Back Office Inventory Features for Version 7

The velocity of new features being shipped in NeXT has really accelerated during the past 3 months.  Most of the work has been centered on our Food and Beverage modules, but plenty of features for Retail have shipped as well. Version 7.26.47 was released on Sunday, November 6, 2011. The full scope of Version 7 of DataWorks' NeXT Back Office Inventory system  is massive, but here is the short list of enhancements and features that I wanted to highlight. Product Form:

  • New Wrapper to separately maintain Retail, Food and Supplies Products.
  • New Menu to Review Archived Products
  • New Lock / Unlock of  Cost and Retail Controls
  • Standardization of Product Attributes to enable control for Retail, Food, Supplies or Global access.
  •  Taxable Purchases setup for Supplies
  • Catch Weight definition for Food
  • Sysco 832 EDI order guide import
  • Vendor Product EDI Linking / Unlinking capacity
  • Vendor Product to Manufacturer product creation.

Purchase Orders:

  • Reusable Templates for Shopping List and Common Reorders grouped by employee access
  • The Ship To Facility was freed from Employee Access rights.
  • Added Search for Outlets allocated on a purchase order(s)
  • Suppress need for Retail Input for Food and Supply vendors
  • Ability to define Catch Weights for One-Step PO's
  • New Internal and External Documents that specify Order, Pack and Weight units
  • Search Option for Input Method (i.e. Manual, Suggested, Requisition, or EDI Import)
  • Email PO to Vendor option


  • Catch Weight Input
  • Automatic and Manual Tax Calculation
  • Addition Landed Cost Calculation
  • Suppress Need of Retail Input for Food and Supply Vendors
  • Posting to Accounts payable distribution enhanced to smoothly round to two decimals

Physical Inventory

  • Initialization of Physical Counts HUGE speed increase. Example: 30 minutes now 5 minutes.


  • Enhanced Selection Ability
  • Added Previewer with multiple selector
  • Added Hand held interface for uploads

Requisitions and Fulfillment

  • Default "Work For" Facility by Employee
  • Reusable Templates by Employee Access Group
  • Support for Hand Held Uploads
  • Sort Options for details
  • Debugged Store Specific Requisition Option when From Facility is a Warehouse
  •  Date Needed Always Calculated - not just for Events
  • Allow Fulfillment options to be re-evaluated by Warehouse staff's Employee Access rights
  • Start Fulfillment form with a Find form
  • Loosen  Requisition rules to allow more liberal submitting
  • Changed Transfer Specific Option for Transfer From Facility to be free from Employee Access


  • Warehouse Location Reports (D013 and D014)
  • Consolidation Report C001,002, and 003 dynamically display number of decimals for fractional food and supplies
  • Detail Sales reports DCOG01-09 compare base, landed and theoretical cost of goods.
  • Barcode label printing  for Warehouse locations
  • Base, Net, Landed, Center of Plate and Theoretical Cost of Goods now saved for historical reporting.
  • MICROS Symophony POS  support
  • Added Zip file options for packaging multiple export files into a fix or unique file name
  • RX30 POS support
  • Book4Time POS Support
  • Version 3.0 of AP and GL exports support single flatten csv file format.
  • Version 3.1 of AP export supports all optional PO User Defined Attributes
  • Input for Product No and Description are now "Contains " rather than "Begins With"
  • Verify Barcode export to hand helds for Receiving and  Transfer Ins
  • Sped up access routines associated with adding a new facility

Talking Points for a Point of Sale Interface to DataWorks

We have been publishing point of sale interface standards for many years. Many POS companies offer a DataWorks interface solution and the initial discussion typically centers around technical details. How will data move around? What hand-shaking mechanism will be used? Most of those technical details are covered here and here. But what about features that the POS system should have to benefit from DataWorks functionality? That is a question that is a bit prickly because many of our partners are serving the hospitality (restaurant, resort, casino) market, and retail functionality is not what they think, design or dream about.

So beyond the bit and byte facts that DataWorks defines and exports inventory and the POS partner captures and exports sales, here is the list of features that a POS system needs to have to be effective in the mixed venue retail market, where one POS system is used in both the F&B and Retail outlets.

