In our 10th episode of StoneTalk, Patrick speaks with Scott Edwards and Marty Medina from VPN Systems, a systems integrator that builds custom solutions for the countertop industry.
In this episode, you’ll learn more about VPN Systems and barcoding, especially:
- How VPN’s systems integrates with Moraware JobTracker.
- The hardware needed to use VPN’s systems.
- Marty’s one big issue with JobTracker.
- The changes Marty would like to see in Moraware’s software features and API.
- What VPN’s system can do for your business.
Be sure to subscribe to the podcast in iTunes… and please let us know what you think! You can leave comments for this show on the StoneTalk Facebook page or on this site.
If you have stories or insights that you’d like to share with other fabricators, please reach out to Patrick.
Welcome to StoneTalk, the podcast for countertop fabricators. Brought to you by Moraware, makers of JobTracker scheduling software and CounterGo estimating software for countertop fabricators. I’m your host, Patrick Foley.
Patrick: Today, I’m going to speak to Scott Edwards and Marty Medina from VPN systems. They built custom solutions for the countertop industry. Let’s give them a call.
Scott: Good afternoon, this is Scott.
Patrick: Hey Scott, Patrick. How are you?
Scott: Good Patrick. How about you?
Patrick: Good, thanks. Let me give Marty a call here real quick.
Marty: Hello, this is Marty.
Patrick: Hey Marty, Patrick. How are you doing?
Marty: All right, Patrick. I’m doing well today. How are you?
Patrick: Good. We have Scott on as well.
Scott: Sure, I’m here.
Patrick: All right. Well, thanks guys. Thanks of coming on my little podcast here. let’s dive right in. why don’t we start just by telling me and you guys are going to have to argue amongst yourself who answers each question, but tell me briefly what is VPN systems and how did you get started.
Scott: Sure. Well, we’re a system integrator technology company that specializes in barcoding inventory management systems, software development and wireless networks. We go started in 2004, we got started working with Moraware job tracker customers about two years ago, and our primary product that integrates with job tracker it’s called VPN MIRS, and MIRS actually stands for Moraware Inventory Reconciliation System.
Patrick: Nice. I had actually never even heard that name, so thank you for telling me that. Well, before we get into how you work with our stuff. What made you focus on barcoding and how did that lead to the countertop industry specifically?
Scott: Well, our company had a long history in barcoding for inventory management systems. I personally have worked in that industry for 20 years at the manufacturing level and I brought that discipline to the company, so we’ve been selling barcoding systems integrated with customer ERP systems for subsystems that we created for quite a long time, and there was … a couple of years ago we were approached by a countertop fabricator in Syracuse, New York who came asking for help automating their inventory management and they are a job tracker user. They told us that inventory became out of sync with the Moraware job tracker database and they had to do frequent inputting count in order to keep it in sync. It was disruptive, it was time consuming and they were really looking for a faster and easier way to accomplish that.
Patrick: Right, so we now have several mutual customers and often when people tell us they want to do barcoding we usually recommend that they talk to you guys before they make another decision. I know what job tracker does, what does your solution add on top of that, what does job tracker not do that requires your software?
Scott: Right. Well, that’s a good question and by the way thanks for those referrals we appreciate this, Patrick.
Patrick: Of course, you bet.
Scott: Well, what MIRS does that job tracker doesn’t do is we provide the opportunity of making it a lot easier to keep track of the inventory using the barcode scanner than doing it by paper and pencil and then manually updating job tracker.
What we provide is a user interphase and Bluetooth barcode scanner that allows our customers to print, seal number barcode labels right out of the job tracker, fasten the slaps and then go out to each location and instead of writing down the serial number and then going back and manually checking it, all they have to do now is go to that location and scan each lab in that location and our software interphase automatically compares that to their instance job tracker in their inventory database and it comes back and renders a results and our results say; we find that slab serial number in job trackers and if so tell us the information from job tracker, tell us what product it is, what product variance it is, tell me if it’s in the location. Then, I scan the location to job tracker thinks it’s supposed to be in.
Is it allocated to a job and if so what job number, what quantities do we have on hand, what quantities we have allocated and people with the opportunity to make some notes in there as well so maybe they’re out … and then they’ve been told to not only scan each lab in the location, but … let’s take the measurements and they’re sure the dimensions are correct, so we give them a chance to update that as well.
We make it easy to do that physical inventory and then we automatically can change the location, so if we scan a slab in a location Moraware thinks is in a different location currently we could automatically update the location so that Moraware reflects the reality with the software …
Patrick: It greatly simplifies the counting process as much as anything it sounds like?
