A new kind of software company.
George and David grew up in Southern California as sons of a father in the scrap business, with their earliest work experience consisting of sorting and preparing scrap metal and paper.
The duo grew up learning about the scrap business at the same time they were fascinated by computers and computer software and programming--a matching set of skills that has provided a recurring theme in the success of 21st Century Programming.
"Our experience is the difference," says David. "We're the only ones who can sort metal for our customers when we visit their plants. We have run processing equipment like theirs, driven forklifts and worked at the scale house."
The difference is apparent to customers like Brian Shin of Sam Lee Enterprises (SLE), Westminster, Calif. "They came from a scrap background--that's a real key point. When you talk with them it makes all the difference," he comments.
Customers have applauded the software, customization and technical support provided by 21st Century Programming because of its scrap industry-based frame of reference. "How can you expect someone who has never worked in a recycling company to really understand what the business is about or to be able to help someone who is using our software to learn to use it better?" asks George.
In less than five years, 21st Century Programming has won loyal customers in many different recycling industry segments with its easy-to-use automation systems that save recycling companies time, money and effort every single day on every single transaction they make.
STEPPING UP TO THE BAR (CODE)
Retailers and retail shoppers have seen the critical role played by the bar code grow to where it is today: One scan of a bar code at the cash register saves the cashier key strokes at the register, sends sales information to corporate headquarters and sends inventory information throughout the distribution chain.
21st Century has brought that same level of bar code integration to the scrap industry. "We've integrated bar codes into everything from production control and inventory management to tracking customers in a facility through final payment for material," says George.
As in the retail world, bar coding in the scrap environment saves work and improves data integrity. "Every place we use a bar code is specifically designed to eliminate user input errors, increase transaction speeds and provide better inventory, control," says David. "Anyone can put a bar code label on a bale--it's what you do with it afterward that counts."
The bar coding system that is part of the ROM package used by Unlimited Metals, Los Angeles, allows Lachance to immediately discern on-hand processed and unprocessed inventory. "I can look at my computer and find out I have 30,000 pounds of material of a certain grade, but only 15,000 pounds of it is processed," he cites as an example. "It also gives me an average buying price of what I paid for that grade."
Inventory made simple is a recurring theme of ROM users praising 21st Century's bar coding system. "We use the bar coding for inventory, which is just fantastic," says Jason Zeid of Universal Scrap Metals, Chicago. "We're able to take inventory quickly, compared to our earlier system, which involved more time and more people stopping what they were doing to help with inventory."
THE EASY TOUCH
An impressive feat accomplished by 21st Century Programming is to design software that is complex in terms of how it manages data and yet simple in the way users of the program interact with it.
The touch screen graphical user interface is a key component to the way ROM can be both simple and complex at the same time. "Because we designed our system around the touch screen, it has a more natural look and feel than many of the competing systems," says David.
21st Century customers vouch for the case of use of the touch screen. At Balcones Resources, with locations in Farmers Branch and Austin, Texas, and Little Rock, Ark., the ROM system is integrated throughout their production facilities, starting at the front-end scale and including data input by forklift truck drivers and warehouse workers.
"We're using ROM at the front-end scale at Farmers Branch," notes Balcones Resources CFO Dave Stephens. "A scale ticket can be generated from information entered by the forklift driver, and the people on the warehouse floor have taken to it immediately," says Dave.
Michael Lachance of Unlimited Metals is another ROM user who had to overcome unfamiliarity with computers. After quickly learning ROM, he is not eager to return to the former way of doing things. "The old school was a lot of carbon paper and filing," he recalls. "Now all of our information is updated automatically and is even backed up on the 21st Century Programming system in Long Beach."
Production workers new to computers at Calbag Metals in Portland, Ore., and Tacoma, Wash., have warmed to the computerization of their tasks with ROM. "We're using ROM touch screens in the warehouse and at the shipping docks--areas that didn't have computers before," notes Calbag's Chuck Gleason. "It's been a great transition for people who had not been around a computer. They're into it, it's easy to use and they have taken to it like fish to water."
