In today's world, every business owner relies on automated data management tools to track information across the enterprise. Even micro businesses, which represent one of the largest user groups of financial accounting software, recognize the inherent value of automation. In fact, depending on the day-to-day complexities of a particular business, it is not uncommon for a small to midsize business (SMB) to even rely on multiple automated systems to track everything from sales and customer activity, to inventory, quality control and training.
The problem is most of these systems are generic and run as stand-alone applications that offer little opportunity for cross-functional integration. The result is a fragmented cluster of enterprise data sets that must be manually pared and analyzed to produce useful business management conclusions. It is a universal SMB challenge, which often forces company leaders to either increase overhead or ignore critical decision making due to more pressing priorities.
ISOs in the payments industry are well aware of this problem. Indeed, with what has often been considered one of the most complex, risk-fraught business models in existence, some believe running an ISO operation without automation can only result in failure. However, despite a vast number of mainstream enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems developers who've customized customer relationship management (CRM) and ERP products for other vertical business models, the payments industry has almost been forgotten. As a result, many ISOs are still operating in a vacuum.
"Some of our clients were still tracking information using pens, paper and Excel spreadsheets," Jason Weinberger, Director of Sales at IRIS CRM reported. "There is an indication that ISOs are looking for ways to be more efficient." Weinberger said his company encounters two automation scenarios in ISO enterprises: "They are either using homegrown tools or nothing."
This phenomenon inspired the introduction of the IRIS CRM product, a business management ecosystem for ISOs, which includes an integrated First Data Corp. boarding feature. Weinberger has found some ISOs are a little hesitant to change, but the company sees a growing need for custom automation in the industry.
Michael McMackin, President of The Formula, agrees. His company devised a cloud-based, full-featured ERP product geared for managing the ISO business model. He thinks all SMBs will soon be pressuring global service providers, like Amazon Inc., Google Inc. and Apple Inc., to present affordable ERP alternatives among their other products. He cited the recent Apple and IBM pairing as one indication the trend is forthcoming.
"We've taken a slightly different approach to integrating our ERP product into this industry and beyond," McMackin said. "We're in talks with a few of the global providers who support value-added resellers, ISOs and other SMBs who are in need of an affordable, full featured ERP solution."
While The Formula's makers believe their product will solve the gamut of ERP problems ISOs experience, they also feel its streamlined interface, and easy-to-integrate technology provide a turnkey solution for managing sales pipeline, customer service, financial, educational and marketing data from a single dashboard.
IRIS and The Formula aren't the only automation products that have been introduced to ISOs. Companies such as POS Portal, Bankcard Pros and Sage Software Inc. have also authored software for effectively managing merchant portfolios. While some early stand-alone solutions were not designed to easily integrate with legacy boarding, training and equipment inventory applications, it is now evident the payments industry is finally showing up on ERP radar screens.
Weinberger said the industry's ecosystem and lack of dedicated tools was what inspired IRIS to develop a product that "manages a merchant from the lead all the way through the lifetime of the merchant account itself."
McMackin believes big payment brands will assume a more functional role in providing ERP tools to their own resellers and merchants. "It's only a matter of time before a processor or super ISO realizes they can create loyalty and revenue by assisting businesses with more than electronic payments," he said. "Offering ISOs and SMBs automation tools to become more efficient and profitable will only add to the bottom line, and diversity will be key to successfully competing against B2B super powers like Google and Apple."
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