R&D spend increased

We have just lodged our R&D numbers for the 2006/07 financial year and have reported a 33% increase in R&D spending on the previous year.  Innovating is expensive in the software marketplace, especially at the small business end where IT standards are slim and we find ourselves developing standards as well as developing the application.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  R&D is crucial to our success.

The R&D reporting process is one of the few reporting to government processes I enjoy because you get to review the year and consider this in the context of current work.  As one often discovers when completing the R&D reporting, there are projects which didn’t make it.  The government paperwork reminds you of the cost of the experiment.

Missing the stylus

I lost the stylus from my mobile phone and am having to punch my pudgy fingers on the screen to type in text messages and use it’s other features on which I rely.  Ugh!  This is the second stylus I have lost in the last couple of months.  While I should have taken more care, it’s a reminder that no matter how good technology us, it’s the usually most basic item, like the stylus, which makes it useful.

Customer feedback

ilove.JPGWe are receiving some wonderful feedback from customers using our eziPass free software to sell mobile phone recharge and electronic vouchers. The feedback was so strong that we established the iloveeziPass website to share the feedback with the world. Given the competitive marketplace in which eziPass operates, customer feedback is important as it is proof of us delivering on our commitment to make business easier for newsagents.

Expensive jury duty

The State Government in Victoria ought to review its jury duty arrangements. The $30 a day they pay does not even cover travel costs in most cases. Business is told it has civic duty to fund this, certainly that is what the public servant to whom I spoke yesterday said when I challenged a key member of my team sitting around for two days waiting to be called.

If I have a civic duty to fund the jury system then the Government has a duty to respect that investment and deal with it efficiently. Having 100 people waiting all day for no outcome, burning someone else’s money is bad form.

Retailer Mobile coming soon to a PDA near you

retailer_mobile.JPGThis is a screen shot from our new Retailer Mobile product, a PDA version of our softaare packed with functionality for our newsagent, jeweller and gift shop customers.

We will announce full details to our customers in the next week and have delivery available ready for stock take season. We will also be demonstrating this at the eleven trade shows we have coming up between now and September.

While our software runs on PDAs today, retailer Mobile takes our use of that technology to a new and more useful level. This is genuine innovation – based on what we see in the marketplace.

Victorian newsagents shifting from DOS

The Herald and Weekly Times (News Ltd) commitment to helping Victorian newsagents make the move from DOS is paying off. They are moving to Windows based technology and, finally, running software which meets industry standards.

When H&WT first approached us on this project we made a commitment on price. They made a commitment on interest free funding., This mutual commitment has worked well and delivered a good outcome for Victorian newsagents.

It is tough to mode from technology with which you are very comfortable, no matter how out of date it may be by industry standards. If it does the job you require of it then considering an alternative seems all too difficult. Thanks to our special handling of these recent DOS convertees we are able to ease the burden and help people celebrate their release sooner than they expected.

National user meeting series announced

We have announced seventeen face to face user meetings / training sessions to be held over the next six weeks. These events are available free to all of our users as well as those contemplating using our software.

Several of us will be at each meeting covering management, technical and sales. Having this level of presence holds us accountable for the systems we have sold and provides the best opportunity for feedback from our user community.

  • Hobart – Thursday, May 8 – 10am
  • Launceston – Friday, May 9 – 10am
  • Canberra – Monday, May 12 – 2pm
  • Melbourne – Tuesday, May 13 – 10am
  • Geelong – Tuesday, May 13 – 2pm
  • Adelaide – Wednesday, May 14 – 10am
  • Albury – Thursday, May 15 – 10am
  • Wollongong – Tuesday, May 20 – 10am
  • Sydney (Camperdown) – Tuesday, May 20 – 2pm
  • Penrith – Wednesday, May 21 – 2pm
  • Newcastle – Thursday, May 22 – 10am
  • Gold Coast – Tuesday, May 27 – 10am
  • Brisbane – Tuesday, May 27 – 2pm
  • Sunshine Coast – Wednesday, May 28 – 10am
  • Cairns – Thursday, May 29 – 10am
  • Darwin – Tuesday, June 3 – 10am
  • Perth – Wednesday, June 4 – 10am

Bookings are made by email: bookings@towersystems.com.au. Include your business name, the session you are booking for, contact number and the number attending.