The Bare-Minimum List: --------------------- 1. Allow for the input of numeric value via a barcode scanner, as an alternative to a touchscreen input or keypad entry.

The Basic List: --------------------- 1. Allow multiple barcodes to be defined for an Item. Typically only two are needed to accommodate the SKU and an optional UPC. In some cases a SKU will have many UPC codes. We have some items that can have more than 50 barcodes - postcards are a great example of this. 2. Allow the same Item to be defined and sold in different outlets. 3. Allow a different Retail Price for the same Item in a different outlet. This needs to handle the geographic borders of currency. DataWorks jumps though the currency hoops. This is important in enterprise systems where one system may be configured to handle multiple outlets. 4. Have a description field that is at least 32 characters long. Allow the description to be individually handled for a preferred language. DataWorks supplies the translated data for the outlet. 5. Provide for a means to define tax rate for each individual item.

The Competitive List: ------------------------ 1. Allow a single temporary retail price to be defined separately from the normal retail price with both a start and stop date for the temporary price 2. Allow many temporary retail prices to be defined for a single item. This allows promotions like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and After-Christmas to be predefined, rather than waiting for each promotion to finish before the retail manager can define another. 3. Provide a link to a tax look up table per item 4. Provide a quantity discount for an item. 5. Provide a preset discount for a classification of items. 6. Provide a discount for a type of customer. 7. Provide a means to look-up, add, edit and export a customer and attach a customer ID to a sales transaction. 8. Size the POS database to contain an average of 20,000 Items per Outlet, but test for 100,000 active items and 120,000 active barcodes.

The Uber Advantage : ------------------------ Provide the POS system with either: 1) the ability to handle LOTS of data inserts and updates during the course of the operational day or; 2) give the POS the means to share outlet data.

Even though we go to great lengths in our above list to define that every outlet needs to be autonomous and capable of individual prices and language, there is the real world need that requires information be available without it being replicated into each outlet. The idea is that similar outlets can share the same information. This is very common in Resort, Casino and Amusement Parks. This is VERY important if you want to be able to accept returned merchandise at any outlet, even though it may not be stocked there.

DataWorks has the ability to replicate data into the individual outlets, but it comes with a burden of having additional processing crunch on the POS application. So this is one of those features that really needs to be designed from the ground up - because it is a data structure issue.

If you already have a POS in the field your best bet is to spend some R&D budget on your inventory import feature - because it needs to be able to process new inventory items very quickly. Don't think in terms of a total F&B menu of only 1000 items, think in terms of 100-2000 NEW Retail items every day. And then imagine adding those 2000 items during the lunch hour. If your POS system can do that, now you got an Uber-Advantage.

SmartSpoke™ Point of Sale Interface

DataWorks has always had interfaces to Point of Sale (POS) systems. Even when we sold our own POS  back in the late 1980s and 1990s we had to create a two-way interface to talk to ourselves. We designed and wrote the mechanics for keeping track of what data changes (deltas) needed to be sent where, we also wrote the communication layer between the back office (HQ)  and the POS that delivered  the deltas where they needed to be and also engineered the processing of the remote changes into the local data base.

So after 20+ years of writing two-way POS  interfaces you would think we would have everything worked out.

Next week (08/09/2010) we ship SmartSpoke™, our fourth-generation point-of-sale interface.

SmartSpoke builds on our tradition of hub and spoke design, but turns the tables on the communication layer.  SmartSpoke sits by itself on the POS computer or server.  It uses FTPS protocol to pull inventory down from the hub and push sales and customers up to the hub.

Our HQ software -- NeXT® -- prepares batches of encrypted inventory and price changes that sit behind a secured FTPS server waiting to be picked up by SmartSpoke.  NeXT also prowls around its local system seeing if any SmartSpoke system has pushed new sales or customer information up from the field.

By switching the POS communication activity to be active rather than passive we have eliminated the need for any communication listener on the POS side. With PCI compliance issues on many folks' minds, having an open FTP port on your POS system was a security risk that the CTO or IT director had to allow -- which is not good for your mental or physical health when you worry if your POS system is going to be hacked today. The SmartSpoke is fully PCI compliant and removes any security worries.

