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ERP/CMS for Small Business IT consultants 30

Serge asks: "In my IT-consultancy-network-engineer job, where I visit several small business customers, I've been looking for some software to extensively manage resources I have on our customers. Currently, the system sucks. We write reports in Microsoft Word, draw network schemes in Visio, export offers to PDF, and so on, and stack it all together on a nice Windows file server in a per customer directory structure. So much for the automation aspect of Information Technology. My ideal app would be accessible online and offline (I travel with my laptop), I would document a log on every network object I work on, I could pull a query on all those logs from one day to give a daily report to the customer, I could input my working hours to bill later on, it would be integrated with our helpdesk software and would manage each customer's to-do list. The sky is the obviously limit. So, what does Slashdot do to fully handle this information ERP issue?"
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ERP/CMS for Small Business IT consultants

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  • Compiere (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 27, 2004 @09:35PM (#10934434) []

    Might need some tweaking.
    • Re:Compiere (Score:3, Insightful)

      by itwerx ( 165526 )
      Uh, WTF? Compiere doesn't do any of the stuff that was requested!
      Granted, the poster shouldn't have used the term "ERP" since that has a very different meaning from a financial perspective (which is appropriate to Compiere).
      What they should have said was "asset management" since that what is really what is being described.
      • Compiere doesn't do any of the stuff that was requested!
        Slight correction, it does do the billing and provides rudimentary support for notation.
        Now if there were a package that did all the rest and integrated with Compiere that would be very cool.
        Oh, yeah, and ditch the Windows file server! (WTF?WTF?WTF?OMGBBQ!)
  • I've been using a great product called []Basecamp. its only available on the web, but it allows collaboration, file uploading, and lots of features. There's also a company called Guavasoft that is developing an open source ERP suite similar to Compiere, only not just CRM and its a web-application. Kind of like but expanded.
  • Build your own (Score:5, Insightful)

    by abulafia ( 7826 ) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @01:23AM (#10935467)
    I may be a little biased, as my business builds this sort of thing for other companies. But You really have to build this stuff. There are nice tools out there that can serve as building blocks, but what you're really looking for is a business management package, which is going to be as specialized as your business. Automating proposals, ticket tracking, scheduling, billing and network diagramming is just not something that is out there as a pre-existing package.

    Another thing to consider is that it is hard to move a company to a business automation system. You have to carefully get everyone lined up, take their concerns into account, watch for potential turf-wars, teach everyone to use if properly, and deploy it without a hitch. Oh, and that's assuming you built the right thing in the first place. Don't underestimate the difficulty of getting this sort of thing right - it is much more than a technical problem.

  • Groupware? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cuteseal ( 794590 )
    The functions you are asking for are very specific, and it depends on whether you can compromise - i.e. if the client only accepts word documents and visio diagrams, then you're pretty much stuck using those applications.

    Have you considered groupware apps? ex.html

  • by sydbarrett74 ( 74307 ) < minus pi> on Sunday November 28, 2004 @03:57AM (#10935951)
    Pay some high-school geek minimum-wage to do it -- much cheaper.
  • Our small (approx. 50) person consulting firm uses a product called SalesLogix []. It runs on a SQL Server backend and comes with a variety of remote and local clients.

    We bought into the product several years ago when it wasn't that good (v5.2.3); however, they've moved up to v6.2, which supposedly integrates much better with your Office Apps. My main complaint about the current version is the difficulties with the remote laptop client. The install process is not easy and requires you to install MSDE - what

  • You have the tools (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ropati ( 111673 ) on Sunday November 28, 2004 @11:33AM (#10937155)
    Script it. Batch it. Perl it. AutoIT it. VBA it. Don't start over with a package. Make what you have work.

    You write reports in Microsoft Word:
    Make a template of your reports with all boiler plate data. Create a form to open with the template to enter the necessary data. Automate the form to a database for other reports, Statements of Work, Invoices etc..

    You Draw network schemes in Visio:
    Generate automation scripts to build your drawings. Visio has all the tools. In Visio 2000 you could import well formed text files. As I understand it, in Visio2003 you can import xml. Write a script to parse your sys data and make diagrams.

