When you think of software for a photo or digital lab, the first thing that comes to mind is some variety of imaging software. The fact is, however, that there is another class of specialized software that can have just as much impact on a company's success: business management software.
These "killer applications" can automate everything from initial order entry through final billing and create a structure and system for organizing and tracking all the information related to imaging services. You can assign each client, job or service its own code and build a database defining all related activity. Once that history is gathered, it can be used to generate reports on all aspects of your operation, from instant insights into the status of all projects, to detailed analysis of which services are most popular, who your best customers are and what each owes in outstanding invoices.
Business management software is such a powerful tool that those who already rely on it can't imagine trying to remain a competitive lab without it. For others who have not yet made the move, it's difficult to conceive the many ways a business management system can make you a more effective manager and make your business more competitive.
Whether you're a first-time buyer or looking to install a second- or third-generation system, a number of companies currently offer systems that address the specialized needs of running an imaging services company. Some of your choices include: Breakthrough Technologies' The Photo Solution (www.breakthroughtech.com); Computyme's Photoware (www.computyme.com); the EasyTrac Order System from BEF (www.bef.com); LabWorks from LabLogics Business Solutions (www.lablogics.com); Timestone (www.timestonesoftware.com); Digital Photography Innovations (www.dpilab.com); Quantum MIS from Quantum Management Systems (www.quantum-mis.com); Whitech Software Solutions (www.whitechsolutions.com); and Unique Business Systems PowerLab and PowerLab Commercial (www.unibiz.com).
Third Time Around
Bill Johnson, owner of Robin Imaging Services in Cincinnati, OH, is such a believer in the benefits of a business management solution that he's currently in the process of making the transition to his third version of a solution. He started automating the business end of his commercial lab with a simple program for order tracking he wrote himself in BASIC. Later he worked with an independent programmer to refine that program so it was more responsive to his needs for organizing the work and financial activity at the lab. That programmer eventually started selling that program to other labs, then left the business.
That left Johnson's pool of users without tech support or the promise of continued upgrades or revisions. The group worked together to find a solution for their needs and thought they found what they needed in another program (which Johnson prefers not to identify).
"It did everything we were looking for, but there was one big problem," he says. "The accounting system built into it never balanced. I could get different numbers from day to day without making any changes [in entries]."
It was an unwelcome discovery he believes he could have avoided had he spoken with current users before buying: "Had I any idea that I wouldn't be able to rely on the accounting numbers as being accurate, I would have moved on to something else right away."
He's currently upgrading to Quantum MIS. "It's Web-based, so clients can prepare and submit their jobs to us over the Internet," he says. "Everything is keyboard-driven, so it's easy to set up orders and monitor each job."
Report functions allow detailed analysis of any aspect of the company's operation as needed. "Every morning I have a meeting with key people in all of my production areas," Johnson explains. Prior to those gatherings, he generates a report-sometimes as long as 15 or 20 pages-on the current status of every job in the lab.
"It tells everyone what they need to do, if work is proceeding on schedule and when we need to order additional or special materials," he says. He expects a planned Job Costing report function will give him similar insights on where the company is making its money and ways to streamline operations or refine services to increase revenues.
DPI's OzE digital imaging system offers a total digital workflow solution for the entire photographic process. Consisting of eight modules, the software series is used by photographers and labs to link digital images from the studio to the production facility and then to reduce human intervention in the lab for more cost-effective and accurate output.
Millsaps Professional Imaging in Winston-Salem, NC, is a portrait/wedding lab and one of the first labs in the country to first install the OzE system. Lab owner Neal Millsaps says, "Customers use Assembler Pro, a module designed for professional photographers working in studio, wedding or school photography. It provides multiple image comparison, unlimited package configuration and global cropping, and, most importantly, also allows order information to be linked to images. It helped us eliminate a few steps. It builds all the commands into one file. We take the photographer's CD and open it. All we have to do is manage the color and output it. It's that simple."