VAR Wins With Business Software
Abacus Business Computers, Inc. streamlined its operations by adopting in-house integrated business software. The installation process forced this point of sale VAR to bite the bullet and revamp company operations.
A Year Of Challenge And Change
"In July 1998, when we moved into our new office, things did not go as smoothly as planned," says Peterson. Although a moving company relocated the furniture and equipment, Peterson dealt with the electrical and phone service. "Problems with the electricity forced us to work for one week without air conditioning," explains Peterson. "At the same time, we were preparing a POS system roll out for two of our customers. It was a hectic time."
Abacus Business Computers eventually settled into its new location and soon was running at full speed. "While we had more space to work in, the move didn't solve our efficiency problems," says Peterson. "We were using seven different software packages, with very little interface among them." Other specific problems included the loss of loaned POS equipment and incomplete customer service histories. "We were not buying products, specifically parts, at the best possible prices. We ran out of some parts and overstocked on others," says Peterson. "Customer maintenance agreements were not up-to-date. I couldn't determine which ones were profitable."
Peterson had hoped to remedy these problems by purchasing integrated business software from OMD. The software includes serialized-inventory management and customer-service contact management. It also has applications specific to the help desk and salesforce automation. The software replaced the seven fragmented packages Abacus Business Computers had been using. It would also enable employees in different departments to share information using their PCs. For example, accounting employees and help-desk employees would have access to complete customer files. Shared information would include outstanding balances, service contract expiration dates and service history.
Peterson bought the software package a year before, but didn't install it. Why the wait? "I just didn't take the time to do it. But it got to the point where we could no longer function efficiently without it."
In his 17-year career at Abacus Business Computers, Peterson had coordinated hundreds of POS installations. Still, he wasn't prepared for what he would experience while installing his own company's software. "I thought we were automated, but it wasn't enough," says Peterson. "I had to stop selling POS systems, which is a large part of what I do, to concentrate on this installation. My salesforce had to take up the slack."
Realizing the installation was going to cost him time (he'd already invested $27,000 in the system), Peterson remained optimistic. A fan of author and lecturer Zig Ziglar, Peterson followed Ziglar's advice. "I filled my mind with positive things to create positive results," says Peterson.
Since failure was not an option, Peterson spent more than 500 hours preparing for the installation. "Every aspect of my business was under a microscope," he adds. To fully understand where problems with inefficiency were occurring, Peterson literally sat next to every one of his 30 employees and learned each job. "It was shocking, what I found out," he says. "One of the biggest surprises was learning just how outdated our systems were. Here I am selling the most up-to-date POS systems to my customers and using outdated software in my business. Money was leaking out of my company. I fired my purchasing agent after discovering too many errors." Peterson also discovered that his employees weren't as happy as he thought they were. "I lost two great employees simply because they were burned out," admits Peterson.
Peterson and his wife worked through Thanksgiving and Christmas to finalize the software installation. "The holidays were a blur. We brought our 6-year-old son with us to the office on Thanksgiving so we could work," says Peterson. The system finally went live January 4, 1999.
You Can't Sell Chevys And Drive A Ford
"We have realized significant savings," says Peterson of the new installation, although he declines to specify a dollar amount. "But, beyond that, I've taken what I've learned and used it when dealing with my customers. I can honestly say to them, ‘I know what you are going through,' when it comes to the installation process. I'm also more aware of which customers are truly interested in automation and which ones only want a POS system." He concentrates on attracting hospitality customers who want to automate their entire business, including the back office.
Freeing Up Time To Explore New Markets
Peterson now has the time to explore new markets, such as office automation. "This includes installing local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs) for office buildings. I have the in-house talent and the technology to move into the office-automation market. It is a natural fit for us. Moving into a new market is especially important as POS hardware becomes more of a commodity." Peterson is also adopting bar-coding and electronic ordering applications. Peterson's long-term goal is to operate Abacus Business Computers in a more hands-off manner. He'd like to spend more time with his family and more time at the Florida beaches (he loves to surf). The addition of the OMD software has moved him closer to those goals. "With the same number of employees, we are able to handle twice the number of customers as we did last year," says Peterson. For Peterson and Abacus Business Computers, a watershed year has turned into a flood of opportunities.