    Export offers to PDF:
    Look at AutoIT ( You can automate whatever you need to do by keystroke.

    Stack it all together on a nice Windows file server in a per customer directory structure:
    And what is your problem??
    Harden and put the file server in a DMZ with IPsec. Update the files from the road. Work alot behind an enterprise firewall, use SSH on the file server. Or VPN into your company system.

    I could pull a query on all those logs from one day to give a daily report to the customer:
    Try using Outlook journaling features (unfamiliar). Get the journal to generate time usage by time spent on Visio or Word doc work per File|Properties|Catagories string which would be scripted in.

    I could input my working hours to bill later on:
    Isn't that what Outlook Journalling does??

    integrated with our helpdesk software:
    What do you want to integrate? Diagrams? Reports?

    If your file structure is clear enough, you should be able to script that pretty easily.
    \Customer\Service Date\Reports
    \Customer\Service Date\Diagrams etc.
    One push of a button should open the customers latest diagram.

    would manage each customer's to-do list:
    This is probably more difficult as you want to now integrate with your financial package (open POs). Still it can be scripted.

    Need help?
    Microsoft Script Center
    VBscript tutorials

    Enable VBA in Word, Outlook and Visio. Read the help files

    Or as all the other OOS zealots will tell you, start all over, learn Linux and roll your own.
    • Sorry, I don't buy this. We're a MS shop all along. We do script and automate stuff all the time.

      What you say is regular Microsoft Tech Marketing: 'take all pretty loosely integrated MS software and make it all happen together.'
      This just doesn't work this way. If you want it to work good, you need one good central system, where you plug in all right.

      You're going to pull monthly invoices out of Outlook? Using Outlook Journaling to check time spent on writing Office documents? Yeah sure that's the only good
      • Serge,

        I do network consulting for a small company for a living. My diagrams are automated. I generate site specific reports by parsing systems data with Perl and outputting a text file. My reports are templated with forms and I've scripted in the perl text files. I use AutoIT to generate Appendix Diagram docs from the automated Visio diagrams.

        I'm working on slurping customer information for the report forms from our company database to which I VPN into from the road.

        My billing is done by the day, so I
        • Ropati,

          First things first, I owe you an apology for being rude. I overreacted and crossed a line. Please accept my humble excuses.
          Next, some clarifications.

          I'm looking into this stuff from the viewpoint of a bigger company (say 20 engineers), so your solution, as you said yourself, won't do it.

          Now, my vision on this is is that this stuff won't scale if it's not thought out properly, and when trying to solve it with just some scripts.. I tend to not believe in this kind of solutions.
          Oh, and there is nothi
          • Serge,

            I accept your apology. I wish I knew of a full blow n package you could use for your requirments, but I don't.

            If I were in your shoes, I would try designing (not making) a database to match your requirements. The process of enumerating every field and relationship will give you a much better understanding of what you require.

            Once you understand the size of the database and the scope of the queries, you will have a better idea of how to specify and evaluate packages that do what you want.

            Except f
  • I created my own using PHP/MySQL, at least I got what I wanted. Only took me about 40 hours, as I took the K.I.S.S. approach.
  • Plone is a CMS built on Zope. You will have to create your own solution, but I believe Plone will be a good base to start with.
  • automation is overrated..
    sometimes the simplest solution is a manual one...
    but sometimes not :)
  • Check out [] and look for the BS/1 Professional download. It is FREE for Delphi developers who have some version of Delphi installed on their system. The source code is available for purchase, and it's pretty good software, especially if you are familiar with accounting. Best part of the Pro version is the Time Billing capabilities.

    Highly recommended!

    Disclaimer: No, I am not affiliated with Davis Business Systems. Just a fan.

  • We wrote our own web-based application to deal with this, and it includes many, but not all of the features you are looking for.

    We're using it day to day to run our business and keep adding things as we need/desire them. Just start with a simple soltution (the itch we scratched initially was timebilling) and get something basic out there.

    It allows techs, users, customers and admins to login. It includes time billing, invoicing, and basic helpdesk system. Hours can be recorded against clients by the

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