Todd Shryock

Friday, 11 July 2003 08:46

In the house

CBIZ, a Cleveland-based provider of outsourced business services, is in the process of choosing a comprehensive sales force automation to tie together its 160 offices spread across 33 states.

But implementing such a system will take 12 to 18 months, and there are certain functions that needed to be accomplished now, so the TRACS system was born.

TRACS (Track Referrals And Cross-Serving) tracks referrals made by one CBIZ company to another, making sure each one is followed up on and not forgotten. TRACS uses simple online forms to make referrals and a system of e-mail reminders to ensure those referrals are addressed by the appropriate people.

Reports track which companies are sending and receiving referrals, which referrals are still open and which have been declined or accepted. The whole system was designed in-house.

"One of the reasons we did not go outside was timing," says George Dufour, senior vice president and chief technology officer at CBIZ. "We needed this up and running in four weeks."

CBIZ wanted the eventual sales force automation system to include the same functions as TRACS, but it couldn't wait on this particular component because the potential for losing money was increasing as the company grew and communication became more difficult.

"What we did was decide to build a throw-away system," says Dufour. "We would look to satisfy the more global management component with the new system."

A little more than a month later, TRACS was up and running -- with surprising results.

"It met our business need and allowed us time to do our larger sales force automation project in a more structured environment," says Dufour. "What we soon found out is that none of these commercial packages could do what TRACS was doing. What we thought would be a quick-fix throw-away system has become much more. We're now integrating it as part of our commercial product. It gave us immediate functionality and met our long-term needs as well."

In 2002, the TRACS system helped produce $6.6 million in additional revenue for the company by creating new business among existing clients. That number is expected to increase 15 percent this year. How to reach: CBIZ, (216) 447-9000

Following the TRACS

CBIZ's in-house referral tracking system known as TRACS generated $6.6 million in additional business from existing clients in 2002, and that number is expected to increase 15 percent this year.

Anne Lieb, Webmaster for CBIZ, helped put together the system in a little more than a month. Here's how it works.

TRACS is located on the password-protected CBIZ intranet. Any CBIZ employee at any one of the 85 CBIZ companies across the country can refer one or more customers to another CBIZ company. The business referral sender fills out a short and simple form which usually takes less than one minute.

To make it easier, the form is prepopulated with the sender's e-mail address, phone number, CBIZ company and location. Senders are asked to list the client they are referring and the service they need, along with a brief description. The sender selects the recipient of the referral and submits the form.

The referral is entered in the system, and both the sender and receiver are automatically sent e-mails from the system with details of the referral. All e-mails sent from the system contain a hypertext link that takes the user directly to the Web page with complete details of the referral.

The receiver is instructed to follow up their efforts regularly. If they don't document any follow-ups, they are sent e-mail reminders.

"This is to make sure a referral never slips through the cracks or gets forgotten about," says Lieb.

Once the information is entered, the reminders stop until 30 days have passed on an open referral. If no follow-up has been done, the reminders start again.

When a referral is sold, it is called a completed referral. An e-mail is sent automatically to CBIZ management stating all the details of the referral and the amount of money generated from the sale. An e-mail is also sent to the sender of the referral and his or her manager with the same details.

When a referral is declined by CBIZ or the customer, a notice is sent to both the sender and receiver detailing the reason.

Management can view reports on which employees and companies within CBIZ are generating the most referrals, along with a host of other analysis.

Monday, 30 June 2003 05:24

Starting from scratch

Why did the chicken cross the road?

To get the hell out of the way of Michael Pastore, Park Farms' CEO, who in all likelihood is bearing down on the plump little bird on his Harley Davidson motorcycle at a high rate of speed.

Pastore, whose grandfather Eugene Pastore founded a dress-while-you-wait poultry business in 1946 that evolved into Park Farms, isn't your average CEO. He earned a business degree from Miami University in 1984, but his real education has come from his 25 years at Park Farms, working every position from janitor to president.

