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Tips on evaluating technology options for your dealership
Scheduling home visits and installations, coordinating delivery routes, and organizing accounting information are critical for a water treatment dealer’s business. WQP Dealers of the Month continually have iterated the importance of software, mobile devices and cloud-based programs.
The software and services used, however, vary from dealer to dealer. Some have the capital to invest in software designed for water treatment dealers. Others rely on less expensive tools such as the Google suite and Quickbooks.
Determining the best route for your business starts with a critical evaluation of how your business functions, the way information flows through your system, and how you catalog and store your data. Once you know the ins and outs of your process, you will know which features you cannot live without.
Before picking your software, the best first step is an evaluation period that takes into account your entire business process. Andrew Kuneth, vice president of Prism Visual Software, said it is best to conduct this evaluation over two billing periods. Make lists of how things are done as you do them and describe what you like and do not like about your current processes. By extending the evaluation through two billing cycles, you will touch on virtually every scenario your processes handle. When times get busy, you may miss the small things; the second billing cycle can help catch them.
“Your self-examination period is actually longer than the demonstration period, because if you understand yourself at that point, when you go into demonstrations with three or four different software vendors, you can move through it pretty quickly,” Kuneth said.
This evaluation should not be limited to upper management, however. Employees—service technicians, salespeople and receptionists—work with these systems every day and may see sides to the processes that others do not. Kuneth said talking to employees can be an eye-opening experience in learning how your business functions, and you may end up finding a way to improve efficiency.
While software needs will differ from dealer to dealer, certain aspects of software are commonly mentioned by clients: mobility, security and longevity.
Many water treatment dealerships have moved toward systems that give delivery drivers and service technicians access to client information in the field with a mobile device.
Jeff Colasante, owner of Bennett & Cole Water Solutions in Connecticut, said he and his business partner James Bennett started their business using the Google suite of products to handle scheduling and logistics because their computers came equipped with Google tools and they both had Android mobile phones. Colasante said using Google Calendars and Gmail to set up home visits, delivery times and other meetings has been invaluable.
“I can look at my calendar or my accounting system, my customer account system, anywhere at any time—from my iPad, from my telephone, from my computer at home,” Colasante said. “I don’t have to tell the customer every time we’re talking, ‘I’ve got to go back to the office and check your account.’”
Because he can access his email and calendars from anywhere on any of his devices, the immediacy with which he can respond to clients and coworkers has saved him and his business a lot of time. For instance, he can schedule an installation for a later date during a home visit with a few simple taps.
The programs also have saved him money because Google’s products are free to use. The cost and reliability have given him little reason to pursue other software avenues, especially because switching software can be chaotic for business.
“Changing your software platform is probably the most traumatic event a company will go through. I’ve seen companies bankrupted through that, believe it or not,” Colasante said. “[Dealers] should look into new software when they absolutely, positively cannot get what they need to get done off their old software.”
Kuneth said a crucial aspect of mobile systems is learning the ins and outs of online and offline use. For systems that require an internet connection to function, one internet outage could be detrimental.
“If you’re dependent on the internet and you’re a water treatment salesperson or a tech working in the basement, [there are] two challenges: Page loads won’t happen, and every time you click something—like the internet—the page needs to refresh, which puts the [service] tech back at the top of the page,” Kuneth said.
Offline functionality also can be useful for field work, Kuneth added, as software like that from Prism Visual Software can include manuals for easy citing on a jobsite. Extending functions of the office to the field is a major draw for dealers, and critical to that desire is invoicing.
The days of filing paper invoices are moving into the rearview mirror for many dealers as they adopt computerized billing. Paperless billing and email receipts are becoming more common.
Colasante uses Quickbooks to handle invoices and client payment information. The security of Intuit’s servers is a benefit of working through Quickbooks. These servers have one of the most secure encryption algorithms, with 128-bit encryption, which is considered logically unbreakable.
“We use the online edition, which allows us to not only access our higher accounting system from any computer, but also from our phones. When we’re out in the field we can look up previous jobs we did for customers as well as payments,” Colasante said. “And everything is in the cloud so we don’t have to back up our files.”
By leaning on the size and redundancies of a large corporation such as Intuit, Colasante said he trusts client information is safe, and his customers feel the same.
Kuneth said the key to storing account information—namely credit and debit card numbers—is ensuring the information stored locally is limited. Often the only stored information is the last four digits of the card on file to use as a reference. Any transactions made with credit cards, he said, must follow Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards. Working through outside companies such as Intuit can ensure dealers remain compliant with this standard, as those larger companies have the resources to adhere to it and store information securely.
If a software solution seems like it will meet your needs, pay attention to its history. Buying software that is in its infancy, Kuneth said, may not be in your business’ best interest. Should the company providing that software go under or stop supporting the version your dealership uses, you will have to start the entire process over. It is best to look for software that has a history of regular use and support.
“I don’t think you should ever buy brand new, and you should never buy at the end of an era,” Kuneth said. “Brand new means they don’t have industry experience. They don’t know water treatment. [On the other side,] if you have a software that’s at the end of an era, you could be investing now and three or five years from now.”
Colasante said this issue was a critical factor in his decision to use Google products. Because the company is so large and is used by major businesses in the U.S. for email and data services, its infrastructure is reliable. If Google goes down, he said, there are bigger issues at play than his business.