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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey I am a local plumber with a few trucks and I was talking to a buddy of mine how I wanted to go digital. I'm just tired of all the paper. He knew a friend in IT who said he would design a system for me. I would just like oppinions on getting such a system? Have any of you used\wanted something like this? Here was his email to me describing the system:

EMAIL said:
The system is as follows:
*Client laptops mounted in the contractor's vans.
*A printer mounted in the contractor's vans
*A server or base computer stored at the office
*A wireless router (encrypted) to sync the clients and base.

When a contractor is on the job he will use the software I developed to get the customers information. The software will print professional looking invoices\estimates as well as keep an electronic copy of this information. The software will also collect the customers credit card details if this is the method of payment. All data will be stored ENCRYPTED on an external USB stick. Contractors are encouraged to remove USB sticks at the end of the shift (To add a layer of security against physical theft).

When the contractor finishes his day and comes back to the office he will be in range of the wireless router. From there the client laptop will send all data throughout the day to the base station. When the base station confirms it has received the data, it will then be deleted off the client's laptop. From there the base station will put the day's invoices into a spread sheet format for the office staff. Credit cards will also be processed automatically at this point and a report will be sent to the office staff. For backup (for some reason the wireless sync failed), a contractor may remove his USB stick and stick it into the base station. Sync will be automatic.

I will charge $700 per truck installed (my hardware) + $1000 for the other hardware installed and configured. This inculdes all software.
 

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After 15 or so years of wanting to do something on my own, I'm finally partnering up with my Dad to help run his company, sort of. He's 65, I'm 33. He's been in his industry (fasteners) for roughly 45 years and I've been in IT for all 11 years since college. You can imagine our difference of opinion over "paper."

We're going through the process now (will take months/years) of eliminating manual, paper-driven processes. The investment will pay huge dividends in time.

Constructator -- I can help review any specs you get on software, or with any other IT-related questions you have. Would be happy to help out.
 

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The Duke
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You can do everything he lists there from an iPhone or blackberry.

I set up a system a few years ago for a company with 75 employees and it worked flawlessly with software and equipment they already had.

The shop gets immediate information unlike your IT expert who wants you to wait until you get to the shop.

I mean cmon. How old is this guy?

If you need a laptop then tether the phone to it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Well I don't have an IPHONE, nor do my employees, nor do I want to get one of those things. I personally have prepaid cell service for $50 a month and do not like minute based plans such as ATT. The coverage is great, I use it for work all the time.

He did sugest Cell WAN usb sticks but I liked the fact that the wireless router is free per month vs the Cell WAN. How much should those run per month vs an IPHONE\ATT data plan?

So from what I get here paperless is worth it!

Also is that price fair? (This assumes I do nothing technologically related myself)
 

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You don't necessarily have to jump right to a mobile app for an iPhone, Blackberry, etc, but the software this guy is offering is antiquated. It's a client-server app with yours and your customers' data being shuttled around via USBs. Not a smart solution, nor one that will scale.

There are plenty of off-the-shelf solutions (applications) you can purchase that will run over the internet. All you need is a laptop with a wireless card and everything will be done right there, on the spot. No waiting until you're "in range of the wireless router." What happens if that worker doesn't get w/in range? What if your staff grows, you have to continue to purchase USBs and track them?

Lots of better options out there for you.
 

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The Duke
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the software this guy is offering is antiquated. It's a client-server app with yours and your customers' data being shuttled around via USBs. Not a smart solution, nor one that will scale.

There are plenty of off-the-shelf solutions (applications) you can purchase that will run over the internet. All you need is a laptop with a wireless card and everything will be done right there, on the spot.

Lots of better options out there for you.
My pointy exactly. What this guy is offering is way behind the times.

Well I don't have an IPHONE, nor do my employees, nor do I want to get one of those things. I personally have prepaid cell service for $50 a month and do not like minute based plans such as ATT. The coverage is great, I use it for work all the time.
So, let me get this straight. You want to spend MORE money than necessary and waste time. Meanwhile, your competition who understands how easy and cheap this is to implement is laughing all the way to the bank.

Ever think of what is going to happen to you when his equipment or software goes down? Hope he has people available when he's on vacation or not in the office.