Why we need Australian Point of Sale software

Australian retail businesses are better served by Australian point of sale software.  Of course I would say that – I own and Australian software company.  Australian software companies cater to local laws and customs.  We understand the context of these local requirements.  Our software has been developed in consultation with Australian based suppliers and with departments in the Australian Government – to ensure we meet regulatory requirements.

This has been on my mind this weekend because I have been talking with a retailer here about software they are looking at buying for their business from the United States.  The software handles the basic requirements and can even be ‘bent’ to take care of GST reporting.  However, it does all this using US terminology and following US customs.  Lay-by becomes Lay-away, stock becomes inventory.

While these may seem like small points, they are important because they go to our culture.  The same case can be made for Australian films, books, TV shows and music.  These creative pursuits carry out culture forward.  The same is true for our software.  Within good software we encode the Australia way of business and eschew some of the more aggressive American techniques in retail.

In a small way, Australian software helps preserve the Australian voice.  It is incumbent on Australian software companies to find ways to do this within the context of business management software.

Just read: Made to Stick

stick.JPGMade to Stick By Chip Heath and Dan Heath is an excellent book about communicating and, in particular, making what you communicate stick.  What is covered in the book is as applicable in business as it is in personal life.

Made to Stick is readable from cover to cover.  This is not your traditional business book full of hot air and twice as long as it needs to be.  The supporting anecdotes are not too long.  I recommend it to anyone who has to communicate ideas.  Stripping an idea back to its simplest form is a challenge in an IT business. Made to Stick offers some particularly helpful insights into how to do this and maintain the core of the idea.

Several of us at Tower Systems has read the book already and once some more have we’ll start to talk about application.

Updated gift shop software

We are in the final stages of testing a new release of our gift shop software. Tapping into the unique requirements of gift shops we have enhanced the facilities in our software to better serve this marketplace. Some of the enhancements in our gift shop software are:

  • New gift shop supplier facilities – making doing business with our connected suppliers easier.
  • More gift shop friendly stock management facilities.
  • Enhanced lay-by tools.
  • Alternative sales reporting views.

Getting closer to gift shop owners has been a pleasure for us over the last year. Suppliers, too, have been a source of advice and inspiration for us as they, too, want to make life easier for gift shop owners. As our market presence grows so to will be the relationships on which we can draw to enhance our software even further.

We will be installing the new version of our gift shop software from mid next month.

Relying on technology

Our Sydney phone system was upgraded this week to support increased call traffic and provide more complete integration with our national network. Things did not go well. For a couple of days our team in Sydney were on a bumpy ride while technicians and experts from Optus sorted through the challenges. Thankfully, all is working well now.

The experience was a reminder of the importance of a robust communications infrastructure.  We have our Help Desk working out of multiple offices and all connected back through a national phone system and national CRM database. Our investment on this project has been considerable and the Sydney upgrade was the last step from a hardware point of view. Our softwasre investment in CRM has several more stoops before the project is completed.

Connecting the offices as we have we are able to locate Help Desk team members in more offices around the country and move calls quickly to the best person the the task. In short, the new telecommunications technoilogy is helping us reduce call response time and improve access to our team of experts.

This weeks experience has had us looking at contingency plans should one our offices be off line because of a telco network issue because no amount of technology can protect you from challenges outside your control.

More online training for newsagents

We have scheduled more 1 hour online training opportunities for newsagents. We’re trying Wednesdays following feedback from our users:

  • Wednesday, 7 May 2008 11:00 AM Magazine Management
  • Wednesday, 7 May 2008 2:00 PM Stock Re-Ordering
  • Wednesday, 14 May 2008 11:00 AM Magazine Management
  • Wednesday, 14 May 2008 2:00 PM New User Training

Book by email: bookings@towersystems.com.au.

