Rhonda Ridge, author of AdminBase and MD of Ab Initio, talks to Glass News’ Editor, Chris Champion about their market leading Installer management software.
I understand Ab Initio Software has been around for about 20 years but was AdminBase the software that launched the company or was there software that preceded it?
Ronda Ridge (RR): I started in a small way back in 1991 when I was working with a small family owned double glazing installer and, up to that point, my involvement in software was purely as a user. At that time all our records were manual and there was nothing within the industry that offered processing from lead through to a sale or a service call. It was this fact that inspired me to develop software that the industry could use and increase its efficiency. The manual recording was laborious and clumsy and it seemed obvious that software was the answer. It took a couple of years to develop AdminBase to the point that it could be offered to third parties and it has continued to develop by listening to the needs of our customers.
Ab Initio? I know enough from my schoolboy Latin that this means ‘from the beginning’ but does this refer to offering starter software for small companies right through to software for large companies or is it that you have been involved, personally, from the very beginning?
RR: Pretty much both! The software had to be developed from scratch and, yes, I was there at that very beginning. Ab Initio seemed an appropriate company name although the product itself is named AdminBase.
You have a finance background so how did you become involved in software?
RR: As I said, I was working at an installer and with my previous experience in accounting, I had been involved with computer technology and software development since the early days of PCs, so it wasn’t completely foreign to me. Being involved in finance with large banks and insurance companies I had seen plenty of software systems aimed at managing companies and it was a matter of adapting and developing the thinking behind these packages to suit the window industry’s needs.
Over time AdminBase has become a very sophisticated management tool and is generally recognised as being the industry standard with thousands of users throughout the UK and Ireland.
What is your target company for the software?
RR: It is, essentially, a tool for the installer. However that installer can be as small or as big as you like. We have single-user companies right up to very large companies with hundreds of users. I wouldn’t want it to sound as if AdminBase is all me! We have a very clever and experienced team that takes the software forward and provides essential services to our customers.
By essential services, are you meaning training?
RR: That is a small but important part of the service but it goes much further than that. Understanding a company and the unique challenges they face is essential before they embark on rolling out AdminBase. It’s really all about ensuring a company can gain maximum benefit and efficiency right from the word go. This is why our team includes very experienced people who have worked within the fenestration industry and understand the needs of a customer.
With the software continually developing, I presume it requires a team of high-end developers?
We are constantly developing add-on modules for AdminBase and these additions are driven by our contact with our customers and the changing landscape of their businesses and customer needs. Customers can start with simple software and upgrade and add licences as they their business develops.
How does that work?
RR: We try and keep the offering as simple as possible and offer four grades from Startup, through Pro, Plus and CommercialStartup is designed to provide entry-level management for the smaller business. AdminBase Startup will help keep track of sales activity and contracts, including the recording of fitting dates and order values, while providing basic correspondence and management reporting, to help a company respond to its own needs as the business grows.
As you would expect AdminBase Startup can be seamlessly upgraded at any time, retaining all of a company’s existing records. It provides a very powerful tool, which includes a Leads database with Comments, Results and Analysis built in. It also has a Contracts section for entering Contracts, Products, Fitting Information and with Financial Records and Audit Trail. The Letters section gives Correspondence, all the Financials including Pro Formas, Statements and Receipts. A Fitting Forms section allows for Customers questionnaires, quality plans and fitting information sheets and all letters are customisable. The Reports section gives Management Reporting information as well as Sales Reporting.
Altogether, our base software is very powerful in its own right and it’s easy to upgrade as the need arises.
Naturally, my next question would be ‘how much?’ However, it’s pretty clearly set out on the website, and seeing prices displayed is pretty unusual!
RR: There is nothing to hide! It’s all very well explaining an offering to a potential customer but when it comes to price and the salesman starts to prevaricate, that’s when the warning signals sound. Essentially for AdminBase there is no significant outlay upfront, with all of our products now offered on a subscription. Of course, there are certain items we have to quote for, particularly if it involves customising software or importing from existing systems.
But even for small users, when offset set against the costs of staff and the efficiencies and accuracy that it brings, AdminBase comfortably pays for itself. Keeping everything straightforward for the customer is important to us.
I particularly liked how each upgrade from Pro, Plus and Commercial is clearly laid out on the website…
RR: From my own experience, as a Financial Controller, I know my first questions to anyone bringing a proposal to me for the purchase of anything would be around what I get for the money, and what is that money.
I was looking at a piece you wrote in Glass News in December about further updates to AdminBase, particularly a new function which allows users to track all warranty and guarantee information for individual contracts at the push of a button.
RR: We have recently launched a range of mobile apps that include sales, surveying, installation and remedial services, and these fully integrate with every stage of the marketing to after-sales support process. Utilising the latest mobile computing technology, AdminBase now allows these key tasks to be managed and completed in the customer’s home, with all inputs sent automatically into the central system via the latest mobile computing technology. Despite the advanced technology behind the system, all entries are made using intuitive, simple inputs easily managed by even technophobic operators, with data sent and recorded centrally to ensure accurate records are available throughout the process; indecipherable scrawls on scraps of paper are a thing of the past.
The apps look like a key addition to AdminBase. Why have these been launched now?
RR: When I originally created AdminBase, the ability to mobilise the system with on-site functionality simply wasn’t possible, but now, thanks to the high-speed Internet connectivity of modern portable devices, it has revolutionised what we can now do to bring AdminBase functions on site. This latest update gives users a simple and effective way of completing key tasks on site, including keeping track of warranties and guarantees, eliminating paperwork and creating a favourable impression with homeowners in the process.
The Cloud version of AdminBase is now accessible from wherever the user may be subject only to mobile phone signal availability. But even in weak areas, inputs can be made and as soon as a good signal is received, all data will be uploaded.
AdminBase is about a lot of things, including getting rid of those scrawls! It is also about good order, efficiency, accuracy and making life easier for everyone concerned. And that includes our customers’ customer. Any efficiencies save time and money and everyone benefits. However, the software is not all about the fitter, per se. It is valuable for canvassers, sales representatives, surveyors, fitters and service engineers who utilise simple forms that automatically take the user through pre-set stages of their particular function. The apps allow contract-legal signatures to be collected and transmitted directly back into the central AdminBase system.
I noticed that AdminBase has over 3,000 users in the UK. Is that market leading?
RR: It probably is but that isn’t especially important. Certainly, our user base continues to grow but, more importantly, the software itself and the functionality continues to grow. Keeping up with the developments in technology is very important and the use of mobile devices is driving our development.
And where does AdminBase go from here?
RR: We keep working with our customers and watching developments within the market and with technology. AdminBase will continue to provide a software solution that is cost effective, easy to use and utilises the current technology while keeping an eye on what is coming next!
Many thanks for talking to Glass News, Rhonda.