While his grandfather struggled to sell the first 50 chickens, the company has grown ever since. Park Farms now processes about 65,000 chickens a day, and has 400 employees and close to $70 million in sales.

CEOs typically spend their leisure time on the golf course, but Pastore is more at home on a motorcycle, or jet ski, snowmobile ,or doing some off-shore power boating.

Smart Business talked to Pastore to learn more about the Canton-based business and its distinct leader.

You've worked at Park Farms for 25 years. Was there ever any question that you would work in the family business?

Yes. I started to work when I was 10 at my (other) grandfather's motorcycle shop. I worked there until I was 18, and I thought I would end up there in the early stages of my career.

But once I started working here, I thought it was pretty sure I would stay here. The motorcycle business was at one time profitable, then it fell into a lull. I was about 18 when I stopped working there.

I didn't have the aspirations of an entrepreneur, but more of an aspiration of riding and working on motorcycles.

What was your first job with the company, and what did it teach you?

I was in high school, and I did sanitation. I was basically cleaning out toilets. When people talk about starting at the bottom, that would be the bottom.

I learned that I really don't want to do sanitation. It's not where I wanted to spend the rest of my career. I decided there had to be a better way to go.

You've worked in practically every position within the company. How has that helped you as president and CEO?

It's huge. It's unmeasurable. It's given me a more intimate knowledge of employees and respect for the employees' jobs as well. There were some jobs I struggled with that they made look easy.

The jobs were a lot more difficult than I thought. I learned to respect them and the positions they hold, and I got to learn about the workings of the company. I learned that it's like a domino effect. If you change something, it affects a number of things down the line. It ripples down through the organization.

I think one of my strong suits is understanding how they interface with one another, and how to take complicated issues and make them simple.

You list some of your hobbies as power boating, jet skis, snowmobiling and riding motorcycles -- including a Harley. What does that say about your personality?

It used to say I really like speed. I used to really thrive on speed. I still do to some extent, but I've had to pull back a bit.

I still enjoy that and the thrill. But I've got three kids and a wife now, and that's kind of tempered that a bit. In that respect, some people say I'm a thrill-seeker or I like to take calculated risks. Like one T-shirt I have says: 'You can have football, basketball, baseball and golf. Offshore racing requires two balls.'

Does the thrill-seeking apply to your position at Park Farms as well?

I'm actually very conservative in this seat -- very conservative. With my hobbies, it's me controlling a machine.

There are a hell of a lot more variables in this than what is in that segment. There it's just me, the machine and the elements. This is people. There are so many dynamics here. You cannot just press down on the pedal and get everyone to go in the same direction.

Does running a company have anything in common with riding a motorcycle?

It's a calculated risk that you take. There are a lot of unknown factors. It's the thrill of victory, if you will.

The other thing I do is to take the family and kids and their friends when we go boating. When we go boating, I always want to go faster, but they tell me, 'Then leave all your friends at home.'

It's rarely less than double digits of people when we go out. That's the thing in common -- the people element is the fun part to doing that stuff. It's what makes it fun.

In business, people are the biggest challenge and the biggest reward. If you see people making progress and doing well, that's a great thing.

How has the poultry industry changed since you first got involved with it?

The only constant in this industry is change. It moves very quickly because of the perishable nature of the product.

The thing I've noticed over my tenure is, I continue to see a decrease in the customer base of independents. The IGAs of the world are decreasing, but not the big chains.

The independents have really diminished, and so have the number of people producing products. There is more product but fewer players. Consolidations mean there are fewer companies to buy services from and fewer to sell to. But the magnitude of those has increased.

We've got to be a player. We are very small by industry standards. (Park Farms processes 325,500 chickens a week, which is what some larger processors do in a day) That doesn't mean we are not a great company. That doesn't mean we can't do a great job with our people and services.

We can do a better job than anyone else can because of our size and flexibility. There are economics that come with being huge, but certain losses, too.

What are your goals for Park Farms?

