Archive

Author Archive

Vessel Service Solutions – The Perfect Example of the Flexibility of FileMaker

February 23rd, 2017

VSS_ss_on_devices
When someone unfamiliar with FileMaker asks me what we do here at Productive Computing, I first try to explain that we work with a software that allows users to build solutions, databases, and apps custom to their needs, and that we also build “plug-ins” that enable those solutions to talk with other third-party programs – such as QuickBooks.

When all I get back is a blank face or the, “well how does that help me and my business?” question, I immediately remember what my college professor told me about job interviews – when the interviewer asks you what your strengths and weaknesses are, you don’t just say, “I’m a team-player”, you tell them an anecdote about a time when you worked with a team to achieve a desired goal. That’s when I talk about VSS (Vessel Service Solutions). VSS is a perfect and concise example of what FileMaker can do. It is a vertical solution that solved a big problem for a niche industry.

So what is VSS?

Similar to how you call AAA when you have an issue with your car, a boat owner calls TowBoatUS when he has a problem with his boat. The captain that responds to the call is part of the marine assistance and towing industry.

The flexibility, capability, and simplicity of FileMaker allowed us to create a beautiful, easy-to-use, customizable, and highly mobile solution for this industry – all at an affordable cost.

Utilizing FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Go, captains and dispatchers have the ability to work in the office or remotely from their homes, their son’s football game, while traveling, or down on the docks.

Here is how it works, when a distress call is received any employee can assign that case (using a desktop or iOS device) to a captain. The captain then receives the case on an iPad or iPhone and, after assisting the boater, he updates the case with customer and service information, grabs a signature, and submits the case back to dispatch for final processing.

VSS_Flow_Graphic_1500

Above and beyond the basic tow order processing functionality, VSS is integrated with QuickBooks and can perform single or batch pushes and pulls of invoices, items, invoice balances, and payment information. The solution also includes Fuel Log, Maintenance, Time Sheets and Reports modules for 360-degree management of the business.

vss_qb_push

VSS has been a collaborative effort since its inception. We were thankful to have a lot of support from industry leaders when we released version 2; and when we started working on this release, we asked for feedback from our current customers. We wanted to know what was working well, what processes and features could be improved, and if there was anything that could enhance their team’s workflow. The responses we got back were tremendous and the end result is a great new version with some exciting improvements.

New features in the version 2.4 release include:
– Accessibility on iPhones using FileMaker Go
– Ability to manage multiple tower IDs and assign one ID to each port of operation
– Ability to dispatch orders from an iOS device
– Ability to create a new order on the iPad with no internet connection
– Warnings and catches for fuel and maintenance log entries with bad or missing data
– Improvements to the tow order form for easier boater assistance and record keeping
– QuickBooks status icons to indicate when an order is ready to push to QuickBooks, needs to be updated in QuickBooks, or is up to date in QuickBooks.
– Improvements to the Reports module for easier business analysis and payroll processing
– The ability to automatically create a timer entry when submitting an order from the Remote file to the Central dispatch file

We all know that one size never fits all. Every business, even in the same industry, has different business standards and practices. Building VSS in FileMaker has allowed us to create and continue to improve upon a comprehensive solution that is also easy to customize specific to a client’s needs.

For more information on this product, please visit www.vesselservicesolutions.com or call 760-510-1200.

6 Reasons to Switch to FM Books Online Server Side Plug-in

February 3rd, 2017

Logo_FMBOE
You asked. We listened.

The main driving forces behind your business are clients and revenue – so why not connect the two?

The FM Books Connector Online Edition plug-in connects FileMaker with QuickBooks Online and enables users to push and pull contacts, invoices, and other sales transactions.

A FileMaker and QuickBooks integration not only eliminates double entry but also provides your staff with quick access to pertinent financial data (like customer balances and invoice information) without multiple people accessing your sensitive QuickBooks company file. Check out the video below for an overview of the FM Books Connector Online Edition plug-in features and benefits.
 
YouTube Preview Image
 
Now we have six new reasons for you to love our FM Books Connector Online Edition.

