Cloud 9 is a new series in which we invite nine LBM leaders to comment on dealer- and distributor-related information technology (IT) issues. For this issue, we asked Brian King to tell us what he wants most from IT companies.

Help Me Compete with Apple We all love our Macs, iPhones, and iPads, but for me the real story is the Apple Store. Enter any Apple Store and a well-trained twenty-something asks, “Is this your first time to the Apple Store?” Yes, and I need a new headset, I might reply. Oh, right this way. Then the salesperson scans your item, asks what credit card you’d like to use, swipes the card in Apple’s handy mobile device, and asks, “Would you like me to e-mail your receipt?” Sure, but I need a printed copy as well. So the salesperson reaches under a nearby table and, while handing me the printed receipt, my smart phone pings as the e-mail receipt shows up. Compare that to your local lumberyard as you stand in line and the clerk shouts, “NEXT!”

Product Info You can walk by a deli in New York and get the current specials on your mobile device, but you can’t get the same service in small-town lumberyard USA. I’d love to have systems that show our customers information about products, some of their uses, other items to use with this particular product, how many are in stock, etc. For our inventory control, the same system could show product peformance, how many turns, last price update, and such.

Supply Chain When we buy from our suppliers, we check prices, monitor inventory levels, verify product specs, and so forth. What we really want is a system that just says, “Hey I just sold a widget, order me another,” and then when our supplier shows up a few days later, there is a new widget on the truck. We don’t want to hassle with min/max, lead time, delivery time, PO’s, faxes, or e-mails; we just need another widget to replace the one we just sold.

Supplier Invoicing We issue a purchase order and in return get a confirmation and a packing slip. Then we get an invoice from the supplier that requires we go through a process to verify that all is correct—which we have done already. Can’t you just create a system that allows us to verify once and then pay? For most of us, the current process is hugely expensive and unnecessary.

Payments Recently, I added a Starbucks gift card to my iPhone passport. I ordered my double decaf low-fat Frappuccino, held my phone under the scanner and, beep, the transaction was done. The best part was a couple of twenty-somethings in line behind me asked, “Hey how did you do that?” What we really want is to walk up to or phone our supplier and say, “I need this stuff,” and have the supplier reply, “No problem.” Our technology knows that we have a device that has our payment info, sends some transaction info, gains our approval with a touch of the mobile device, and voila, our transaction is done.

I once read an article about “Why software sucks.” The gist was this advice to technology providers: “Know Thy User, For He Is Not Thee.” IT providers are great at stuff that interacts with computer chips, but when it comes to designing stuff for the end user, not so much.

—Brian King is president of Construction Supply, Farmington, N.M. In 2008, he won ProSales’ Excellence Award for Best Use of Technology. He also helped create and lead a users’ group for dealers seeking to improve their tech systems. Contact him at [email protected] or 505.324.1555.

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