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COMPUTER FORUM
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COMPUTER FORUM

Jerry Garden is a computer consultant and data management system developer specializing in small business systems. He is anxious to help you answer your business technology questions. You can reach him by e-mail at jgarden@plasticsmag.com or write him c/o The Plastics Distributor & Fabricator Magazine, 2701 North Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60639.

EVOLUTION OF YOUR INFORMATION SYSTEM

A very common, although potentially complex, question has been posed. Before I can answer it however I need some input from you, the readers of this column. The question is: "What is the best way for a business to incorporate information management when only a partial system is currently in place?" At first this may seem to address only a certain group, but no matter what your information system status, if your business isn't ready to grow and adapt to changing technologies, it may not survive in today's changing world. From a startup business with only a basic accounting system to an e-commerce capable enterprise, adaptation to change is an essential ingredient for success.

In order to answer the specific question raised here, I need more information about the range of systems you have in place. Are you just getting started, considering enhancements or do you already have a highly developed system and just need to keep up with new technology? To help guide me, I am incorporating a small survey at the end of this column so that you can let me know where you are in this process. Since this column is really to help you better manage your business systems, your responses will allow me know where you are in the process of developing your company's information management system.

INFORMATION SYSTEMS PLANNING

In the beginning stages of a business, thanks to the IRS and the bottom line, the owner will see an immediate need for an accounting system. A computer is purchased and one of the many popular home or small business accounting packages is installed. This situation will then continue unchanged for quite a while before additional potential is seen for the computer. There is a very good reason for this: a new business needs to be, grown. The focus of the fledgling business is almost entirely on sales, production and billing, and that takes a lot of time and energy on everybody's part. After all, these are the primary activities that grow a business. But there are so many potential ways, besides accounting, that your computer can help you organize your processes and speed up operations. It is important that you begin extending your focus to these systems early. Today, such systems are readily available and can be time and energy savers. A brief overview of possible approaches to information management might help you determine where you are on the information processing development ladder.

The best way to get started depends to a large extent on the type of business you own or manage. Almost all operations have certain things in common, including customers, vendors, inventory, product and operations. These are the principle resources that should become the basis for designing your system. All the other capabilities that you can add on to the system may have distinct value for you, but they should be considered secondary to these primary resources. For instance, even order entry might be considered a service to your customers and as such, subsidiary to your customer maintenance operation. The question now is, which of these resources do you bring in first and how do you plan for the addition of the others. That is where your specific type of operation becomes important.

As an example, a fabricators information system will place more emphasis on production and inventory, than on product, while a manufacturing operation will emphasize production and product. Customers and vendors are important but will revolve with the production cycle. Keep in mind that the information management system can not do your selling for you, even though it can certainly assist a salesperson in the process. For the fabricator, vendor interactions in the process are a resource driven by your inventory needs. Although just-in-time manufacturing methods tend to make product subsidiary to customers, there is still a need to give the information system product driven goals. A custom POP display producer needs to have its inventory system stay very flexible throughout the life of the business to allow for the continually changing creative urges of the display designers.

So you can see that decisions about how to grow an information system within a growing business can take many divergent paths depending on the nature of your business. By completing the following survey, you can help me develop future topics that will be of greater assistance to you in developing your company's information system. The survey can either be faxed to me at 773-235-9907, e-mailed to jgarden@plasticsmag.com or mailed to Computer Forum, c/o The Plastics Distributor and Fabricator Magazine, 2701 N. Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60639.

Information Systems Survey

  1. How many years have you been in business? ______
  2. How many employees are in your company? ______
  3. What is your primary business classification:
    1. Distributor
    2. Fabricator
    3. Manufacturer
    4. Equipment Supplier
    5. Other ____________________________
  4. What information system (s) do you currently have in place (choose all that apply):
    1. Accounting
    2. Inventory
    3. Customer
    4. Vendor
    5. (Operations)

    6. Production
    7. Distribution
    8. Other _____________________________

 

For more information, jgarden@plasticsmag.com or write Jerry Garden c/o The Plastics Distributor & Fabricator Magazine, 2701 North Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60639.

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