Experimenting with more electronic product for our retailers

The national reach of the retail networks using our point of sale software makes us appealing to suppliers with electronic product they wish to promote. We welcome new products to consider with a very open mind. While iIt is not our place to judge the products, we do conduct a due diligence around certain criteria. We also focus on the ease of selling and the ease with which we can bring the new products to the registers on our network. Their success is up to the product pitch and the supplier marketing budget.

With work we have done recently we have developed guidelines for reviewing products being offered for our Tower Systems and eziPass platforms. These guidelines bring consistency to our internal processes. They also provide start-up suppliers with a benchmark against which they can compare their offer and back end functions before they formally approach us.

Saturday support for retailers

In addition to our after hours support, for fourteen months we have offered Saturday support.  We are the only software company serving newsagents to this service.  Most Saturday calls are from users seeking advice on better use of the software – not your traditional Help Desk call.

By providing the office based service, we are able to provide better quality advice and access user systems to more quickly deliver the outcome they seek.

Accessibility is key in any software support situation.  This is another reason we commit considerable resources to our Saturday support service as well as our regular after hours service.

Tower Systems releases software update

We have released a software uodate at our website this afternoon which delivers enhancements in five areas of our software.  More than half of the content of the update delivers enhancements directly requested by users.  The other half of the changes are supplier requested changes and changes to address bugs reported by users.

The full details of the content of the update have been published this afternoon to our user community.

The update is freely available to users covered by our annual software support (Tower  Advantage) service.

Included in the user requested enhancements is extensions to several reports to add value beyond their original purpose.

Newsagent training video for EDI

We are about to release a brief training video for newsagents using our software to manage magazines. This video covers EDI arrivals – a key part of compliance around IT standards for magazines. We have released the video, accessed through our website, for comment to our user community. We are keen for feedback as we develop more of these structured training resources. While it would be easy for us to select training video topics, we feel it is better to be guided by our customers.

Video training is another element in our overall training portfolio which includes on site face to face training, online training workshops, group user meetings, written training (Advice Sheets) and over the phone training.

The video suite will cover areas of the system staff need to learn. Our users will be able to have staff do the training at their own time and at a location which suits without the need to travel. Access to future training videos will be free to our Tower Advantage users.

Our approach to developing these training videos is to keep them simple. By that I mean that we will not over produce. We started down that road and the productions ran the risk of being bigger than Ben Hur. Our customers told us that they preferred short and simple training which was not over produced.

Helping newsagents balance magazine range

For more than a year we have been engaged with NDD on a project which pursues a more balanced supply of magazines to newsagents. Access to this project and its associated benefits is available to all Tower newsagents using our current software and following best practice data standards.

This project is further evidence of the considerable difference between software available for newsagents. As newsagents ourselves we understand the importance of a data based engagement with magazine distributors to achieve an efficient supply model.

NDD first approached un in 2007 and we readily agreed knowing that many in our user community met the requirements of good data and adherence to standards.

Through 20-08 we implemented the project and achieved measureable and valuable success for participating newsagents.

Newsagents wishing to access this new supply model can talk to our help desk. There is no additional cost to access the financial benefits which the project will bring.

Customer service escalation

Around ten years ago we established a structured support escalation process to provide our user community with accessible access points should service down the line not live up to expectations.

If any of our users is unhappy with a Help Desk call for any reason, they can talk with our Customer Service Manager on 03 9524 8000 or support@towersystems.com.au.  This management role is filled by experienced technical people with an ability to navigate complex issues and make decisions to right wrongs.

If our Customer Service Manager does not address any issue satisfactorily, our users can talk directly with our General Manager, Gavin Williams on 03 9524 8017 – this is his direct line.  They can also email Gavin on gavinw@towersystems.com.au.

If Gavin does not address any issue to satisfaction, anyone in our user community can make direct contact with me, I am the owner of Tower Systems and can be reached on 0418 321 338 or by email at mark@towersystems.com.au.

We publish these escalation details on our weekly user email as well as on our monthly print newsletter.  A summary is included on the support cards we provide twice each year to our users.

Our escalation process is transparent and accessible because we understand that we are only as good as our last customer service contact.

Talking with an Indian journalist about software development

I was interviewed overnight by a journalist from India writing about the state of small business software development in Australia and software for retailers in particular. We had an interesting discussion about the health of the software development businesses in our respective countries. Indian software companies are doing it tough with many outsource contracts not being renewed. This is leading to development rates being cut and new models being pursued.

