Confession: At any given time, we have too many windows open on our computers. We also keep too many piles of paper on our desks. Maybe it’s because we like to multitask; maybe we want to be ready in case inspiration strikes. But even if we tell ourselves it’s organized chaos—that still equates to half chaos. And, usually, that doesn’t make for productive working conditions. “It’s not very efficient when you have to move five things to get the one thing you need,” said Ron Keller, subscriber services manager of West Lawn, Pennsylvania-based Xetex Business Systems Inc. “The same applies to software. When a distributor uses multiple or disorganized platforms, even the most basic task can be difficult.”
Enter single-source software solutions.
These all-encompassing programs promote increased organization, efficiency and productivity, but they can seem overwhelming to the uninitiated. That’s why we turned to two experts on the subject—Keller and Susan Godfrey, marketing director of Reno, Nevada-based e-Quantum Inc.—to break down the basics. Whether your company is looking into using one or isn’t familiar with the concept, here’s what you need to know.
What is it?
Xetex Business Systems Inc. and e-Quantum Inc. provide two of the leading options for single-source software, which allows distributors to integrate multiple tasks into a single system. Part of what makes their programs stand out is that they’ve been developed specifically for the print and promotional products industry and its needs.
Distributors use Xetex Xebra from Xetex Business Systems Inc., as Keller explained, “to create and manage jobs from initial quote stages through the completion of production and delivery.” Xetex Xebra seamlessly integrates a variety of tools, including order entry, accounting, inventory, artwork management, apparel ordering and more. It also features an e-commerce solution—a Web-based store where the end-customer can order on-demand product, proof and order web-to-print collateral, and manage inventory.
“Our software is a subscription-based service, and it’s a subscription not just to the software, but also [to] the services behind the software: the research and development, the ongoing updates, customer support, tech support, hosting services and more,” Keller said.
e-Quantum Inc. offers a similar package. Through its e-Quantum distributor management system, it “offer[s] companies a fully integrated accounting, inventory, order management and e-commerce package,” Godfrey said. “All your key back-office functions are available in the cloud or installed on a single [computer] or network of computers in your office.”
With Quantum Net, the company’s fully integrated e-commerce system, distributors, as Godfrey explained, create “custom client catalogs for print, promotional products, office suppliers, computer consumables, apparel and web-to-print, allowing shoppers to purchase items in one shopping cart.” Any item, whether stock or on demand, is available for a custom client catalog.
For some added perspective, Godfrey said e-Quantum Inc.’s client base includes 580 distributors, 42,000 clients and more than 518,000 users placing online orders.
Why do I need it?
The simple answer is growth—of sales, productivity, capability, etc. In streamlining tasks, the software enhances organization and efficiency (and, consequently, sales). “This translates to increased productivity and more time available to concentrate on what really drives the success of the distributorship—sales,” Keller said. Similarly, the organization and efficiency of the software results in faster response time on vendor issues and customer needs, which means better customer service and better sales. “Happy customers equal greater sales,” he noted.
If distributors face productivity issues, the software also provides solutions. Take, for instance, e-Quantum’s Auto-Scheduler. “[The Auto-Scheduler] allows many tasks, such as auto-invoicing and scheduling of time-sensitive reports, to be emailed to clients, sales staff and management,” Godfrey explained. “These features increase productivity and reduce operating costs.”
Another benefit of these software solutions is the potential for increased capabilities. “The corporate client will demand more online capability,” Godfrey said, citing aspects like manager’s approval, spending limits, order status and Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance as added security for credit card processing.
Regardless of size, single-source software solutions can provide flexibility of growth for all companies. Keller explained how any size company can benefit from the Xetex Business Systems Inc. software. “That kind of flexibility means, once you make the move, Xetex Xebra is the only solution you’ll ever need,” he said. “That stability is really appealing for the distributor with designs on long-term growth and success.”
Is it easy to use?
A user-friendly program is a necessity, both Keller and Godfrey agreed. “The job flow of the system as a whole has been developed to work the way distributor[s] work,” Keller said. “It’s meant to work with the operator[s] rather than against them.”
