BREAKING NEWS

13th February 2019 – Changes in the UK Software Market

A Norwegian company, Asolvi AS, is shaking up the market for software that runs sales and servicing companies in the UK with the acquisition of one of the niche providers, Purpose.

Asolvi’s software portfolio already includes Tesseract, Evatic and Winserv and so one wonders how the addition of the CBS and 2Serv products to that portfolio will pan out.

Managing a large and diverse set of software products could prove problematic. For example does one have five different development and support teams to ensure that the software continues to develop as the market requires and that the standards of support are maintained?

Each team would need specialist managers, ten in total, and those managers would need managing, say on a ratio of five to one, so that is a further two senior managers. Sounds expensive doesn’t it not to mention the difficulties in focussing the sales efforts so that in essence the company salespeople are not competing with each other as much as with the competition.

So what would you do if you were faced with these challenges and if the budget did not stack up?

One thing you might do is rationalise the range of offerings so which one(s) would you drop? CBS would be a good contender because it runs on a three dimensional database which has less in common with the other products in the portfolio even though that database performs very well and is very robust.

You would not want to lose the sites that you have acquired via the purchase of Purpose and so you would make strong efforts to switch users to other products in your portfolio.

Another question for you is what would you do if you are a CBS user and you have invested time and effort in learning to use the CBS software and the three dimensional database and making it fit the needs of your business?

Well a sound move would be to talk to VALE Support Services who are specialists in three dimensional databases, have software that is very effective in running the medium and larger sales and servicing businesses and provide a great deal of localisation so that the software fits the company processes.

enquiries@vale.co.uk

01844 267500


 

4th January 2018 – More On Rail Price Increases – A Perspective.

One has the greatest sympathy for rail commuters or regular users of the rail services when faced with the recent price increases. There has been quite a bit of publicity about the increases but on reflection perhaps they are more easily understood than a number of other increases that have received far less publicity and criticism.

The fact is that there is a great deal of investment going on to improve railway services and so there is some form of payback to rail users.

One thinks of two cases in particular, the immense Crossrail project which will bring benefits to thousands who commute to or in London.

Secondly the recent expansion of London Bridge station which will increase capacity to enable almost double the number of passengers to use the station. Just look at the photo below that appears to have been provided by Network Rail and which was taken from the BBC News WEB site to see how impressive that development is:-

Network Rail - Retrieved from BBC News.
Network Rail – Retrieved from BBC News.

One could be excused for thinking that certain other price increases do not seem to be providing those paying the increases with improvements that are lasting.

A good example would be the progressive increases in petrol and diesel fuel prices which probably affect the vast majority of us directly or indirectly such as putting up the cost of goods that have been transported. The writer read, on line, that in 2017 those increases were just less than 5% for Petrol. What improvements did motorists or those travelling on the road receive for that extra money paid out?

Then there are the numerous increases in electricity and gas prices. In the former case is it not reasonable for the consumer to expect that investment in renewables for the production of electricity would start to bring prices down?

However there is one set of increases that leaves all of these in the shade. The writer is referring to the price increases imposed by the Calor company for the supply of Calor Gas Propane Cylinders, on which many living in rural areas with no mains gas rely.

In parts of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Calor expect users to pay a whopping 17.6% price increase compared to last year if ordering from them and offer a decline in service level which consumers used to enjoy from a local partner from next day delivery to over a week typically.

But wait it gets worse. In an attempt to overcome their appalling service levels Calor offer a solution of buying from a new local partner in some areas. To do so would mean an eye-watering 42.2% price increase!

All of this appears to be caused by Calor’s complete inability to handle the logistics of providing cylinders in a modern efficient manner. So users have to pay far more because the Calor Company will not invest to improve service.

VALE Support Services have provided solutions to such supply challenges with much larger geographical areas being involved and a much bigger product range.

Solutions can include consumables/supplies demand being measured automatically and transmitting back to the main supplies system to automatically place orders, routing optimisation, centralisation of the warehousing and automatic overnight replenishment to local depots and so on.

VALE Support Services have supplied solutions of this nature to a number of multi-nationals amongst others.