The journalist wanted to know why we choose to develop in-house rather than outsource like some others our size have.

Having development in-house gives us an advantage which we leverage for maximum benefit. We can respond to change faster, without the need to get off-site or overseas contractors to understand changes needed before development can start.

While in-house development is more expensive on a day to day basis, the current instability of offshore development proves it to be more beneficial for the long term health of our products and our business.

Helping unsupported users catch up

We have a program of assistance for users who have an old version of our software and want to catch up to the latest version. This includes training assistance as well as consideration on the cost of catching up. We manage this process outside our usual help desk service given that we could be working with a version of software that is some years old.  Our goal is to make the process easy and data safe.

Since software support is not mandatory with Tower Systems, some of our users do allow the coverage to lapse. Rather than leaving these businesses behind, our catch-up service makes getting current again achievable.

Our policy of not forcing our customers to pay a support fee to keep the software working helps us win more customers.

Update changes in 2009

Without any fanfare we changed our approach to updates this year. We have already released four updates. These have been released online for our users to download. The next update will be supplied on CD as it will contain a full system backup. We have found that CD distribution such as this provides our customers with peace of mind should their computer crash and they need to reinstall from scratch.

The CD based update will be followed by more online updates. The way we release these is such that our users can skip updates and catch up easily.
We made the change in response to requests from our users at our last round of user meetings.

Just read: Reality Check

reality_check.jpgGuy Kawasaki’s book Reality Check is strange business book.  It does not follow the traditional formula of taking too many pages to fill out a simple theory or business principle which could be covered ina fraction of the space.

Reality Check is a bunch of short chapters on a diverse range of topics.  Since I’m not in start-up mode I skimmed much of that content.  It was the chapters on the workplace, social entrepreneurship and the no-asshole and similar chapters which I found most interesting. I also liked the chapter on the art of innovation – short yet packed with valuable wisdom.  That’s what I like about this book – short chapters, to the point and no wasted ink.

Guy is a smart thinker and an even better communicator.  This is the kind of book to use as a reference or reminder when needs arise.

Loading gift and homewares supplier stock files

As we develop a deeper presence in the gift and homewares retail channels, we are working more with small suppliers who do not follow traditional EDI standards. To help these suppliers transact with retailers, we have developed a new approach to importing stock files which provides tremendous flexibility. Now, small gift and homewares suppliers are able to provide files, usually from existing systems, which help their retail partners build accurate stock files and thereby better enjoy the trading relationship.

We are grateful to our gift and homewares retailers and their suppliers for helping us develop this new approach.

Fixing a software bug

Like any smart software company we rely on ou users to let us know if we make a mistake.  The update we released online last week contained a bug which was not revealed in our testing.  Once we received the report of the bug, we followed standard procedure and tested in house.  The bug was real and the solution found.  A revised update was loaded at our website a few hours later, yesterday.  Thankfully, the bug affected only 15% of our customer base.

Software development can be an inexact process thanks to the complexity of industry specific solutions.  While we wish bugs would never exist in software we release, they will.  Our response yesterday demonstrates our commitment to resolution and transparency of the process.

Sydney Gift Fair busy

ts_gift_syd_feb09.JPGThe first two days of the Reed Gift Fair in Sydney have been very busy for us – as was the Melbourne Fair a few weeks back.

We have met plenty of gift and homewares shop owners as well as newsagents.  We also met several newsagents with two shops – a newsagency and a gift shop.

The mood of the fair is upbeat.  Suppliers and attendees are talking about good results being achieved in their businesses.

I am glad we made the decision last year to participate in so many gift fairs this year.  They attract quality attendees from several retail channels.  This makes the event efficient for us.  Unlike other trade shows, attendees at gift fairs tend to stay for two or three days and this helps us close business at the event.

The photo shows Tim Batt adn Nathan Morrison, part of the team we had on hand at Gift Fair to asnwer questions and demonstrate our software.

Free online training this week

Here is our schedule of free online training this coming week.  This training is part of the Tower Training Academy curriculum.  We have enhanced the value to our users by including a process thorugh which we check that what we have presented has been learned and can be used.

  • Retail Stock Management – Reordering 24/02/2009 11am
  • Magazine Management Workshop – 24/02/2009 2pm
  • Home Deliveries and Customer Management – 26/02/2009 11am
  • Magazine Management Workshop – 26/02/2009 2pm

Access to this training is free for our users.  All that is needed is a computer with broadband and a phone for a toll-free call for sound.