Experienced computer users are also impressed with the ease of accessing information and generating reports. At Balcones, accounts manager Anabel Baldaras used to receive regular requests from executives, managers and sales representatives to generate custom and even routine reports.
Now, with ROM, those same co-workers log onto ROM, generate their own reports and check the status of key accounts on their own. "In the past, with more complicated software, they used to have to request the information," recalls Anabel. "Now, anybody from the CEO on down can see the information and understand what they are seeing. The program is easy to understand, and they can run reports whether they are trained in accounting or not. Windows and the ROM program are so user-friendly, anyone in the office can run a report for what they are looking for."
The portable bar code scanners and other automated devices that help the ROM software work effectively also have to be designed to endure the scrap environment.
With their background as scrap recyclers, George and David Kane have been careful to design and specify portable scanners and other equipment that can cope with dust in the air and rough handling in the work environment.
Like the pieces of equipment, the software code is written to run smoothly to avoid the types of "breakdowns" and screen freezes that can destroy productivity.
Bruce Falk of Action Sales & Metal Co. in Wilmington, Calif., is among the 21st Century Programming customers who was previously victimized by unreliable systems and equipment. "We grew up in the generation with the mentality that computers are expensive, difficult to use and always break down at the worst possible time," says Falk. But the developers at 21st Century, he says, "have developed the Rock of Gibraltar as Far as strength, accuracy and reliability."
One software solution does not fit all recycling facilities any more than one shirt size will fit all employees.
Keeping this in mind, 21st Century Programming considers all customers and applications as custom applications. The approach has allowed 21st Century to serve satisfied customers ranging from auto shredder operators to material recovery facilities (MRFs).
At Balcones Resources and other 21st Century customer locations, wireless laptop computers have become part of the ROM solution.
A wireless device on a forklift truck can be tied to the fork scales so the weighing information can be input directly into the ROM system. "This makes it so the fork lift driver can do nearly everthing without leaving the lift--dramatically improving the productivity of each driver," says David Kane.
On The Net
The Internet is being used as it was intended by 21st Century Programming: as a means to access information from remote locations wherever a user may be. "One of the best phone calls we ever received was from Bruce Giant of Pacific Iron & Metal, who called from the beach in Hawaii," says David Kane. "He had just finished selling all of his material for the month while soaking up the sun and drinking mai tais."
UP AND RUNNING
The niftiest software in the world is of little worth if users can't learn it and understand it within a reasonable timeframe.
21st Century Programming customers are unanimous in their praise for the smoothness of the installation process and the quality of employee training.
The company's lead trainer Norm Johnson worked his way through several positions at a family scrap company before joining the 21st Century Programming team. "His ability to understand what recyclers do in their operations and apply our system to it has proven invaluable," says George Kane.
Much of the initial effort by George, David and Norm comes at the outset, when several employees must learn a new system at once--all while trying not to fall behind in buying, processing and selling material.
"We're really good at translating between 'GeekSpeak' and 'Scrap Lingo,'" notes David.
With their scrap background the Kane brothers have the ability to hear a recycling-specific customer request, and then write the appropriate code to turn that request into reality.
"George and David were very easy to talk to," agrees Brian Shin of Sam Lee Enterprises (SLE), Westminster, Calif. "They understood right away what we needed and then they were willing to modify it to the way we wanted it."
At Calbag Metal's Portland, Ore., location, "The installation went exceptionally smoothly," says Director of Operations Chuck Gleason. "It was all the more impressive because it involved so many people and so much equipment on our side and more functions than any program we had tried before. A lot of things could have gone wrong; very few did."
Such testimony is music to George and David's ears. "We strive to make the installation as pleasant as possible. We work extra hard at customer service, and every step of the way we help our customers through the installation process," notes George.
