SMEs step out with excellence on parade

Bosco Connect, LumberLink and VectorNet finalists in the small to medium enterprise category

Software to promote faster growth and business efficiency has paid off for the three finalists in the Computerworld Excellence Award for excellence in the use of ICT in a small to medium enterprise.

Our first finalist is Bosco Connect, a utility supplier that delivers phone, power and internet services to inner-city apartments, whose occupants move frequently. Bosco developed EzyBusiness, an ERP solution that helps it handle billing as well as all its other enquiries.

The second finalist, LumberLink, buys and sells timber and adapted its ERP, ActionStep, to help it run its business.

Finally, and already written up as a finalist in the innovative use of ICT category, is VectorNet, the Animal Health Board’s (AHB) GIS and web-based possum control tool.

EzyBusiness makes it all possible

Toby Warren, Bosco Connect’s managing director, says business would be hard without EzyBusiness.

The billing and CRM system uses SQL as a database, is written in .Net and works across the internet. It works with SAP Business One and helps the firm to quickly open and close accounts, and it can also calculate an opening electricity meter-reading. It also handles billing and can help chase after delinquent accounts.

Warren says the system can do the same things that the large scale ERP systems used by larger utilities do, but EzyBusiness, a bespoke system developed for Bosco, can do it much cheaper. It also links with Telnet, Bosco’s call centre provider.

The high turnover, low-use nature of Bosco Connect’s inner-city customers means they are not very profitable, so shaving costs matters. Fortunately, being able to handle 95% of customer calls within business hours at the Telnet callcentre helps. Bosco Connect looked at industry systems but instead chose to employ a consultant to develop a system for the company.

“We think the system pays for itself every three months,” says Warren.

Its ease of use and simplicity has helped the business grow from 1,000 clients to 8,000.

Web-based software also allows remote use and will enable Bosco Connect to start serving other cities outside Auckland.

John Chetwynd, managing director of Telnet, says his company works as Bosco’s callcentre.

EzyBusiness lets Bosco customers check their accounts, but also lets Telnet staff handle customer queries and gain more insight into customer details. “The system is extremely easy to use and is almost a benchmark of what other systems should be,” he says.

Telnet uses other CRM systems, such as Siebel and SAP, and says EzyBusiness is far easier to train people on.

“We have said to Toby it’s a pity other customers don’t take a leaf out of your book because of its simplicity and ease of use,” says Chetwynd.

Wood goes smarter

LumberLink used to have an old industry-based ERP system called TimberSmart, but it was very prescriptive and complicated to use. It was also slow and poor at producing reports. Now, it uses ActionStep, which handles everything from ordering to inventory management, including payroll, accounts and tax.

ActionStep works on the software-as-a-service model and was discovered by director Tony Johnston through a business colleague.

The offering was amended for LumberLink’s use and implementation was staged over three months.

Since installation, LumberLink says it has been able to triple in size, which couldn’t have happened under the old system.

Overall, Johnston says, it will have saved the business around $350,000, including savings on administration and hardware maintenance.

As it is web-based, the system doesn’t need a server and staff can access company data 24/7 from anywhere — including one staff member managing processes from a Shanghai hotel room.

The only “expense” has been installing a fatter internet pipe, but this has actually led to more savings as the company has moved its telephony services to VoIP.

“This wasn’t a possible concept 18 months ago. Most significantly, we have been able to grow the business and not have the office full of people yelling at each other,” Johnston adds.

TB vectors

The third finalist is VectorNet, for the Animal Health Board (AHB). VectorNet is a tool for designing, planning, contracting and managing all activities concerned with the bovine TB vector control programme. It was also a finalist in the innovative use of ICT category, published on June 9.

Alison Barrett, manager, business strategy and systems, for the AHB, says VectorNet, and its GIS-based information system, helps calculate the best places for possum control operations, and also how such operations can best be carried out. It also stores reports on other operations, allowing the development of best practices.

Kevin Crews, the AHB’s technical designer and analyst, says TB and possum control is geography-based, and the geo-spatial software assists in making the best allocation of resources and operations. Contractors can also use the system to find work, rather than the old Tenderlink website, he adds.

One user, Campbell Leckie of Hawkes Bay Regional Council, says VectorNet helps control operations by having all the data in one place.

Being web-based, the information can be accessed from anywhere and is easy to check; giving cost savings and consistency in the eradication programmes that operate across New Zealand, he says.

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