We started 2009 with a consistent and diversified range of online training – much of this featuring new content.  Customer feedback tells us that this is appreciated as it enables owners and employees to access training for a much lower time and travel cost.  We are also seeing excellent feedback after the events – customers contacting us to thank our team for the new knowledge and, often, time saved.

Protecting intellectual property Tower software users

The introduction of a login to access some content on our website has gone well.  At our weekly support meeting yesterday, our team reported that while some of our users are still getting used to the change and the need for a password to access our advice sheet library and updates, they like that we are restricting access to those who pay our annual software support fee.  This adds value to and respects their support for Tower Systems. It is why we call the support package and related services the Tower Advantage.  It is also what we have trade marked this.

Regulars here will know that we have had a busy week publishing five new advice sheets and revising others.  We have more work to do and you will see more new content publishers over the next few weeks.

The advice we provide evolves as we learn more about how people interact with our software.  This evolution develops even more value for the supported Tower Systems user community.

New newspaper subscription advice published

We have published Advice Sheet N34 Change Subscription Duration to our website. This advice sheet outlines advice on best practice handling the considerable changes to newspaper subscriptions brought about by Fairfax in Victoria in recent weeks. These changes eliminate end dates from subscriptions. The changes to the software have been developed in close consultation with Fairfax.

New advice sheet on NDD magazine management

We have published a new advice which covers the exclusive facilities released in our software for better management of magazine supply through NDD. Advice Sheet N3.9 Setting up NDD Category File covers all that Tower newsagents need to do in order to achieve more efficient, money saving, supply of magazines by NDD. these facilities are exclusive in our software.

Software update released

We have relased a software update for our Tower Systems point of sale software.  It is available for download through our website by registered users.  This is our third update this year.  The update delivers a couple of new facilities sought by suppliers to some of our customers and some enhancements requested by users.

New advice on user defined invoices

We have published a new advice sheet on how to handle data from suppliers who do not porvide an electronic invoice.  Following our advice (G39 – User Defined Invoices at our website), our users are able to save time bringing in new stock data to ensure that they sell accurately and professionally in their businesses.

This advice sheet, like others, is behind a log in wall to protect our intellectual property from being copied.  Access is free to users covered by our software support agreement.

Improved remote access support

We have revised our advice on support using remote desktop facilities and documented this in Advice Sheet T13 Remote Desktop Connection which has been loaded to the Tower Advantage area of our website for free user access.

Basket analysis tools a boon for retailers

Our basket analysis tools in our point of sale software have been a great help to several suppliers over the last month as they dig deeper into understanding where their products fit in baskets in one retail channel which we serve. We have been able to share comprehensive basket data for a benchmark group of Tower Systems stores to enable the suppliers to recast their offers to improve basket penetration.

The basket analysis tools in our software are crucial in driving balance in a retail business. Relying too much on one or two categories of products can harm a business in a challenged economic cycle. This is why, with our basket analysis training, we help our retailers understand the importance of balancing their businesses. It is also why we are at the table with suppliers this month because it is in their interests to have efficient retail channels.

We are in a position to share this data because of our dual hats of software company and retailer – they have enabled us to develop data tools beyond traditional small retailer point of sale facilities.  Here is a small sample of some of thesay of the week basket data we have assembled for suppliers:

basketpen.jpg

Promoting integrated broadband based eftpos

Following successful use in several locations and good data to support efficiency and other benefits, we are actively promoting the Tyro integrated broadband based eftpos link with our retail management software. We use this in our own retail businesses and therefore have first-hand knowledge of the benefits.

Tyro is a terrific help for retailers because eftpos processing is faster, more accurate and time saving at the back end (end of day and back office).  We have put together a cost comparison for ourusers who express interest.

See you at Reed Gift Fair Sydney

We will demonstrating our POS and retail management software for gift shops be at Reed Gift Fair in Sydney starting this coming weekend.  We are located in hall 4, stand 6132.  We will have Gift shop experts available to answer questiions, show you our software and put you in touch with existing users.  Our presence has been managed by Andrew Kahn our National Marketing Manager and the day to day management of our stand is being handled by Nathan Morrison our NSW State Manager.

The Reed Gift Fair in Sydney is the go to fair for gift shop owners and other retailers playing in the gift space.  If you attend, be sure to say g’day to our team.