Scott: It does and then it does a couple of other things in addition to simplifying the counting process. It makes the updates to Moraware automatic to each location. It also allows customers to do things like inquiries. For instance, many customers are … hey, I’d like to be able to scan the slab’s serial number and I want you to tell me if that slab’s allocated to a job and if so what job is allocated to it.
We now have inquiry screen that Marty created as part of the product. It allows someone to scan that barcode and cost what job is associated it … notice any other slabs that might be associated with that job. That turn out to be an important … for some customers to find what they call orphans. In other words, … we got job setup that we allocated … to, but the job either didn’t get depleted or it got cancelled or it got changed or not, but we still have that slab allocated to that or … slab, so now we find these orphans and now we can clean up the database and we can release them back into general inventory they be sold … cash.
Patrick: One of the reasons we didn’t go deeper into this area is because you have to make decisions about hardware at some point. You have to say this is what we recommend or this is what we supply. How rigid are you with hardware? Do you have a specific barcode reader that you say this is what we expect you to use and do you maintain that in some way for customers? How do you deal with the hardware integration piece?
Scott: That’s a very question too, Patrick. We are partners with all the leading manufacturers of barcode hardware in the industry … Motorola, Zebra, you name it if they’re a key player as a manufacturer for barcoding hardware we’re partners with them, and that’s been a legacy of our business overall.
We’re able to provide customers with a multitude of choices in terms of barcode hardware, and we have started to create a system that give the customer the least expensive but effective hardware that works. Typically, we’ve been offering a small desktop so you could print synthetic labels with high tech as user. It can stick to both the smooth and rough edges of the slabs that they can work indoors and outdoors, and then the hardware again we can offer many choices but we try to offer economical choices that are … in the environment.
Then, also because of our experience here that the customer already made investment in hardware we can typically work with what they already have as well.
Patrick: Very nice and how custom is each solution? Is this productized to the point where you just drop in for each customer or do you have to tweak it a little bit for each individual customer that you sign up?
Scott: The MIRS product … the more we’re reconciliationing product is it’s pretty packaged, so it’s drops in each customer about the same and the only thing the customer really used to do is setup a user account, so that’s how we are able to compare the inventory real time against their job tracker …
Otherwise it’s the same. Now, we have done other custom work … other software work and then we can talk about … customer specific or situation specific?
Patrick: Yeah, I’ll look into that in a second but I have a couple more barcoding questions. As of now, approximately how many customers do you have using the MIRS system that goes on top of JobTracker?
Scott: We’ve got about eight customer; company customers in total with a total of about 14 users, so some customers use more than the one concurrent use … time, so about eight companies and about 14 users total.
Patrick: Nice. Well, I hope more people interested in barcoding give you guys a call and explore it. Then, last question on the barcoding specifically, is there anything missing from job tracker that would make your barcoding solution better or that would make your job easier? Is there anything that you’re particularly working around that we do poorly that you said; I wish it would only do this then our job would be so much easier or just better?
Scott: Well, I’m going to defer than one to Marty.
Patrick: Marty, this your chance to pick a part … our inventory as it pertains to barcoding, what’s missing?
Marty: There’s only one thing that’s missing and that is getting real time data. Right now we synchronize data at night so the following morning our system is in sync with the job tracker system. If there was a technically efficient was to synchronize every half an hour or every 15 minutes that would streamline things …
Patrick: That’s a result of having to iterate through every job in order to find out what jobs are using what material. Is that the specific issue?
Marty: Yes, exactly. Like in midnight it will be coming to my company and then it will say; how many jobs aren’t closed yet? It’s not closed it took all the allocated materials, compare with the serial numbers, get everything in sync.
Patrick: Those are the questions we let you ask. If we allowed you to ask the question programmatically if you could say, here’s some material what job is this on? Then you could do it really quickly you could just do it real time, but we don’t have that … we don’t give you the ability to ask that question. Is that right?
Marty: Yeah, you are right. We have the ability to work from the job to the serial number, but we don’t the ability to work from the serial number backwards.
Patrick: Got it, cool. Thanks for that. Well, let’s talk about some of that custom development. Tell me, Scott or Marty, you mentioned some other things that you’ve customize either that integrates with our software or just more even just for our customers. Tell us about something you’ve done recently that made a customer’s life better?
Scott: Well … there’s a large fabricator on the west coast that because of a referral from Harry we worked with that is working doing a lot of business with the Home Depot and Home Depot has … system. Today, prior to the work we did the Home Depot would send PDX of purchase orders and those folks had a number of order entry people on a fulltime basis who take those purchase orders, enter them into job tracker, allocate product, set up certain … within job tracker … potential installation date things like that.
