Blaze a trail

Blaze a trail

Centralising and linking all client information has enabled staff at an IT network provider to focus more on billable work.

Finding the electronic needle in the haystack is a major frustration for businesses and individuals alike as they amass virtual mountains of data. It's one reason Google has been so successful and it is one of the main reasons why Adelaide-based Calvert Technologies - which designs, supplies and supports PC-based networks - installed new workflow planning software. "As businesses grow, they get more people and information that they need to keep track of," Calvert's managing director, Dean Calvert, explains. "One of the problems is that you get silos of information.

"You [build up] all of these different areas where there's information. So it is no longer, 'Here is the information', it is 'Where is the information?'"

Calvert has introduced a workflow system called Jim2, made by Australian software company Happen Business, which he counts second only to Calvert Technologies' email in importance.

"It's critical and this is something we drum into our staff - if Jim2 doesn't know about it, then it is not real."

That's because any system, particularly one like this that tracks the work a company is doing at any one time, is only as good as what is put into it.

Status information is logged for all work the business is doing, with staff entering start and stop times on a project as well as notes on what work they have performed, problems encountered and what stage they have reached.

All data on equipment supplied is also entered and all information from an initial quote to when the item is replaced is included. Based on its serial number, the life cycle of that stock can then be traced.

Calvert introduced the new system primarily to replace MYOB, which now only runs payroll, but it also dispensed with other software such as Microsoft Office Outlook's calendar, which the company was trying to use in conjunction with MYOB to provide the same functionality as Jim2.

But once the amount of data Calvert Technologies was storing reached a certain size, MYOB was no longer able to cope and it became unreliable when the number of users became too high. With Jim2, centralisation is a key benefit.

"I can't go to a sales job in MYOB and ask where we ordered a piece of hardware from," Calvert says.

"If there is a warranty issue, for example, or we need to track some other information about it, I can't jump from an invoice to a client, back to a purchase from a supplier or even back to the original quote from a client in MYOB. It doesn't tie it all together."

The new software keeps accounting data such as records of the days outstanding on payments by clients and whether they have paid according to contract. This allows any of Calvert's staff to decide whether they need to stop further work due to lack of payment.

It also flags any purchases associated with a job that need to be approved by Calvert, and his endorsement is alerted to staff working in the field via the same system.

In the future, he'd like to see Jim2 developed further to be able to store documents, images and other objects. This would allow the system to take over the role of an internal wiki that the company uses for keeping links to essential information and documents specific to a client. For example, the wiki is used for recording data on the steps you need to take to install computers for a particular client, or the emergency evacuation process.

The transition from MYOB took about 12 months because Calvert chose not to dump historical data into Jim2, but update the system as they went along. It meant re-entering information, but it was preferable to the greater pain of moving the data across and formatting it correctly.

This reinforced the need to make sure staff were familiar with the new system and knew they had to keep it up to date every day. Calvert says he developed a headache trying to take it all in and advises the best way to train staff is a few minutes at a time.

The total cost of the initial set-up, including software, licences, installation, training, travel and accommodation for the vendors'

consultants, was about $30,000. Calvert says he got a full return on the investment in about 10 months.

In addition, the link between quotes to clients, purchases and sales prevents losses that used to sometimes occur when stock was sent out but accidentally not invoiced.

Calvert can't give figures on the exact revenue and profitability improvements, but much of it has come down to reducing time wasted and providing better service to clients.

"You need to ensure that all of your resources are focused on meeting customer needs," Calvert says. "The last thing we want is for our engineers and technical specialists to spend excess time on administration. As much as possible, you want them focused on billable work."

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