In Depth: Tech tools
With increasing adoption – and anytime access – software, apps, and other tech tools are boosting efficiencies for dealers across the country
Today, there’s little we can’t do from a smartphone in the palm of our hands, whether ordering a cab, managing our finances, or making a dinner reservation. And building materials are no exception. With more and more tech products heading to the cloud, dealers and their customers can—and do—increasingly conduct business whenever and wherever they want.
“We see increasing interest in the benefits of technology and steady adoption of new tools both with dealers and builders,” says Steve McFall, Technology Development Manager for MiTek. “While historically the construction industry has been slow to change, we are seeing that as the workforce in the industry shifts to a generation that has grown up with a deep level of technology personally and professionally, they are wanting to use the latest and greatest offerings.”
Indeed, though the construction industry is notorious for its slow adoption of technology, the swell of younger workers and customers is rapidly driving interest.
“What we’re seeing is a logical progression in which business owners and managers are getting their hands around technology and using it, along with smartphones and tablets,” says Tom Spillane, Director of Marketing for Computer Associates (CAI), which makes the Ponderosa enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. “There’s a whole generation of people coming into managerial positions who have grown up with smartphones and tablets. We’re seeing their influence on…the kinds of tools LBM dealers are putting to use.”
Along with a push from younger workers and increasing comfort levels overall, the fact is that software and technology, whether all-encompassing management systems such as ERPs or stand-alone delivery trackers, are helping dealers be more efficient with time, materials, and labor, making such programs attractive to all age levels.
“Technology is a tool that allows dealers to do more with fewer people and greater accuracy,” says John Maiuri, President of the ECi Software Solutions’ LBM and Hardlines Group.
Maiuri also notes that the industry’s current growth trend, either organic or through acquisitions, is creating larger operations that require a technology investment to remain viable.
“It seems like the dealers are very interested in technology,” says Cindy McCarville, Senior Account Manager for DMSi, maker of Agility ERP software. “Anytime we talk to a prospect or an existing customer, they want to make sure they can rely on us to have what they need in the future.”
For many software providers, new and recent product introductions and updates revolve around the cloud, which provides dealers and their customers 24/7 access via computers as well as tablets and smartphones. “The expectation of connectivity to business information from the palm of your hand has been as transformative in our industry as elsewhere,” says Maiuri. He notes that consumer demand for online shopping will drive brick-and-mortar operations to augment their business with tools such as ECi’s ProLink, through which customers can view and pay accounts, contact their salesperson, browse, and submit orders at any hour of the day.
“The key is making customers happy,” says Kevin Hodge, Director of Product Development and Product Management for business management software provider Epicor Software. “People who buy from our customers want to know where their order is…and get information themselves quickly and easily.”
Users are embracing efficiency tools such as the Epicor cloud apps, particularly as labor shortages continue, notes Jason Parchomchuk, product manager for Epicor’s BisTrack software.
BisTrack Cloud allows the dealer to manage inventory on the go, including checking on items, printing labels, creating purchase orders to replenish stock, and write up customer orders and pull up past transactions.
“They need to do more with less, and they’re using technology to do that, allowing staff to do things more quickly and efficiently,” Parchomchuk says. “Having technology to do things anytime, anywhere leads to fewer lost sales. You’re working in real time instead of having to wait to do things later.”
Optional tools in the BisTrack family include BisTrack Warehouse Management for Android, which eliminates paper entry by providing accounting and receiving through the app. For retail organizations, BisTrack Price Checker provides a mountable scanner for staff or customers to check price.
McCarville says while some salespeople are still using flip phones and may never switch, more and more dealers are increasingly looking to go mobile. DMSi recently enhanced its app, which allows for viewing data at a quick glance, checking on and placing orders, and more, and has worked to get upgrades pushed out faster.
Saberis recently moved its special order integration tool to the cloud with SaberisConnect, a move that has allowed the technology provider more development freedom. Among those features is Stealth Integration, which eventually will allow for seamless integration from vendor quote or order systems to the dealer POS or ERP system.
Hyphen Solutions’ SupplyPro, which provides a direct connection to builders’ operating systems, operates on the cloud as well, helping to eliminate the chance for miscommunication. Among SupplyPro’s tools is SkuSphere, which converts a builder’s nomenclature to the supplier/manufacturer language, thereby avoiding SKU conflicts.