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Pioneers end up with arrows in their backs!

It's a beautiful Tuesday morning. The trucks are all out the door and beer is being sold. You finally settle down to business around 8:30 am. You have an appointment. A computer salesman called last week and said he had the greatest thing since sliced bread to share with you. It's taking the beer industry by a storm! You're excited. You like innovation. You crave new ways of becoming more competitive. You can hardly wait! you like being on the "leading edge."

Your receptionist comes on the line. "Your appointment's here to see you," she cheerfully says.

"Show him back," you say confidently, rubbing your hands expectantly.

After some pleasantries you settle down to listen to an enthusiastic presentation about a new software system that is truly amazing. Not only will it increase sales, but it can also slash costs and eliminate half of your employees! You're frothing at the mouth. Then....drum roll....the catch. You'll be the first distributor in the country to have this installed! Oh....really? "Not to worry." the salesman assures you. "It's been in "Alpha" testing," (whatever that means?) "for over 6 months and all the 'Bugs' are ironed out!"

"How much for this opportunity to install this virgin software in my distributorship?" you query.

"Well, since you'll be helping us out and you're sooooo important to our company....only $20,000!"

"Whoa! That's a lot of testing!" you exclaim!

"Oh, but it's worth it. Think of the competitive edge. Think of the reduced employee headaches, the extra fact, you'll pay for this in the next two months just from the sales increases and savings!" the salesman counters. After 45 minutes of gnashing your teeth, listening to projected huge sales increases, you make a decision to become a "Test Site" for the new product. "Best decision you've ever made" the salesman confidently states. "You're going to be so glad you did this!" Five minutes after you signed the contract you're not so sure. That little voice started speaking....but ....

The salesman extolled your importance, not only to the company, but to the beer industry and the global economy! In fact, at certain points in his presentation, you weren't sure if he was at the correct distributorship! and besides, you're a businessman; you're strong; no wimp here! You'll do it!

Here's Reality

Change is here to stay. You'll see continued technological advances in computer systems. Hardware improvements will be driven, not by the beverage industry, but by the computer industry in general. Software changes, however, will be industry driven. As time passes, you will be bombarded with new advanced system offerings that will tantalize you both from a hardware and software standpoint. Here's a quick sample:

The new, faster Pentium (a.k.a. "586") Chip from Intel. It processes over 1,000,000 computer instructions per second! Imagine how much quicker your driver reconciliation could be!

The "Green" revolution has taken over PC manufacturing, complying with EPA's Energy Star Program, making systems more energy efficient. Electricity is expensive; these advances save you money!

Notebooks, Portable PCs, Sub-notebooks and Hand-Held Personal Computers, called PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants). You can literally carry your whole business in the palm of your hand!

Powerful Information Highways using phone, computers and cable TV.

Electronic Mail between locations. Communicate with your other warehouses quickly and inexpensively.

Voice recognition software. No more typing....just talk!

Networking software from Microsoft that will enable you to connect not just the PCs in your office, but also your copiers and fax machines!

Scanners. Forget entering tickets by hand, just scan them into the system!

On-line Information Services Software. Let your customers communicate directly with you to place their orders!

Multimedia CD-ROM disk drives. Store 10 years of history on a disk that you can put in your pocket! Create powerful sales presentations for your major chain store accounts that combine video, pictures and sound!

....And this is just the tip of the iceberg!

Since most "turn key" computer vendors serving the beer distribution business have seen margins on hardware go down the drain, they continuously look for ways to increase profits and better service their customers (YOU) by enhancing their software packages. But somebody has to test these enhancements in the "Real" world before they can roll out the new product.

In this article, we will examine pros and cons of participating in the process of software changes that you'll be asked to test by your computer system vendor. This decision can be the best you've ever made or, the worst. No advancement comes without a price. Someone has to pay it. It can be you or the vendor. The purpose of this article is to help you decide the next time you're approached with "an opportunity of a lifetime," how to avoid costly mistakes and gain the maximum benefit to the bottom line!

How It All Starts....

For you to avoid disaster and gain maximum benefit, you must know how a computer company generates and tests these wonderful enhancements.

Step #1: Someone (you, perhaps) comes up with a good idea (usually a common sense necessity).

Step #2: The idea is evaluated. Is this a feature that all distributors can use or, just a few? How much money can be made from the new feature? How hard will this new feature be to maintain, etc.'?

Step #3: A schedule for development and testing is created.

Step #4: The initial features are written and tested in an "Alpha Site" (Don't ask me why the computer industry uses the Greek alphabet for test sites!) This tends to be very controlled. Sometimes it's not even run in a distributorship, but instead on a computer system in the vendor's office with sample test data.

Step #5: A list of distributors is assembled that might be interested in testing this new feature. Usually distributors who are loyal and unflappable are selected, along with the distributor who originally asked for the enhancement. Step #6: A "Beta Site" is selected from the above list. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where the feature is installed, the staff trained and the feature goes "Live!" This is a high risk activity.

Step #7: Once the feature is tested in enough "Beta" sites, it's released to the general beer distributorship population. They will usually pay for this new feature. In the wake of the new wonderful feature announcement can be seen newly acquired wrinkles and gray hairs belonging to beer distributorship personnel who have suffered through horrific problems and difficulties. It's the way of change....but it doesn't have to be....

For Future Pioneers....Know the Trail....

Before we go any further, it must be said that many new software and hardware products have been brought to the market very successfully and with little disruption to the test sites. There have also been disasters. Here are several laws that govern new product releases:

Law #1: The installation will take twice as long as planned.

All vendors are positive people who honestly believe in their time frames. Whatever time is budgeted for....double it!

Law #2: There is always a cost to the distributor!

There is no such thing as a free lunch in the business world. Expect forms, installation and overtime costs in addition to any software charges.

Law #3: The personnel directly involved with the new features installation will hate it before they "Love" it!

Law #4: You'll have tester's remorse.

This is similar to buyer's remorse but worse. It's natural and will pass.

The above laws are irrefutable, but can be lessened in their degree. Testing new products is not for everyone. With that in mind, the following is a checklist to see if you want to be a "Test Site Pioneer."

How to be a Successful Pioneer:

On the front end, you or your consultant must negotiate with the vendor. If done properly, you'll receive more from the test than just the software enhancements. Get everything in writing.

The test site agreement can be leveraged to:

1.) Lower maintenance fees

2.) Reduce forms (tickets, etc.) costs From vendor

3.) Lock in future software enhancement price concessions

4.) Lock in future guaranteed discounts on all products

Negotiate directly with the president of the company. Not the salesperson, not the sales manager, not the product director, only the president. If this change is big enough to involve your decision, then you should gain the above concessions directly from the president. No vendor in the business today is so large that they can't meet with you. Another reason to do this?

Steve Van Ooteghem is founder of 1st Source Computer Consulting. Steve uses his over 15 years experience with beer distributorships to analyze personnel, physical requirements, future goals, and current desires to determine the most cost effective ways of meeting a distributor's computer system needs.

As a professional speaker, Steve is often asked to address state association meetings while he freely shares his unique tips on how to reduce maintenance costs and negotiating techniques that can save a distributor thousands. 1st Source computer Consulting is located in Tampa, Florida.
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Title Annotation:beer distributors' testing of new software system
Author:Van Ooteghem, Stephen A.
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Date:Jan 31, 1994
Previous Article:Transportation notebook.
Next Article:Teaching managers to think about profit.

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