New software packages help you make up your mind, develop company policy, and devise the perfect name. Our CEO reviewers take their measure
Which & Why, from Arlington Software Corp., Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (604-844-7878; price $349), a decision-valuation program
Mark Pass, CEO of ATS Services Inc., a $28-million temporary-staffing franchiser in Jacksonville, Fla.
386 or higher; 4 MB RAM; 10 MB disk space; Windows 3.1 or higher; mouse
Having trouble deciding where to advertise your company's services? Stuck on choosing which health-care plan would best serve your employees? If you have scads of time and patience but need help weighing options, Which & Why may be well worth consulting. Think of it as an ornery arbiter on a disk.
At least that was my impression of the beta version of the program when my information-systems manager, Derek Mercer, and I called on Which & Why for help in deciding where to print ATS's payroll. We could continue to print the payroll at our corporate office, but we wondered if shifting to the branch offices would prove cheaper or more convenient. So we tossed out our legal pads, with their pages of scribbled costs, and turned to the keyboard and screen.
The software was easy to install but tough to pursue: because we had no manual, we had a hard time figuring out what steps to follow once it was loaded. And "help" provided little advice.
Still, we persevered. First to appear on the screen were a "note pad," on the left, and a big blank square, called a "model tree," on the right. Into the note pad we typed all the factors that could possibly affect our decision, such as "ability to print paychecks at branch offices" and "personnel required to run the machines." Next we dragged the ideas we considered crucial over to the model tree. Those we thought irrelevant we dumped into the "trash."
The software then asked us to rate each factor on the tree according to importance or convenience. We gave "ability to print paychecks at branch offices" a 10, for example, because it meant branch managers would get employees' checks faster and with less fuss because they wouldn't have to wait for the corporate office to prepare and mail them. After rating each factor, we clicked on the "build a model" button and voilÃ: the program tallied up the ratings and analyzed the results.
Great minds and mediocre software, it seems, think alike: Which & Why decided we should do the payroll at the branch offices -- the choice we'd been leaning toward all along. But it wasn't because the program told us something we already (almost) knew that we found it wanting. Its biggest drawback was that it took us so long to enter the pertinent information. With the bugs worked out, the program probably will become more intuitive and user friendly. But this go-round even Derek, who's worked as a programmer, had difficulty knowing what to do with Which & Why -- although he did have fun using it to design a surfboard.* * *
Policies Now!, from KnowledgePoint, Petaluma, Calif. (800-727-1133; price $79 for the Standard Edition, $395 for HR Pro), software for devising an employee-policy manual
Gina Day, CEO of Rockies Brewing Co., a $4.5-million microbrewery in Boulder, Colo., that produces handcrafted specialty ales
286 or higher; 512KB RAM; DOS 2.11 or higher
Say you're thinking of hiring employees and want to develop a standard of conduct or delineate how many hours a general manager should put in on the job. With the easy-to-install Policies Now!, you can pull together a good basic employee handbook even before your first want ad goes in the paper and save yourself hours of aggravation and perhaps costly litigation later.
The program, which contains 10 general work areas (employee benefits, time keeping and payroll, and so on), functions as a guided tour of human-resources policy. After you select a general area, a roster of categories pops up, with particularly crucial items marked with a P, for "primary importance." If you highlight "employee benefits programs" and hit "enter," for instance, subtopics such as vacation, sick leave, and child care appear. You're then led, virtually by the hand, from the general to the specific, starting with a definition of the subtopic and an explanation of its importance, and ending with a personally tailored policy based on your answers to various prompts, which you can add to or edit at any time.
Take, for instance, the category "sick leave." Hitting "enter" engenders several screens' worth of commentary on the parameters of sick leave, such as whether it's legally required (federally it's not; state law varies) and who usually gets it. If you choose to include sick leave in your manual, categories of employees -- "regular part-time," "regular full-time," and so on -- show up. Selecting "full-timers" leads to the question: "Do you require eligible employees to complete a waiting period before they use accrued sick-leave benefits?" You can answer "A" (a waiting period is required) or "B" (no waiting period). If you choose the former, you must indicate the length, in calendar days, of the waiting period. At any time in this funeling-down process, you can hit "Q" to quit and return to the main menu.
Given its attention to detail, Policies Now! is flexible enough to meet the demands of any small business with more than one employee. It's also extremely thorough in the legal department, carefully outlining requirements for such policies as equal employment opportunity, COBRA, and ADA. Be mindful, however, that laws differ from state to state and that even federal laws governing policies like affirmative action are still changing. To its credit, the program inserts repeated disclaimers stating that the information presented does not constitute legal counsel, and it often refers you to the appropriate regulatory agency for further information.
Policies Now! comes in two versions: the Standard Edition and HR Pro. If your company has a personnel department, multidepartment policy needs, or multistate operations, you'll probably want HR Pro. Otherwise, stick with the Standard. The policies you develop could set the tone of your entire enterprise.* * *
NamePro, from the Namestormers, Dallas (214-350-6214; price $495), software for developing product, service, and company names
Randy Rolston, CEO of Victorian Paper Co., a 60-employee stationery and greeting-card manufacturer in Kansas City, Mo.
386 or higher; 4 MB RAM; 15 MB disk space; Windows 3.1 or higher
What's in a name? Everything, if you use it to define your business.
Now NamePro, a Windows-based software package with nine databases (one has more than 30,000 names) and various comparison tools, can help you develop product, service, and company names while alerting you to the trademark status of your chosen monikers. It even offers a "profanity checker" for those naive entrepreneurs who unwittingly select a foreign-language vulgarity to stitch on an awning or slap on a label.
I approached the program from several angles, taking as my assignment the naming of a line of recycled stationery products made with flowers. First I tried the "name" option, the simplest of the four provided, which presents synonyms and rhyming words for any word you enter. My reaction was mixed: when I entered the word rose, I was amused that the software spit out the term "pro-service" (which contains rose), among 24 others, but I was disconcerted when it responded with only a few suggestions to the broad term gardening.
Undaunted, I forged ahead to the more targeted "search" option, which allows you to enter words describing a product by category ("paper," for instance) and connotation ("earthy" or "environmental") before it provides matches by association. The "xploder" option goes even further, shattering words into prefixes, roots, and suffixes that you can shuffle and merge. Or, if you're really keen on happenstance, you can click on the "combo" option and NamePro will align the bits and pieces for you. Hence, my labors led to these now echoey, now catchy suggestions: EnviroRose, EnviroPaper, EarthPaper, PaperPetalers. After sifting through the 30-plus permutations the combo option supplied, I settled on the alliterative PaperPetalers.
NamePro's database holds trademark information on each of its 30,000 names, including date of registration and class of product. The upside is that the information is updated every year. The downside is that the names represent a fraction of the trademarks in use, so chances are you'll still need to do a trademark search, a costly legal process. And though the naming possibilities are not endless, NamePro is leagues ahead of a word processor's thesaurus and allows you to brainstorm even when you're the only one in the room.