Just in time for CEDIA Expo 2015, one of the most highly respected execs in custom electronics, Randy Stearns, has been named CEO of D-Tools, maker of popular system design and project management software for integrators and security dealers.
Stearns founded the integration company Engineered Environments in 1993, growing the firm into a perennial leader of the CE Pro 100. He was a key architect of VIA International, which resulted from the 2013 merger of six top integrators, and he served for eight years on the CEDIA board, eventually as chairman.
He left VIA in 2015, and has since been consulting with SupplyStream (product purchasing and proposal platform) and other custom-oriented organizations. Now he’s full-time at D-Tools in a position that founder Adam Stone wasn’t really seeking.
“It didn’t start out with me looking for a CEO,” says Stone, who founded D-Tools in 1998. “I asked Randy to come see what we are doing, to find hidden value in the company.”
The six-week consulting gig went so well, however, that D-Tools hired Stearns to run the company.
D-Tools is already a well-oil machine – profitable, debt-free and growing by double-digits – and has “always done well in residential,” says Stone. “But I wanted opinions on other markets. Our software scales so well. I wanted to be a software company, not just a residential A/V company.”
To do that, Stone notes, “we need more things that a real CEO does, like strategy and finding people to invest in us. That’s an area I don’t really play with, and Randy has a lot of experience in that area.”
Unlike Stearns’ other consulting clients, D-Tools is a well-established company and a leader in its niche, so “he doesn’t have to spend time fixing things,” Stone says.
What D-Tools needed, he says, is a “more measured” approach to strategic planning and a shorter timeline for growth initiatives.
The residential A/V business “still has ample opportunity for growth,” Stearns says. “We will continue to pursue that, but the majority of growth will be in the commercial integration sector.”
D-Tools already does well in certain commercial verticals such as higher education. Institutions such as MIT, UCLA and Yale use D-Tools. The commercial security space is “growing rapidly” as well, according to Stearns.
D-Tools has been working hard to integrate with NetSuite, SAP and other ERP (enterprise resource planning) platforms.
“I think software is only as good as its integration,” Stearns says. “If you have specialty software like accounting and drawing, we can make it look like a fully integrated solution.”
The big new System Integrator 2015 release last year included a rich new cloud infrastructure that improves QuickBooks integration and mobile connectivity.
Over the past year, “the biggest innovation has been the mobile install capabilities,” says D-Tools VP sales and marketing Tim Bigoness. “It’s helped us to tie in that third area of project management.”
Installers now can track their jobs in the field, ticking off tasks, entering site notes, adding before/after pictures … and have all of that information “thrown back into the project,” Bigoness says. “It takes the ‘last mile’ out of the manual process.”
And with installers better tracking their activities in the field, managers can better determine job costs for any given project and any given task. In turn, this data can be used to create better estimates and eke more profit out of every job.
Without such tools, dealers are left guessing at actual costs, says Stone: “At the end of the year, they either have money or they don’t.”
Stearns was always one of those dealers that did actually track job costs. In fact, he was D-Tools’ second paying customer ever (“I’m not only a client ….”).
As it happens, the six integration companies that formed VIA were all using D-Tools, just with different accounting software.
A strange thing has happened over the past two years in the home systems integration market: More companies than ever have come out with new software for budgets, proposals, design, management, purchasing, sales, marketing and more.
We should see about a dozen of them at CEDIA Expo 2015, but D-Tools still reigns supreme, with “thousands” of companies and “tens of thousands” of users. Some 50 to 60 new customers are added every month.
Stone says most of these new companies “all want to link into D-tools.”
At CEDIA, for example, the SupplyStream booth will also include D-Tools and SpringDeck. D-Tools announced partnerships last year with with both SpringDeck and SupplyStream for sales sales presentations and data sharing, respectively.
There’s one thing that D-Tools has always had that no other company seems likely to match: product data. Manufacturers submit their products – including specs and shapes—and D-Tools specialists groom the data.
“Let’s say everyone else’s software is equally good,” says Stone. “We have the data. That’s something we had from the start. We have six or seven people that do nothing but that. We have our own content management system for that. That’s the hard part. It’s the data that really powers our platform.”
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