Calor you really should talk to us as a matter of urgency and stop penalising your customers.

 


 

2nd January 2018 – Happy New Year! More Price Increases – What Can Be Done?

Our hearts go out to those who regularly commute by train as they face fare increases as much as 3.4% according to the BBC News site.

As this writer knows commuting is costly and even better salaries and jobs whilst compensating to a degree do not take account of the fact that commuters often spend over 15 hours a week doing just that, commuting.

That can be as much or more than spending a month per annum doing nothing but travel to and from work. Of course all this time also reduces the time that a commuter can spend at home with his or her family and friends.

Fortunately thanks to better communications, more facilities to enable commuters to work from home where appropriate there are opportunities to reduce the numbers of hours commuting.

VALE System Services have introduced a number of applications that enable users to work off-line and to flash connect to pass and receive up to date information, sometimes from several different systems at once. It is part of VSS’s skill sets that can enable even legacy systems to talk to secure off line applications without the need for persistent connections.

Why not do this via the internet I imagine that you may ask? Well there are a number of reasons not least of all those around speed and security. Employing flash connection techniques to do updates the users can work off-line at high speed not limited by the load on local broadband connections, and, of course, there is not the risk that an internet connection might be broken or dysfunction due to heavy loads slowing the passing of data down to such a degree that the update fails and the user has to re-input the data again.

Using off-line applications as those designed by VSS the data is updated locally so if during the flash connection there is a broadband problem resending involves no need to re-input data.

VSS’s offerings include systems for sales order processing, purchase order processing, sales contact information, service call processing and remote engineer operations amongst a number of others.

My system does not have these capabilities and it is quite old but does a good job centrally so can I achieve such off-line working is one question we are asked?

Very possibly is our reply before making a detailed assessment as adding such facilities to legacy or established heritage systems as well as making alien systems talk to each other is one of VSS’s specialities. Please just ask us.

 


 

30th October 2017 –  British Workers Working Too Hard – Really?

An interesting article in London Loves Business by Sarah Dunsby caught my eye last week. It suggested that according to BrightHR British workers should work lazier.

Taken at face value I am not sure that I agree with the statement as I have become very familiar with foreign competitors working even harder to obtain business but the article makes some interesting points.

It makes four suggestions to ease the burden of work:-

Always ask yourself why? This refers to questioning the need for a task.

Be prepared to say no – thus focussing on the really important tasks as opposed to those that add very little value.

Give yourself a break – a healthy suggestion enabling one to open one’s mind to new things and perhaps more creative thinking.

Stop trying to be a hero – in order to ease workload for you and your team.

These are my summaries so apologies if they are not precisely what the article stated.

All four suggestions have merit in my humble view but excuse me for banging on, yet again, about the need for good sound business processes.

In designing processes the why question is one of the first that is addressed. It is followed shortly by assessing the priorities of the business.

Part of a business being process driven is the measurement around the processes and if that part is handled skilfully and is accompanied by an on-going review process then that should ensure that suitable time for research and creative thinking are catered for and there is no room for the being a hero scenario as there is no “i” in team.

Please notice that I avoided the awful “blue sky thinking” phrase but mucked it up with the “i” in team clause – apologies again.

If you are really uncertain about how to make a business process driven by all means contact us because we can most certainly help.

The beauty of making a business process driven is that it ensures continuity of the business without having to be critically dependent on individuals and it increases job satisfaction making working life so much more pleasant.

 


 

2nd August 2017 –  Trump Fires His Newly Appointed Communications Director

Is this another own goal for the President of the USA firing someone that he chose for a role after just days? We in commerce may have some sympathy for President Trump because getting and keeping the right people is far from easy.

Perhaps some due diligence concerning Mr Scaramucci would have revealed his shortcomings but as we who have run businesses know that is also not easy.

So how can we safeguard the areas of appointments and staff retention? Those providing education in HR will no doubt list many things and not least of all ensuring that there is job satisfaction but there is a simple key to safeguards for those running the business operations. In one word PROCESSES.

Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA, Retrieved from NY Daily News
Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA, Retrieved from NY Daily News

For every operational area ensure that the processes that need to be carried out are adequately documented. What should be in each process document? The following suggestions are nothing to do with theoretical education but based on the VALE team’s vast experience in implementing systems and their associated processes.

First of all give the process a suitable title and then summarise its purposes. For example “Sales Order to Install”. The description might be something like “The purpose of this process is to receive, record the content of each sales order won by the sales force, to check its validity according to Company rules, once it has passed the checking process to check availability and arrange delivery and resources to install the machine and accessories”.

As well as the above title and summary description there must be an owner of the process, for example, Order Processing Manager.

There then should follow a detailed description of each stage in the process and this provides the opportunity to break down the process so that the individuals carrying out each task can be listed. The first part of the breakdown might looks as follows:-

Each new Sales Order will be presented to the department by the Sales Department Secretary in a folder labelled with a stamped sequential number and the name of the customer. The Sales Order will have been signed off as checked by the Sales Manager, first check. A Sales Order Clerk will check that all the parts of the Sales Order are present against the SO Checklist including the Salesperson’s commission claim and any Finance documents.

The Sales Order Clerk will enter the Sales Order on the system ensuring that the Our Reference field is completed with the number on the file, any customer Purchase Order Reference is included, the cleared Finance document number and the Salesperson number as well as any special instructions.

Once the line by line contents of the order are entered the Sales Order Clerk will check that the gross profit figure shown on the screen is at least 15% and if it is not refer the documentation back to the Sales Secretary for authorisation. The Sales Order Number is noted on the manual file.

Providing the gross profit figure is acceptable and the contents of the order check out with the system details e.g. product codes and configurations are correct according to the system, then the documents are scanned and referenced by the sequential file number and the Sales Order number and the documentation is passed to the Order Processing Manager. He/She will access the order on the system, check the content against the documentation and then finally enter an authorisation code on the system which will print a Delivery Note in the warehouse and one in the workshop before passing the documentation back to the Sales Order Clerk to file the documents by customer name etc etc.

There should be examples of correctly filled out documents and the screen entries included in the process documentation. Vital entries should be highlighted and what to do if the system indicates an error of some kind or warning.

Any measures which relate to performance should also be included e.g. any correct Sales Order received before 15:00 hours must be processed by close of business.

Also there should be descriptions of weekly or monthly checks and performance targets which should be carried out such as a comparison of sequential references entered by the Sales Department with those on the system, lists of orders still outstanding, finance documents not cleared and so on.

How does all of this help with the matters of recruitment and succession?

  1. Any new member of staff can be quickly trained without any danger of key aspects being missed. This applies particularly to temporary staff taken on as holiday or maternity cover or staff moving into a department to assist during times of pressure of work.
  2. It is easy to assess the performance of staff as what they do can be compared to the processes for which they are responsible.
  3. Staff job protectionist activities can be avoided e.g. keeping aspects hidden by retaining them in the head rather than documenting them.
  4. Particularly for the mundane jobs it makes it easy to move staff around and thus not only ensuring that they understand more of the whole of the business but find working refreshing so staff retention is better.
  5. This reduces the fear of losing members of staff because jobs are no longer a mystery.
  6. Finally it makes it easier to promote members of staff as training them in their new role is simpler.

 

Clearly President Trump did not have the benefit of process documentation and rules for the role of Communications Director!

Photo: AP / Retrieved from Politico.com

 


 

18th July 2017 – Working Together

Image Licensed to i-Images Picture Agency. Picture by Andrew Parsons.

As the true ramifications of Brexit start to be exposed, Theresa May asked that politicians work together so that Britain may obtain the best deal.

Surprise, surprise, of course the opposition parties refused to do so and instead continued to snipe at the Government proving that far from an attitude of “well that is what the people want so let us get on with it,” we the poor British public are left with feuding which will mean that instead of concentrating on getting the best deal the Government will also have to fend off attempts to undermine negotiations.

Now where have we seen that sort of thing before, one wonders?