New customers are sent a "New Customer Kit," designed to guide them through the process of preparing their basic data fur the ROM system. "We try to preload every customer's database with as much information as possible prior to installation," says David. "So we help the customer put together their inventory item lists, vendor lists, packaging types, etc. When customers begin using the system, having these familiar lists pre-loaded makes training easier and helps smooth the transition."
Training is also important. 21st Century brings a classroom to its customers, conducting university-style classes for employees at their work sites. The onsite training is yet another way 21st Century ensures a smooth transition for new customers.
IN THE RETURNS
Whether such an investment is paying off is measurable, and in the case of many 21st Century customers has been demonstrated quickly. Customers like Sam Lee Enterprises, Westminster, Calif. and Unlimited Metals Inc., Los Angeles, point to conducting increased business since adding 21st Century software while not adding any additional staff. "We try to stay lean and mean here and we've done it for a year-and-a-half thanks to the ROM program," says Michael Lachance of Unlimited Metals. "To have two people do all the volume that we're doing, it's just amazing."
At Pacific Coast Recycling in Long Beach, Calif., system administrator Christopher Bare notes that once-overworked staff members have experienced welcome relief since adopting the 21st Century ROM program about one year ago.
"Most departments have had their jobs made easier," says Bare. "Accounting has an easier time tracking inventory and shipments; the managers have instant access to daily reports; and the MIS department has seen a drastic decrease in the number of hours required to close the books for the month."
Says George Kane, "We've had customers increase their volume by 50 percent without hiring additional staff and purchase additional locations without increasing their accounting staffs."
Such results are important to quantify, they realize. "Many owners are sometimes hesitant to invest in computer programs; it is difficult for someone who doesn't use a computer every day to foresee the steps and labor that can be eliminated with a powerful computer system," says George.
AT THE CENTER OF PROFITS
Software may seem like a necessary expense on the surface, but properly considered it can be a key creator of profits.
"No matter what business you are in, you have certain processes and tasks that you have to do," says David. "Software, when designed right, can help reduce those tasks and streamline those processes."
In other words, efficient software creates bottom-line profits by allowing fewer people to do more work. "Software affects the performance of more employees than any other thing you buy for a recycling company. Whether it is the yard employee that enters weight and commodity information, clerks who process payments or the salesmen that work with the customers, all of them interact with the system in one way or another," notes George.
"For every one of those employees, most tasks they do can be refined, automated or streamlined to allow that person to do more for the company, which ultimately leads to the bottom line," he adds.
"There is no comparison between how fast you can process paperwork by hand versus a computer," David chimes in.
Successful companies recognize the value of this one-rime investment and the quick return on the investment. "A well-managed company constantly looks to refine its inner processes and improve employee productivity," says David.
Moving buy-sell information from the scale house, the processing Facility and the shipping dock to the accounting spreadsheet can be a tricky activity for recycling companies.
Customers of 21st Century Programming credit ROM for its ability to work seamlessly with popular accounting software packages.
"It can be seamless in the way it allows me to import information from ROM into Great Plains Dynamics," says David Glassman, CFO of Universal Scrap Metals in Chicago.
21st Century Senior Programmer Oscar Medina is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer who helps ensure the company's programs will work smoothly with existing accounting packages preferred by Windows users.
"Accounting packages are necessary and important," notes David Kane. "There is no way any recycling software provider could ever create an accounting package with more functionality or power then Microsoft's Great Plains Dynamics, Sage's MAS 90 or any other GAAP accounting program," he remarks, "So why try?"
The 21st Century approach is to allow its scrap-specific software to work in harmony with leading accounting software. "We have focused our efforts on the scrap side of the business to prepare the data so it can be smoothly handed off to an accounting package. This provides the customer with the best possible operational software and the best possible accounting software."
The goal, says David, is compatibility. "When a recycler looks at any operations package, does the software do business the way that the recycler does business, or will they have to change how they do business to accommodate the software? With ROM, we want them to minimize the amount of change they'll have to make both in accounting and operations."
Computer terminals have been silting on scale house and trader desks for many years now, but that doesn't mean recyclers are always receiving the full benefits of automation.
