Shippers Fight It Out With Network Systems

nsnHow do major international corporations prepare their computer systems for the new economic community that will form in Europe in 1992? A pattern for future developments may be emerging in the parcel-delivery game, and hardware platforms are key elements in the top two players’ game plans.

Top-ranked Federal Express Corp. is armed with number-crunching, fault-tolerant mini-based systems, while No. 2 United Parcel Service of America Inc. (UPS) favors flexible, high-speed PC-based LANs (see PC Week, Dec. 4, Page 1). Both companies use a wide range of hardware, but each has chosen a different platform.

Federal Express, which is building a European system on Tandem Computers Inc. workstations and IBM AS/400 minis, has the modus operandi of giving the customer access to a powerful database. The firm has pioneered the system that it claims lets customers know exactly where a package is located from drop-off until delivery.

UPS, leaning heavily on its growing armada of Token-Ring on Novell LANs, doesn’t market its computerized services, expecting such services to do more for the shipping business behind the scenes than at the customer level.

The European and Asian package-shipping businesses have sputtered along in recent years at an estimated combined revenue of $5 billion annually. But analysts think the business can double with the new interest in fast shipping in Europe and Japan, and they expect computer-aided productivity gains to pick up the slack.

“There’s a revolution in the way goods are being distributed worldwide,” said John Kalmbach, an analyst at stock brockerage Merrill, Lynch & Co. in New York. “Manufacturers in Europe and Japan place a value on low inventories and fast delivery. The market goes to the one who can offer the fastest service and the best price.”

Thomas Murphy, Federal Express’ managing director of international systems development in Knoxville, Tenn., says his firm needs the mini’s fault tolerance because of the amount of customer-targeted data moved with each package. “The record for each airbill is about 2,000 bytes. We can use PCs as front ends, but we need the fault tolerance and high-volume processing you get with Tandems and AS/400s.”

Eventually, Federal Express hopes to set up with European customers and customs offices intricate electronic data interchange (EDI) systems. But it isn’t going to happen overnight, since AS/400s don’t conform to European EDI standards, something IBM officials say they are now working on.

UPS, whose web of local area networks has grown from none to 260 in two years, is focusing its attention on freight handling at overseas transfer points. Since UPS’ West German subsidiary is the largest package-delivery firm in that nation, UPS is working on strategic systems that speed across-the-border package processing.

UPS’ system sends the bill of lading to the receiving country before a package is shipped. Customs officials in that country inspect the bills and pick certain packages for instant delivery. Thus, a package often can be shipped from customs the day it arrives. And for those packages that must await inspection, the time spent in customs can be cut from about four days to two.

Meanwhile, Federal Express has developed its own strategic systems, and customs agencies around the world are beginning to require shippers to use them. Although the advantage held by UPS is thus disappearing, UPS is believed to have other tricks up its sleeve, including extending its computer services to West German customers. Also, by announcing deals with Polish and Soviet governments last month, UPS signaled its intent to build the first overnight shipping systems connecting Eastern and Western Europe.

As for fault-tolerance, UPS had mini-based systems in the past, but dismantled them once the company learned how to maintain control of vast amounts of data on LANs. Nancy Hoing, director of the mini-to-LAN conversion at UPS in Paramus, N.J., said that when she allowed 100 IBM minis to remain active while she replaced them with LANs, UPS didn’t drop a bit, and the minis became nothing more than “expensive protocol converters.”

BA Was Strong On IT From The Get-Go

basitSpeeding along the road to recovery from years of support problems and end-user revolts, Bank of America’s information center has opened four new retail stores that sell software, cabling and services — but only to the bank’s end users.

The concept of an in-house retail chain as the distributor of end-user products has been tried and has failed at other major corporations. But after a month of operations at Bank of America, users and information-center (IC) managers alike think this one is going to be a success.

“This is one of the ways we’re letting end users know that we’re working with them and not just shoving products down the pipeline,” said Arnold Birenbaum, acting IC director in the Concord, Calif., office. “If retail stores have failed before, it may have been because they were just ICs in disguise. We’re really providing retail-store services.”

The bank’s end users agree. “The improvement in service is so great that it’s hard to believe we’re dealing with the same people,” declared Kathy Walker, an administrative assistant in the bank’s consumer loans division. “The computer-services people used to be a catchall for any computer problems we had in a department. That’s so broad it just about scares you off. They are refining the process now.”

The retail stores are the most dramatic refinement offered by Bank of America’s information center. The four spacious and well-equipped retail stores are located in Concord, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York.

Each store is run by an experienced end-user computing professional whose job is to help customers select products, demonstrating them on any of the store’s half dozen systems. Users are also helped with any problems they may have with the products they use.

