Software is everywhere in the mailing business from address hygiene to package tracking to Web-based shipping. Like the rest of the business world, our industry relies on software packages to help us in our daily jobs. But software alone is not a solution to a problem, regardless of the ads you may read. Software is a tool to help us be more efficient. To be successful, you need to know how to use those tools effectively.
One of my favorite TV shows is The New Yankee Workshop with Norm Abrams. For the uninitiated, the PBS series features woodworking projects. Some projects are simple, like a bookcase or shelving unit, others are more complicated, like a china cabinet with built-in lighting.
A master carpenter who gained fame on This Old House, Norm guides viewers through the projects step by step. His calm voice and manner offers assurance to woodworkers of all skill levels. And his collection of flannel shirts is extensive. Best of all, he shares the show's spotlight with the true stars of the show the power tools.
Ah, the power tools. The new miter saw with dual laser guides for precision cuts. The cabinet-sized sander with three foot belts to smooth stock in just a single pass. And don't forget the new plunge router with special mortising jig. Yes, if only I had those power tools. Then I could make that stereo cabinet out of bird's eye maple with the false front drawers.
Or could I? I'm only a moderately skilled carpenter with very little training. My workshop is located in a small section of the basement with little room for expansion. And with a hectic schedule, I can't dedicate the time to a complicated project. I guess I better stick to the small stuff like tables, shelves and display cases. Maybe a Shaker style clock.
But I still want the tools. And I often try to rationalize why I should buy them. Won't the shelf edges look cleaner with crisp edges? Won't the bookcases look better if I put a rabbet along the bottom edge? Won't my buddies be impressed when I show off the latest piece of equipment that I've crammed into the shop?
The answer to these questions is probably yes. But does that make the decisions to buy these tools the right one? No.
At the beginning of each show, Norm gives viewers a safety briefing. He stresses that you should understand how to properly use power tools. Without the right training, these tools can cause serious damage to your project as well as to yourself.
The same is true for software. If not used properly, software can damage data and print files. If the operators aren't trained properly, the information provided by the system may be worthless. And while you may not slice off a finger, misusing software could damage your reputation. Or worse, cause you to lose clients or even your job.
Before buying a power tool, it's important to do research. Without the right education, I won't know which model to buy. Without the right number of projects, the equipment will be underutilized. You need to know which tools come with which attachments. Your electrical system will have to have enough power to meet the electrical requirements for the tool. And of course, it's important to know what a good price is. Just like software.
You need to educate yourself on the different software options available. Determine what add-ons are needed to handle your needs. Ensure that the software will work on your company's IT platform (e.g., NT, Windows 2000, etc.). Find out how much server space and bandwidth are needed · for the software to run efficiently. Be sure to shop around for pricing options from both competitors and resellers. An lastly, do your homework.
Also, those power tools will only help build the piece. Then, the piece will need to be finished, probably sanded, stained and varnished, requiring time and careful planning. Without that planning, the finished piece could look bad regardless of the tools I used.
And you need to properly plan how new software will impact your existing operation. You'll need to modify your current procedures to maximize the benefit of the new software. Look at the whole process from beginning to end for opportunities for improvement.
Be sure to properly plan the deployment of new software. Allow ample time for thorough testing before moving it to production. Create a contingency plan to "back out" (or uninstall) the software if there's a critical problem in the production environment. Don't rush, and be prepared.
To be successful with software, ask yourself all of the following questions:
The last question is probably the most important one. Education and training are important before you buy anything. Seek out experts like Norm who are willing to share their knowledge and experience. Choose the right tool to help you build your solution.
And remember, you don't need a Porter Cable power plate joiner if you're only making one Shaker style clock. Just don't tell my wife.
Mark M. Fallon is president and CEO of the Berkshire Company, a consulting firm specializing in document-processing strategies. For more information, please visit www.berkshire-company.com.