Our main focus is going to be focusing on our trade pack product -- the stuff in the meat case. With the numbers and weights of the birds we have coming through, there's not much we can do to improve from the product standpoint.

We need to lower our costs on the back side. We are essentially dealing with a commodity. It's difficult to differentiate ourself from the others out there. It's becoming more difficult over time.

We need to cut costs and improve our margin. The bottom line is, when the day is done, we have to give the customer the best value that's possible. My grandfather always said, 'We are not in the chicken business, we are not in the meat business, we are in the people business.' We still have all our goals internally, but when the day is done, you have to provide superior service for our customers.

What makes Park Farms' products different from its competitors'?

One of the things we are known for in the industry is that when we start out to do something, we do it right the first time and do it better and more consistently.

All of us at the top have an open-door policy. Anyone can walk through my door. They may have to wait in line, but this is not about one person -- it's still a team sport.

The same goes with a customer. If we don't do it, someone else will.

Internally, we changed from having such a rigid structure. We used to have to work half a day on Saturday. That's gone. It made it a lot better for the folks that were here for half days on the weekend.

We are trying to take care of the employees' needs that may not be related to work. We've looked at ways to pay for their children's college education with pretax dollars. We have started to look at a way to provide quality day care.

The attitude of all of us is "work" may be a four-letter word, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun. I try to put some fun in this. We are really trying to perpetuate that it can be fun and doing the job right can be satisfying.

We are trying to give the employees more responsibility and hold them accountable. We are trying to look at things bit differently.

You are not just the CEO of a company, you are CEO of a company your family built from nothing. Does that put additional pressure on you to succeed?

It used to, but it doesn't now. I'm my own person. We (cousins Jim Pastore Jr., the company's president and COO, and Christine Pastore-Bucher, executive vice president of operations, also work for the company) realize it is up to us. We'll either make it, break it or stay in the middle.

It's up to us to propel the business into the future. That's a risk and a scary part all in the same breath. The key element is that we all have an understanding that it is truly up to us, and we need to work as hard and smart as we can to make things go.

Final thoughts?

It's a family-run business. There are three of us that are heirs to the throne. We are making changes to make things better. We feel we have the right people on board.

We have some definitive goals and things are getting done. Everyone is feeling pretty good about it quite honestly.

I think if anything, when you go to the store, ask for Park Farms chicken. It's either Park or it's not real chicken. How to reach: Park Farms, (330) 455-0241

Friday, 30 May 2003 06:39

Informed buyers

Deep is one way to describe Audio-Technica's Web site.

Comprehensive information on products and industry terminology, and even tutorials on eliminating audio problems fill the site of the Stow-based microphone manufacturer.

"One of the things we initially set out as a common goal was to make Audio-Technica the authority on microphones and wireless systems, and one of the ways to do that was to make the Web site a resource not only for our products but to provide industry information as well," says Gary Boss, marketing director retail, live sound & studio for the 110-employee company. "We are adding immense amounts of credibility to our name by providing unbiased information to the community as a whole."

The company does not sell its products through its Web site; it sells through field reps, who sell to resellers who then sell to the end-user.

"It's not intended to be a sales site -- at least not a direct sales site," says Boss. "We get e-mails all the time from people asking where they can purchase our products, so we are generating leads off of this. We are making it easier to deal with Audio-Technica.

"We constantly get compliments to the Webmaster on the ease of use, and that's evidenced by the high number of hits (2 million plus). People are using this as a resource."

The site is meant to be a resource for anyone in the supply chain, though end-users, who range from garage bands to Billy Joel, are the primary targets.

"We look at our sales team in the field as customers, our dealers and distributors are customers and the end-user is the ultimate customer," says Boss. "The thing we really found out was that it is equally important to educate all aspects of that chain for the whole thing to work. The site becomes a resource for not only the end-user, but all the other users in the chain."

Sale representatives can get the product specifications they need to sell the product to resellers. Consumers can educate themselves on why they should choose one particular type of microphone over another -- or learn how to eliminate feedback.