According to George and David, designing the ROM (Recycling Operations Manager) software that is the company's core product involved several layers of thinking, planning and detailed programming work. The end result has been an easy-to-use system that automates receiving, grading, inventory, billing, shipping, tracking, and much, more more, allowing fewer employees to do more in less time.
Michael Lachance, general manager of Unlimited Metals Inc., Los Angeles, states that after installing 21st Century's ROM system, he can "receive and send orders, do the invoicing and produce the shipping documents off of my computer."
Recyclers know their business is a complicated one, starting with the reverse-retail transaction of buying scrap and running through the processing and shipping stages.
Several points of view have to be considered in the multiple-transaction recycling climate.
A non-custom software package will not make allowances for this multiple-stage business model. "It was a lot of work; it was extremely complex," says David Kane of working with non-custom software. "Yards are worried about their physical metal. Brokers are worried about their contracts and controlling the entire process of paperwork," he adds. A typical container of scrap must first be purchased by recyclers in a reverse-transaction process, then added to an inventory of metals with like grades before being processed and then sold to a consuming mill or broker, after which it may still need to be tracked for some period of time.
ROM has been designed to tie those steps together--a key to its ease of use. "Almost every part of a recycling facility is tied into the system," says George, listing processing equipment, scales and sort stations as areas that affect inventory. "As all recyclers live or die by their inventory, its valuation and their overall position, managing their inventory is one of the most critical things a program can do."
From The Broker's Desk
Brokers of scrap material may not have to worry about running a baler or a shredder, but they do bring to the table an entirely different set of requirements concerning buying, transportation, tracking, customs and inspection needs.
Broker Brian Shin of Sam Lee Enterprises (SLE), Westminster, Calif. realizes the ROM system was designed to serve, "processors and scrap dealers, but they have obviously made it work for brokers."
SLE may not have the same equipment concerns as a major processor, "but we handle a lot more tonnage--and we may have 800 containers we are responsible for at any one time," the nonferrous broker remarks.
The company started on the ROM system just as demand from overseas buyers in China began to escalate. "Business has been very good, with our volume increasing by some 30 to 40 percent, but we've kept up without adding staff. The 21st Century system provides a tremendous advantage."
In just a short span of time, the North American recycling industry has seen China become a critical destination for scrap materials.
Recyclers who wish to sell into this strategic market can make an important ally in 21st Century Programming.
The company offers a series of ready-to-use shipping and customs forms specific to the shipping of material to China.
"The bank documents are outstanding," says Shin. "Where it used to take us three or four days to prepare banking documentation for an international transaction to China, this takes just 30 minutes," he says of one 21st Century form. "Instead of re-typing, re-calculating and creating new forms, we can just plug in information and send this document to the bank--and the bank loves it. They made the form the way the bank wants it and now the time savings are amazing."
Scrap recyclers with a heavy retail trade have quickly recognized the benefits of serving customers with an ATM (automated teller machine) option that provides a secure, efficient way to dispense cash.
21st Century Programming ROM software can be connected to such customized ATM machines created in cooperation with industry leader Diebold. Cash customers are provided with a bar-coded card that, when scanned by the ATM, identifies the customer number and transaction ticket number and is able to dispense cash and coins in the right amount. The system keeps cash securely between managers and customers, reducing the potential for an internal theft and eliminating miscounts.
A Software Shopping List
Recyclers shopping for software should ask both themselves and potential vendors a few key questions.
* "Perhaps the biggest question is: What type of system am I buying? Is it an accounting package or is it an operations system?" says David. "Operational systems run companies; accounting packages only report the outcome of activity at the financial level."
* Another question worth asking: "Do the people who made the software understand the business?" The Kanes call recycling "one of the most unique industries," starting with the reverse-retail transactions at the front end.
* The customer support issues bring the question, "It this a long-term relationship?" Such commitment is important, say the Kanes, because, "For years to come, the recycler will be working with that software provider to get the most out of their system."