1. It is compatible with FileMaker Server 14 -15, Mac and Windows.

2. Now, multiple users can post to QuickBooks from multiple devices. Your front office staff can connect on their desktops with FileMaker client, your accountant can update items in FileMaker from her house – using a web browser and FileMaker WebDirect, and your sales reps can update client information or push invoices to QuickBooks on the road – from an iPhone or iPad via FileMaker Go. A server-side plug-in allows users to truly capitalize on the mobility of QuickBooks Online.

3. Faster load times than client-side plug-ins, meaning you get more work done in less time.

4. The convenience of only needing to install the plug-in one time in one location, versus having to install it on every users’ computer (and no more having to deal with reinstallations or transferring licenses from machine to machine).

5. For just $450 a year, you can have unlimited users per server – no more need for five, ten, or 20 users licenses. Now it is painless and easier than ever to add new users as your company grows.

6. Ability to connect with multiple QuickBooks Online company files. This is especially helpful if you are an accounting agency that is contracted to manage multiple clients or your company recently acquired a second firm and is undergoing a merger, or if you are a corporation that has multiple divisions that require their own dedicated company files.

The possibilities are endless.

This version release (2.0.1.0) includes:

– An updated demo file to introduce and familiarize users and developers with the new server functionality.
– New video for step by step instructions on how to install the plug-in on the server.
– Updated documentation for easier development and integration.

FM Books Connector Online Edition is available for an annual rate of $200 for a single user (Client license – no server-side functionality) and $450 for unlimited users (Server license). Every Server license includes a client license for developmental purposes.

For more information on the FM Books Connector Online Edition plug-in, visit www.fmbooksconnectoronline.com or call 760-510-1200.

How VSS Helped TowBoatU.S. San Diego Go Mobile, Paperless, and Save Money

January 19th, 2017

towboatus_SD
TowBoatU.S. San Diego, founded in 1987, is the most established Towboat company in San Diego. Their experienced staff assists thousands of boats a year off the coast of Southern California and Baja, Mexico. Rob Butler’s company is ranked number four in the U.S. in terms of caseload volume. TowBoatU.S. San Diego is 100% mobile and 100% paperless.

Q: What challenges were you experiencing prior to purchasing VSS?
A: While we’re at sea, it’s hard to keep track of new service requests coming in by phone and it is difficult getting invoice details back to the main office. Imagine those busy days when you barely get a chance to write up an order or the paperwork gets lost. It’s easy to misplace, lose the invoice or forget to write up the order. How do you follow up with a client weeks or months after the service was done? We knew we needed to change something to become more organized and remain competitive and responsive in the marketplace.

IMG_5389_EDIT

Q: What led you to decide to use Vessel Service Solutions?
A: We needed a way to streamline our method of receiving and processing orders to improve business, turnaround time, and efficiency of service. Before VSS, we were using a work order software that allowed us to dispatch orders to a captain’s iPad, but since the majority of our orders come from BoatU.S., we wanted something that would actually import the BoatU.S. order information directly into a form in the system. With the old solution, our staff had to copy and paste the email into the database, which was labor intensive and slow.

We were also using a completely separate software to track all fleet maintenance, but the solution was too complex for our needs. The Fuel Log and Maintenance modules in VSS are very easy to use and perfect for our needs – we only record the information we want to track.

Q: What goals were you hoping to achieve with a new solution?
A: We wanted to provide our captains with a simple, paperless, easy-to-use system. We needed the ability to quickly update the data needed for an order (times, services, etc.) and get the customer’s signature all while assisting a boater. Making sure we could do this without an internet connection was very important. VSS did all of this and it has an incredibly short learning curve. The captains can pick up an iPad and start using VSS confidently in a day or two.

IMG_5498_EDIT

Q: How has VSS helped your business?
A: It’s been great. We’ve been using VSS since 2014. And since then we’ve seen an improvement in payment processing and an increase in customer satisfaction. Now all towing orders go in and out through our iPads – keeping everything up to date and our office completely paperless. My boat captains are able to receive an order on their iPad, edit and update the order at sea, and send their orders back to the main office for invoicing. Paper forms are completely eliminated, customers in distress are assisted faster, and the payment process with BoatU.S. or non-member customers has been greatly improved. The system tracks all orders, so it’s easy to follow up and collect payment. I would estimate that VSS saved us at least $60K in 2016.