We are shipping SmartSpoke integrated to the Microsoft Dynamics RMS Point of Sale system first.

We plan to follow the Microsoft work with full integration to the MICROS 9700.  After that, who knows where the market will take us...

RMS POS System and Customer Tracking

Ask anyone in the POS industry what "RMS" is and they will tell you that "RMS" is Microsoft's POS and Inventory Control system.  But back in 1988, when DataWorks started creating inventory control software for the fashion retail industry, we marketed and shipped our own  software called "RMS". RMS stood for Retail Management Solutions. One  year the "S" was changed to mean "Software", and for a month or two the "S" stood for System. As I recall the change may have not even been deliberate. A typesetter or a proof-reader may have made the switch without anyone knowing.

When I get a chance I will insert the DataWorks RMS logo here. It was the last logo I created for the company.

Twenty-three years later (2010) we have integrated  NeXT®,  our enterprise back office inventory software, to Microsoft Dynamics RMS POS software.

Lately there have been a lot of internal conversations between DataWorks staff about the "RMS POS System." As you can imagine, this has caused some confusion among the long-toothed, senior DataWorks staff.

"Are we talking about OUR "RMS" or THEIR "RMS"?  The pronoun THEIR referring to a little software outfit called Microsoft.

As the fickle winds of marketing blew through our corporate doorway, we changed our software's product name again to ARMS around 1992.  ARMS first stood for Apparel Retail Management System. Circa 1994 the acronym was once again changed to mean Advanced Retail Management System. We went Advanced when we started working with Resorts and Casinos.

So DataWorks has this long tradition of keeping the acronym but changing the words. This was in the early days of DataWorks; we were young, unfocused, trying to figure out how to make a buck,  product names were not registered,  and trademarks were a thing of our future.

Our agility (youthfullness?) is  probably why there never was any trademark infringement law suits.

Around the time we started marketing ARMS, DataWorks began integrating with third-party Point of Sale hospitality systems (MICROS® and Par-Springer Miller being our major partners).  What is unique about the Microsoft RMS system is that it  is a SPECIALTY RETAIL system - not a Hospitality System.

What's even more interesting is that the current Microsoft RMS  feature set is very similar to DataWorks' old RMS system from the late 1980's and early 1990's.

Customer relationship and purchase profiles were a key foundation in the DataWorks RMS system. Our marketing brochures from that time featured an equilateral  triangle. The apex angle was labeled "Sales." The left-base angle was tagged as "Inventory," and the right-base was identified as "Customers."  We often said that RMS was built on this foundation. From Sales you could learn "who" bought "what." From Inventory you could drill down to  "when" items sold and "who" bought them. From Customers you could research "what" and "when" they purchased items.

There were some cool drill-down links that would allow an end-user to dig into those relationships. Our end-users really liked that ability and many NeXT users still talk about it today.

Those early 1990's days predated email and "www" marketing.  The DataWorks RMS Customer module had features for generating call lists for trunk shows and printing mailing labels for bulk mail rates. As I often said, if you wanted to know who bought red socks at full retail for Valentines Day, RMS could do it.

The hospitality market has been our focus for the past 15 years, and we have not seen a demand for our customer tracking ability until now.  We are involved in a new rollout of 150 stores using the MicroSoft RMS system as the POS system. We  dusted off our existing customer module's intellectual property and inserted many of the features we had back into NeXT.

NeXT always had a customer database in it, but no one ever used it since the hospitality POS system did not track sales or share customer data that way.  For hospitality it's more about the room # and customer portfolio than the individual customer information - most hospitality systems don't even have a customer database in their POS (Springer Miller being the exception) - all that is back in their reservation or property management system (PMS) - so there was no way for us to extract customer data for any micro-market mining.

All that changes with RMS; it's all about the customers.

Customer profiling, customer import and export features, customer marketing, accounts receivable interfaces and customer loyalty triggers are features needed by specialty retailers.

Guess what we are building into NeXT?

You guessed it: Customer profiling, customer import and export features, customer marketing, accounts receivable interfaces and customer loyalty triggers.

With an enterprise headquarters system like ours, inventory is created in NeXT and  sales are created in the POS system. Inventory goes down to the POS.  Sales come up to NeXT. It's a two-way interface, but each type of data only goes one direction: up or down.

