In the most recent rounds of introductions and upgrades to dealer technology, mobility and round-the-clock accessibility have taken center stage, with many companies implementing cloud-based functionality and/or smartphone- and tablet-friendly tools.
“We’ve really had a big focus on not just the service at the service desk but service at the jobsite and service anywhere,” says Rigby of Epicor. “Our focus has been on mobilizing the outside sales team. Even in store … being able to walk around and do the order right then and there on the floor. That’s been a push of ours, to make it easy to mobilize the people providing sales and service.”
ECi offers mobile access to its Spruce system via Spruce ProLink, which allows customers to reach statements, invoices, quotes, orders, and more via smartphones and tablets. They also have a Spruce AnyWare Android mobile app for anywhere access, an interface that is helping the company move to platform independence. “The expectation from our users as we move ahead is that we adapt to their preferred medium of choice,” says John Maiuri, president of ECi Software Solutions Building & Construction Division. “So whether accessing from a smartphone or tablet or traditional PC, the behavioral characteristics are the same. As technology has advanced, people expect to be able to do more from a smaller footprint/investment, 24/7 accessibility from anywhere they can get an Internet connection.”
“[You need to] give them access to the information they want through the devices they use,” adds John Niedzwiecki, president of BuilderLink. “Communicate how they want, whether it’s email or text. …I think there’s a misconception of the tech savviness of pro contractors. Yes, there are still some guys who aren’t necessarily into utilizing software that’s service based, but those guys are fewer and farther between. More and more, it’s easier to get online and get the info you need when the yard is closed or from your mobile device.”
BuilderLink is a mobile-responsive, cloud-based B2B portal that connects to the dealer’s POS system to provide customers with access to the data they need to perform accounting, estimating, and material takeoffs. “We provide an enhanced user interface and user experience to enable that pro contractor customer to gain access to the data they need to run their business more effectively, efficiently, and actively,” says Niedzwiecki. “We are not an ERP, POS, or CRM; BuilderLink is the middleware that connects the data from the dealer’s POS/ERP to the customer’s software, while keeping the customer’s sales rep informed of activity.
Saberis, which provides special order integration with POS systems, moved its tool completely to the cloud with its recently launched SaberisConnect. The dealer doesn’t have to install anything on the desktop. “It just makes things so much easier,” says Syme. “We’re integrators, which means we’re integrating data from one software program to another. It’s much easier on the user. The cloud allows us to make a complex process look easier.”
CAI continually updates its Ponderosa ERP software, enhancing, changing, and adding features based on marketplace trends and customers’ requests. Along with the new Sales Portal is a Mobile Fleet Manager that takes its dispatch and delivery tool to the next level with the capability to track trucks, allowing for better planning and ensuring efficiency of vehicles. The Mobile Fleet Manager provides custom analysis, as well, to help determine where inefficiencies from smaller loads and one-off runs are taking place.
Even with the tech savviness of younger generations, most tools do require some training prior to, and sometimes during, use. Depending on the program, dealers may undertake in-person or online training. Epicor, for example, has a range of options to accommodate users’ different learning styles, such as face-to-face training, digital courses, regional events, and more.
Spruce offers extensive training tailored to each company’s needs, along with monthly web-based training for core and specialty components, remote conference tools, and a web-based help component that runs in the background of applications. DMSi Software offers continuous training, via experienced consultants and support personnel as well as an online portal available 24/7.
Helping things along: the growing intuitiveness of technology tools that are making them increasingly plug-and-play.
“We’ve designed it to be point-and-click,” says Niedzwiecki of BuilderLink. “If you want to look at products, you go to the products page. If you want to see the price, you click on it. We’ve tried our best to make this version of BuilderLink as intuitive as possible because we know people don’t want to go through training and take time away from work. Their expectation is that they should be able to turn it on and use it.”
For SAPPHIRE Supply, a key component is an upfront time investment so that when the dealer staff sit down to train all they have to do is learn to use it. The other piece, says McCormick, is recognizing that most people don’t want to read manuals or sit in a classroom. MiTek has about 100 videos on its website that are easily searchable so that users can learn more when needed. “We find people want to move at their own pace and that video is the right medium.”
Similarly, CAI also spends upfront time understanding the dealer’s individual business before training begins and will examine processes to see if changes are needed to ensure efficiencies. “Before we engage any dealer, we do a very in-depth survey,” says Tom Spillane, director of marketing for CAI Ponderosa software. “We want to understand how they do what they do so we can make sure our software improves on their process.”
All of these factors will continue to drive adoption of technology, even for the most stalwart of lumberyards and the most reluctant of building pros. “It may only be a matter of years before we see the last of pen-and-paper estimating,” says McCormick. “That end is coming.”
“The industry seems to be rebounding, and people seem to be investing in technology,” Rigby says. “Some of the traditional dealers are embracing it and really seeing growth because of it.”