Software provider convenes users for education and feedback
ADD Systems, a provider of software solutions for energy marketers, recently held its User Conference at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Following the conference, Oil & Energy caught up with ADD Systems President Bruce C. Bott to discuss this year’s event.
You just finished another User Conference in Florida. How do ADD Systems’ customers benefit by attending the conference?
We get face time with our customers and they get face time with ADD Systems, and they get to speak with us about where they would like to see our products go. We also get to mingle with the customers and get some insight into the daily lives in their businesses, and that helps us understand their needs.
We do this only once every three years. With that interval, they can get a clear picture of the progress and development in our different products and really see where that progress is leading.
How does ADD Systems use the feedback gathered at the User Conference?
The first thing we have to do is collect all that feedback. We have about 60 employees there, and they have to compile what they’ve heard in conversations and user groups.
We have heard from customers over the years that they like user groups, and those have become a big part of the conference. For this conference, we had two user groups that met the first day, one more senior than the other. The Fuel Oil and Propane Marketers group was established about five years ago, and they meet to bring their thoughts together, formulate best practices and figure out how other companies are using the software. They talk a lot about the products, and that is one big benefit. We also established Convenience Store Operators group that had its first meeting at this conference. From these meetings, we can gauge what customers want and where they want ADD Systems to be going.
What did you learn at this year’s User Conference?
I realized at this conference that we are on the right track, and customers are happy with our products. We had 80-plus clients representing more than 180 people from our companies, and I did not speak with one unhappy customer.
One of the things I learned from customers is that they are always looking for better ways to run their businesses. The old way of selling by putting a product (i.e. fuel oil or propane) out there and hoping you can collect on it doesn’t hold water any more. Now they need to make sure they are selling to customers who will pay. Some customers are now looking at our Atlas Business Intelligence, which allows them to look differently at their account base. They’re all looking for technology to help them run their businesses more effectively, and I think we can offer that.
Please talk about one or two enhancements you have made to E3 lately that will benefit your customers.
This is a hard question. Since our last conference, we have had 4,500 enhancements. About half of those are small fixes, but that leaves about 2,200 enhancements. Some are big, some are small. To pick one of the most important ones, we have enhanced our delivery selection process with a Visual Select Ticket Process. With the Microsoft MapPoint product, you can visualize where all tickets are that are due for delivery, say, in the next 300 degree days. Instead of just asking for zone and product, you can use the product lasso to grab a series of tickets, accounts or stops and put it on a truck visually and build your loads through a day. It’s very intuitive.
Talking about E3, we have also added a state fuel tax reporting module. A lot of states are going to electronic fuel tax reporting, and in the world of tax reporting, every state is a little different. Some want you to log in to an online system and key in numbers, others want you to print a PDF and e-mail it, and others want it filed electronically. We are probably filing in 40 different states electronically now.
Another important area is security, and ADD Systems wants to make sure we are offering a very secure package. On credit cards, PCI compliance is a major consideration. The customer has to be in compliance not only with their software but with their business practices. We have introduced a vaulted solution, which means the ADD Systems application never sees a credit card number. We store a token, and that’s it. You can’t get more compliant than that!
Please talk about the roadmap for E3. What are some of the important changes that are in development?
One of the important things in our next release will be a new wholesale order and billing process. That whole process is tied to a new release, which is the wholesale dispatch and price quote segments. Updating the wholesale invoice and billing will add a lot of functionality and streamline a lot of steps for a diverse group of clients. We also have a significant number of clients who use card lock software, and we are in the process of enhancing that.
Please talk about any important changes coming to Pegasus or Raven.
We announced at the conference that Pegasus will now be offered on a Windows 8 tablet. That is significant unto itself, because in the world of mobile products, changes are coming every three to six months or so. We first offered Pegasus on a rugged handheld back in the late ‘90s, then a less rugged handheld some seven years later, and then on a cell phone platform. Cell phone platform changes have accelerated to a much greater degree than anyone could have imagined, and we don’t make this custom for each customer. When we pick a platform, we expect it to be out there for at least 12 months, but some of these cell platforms are expiring after three months. Tablets seem to have a slightly longer shelf life in the technology world. Couple the extended shelf life of these tablets with Windows 8 and we think that’s a winning combination.
As far as other enhancements, historically speaking Raven has seen a number of enhancements over the years in the area of data capture. We should see more gas check information, and marketing information captured with the product in the coming months.
How is ADD Systems improving wholesale quoting and dispatching?
There are lots of areas we are changing. In the wholesale quoting and dispatching model, the goal is to automate as much as we can. In the old world, you would go to a website or to a pricing network and find the prices at different supply points you use during the day and put them in a spreadsheet. From there you might add in all of the ‘unknowns’ we’ve called those unknowns collectively APADDON’s because while it may not be listed in the price you know you must add them on in the Accounts Payable process. Then you must match up suppliers and products and haulers for each of your customer and try to quote a price. We can automate that, so you can get new quotes out to customers quickly and electronically. With some initial set-up the whole process can now take only a few minutes. Imagine being able to send out quotes to hundreds of delivery locations with possibly lots of different supply points with a few keystrokes. We have automated this entire process.
Please describe how ADD Systems is helping customers report fuel taxes electronically.
Our new electronic fuel tax reporting eliminates time spent generating and filling out tax forms and the time and expense of printing them, adding stamps and mailing them. It’s all in the setup. Once you do the setup, you should be able to hit a button and after a little checking you have your form electronically sent. It dramatically reduces the time you spend on these forms. You spend less time transposing numbers from a report to the form, and data entry errors are eliminated.
Please talk about how energy marketers can use Atlas Business Intelligence to run a more profitable business.
The old way of making reports was to make standard reports and then to customize the report with options so that each client got what they wanted to see on the report. With Atlas Business Intelligence you can drag and drop data into a report to look at the information, and you can base it on exceptions. If you want to see delivery data for all customers who took more gallons than anticipated, you can see that. Exception-based reporting is important, and the customer does not have to set up the report. Instead you can set up a report to a particular employee on an exception, so any time that exception happens, they get the report.
Atlas Business Intelligence has been set up in a number of locations running C-stores. You could find out that when you put the Snickers bars next to the Coke they sold more and when the Snickers bar was next to the Pepsi you didn’t sell any. You can get market basket analysis and mix-and-match. People will get better answers going forward. We have competitors now touting business intelligence, but I can’t think of a better company for dissecting that data than the company that developed the software they are running.
The more you can slice and dice the data differently, the more you can learn. And the information doesn’t have to be presented as just a bunch of numbers it can be presented graphically. It can also be overlaid on maps, so you can analyze drivers’ routes. You can take that same data and look at efficient and inefficient stops based on delivery information and pump time to get an understanding of what drivers are doing in the field.
Is Cloud-based hosting of ADD Systems software gaining popularity? What do customers find attractive about cloud hosting?
We have been around for 41 years, and we were one of the pioneers. We offered online computing in the ’70s and ’80s. Popularity dipped in the ’90s, but now we are slowly but surely seeing an increase, because I think the rest of the world is marketing cloud computing as this great thing. Today you can still buy music on a CD, but with iTunes and Rhapsody so much is done over the internet why buy it? Anything we are doing in the cloud, clients can do in their office, but maybe they don’t have the expertise to set it up, the space to house a server, or maybe they just feel better not buying software altogether, that’s where our cloud solution can help. We are seeing an uptick in people who would rather pay a little extra every month to not have to worry about all that.