"We have deep, comprehensive training information that is not Audio-Technica specific," says Boss. "We have a 100-word glossary of industry terms because there are tons of confusing terms for someone that is just coming into the audio field. It's brand-enhancing without the hype. Will the sales eventually come down the line? It definitely has the potential."

The site has also become a valuable internal resource. Information that used to have to be faxed or copied for sales reps can now be pulled directly from the site at any time, freeing employees to do other tasks. With product manuals online, including ones from discontinued products, people who bought used equipment with no instructions can be directed to the site rather than tying up an employee.

"It's a way to provide that information to them without having the traffic come into the office," says Boss. "This has been a very good tool for us both internally and externally. It's a huge benefit that has helped everything from customer service to sales.

"People can really understand the product and dig into it in a way they couldn't before and get the information on a timely basis." How to reach: Audio-Technica, or (330) 686-2600

Some assembly required

When the internal team at Audio-Technica set out to create a comprehensive informational Web site, it didn't expect it to be such a monumental task.

"The organization and logistics of making the site functional were a huge undertaking, and we totally underestimated that," says Gary Boss, marketing director retail, live sound & studio for the company. "It was simple to just put up an alphanumeric list of our products, but the more we got into it and wanted to include more options on how people could find information, it became very involved."

One particularly time-consuming task was getting photos ready for the Web site. Product photos had been taken over a period of years and were of differing standards and types -- and none were in an electronic format. Hundreds of product slides had to be converted to a digital format to be added to the site.

As a relative latecomer to the World Wide Web -- the company's site went live in 1998 -- the team was able to draw upon a lot of what had already been done and avoid some of the mistakes. The framework of the site was done by a third party, but three to five members from the marketing, marketing communications and graphic design departments, including Boss, did the actual design and navigation.

"The navigation was ultimately important to us," says Boss. "There are numerous ways to get to the information because there are numerous levels of users."

For example, users can search by product type, by application or by model number.

"There are about six ways to slice the data," says Boss. "This is based on the knowledge that no two users are the same. We wanted to get them to the information with the fewest number of clicks with the broadest number of options presented up front."

Friday, 30 May 2003 06:34

Consulting help

Janet Kramer had a problem.

The president of the Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society needed to upgrade her computer systems so that the four offices -- Cleveland, Akron, Columbus and Youngstown -- could access the central database and other software. The existing system was outdated and slow.

"Because we are dealing with people with MS, we have a lot of information that we had to make sure the proper security was in place," says Kramer. "We also have one employee who works from a remote location, and she, too, needed to have access to the server."

With the problem defined, Kramer sought help from Westlake-based Antares Management Solutions to help implement the changes.

"We have a manager of information systems, but she is more of a database administrator," says Kramer. "She understands the system better than any of us, but she didn't have the knowledge Antares had to implement the changes."

Greg Blatnik, manager of distributed systems for Antares, worked with Kramer to identify the organization's goals, then develop a plan.

"We needed to come up with an overall strategic plan that would work for them for the next three to five years," says Blatnik. "There were major things that needed to be accomplished without disrupting their work."

The chapter's file servers were out of date and failing, causing a loss of productivity. The desktop computers were old and leased for too much money, and the e-mail system was not working well, according to Blatnik. The upgrade was also coming in the middle of the chapter's busiest fund-raising season, so all the work was planned for one weekend.

"They were able to do it over one weekend so it didn't inconvenience us," says Kramer. "The system went down at 1 p.m. on Friday and was back up by 8 a.m. on Monday."

Planning was crucial to making so many upgrades on one weekend. Kramer and her staff met with Antares several times over a three to four month period to work out the details.

"Things never happen as quickly as you want," says Kramer. "It was no fault of theirs, it was just as we were going through the process, we had to solve some of the issues that came up."

Communicating and having clear goals helped make Kramer's experience with a computer consultant successful.

"For me, the toughest part was learning the language," says Kramer. "I'm not computer literate when it comes to networks. I found with Antares, they were able to explain everything on my level so I knew what they had to do, and they kept me constantly informed on the status of the project."