Then, once job tracker was updated with that order appropriately from Home Depot certain data pieces needed to come out of job tracker and be re-entered into the Home Depot system, and Home Depot’s electronic system in order … this is called Icon X, and the fabricators … said; we do a lot of business with Home Depot we really think we can do more if we’re electronic with them … and not always that, but we believe that because of making it electronic we can offset a couple of these people we have been fulltime jobs doing order entry. Can you help us do it?
We looked at it and said; sure we can. The big challenge at the time was that the Home Depot gave us a window of six weeks to provide IT resources for us. Marty and his team his credit he was able to get it completed in that timeframe.
Scott: It works very well, it’s robust and we’re working through a couple of minor issues, but otherwise it’s working great and we now have a fabricator on the west coast is happy and redeployed their personnel that once did fulltime data entry to other jobs, so that’s been a great success and we’re hoping we’ll have a chance to talk with other customer, other fabricators doing business with the Home Depot or those might want to do similar integration.
Patrick: Nice. We’ve actually looked at some of those things ourselves, but gain being able to productize that is a bit more challenging given the fact that job tracker is so generic that fabricator A might setup a field a certain way that is completely different from fabricator B and C, and it’s hard to get a general way to make an integration like that work. You have to say; specifically which activities are you setting up, specifically which forms are using etcetera.
With you customizing it, typically a solution like that is only going to be available to somewhat larger fabricators but if you’re dealing with a big Home Depot supplier they’re probably a fairly large fabricator already.
Scott: Yeah, I think these are going to be the larger fabricators that are doing business with the Home Depot, and if you’re right we’re learned and off a lot Patrick working with UAPI about what can be done, what can’t be done usually … about that now, and we’ve learned a lot about job tracker in the process. You’re correct that there’s not a lot that can be leveraged from that job even another customer because what can be leverage is the knowhow we have now about how to work with the Home Depot system and about job tracker and API.
But in every instance, the first step really is an evaluation of how the customer uses job tracker, their workflow process, they’re specific to custom forms and figures and we’ve got to document that before we can begin provisions if we’re not specific for every customer.
Patrick: That’s a good point and another specific type of integration that we had people ask for is with Slabs Smith. I was at event a couple of weeks where a customer said; why don’t slabs Smith and Moraware work better together.
From the customer’s perspective, from their perspective I completely agree. That’s just … yeah, it seems like these things should work together better than they do, but from a technical perspective it’s harder than it sounds both because … in this case a little bit less I would think from just the job tracker generic process, but it’s also just a technical things that we’re a web system and they’re a desktop system.
Really the integration needs to be running on their side. Anyway, when that was mentioned, another fabricator piped up and said; I hired VPN to link these up together and wasn’t that expensive and it’s totally going to be worth it. Can you talk about your experience linking up job tracker and Slabs Smith and whether … is that something where you’ll be able to leverage the knowhow to do that for the next customer or is that going to be a little bit more productized. What do you think?
Scott: We have … let me first clarify that we haven’t actually been engaged … paid engagement to do this. we have been working with a couple of fabricators … almost everyone we’ve talked to … slab has shared that sentiment about wanting job tracker in and …
We’ve heard that over and over again and we’ve got a couple of fabricators who have been real proponents … that have said; we’d like to help you get there because it would mean a lot of us if we think you have a market, so to clarify we’re in the process right now of really taking a deep dive evaluation of what’s required. We’re are developing a specification internally and we’re looking at … we understand that there’s a paradigm difference in … pretty heavy piece of client software runs locally on a PC at the customer’s site.
Our solution assuming we are able to create one would probably have to run on that same PC and yet still link to the internet to be able to get to be more … so we’re in the process of figuring out, we’d like to figure it out because we’d had a lot of people ask for it and so create things that people want to be, and so we’re hoping frankly within the next 90 days we’ll be able to report back to you with our progress.
Patrick: Does Slab Smith have an API or you having to program directly against the database in their case?
Scott: In their case … is the author and … he’s been very open, a real gentleman and seems to want to work with us. I don’t recall whether he had an API or he was willing us a database, but he was very open to working with us in that regard.
Patrick: Well, we’ll see how that develops. By the way, Marty, since most of our listeners aren’t going to be super technical. Can you describe what an API is and why it’s important? How would you … I can say it in my words, but I want to hear what you say in your words?
Marty: Sure. API stands for Application Program Interphase and it allows our program to talk to job tracker; kind of a translator in the middle. We can talk to job tracker without job tracker having code changes.
