Business Mobile Applications That Help Companies In Everyday Work: About AHG, Inc.

AHG develops integrated cloud - mobile applications that are modern, innovative, can be implemented quickly and increase your company productivity and efficiency. We specialize in the applications in the areas of: assets and inventory management, data collection, project management and business process automation. We use modern technologies (mobile, cloud, smartphones, QR codes, NFC) to make routine business tasks faster to complete, eliminate data loss and errors, and streamline information exchange withing your organization. We understand that each business has unique requirements, so we give you the power to easily customize our software to fit your business workflow.
Our approach to business software and mobile applications is well reflected in this interview, that was conducted in May of 2017.

What's the mission behind AHG? How are you hoping to help businesses run more efficiently?

Most companies start by using paper and pencil or Excel for everyday business tasks. As business grows, they find out that relying on these tools hampers development. Using them for inventory management or data collection leads to lost data, errors, running out of stock or having overstocked inventory and other problems. Our software uses mobile and cloud technologies allowing companies to automate business tasks by:

  • Recording inventory and asset transactions, collecting data on site in real time using a smartphone
  • Using QR code, barcode or NFC scanning to eliminate manual entry errors
  • Submitting collected information to a centralized cloud storage where it becomes immediately available to all authorized employees
  • Giving company employees access to the data they need to do their job in the field
  • Customizing every aspect of inventory management and data collection flow by means of a web dashboard to fit company's unique business model

 

How has your company evolved in the past 10 years? How are you pivoting to respond to today's business needs?

Since we started in 1994 we have been working on business software. We always tried to use the best available technology. This gives our customers tools to complete business tasks in the most efficient way, brings new opportunities.

In 1994 the whole concept of the web software was new. We were one of the first companies who created ready-to-use web software for business use. Our e-commerce system became the first widely available of the kind. Knowledge management and collaboration software was among the first used by small business.

We were one of the first developers to use databases for web-based business software. That allowed businesses to work with the large data sets. Now they could complete more complex tasks on the web.

Ten years ago -- in June of 2007, to be precise -- the first iPhone was introduced in the United States. That is when word "smartphone" became part of common vocabulary. Unlike phones before it, iPhone combined powerful computational force and intuitive multimedia functions. For the first time you had access to full-featured email and Web browsing in your pocket. Previously these were accessible only on computer.

At that point we realized that mobile software is much more than playing games and using social networks. It can assist businesses in a variety of ways. We started incorporating mobile apps into our business software.

Mobile technology is most beneficial where employees need to collect and access data while they are away from the computer. For example, you might need to track inventory and assets in multiple locations. Or you might need to document maintenance and service. Perhaps, you need to conduct inspections and audits in the field. Or you want to track production process steps on the factory floor. This are the areas where our current software offerings are concentrated.

QR Inventory is an asset and inventory management software. It allows employees to track assets and inventory using smartphone as barcode scanner, data entry and look up tool. Previously employees had to write down or call-in inventory they are using, returning or need to order. With QR Inventory they can scan QR code or barcode and process inventory or asset transaction on the spot.

All inventory data is submitted to a centralized cloud location. Real-time accurate inventory picture is immediately available to the authorized users.

QR Mobile Data addresses field data collection and access problems. A lot of business tasks require data collection and access outside the office. These tasks include, for example:

  • recording of equipment service and maintenance,
  • conducting inspections and audits,
  • assessing equipment conditions,
  • reporting damage,
  • recording business operations,
  • tracking details of a production process,
  • and many others.

Using paper forms to complete these tasks is inefficient. Until recently, however, it was the only choice for the small and medium size companies.

QR Mobile Data allows employees to fill out mobile forms in the field using a smartphone. Then employee submits collected information to a centralized cloud location. Now all the data is stored securely and can be accessed from anywhere.

In addition to submitting data, employees have access to all information they need to do their job. They just need to scan QR code label with a smartphone to access items such as:

  • specifications,
  • instructions,
  • technical documentation,
  • recently submitted records.

Each business has its own way of completing businesses tasks. We understand this. One of our main goals is to make our software as flexible and customizable, as possible. Both QR Inventory and QR Mobile Data allow companies to change every aspect of the process. Businesses can create their own:

  • inventory transactions,
  • custom fields to hold all required information on assets, inventory, storage locations,
  • custom mobile forms for data collection,
  • custom notifications and alerts
  • and more.

We know that business people have no time to waste. Therefore, we set out to make our software simple and intuitive. We want businesses to start using it without a steep learning curve and become productive faster.

 

What are some of the major inventory management challenges and/or pain points facing your customers?

Vast majority of our customers don't have any inventory or asset management software. Most started with pen and paper and then "graduated" to Excel. Others still use pen and paper. They come to us when the "pain point" of not being able to deal with inventory problems becomes unbearable. Often they cannot locate necessary inventory, or do not know if they have enough inventory for a project. They cannot find out which employee has specific equipment. Sometimes this leads to inability to complete a job on time or a loss of an important client. At a certain point absence of inventory and asset management system becomes the largest obstacle in the way of growth. It just drains money, time and resources.

 

How can mobile applications be used to address some of these challenges?

Once we set up QR Inventory system, employees get immediate access to necessary information wherever they are.

For example, HVAC technician can receive maintenance and repair history by scanning a QR code on the an air conditioner unit. He can verify that necessary parts are available and reserve them. The system will tell him not only if parts are available in the main warehouse, but also if one of the other technicians has the parts in his service van.

Manufacturing company management has real-time data on their inventory, so now they can keep it lean. At the same time factory floor now has correct number of components for all the kits and assemblies they need to make for different projects.

Oil and gas service companies know exactly when to replenish supplies of consumables at the remote wells.

