Build your own think tank Featured

9:44am EDT July 22, 2002
By Joan Slattery Wall

Tim Thompson, president of Thompson Building Associates Inc., joined a networking group to share ideas with his peers, but he’s come out with a bonus.

He and nine other restoration-work industry executives around the United States developed software to help manage their businesses. They were so successful they’ve formed a company to sell the software to even more peers in their industry.

The need arose because, in the course of repairing buildings damaged by the likes of fire or natural disasters, Thompson Building Associates must provide insurance companies with detailed records, such as timelines.

“For years, our company had looked for a database that would do all this and hadn’t found one,” Thompson says.

Through his national peer group, Business Networks, Thompson discovered he wasn’t the only one struggling with the issue. So the 10 companies formed a partnership — SWATware Information Solutions — and hired a software developer to create their own industry-specific software program, SWATtrac.

The software allows Thompson’s employees to keep track of case-by-case details and deadlines — a task Thompson called a nightmare when it was done by hand.

“Now we know when an estimator went out and inspected the job, when the estimate was submitted to all parties, when the estimate was accepted or denied, the scheduled date for work, when the work actually began, when the work was complete,” Thompson says, just beginning to describe the litany of details included in the software.

While the program helps Thompson Building Associates quickly provide such information to insurance agencies, it also challenges the company to meet daily deadlines.

“Every employee that logs into SWATtrac knows what their goals are supposed to be for today: You have three estimates where the submittal date is due today. Not only does that pressure them to meet the goals, but it allows me to look at the reports at a glance and see if this estimator is doing reports quickly and this estimator isn’t,” Thompson says. “So I can monitor their standards and help the customer.”

He also believes SWATtrac helps him get on preferred contractor lists compiled by insurance agencies. When an insurance representative recently asked Thompson if he could meet certain parameters, the SWATtrac program let him prove it by showing previous projects’ records.

Developing SWATtrac cost between $150,000 and $200,000, Thompson says — a value when divided among the 10 original companies.

“I had spent $40,000 or $50,000 in other directions without good results,” he explains.

Costs grew, however, as the member companies realized the product could be marketable and thus required more investment. All told, the 10 companies invested between $50,000 and $200,000 each, depending on their ability to contribute to the project. The partners’ share in profits from software sales will have the same ratio as their contribution; Thompson’s is about 10 percent.

In the first year of selling the program, approximately 40 companies are using it. Because of recent changes in the software, the partners are in the process of recalculating how many programs they need to sell to turn a profit.

In addition to SWATtrac, Thompson has benefited from his Business Networks group by sharing concerns about topics such as financial statements and keeping a closer eye on what’s happening in his industry.

“Anyone in a network together,” he says, “ought to explore any ways to share costs and invent the wheel together instead of separately.”

How to reach: Business Networks, www.businessnetworks.com; Thompson Building Associates Inc., www.thompsonbuilding.com. Coming soon: SWATware Information Solutions, www.swatware.com.

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.