Antares had direction not only from Kramer, but also from the National MS Society, which has guidelines to help standardize its offices.

"First and foremost, as a buyer or customer, understand exactly what it is you are looking for and why you want to do it," says Andy Balazs Jr., vice president of information systems services for Antares. "As suppliers, we need to know what you want and why and what the future use is. It leads to a lot better success rate.

"The MS Society understood what they wanted. They knew they wouldn't have a larger staff to manage the system, they wanted some flexibility to run the offices and they needed us to meet the standards. We built something that meets the standards; maintenance is simple with the flexibility they need.

"You have to be willing to put in the time with the project team so you buy into the solution and are part of the process." How to reach: Ohio Buckeye Chapter of MS Society, (800) 667-7131; Antares Management Solutions, (866) 268-2737

Friday, 25 April 2003 12:44

On the move

Bringing in executives from other companies or other parts of the country is a common way of improving the leadership of an organization.

But if you are going to handle the relocation, communicate all the details of what the company will do as quickly and clearly as possible. Once the deal has been made, the corporate relocation people or your third-party relocation company should begin the process immediately.

"The key thing is to make early contact with the individual -- the sooner the better," says Reg Kence, who wrote Goodyear's corporate relocation policies for 25 years before his retirement. "If you don't get with them soon enough, they're out talking to their neighbor who sells real estate and calling moving companies and charging off in the wrong direction. It can be difficult to do, because in many cases, these moves are confidential, and you have to catch them in the evening at home."

Dealing with the home in the old location is usually the most challenging aspect of any relocation.

"In any transfer, the most expensive thing is moving the old home and purchasing the new home," says Kence, who now serves as a tax and expense counselor for the Mayfield Heights office of SIRVA, a corporate relocation firm. "The risk involved in a home sale is where companies spend the most money. If you have an executive coming in from a company that's headquartered on the West Coast, where the average home is $600,000 to $800,000, it doesn't take to long to figure out that it might cost you $100,000 to get the home sold."

Many companies are turning to corporate relocation firms to assume a lot of the risk of real estate. In the case of larger firms that move executives all the time, it keeps the company from accumulating a portfolio of unsold homes that drag down profits.

"In a standard program from a relocation company, the company will provide for the sale of the home in the old location and provide a guaranteed offer," says Kence. "The individual, depending on the program, would have 60 to 120 days to market it on their own and try to get a better offer."

If the home doesn't sell, the relocation company buys the house for the guaranteed amount.

If you are using a relocation company, make sure you understand the details of what costs will be covered if the home doesn't sell. In most cases, the company paying for relocation is responsible for all ongoing expenses for the home, which can range from 1.5 percent to 2 percent of the appraised value per month.

A relocation program will also usually include a weeklong house-hunting trip to the new location with professional real estate guidance. Other items sometimes included are return trips to the original location to visit with family while the house is on the market and interim housing. Miscellaneous expenses for transferring license plates and the bulk of the closing costs are also usually picked up by the company.

Fees are typically a function of the value of the home being sold, with all other expenses being added to that, so the higher the level of the executive, the more expensive the move will be. How to reach: SIRVA,

Wednesday, 02 April 2003 07:40

Distant points

What are you paying for long distance? Do you even remember who your carrier is?

With new resellers entering the long distance market every day, it’s easy to be confused by offers that have per minute charges, connection fees, introductory rates or even the bundling of other services. What used to be a simple choice now requires a consulting account to determine which plan will result in the most savings.

“The best place to start is with your current provider,” says Annabel Dodd, author of “The Essential Guide to Telecommunication” (Prentice Hall). “Ask them if you are on the right plan, because most of the time, six to 12 months after you signed up, a better plan becomes available that could save you money.”

If you’re looking at new carriers, ask whether there is a connection fee for every call, or if there is a minimum call length. Also ask how the calls are billed—are they rounded to the nearest minute or in six second increments?

