IT keeps Green Acres in the know

By Simon Hendery

Services company Green Acres, which was rocked by revelations of alleged fraud by a master franchisee last year, has installed a new IT system, giving senior managers improved business information.

Green Acres Franchise Group chief executive Andrew Chisholm said the new web browser-based software system - dubbed Tiger - had been in the planning since well before alleged offending by former master ironing franchise holder Keith Lapham came to light last year.

The Serious Fraud Office laid deception and fraud charges against Lapham late last year, alleging he had illegally obtained more than $3.5 million from about 172 people to whom he granted sub-franchises during 2007.

"[Last year] was a challenging year," Chisholm said. "But having said that, introducing the Tiger system to the group wasn't a result of anything that happened last year, it's been in the planning for much longer than that. But the system is all about visibility."

He said the need for an updated computer system went back to 2005 and 2006 when the group repurchased several master franchises for various services it offers in the Auckland area.

"The old job management system we used to run was based purely on services so we were faced with the issue of having a lawn-mowing business, a car valet business and a home cleaning business in Auckland, all of which ran completely separate job management systems," Chisholm said.

"So in the case where we had a customer who used both the home cleaning and lawn-mowing systems, for instance, we had to go in and input everything twice, so it seemed to us that the best way to manage the needs moving forward was to create a system that was based around the customer, as opposed to around a service, and that was the starting point [for the Tiger development]."

Chisholm said the group had so far spent between $75,000-$100,000 on Tiger, which was built by local software development company Sandfield, and was an enhancement of Sandfield's existing franchise management system, called Elevate, which was designed to meet the specific needs of franchised businesses.

Tiger's aim is to provide franchisees, managers and support staff with clear visibility into all aspects of the business, ensuring that quotes are carried out and followed up, contracts assigned, services delivered and guarantees met.

Chisholm said while the system was providing senior management with a clearer picture of the state of the business, even if the company had had it up and running earlier there was no guarantee it would have prevented the 2007 alleged fraud.

"I'm not sure Tiger would have even protected us against an individual's actions there," he said.

Being an easy-to-use, web-based system meant Tiger was improving the productivity of Green Acres franchisees, Chisholm said.

"To be fair, our lawn mowing guys aren't necessarily the most computer-savvy people but, by and large, everybody's now got a PC at home with the internet connection and they're certainly finding the system user friendly and at the end of the day it enhances their individual businesses."

BETTER SERVICE
* Green Acres' use of its new Tiger software begins at the company's call centre. New client details are captured and logged, and work is assigned to a franchisee.
* Quotes can be requested and franchisees alerted to the new job by email or text.
* If an existing customer calls the automated system, pre-logged details will be recognised by the call wizard and will "pop-up" so call centre operators can provide immediate assistance.
* The software ensures Green Acres captures all customer data and provides transparency of franchisee jobs, quotes and invoicing.
* It also allows managers to track the revenue streams of employees, a key function of the system, as it enables guarantees to be accurately monitored.

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