ISSUE 466: The high-tech office- Sept
Businesspeople looking for help keeping organized can
find relief in high-tech information managers
We all know that technology has made our business
lives much easier and more productive, right? And as a result, we no
longer need to organize our life using low-tech solutions such as pen
and day-planner, phone book, calendar, to-do list or, in my case, slips
of paper in the back pocket. Right?
So let's look at a range of available options, helped
out by Brad Desaulniers, president of Vancouver's Client-Management
Training Centres. CMTC (www.cmtc1.com) specializes in
customer database information systems, including Act!, Outlook,
Maximizer, GoldMine, SalesLogix and IBM's new entry into the
You'll find a range of product categories and actual
products, with tremendous variation of power and potential, along with
a potential variation of cost. Starting from the bottom, many of you
are already using personal information managers, commonly known as
PIMs. This used to be a fairly well-populated product category, but
since Microsoft started including its Outlook PIM in its
popular Microsoft Office package, sales of standalone PIMs have fallen
off. So if you already own an office suite such as IBM/Lotus or Corel,
which include PIMs in their suites, you may think of the price as free.
For the money, you get an electronic Rolodex with some calendar
functions and a to-do list. Desaulniers describes them as
"people-centric, a flat-file management system."
Up the ladder in price and power are a number of
client management systems, including Symantec's Act! and
several versions of Maximizer, from local company MultiActive.
Single copies of these programs start in the $200 - $250 range, but
users may want to spend $1,000 - $1,500 per computer to get a
specialist to customize the system for their business's unique needs.
Compared to PIMs, these programs are more complex,
offering the possibility of user-defined data fields. They enable users
to group clients, sort information and, in general, get a better handle
on the customer base.
Act! (www.symantec.com/act), on the lower end
of this product category, is well-designed to serve a single user with
perhaps a few hundred customers. Act! has been newly updated to version
4.0, running on Windows 95 and NT. A copy of the previous version, 3.2,
is included in the package for Win 3.1 users, who will lose out on the
latest features, but still have access to data from both versions.
Maximizer (www.maximizer.com) boasts more power
and includes significant database power, as well as the ability to
carry out complex searches. It can be used across a network, including
some workgroup capabilities and the ability to schedule meetings for
Maximizer comes in two flavours. Maximizer 5.0
replaces the previous Max 97IS version, and is aimed at a small office
or network; newly re-leased Max Enterprise expands
its abilities to a larger number of users.
While Act! is a solid product for an individual user,
and Maximizer is well-focused for a small to mid-sized workgroup, users
who are managing a group of employees -- especially if they are spread
across different locations -- need more.
At the next level is the more powerful, complex and
expensive GoldMine, from the aptly named GoldMine Software (www.goldminesw.com).
Think about $2,000 per seat to get a system rolled out. The program,
however, offers the ability to manage people across a sales territory.
The company promotes its abilities to "manage every facet of your
prospect/client relationships -- giving real solutions for your
workgroup and tools for your sales force." Sales leads found on the
Internet can be automatically sent to sales personnel. It can forecast
sales, evaluate return on investment and more.
With this level of features, GoldMine is merging with
the next higher product category: sales force automation products. A
typical product in this category is SalesLogix, coming in at about
$3,000 a seat, and aimed at businesses spread across multiple offices.
Double the cost to move even further up to Enterprise Automation products
such as Onyx and North Vancouver-based Pivotal Software. These
feature extreme customization and the ability to tie a business's
warehousing and manufacturing together with accounting.
In moving beyond those easy-to-lose slips of paper to
automated solutions, Desaulniers urges businesses to recognize their
needs and be prepared to spend time planning before implementing a
system. As each of these products has evolved, it has added features
and complexity, making it increasingly difficult for small and
mid-sized companies to afford the time to figure out how best to fit
the products to their needs. It's a bit like building a house, he
suggests: it will save money in the long run to assess needs, plan
strategies and customize these products right at the start.
He suggests it is also vital to choose a consultant
carefully. Much of the value-added retailer community is
product-specific. Some consultants, he suggests, will try to fit their
clients to the product they support rather than finding the product
that best fits the client's needs.
"The products have grown up fast, but the service
sector hasn't quite caught up to their capabilities," Desaulniers says.