The fact is that when new systems are introduced to businesses, far too often instead of working as a team to ensure that the introduction is successful, less enlightened managers will be prone to provide negative criticism.

Thus the starting point is often to find a champion(s) to support the changes. That is all very well, but those champions will find that unless their responsibilities are adjusted so that they can spend full time on the implementation their “day” jobs will be adversely affected.

This amounts to a double whammy for the snipers, the critics and unenlightened as not only can they carp about the new system(s) but also they can point to the deterioration in the performance of the champion(s) as far as their “day” jobs are concerned.

So when managing change, such as the introduction of new systems or processes, how does one avoid these problems?

From VALE’s vast experience in implementing over 125 systems and integrating to further systems in over 170 cases there are a number of steps that can be taken to ensure success. Some may seem hard work at the time but hard preparation work will more than pay off over time.

Here are some of the key ones:-

  • Involve all the key departmental managers whose departments will be affected by the changes in system and processes that accompany them and ask them to list the things that the current system/processes do not do that would be beneficial to their departments if they could be achieved with a new system and changes in processes.
  • Do the groundwork with the supplier of the proposed system to check how many of these desired state facilities can be achieved by implementing their system.
  • Ensure at least an 80% fit for the new system out of the box and obtain quotes for the bespoke work that would take that percentage nearer 100%.
  • Run workshops for each of the departments concerned and ensure that key managers attend to sign off the suitability of the proposed system and process changes and to define bespoke requirements.
  • Then run workshops for key users to help them to be positive about the new system and processes.
  • From the workshops make a list of areas that the managers and/or users found of concern and obtain commitments from the proposed supplier to tackle these.
  • Finally incorporate as many of the matters raised by managers and users as part of the contract to supply and as part of the implementation plan.

Taking these steps will go a long way to ensuring that neither you nor any champions get hung out to dry by people playing politics during the implementation.

 

Sadly we cannot rely on our Politicians to do anything but play at politics instead of taking responsibility for ensuring positive progress by working together for once.

There were some things to be said about the way that the Second World War forced politicians to work together for the common good not that one would ever want such an awful event to occur to promote such co-operation.

 

Photo: Fox Photos/Getty Images

 


 

29th June 2017 – HMS Queen Elizabeth

We were staggered to see an article in the Telegraph News by their Defence Correspondents raising alarm about the fact that this new ship was running Microsoft XP and thus would be at risk from Cyber Attacks. These two people are meant to be knowledgeable about Defence matters for goodness sake do they seriously think that a ship would be exposing internal networked XP systems to the Internet?

So Rating Jack Tar would be allowed to look at dodgy porn sites in North Korea – show some common sense! The two Carriers may be large but they would still wish to employ some stealth in their movements.

A parallel with the NHS hacking was suggested but last time I looked hospitals tended not to be sneaking about!

Even more concerning was the comment of a professor of computing who questioned “Why would you put an obsolete system in a new vessel that has a lifetime of decades?”

Because it works (is proven) as part of the protected network within the vessel in conjunction with the many systems that will be on board perhaps?

Presumably the good professor never puts his debit card in an ATM on the basis that it employs the XP OS, as many do reliably and safely?

These attitudes show a dangerous lack of realism whilst proclaiming to be in touch with computing. They are the reason that there are still many who believe that as soon as an existing piece of software that interacts with many other areas is released in a new version then every user to whom it applies should be upgraded immediately. Fine perhaps in a sensibly implemented way for security software like AVG but not for Operating Systems where systems are integrated.

Drawing a parallel with the NHS is relevant in that there have been examples of new systems being launched and failing abysmally and expensively.

A good business principle is if it works do not fix it.

How many an IT Director has sat in a meeting and cringed when the CEO, or some other non-IT skilled Director, extols this marvellous system that he or she was exposed to whilst visiting a competitor: “Oh the sales dashboard is marvellous and do you know customers are given a tracking number when their order is shipped so that they can track the delivery by logging in online,” the evangelist proclaims.

What the evangelist does not realise is that they are only scratching the surface of the business needs. What was perhaps not seen was that the Logistics Director of the competitor is tearing his hair out because the new system does not match his proven warehouse processes and so he has to pay overtime now to keep up.