Supporting newsagents though sponsorship

golds.JPGWe are proud to be a Gold Sponsor of the 2008 newsagent industry convention being organised by the Australian Newsagents’ federation.

Given the peace announced yesterday by the ANF and the QNF (Queensland state association) 2008 appears to be the year newsagents make good progress to a unified national representative body.

By financially supporting the ANF convention this year we are demonstrating our support for newsagents in a practical way.  We are helping to fund an excellent opportunity for newsagents to network and learn.

Tower Systems is the only software company serving newsagents providing this support.

Getting to the right person

I’m not a good support person.  My technical knowledge is not as good nor my availability as good as I’d expect from one of our support people.  While I’m happy to take calls from our customers, if it’s a support question I suggest they use the process we’ve established for them. 

This is on my mind because yesterday I received a call yesterday from someone not happy with a response from one of our help desk people and they wanted my intervention.  I told them that’s the last thing they’d want as it bypasses the processes established for them. 

We have invested considerably I our help desk and the supporting escalation process.  With anything from 150 to 300 calls processed in a day such processes are necessary.  It is also why I should not be taking support calls – bad advice because of me being out of touch helps no one.  Hence my comments to our customer yesterday.  The best I can do is find the right person and this is what I did.

One challenge of serving small business customers is that of direct contact.  Small business owners expect to be able to pick up the phone and call owners of other small businesses direct.  I understand that.  It’s why my mobile number is widely published.  However, our escalation is published as well, outlining the recommended entry points for any query or issue.

Our newsletter next month will highlight our escalation process again – to help people with a query about support to get to a more senior person sooner.

Building the knowledge base

As part of our CRM project we have been building a knowledge base of responses to queries put by users.  This project is part of the CRM project we commenced more than a year ago.  We are encoding the advice we provide in the support calls we take each day. 

Call responses are edited and then peer reviewed.  This is a time consuming but valuable process.  Over time, we are building a knowledge asset of tremendous value about our software and responses to questions our users are likely to ask.

This is another way our CRM project is reaching deep inside our business to drive better and more consistent outcomes for our user community.

We will have more to say about how we plan to deploy this knowledge base soon – this will be another exciting development in customer service at Tower Systems.

Beta test for software update

Our latest software update has moved into beta test phase with several of our more experienced using running the software in their businesses.  We have a structured in house and beta test cycle we put updates through prior to release.  We have found this process works best for our small business customers.  They are able to plan updates and have more control over the process.

DOS is dead

Despite one or two lonely claims, DOS software is dead in the newsagency channel and, indeed every small business channel.  Software companies and businesses owners clinging to old DOS software are clinging to the Titanic.  This is software which fails industry compliance tests – tests windows bases systems passed years ago.  Newsagents using the software are holding back suppliers who are trying to re-engineer their IT relationships with newsagents.

Supporting entrepreneurs

I had the privilege of speaking at a newsagent conference in Queensland yesterday.  My presentation was about the entrepreneurial newsagent.  In preparing for the presentation I spent considerable time checking in with the tools in our software which could help a newsagent or any independent retailer in their entrepreneurial pursuits.

While I was happy with the flexible views we provide for business performance – and thereby guide business decisions – I felt we could do more to help our users step outside their traditional business in pursuit of new opportunities.

In researching entrepreneurship among independent retailers overseas I have found some opportunities which are applicable to our customer base.  So, we will play in this space, going beyond the traditional facilities of point of sale and retail business management and explore how we can better help our customers step beyond tradition in pursuit of new customers and new revenue.

Protecting the business owner

We were contacted by the manager of a newsagency using our software wanting to access data protected by the highest level password in their system.  While we had known the manager for some time and knew the owner was overseas, we refused the request.  Our policy is that we will not release highest level security passwords without written permission from an owner of the business.  As it turns out, adhering to our policy was a wise move.  The manager has left the business on bad terms.

Frustrating travel in Brisbane

I spent yesterday in Brisbane, up on the 6:05am and back on the 6:10pm.  I encountered frustrating traffic congestion in the morning and afternoon.  I don’t have high expectations of state governments except when it comes to planning.  Traffic goes to the heart of being planning for and managing growth.  Brisbane is so bad one has to now fly in the night before to be on time for a morning appointments.  Likewise, you either leave early afternoon or late at night.

