Trying to decide which software package is the right one for you can be tricky, especially given the many options available in the US market. OPI spoke to three OP dealers about the technology solutions they chose – and why.

Established in 1959, BCOS Office Technologies was originally a business products retailer selling and servicing the early generation of office machines, such as typewriters, adding machines and calculators. As the needs of the office transformed, the company adapted to focus on providing customers with document imaging solutions and service support for connected, networked office equipment products.

As the business continued to grow, it reached a point where the owners realised they would need to make drastic changes to its internal processes in order to keep customers happy. Hershel Haskins, VP of Operations at BCOS, recalls why he made the decision to adopt ECi Software Solutions’ technology package.

As VP of Operations, it fell within my area of responsibility to take the lead on this initiative. I began by looking closer at our day-to-day processes and noticed that client requests and sales demands were taking precedence over all other processes and were treated on a first come, first served basis. On top of this, all tasks were highly manual, requiring us to hire more and more people to get everything done. We needed three full-time dispatchers to track and input every service call manually, spending more than two weeks every month contacting customers to get meter readings. Internally, it required four full-time workers to take care of the billing and general accounting functions, dispatch and customer care.

After conducting some research, I determined that an ERP solution would be the best option for BCOS’s workflow challenges. We ultimately landed on e-automate, ECi Software Solutions’ business management solution for service-centric companies in the office equipment industry. While we had little software experience, ECi’s commitment to small business and industry-specific solutions gave us the confidence we needed to move the implementation forward. We began working with ECi’s support team in 2002 to move our manual processes to the new program.

Since implementing this more than 17 years ago, we have increased business by 400%, cut manual labour requirements by 50% and now only need three people to handle all the general accounting, inventory control and dispatch activities. The service contracts process, which consumed a huge amount of time before, is now entirely automated. As long as the contract routine is satisfied with the meter reading, invoices are created daily and sent out via email, saving valuable time that would otherwise be spent stuffing envelopes.

E-automate also readily integrates with our sales management software so that data is immediately shared with our business management system as prospects are added to the sales pipeline.

E-automate has further given us the ability to integrate our processes with those of our vendor partners, many of which use print services management software to remotely monitor the status of their on-site imaging devices. One that’s widely used is FMAudit, a package providing critical data. It, for example, measures the amount of toner left in a machine and predicts how quickly it will empty based on historical usage patterns.

After ECi acquired FMAudit in 2011, we were able to leverage that solution in concert with e-automate to determine when a toner resupply is needed. A re-order alert from FMAudit will automatically generate an e-automate supply quote detailing the correct toner cartridge, device location and customer contact information to complete the resupply process. This has made interaction with our vendors and customers much easier and more efficient for all parties.

Most recently, we have explored some of e-automate’s add-on product offerings – such as e-Info. This web portal lets our customers manage their equipment online – ordering supplies, initiating service requests, monitoring account information and inputting meter readings.

In summary, the productivity gains e-automate has delivered for BCOS have played a critical role in our company’s growth, resulting in significant resource savings and allowing us to reinvest in the business to continue expanding.

Office City Express is a business supplies company based in Delaware, Ohio. From traditional OP through to furniture, jan/san, safety and breakroom products, it brands itself as ‘your complete source for office supplies’. Following several inventory problems with its previous ERP system provider and ever-increasing monthly fees, the company’s VP Andrew Ives realised it was time for a change of provider. SSI was the one he chose.

I had previous experience of a product showing up on our website that Office City Express didn’t actually sell and which should never have been there. To avoid this type of thing happening again it was important for us to have complete control over what was shown online. SSI offered an attractive solution that would give us this autonomy and this was a significant factor influencing our decision.

Switching providers is always a big decision, but I know I made the right choice because my customers love the new website. SSI’s software runs the entire operation at Office City Express. It does everything from accounting – accounts receivable and payable – to purchasing, but it was the everyday website experience that truly won the day. The conversion was relatively painless too as the developer was familiar with the old system and knew how to bring us on board quickly and easily.

SSI put us in touch with a single contact person who handled the entire switching process and conducted all the training, making sure that everyone was fully up to speed before we went live. Crucially, they were physically on site when the system went live, something I would highly recommend to anyone looking to switch providers. Whatever system a dealer selects, there are inevitably going to be issues at conversion, so having an expert in-house is always a real bonus.

SSI uses a web-based system which has streamlined many operations, purchasing in particular. It offers a tool called Automated Quick Buy where you can see all of your data and all your orders in one place. The purchasing routine is completely automatic and the tool reviews all orders and pulls out any that fall under the wholesaler’s minimum quantity and would incur a charge. These are then accumulated into a single purchase order to avoid additional costs which can otherwise add up. 

Investing in technology has been essential for our dealership. I’m always on the lookout for some digital way to differentiate our business from big box and online competitors and SSI helps in this regard. For example, it shares data with a company called Automark, which offers an online ordering application that identifies abandoned shopping carts and then attempts to persuade the customer to complete the order. SSI suggested this application to us and it’s proved really useful. In instances such as this, the solutions provider acts more like a business partner than a vendor and it is always on lookout for other ways to make sure we are successful.

Arkansas Office Products operates out of Jacksonville, a suburb of Little Rock in Arkansas. Over time, its product lines have expanded and now include a broad selection of over 32,000 SKUs, including office furniture, breakroom and jan/san supplies. The company has recently moved into promotional products, enhancing its service with new laser engraving equipment that’s used to customise items such as name plates, signs, plaques, trophies and gifts.

President Steven Pawloski realised some time ago that his business needed to expand and generate online sales, and went looking for a software solution which would make that possible.

We had to have a web presence and we picked GOPD. Right from the start it felt like we’d made the correct choice. The software provider got us set up and walked us through everything, but we didn’t go live until the experts felt our dealership was ready. They held our hand all the way through and haven’t let go yet – when needed help is always just a phone call away.

What impressed us most about the GOPD solution is its ability to treat customers individually. They could be shown different pricing, variable promotions and perhaps even a discount coupon, based on their individual log-in. What one buyer sees when making a purchase wouldn’t necessarily be the same offer or image the next visitor sees, even when looking at the same product.

The web store that GOPD created for us compares strongly against the sites put up by our big box competitors. Many of those have a ‘cookie-cutter’ sameness about them, especially on the product pages. This is where our web offering stands out – it’s more individual, more colourful and just looks better than the others. The search facilities have been expanded recently, with functionality now much better than our wholesaler offered previously. This capability is vital to the success of any dealer web store as it needs to bring up the exact products the customer is looking for.

The ranking order those products appear in is also completely under our control. If you want your house brand of toner to come up first, you can do that. Or if your customer is an HP dealer, then the HP toner will be shown first.

The ease of making these sorts of changes for non-digital experts is one of the standout features of the GOPD offering. If something isn’t working, or you just want to try something new it’s easy to do. Updating the website – by adding images or banners, replacing items, or moving copy and images around – can be easily accomplished without specific expertise – it only took me two or three days to get the hang of it.

We’re not asking every person in the world to visit our website, but we want to give our customers a great experience. If you don’t invest in technology, you are absolutely going to get left behind.

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