“When you are looking at switching carriers, make sure you can keep the same telephone number,” says Dodd. “You can also sometimes split your service for outgoing and incoming calls.”

James Caruso, managing director of Media First Public Relations and a 20-year veteran of the telecommunications and information technology industries, recommends the following:

Information you need before you start shopping:

• How many minutes of long distance service does your business use?

• What percentage is fax traffic?

• Can I consolidate any cellular/mobile phone long distance traffic to aggregate minutes and get a lower rate?

• What accounting codes (for billing clients) must I have to track call charges?

Questions to ask the carrier:

• What is the rate per minute?

• Is there an initial charge (set-up or connection charge) or other “hidden” fee on each call?

• How many minutes of long distance must my firm have in order to qualify for your lowest rate?

• What type of codes can I have for tracking calls that are ultimately billed to my clients or charged to projects?

• Does the carrier guarantee “toll-quality” service (what you get in local calls at any Bell company)?

• Can you bundle services: video (cable etc.), voice (phone) and data (Internet service provider) with long distance to get a lower overall bill? Do I need any equipment to take advantage of these services? Who pays for it?

Wednesday, 02 April 2003 06:27

Self-service HR

Putting human resource information on the Web for easy employee access is nothing new. But Aon Consulting's SelfService Now platform has gone one step further, offering employees financial advice and the ability to purchase products such as supplemental insurance right from a customized corporate Web site.

"SelfService Now contains the functionality for employees to do financial planning, get company communications of all kinds and even a way for employees to calculate how much they might want to put into a flexible spending account," says Gaelyn Mitchell, senior vice president of AON.

Employees can also search for covered health care providers and other HR functions, but it also helps them meet their financial goals.

"We have integrated e-commerce into the site," says Mitchell. "It's not just a link to an outside portal. It is e-commerce selling financial and personal products to help employees fulfill their financial plans."

This includes products such as stocks, mutual funds, annuities, property insurance and warranty coverages.

"The variety of health care products available are designed not to compete with the group plans offered by the company, but to supplement them," says Mitchell. "What we are trying to do is help employers help employees achieve a work-family balance."

The site is customizable by each company that uses it, so it appears as part of the corporate Web site. The advice offered is done by certified financial planners and has various disclosures protecting the corporation itself from liability.

Employees can get a better picture of their overall financial situation because their personal data is available from the company, so they don't have to remember what their actual pay is or how much life insurance the company provides them.

Any calculations or products purchased are kept outside the company by Aon to maintain the privacy of the workers using the system for financial planning.

Products are offered from different providers so employees have a choice, and are also discounted.

Companies can choose which components of SelfService now fit their HR plan, but to get a return on investment, you need to have about 1,500 employees minimum.

"Other firms have put a link to a public site, but that's not what we're doing," says Mitchell. "This is integrated and secure in the employer space so that people can be dealing with employee benefits and life issues as well."

Aon Consulting

Wednesday, 02 April 2003 06:15

Acquiring minds

A common exit strategy for an entrepreneur is simply to sell the business. But how do you make sure your company is attractive to buyers?

"Profitability is the most powerful driver," says Stewart Kohl, managing general partner for the Cleveland office of The Riverside Co., a leveraged buyout firm. "The company should demonstrate a leadership position and an understanding of its industry."

Leading in a specific niche of an industry is usually all that's needed, but that position should be proven by a high level of profitability.

"We also look for something that differentiates a company from the competition, such as a brand name, a trademark or patents," says Kohl.

These are all obstacles that make it difficult for a competitor to successfully compete against you, guaranteeing the value of the company remains high.

There are things to avoid as well.

"We don't like to see a high level of business concentrated on one customer," says Kohl. "We also don't like technological or regulatory risks. If a business depends on how much Medicare reimburses, for example, that's viewed as very risky."

A change in government policy could wipe out profits overnight. The same goes for technology companies, where today's hot gizmo may be tomorrow's paperweight.