The day after the Concord store opened, 20 customers were milling around at midday. A few were in a room watching a demonstration of spreadsheets on a large projection screen. In another room, a representative from Lotus Development Corp. was demonstrating the two current versions of 1-2-3.

In the center of the store, where a number of cubicles held workstations configured in various ways, end users from different departments huddled together to play with competing products.

The bank’s retail chain has a policy of “dual availability” — that is, at least two competing products from each category must be available. This way, the IC can maintain standards while giving end users some flexibility.

“In the old days, the end-user computing center [now replaced by the IC] tried to maintain some kind of standards, but it was hard to do because communications with the end users was so bad,” Birenbaum acknowledged. But the bank stopped calling them “end users” about a year ago when Michael Simmons became chief information officer. He dubbed them “partners” and created the IC to work with them.

“Our people used to stand outside the boat and try to direct traffic,” Simmons explained. “Now we’re in the boat with the business partners. That’s their insurance that we care as much as they do about whether it floats.”

However, end-user computing managers who have tried the retail-store approach in the past think it’s an idea that only works well on paper. “The biggest problem was the user walked in the door of the retail store and said, ‘I want a spreadsheet,’ ” recalled Stephen Morse, a senior technology analyst with Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co., a New York bank. “The retail-store people would accommodate. They couldn’t really counsel because they were sitting in the store. You want people providing the help to walk around and get into the customer’s environment.”

Another major bank, New York’s Chemical Corp., tried the retail-store route three years ago and dropped it quickly. Said a former Chemical employee who asked not to be identified: “It became a joke because we were offering products, but if the end user wanted something different, they just went out and got it.”

Bank of America claims it has the answer to those issues. Birenbaum said the retail store “augments partner relations. It doesn’t take their place.”

The IC continues to send analysts into the business units to monitor their requirements. In addition, if a customer wants a product that isn’t available from the IC store, the retail manager may add it to the approved list.

“Naturally, we aren’t going to just sit there and let each customer come in and tell us to add a new product,” Birenbaum said. “That would be chaos. We’re going to add new products where it’s sensible. Where it doesn’t make sense, we will counsel the business partner.

“People respond to reason. We’re counting on that.”

A Mouse Is Not Just A Mouse

aminaajmSince I wrote a column on mouse evolution back in July, I’ve had a chance to see new species in action and I’ve come to some conclusions.
The two alternatives I’ve worked with are Rollermouse, a trackball from CH Products in San Marcos, Calif., and Felix, a considerably more unusual alternative from Altra, a family-owned company based in Laramie, Wyo.
Rollermouse is a direct swap for an ordinary serial-port mouse. Microsoft Windows was able to detect and use it with no installation process whatsoever, other than telling Windows which serial port to look at.
I found using a trackball to be generally satisfactory. The movements are as intuitive as those of a mouse, even though the trackball moves in more dimensions than the mouse does.
But I’m now back to a regular mouse, for three reasons. The most significant, to be fair, is that I needed my serial port back. But there were two other problems with the Rollermouse.
One was Rollermouse’s irritating tendency to drift. I couldn’t see the ball itself rotating, but the cursor on the screen nevertheless went on its own little adventures. The other problem was that I didn’t like the placement of the Rollermouse’s buttons.
At first glance, this looks like silly fussiness on my part, but I fear the problem is endemic to trackballs.
The significant problem isn’t that I, personally, didn’t like Rollermouse’s placement of its specific buttons. The problem is that, compared to a mouse, there are a lot more possible ways to configure a trackball, and consequently a lot more ways not to please a lot more users.
I tried a number of trackballs at Comdex. All put their buttons in slightly different places.
As a result, each was likely to please some users and displease others, making a satisfactory choice difficult, especially for a corporate standard. Mouse designers have less choice about where to put the buttons, and consequently less chance of not pleasing users.
Felix is a mouse of a different species altogether. It consists of a sculpted pedestal a half-inch thick and about the size of a diskette, with a little squared-off mushroom rising from it, something like a joystick.
You hold the mushroom between your thumb and middle finger, and move it in the X and Y directions anywhere within an inch-square cutout area on the top of the pedestal. The mouse button is a little switch on top of the mushroom that you push with your index finger.
Felix has the same advantage as a trackball: It stays in one place and doesn’t hide under the papers on your desk.
It has one other important advantage: Because its little square maps directly onto the screen, movements of the mushroom translate into absolute screen positions. In a Macintosh or Windows environment, Felix’s driver software takes useful advantage of this feature by allowing a quick and direct movement to the window-close box or to the expansion-contraction box in the corners of the active window
I’ve used Felix for only a couple of hours because it’s currently only available for the Macintosh, and I’m not a regular Mac user. But PC Week’s art department is entirely Mac’d, so I asked John Avakian, who’s responsible for a lot of the graphics you see on these pages, to try it out.
John used it for several days, and liked it a lot. That, in my book, is a solid recommendation. (He stopped using it because of a small mechanical problem, which Altra acknowledged and assured me has been corrected in the current production version.)
I don’t think Felix is for everyone. Specifically, I suspect user satisfaction will be in inverse proportion to the size of user hands, since its main control is fairly small.
But I’m certainly looking forward to the PC version of the product, due out in the spring, so I can judge for myself. So far, I’m impressed.