Also perhaps not seen is the fact that the customers used to like getting regular emails or text messages without having to log in telling them precisely the status of their order. Sexy gizmos in a few areas do not mean a system is suitable for the whole organisation.

We repeat again that no system is best of breed for every area of the organisation. The optimum solution if there is a case of needing to improve the computerisation in one or a few areas of the business is to see what can be achieved to integrate the desired new application(s) to the existing proven applications in other areas.

In short keep the system modules that work well and fit the business and get the new software to talk to them thus causing the minimum disruption to the day to day operations that are running smoothly and let the new software just attempt to improve the areas that were deficient.

Do not despair if the provider of the new software cannot integrate to the existing working systems that are to remain just come and talk to us as we have done this many many times for software that is not ours.

Finally, if you are being persuaded to upgrade Operating Systems, do a proper job of weighing up the advantages and drawbacks and put together a sensible phased plan to test and implement the upgrades. Part of that process should be to talk to peers in other organisations who have already carried out such an operation and patiently listen to the issues that they discovered.

God bless HMS Queen Elizabeth and all who sail in her.

 


 

June 2017 – Brexit – Be Prepared

OK now we know that the Politicians have ensured that we have pretty much the weakest of all positions going into the Brexit negotiations.

But, hey, when have we ever relied on Politicians to ensure our business success? Two years may seem a long time but it really is not and so it is vital that we start preparing now, particularly if we have export business in Europe.

So what has a system house that produces enterprise systems, amongst other things, to do with our doing business before and after Brexit I hear you ask?

A great deal actually because the fact is the easier you make it for customers to order from you, and that is both UK and Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, the more likely they are to buy from you and to continue to do so. Mull over these ideas for a while:-

  • How can I make our customer order processes better than the competition?
  • How can I achieve the best prices if buying from Europe after Brexit?
  • Which customers should I focus upon first to maintain and grow the business?
  • How can we be faster on our feet than the competition, particularly the big hitters?

Systems can go a long way to strengthening your business position.

Leading Customer Order Processing – every business that sells things has a WEB site from which customers can order. However few businesses have customer order facilities that integrate directly to the Purchase Order Processing of the customers.

The customer’s inventory system will present recommended order information as a norm. Imagine the strength of being able to pass that information where the quantities have been approved directly into your Sales Order Processing and to pass back the supply information automatically without users having to log into a WEB site and look up the information. It can be done…

 

Leading Purchase Order Processing – one way to apply pressure to keep buying prices low is to link your purchase ordering directly to the chosen suppliers systems so that the orders are transmitted automatically and post into their systems as sales orders from which delivery information will be passed automatically, again, without having to log into a WEB site and look up the delivery information. It can be done…

 

Customer Focus – the 80/20 rule applies here, as in so many areas of business. Known by the name Pareto it states that it is likely that 80% of your business will come from 20% of the customers. Look at those first and offer them integration options and benefits. You may be pleasantly surprised at how many will be interested when they realise that this could be a way of saving valuable time, and time is money. If you do not know how best to approach and sell this to customers then why not call us at VALE. We have done this sort of integration many times and with many other systems, we specialise in particular in making highly localised or heritage systems talk to others as well as the more modern main stream systems. We will either brief you on the approaches or come along as your IT representative with all the convincing points as to the how, the what and the wherefore.

Fastest On Your Feet – the large software providers because of the scale of their businesses, the necessary administration to support the business and the need to make things as standard as possible are virtually never quick at making changes. Am I right or am I right – I bet you have experienced this?

VALE has years of experience in improving processes and integration for customers and our ability to enable users to be fast on their feet is proven.

 

 


 

Connectors & Linkages

People in the Office Equipment Industry have been mentioning the apparently marvellous facilities that some systems have that enable the linkage to other systems and devices. Anyone could be forgiven for thinking that this is some new revolutionary set of tools, APIs or whatever from the fuss being made by those promoting their software solutions.

Wrong. Rather like the blurb reference Konica Minolta’s use of a mobile field service application, this has been around for a long time for users of VALE software.

