When it comes to CI business operations, the bottom line is dealers want to increase their bottom lines. With all things being equal when it comes to maintaining staff numbers and suppliers for their projects, creating more efficiencies in day-to-day business activities can be a tall order — where to start? Well, one way to bolster productivity and potentially lessen the amount of time (and hassles) spent on tasks is to make sure your CI business software is up to speed with modern work infrastructure.
Your average employee age may be getting younger as you turn over and replace certain roles over the years. And the younger the employee, the more likely they are to better embrace software technology based on the cloud and is compatible with mobile devices to use in the field.
Addressing those aspects and more, integrators report engaging with fewer pieces of CI business software and are willing to pay more for a solution “that just works,” as the industry mantra goes. That increased streamlining of business management tasks and major uptick in cloud-based solutions preference are among the key takeaways from CE Pro’s 2023 Business Resources Deep Dive.
Less Software to Do More Tasks
Last conducted in 2021, the Deep Dive responses from this year’s survey — conducted during October — came from respondents who represent the broad bell curve composition of the custom industry. More than half (53.5%) noted that they have between two and 10 employees, while another 5.6% said they are one-man shops. Meanwhile, one-third (32.4%) of respondents are working with a larger staff of 11-30, and 8.4% have greater than a 30-person roster.
When asked if they have ever tried to develop their own proprietary CI business software, the majority have not but roughly 23% of intrepid and IT-savvy dealers say they have done so. That leaves at least three-quarters of integrators relying on some type of software solution(s) they have implemented to assist their business needs.
Only 4% of survey takers said they do not use any software. The 96% who do use software include an increasing amount of dealers who say they’re enlisting fewer software pieces than two years ago, while the amount relying on a half-dozen or more solutions is dwindling.
Compared with 2021’s data when only 17% of integrators said they utilized 1-3 software pieces, that number jumped to 42%, while the amount of dealers using 6 or more was essentially halved from 46% to just 22%.
The good news for vendors is that integrators are catching on to how software can help their organizations. A solid chunk of dealers — 43% — are vetting or investing in new software solutions multiple times per year or at least once a year.
Additionally, employees are overwhelmingly becoming much more comfortable working with cloud-based solutions compared with two years ago; 78% say they prefer cloud-based software now, a whopping change from the 53% noted in 2021.
With so many options in the industry, addressing various business-related activities, it’s no surprise that a decent-size portion of dealers continue to explore and implement/beta test the latest end-to-end or purpose-built products. Taking a more extended time frame for acquiring new software, 87% of integrators have done so in the past five years, down from 92% in our 2021 survey results.
In fact, figuring out the most compatible software fit with the rest of integrators’ business operations tops the list of their criteria when selecting new solutions. Second was mobile device accessibility. Those criteria ranked fourth and sixth, respectively, in our 2021 Deep Dive. Meanwhile, price ranked No. 1 back then but has now dropped to fourth on the list.
Benefits of Buying In to CI Business Software
Of course, there are myriad aspects of your business that present reasons for investing in new software, whether it’s a turnkey solution that addresses most or all areas that need help or employing a few pieces that concentrate on specific functionalities.
CE Pro asked about these main operational areas: accounting/billing; design/CAD; proposals; CRM/marketing; spreadsheets; internal communications; project management; remote monitoring/management; cybersecurity; field labor/tech check-in; inventory management; scheduling; timekeeping; and vehicle tracking.
In this year’s survey, accounting/billing was by far the biggest function served by software, mentioned by 85% of dealers compared with just 68% two years ago. Meanwhile, the impact of remotely monitoring and troubleshooting systems — which help save on truck rolls and score more customer service points — skyrocketed in usage from 33% in 2021 to 59% this year.
Interestingly, when asked how much of a profit boost impact implementing new software, most of the responses stayed around the same level as two years ago. Based on responses, only 6% of dealers say software has zero effect on their profits; but for the other 94%, at least half are experiencing a bump between 6% and 20%. At least a few dealers are really transforming their organizations, however, as 6% of survey takers noted their profits rose 51% or more, up from 4% of respondents in 2021.
Where Can Suppliers Step Up Their Solutions?
Though software vendors targeting the custom industry are continually updating and upgrading their feature sets and services, dealers can always find something to crow about — especially when it affects their bottom lines.
Among our top nine reasons inquired about why dealers abandon certain software, the responses mirrored what they pointed to as key criteria to purchasing software. Incompatibility and difficulty to use climbed from third and fourth, respectively, in 2021 to first and second this year, while too expensive dropped from second to fourth.
In our 2023 Business Resources Deep Dive, we gave them a chance to offer feedback on advice they would give to vendors to enhance products or add certain functionalities that may be lacking. Here are some of their verbatim responses.
“Open API — don’t try to be a jack-of-all-trades, embrace AI.”
“Clean interface, full compatibility with accounting software, speed.”
“More consideration for micro-size businesses when it comes to pricing and functionality. Please know that we are not all coders and making changes and adjustments to documents should be a simple process for the end user.”
“Web-based proposal writing is often clunky for speed and managing large image libraries. Our business has thousands of products, so often sales inventory databases are a bit limited in the degree you can break up inventory into more than one or two sub-streams of a category.”
“Shared resources with the team; client history; service history; warranty info; troubleshooting documents.”
“Make data alignment a key focus. Data points from one area (e.g., CRM) that need to be referenced within ordering/invoicing or project management are easy to align. This has been our biggest struggle as we are trying to align metrics between account alignment, revenue/profitability per account, project efficiency per account, etc. Having ‘siloed’ software focus is hard to tie the data together.”
“Allow users from all levels of the business to test every aspect of your software before any final decisions are made. We had executive teams structure processes within our software, rolled it out, and then heard complaints about processes that could have been implemented much better.”
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