By Anne Sommi Edmonson
The following is a sequel to the article titled “Records Storage for Dummies,” published in the October 2003 issue of Inside Self-Storage. To access this article, visit the magazine’s online archive at www.insideselfstorage.com.
The most common error people make when purchasing records-storage software is buying features vs. a strong foundation. When you buy a records-storage software package, you should look for a solid core product. Without it, you are forgoing long-term stability and success. It’s easy to get lost in impressive feature names and abilities; yet in the end, it’s all about the basics.
Imagine this: You need to get somewhere, and you have the choice of buying a bicycle or a car. Both will get you where you want to go at the moment, so you buy the bike. What’s the problem? It only offers a short-term solution. It can do the job, but it won’t take you where the car could. You bought a feature: the ability to get from point A to point B. Now that you understand the car’s value, you go out and buy it also. You’ve spent more money and invested more time than necessary.
The same analogy applies to records-storage software. You can make several purchases over time or buy your last system first, keeping in mind the importance of business rules. Business rules are what tie together all the pieces of a software product and give you the parameters you need to avoid costly errors. They are, essentially, the guts of the software. They ensure the accuracy and control of your operation. Here is a simple example of how business rules are used to set up locations in a records center and the results they provide:
Business Rule:Every object (box, file or tape) goes into a location.
Result:You know where everything is.
Business Rule:You define the object type and size in the system.
Result:The system automatically bills the customer for the appropriate item.
Business Rule:You determine how many items each location holds.
Result:If you exceed capacity because of an open space, you know a box was taken out without being scanned. This is essential for checks and balances.
Business Rule:You have the choice of assigning an account to a specific location.
Result:The system will provide an error message if a box is found out of location. If you do not sign locations to accounts, the system will mix accounts to maximize capacity to 110 percent.
Business rules give you control of your business, ensuring 100 percent accuracy, complete tracking, correct invoicing and storage totals, space maximization and more. They give you the ability to run reports, view your center’s capacity and know where open locations exist. Business rules flow through a software product from scanning to billing. They provide the checks and balances you need to avoid costly errors. At first, you may think each step is insignificant or even laborious. However, if you skip a step, eventually you’ll understand why it was important.
Business rules also provide flexibility and complete automation. You can set up your records-storage facility in many different ways. You can store various kinds of objects, tie together several buildings, and even “speak” different languages. For those in self-storage, these benefits allow the little guy to have the same advantage as the big guy. They also allow him to become a big player without making any changes to his business. When you buy your last system first, you never have to change—just grow.
Let’s take a look at the role business rules play in billing. Billing requires combining several functions of the software to create an invoice. This includes rates, box sizes, service totals, storage totals, material sales, special services and more. If you work within the business rules of the system, you have the flexibility to provide customers invoices the way they want them, and you have the accuracy to ensure you are getting paid for everything you do. For example, let’s say you have four customers who want to be billed different ways:
- Account A wants to be billed with one main invoice per account and have it broken down by department and cost center.
- Account B wants to be billed not by box but by cubic foot.
- Account C wants one bill per quarter.
- Account D wants to pay for storage for the year in advance at a discounted rate and be billed monthly for additions.
You have the flexibility to fulfill the needs of all four accounts and many more. Here are the business rules to handle the situation: First, set up rates for each account, or even different rates per department and cost center within the account. Next, select your invoice type. Finally, hit “start” on your invoices when your billing cycle begins. The system pulls the information for each account—rates, service totals, storage totals and materials sales—and calculates a sum according to the invoice type you selected. The result is each piece of the software works together, and each portion of your operation works within its business rules to ensure accuracy. You get paid for everything you do.
Once you have your basic software package, you can add other features, such as scanning, web access or portable printing. The key is to make sure everything works with the core product. A feature can produce different results based on the strength of the foundation package.
For example, let’s look at what happens when you add scanning and receipt printing to two different products. With Package A, you can scan boxes for pick-up at a location and print a receipt for the customer of what you scanned. With Package B, you can do the same. However, you can also:
- Confirm you are picking up or delivering the right boxes.
- Communicate with the central system to post the date and time items were picked up.
- Identify who completed the work.
The same feature added to either product provides scanning and receipt-printing capabilities, yet the results for your business are completely different.
Searching for records-storage software can be confusing. Don’t get lost in fancy features and buzz words. Take a look at the package as an entity. You want everything to work together. You want experience and a long-term solution. You want automation. You don’t want to upload and download programs—you want one congruent piece of software.
Ask questions and don’t get lost in the lingo. When you do make your purchase, learn how to use the program correctly from the start. Armed with the right foundation and the knowhow to do it right, you can create a business model that ensures operational success. You just bought results.
Anne Sommi Edmonson is the director of marketing for O’Neil Software Inc., which provides records-storage software and full-featured, commercial and corporate record-center tools, including the company’s newest software product, RS-SQL. O’Neil supplies barcodes, laser scanners, printers, industry education and more. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.oneilsoft.com.