Before You Buy Business
Software . . .
by Gregory Beck
To ensure that the business
software you buy will automate your operation and propel you to the next level,
you need to evaluate it in terms of 10 critical issues.
New technology. Working with the
most up-to-date technology will give you the best chance to enhance your bottom
line. Many publishing systems offered for sale today were built back in the
Õ70s, before Windows and the Internet. Some have been refurbished, reshaped,
and modified to work with a mouse or look nice on the screen, but decades of
patchwork updates have crippled them.
Design. Anything but
publishing-specific software will eventually create problems and hinder your
growth. The software system you choose should be designed to manage royalty
contracts, distribute payments, generate proper invoices, create detailed
statements, and produce comprehensive histories to collect past-due amounts
from large customers.
Because large booksellers
sometimes pay current invoices with chargebacks from books they have not yet
returned, your system must be able to create these chargebacks and—when
the returns eventually come in—to match returns with chargebacks and
reconcile the account.
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>In a centralized, automated system, a single sales
entry does it all—updates royalty data, adjusts inventory, and modifies
sales-analysis statistics. Automation reduces input requirements and therefore
the risk of operator error. Moreover, an automated system incorporates a
unified database, which facilitates migrating information from one area of
operations to another.
Royalty management is an area in
which automation is crucial. Some publishers use Excel to track sales by title
and then crunch the numbers at the end of each quarter. This process is time
consuming, labor intensive, prone to errors, and expensive. The ideal system
automatically calculates payments with each sales entry so that running the
royalty report instantly generates all the detailed royalty information. Your
system should generate a royalty statement, create appropriate general ledger
transactions in the accounting system, and send check amounts to the accounts
payable system for royalty-check processing.
Sales analysis. Software for
publishers should include a powerful sales-analysis tool that answers key
questions about your business, draws comparisons, illuminates trends, and
Your system should not only
generate accurate sales and inventory reports but also track results from
marketing efforts, including ads, mailings, promotions, sales, and discounts.
And it should enable you to print, graph, email, or save your reports in
With accurate and timely
information about sales, profitability, inventory, and customers at your fingertips,
youÕll know exactly what sold best in every store, region, category, and
Integration. Integration with
third-party support programs saves time and facilitates the smooth flow of
information. Since there are many excellent accounting packages, CRM systems,
and word processors, you donÕt need to reinvent the wheel in those areas. What
successful publishers want is the glue that binds all their business systems
Your system should be able to
communicate seamlessly with your existing accounting software. A system built
with Windows technology to interface with Microsoft Office and other
Windows-based programs will be a team player.
Accessibility. Accessibility adds
scope and flexibility to your support system. Your needs regarding access to
information will probably change as you grow. If you have more than one
warehouse, use a bindery, or travel extensively, you might need access to your
system from the road or at different locations.
Look for a system that is
accessible from anywhere there is an Internet connection. To work at Internet
speeds, it should keep the amount of data transferred between terminals to a
minimum. A hosted system will probably meet this criterion and allow every
office to access the same database. If you will never have multiple offices, a
hosted system will save you from having to invest in some hardware.
Affordability. Wise business
people never make a business decision based solely on money. At the same time,
they donÕt spend more than they need to. They look for value. Make sure the
system you are reviewing does all that you need it to do.
Some systems may be priced low to
catch your eye, but the price might get you only bare-bones capability, which
would mean that youÕd need to buy many additional modules at significant
additional cost. Some systems are so complicated they need to be installed by
consultants whose work can cost almost as much as the software itself. Usually,
the best value is a fixed maintenance fee with free software updates and upgrades.
Make sure you know the softwareÕs
true installed cost, and since lost time is lost revenue, find out about
downtime during the installation process. You might also want to consider the
alternative of a hosted site that you can access over the Internet (see
Finally—and most important
when youÕre evaluating affordability—assess your companyÕs size and sales
volume against the software providerÕs payment options. Most software providers
offer a site license, which is a flat fee for the software, and this is usually
best for larger publishers or distributors. But some software providers offer a
combination of a monthly user fee plus a pay-as-you-go charge based on sales
volume. This is usually a better deal for smaller publishers.
Ease of operation. A software
system is virtually worthless if it is not easy to use. That is the
characteristic that has the most direct impact on your bottom line. The easier
a system is to use, the less time you will spend learning it, and the more time
you will spend actually using it. ItÕs as simple as that.
Your system should focus on how
you work, not force you to learn a new way to enter data. As you consider
various programs, pay careful attention to how quickly you pick up new concepts
and procedures. Does the software have keyboard shortcuts, roll-over
description boxes, pop-up directional screens, prepopulated fields, and
field-specific help? Can it be adjusted to your business practices and methods
As you review programs, you will
find that some let you modify an order that has already been input, while
others force you to delete the order and reenter it with the changes. Some
systems strictly limit your search criteria, while others offer you multiple
options. For example, one program might let you use only customer number or
invoice number to search for old invoices, whereas another would work not only
with them but also with order date, title, ship date, customer name, and so on.
A system that allows changes without reentry and provides a wide array of
search parameters will save you time and be the most helpful.
Training and support. The fewer
versions of the software the vendor supports, the more focused and helpful the
training and support staff can be.
Equally important is staff
quality. Being a computer whiz is not enough. The support staff must have a
profound understanding of the philosophy behind the software and should have
extensive experience in the publishing industry.
If you have many people who need
training, it may be more cost effective to fly a trainer to your site for
training. But itÕs often best to send your people to a training facility away
from the phones and problems that can arise at work, or to have trainings
conducted over the Internet.
Scalability. The primary benefits
of scalability are reduced cost and effort. Most of us have been through the
headache of transferring data and training users on a new system. System
conversions are disruptive to business; you donÕt want to go through more than
As your business grows, major
changes will inevitably occur, but a scalable system will adapt. Scalable
systems are built for multiple users. When a system has the proper amount of
capability built in, you wonÕt need to pay for upgrades or additional hardware
infrastructure. A truly scalable system is the last piece of publishing
business software your company will ever have to buy.
Gregory Beck is vice
president of sales at IPRO Business Systems, where he helps publishers, book
distributors, and wholesalers find solutions to their business problems. To
contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ipubtech.com.