by Dave Leach and Michael Booheister
Ten years ago it took an hour to bake a potato. Today it takes less then five minutes, and thats still not fast enough. Businesses across the country and world are searching for any tool that can increase worker productivity and ultimately, their market position. Computer technology is at the forefront of this scramble, and it seems that each day brings a faster, shinier, more feature-packed, less-expensive product to the market. Smart glass companies are taking advantage of the new "tools" that are available to them. Computerization is uncomfortable for many, but the right purchase for the right reasons can be one of the most important, productive investments a shop makes.
Determining why you are buying a computer system is vital to deciding what computer to buy. If you think you will only use a computer for EDI or point of sale, think again. While both of these tasks are vital, they comprise only a fraction of what you can do with the right computer and software. Take a look around the office. Is there a typewriter? A fax machine? A copier? Fifteen clerks? Simply put, virtually any office machine or repetitive task can be replaced or improved upon with a computer. The key to unlocking this potential is providing the right equipment and the right training.
What computer is right? There are a lot of choices on the market right now, and more coming out every day. Every ad you read offers more for less and promises to be the best thing going. Remember one thing: If you buy the "top of the line" today, it will not be the top of the line in six months. Computers will continue to get smaller, faster and cheaper, in much the way that four-head hi-fi stereo VCR you purchased five years ago for $800 can now be replaced for less than $250 (and with more bells and whistles). A computer is the same. Buy quality and expandability now, and you will be one step ahead when you start. Buy the least expensive thing you can find today, and you will buy it again in two years or less.
Once you understand the computer business, a smart purchase can be easily made by deciding what features to buy and comparing prices. Systems come either pre-built or custom-ordered. Much like a car, a computer can be compared to another by comparing select components. Many variations and options are available, but the processor type, speed and amount of memory are the most important factors to consider when purchasing. A good rule to follow is to buy more "horse power" than you think you need today. Talk to your software provider, clerks at specialty stores (more than one) and browse current computer magazines. If you spend the time and effort to learn enough about the hardware that is available today, you will be better equipped to make a smart business decision.
Once you make a smart purchase, the number of uses for a computer in your business is limitless. You simply need to understand how to use the tool you bought. The first obstacle to overcome is simpleyour computer is a tool. Treat it as you would treat a $2000+ tool. Much like a tool, an amazing amount of user skill can come from "playing" with the new computer. Learning how to use a mouse in a point of sale program can be very frustrating. Browsing the internet, for example, to get comfortable with using a mouse is easier and more productive.
Other than a basic Windows® 95 or PC training class, it is not always wise to "flood" yourself or your employees with special computer skills classes. The most effective way to learn is by doing. Pick something in your office that is cumbersome and use the computer to automate or improve it. It could be a sales report or a letter that must be written; you will learn more by doing than any textbook will teach. Once you get over the fear of "breaking it," your productivity will improve immensely. If you find a specific program that you use frequently it may pay to take a class. But in most cases, you will learn more useful information and get better results faster by improving your operations as you learn.
The key to effectively purchasing and utilizing computer hardware and software in the glass business is really the same as with any piece of equipment. Embrace the technology, learn about what you are buying and take the time to learn how to use it. Properly used, your computer and the software solutions you choose can be one of the most profitable investments you make.
Dave Leach is the general manager of Kryger Glass, a multi-location auto glass retailer and wholesaler based in Kansas City, MO. He is a member of the design team that created ELMO and CONTROL from IBS.
Michael D. Booheister is the manager of technical support for IBS, an automotive and flat glass software designer/provider based in Kansas City, MO. He maintains the IBS website at www.ibssoftware.com.
Here are some recommendations for a basic computer system. An Intel Pentium II processor is a must. Make sure that the speed of the processor is at least 233MHz and that it has "MMX" technology (which enhances graphics on some software programs.) Your system should have at least 32 megabytes of SDRAM (more is better.) The motherboard on your system should be capable of supporting a minimum bus speed of 100MHz (how fast the computer communicates with itself.) The hard drive should have a storage capacity of at least 4.3 gigibytes (again, more is better.) Buy a monitor that is at least 17 inches wide with a .28 dot pitch (dont skimp on what you will be looking into.) The modem should be at least a 33.6 baud (how fast it works) and carry the designation "V.Everything."
Our recommendations for minimum features on a $2000.00 system:
The computer industry has created a completely new language built upon acronyms. These acronyms may seem as mysterious to some users as ancient hieroglyphics are to historians. But they do mean something and can be deciphered. For definitions of these acronyms, check out http://www.ibssoftware.com/techsup/acronyms.htm.
© Copyright 1998 Key Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.