"We always like having an excellent management team too," says Kohl. "That's always a big advantage. It's easier and safer to keep a good management team in place because it's a known commodity, but other times, especially when the owner is the seller and also ran the business, then we may need to bring in someone else."

If you decide to sell your business, be prepared to invest a lot of time into the process.

"For anyone who hasn't bought or sold a business, it is a complex and time-consuming process," says Kohl. "It will consume a lot of resources, so don't embark on it casually. If you are serious, then get good advice from your lawyers and accountants. Make sure you know this is what you want to do."

The Riverside Co.

Monday, 31 March 2003 09:01

Picking pilots

Like many companies, Cleveland-based Flight Options had a recruitment portion on its Web site. Until recently, interested parties could apply online then send in a resume for follow-up.

"What was happening was as the resumes came in, we had to compile and categorize them, then send out cards that we had received them," says Eric Gerhard, pilot recruiter for Flight Options, a company that sells fractional jet ownership to corporations. "It was a lot of paperwork, as we were averaging about 1,000 resumes a month."

As the resumes came through, the strongest candidates would be picked out, but it required each resume to be examined. Time and storage were stretched in an attempt to deal with the flood.

That's when Chicago-based StaffCV, a provider of recruitment software, approached Flight Options with a solution. With the StaffCV product, applicants apply online and all the information is stored on a server.

"Anytime we want applicants, it allows us to build searches using extensive criteria," says Gerhard, who notes that Flight Options is the first U.S. airline to use the software. "We have several different aircraft types, but we might be looking for one person with experience in one type of aircraft. The software will search all the people that have applied to us and pick out the best candidates based on our criteria. It can then automatically e-mail them to forward a resume to us."

The software can be customized with questions specific to Flight Options requirements.

"This will help us use our time more effectively," says Gerhard. "We won't have to wait until we can get the resumes entered into the system. I can go to the site and change it around as needed. If I add questions, it can notify every applicant that we changed the application so they can update their answers."

StaffCV can be used for any position in the company. Flight Options is currently using it only for pilots and flight crew applicants, though that is expected to change as they fine-tune the process.


Monday, 31 March 2003 08:54

Just the fax

When Ed Flynn was missing an insurance form required by his pharmacist, the good old fax machine bailed him out. Flynn, a systems engineer for Cleveland-based Warwick Communications, called in to the company's fax-on-demand system and had the necessary form faxed directly to the pharmacist.

"I didn't have to mail them the form or wait for my prescription," says Flynn. While the Internet may be the main conduit for information now, the old reliable fax machine can still play a role.

"Web pages are nice if you have Internet access," says Flynn, who designs fax-on-demand systems for Warwick. "A lack of Internet access may still be a factor for some people. You have to access to view the information on the screen. Fax machines are still more common than Internet access, and some people just prefer to have the information in their hand."

Before setting up a service, you need to research why people are calling you and what information they are requesting.

"If the documents they are requesting are static, such as technical information on setting up a product or product specs, you can put it on a system where it can be easily accessed," says Flynn.

Document requests don't necessarily have to be coming from external sources. Many companies use a fax-on-demand system to help technicians or salespeople in the field. Technicians might be able to access fixes for common problems or get product specifications to aid them in a repair. Salespeople can access contracts, rate sheets or a credit application. Systems can either have a verbal directory that lists all documents available, orcan have a table of contents document that can be faxed first.

For example, a caller would request the table of contents document listing all available information, then find the number corresponding to the specific document he or she needed and request it. A company can also have hidden documents, meaning the numbers aren't published, but the information is available to those who know the numbers. A credit application might be put on the system but kept hidden, that way only salespeople know what the codeis to request it.

Installing a system may be easier than you think. Many voicemail systems are pre-configured to set up fax-on-demand, and if you can fax directly from your computer already, then a system can probably be installed with a minimum of extra hardware.

"Before buying, look at what kind of tech support you get and the ease of use," says Flynn. "But these systems are typically 99.99 percent reliable."

Warwick Communications