As the systems integration market matures, business owners should be looking for new ways to remain competitive and present an air of professionalism. Paul Skelton looks at the latest software designed specifically with technologists in mind.
How many of you use PowerPoint to produce client proposals? And how many of you use Excel for project management or accounting?
If you’re asking a potential client for tens of thousands of dollars, do you really think it appropriate to do so with a document ‘designed’ in the program that made WordArt famous? You might as well do the whole thing in Comic Sans as if it were an invite to a young girl’s birthday party.
Software has never really been a ‘sexy’ industry, but it’s high time that integrators start to pay attention to the raft of products entering the market that for very little outlay, could lead to new opportunities as well as present your company in a more professional light.
You could be forgiven for thinking that, aside from D-Tools, there’s not really any CI-specific software available in Australia or New Zealand – it’s really the only one we hear about. But that’s about to change.
At the 2015 CEDIA Expo in Dallas, half a dozen companies launched new software solutions to market, all built specifically for this industry. And, interestingly, most have been picked up by Wavetrain Distribution, which now represents Ihiji, SupplyStream, ProjX360, SpringDeck and Bluebeam.
“For such a high tech industry, it’s amazing how far behind we are in some of the technologies we use to do business,” SupplyStream vice president of dealer services Josh Willits says.
“But this flux in software is a win/win for the industry.”
SupplyStream, which boasts a database of 600,000 SKUs that is updated daily, was the brainchild of Chicago integrator Kirk Chisholm.
“Kirk built custom software for his integration company, to manage every aspect of his business. He spent quite a bit of money building this software and was so happy with the result that he sold his integration company to one of his employees and focused solely on his software.
“Early on, Kirk realised that every integrator was doing the same things to keep their product information, pricing and availability up to date, across all their suppliers. This is a big pain point for dealers across the industry.
“So he threw out the software he was working on and built a system to aggregate product data from across the industry.”
SupplyStream pulls in product data from manufacturers and distributors into one database. The company employs a team that then curates that data – they clean it, remove duplicates and present it in a web-based catalogue for dealers to access.
“What they end up with is a single portal where they can find all the products that they have access to from wholesale suppliers. And when you have a catalogue that is kept up to date for you, it becomes easier to create and send proposals to clients as well as place orders,” Josh says.
“Having the ability to do all of this from one place will save time and a lot of headaches.
“We offer dealers a consistent buying experience, no matter how their supplier is set up. They also get feedback on when the order is received and actioned. SupplyStream also integrates with QuickBooks online, so dealers can send purchase orders straight into their accounting software.”
Ihiji, which is best known for its Invision remote technology management platform, has turned its attention to helping integrators to secure recurring monthly revenue. The Ihiji ServiceManager SaaS tool provides cloud-based software that gives integrators everything they need for developing a recurring monthly revenue service plan, from contact and service-plan management to billing and technical support tracking, to centralised project documentation.
“We knew that our dealers were actively using our remote tools to improve support of their clients and to reduce truck rolls, but there were very few who were actually charging a monthly fee to recoup their costs,” Ihiji director of marketing Steve Muccini explains.
“We were perplexed as to why they were delivering such a great service to clients for free, as there is significant value in improving network and device uptime for clients and typically no real reticence in paying for it.
“It turns out, everything else required to setup and manage services inside their traditional project-based integration business was holding them back. When we dug deeper, about 80% of our dealers said that they wanted or needed to set up a recurring monthly revenue service but all had justifiable reasons that prevented their progress.”
Steve says the company’s objective was to develop a comprehensive service operations centre (SOC) for any custom integrator or service provider to help them remove the operational challenges that were holding them back from running a profitable business.
“As Ihiji strives to become the de-facto SOC for technology integrators, we continue to develop and add new business-critical features. One of these new features will let dealers set up recurring billing for their clients through a credit card maintained on file. This is something that will help save significant time in invoicing and will help to make certain recurring monthly revenue invoices are actually being sent and money collected.”
ProjX360 founder and chief executive Doug Greenwald agrees that CI-centric software is playing a significant role in the maturation of the industry.
“Integrators are getting organised, with everything in one spot,” he says.
“Instead of working over four or five applications, they can now run their business from one application.”
Doug has been in the CE and CI industries for over 20 years. He owns an integration company in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“One day, I was looking for project management software that was geared towards our industry, but I couldn’t really find anything,” he says.
“There’s a lot of project management software out there but I wanted something that was tailored to our industry, so I had my development team build something to suit my business. So happy were we with the result that we decided to take it to CEDIA Expo the reaction was overwhelming.”
With ProjX360 you can manage every aspect of your projects such as time tracking, scheduling, service work orders, service repair tickets, file management and custom reporting. You can also create and assign tasks to certain individuals.
In Q3 2016, the software will also include proposal generation capabilities, allowing dealers to create purchase orders.
Developed by residential integrators in Oklahoma, SpringDeck aims to help manufacturers, dealers and salespeople sell and market their wares.
“As integrators, we were dealing with so many manufacturers. And we had to get information from them in so many different ways – websites, dealer portals, printed collateral, etc,” SpringDeck founder and chief executive Ryan Sullivan says.
“There are so many platforms being used to distribute marketing content that it isn’t a sustainable way of doing business.
“We developed a version of SpringDeck for ourselves and over the course of a year we decided to make the tool available en masse and create a business out of it.
“We launched at CEDIA Expo and now work with 65 manufacturers across 27 countries.”
PowerPoint and Excel be damned. It really is time to find the soft money.