It came about for four reasons:

  • One, VALE recognised that no system can be best at all the functions a business requires and so started linking to software that specialised in areas where the VALE application was not as capable, such as with Payroll and HR, CRM and Sales systems and some key Financials.
  • Secondly the typical VALE user tended to be more successful in the industry and started acquiring other companies. Those other companies had systems in place and so VALE would enable those systems to talk to the VALE applications that were running the buyer business. Eventually those lesser systems would be replaced by VALE but that could be done at the optimum time without interfering with the smooth running of the acquired business.
  • Thirdly from a very early stage VALE started taking or sending information from and to intelligent devices and networks which contained such devices. The first instances of this go back to the 90s with proof of capability tests for the enlightened manufacturers. VALE would request meter readings automatically when billing is due, raise toner orders as the machine usage projected a forthcoming run out date, raise service calls, in particular for planned maintenance amongst a number of other things. This was years ahead of the proliferation of such passing of information typified by products such as One Stop and Print Audit.
  • Finally as VALE users tended to be the larger ones in the business there was a requirement to link to the internal IT systems of major accounts so that internal applications of the customer which raised internal requests could pass those requests to VALE automatically and receive back service call progress information.

The message is simple, if a salesman impresses upon you the benefits of his system in having “Connectors” or some similar term have a chat with us and you will undoubtedly find that we are way ahead of the game.

 


 

Breaking News – May 2017 – Diane Abbott

Diane Abbott’s cost of adding to the Police Force mega gaffe.

Wow, how excruciating was it to observe one of the highest profile labour politicians getting the numbers so wrong for adding 10,000 Policemen to the force?

A train wreck would be understating the case!

Systems that are not joined up, or are only partially joined up, are not uncommon in commerce and Government. This is particularly the case for fast growing and fast changing businesses with multiple systems which can create real management headaches. “Am I as an executive looking at Apples based on this system but Pears based on this other one”?

The good solution is not normally to rely on just one system because different systems have different strengths for the business and a single system can prove to be a blunt tool if not designed specifically for the business’s main activities.

This is just one reason that the Discover product is so relevant because it is intuitive and it becomes easier to spot anomalies of this type when comparing data from more than one system.

Discover can be connected to several data sources and is capable of providing real time graphical, and data table, reporting to appear on the desktops of relevant managers and supervisors.

 


 

Breaking News – April 2017 – Nimrod

We were amazed to read just today an article in LondonlovesBusiness by Peter Smyth about Konica Minolta employing mobile devices for their engineers and how marvellous that was. WHY ON EARTH DID YOU THINK THAT WAS NEWSWORTHY – today – 10 years ago it might just have been?

Our Nimrod software, that is constantly improved and that runs on smartphones has been providing the benefits listed in the article and has been employed by leading service providers for years now. If Konica Minolta have only just implemented similar facilities then they would be at least 10 years behind such users.

An engineer seeing calls allocated to him or her, the machine and customer details, being able to look up and order parts, know if they are in his car or van, or any other of his/her colleagues cars or vans, having digital access to manuals etc is really nothing new for VALE software users.

When these facilities are supported in the work control centre by our very visual Mercury Call Processing software and mapping then management also have a very clear view of what is going on, what is going well and what is not going well.

Finally our Merlin Engineer Optimisation software will aid work controllers further by suggesting the best order to handle calls and thus optimise journey, work and response times to the benefit of both the company and the customer.

 


 

Breaking News – March 2017 – Discover BI

“Discover” Business Intelligence Software really adds new dimensions to business analytical tools. This is the first product that VSS has encountered which genuinely enables non IT users to drill down into the business data from their desktops without having to add to the workload of the IT department to deliver the reporting.

Having spent six months testing, training and using Discover our conclusion is that it is as important an advance in tools to manage a business as the introduction of Excel 31 years ago.

Read the background to this important new tool and watch this space to learn how VSS will be rolling it out to businesses. When we do make sure that you are at the front of the queue by sending an email to discover@vale.co.uk to express your interest.