Restaurant Software- The System of Business Accuracy

Restaurant software serves as the system that enables business accuracy in many aspects for retailers with a keen mind. On the part of the business owners, it provides the easy way to check all the financial information of the specific food service location. I am talking about everything from your inventory down to the cost of the stock and the possible profits that your business will have in the future. You can call up all of that information accurately and you can track down the exactly what you have on hand inside the restaurant. See more restaurant software at this POS system company site.

For the employees, it will change their function and provide them with a real ability to accomplish things like never before. If they are assigned to the kitchen, they can prepare the orders with speed without needing to ask for information from co-workers. For the customers, the system is very easy to operate. They will only need to choose their orders from the screen in front. They simply point out the orders they want and the services they need and then pay for their orders, either by card or cash. Nothing more to say or do, they can estimate their budget since everything will appear on the screen with the total amount of their orders. This restaurant software is a very convenient way to ensure completely solid business accuracy. The instructions and information becomes centralized, which allows the counter person to really understand what is going on in the restaurant.

Good restaurant software is useful for understanding product and stock valuations. On the screen, you can break down the food cost units that will give you the information you need to budget correctly as well as allow you to be sure of the whole cost of your stock and the possible earnings that you may be able to have as you continue your business. The system is helping business investors around the globe because of it enables real-time inventory checks. In an instant, you will know how much profit you have for one day, one week, and one year. You will know without the need to hire somebody to do the reports for you.

These days, solid restaurant software plays the big role for giant businesses around the world. Through the system managing services to the clients becomes fast and easy. For managers, the system provide the kind of efficiency that you just cannot pay for. In just few clicks, they will know any type of information they want to know about the restaurant.

POS (point of sale) software makes the technical aspects of a business faster and more accurate. The grocery line is an early example of POS software. It can scan items and display their information instantly, store money, and print receipts. POS software has progressed to a new level, and the finest is you can run it online. Wireless POS software is for mobile uses, such as vendors, and of course, the cash register (electronic) is still commonly used in grocery stores. However, to really take advantage of the in-depth features of software, the ease and efficiency online is unparalleled. Most of all, the POS software online is constantly updated and improved, so your program will not become obsolete over time.

Buying POS software from an online company will also give you access to that company where you can go for advice and feedback. The companies are more than willing to stay in constant contact, and send you newsletters and opportunities that will help you learn more about your POS system as you adjust it to your business.

POS software offers the highest convenience by requiring the least manual effort. For example, a clerk at a cash register may have trouble operating with the keys or mistakenly count out the wrong amount of money. However, this software online offers the greatest elimination of human error in the system. By finding optimal software, you’re able to get accurate information at the speed of light.

There are numerous benefits of using POS software such as recording each sale and transaction, which allows you to match your businesses’ sales with inventory. Taking for granted that the data was correctly entered into the system, the two should match by all means. These and many other benefits are what cause many retailers to embark on a plan of purchasing a POS software. There are many people who like to purchase the hardware as a separate entity, and start to look for the software separately, which is a wrong thing to do. The software is different and each has its own unique hardware requirements.

The best thing to purchase this kind of software would be to stick to the same dealership. Purchasing the hardware from the same dealer who sold to you the software is a wise thing to do. Because they understand how the two are supposed to fit together, they can assist you to optimize your system for steady and maximum output. This is such a nice way of avoiding the “blame game” where if something goes awry the software provider blames the hardware provider and vice versa. Always look out for reputed brands when you are planning about purchasing this software. Ensure the dealership has a proven track record on both the hardware and the software.

There are many pitfalls to avoid when buying POS software. Fortunately, some of the most common problems that arise when selecting POS software are often the most avoidable. By knowing these invaluable tips when shopping for your POS software, you can assure a much smoother and more successful process.