Patrick: Right. It gives us a way to expose points that can be programmed against, so that other people can write programs that manipulate data in job tracker in both directions. Job tracker has NAPI it is very common in most new applications for business and some sort of API and it lets systems integrators like you link things together.
Marty: That is a wonderful explanation. Very good.
Patrick: Now, there are APIs and there are APIs. We have an API but it’s incomplete. It doesn’t do everything, so CounterGo we don’t expose anything that you can use. In job tracker we mentioned a couple of limitations. If you would wave a magic ward, how would you API look? What would you change about our API to make it so that you could program more things against it? What would you want to do?
Marty: Well, do your API … does … things really well. For example, adding and editing jobs, adding and editing activities. It’s really good at … one thing that we could use that if I could wave that magic ward would be say; job tracker give me every activity that’s been new within the last hour or give me job; any job that changed yesterday. That’s really the only thing that’s missing. There’s this new technology is better out there and … which is what your API is in. however, your API is working fine .net version 4.5 server 2008 which one of the most recent used with the software, so it’s still very compatible with the newest technologies.
Patrick: As we’ve talked about and struggled through work rounds. Finding things is not as easy in the API as it is in the user interphase, so it’s … we have pretty extensive views in their user interphase where you can narrow down the jobs and activities you want. You mentioned by time as one specific way show me things that have changed, but there’s all kinds of different ways to find stuff in the user interphase that we don’t expose hardly any of those in the APIs, so hopefully we’ll …
Marty: Exactly, and that’s why we do that big, bulk synchronization at night so we can accommodate for …
Patrick: The biggest thing … let’s talk about one more functional area if you will. One of the biggest requests we get is to integrate with an accounting package. One of the challenges is that everyone is only cares about their own accounting package, so someone Quickbooks, someone PeachTree, someone wants dynamics.
One way of thinking about that is well, what if we improved our API so that we could integrate with any accounting package, but we didn’t actually do the integration. If we opened it up for companies like you to work with customers to finish the end-to-end connection. Is that work that you would want or is that work that you’ve talked about with any customers?
Recognizing that … again, with CounterGo you can’t even get a quote and there’s some other limitations, but have you had customers ask can you help me link this up to my accounting package?
Scott: Yeah, Patrick. This is Scott, and yes we have a multiple of cases we’ve had discussions about that. You’re right it seems to be a variety of financial packages; accounting packages everybody use. We’re trying to get our finger on the … what’s used most predominantly and trying to start there, and so yes, we would be very interested in helping customer integrate their financial package and … Marty, I got the impression that you felt it could be done with the API …
Marty: It could be, but we ran into that issue where we … which makes it difficult. It makes it technically inefficient you would say, but yeah we were talking yesterday with John … that’s exactly what he was hoping to be able to do is someday be able to integrate these financial package.
Patrick: Right, and we have … there’s some simpler things on our side that we don’t have a concept … in CounterGo for example, we don’t have a concept of a sale. We have a quote but there’s not a point in time where we say I sold this because there’s additional questions that would have to be asked. If there is four color options on the quote. Well, which one did you sell?
If the customer comes back and … if when you go to template you found out that they shorted you by 2 square feet and you need to charge them for that 2 square feet how do you deal with that? Do you change the quote, do you make an add-on etcetera.
There’s a whole bunch of different questions that have to be answered first in the software before it’s a flawless integration, but definitely if you’re willing to make compromises and willing to make decisions that here’s what I mean by a sale whether it’s something that’s in this form or I have all the data I need then yeah then you could certainly create an integration now. It’s just we don’t have explicit concepts of the things that most people want to integrate with the accounting package.
Scott: Yeah, I think I follow. It’s a shame Patrick because the discussion we had with the customer yesterday was in large parts surrounding getting the actual data back into job tracker about what was actually cut, how much was actually used in terms of square feet, how much was put back in the stock and the concept of job costing. How do I get an actual job cost and determine my actual profitability on this to give a job, and then how do I compare that against what was …
Patrick: Exactly, and we don’t support that explicitly in any of our software the idea of job costing. A customer would have to work to create custom forms in order to make those concepts work and that’s hard frankly it’s … there’s a reason we don’t have it built in yet, because we haven’t had a really good explanation from 10 different customers to have it come out to a consistent way that people want, but those are conversations that we’re hearing from customers, we’re listening and we’re trying to figure some of those things out, no promises. I can’t promise … show up, but we’re definitely interested in the conversations.