Q: What about VSS do you use the most?
Probably the remote dispatching feature. With VSS, I – or anyone else – can dispatch tow orders on the road. No one has to be sitting down at a computer to send out a tow dispatch. With VSS, it’s easy to work on the go – we don’t really have an office anymore. Our entire operation is mobile.
remote_dispatch_iPad
Q: What is your favorite feature of VSS?
A: My office manager really appreciates the fact that you can instantly push invoices from VSS to your QuickBooks file and send completed orders directly to BoatU.S. This ensures that the main office stays up-to-date and completely eliminates manual re-entry of data. Sending orders directly to BoatU.S. without having to scan or fax anything has helped reduce the time spent in the office and helps us get paid faster. I’d estimate we’ve reduced our office work by 90%

I also really appreciate the maintenance message pop-ups that remind staff when a service is due on a boat.

warning_popup

Q: You’ve been using VSS since 2014, is there anything you’re excited about with the release?
This solution has just continued to get better and better. There is a lot to be excited about, but if I had to pick one new feature, I would say it is the fact that captains can create an order on the iPad while at sea. We used to send captains blank order from the central dispatch file. Now, when my captains come across a stranded boater in the middle of the ocean, they can create a new order themselves, instead of having to call into dispatch to get a blank order.

IMG_5659_EDIT

For more information on Vessel Service Solutions please visit: www.vesselservicesolutions.com

A Non-Exhaustive List of How VSS Can Make Your Life Easier

December 16th, 2016

VSS_Logo_png_Old_Light_Brt_blue

What is Vessel Service Solutions (VSS)? It is a solution designed for the boat assistance and towing industry. Simply stated, your business is assisting boaters and managing a fleet – and VSS is here to help you efficiently manage every aspect in between.

You’re asking, as the owner of a boat towing company, how can VSS help me?

First we’ll ask you a couple questions:

How do you currently handle your order processing? When you receive an order from BoatU.S. do you copy and paste, re-type, or hand write information before you dispatch your captain? What if, with the touch of a button, you could populate a form with the BoatU.S. order details and then send it to a captain?

How do you submit orders for payment? Do you use a two-part carbon copy form that you have to collect from your captains before you can scan and email or fax to BoatU.S.? Ever lose one overboard with a gust of wind? Do you find this process to be time consuming and results in payment delays? With VSS you don’t have to hassle with paper. Your clients can digitally sign a tow order and your dispatcher can email it to BoatU.S. the same day.

Still curious how VSS can assist you in streamlining your business operations?

Reduce paperwork or actually go paperless: Make your dispatcher’s life easier, reduce costs and waste. With VSS all order processing, log tracking, and timesheets are handled on your computer or iPad. There is no need to print forms.
order_info_vss

Assist boaters faster: When BoatU.S. sends a tow order to your dispatcher, VSS imports the order email directly into a standardized form. Dispatchers can add additional information and assign the order to a captain’s iPad – all with just a few clicks.

Send texts to alert captains of new orders: Once an order is assigned, VSS can send the assigned captain a text about the pending order – no need for additional phone calls.

text_captain_bmr

Captains can receive orders at sea: When an order has been assigned, captains can retrieve the orders on their iPads – there is no need to come back to the office or spend time on the phone discussing the new tow order with the dispatcher. iPads must have access to the internet to retrieve pending orders.

Easily update orders: While at sea, captains can update and edit orders on their iPads (no internet connection needed). Adding service items, updating time tracking, and getting customer signatures is quick and easy.

Quickly sync between central and remote: After the captain is done assisting the boater and has an internet connection, he can send the order back to dispatch for review and final processing.

Get paid faster: With VSS, you can create, edit, sign, and submit an order for payment all from your computer or iPad – there is no need to print or fax documents. When you’re ready to invoice BoatU.S., simply click a button and an email will automatically be generated with the invoice attached and the required BoatU.S. subject line: Tower ID – Member ID.