To help you in selecting good POS software there are consultants who are more knowledgeable than you are when it comes to finding the best software for you. You don’t have to settle for less, or for computer techies whose knowledge pool is less related to this product. If you’re speaking with a point of sale systems company, look at their policies and attitude, not merely what they offer. Be a good judge of character. It’s important to purchase POS software in the right order, which is before you get computers and the other equipment to run it. Some software is more compatible with certain brands, such as Microsoft Windows XP. Considering the cost of the equipment to run your software is as important as evaluating the software itself. Doing this in the reverse order may narrow the type of software you wish to choose from.

When you do purchase an application make sure to get it from the same place. Even if the parts are said to be universally compatible, much of POS software is custom built and will have differences that make it conflict with other parts of the software. For the best results, keep your purchases within the same company.

Selecting the best point of sale software for your business could be challenging as there is a myriad of software available in the market right now, all promising to streamline your business and improve customer satisfaction. To narrow down your options, here are some factors you need to look into that can help determine the most suitable software for your business.

Choose a POS software system that has been created by a good company. The company brand accounts for something when it comes to technological equipments, and many good computer companies provide efficient and high quality software. It does not need to be the most expensive software, but it does need to have good reviews online.

Select software that is equipped with functioning management tools. Integrated features that can help you easily search the database for a vendor, check the existing number of products before order, accurately give the real time sales, and provide data on personnel effectiveness are really helpful to manage a business. Of course, price matters. Software vary in prices, so find one that is within your budget range. It would not do well to purchase a POS software that would put a strain on your business. However, do not sacrifice quality for price. Sophisticated software may be a little costly, but it will benefit your business better in the long run.

Daydreaming – Winning Proposition?

So let’s talk daydreaming. There’s not a person alive who hasn’t engaged in it, and most of the time it involves simply letting the creative juices flow about what might be in life, a healthy stimulant prodding us forward. But some daydreaming involves wishing we were “the other person,” someone we know or have seen and who we assume is better in every way than we are. This kind of daydreaming, if left unchecked, can begin to have serious psychological, emotional, and behavioral effects.

Let’s call this kind of daydreaming “envious envisioning.” It is both unhealthy and unwise. In envy, we negate in ourselves what we envy in another. For example, Chris is an attractive young man, talented, intelligent, with an outgoing personality. At least that’s the way I read him. He, however, feels inferior to those around him, and finds himself envying them, wishing he were them. In order to do this, he has to first deny, negate, his own qualities in the area he envies in another. The two cannot co-exist, for an acceptance of our own gifts and strengths frees us from looking longingly at the gifts of another.

Lance Morrow, in his article “Daydreams of What You’d Rather Be,” says this: “All of our lives we are accompanied vaguely by the selves we might be. Man is the only creature that can imagine being someone else.” If we linger too long in our envying, we will end up trying to be the one we envy, missing the self we were created to be.

This leads to the third dynamic set in motion when people look at others to find out who they really are instead of themselves–self-pity. You see, when we daydream, we envision not only who we are, but at times who we are not. If the latter is obtainable as a life goal, then it can set in motion healthy dynamics. But if, for instance, our daydream is to be an entirely different person in appearance, personality, and ability, then it becomes unhealthy to the extent that we are unable to attain it. Envy sets in as we wish we were another and, unable to be that other person, we sink into self-pity. In the process of trying to be someone else, we have missed who we really are. Left untended, these dynamics can lead to severe depression and even suicide.

How can we know a good self-image, healthy self respect, and appreciation for who we are apart from comparing ourselves with others?

First, we can continue to daydream, but make a commitment in the process to envision only what we realistically believe we can become given our present understanding of our gifts, talents, and potential. Such mental activity can stimulate us, serving as an initiator of risk-taking steps that will enlarge our horizons and open new possibilities for us. The more we dream thusly, the less we will find ourselves dreaming of being someone else.

Next, we can make a commitment to ourselves to accept ourselves for who we are and find in ourselves a close friend. If we don’t enjoy who we are, being with ourselves, we cannot expect others to enjoy who we are! Do you enjoy being by yourself at times, consciously appreciating the kind of person you are? It’s an exercise worth engaging in, for it lays the foundation for the building of a healthy self-image.

Then we can decide upon some specific purposes for our lives, so that we begin to live intentionally, rather than just going from day to day without a plan.

In addition, we can take steps to enlarge our horizons seeking new friends, people from differing cultures and backgrounds, who can contribute to who we are as we contribute to who they are. We can take up a hobby or learn a new trade or language.

Finally, we can recognize that the God of the universe made us just as we are, and delights in our uniqueness and individuality. To negate this through envy of someone else He made is to not only damage our relationship with ourselves but with Him as well.