With customers it's a round-trip ticket. Edits at the POS come up to HQ. Edits at HQ go down to POS.

Think through this: Customer X walks into Store A, makes a purchase, and the Cashier updates the customer record with a new phone number.  The same day,  the same customer (this time the husband), drops into Store B and buys his wife a birthday present. He mentions that he has a new phone number and a new vacation address. The cashier at Store B enters all that information too.

What happens to those edits? And how do they get updated into the headquarters system?

And what about sharing customers between stores; how can that be easily managed?  And what about customer duplicates and record merging; how should that be controlled?

We built it all in. It was a huge advantage  that we had a 20-year head start. Doing it the second time, this time with FTPS communication rather than 1200 baud dial-up modems, made the communication layer much  easier.

(Anyone out there remember Blast software?)

If you have two (2) or more retail stores and are using the Microsoft RMS or Microsoft POS 2009 systems, consider using DataWorks as your Headquarters system for Purchasing, Inventory Operations and Customer Management.

Contact us and we will be happy to give you a demo.

Ask for Mark.

Retail 101. Fewer Choices equal More Sales

Our local mega-movie-complex figured out many years ago that if they offered too many candy choices, they actually lowered their candy revenue.  What they probably learned in a Retail 101 class  (or a corporate manual) was that if you have too many choices, the customer takes longer to make a selection, the line moves slower, and because the movie start time is fixed, folks bounce out of line and head for their seats without making a purchase. I have noticed a similar problem at our local Subway franchise.  Folks  line up for their 6-inch meals during the lunch rush.  Subway newbies struggle with the menu matrix variables.  A programing language is spoken under the "Order Here" sign:  syntax needs to be in the proper order to get the sub built quickly.  Start with size.  Follow with sandwich type.  Delineate the bread selection.  Keep it moving,  one side step after another until you belly up to the cash register.  Get any of the code out of sequence and you will get an  onion operator mismatch or a division by pickle error.  If you get too many noobs  queued up, forget about the quick turn and burn, you are stuck in the thick of the sub-plot.   After a couple of long sessions of staring at the  potato chip rack,  I now come prepared with a trade magazine (Hospitality Upgrade and Wired are my popular periodicals)  or my current novel (large helpings of William Gibson have been consumed in the midst of the Subway sub-culture).

If you are a retail manager,  give this some thought:  at the cash wrap you can display a lot of snap item choices - but at what point are there too many choices? When are you creating counter clutter and slowing down the point of sale?  My aesthetics tell me that your counter should have a maximum of  five SKUs  to pick from.  Odd number of choices have more visual power  then even numbers - three is better than two, and  five is better than four. But more than five is just noise.

The same odd-versus-even thing works for product facings too.  Better to have a facing of three rather than two.  I would line up a facing of one rather than a facing of just two.  Call me crazy, but that is what going to art school does to your sense of  "what-looks-right".

I was trained as a fine artist during the 1970's - minimalism and conceptual art were among the vanguard.  I admit that I am jaded - I was trained to see, think and believe that "Less is More".  (For those who want to know more about those art movements, here is a sampling of artists who shaped the visual vocabulary of the 1970s: Sol LeWittChristo, John Baldessari, Donald Judd, Carl Andre and Dennis Oppenheim.)

Boiling your presentation down to the iPod-ian essence can result is an elegant, simple, and beautiful end product. Apple certainly has nailed down the clean minimalist style with their recent products.

The challenge we all have is this: in a world of many choices, how do we focus on what is important?   As a kid, the top of  my dresser was always crammed with every toy or object that was important to me:  plastic models,  coin bank, world globe,  jar of BB's,  comics, army men,  photo of Alan Shepard, spent Estes rocket engines, and Lego masterpiece - not a square inch of empty space.  At a certain density the pedestal-ed objects cease to function as a display. Objects break or topple when you go to pick them up, mom complains about the dust,  and the whole presentation looses its luster and appeal.

It is the goal of good design to filter out all the extra objects, features, requests, buttons, knobs, dials and other do-hickeys until you have a  product distilled  down to the fewest - and most important - choices.