Building service and maintenance have real-time information on lights and air filters. They can receive automatic reminders when they must be changed or serviced.

We have customers from almost all industries. All of them realized money, time and resources savings. Smartphones are very popular today. Therefore, employees need little to no training to start using their iPhones or Androids as smart barcode scanners and data access points.

 

What are the advantages of using mobile applications for inventory management over other, more traditional methods?

First and foremost, mobile application allows employees who are dealing with inventory to track it in real time. The biggest challenge to accurate inventory data is that employees do not have means of recording what they took or returned to the service van or warehouse. In most cases these transactions are not counted. Mobile app allows employees to scan barcode or QR code with their smartphone and record inventory transaction as it happens.

Smartphone app immediately notifies web software and centralized cloud database. Location and updated inventory count immediately become available to authorized users. All users in and out of the office immediately have access to the correct data.

Previously, when an employee needed something, he would get to a warehouse. Warehouse keeper would issue necessary supplies and mark them in the inventory list as taken. Today, warehouse keepers are nowhere to be found. Lean manufacturing and money savings, of course, but there is nobody to keep track of inventory.

If an employee has a smartphone with QR Inventory or similar app, he or she would scan QR code on an item and mark it as "taken for such-and-such project." Inventory count would immediately adjust. If, for example, it gets below pre-determined re-order point, email with notification would go out to purchasing.

At any time you can find out a variety of data: how much did you spend on a certain project or for a specific client during last week, last month or during any given time period. At any time you can find out where a certain asset is located, how many specific items you have in the warehouse, etc.

Many companies, especially small and medium-size companies, conduct business away from office: at construction sites, in customer's homes, at remote oil and gas wells. Traditional methods in these situations are limited to pen and paper. They cause confusion as to what is available and what needs to be ordered. You never know exactly what materials and supplies you used for a specific project. It takes days, if not weeks, to account for inventory and plenty of inventory goes into "not accounted for" category.

 

What considerations should businesses be make when trying to find more efficient and effective means for managing inventory?

Inventory in all its forms generally represents one of the top three expense lines for most businesses. Therefore, you need to take inventory management seriously.

Flexibility and alignment with your business processes are critical considerations for purchasing any inventory management software. Different companies may need different features. For some precise real-time inventory control to reduce loss comes first. Others might be looking for powerful reports to get insight into their supply chain and customer management. Yet others work in environments with unstable or locally non-existent data connection. They need software that could collect all the necessary data when there is no connection. After connection becomes available, that software could synchronize with the central database.

Making a list of requirements, sorting requirements in order of importance and discussing your processes with a vendor is the most important first step.

 

From a data perspective, why is it important that these types of tools aren't siloed? What is exciting about breaking down barriers between different business functions within a company?

"Silos - and the turf wars they enable - devastate organizations. They waste resources, kill productivity, and jeopardize the achievement of goals," - wrote Patrick Lencioni in his book Silos, Politics and Turf Wars, published in 2008. This is very true, but let's be realistic here: the silo mindset and turf wars do not appear accidentally, nor do they disappear by accident. Software by itself is unlikely to change organizational culture. However, it can help create environment where horizontal exchange of information is encouraged, where organizational goals are clear, path to their achievement is determined and people work towards achieving common goals.

Knowledge, collaboration, creativity, and confidence are the key factors in creating a productive team and, in my experience, giving employees insight into how business operates from the prospective of materials, supplies and assets really helps them to take ownership of their decisions, supporting development of collaborative teams.

 

What business software trends are you following today? What innovations are exciting you the most?

I think two software trends are of utmost importance today:

  • Security, and
  • Software development is business development

I think I don't need to explain necessity of security protections in the wake of ransomware saga we have been witnessing recently. I would mention one thing, though: nobody can guarantee 100% cybersecurity for your business, or any business for that matter. Therefore, it is extremely important to have "plan B" -- dependable backup policies. We run backup for our and our customer's data nightly, then download and keep backup files in two separate locations for a minimum of six months. Should anything happen, we are prepared.

The second trend -- that all businesses are software businesses -- should not surprise you. It is extremely important to us. Having customers in almost all industries, we are in the focal point of this wave. Not only we must react quickly, but lead the change. We are helping transform business: providing data to stakeholders, helping build new pathways of horizontal and vertical interaction within company, as well as customer/business interaction. How we work reflects on the bottom line. It also ensures business stability, security, and scalability. We do know how much depends on our experience, knowledge and desire to help our customer.

 

From your perspective, how important is network reliability to the success of a business today?

Network reliability is in the same group as computer memory and hard drive space -- you can never have enough of those. As soon as you think you have enough, software folks come up with a new application. And it requires more memory, more hard drive space, faster and more reliable network. But our role is not entirely negative. As I mentioned above, good software, including inventory and asset management software, should be able to perform many functions in absence of the network connection and then synchronize when connection becomes available.

 

What should businesses be doing today from a software/mobile application perspective to prepare for how they'll operate in the future?

According to the 2016 Digital Business Study, conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte, only 44 percent of business executives say their company is adequately preparing for disruptions due to digital trends. The largest share of those who do not consider their company prepared -- 19 percent -- cite "Internal Issues" as the reason. To me it is obvious that tomorrow will come regardless of our preparedness and reasons for not being prepared. Judging from the recent trends, it might come quicker than we anticipate. So to all of those who delay changes, because of internal issues, fear of disruption, problems recruiting or finding talent I would recommend to start doing it today. You don't need to jump into the river with both feet. Starting a small, easily manageable pilot project today can be done on a shoestring budget. Once you run it, you will feel much more confident adding new users, new locations and new features. Within a year you can join the 44 percent. Or, let me put it this way: together we can increase the share of the companies who are adequately preparing for disruptions due to digital trends or are already prepared.

 
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