It might have been unintentional, but one dealer responding to a recent ProSales survey on information technology (IT) at his lumberyard neatly summarized the love, the hate–and the dilemma–that dealers feel toward their IT systems.

"I like it because it hasn't changed," the dealer declared.

"I dislike it because it is old and needs to be changed/updated."

The survey, conducted between Jan. 27 and Feb. 9, found dealers giving less than ringing endorsements to their IT systems and to the companies that provide them. Nearly a quarter of LBM dealers would reject the software package they're using now if they could choose a system over again, and only 48.7% said they'd choose the same software again. The other 27.5% weren't sure.

Among other results:

¦ Dealers were happiest with their accounts receivable and order processing systems. They were unhappiest about their ability to import data (such as price quotes), export data to spreadsheets, and write reports.

¦ LBM operations with sales above $25 million tended to use computer systems more vigorously than did smaller operations. For instance, bigger dealers were more than twice as likely to offer online access to pricing and invoices. But bigger dealers also tended to have more negative opinions about the software.

¦ Respondents gave the highest marks to their systems' speed and regular upgrades. They were unhappiest about software vendors' training, software support and, for those who requested it, custom programming.

¦ There was roughly a 50-50 split between dealers who backed up their data onsite vs. offsite. Over 85% said their data servers were hosted at the company while 13.4% were hosted offsite. Some didn't know. ¦ The amounts that dealers paid for their software and support varied
dramatically. (As a rule of thumb, various ProSales and other surveys indicate that dealers pay no more than 0.5% of revenues on information technology.)

¦ Many dealers complained vigorously about paying more for IT and not getting any better service. But some dealers said their prices had gone down.

A total of 256 respondents from building material dealers, molding/millwork companies, and shortline specialty distributors replied to the survey. The poll was co-sponsored by ProSales and Rader Solutions, a Louisiana-based consulting company headed by Chris Rader, a ProSales columnist. Every region of the country was represented. Just under half the respondents worked at building material dealers with under $10 million in annual sales, while another 28.9% were at dealers with $10 million to $25 million in sales.

While the answers weren't consistent, the intensity of dealers' views was. Finding a happy medium has proven to be a fruitless task for one dealer. "I have changed software companies three times in the last seven years, one reason being enormous support fees for the amount of support given," he wrote. "We do not need a lot of support, but none of the companies we have used have given adequate support when needed."

When asked to rate satisfaction with various software applications on a five-point scale, fewer than one in six dealers said they were "neither satisfied nor dissatisfied" with most of the programs. The rest felt moderately or strongly pro or con regarding their systems. And while many dealers complained about the service they've been getting–particularly when the help desk was located overseas–other dealers pointed out examples where their IT partners had gone the extra mile.