Friday, October 8, 2010

New Computer System with IBIDie, Day 5--How are Things Going?

I'm not going to blabber on about or new inventory system every day. I think it would be boring for anyone who wasn't a bookseller. However, it's an important part of our experience at the store, and believe me, our customers are involved too.

As you may know, it was time to upgrade our system. It was DOS. We couldn't find replacement parts. It was pretty much a dead system*, in that we were no longer able to get all but the most emergency of programming changes, unless of course we were willing to pay for them, but why would you pay for a system where you might not be able to get replacement parts?

I'd worked with the owners of our inventory system before, when we switched at Schwartz to a central system called The Hub. I was never crazy about it, but what I did like was that IRT was very responsive to our needs and was always willing to make fixes. So when the opportunity came around to buy the system of a store that was going out of business at the liquidation sale, we jumped at it.

The truth is that I am a pain in the neck, a very aggressive user of inventory systems, and very opinionated. I am also quick to poll booksellers on what's working and what's not working, and forward those issues. The big thing to always remember is to think through someone else's eyes. So when I am asking for changes, I always have two questions in mind:

1. Is this my quirkiness or will other booksellers want this change? Is this something that I'm holding onto from Legacy IBID that is just something I'm used to, or would someone coming from another system agree that this was a clearly better course of action? Because if it's just another good option, we'll get used to it.

2. How difficult is it to make this change? In the Hub, we had to drop from 7 to 6 spaces in our vendor file. It drove me crazy, but when Dave (the owner of IRT, who bought IBID from Rirchard) explained how much programming was involved to make such a change (you needed to reprogram everywhere that vendors were used, which was everywhere), I agreed that PERSEU was a perfectly fine representation for PERSEUS. Yes, this seems trite on my part, but it was more of an issue with vendors like HARPER, where we had a kids vendor HARPERJ and a mass market HARPERM, which had either different buyers, order minimums, or returns warehouses. Or something like that--it all doesn't matter now.

It's a tricky thing with IBID. We call it Legacy IBID, and it's very "legacy", but Richard's original vision for the program was very easy to translate to staff. One of my booksellers, who had worked at several other retailers, called it the easiest inventory system she'd ever had to master.

The very-long-in-development IBIDie (I tell everyone it stands for internet edition, and I found an old newsletter from 2001 that verifies that. I don't think it actually did get released in 2001) tries to duplicate a lot of the functionality of the old system, and in many ways is very successful. And now, we've got folks (Dave, Neil, Lynn) who are willing to make changes, at least when I can make my case using my criteria.

I'll give you one example. Take our basic inventory screen. If you are a programmer, or support person, or the owner of a business buying a system, or maybe even a buyer or marketing person at a bookstore, or the any number of people, there are lots and lots and lots of fields that are important on the basic inventory screen--ISBN (our UPC-ish code number in the book business) and title and author and price and purchase discount and how many are on order and to be ordered and how many were returned this year and so forth.

However, if you are a bookseller on the floor, there is really only one field that is important. Do we have the book in stock for the customer? Yes, the on-hand field. And in one day using the system, we found the on-hand field, in the middle of a column, very hard to locate. We suggested moving the field to the bottom of the column. Ask question number two, and it turns out that's a hard fix. Dave came back to us and said, "How about if I highlight it in red?" and we're already talking about doing that with special orders in stock replenishment and I think that's going to work.

There's a lot going on here. We've moved our credit cards and electronic orders from modem (phone) to FTP (internet) transmission. The daily books, which could be processed in half an hour, are now taking much longer. It's going to get better, I'm certain of it.

So have some extra patience with us while we work through all of this. I thought it was a pretty seamless transition, and though I don't know how to do a lot of things, and there are more changes (I hope, I hope) to be made, I'm very happy with the changeover. Imagine that.

I'm going to tell you what is the worst part of this whole thing. It's losing our support person, Catherine, who is still only helping with Legacy. Julie is great, no question. Smart and knowledgeable about the system and very responsive. But Catherine? She is every IBID user's best friend, perhaps (no, not perhaps, absolutely) the best support person I have ever, ever, ever, every used on anything, anywhere, at any time. I can't thank her enough for all she's done for me and the bookshops over the years. Of course I hope she decides to master IBIDie...

And I promise not to talk about it too much in the blog. There's probably only so much you can take before your eyes glaze over. And I can't think of a good book to tie this together.

***I was shopping with Kirk, who at least recently, mentioned to me that Eddie Bauer appears to still use a DOS point of sales system. Correct me if I'm wrong!

1 comment:

brian peterka said...

If someone had said to me yesterday, "Would you like to read my blog entry on a bookstore inventory system changeover?" I might have anwered with an, "Ummmmmm I guess so." But now I would answer with an emphatic, "Duh--of course!" There will always be that bookselling part of me nostalgic for the blinking yellow-orange cursor and dos screen of ibid but I can't wait to see your mastery of the new system when I am next in the great city of Milwaukee (perhaps early November). Good luck.

currently reading: Kafka On the Shore.