Both companies champion the importance of making data easy to enter, access and follow. “The integration of tools provides little, if any, redundancy of data entry and seamless interaction while handling jobs with varying needs,” Keller explained.
“Continuity of client data is key to the power of our system,” Godfrey added. “Data is entered one time at the start of the process when clients request a quote or place an order. Requests for quotations (RFQs) convert to client quotations, which, in turn, become purchase orders and, finally, invoices. This data path enables order tracking and client history, as well as powerful sales analysis and reporting.”
With technology continually expanding, single-source software solutions are updated throughout the year to ensure distributors are utilizing the most efficient programs for their needs, and to make those programs easier to use.
e-Quantum Inc. averages one major update every quarter, with the next release incorporating multi-language capabilities to communicate with customers across borders. Xetex Business Systems Inc. updates as new developments arise. In 2015, it released nine updates—and has a major release launching before the first quarter ends, when it will introduce vendor integration, sourcing integration and an enhanced user dashboard.
So distributors don’t need to worry about falling behind—or struggling to learn the new systems. Both Keller and Godfrey admitted the most difficult part of the software is the initial switch to the new system—as is true of most new programs. That’s why the companies are there to help. Support is critical. Distributors are sales- and customer service-based, not tech companies, so the software companies are there for assistance with setup, updates and general questions.
“We try to combat this issue by providing very hands-on assistance through the setup process,” Keller said. “Our support team works closely with new subscribers to install and set up their system and convert any data they would like to preserve.”
“We provide on-site training or training at our corporate office, webinars, and provide access to a knowledgeable support team with multiple years of experience to answer any questions,” Godfrey added.
Where is it heading?
The programs are in constant states of development. “The technology race has no finish line, because the whole technology industry keeps advancing and so does your competition,” Godfrey explained. “So as soon as you fall behind, your business is in danger.”
The industry, though, is not in danger, as single-source software solutions trend toward even greater integration than what is already in use to streamline the distributor sales process. It’s moving toward, what Keller calls, “the zenith of organization, efficiency and ease-of-use”: Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions.
What’s an ERP solution? In short, it’s complete integration of customer activity, distributor management and vendor production in one that makes interaction and communication seamless, Keller said. But it isn’t just for the distributor—it’s for every link in the chain. “An ERP is meant to integrate all components of an operation from start to finish,” Keller said. “When I think of [start to finish] in relation to a distributor, I think that a distributor starts with the customer, moves to the vendor, and then moves back to the customer—and that’s when we’re finished.”
From RFQs, quotes for customers, purchase orders, acknowledgements, shipping confirmation with tracking, and billing (think everything from paying a vendor to invoicing a customer to receiving payment from a customer), the goal is to unify these processes to benefit all involved, Keller explained. “So as we continue to develop as an ERP, I see a greater level of integration with the vendor,” Keller continued. “I see a greater level of communication and more automation with the customer, so that everything becomes this smooth seamless integration.”
While Xetex Business Systems Inc. already has a piece of the customer automation with its e-commerce add-on, it’s working toward an even greater customer-distributor connection. The first-quarter upgrade also pushes toward this ERP advancement, implementing enhanced vendor integration. “What we will ultimately have available is the ability to more seamlessly communicate between the systems,” Keller said, listing promotional suppliers SanMar, Issaquah, Wash.; Bodek and Rhodes, Philadelphia; and alphabroder, Trevose, Pa., as the first vendors to be integrated.
Similar systems are in place at e-Quantum Inc. “[More than 30] manufacturers have XLM Interoperability with e-Quantum,” Godfrey said. “This means all orders are automated into the manufacturer’s production software and, in return, all shipping [and] expensing information updates e-Quantum’s ERP system to complete the loop for invoicing your client.”
Ultimately, the goal of the software is to help distributors in their daily jobs. “As a technology company, we’re not just selling them something,” Keller said. “We are partnering with distributors. Their success directly influences our success. It’s a symbiotic relationship. We both must do our part—and we have to do it very well. … And every release that we do now is improving on this greater, all-encompassing ERP concept.”
Allison Ebner is content editor for Promo Marketing, NonProfit PRO and Print+Promo. Reference any animated movie, "Harry Potter" character or '80s band and you'll become fast friends.