Chart of Software Suppliers
When selecting a records-management program for your business, there are several things to consider. First and foremost, you must select a program designed to fulfill the needs of your record center today and into the future. Too many new users getting into the business think basics, barcodes and scanners, only to have their first customers ask for features such as Internet access, custom reports and automated backups. They then face the inevitable upgrading to a more robust and feature-rich package. This article will tell you what to look for in a records-storage software package to make the right decision the first time.
On the most fundamental level, every system is built around a set of business rules. These rules dictate how the system operates and protects the user from making any grave errors that can ultimately compromise system integrity. For example, if a container does not have a barcode or has a duplicate barcode, the system will notify you and give you an error or exception. This reflects the business rule that every item that enters the system must have a barcode, and no two barcodes can be duplicated.
The better the package, the more sophisticated the business rules. Some systems can require the user to dictate what boxes are to be picked up and when. If he picks up the wrong container, he is notified. Again, this protects the records center from making errors. When shopping for software, ask the vendor to describe the benefits of its set of business rules. If the company tells you it doesn't have business rules for the sake of remaining "flexible," move on--you are leaving yourself open for critical mistakes.
This is records storage 101. Introduced in the mid '80s, barcoding is the glue to any software package. Every file, tape or box should have the ability to be barcoded. The same goes for X-rays, CDs and so on. The barcode tells the software where an item is at any point in time. Equally important, it eliminates the element of human error, as everything is captured from a portable scanning device.
In the past, when a user needed to capture 40 box numbers on a pallet, he first had to write down the numbers, key them into the software, then doublecheck for errors. Now this can be completed in minutes with 100 percent accuracy through a laser scanner. Laser scanners have also improved in quality, making them more durable and the technology more affordable. Every major software vendor of any value should contain barcoding as a basic element.
Ease of Use
Each area of the software should be consistent. If you go from one item such as containers and move to locations, the screens should follow the same format. This type of development makes it easy for the user to learn the software, as it follows a logical pattern. To view the ease-of-use of a package, go from screen to screen and notice the flow. Remember the level of the employee working the software in customer service--it should not require a technical degree.
This is a buzz word these days. All of your competitors will be out there touting Internet access. You need to have it--if not for today, certainly for the future. It is one of those glamorous items on a sales call. It makes you look like you have the technology. Odds are, the majority of your customers won't ever even implement it. Then again, if you don't offer it, you may be left out of the competition.
For those customers who will use Internet access, it should be a live link to your database vs. a replicated or copied database. A replicated database is a copy of the database that resides on the Internet and is updated at scheduled periods. It is not truly live Internet access. With a live connection, as soon as you download a container, it is visible by your customer, which is really what you have advertised. With a replicated database, there is a time delay.
If you can't bill the customer, why buy the package? Every software package should offer invoicing. The key is how everything flows back to the invoice. The system should track and bill for everything from data entry, sales of new containers, deliveries, pickups, labor, repacking, etc. Everything should flow back to invoicing, and it should be automated.
When you scan a box, it should automatically charge for an add and perhaps data entry. The more that occurs without having to rely on hand keying the charge the better. Just imagine how many times a customer-service representative forgets to charge for the data entry or the repacking of a box in one month alone. Every time he forgets equals lost revenue for the records center. If you spend a little more on a software package on the front end, you will save thousands of dollars in revenue on the back end.
Invoicing should also be flexible. For as many customers as you might have, there will be formats in which they want to see their invoices. It is essential to select a package that can give the customer the information the way he wants to see it. The package should have several invoice formats from which to choose. Better yet, it should contain multiple variables your users will be looking for: bill daily, monthly, yearly, bill forward and so on.
Now more than ever we see the importance of the backup. When looking into a software product, identify its ability to back up while the system is "live" or has users at work. Some systems require all the users to get off the system to complete a backup. This makes completing multiple backups throughout a day almost impossible. When the backup occurs with the users on the system, you can backup throughout the day without interrupting the activity.
Should a failure happen, you should also have the ability to recover right to the point of the failure--even if a backup was four hours ago. Several packages maintain transaction logs throughout the day that capture all the activities the records center performed. If the system experienced a failure, you can simply apply the transaction logs to the last backup and you haven't lost any information. As you can see, this feature alone is quite critical.
This is not an optional feature. You need technical support. Make sure the company can provide it when you need it. If support is optional, no level of support cannot be guaranteed at any given time. Don't be fooled--regardless of the quality of the software product, you need technical support.
Track and Trace Mobile Computing
You should be able to tell your customer where anything is at any time of the day. Therefore, your system should provide the ability to track any item within your records center from shelf to van to customer and back again. With such tracking, you have complete control of your customer's inventory.
Aside from the "glamorous" features, such as Internet access, your customers think they want, this is what they really need on a day-to-day basis. With track and trace, a customer can call the records center and ask the whereabouts of a file, and the center can tell the user "Jim placed the file on the van at 10:05 a.m. It should arrive at your offices at 10:30 a.m." or "It was delivered by Jane at 7:15 a.m." If you want to take track and trace one step further, you can couple it with a portable printer and provide the customer an itemized printed receipt. Track and trace is the ultimate in inventory control.
Reports are a necessity in this business. What good is having information in a database if you cannot retrieve it in the format desired by your customer? A superior software package will allow you to print several "canned" or standard reports or create your own in accordance to the needs of your customer. Reports should be flexible. You should be able to save them to disk, or e-mail or print them. Take a look at the software package's reporting capabilities and keep in mind reports alone aren't enough--you need to be able to manipulate the data.
Every software package should have the ability to grow with your business. The software vendor should provide regular releases to meet the growing and changing demands placed on the records center by the industry. If you select a software vendor that does not offer consistent upgrades, you will be ahead of your competition only once. If you want to be competitive again, you will need to reinvest in a new product. With a software company in constant development, so are you; yet you can continue to focus on what you do best: managing your records center.
There are many software vendors out there. The only right choice is the one right for your business. Take a look at the needs of your records center, the features of the software, and make sure there is a fit. Think long term. Think residual value.
Anne Sommi Edmonson is the director of marketing for O'Neil Software Inc. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.