Status_vss

Analyze your business’s success: Pull reports on orders, boats, and time sheets to review data, trends, performance, and profitability.

reports_VSS

Process payroll faster: The Timesheet’s module handles commission percentages, straight hourly rates, and day and night rates.

timesheets_bmr

Protect sensitive information: VSS has robust privilege settings, allowing management to dictate what information and modules employees can view, edit, and delete.

Maintain Employee Records: Store employee information in the system with the ability to easily and quickly update pay rates and contact details.

personnel_vss

Maintain fuel logs: Tracking fuel use not only helps you monitor boat expenses, but also helps you reconcile your monthly fueling expenses. Users can add fuel logs on the iPad and record the date, engine hours, cost per gallon, number of gallons, total cost, and fueling location.

Ensure all boat maintenance is performed on time: With maintenance schedules, you can ensure you never miss an oil change again. By creating schedules, you can track mileage and plan for boat maintenance, ensuring your fleet is always in top shape and you’re never down a boat on a busy weekend.

VSS_SS_Maint_Schedule

Log maintenance performed: With the Maintenance Log you can track all maintenance on all boats, log the date, engine hours, services performed, and the total cost.

How VSS Helped Baltimore Marine Recovery Operate More Efficiently

December 14th, 2016

BMR-Logo-Stacked
Baltimore Marine Recovery, LLC provides emergency towing, salvage, refloat, charter, and launch services to the Chesapeake Bay area. Dale and Christine Plummer have been using Vessel Service Solutions (VSS) for three years. In 2015 and 2016, they won the BoatU.S. Smooth Sailing Award for “Superior Operational and Organizational Standards” – with help from VSS.

Q: Why did you decide to start using Vessel Service Solutions?
A: We have 10 boats, about 14 staff, and we work out of 3 ports (Annapolis, Baltimore, and Middle River). On top of being busy all year-round, there is a lot of paperwork to deal with on a daily basis. We wanted something to make our lives easier and enable us to continue to deliver great customer service. Plus, VSS allows our captains to handle dispatch orders, fuel and maintenance logs on one iPad application.

Q: What goals were you hoping to achieve with a new solution?
A: Reduce paperwork! Before VSS, we used the standard issue 2-part carbonless TowBoatU.S. invoice. Forms were lost overboard, misplaced, or just were not returned by the captains in a timely manner. With three ports, it was hard to manage and the captains complained that managing paper in a windy, wet environment sucked!
snowy_BMR

Q: How has VSS helped your business?
A: In addition to allowing us to go virtually paperless, we’ve seen an increase in boaters assisted and faster turnaround time on payments from BoatU.S. Being able to email a completed, signed order to BoatU.S. directly from VSS is great. I can also share the completed invoice with the boat owner by email.

The system has also made it is easier to process and track orders. I have an accurate and extensive historical record of all orders processed, that I can sort, filter, and search through. I no longer have to flip through old orders in a filing cabinet when BoatU.S. has a question on an invoice. VSS orders can also be submitted directly to my QuickBooks file. Three years ago, I hand entered every order into QuickBooks after I scanned and emailed it to BoatUS. Today, I push a couple of buttons and it is done.

bmr_qb_push

The Time Sheets module has made payroll much easier, as well. Instead of calling the captains for their hours, I run a simple report and see all timer entries. If something looks off, I can ask the captain to review and update the timer entries. Once that is done, the updated entries are immediately available to process payroll using the Time Sheet reports. I can run one report and have all employees’ time sheets for any time period complete with details for easy reference.

timesheets_bmr

Q: What is your favorite feature of VSS?
A: I have a couple favorite features. The first is remote dispatching. It is a total game changer. I can take my entire office with me. I have the ability to handle calls and dispatch orders from my son’s football game or from my home in the middle of the night – without getting out of bed.

The second would be ease of use. The system is very straightforward and user-friendly. Even those captains who aren’t tech savvy have found the system easy to use. Now that they know the VSS system, my Captains can’t stand using paper. If they manage to leave without an iPad aboard, they always come back and get it!

And third would be the text notifications that the captains receive when they have been dispatched an order – my guys use that as the basis for their timers. Each email has the invoice number and every invoice needs a timer so at the end of the day they have a running list to use to create or review their timers.

text_captain_bmr
IMG_0995_edit