This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age – March 2005.
Over time, many marina owners and operators have raised their expectations regarding business-related computer programs, as the ever-increasing sophistication in software development has made it easier to demand more. On the other hand, some marinas generally still avoid investing in computer products. Either way, it’s important to take note that one of the biggest changes in the marina industry has been in the area of marina management software.
In the late 1980s, marina owners and operators primarily viewed their computer software as an extension of their existing accounting system, whether it was manual or computerized. The computer system also helped marinas keep track of customer account balances and more easily create customer bills in a timely manner. Today, these same marina owners and operators — as well as a new generation of owners and operators — expect their software program not only to do what these earlier programs did, but also be a management tool to help them make critical and timely business decisions.
Computer software for marinas has evolved for three main reasons. First, the proliferation of software available in other industries has sparked interest for similar types of software in the marina industry. Second, it’s simply becoming easier and, therefore, increasingly popular for people to navigate through the world of computer software. And third, it’s evolved in response to the large number of marinas and other businesses that rely on the Internet to communicate with their customers.
In fact, at the International Marina Conference (IMC 2005) that was held in early January in San Diego, California — where I served as a panel moderator — I discovered that the majority of marina owners and operators interested in software matters were primarily interested in one thing: Would the software allow them to communicate with their customers via the Internet? They wanted to be able to provide the same rather services other businesses offer — online billing, which would permit the customer to review and pay his or her account online, and the ability to send newsletters and promotions by email. They also wanted the customer to be able to reserve a slip or rack online.
Briefly: Marina owners and operators are looking for a computer program that will do far more than supplement their accounting tasks of bygone days. Now, they are searching for one comprehensive software program that can handle all the marina’s operations, whether within the program itself or linked to other popular off-the-shelf software programs, like those for accounting and point-of-sale applications. One of the most requested features, besides those just mentioned, include the ability to view operational and financial metrics of the business in an easy to understand graphical format. An additional, highly requested feature was for a visual representation of the marina so that the user can navigate directly to all information that pertains to a particular slip or rack simply by clicking on the screen.
At IMC 2005, I also noticed that the level of interest in management software, especially with non-technical people, is greater when the program is Windows®-based as compared to one that is not, perhaps because most of them own PCs. I do know from personal experience that the learning curve is much shorter, the user’s confidence level is much higher, and the number of program features used by the user are far greater when the program is Windows®-based than when it is not.
Need for flexibility
In listening to attendees during marina management program demonstrations, a familiar refrain came up, “Our operation does not do it that way. We do it a different way.” Thus, the more flexible the program is in adapting to the user’s style of business, the more interested that person becomes.
Most purchasers of marina management software expect it to streamline operations and improve operational efficiency. This is not an unrealistic expectation, but it does not occur immediately following the installation of a well-designed program. Over time, by using the program and initially following current business processes, users will be able to evaluate current business processes and identify ways to improve them within the new functionalities available in the new software program.
Another interesting fact to note is the value the current software buyer places on software today as compared to 1988. A single-owner marina operator was willing to spend around $2,500 on software in 1988. Today, that same figure is between $8,000-$10,000 — depending on the complexity of the marina’s operations. Although this may seem like a lot of money to invest in software, it really isn’t. The programs on the market today are so superior to those earlier programs that marinas are truly getting their money’s worth. Marinas will gain real savings that will usually more than offset software costs in the first year.
Because of the added features in today’s software programs, marinas should seriously consider getting technical assistance in setting up their new program if they expect to use its full capabilities. Marinas should only buy software that can be fully supported over the Internet if they plan to use the software program as a management tool to help in daily business operations.
The marina industry has come a long way since 1988 in marina management software development. Much of this advancement is due to software developers who listen and respond to user demands. The best way to keep the momentum going in software development is to have marina owners, operators, and managers, demand more ways to improve the marina business with the computer.
Dennis P. Kissman, president of Marina Management Services Inc. in Boca Raton, FL can be reached by phone at 561-338-5800 or via e-mail: email@example.com.