March 4, 2018
We started noticing about 5 years ago that a lot of our clients use video options like Skype, GoToMeeting, FaceTime, Google Hangout and WhatsApp to start a video chat and enter inventory into Estimator; this seemed totally reasonable. Then came the rush of dedicated virtual video solutions that promised to automate the whole survey thing using self videos and artificial intelligence. Seemingly every single moving company out there added a virtual survey option on their website... which in reality meant a free video chat and a real surveyor with a real survey app on the other end of a video call.
After about two years of offering virtual surveys, it became abundantly clear to all the technology players in the market that video is merely part of an estimating system. There are those who arrogantly view estimating functionality as a minute slap-on that can even be used during a physical survey; that is, when the video route didn’t quite work out or the transferee saw it as disrespectful.
The video technology improves continuously and the underlying costs decrease, but what remains constant is the need to perform detailed and accurate surveys aligned with company needs and standards, and that takes a dedicated app. It has to work for professional surveyors, produce summaries in a desired format and language and most importantly integrate with the move management system of choice. That’s what we’ve been focusing on over the last 15 years - supporting the best available devices (from Palm Pilot to iPhone X) and building integration with all move management systems on the market.
As for the video - we offer it as an add-on for extra convenience, modestly priced to justify a couple of advantages over free options: real-time transfer of items and residence access photos to Voxme Estimator, branded video chat invitations and cloud storage of videos. It’s nice to have choices. Decide for yourself what fits your professionalism.
February 18, 2018
Yoga teaches us to stay even keeled whether the news are really good or equally bad. But when we were contacted by a very prominent US company to set them up with a Driver inventory system, my enthusiasm never had a chance to go up even a notch. The client didn’t ask for a discount, didn’t promise to equip every single US owner and operator with the Inventory license, they just had one request: “We have lots of forms, you know all these bill of lading, accessorial Services, etc? They need to be completed on the tablet. No exceptions”. As the images of all these old style forms crammed into an iPad mini screen swirled around my brain (which was already scrambling for polite words to explain the pain they would be inflicting upon their drivers), the true visionary in the room spoke up: “Listen, we couldn’t care less about the forms themselves, we just need the data back in our system as soon as the client signs. You have your flexible questionnaires, that’s plenty. Just make them a bit smarter and we are all set. When can we have it please?”
When we got started with the digital inventory,a then happy compromise was that the inventory would be done electronically and the paperwork would be signed the old way and then, on a good day, photographed and attached to the inventory as a photo (the wireless internet charges came down to earth not that long ago). Then we got cute and added an ability to fill out pdf forms like vehicle inspection because we figured it’s easier to embed a photo of a scratch right into a pdf then circle damage spots on a sketch of a car. All along though we were hoping that simple on screen questionnaires and the ability to fill everything out by typing and then signing in a large area would eventually quench the thirst for classic forms.
And then some advanced movers’ IT figured out a way to convert old style forms into fillable PDFs and convinced their management that now they finally can go paperless. You can’t blame them - the forms looked heart warming and fiddling with them in the office with Bamboo touch pen looked cool.The trouble started when these forms ended up on the drivers tablets covered with sweat and dirt of the season. Having screen protectors didn’t help neither. On one particularly large implementation the drivers outright revolted claiming that trying to zoom in and write on a non responsive screen instead of hitting the road isn’t what they have signed up for. So the company took the tablets back and went back to paper on everything - inventories included. The irony of the situation was that that the drivers actually warmed up to the inventory portion but the forms killed the project.
Sometime technological advancements help old school techniques stage rather unwanted comebacks. And it takes not so young moving executives to acknowledge that nobody reads the small fonts in any form - not when accepting iTunes terms and conditions and not even when signing one's last house purchase contract. They answered some questions, signed and got a copy of the completed forms emailed to them. So they figured - why would moving forms be any different?
January 15, 2018
Any company dealing with fine arts, interior design or museums logistics inevitably comes across multi-part objects that are harder to keep track of than kids in the gym. The model that we came up with to handle these agile creatures is called “parents and children”; if you thought for a moment that I have something to say about the millennials at workplace, then I’m afraid you’ve grossly overestimated my desire to overshadow Simon Sinek (because he said it best).
One sunny New York afternoon, I was showing our system to a company that does high end fine arts and museum work and I thought I’d inflicted pain on these good people as the HD TV hookup didn’t work and the projector resolution made for a miserable presentation experience. To my total shock the GMs remained very engaged, and at the end of the demo pointed at a blurry section of the screen and said: “Say, we have a large object that comes in multiple pieces that tend to move Independently. How do you handle that? We saw something on the screen but couldn’t quite make out the details”. I sprang to life and said that we’d come up with a parent-children model to handle such objects gracefully”. The GMs looked at each other whimsically and one of them said: “Funnily enough we have ended up with the same terminology after 20 years. Please elaborate”. And elaborate I did....