Here's 3 options you have, among others

1. Most expensive, antique, and slow - your IT "expert"
2. Mid level expense and versatile - Laptop and data card
3. Cheapest and most versatile - iPhone or BlackBerry upgrade

Don't forget the training you will need from the "expert".
 

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I have gone to a Droid phone (Motorola CLIQ), with Freshbooks, and (currently) trying to integrate Google Docs with it. I did have a laptop/printer/cell card setup in my truck so I could print estimates once I got off the roof just like the big insurance guys, but with my current setup I can tell the customer the estimate is waiting in their Inbox when I climb off the ladder. No more paper, no more power converters dying on me, no crappy cell card connection....All of this has cost me a total of $300 bucks so far, not too shabby.
 

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I am emailing more estimates and the like, Although for me not all customers have it and when they do not all check it frequently. So I ask them to reply to me for some reason so that I know they got it or request a read receipt.
 

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In the next five years the emailing will be the ONLY way. Today I just did the first site visit. I sure wish I could turn a quote around in about 1/2 hour w/o phone calls, but customized custom stuff takes a little more time... too many factors.

I would agree, that if you can't set up a Raid 1 server w/ its own IP address in the office, where your guys can go to the local coffee shop, customers home or in the evening at their home having a beer log in and download, then the system ain't worth it.
 

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House Painting Denver
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I have a painting company in Denver, CO... And I have this free and easy system that works great!!! I use gmail for just about everything. Google / Gmail has everything that I need for communicating between my crews and the office. There is a calendar setup for each crew, a calendar for me, secretary, and each salesman. That way the crews know what job that they need to be going to next, my secretary knows where everybody is and can work around everything there. There is also google doc's where I have created time sheets, invoices etc.
One of the best features is that everything is hosted on google's servers... no more in house servers!!!!! All you need is a internet connection of some sort.
So, everybody has internet connection with their phones and can check out everything that they need to know. But, everything isn't visible to everybody, the permissions are set so that only certain people can see what I've given them permission to see. I really like it and it keeps EVERYBODY ON THE SAME PAGE!!!!
 

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House Painting Denver
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I wouldn't recommend purchasing a server. They cost a TON of money to purchase & keep up with maintenance / security. I would just start the move to an online server hosted by another company. It's a ton cheaper that way and you can access it from everywhere!
 

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You need to make sure that you are not going to go from being a plumbing company who wants to use technology to a technology company who happens to do plumbing. I used to see this all the time. Company would invest in all kinds of high speed low drag software and hardware to "make work easier" only to end up having to invest major $$$ in supporting it which takes away from what they do for a living. You also need to make sure that going digital actually makes sense for you.

For example our old order system was mainframe based. I had to fill out two screens of information on an order screen to get what I needed. We went to a new web based system because mainframe seemed so old and "everyone else was doing it". We went from two screens of input to 10 screens and having to open and close multiple windows. This made making an order 5 times harder and 8 times as long. A real bad investment.

The moral of this story is that if paper works for you then don't change. If it doesn't or if there is a need for you to move to digital because you need it to be competitive or because customers are expecting it then its a good investment. That said...

Do not buy a "custom" solution. It will only lead to grief. Go for what is known as COTS (Common Off The Shelf) packages that can be customized to meet your needs.

General rule of thumb is 80% off the shelf 20% custom. That way you are not going to be screwed when you need to upgrade/change something/need support and the guy who wrote the software is dead/retired/wants a ton of money/on vacation/etc.

Were I you I would sit down and pencil out what you need a system to do, what you want a system to do, what you would like a system to do and how much you want to spend on it. The spending part is the hardest because its hard to hit a number.

Honestly if its because you want to save money, then stop right there. Rarely will technology save you money out the gate. If its to make you and your guys more efficient, make the book keeping easier, make things look more professional, etc then you are on the right path. Ultimately you will save money and be more profitable because you are eliminating extra work, don't have to store files, can get access to records quickly, etc.

Then start looking at the various vendors out there that specialize in your area of work. Test drive each system and make sure its easy to use and does what you need at a cost that meets your budget before anything else. If its not easy to use and does what you need then being able to get real time streaming video of your cat taking a poop does nothing for you.
 
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