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Wednesday | 16 December, 2009 | 8:28 am

Finding flexibility

By John Loos

December 2009 - Implementing new business software can be a daunting prospect, particularly when the overall system has little resemblance to a company’s existing ways of doing things. Improving managerial processes is one thing, completely throwing an existing day-to-day business structure out the window is quite another.

A rigid system that has nothing in common with a company’s current organizational tendencies can potentially cause more problems than it solves.

Professional Software Systems LLC, Stow, Ohio, recognizes this and has designed its MetalMan metal service center software with inherent flexibility, meaning it can be tailored in ways that ensure a company can improve its operational efficiencies without losing its identity.

"Everyone does business a little bit differently than other people in the same market, and that’s where everyone finds their niche," says Jack Kenne, president of Professional Software Systems. "We can tell pretty quickly how close a fit our software is going to be [for a company], if there’s something they’re doing that we can make minor changes to our software to accommodate, or if there’s a significant amount of custom work that would need to be done to fit our software to them.

"Most of the time, people have a good reason for doing things their way and don’t often like to change it," he adds. "And we can modify our package to fit their needs."

Bar none
Professional Software Systems’ MetalMan software comes in three types: bar, coil and plate. These versions can be used in combination or separately, and each features modules in which day-to-day activities are organized by function.

The bar software provides inventory control with automatic rem processing. The inventory control module features detailed inquiry functions, allowing users to search inventories by size, length, grade or finish, or by individual warehouse.

The module also allows service centers to receive a variety of reports and printed summaries, including warehouse status updates, inventory value at replacement cost and average cost, year-to-date shrinkage reports, gross profit reports and low-stock reports.

There are also detailed pricing, quotation, production, order entry and invoicing, purchasing and sales analysis modules available, each with myriad report options, easily accessible and enterable data, and unique functions.

"We have quotation entry with automatic mark-up percentage pricing," says Kenne. "And that way, if your costs are going up, it automatically keeps your mark-up percentage intact. And, of course, you can turn a quote into an order at any time during the process.

"[Our bar software has] sales history analysis by a number of different combinations and criteria," he continues. "It also has delivery-performance tracking and reporting, integrated financial accounting and custom reporting. Companies can pay their accounts payable, collect their accounts receivable, maintain their general ledger and customize financial reporting."

Accessing ideas
Professional Software Systems was founded in 1980 and developed its MetalMan software in collaboration with a local steel processor. Nearly 30 years later, the software remains fluid and adaptable to ever-changing computer technologies and business needs.

Take, for instance, the case of Spee-D-Metals Inc., Cleveland, a midlevel steel service center with inventories of carbon steel, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, alloy steel and various tool steels. The company first implemented MetalMan software in 1993, after using a cumbersome and antiquated card access system with hand-typed invoices.

"Our business probably doubled once we went from the card system and having someone specifically hand-type invoices," says Tim Dybzinski, president of Spee-D-Metals. "It was just old, it was antiquated, and once you were able to print everything off a computer...it was fast, it was easy and it was traceable."

Of course, retaining a particular brand of software for 16 years isn’t feasible if the software doesn’t grow and adapt to a user’s changing needs. For Spee-D-Metals, its MetalMan bar software has evolved with the company, instead of pigeonholing it into a single strict way of doing business. This is because Professional Software Systems uses customer feedback and specialized requests to help inform its upgrades and advancements.

"If there are improvements that we could make, things that maybe my people on the inside could say, ‘Well, if we could look at a quote this way, or if we could change something there,’ Jack and his staff are always there to offer suggestions and solutions along the way," says Dybzinski.

"Most of our clients come up with ideas for new reports they’d like to have or additional fields to add to a report--perhaps there’s something they’d like to track that they haven’t previously tracked, so they’ll ask us to make the change, and we can make small changes in short order," says Kenne. "If it’s an involved or extensive amount of work, we’ll quote a price and a completion time. And over time, our clients have found that cost of those modifications is a small part of their overall operating expense and the improvements are well worth the money spent."

In full support
Some might argue that a software solution is only as good as the support the manufacturer provides to its users. In the case of Spee-D-Metals, Dybzinski has a close working relationship with Kenne, who is accessible day or night for troubleshooting issues or service needs.

In fact, Kenne and his associates have the ability to connect to a user’s system remotely, as well as allow company owners and managers to access their MetalMan systems from outside the office.

"When you can have the owner’s cell phone, and you can call him on a Sunday afternoon, and he’s willing to walk you through and help you through the tough times, I think that speaks volumes," says Dybzinski. "If we have things to go over, it’s not uncommon for Jack and I to be discussing things early in the morning."

This personalized approach to software service has helped cement MetalMan into Spee-D-Metals’ day-to-day operations.

"I have no reason to change [software]," says Dybzinski. "Everything is tailored to the way that we want it. Along the way, I’m sure we may have certain hardware that might improve from year to year that we’ll upgrade as budget allows."

At the end of the day, a bar software system needs to be able to handle the varying needs of unique bar inventories. For Kenne, the best way to do that is to provide a software that’s easy to use and lets a company do business the way it wants to, without sacrificing its organizational identity.

"We try to make [MetalMan] easy to use so that people like to use it," says Kenne. "We’ve had a lot of comments from people over the years that it really helped them...scale their operation up without having to add people. They can see business increasing, and they’re not having to add people to keep up with the paperwork."

In a world of quick orders, speedy deliveries and diverse bar inventories, time spent fiddling with clunky and unintuitive software is money and opportunity lost. Getting the right size, grade and finish of bar to the right customer on time is essential, so finding a software that lets a company be not just itself, but its best self, is an important step to maximizing efficiency and profitability." MM

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