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Help is on the way for these smaller companies, however, in the form of an affordable hosted software solution from Chicago-based Ai2 (formerly known as Access International Inc.). Ai2 is a software developer specializing in order entry solutions for wholesale distributor organizations that rely on their sales representatives for generating and transmitting “pre-sale” orders to the wholesale distributor’s host computer system for processing.

Last June, the company released POET, a remote order entry solution for sales representatives. As one option for the foodservice distributor, Ai2 provides the solution in a Software as a Service (SAAS) business model. The orders are generated and transmitted to a secure server environment hosted by Ai2—so companies do not have purchase, install or maintain the software. “The distributor’s cost for the SAAS model ranges from $99 to $199 per month (with a minimum two year contract), so it’s affordable for even the smallest distributor,” says Ray Walsh, Ai2’s vice president of sales. “This price includes webinar-based training and desk support for each Distributor Sales Rep (DSR).”

Utilizing Panasonic’s Toughbook PC product line—or any basic laptop, notebook or netbook running on Microsoft Windows—DSRs have access to their company’s most current information on customers, products, purchase history, inventory and pricing. In addition, the sales reps can generate orders, check inventory, calculate prices and profit margins, check for substitute items, and send and receive e-mails.

“Automating the order entry process improves a company’s productivity by eliminating calls to the office for information that is now available on the laptop,” says Walsh. “An increase in sales will also be achieved because the DSR will have information on customer purchase history and specials of the month readily available to access during the sales call. Many of our foodservice customers have been able to increase profit margin by a half of a percent by using the profit margin calculator and eliminating sales under an acceptable profit margin threshold.”

Walsh reports that other benefits include eliminating order entry errors that result when re-keying orders, decreasing sales support and improving customer satisfaction.

POET interfaces directly with the distributor’s host computer system using communication server hardware that is installed and managed at the host site. All data, including orders and daily file updates, are transmitted from the hosted environment to and from the DSRs with 100 percent accuracy, as well as between the hosted environment and the distributor’s system.

Besides managed hosting, Ai2 services include storage disaster recovery planning, backup and recovery for of its customers’ mission critical data application needs.

Walsh says that POET is different from competitive products on the market. “POET has a new look using the Microsoft navigation approach enabling the DSR to search the price book faster for items of interest and generate orders faster than ever. In addition, new up selling features are available to help the DSR increase line item penetration in every account. POET supports the open SQL data base. This enables POET to interface seamlessly to other applications like Excel, Word or commercially available applications used for menu planning or creating bids and quotes.”

Plus, the solution can be quickly integrated into any operation. “Once an agreement has been finalized, a sales team can be operational within 30 to 60 days,” says Walsh. “DSR training is included in the price. On-site training is available for an additional fee.”

Ai2 has been providing software solutions since 1986. “Originally, Access developed an automated order entry application for portable data collection devices,” says Walsh. “With the proliferation of PCs into society, we developed a complete order entry solution on the lap top PC platform.”

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