Earlier this month I wrote about Process Data, a company that makes software to create “portals” of information. I mentioned, in that post, about one of their customers, Total Back Office. I was interested in hearing more about Total Back Office and interviewed the President of Total BackOffice Solutions, Arlene Dilworth, CPA, CTP.
Arlene – Thank you for the opportunity to share information about our company. We do a couple of things differently than most firms. First, we have a broad range of services that include both accounting and human resources, most firms handle one or the other not both. Second, all of our services are delivered over the internet, so there are no geographical limitations to the clients that we can serve. While I am a CPA, I spent most of my career in industry serving as the CFO and Controller of a variety of business in various industries. Using that skill set and mind set, I have created a business designed to meet the needs of smaller business that may not have accounting and human resource professionals on staff. In both the accounting and human resource areas, we can also augment existing personnel of larger businesses and handle the tedious transaction work and allow them to focus on higher level responsibilities. We use a variety of tools to accomplish these tasks. In fact, we use three different types of portal products. We use a web based HRIS system that enables us to perform a majority of the HR services. The second is a web based document management system that enables us to easily publish documents for viewing by clients over the internet. However, neither of those products enabled us to securely and privately communicate with our clients on sensitive matters or collaborate on documents and that is where PortalCOMPLETE comes in. There are a lot of portal products out there that do lots of very cool stuff but they have outrageous price tags and are difficult to implement. In short, they are designed for large companies with deep pockets and large IT staffs. We would not be able to provide our clients with secure affordable services if we had taken another route. So, to answer your questions:
What other solutions did you consider?
I looked at so many products over several months that I can’t even begin to answer that question. What I can say is that the low cost solutions that I found were primarily what I call community type portals where a member signs in and can see the same information that every other member can see. Obviously, that concept doesn’t work for us. I was also concerned about data security. Recognizing the sensitivity that hospitals have regarding data security, I quickly appreciated the efforts that ProcessDATA had put into securing data in PortalCOMPLETE. I never found that level of comfort with any other low cost solution provider.
Why did they not win out?
As I mentioned in the last question, price and data security were the first reason I focused on PortalCOMPLETE, but the primary reason was that we needed very few program modifications to make PortalCOMPLETE fit our needs. Other products we looked at were going to need far more work, in the way of program modifications, to provide the functionality we needed and those modifications substantially increased the overall cost of ownership. Additionally, there are no limitations as to the number of users, number of user groups, number of pages, number of components or other cost triggering events with PortalCOMPLETE. Other vendors found creative ways to add charges or limit use until additional fees were paid. Last but not least, there was one minor modification that we needed that ProcessDATA included in the purchase price. You and I both know that they didn’t have to do that, but they did.
How long did it take to put your web site (with the login feature) together?
The login feature worked right out of the box. All we had to do was add user groups and users. I wrote the content for the web site a year ago and I can’t remember how much time it took, but it was just a few days. The portal part of the web site that you can’t see (it’s not available from the public view) probably took about a week or two. It’s been about six months since that work was done and I don’t remember how much time was required. Compared to the implementation of all our other systems, it was fast and easy. Additionally, ProcessDATA included a certain amount of training in the PortalCOMPLETE purchase price, so our training focused on the issues related to our implementation. The training they provided greatly reduced our implementation time.
Did you do it yourself?
While I wrote the content for the web site, we had a designer create the site appearance. ProcessDATA reproduced the appearance of our original site when our contract expired at the end of March. Since knowledge of HTML was required to replicate the appearance of our site, we were unable to complete that part of the process ourselves.
What was the cost?
I estimate the overall cost to install PortalCOMPLETE, as we have implemented it to date, to be approximately $22,400. That cost breaks down as follows:
Hardware (server) – $4,850
Software: Portal Complete $8,000 (purchase price included a certain amount of training and one minor program modification) (Note: We also had to pay use tax to the State of Texas, however, the amount is not included here.)
SQL – $1,400
Other software costs – $600
Program modifications – $2,650
Maintenance – $1,200
Web Designer through ProcessDATA – $1,000
Web Designer (the original site) through a third party – $2,700
While others may have been able to reduce these costs, I felt like we were able to realize a great deal of functionality at a reasonable price. Keep in mind that Microsoft demands $30,000 for extranet access to SharePoint, that’s without the first effort to implement their system. Any other high end (high functionality) product was in the $75,000 – $100,000 range.
Any other comments?
1. One nice thing about the maintenance agreement with ProcessDATA is that they install the updates for us. They contact us in advance and schedule a date and time for the process to take place. Up to this point we have had VERY little down time for maintenance and it takes the burden off of us to keep the system up to date.
2. They made extra effort to make program modifications that would meet our needs, not just an easy solution for them to sell. In addition, they were timely in making their deadlines. Most of the other providers we have encountered fail miserably when it comes to meeting time commitments.
3. Working with the folks at ProcessDATA was a refreshing experience. They are genuinely good people–it’s not just sales talk. I can’t tell you how many times we have encountered software vendors that tout their abilities but aren’t able to deliver when the time comes. When ProcessDATA makes a commitment, they keep it! In today’s world that counts for a lot in my book.
It has taken a lot of time, effort, and money to bring our service model to the business community. We have had our share of bad experiences along the way. ProcessDATA was the exception to the rule. I can’t say enough good things about them – they gave me hope that there are still good business partners out there! In short, they have won me over in the customer service and product quality departments.
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