Scott: Right, and we’re looking at ways that maybe we can supplement that as well, because some of that actual data for the Slab Smith customers as well comes back, can potentially be harvested from Slab Smith about what was actually … to the job. There may be ways we can do it as integrated solution.
Patrick: Right, and sometimes the saw the saw manufacturers as well. I know Park Industries has a nice dashboard and I suspect the other saw manufacturer do as well. If you can get that data then again where’s the best place to store or to get the data? What’s the real version of truth of how much I cut for example and where’s the best place to report on that? That answer is not as obvious as it might sound.
Scott: You’re correct about that it’s not obvious.
Patrick: What if someone’s in the countertop industry but not a Moraware customer? They don’t use job tracker, they don’t use CounterGo. Have you helped customers like that and can you help them? If someone wasn’t one of our customers just wanted something completely custom, how do you think you can help them?
Scott: We absolutely been … system integrator that’s what we do for a living. Bringing these … tools together; software and hardware so that to create a system to accomplish what they need to do and again we have all the tools at our disposal having been in the barcoding business for such a long time.
The solution as far as the software goes it really starts with understanding what do they have in house today. If it’s not Moraware job tracker what is it? is there a way that we can work with it especially … if it’s not then we can certainly create a custom solution, so yes, we can work them but frankly we haven’t had the experience out of Moraware customers to speak of yet.
Patrick: Nice. Why the countertop industry or do you want to focus more on the countertop industry or is that just one part of your business? Where do you want to take your business?
Scott: Well, that’s a good question too. We … our focus on the countertop industry probably will by virtue of what we’ve learned working with you and customers in the industry and I believe it’s because we see real need for the work we do and as a result … so we’re looking for opportunities to go and we’re confident in this software development arena and understanding the barcoding tools and how they integrate, so we really feel that based on what we’ve learned speaking with a number of customers, working with you and learning job tracker that there’s a real opportunity for us to develop some tools and products and grow our business within this industry.
Patrick: Nice. Pretty much that’s why we ended up focusing on the countertop industry as well, because it’s a good solid industry with interesting and generally friendly customers, and it’s more enjoyable and ultimately better business to focus on one set of customers we found rather than trying to spread out too hard. This is the industry we learned.
The last thing, the reason I wanted to get you guys on … again, thank you for coming on and chatting with me, is talking with customers recently and hearing the requests about wanting more software in our industry to work better together, wanting job tracker, Slab Smith, Park Industry software, laser products, my accounting package and anything that I have. Wanting all those things to work well together.
There are some things that need to be better. There are some things that we could improve and our sister companies who do similar types … creates solutions for the countertop industry, we always need to make things better, but there is more that can be done right now I think than a lot of customers realized, and that’s the missing piece is you got to hire somebody who knows how to do it, so that’s why I wanted to get you on is just to start spreading the word that hey, there are companies like VPN systems who you can hire to integrate things together and there’s a lot you can do today, so I hope people knock on your door and ask what you can do for them.
Scott: That’s definitely the right messaging. We appreciate it very much Patrick. We appreciate the support we’ve got from you, Harry and the team.
Patrick: You bet.
Scott: We’re really learning a lot as we go through, so … today.
Patrick: Any last questions you have for me or are we good?
Scott: I think we’re good.
Patrick: All right. Well, I …
Marty: For me, thank you.
Patrick: All right. I hope … an update on that Slab Smith integrate. Keep me posted and I’m sure we’ll talking about lots of in depth technical things by email and by phone soon, so thanks again.
Scott: Thank you, Patrick.
Marty: You too.
Patrick: All right guys. Talk to you soon.
That’s for listening to Stone Talk; the podcast for countertop fabricators. If you like this episode be sure to visit StoneTalk. Org or subscribe to Stone Talk in iTunes for more. Visit the Stone Talk show Facebook page to join in the conversation and follow @stonetalkshow on Twitter.
Stone Talk is brought to you by Moraware, makers of job trackers scheduling software and CounterGo estimating software for countertop fabricators. I’m your host Patrick Foley and I look forward to spending time with you again on the next episode of Stone Talk.
Thanks for listening to StoneTalk, the podcast for countertop fabricators. If you liked this episode, be sure to visit stonetalk.org or subscribe to StoneTalk on iTunes for more. Visit the StoneTalk show Facebook to join in the conversation and follow @stonetalkshow on twitter.
StoneTalk is brought to you by Moraware, makers of JobTracker scheduling software and CounterGo estimating software for countertop fabricators.
I’m your host Patrick Foley and I look forward to spending time with you again on the next episode of StoneTalk.