* Whether the data will be accessible is another key question. "Many of the systems out there are closed systems," the company notes, "meaning you can only access your data through their interfaces." Data in the 21st Century ROM program can be viewed in programs such as Excel and Word. "We even provide, through the interface, tools that help the user export their data into other programs."
Software as Art
Some of the most critical thought that George and David Kane have put into their programs involves the touch screen seen by the front-line buyers of scrap material.
"If you do a side-by-side comparison of what our screens look like and what the competition's touch screens look like, we think you'll immediately see the difference," says David.
"The difference is day and night--because we designed our system around the touch screen, it has a more natural look and feel. We get very high marks from our customers for ease of use."
The Kanes also credit thoughtful code writing. "Programming is more of an art then a science," says David. "With a paint brush, in one person's hand you get magnificent works of art and in another's you are lucky to get stick figures with straight legs. Similarly, programming is a very creative process. Screen design and work flow require imagination as well as computer skills."
Who Can Benefit?
Recyclers from many segments con benefit from the efficiencies created by 21st Century Programming software packages. These types of businesses are already running 21st Century Programming software:
* Large steel recyclers operating shredders and port facilities
* Large paper packers with multiple plants, handling high grades and cardboard
* Brokerage operations, handling paper domestically and exporting to China
* High-temp alloy and titanium specialists collecting from industrial accounts only
* Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs)
* Nonferrous dealers
* Retail scrap operations
* Industrial Services Specialists
Additionally, the company plans to branch off into these related businesses:
* Parts tracking and end-of-life requirements at auto dismantlers
* Melt shops or businesses converting scrap into new products
* Metal service centers
RAVES FOR ROM
"It's a just-in-time system that decreases the amount of time needed to report to managers. I like the user-friendliness of it."
--Anabel Balderas, Balcones Resources
"Everyone comes in to our office and notices how organized we are. This software is the reason."
--Michael Lachance, Unlimited Scrap Metals
"I would highly recommend 21st Century Programming and its services, because they have had a positive impact on our company and the way we do business."
--Bruce Falk, Action Sales & Metal Co.
"This system gives us such an advantage. I can even enter my orders from China."
--Brian Shin, Sam Lee Enterprises (SLE)
On The Front Lines
Pacific Coast Recycling (PCR) in Long Beach is on the front line of the scrap export boom to Asia. The company processes and ships out a high volume of scrap metal destined for the hungry scrap markets in China and other east Asian nations.
The company made the fortunate decision to install 21st Century Programming's ROM software in the summer of 2002, on the cusp of today's export boom. PCR controller Steve Oishi cites the "flexibility and user-friendly" aspects of ROM as critical reasons PCR has kept up with the boom.
Even in the boom market, monthly closings that used to take a week now take just two days, according to Oishi and PCR system administrator Christopher Bare.
Overall, the company is just able to function more smoothly with ROM, says Bare. "Data is much easier to access than before," he notes. "Reports are easier to have tailored to our needs, and data can be pulled for any date going back to installation."
Calbag Metals, with two locations in Portland, Ore., and one in Tacoma, Wash., is a major processor and exporter of nonferrous scrap metals.
Like many companies in the increasingly global recycling business, the complex nature of Calbag's business starts with the "reverse retail" transactions at the scale and runs through to international shipping arrangements.
Calbag director of operations Chuck Gleason says 21st Century Programming's ROM system offers "a huge advantage over everything we have used in the past." At the retail scale, ROM generates both a receipt for incoming sellers of scrap as well as a check for them. "On the industrial buying side, [material] can either be directly entered into our inventory or designated as 'sort' loads, and hen after they are graded or inspected, they are entered into the inventory system," notes Gleason. Through the use of bar codes, material is tracked throughout its time in a Calbag facility.
Gleason says the ROM program has benefited Calbag in other several ways. "First of all, it is saving us time. And it's giving us much more accurate and timely information than we were getting before--that's pretty valuable in an fast as scrap metal."
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|Title Annotation:||technology application|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2004|
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