What has never been published until now is this - NeXT® back in 1999 was actually much larger in scope. It had  additional sub-systems that dealt with watch-dog alerts, work-flow integration, n-levels of hierarchy and a separate financial ledger that were removed from the design scope because they put too many additional tasks into getting version 1 out the door.  Since I was the designer I can admit that I suffered from the second system syndrome . I knew about the tendency since I had read Fred Brook's masterpiece The  Mythical Man-Month, but figured since I knew about the follies of those who had proceeded me, I would be immune from the disease.

I was still putting too many things on top of the dresser.

About 20 months into the data design we realized that at the rate we were modeling, it might be another 24 months before we finished with the project scope. I think I may have even re-read a chapter or two of Brook's book at the time.  We evaluated the project and started hacking out entire modules and trimmed down the effort. 10 years later those features are now being introduced back into NeXT. All of those removed features will eventually show up in NeXT they just needed to be introduced in a  more managed context.

That decision to cut back was important because we got NeXT installed in 2002 versus 2005.  We are glad we got it out the door.  What is interesting is that many of the forms have now undergone a cleansing and scrubbing process where the number of tabs and controls have been reduced and cleaner, simpler hyperlinks have replaced them. We now make sure there is plenty of free space (negative space) that gives the controls some breathing room and more visual importance.

That's how fewer choices helped in our software design - I hope  you can use it with your own merchandise presentations.

That Was Your Retail Idea

I like Microsoft's Windows 7  TV commercial where users  flashback to an inspirational moment about improving Windows.  It's cleverly done where the Windows-7-Was-My-Idea sequence depicts a younger, thinner person - whose teeth are whiter and eyes are brighter. My -- 25 plus years in software development, couch-potato, Monday-morning-marketing, 6 years of art school, thinking about it outside the 30 second TV script -- critique spun out of my noggin this way:  the earth must have looped around the sun a couple times between the moment of divine inspiration and the feature's debut.  One fellow looks like his moment of bliss was followed by 10 planetary orbits and maybe 10,000 glazed donuts. That's a lot of donuts.  And 10 years is a long time to wait for a software feature.  So the complete gulp of the ad went down like this: a light zesty initial splash, followed by a sour after taste.

I asked my teen age children, and a number of adults who are NOT in the software business what they thought of the ads and they all thought the ads were excellent. No one had any negative take on it. Everyone saw it as a actor-reenactment spoof that was clever and funny.

So I am wrong, the time between inspiration and delivery was not 5 or 10 years. No one gave any thought to how long it took Microsoft to delivery the software. No one thought it took a long time. Time did not even enter into the advertised mind-set of my sampled audience.

So this is a case of sitting too close to the fire and getting my software marketing antennae scorched.

Probably because DataWorks' strives be to highly agile and capable of accelerating in a high G turn (See John Boyd) I took the Microsoft ad too personal. At DataWorks we have one major release a year. There are usually 4 or so incremental minor releases that address software bugs,  additional reports  or small feature tweaks.

Back  in December of 2008 I sent an email out to our end-users saying, "Hi, we are working on a new version, it's Christmas time,  and in the retail spirit of the season, what do you want gift wrapped into our inventory control software?". We got a lot of great responses. We organized the list, sorted it twice, scored everything with a strategic index (how many other users want this too?),  assigned developers with the tasks, and delivered the features in less than 12 months.

So in the spirit of NeXT-Was-My-Idea, here is a public thank you to a few  of you who asked for features and made NeXT® better:

  1. To speed up Purchase Order input, define a Default Ship To Address within an Employee Access Group. From the 2008 DataWorks Users Conference Group Session.
  2. Change the name of the PO Input from "Multiple" to "Pick List". Also make it the first choice in the drop down choice since it is the most popular. From the 2008 DataWorks Users Conference Group Session.
  3. Search for a SKU that has been counted in a physical inventory.  From L. S.  at  Ripleys Entertainment.
  4. Add a  field to the Vendor definition and allow me to define a vendor's federal tax id number. Include the field in an Account Payable export. From L.K.A. at Beaumont Hospital.
  5. A report to list inventory items that have margins outside the normal parameters I have set up by category. From J.M. at Grand Casino Hinckley.
  6. For Products with many colors and sizes, add an option to the purchase order system to show only the SKUs  that have been re-ordered. From J. McG. at Sea Island Company.
  7. Give Sales Reports the ability to be run for a set of vendors. From D.U. at Ripleys Entertainment
  8. Expand the Best Worst Reports to rank by product within Department; Product within Sub Department and by Product within Vendor. From D.U. at Ripleys Entertainment
  9. Please add a way that we can scan our product's barcodes with a portable data collector and import them directly into a purchase order. From T.K at Via Christi.
  10. Create a consolidated Manufacturer by Product by SKU Inventory report that focuses on recent ordering and receiving performance.  From J.W. at Jacksonville Zoo.
  11. Best Worst Report with both Quantity Sold and Quantity On Hand Values, plus Percent of Totals. from S.W. at Ritz Carlton.
  12. Comparative This Year to Date to Last Year to Date Sales report by Department. From L.S. at Ripleys Entertainment.
  13. Create a forecast model that tracks and projects demand based on trailing 15-13  months (Q5) versus trailing 12-10 months (Q4) by Subclass.  R.T. at Pebble Beach.
  14. Redesign the Quick Physical system so that is actually quick! From the entire audience at the the 2008 DataWorks Users Conference.
  15. Create a faster way to input and cancel ticket batches. From  T.Van A. at LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort.

Thanks for all of the ideas. These are just a few of the ideas the DataWorks community submitted and turned up in the release.    If you see your suggestion above and would like your name published - just let us know and we will give you proper credit.  You can read about all the enhancements by clicking here:  Version 6's Feature List.  Additionally  you can watch this recorded preview of the software.

If you have an idea for our next version, please feel free to add a comment here.  Keep the ideas coming and we will keep the code rolling. Together we design a better inventory back office system.

Inventory Control Response Times - DataWorks 3 / 6 Design Axiom

Way back in 2006 we did a major re-factoring of our inventory control application - NeXT®.  We took out stop watches and started charting all of our form's behaviors. We  focused on our Daily Maintenance and Transactional forms (read about those here).

DataWorks' 3/6 Design Axiom:

  • Any user action (click of a button, etc) that takes over 3 seconds to complete must be accompanied with a thermometer, hour glass or status message that indicates the system is still working.
  • The goal of all forms is that they display usable information to the end user within 3 seconds of a menu click.
  • The maximum allowed time that a form can take to display is 6 seconds.
  • A form that takes over 6 seconds to display, must be redesigned with less data or fewer controls until it takes 6 or less seconds to load.

It was while penning our newest amendment to our  design constitution - "The 10 Second Rule" that I remembered we had established this rule of 3's and 6's as an internal SOP within our R&D group. This axiom was adopted during the re-tooling of version 3 of NeXT. I think any application designer can use these as benchmarks to judge the  usability of their software.  Obviously, it would be better if everything was instantaneous - but in 2010 we sit upon a  hardware plateau that is unlikely to see any dynamic swing in productivity.

The outcome of our axiom was that slow, data-fat forms where refitted with hyperlinks to allow  loading and displaying of data on request rather than loading and displaying everything immediately. It made us think about the relevance of information. What was primary? What was secondary? I think it resulted in a cleaner look that allows for more intuitive data input and data mining.

The best example of this visual and data weight lost is NeXT''s general product form. Here are the  before and after photos.  The biggest difference is that the before image has 6 child views strung along the bottom of the form. By reducing it down to one grid with just SKU information we lost 10 seconds on the load of the form.

The speed up was not just from the data connection and query. It was also the reduction of the additional interface controls. Each control (page, grid, command button) has it's own load, initialization, and refresh events that eat up CPU cycles faster than my children eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. Every child page and grid we turned into a hyperlink shaved another half second from the form's fat load time.

The data is still available, but we added hyperlinks to get to that data. Green links lead you to  add, edit and delete record land. Blue links indicate there is read-only information ahead.

Inventory Control Software- 10 Second Rule - Part 3

In version 7 of NeXT, scheduled for release in the 4th Quarter of 2010, we will be shuttling transactional processing off to a background service so that your current task can be released from pushing a thermometer bar across your screen.