Announcing a new opportunity for newsagents

New marketing / loyalty platform for newsagents

Kachingo Limited has announced the launch of a new in-store marketing / loyalty platform for newsagents.

The Kachingo platform provides free sweepstake entries and triggered coupon offers in participating Newsagencies based on items sold.

Kachingo will be launched to newsagents exclusively through the Tower Systems newsagent point of sale software platform.

Fully supported by strong loyalty and data management capabilities,Kachingo will deliver a suite of benefits to retailers and suppliers.

“This exciting partnership gives us the opportunity to showcase the unique functionality of Kachingo whilst at the same time unlocking new revenue streams and increasing profitability for Newsagents.” said Paul Bird, CEO Kachingo.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to help newsagents grow their businesses by integrating the Kachingo rewards and marketing tools with our widely used point of sale technology.” said Mark Fletcher, Managing Director of Tower Systems.

Phil Hudson, Kachingo Chairman, said “The powerful partnerships that we are forming in Australia give us the chance to showcase our unique program in one of the most dynamic retailing environments in the world. Australia is dominated by two large retailers – who essentially compete with everybody else. Kachingo delivers the platform to unite those other retailers by utilising a unique set of new media marketing tools and networked back end – thereby enabling them to compete more effectively with the big boys.”

The Kachingo roll out commences with a trial in May 2008 and is expected to reach its Newsagency target footprint of 2,600 outlets in 2009.

New EDI player in town

We are enjoying working with another company in the EDI space which facilitates providing invoices to our customers, including newsagents, as well as processing orders going back through them to suppliers. I say enjoying because it is a more commercially beneficial relationship for our users than others involving newsagents.  An EDI platform independent of retailers and their suppliers has its advantages if our latest experiences are anything to go by.  We will announce details of the new EDI link next month.

Smarter theft management for gift shops

We have released new technology to help cut theft in gift shops. The new Security Bridge directly links security camera technology with the Tower Retailer for Gifts point of sale software.

This is the most advanced theft management solution available for gift shops. Owners can access the technology and reports from anywhere in the world.

Studies in Australia show that theft in businesses like gift shops can cost between 3% and 5% of annual sales. Smart technology can reduce theft and improve the bottom line of the business.

Following months of work with gift shop owners and managers, Tower Systems has developed its exclusive facilities to cut the cost of theft in gift shops. The system is already in use and has a track record of success.

In a matter of seconds, using the new theft management facilities, gift shop owners can easily:

  • Replay a sale, any sale – having found the sale by what was sold, who did the sale, date, time or other criteria.
  • Verify when an item was purchased and exactly by whom – eliminate false refund claims.
  • See who has given a concerning discount and when.
  • See the end of day balance – from anywhere in the world.
  • View a highlights package from the day of potential problems rather than watching a screen for hours.

The new gift shop theft management tools from Tower Systems provide big business facilities in a small business package. They don’t interfere with the running of the business nor do they burden this business with technology – you can continue to provide the customer focus you provide today but with greater peace of mind.

Key to the new theft management facilities is a deep link between the Tower Gift Shop software and state of the art security camera technology. Sales details are stored with video, allowing you to search vision by point of sale activity. This is addition to traditional security tracking of activity elsewhere in the shop.

Key to cutting theft in retail is having robust management processes for tracking activity and responding to incidents. This is more easily achieved with an integrated point of sale / security camera (CCTV) system. While some will say it smacks of a big brother approach to business, it actually fosters a safer working environment for your team.

Tower Systems has worked with police in four states on employee and customer theft cases, providing expert advice and evidence drawing on years of experience. It has leveraged this experience in the development of the next generation of theft management tools for gift shops.

Gift shop owners have a choice when it comes to theft management – trust everyone and do nothing or protect your asset and those who work in the business.

The integrated point of sale / theft management solution from Tower Systems has proven that good theft management pays for itself – the company uses the system itself in its own four gift shops.