPE industry-related news about your company?


Chanse McGuire: With the recent launch of our amazing Data Mining and Custom Reporting Tool called ARCHWAY, dealer principles, owners, departmental managers, etc., not only have access to pre-defined reports, but also have the ability to customize their own personal reports and monitor them in real-time within a dashboard setting. Each dashboard has its own levels of security so that sensitive information is protected. This feature will allow key people in the dealership to see critical business information that affects daily decisions without the need to learn the entire business system to obtain it. Any area of the software may be reported on and drilled down into to find exactly the information needed and pull it all together in one report even across multiple modules. Reports, as well as color charts and graphs, may be created in multiple formats for presentations or exported to Excel and other external software. We have found this capability to be unique in the industry and one that many customers and dealer principles have requested. We are excited about what this technical tool brings to the dealer in today’s world of instant information. Continued development and new features are added to ARCHWAY daily to bring a creative and much needed tool for the OPE industry.


2) What are the latest trends and technological advances when it comes to business management software systems for the OPE industry?


Chanse McGuire: The ability to have real-time information from your business management software system is a driving factor in new technology. Comprehensive reporting…seeing at a glance the status of service jobs, tracking parts sales and service by customer or equipment serial number, technicians’ productivity, availability of parts, open quotes or invoices, parts on order, and knowing at all times where you are with profitability in specific areas (i.e. service, parts, sales, rentals).


Use of mobile technology is helping dealers with access to business management software system information no matter their location, making them much more knowledgeable when dealing with customers on the showroom floor, in outside display areas, or when they are away from the dealership altogether.


As dealerships grow and add locations, you have the ability to view, sell, or transfer parts and equipment between store locations. This is vital in helping them not miss out on sales and meet the customers’ needs.


3) Why should OPE dealers invest in a business management software system, and what should be their key considerations when shopping for one?


Chanse McGuire: OPE dealers should invest in a business management software system for many reasons. First and foremost, as smart as we are, we need help to keep up with a growing business. Many times, you don’t know what area of your business needs the most attention until you track it with a business management software system. The system can save you many hours and potentially lost revenue if used correctly. You will detect the losses and turn them into gains just by utilizing the time-saving capabilities of a business management software system.


Secondly, you must consider the needs of your customers and how you may best meet their needs through your business management software system. Your software solution should:


* Make the owner’s job easier, more cost effective, save valuable time, and give you a clear picture at all times of your profit margin and what is being done real time in each department.


* Provide all the tools that your employees need to do their jobs well in all areas (i.e. service, parts, equipment, sales, rentals and accounting).


* Provide tools for marketing.


* Communicate and manage relationships with manufacturers and vendors.


* Help you streamline daily activities and processes.


* Grow with you as you expand and add new services, new locations and users.


* Provide FREE access to continual training classes for existing and new customers, new employees and those just needing refresher classes.


* Provide technical support for questions when using software.


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