For simplicity’s sake, let’s say you have to pick up a dining set consisting of a dining table and 6 chairs. Let’s also say that the dining table comes as a top and 4 legs, each chair comes as a frame and 2 cushions, and the manufacturer has it packed in 4 boxes (one for the table parts and 3 for sets of 2 chairs). For starters we create an item called “dining set - table and 6 chairs” with 7 items (table + 6 chairs) and 23 pieces (1+4+6*(1+2)). Since the item came in 4 packages which can potentially be moved around the warehouse and crated for shipping separately, we split this item into 4 packages (one package with 1 item and 5 pieces making up a table and 3 packages with 2 items and 6 pieces each making up 2 chairs and their pieces). This splitting operation turns the item into a parent. It signifies the fact that the dining set doesn’t exist as one physical monolithic object with a known location and dims. Instead it becomes a virtual shell for the packages that physically move around, have their own dims, location, scanning history and release and delivery dates and status. The number of pieces and items in the children add up to the number of items and pieces in the parent - this system (and the mobile app) enforce family integrity and collective sanity.
At any point in time the system shows the number of items and pieces on hand. Having all children out of the warehouse changes the parent status to released or delivered (depending on the date and type of transaction via which the last child left the warehouse). If you’ve made it to this point alert and present then the natural question to ask would be: “If you’re so smart, how do you handle one item split into multiple packages? What’s the number of items in each package - only one package can have 1 item, the rest should be 0”. Indeed it looks a bit weird at first, but then again there has to be some room for philosophical interpretation in every aspect of human activity, including logistics. If you deliver part of a chandelier to a client and other parts remain in the warehouse, what’s the right number of items representing the chandelier on hand and the chandelier released from the warehouse? It would appear reasonable to think that the number of items on hand should be 1 and the number of released items is 0...
After this short mini lecture Todd, one of the GMs, smiled widely and said: “So you actually get it, eh?”. Now you know how this series got its name.
January 9, 2018
Since the very beginning to this very day we continue to be asked: "Why do you guys do what you do and what made you get into this business"? The question comes from clients new and old. Some of them bring it up during the first meeting and some pop it after 10 years of working with us. And over the years we have offered all sorts of honest, factual answers albeit with a varying degree of details, entertainment value and self-censorship.
Fortunately, we've never had to ask ourselves "The Why" question and ponder about it for even a split second. Voxme was born out of the believes of the founders that they can give removals and fine art logistics professionals like yourself easy to use, comprehensive and customizable apps and systems that would help you be the best you can be at your craft.
We've gone through all the phases of a new technology startup - the expected eye rolling at the sight of the premove survey and driver inventory apps on Palm Pilot III back in 2003, the obligatory "Okay, I get it, but my employees are too dumb to pick it up" to the most recent "I don't want the system to force my hand. I know what I'm doing and I remember where everything is in the warehouse".
Our biggest reward has always been that precious moment when a customer inquires about a very specific feature that only a high caliber pro would be able to even formulate, see it implemented and go: "Ah, so you guys actually get it". Hearing that justifies all the blood and sweat that our amazing team has put in over the years and makes us push for more.
Ironically, these are the very features that almost never come up when we work with our clients on helping them get the most out of whatever system of ours they are using. Since everybody is short on time and attention, getting to the "advanced stuff" rarely happens.
So we figured that we ought to capture these "so you guys got it" moments in a series of blog posts that will be published here and re-posted on LinkedIn in hopes that you will read it during a quiet moment and find it relevant to what you would have really liked to address but haven't gotten around to gathering your thoughts and figuring out a solution. And because of that we've decided not to split the series into "just for removals" and "just for fine arts shipping" as often times considering somebody else's problem and looking at a solution helps us figure out something for or about ourselves.
Hope you will enjoy reading these posts as much as we enjoy sharing these precious moments with you.
December 20, 2017
First of all, thank you to all our clients for sharing their experiences with virtual surveys after over a year of use and, more importantly, for telling us what would make the virtual survey complete... or at least as close as possible to the Voxme Estimator. You spoke, we listened and can now proudly announce the arrival of the following major features:
- Support for multi modal surveys. Just like in the familiar Voxme Estimator you can define mode of transport/destination for each item.
- Item details now include handling type, dismantling, assembling and valuable flags.
- PDF summaries can be generated in any of the configured languages.
- Item photos can be taken during live video, from the recorded video and uploaded by customers via web app.
Take advantage of these new features. After all, not visiting the customer in person shouldn’t mean compromising on the quality of your surveys. It's all about face time and inventory and Voxme V Survey gives you both. Let's get you started. Sign up here: http://webest.voxme.com
We are delighted and honored to have our Inventory app featured in Roiatti’s video