Computer systems have been used by remote workers to collect data and to communicate with their head offices for over 30 years. The introduction of the internet and advances in computers has brought this technology within the reach of most businesses.
As long ago as the late 1970s, large companies in the fast moving consumer goods sector were equipping their field sales forces and their stock control staff in remote warehouses with hand held computers. Using dial-up telephone lines, direct online communication with the central computer was not an option, so all data had to be collected locally and transferred to head office on a daily basis. Even so, with the data processed overnight, the large cigarette and snack food companies, such as Carreras Rothmans and United Biscuits, were able respond to any changes in the marketplace within 24 hours.
Managing Motor Engineers
In 1995, we drew on this background, together with experienced gained in motor trade applications, to develop a system for use in the vehicle damage assessment department of NIG Scandia Insurance Company. At the time, NIG was the fifth largest motor insurer in the UK. This system enabled the administration, which had been organised as six regional offices, to be centralised in a single office in Birmingham.
The home based assessors, all of whom had been receiving their instructions by phone or by visiting their local office, instead received them electronically directly from the Birmingham office. They completed their assessments on laptop computers and return them electronically to the Birmingham office.
This was also one of the earliest examples of using digital cameras for this type of business application. The assessors photographed the vehicles, transferred the images to their laptop computers and returned them electronically along with each assessment.
This system reduced the administrative staff to ten administrators and the number of assessors covering the UK to fifty. More importantly from a customer service standpoint, this paperless system reduced the average turn round time for the completed assessments from over two weeks to just over twenty four hours.
Ten years later, in 2005, we developed an online business systems for a national chain of bowling centre based leisure centres, which traded under the brand name of Lakeside Superbowl.
Shift managers in each leisure centre recorded their takings and sales online at the end of each shift, which they were required to reconcile with the till records and the actual takings. These takings and sales records were immediately available to head office.
With the takings being banked on a daily basis and by shift, the head office based accounts department was able to reconcile these recording with the deposited amounts within twenty four hours of the end of each shift. This enabled the head office to exercise much tighter control over each leisure centre. Head office managers were also able to view the trends in the sales on a daily basis, and by type of department within in each leisure centre, and by week, month, etc.
The net result was less shrinkage in each leisure centre and the reduction in the number of head office middle managers. With the previous spread sheet based system, these middle managers had to visit the centres on a regular basis to try to enforce some degree of control, whereas the new system enabled head office enforce their control remotely, and much more effectively.
The Ultimate System
In many ways a system that we currently have under development represents the ultimate in online systems, because it is the platform for a customer’s entire business. We cannot name for reasons of commercial confidentiality, and because the system will give the customer a significant competitive advantage. This customer supplies major organisations and businesses with computer peripheral equipment, for which it also provides installation, field maintenance, and repair services.
This recently established and rapidly expanding company has opted to operate its business online in preference to having an ever expanding in-house administrative bureaucracy. This fully integrated business system embraces every aspect of the business. This ranges from customer relations management, through the generation of quotations, the management of the field engineers, the field service reporting, to customer invoicing and management reporting. The only exception is an in-house Sage accounts package, with which the new system is fully integrated.
The system is tailored to the requirements of the individual departments within a common user interface structure, which ensures consistency of operation throughout the business. The system is also workflow based, which gives the users in each department full control and visibility of progress, whilst ensuring a smooth yet controlled flow of information through the business.
One of the main benefits of this secure online business system is that it gives all users, and especially the sales people and the field service engineers, access to their data from anywhere and at any time.
This customer will derive maximum benefit from an online system than most, because its entire sales force people and its service engineers are home based, and it's senior managers and directors are often on the road. Even so, it represents the unrelenting trend towards the use of the internet as the common workplace, rather than employees having to commute to a physical common workplace.
Can Your Business Benefit?
We undertook every aspect of the design and development of these systems, from specifying the requirements to implementation, hosting, roll-out, user training, and ongoing support. If you think that your business might benefit from a similar system tailored to your specific requirements, then please give us a call.