There long has been a market for recycling industry-specific software that caters to some of the unique aspects of the industry, including its “reverse retail” model and its (traditionally) non-barcoded and non-manufactured product line.
The efforts of customized software vendors around the world have helped lead to new best practices and in some cases, even has redefined how recyclers buy, track and trade certain materials.
In the current century, the phenomenon of metal items being stolen to be sold for their scrap value—and the resulting responses of government entities—has sparked another wave of recycling software changes.
In addition to improving operations, recyclers now frequently also ask software providers for help in complying with anti-stolen property laws that require scrap recyclers and their front-line employees to essentially collect law enforcement information at the start of transactions.
In the following interview, Recycling Today Media Group’s Brian Taylor asks Perry Jacobs, president of United States-based Shared Logic Group, to offer his perspective on some of the recent and developing changes affecting what scrap recyclers want from their customized software providers.
Recycling Today (RT): What has been the trend within the recycling industry regarding integrating software functions (such as inventory management, trading, purchasing, etc.)?
Perry Jacobs (PJ): For us specifically, being fully integrated—meaning accounting and inventory and purchasing and trading—has long been a focus. There are recyclers we talk to who have essentially a purchase only system. Often, they got these for compliance reasons, but they still did sales on spreadsheets and didn’t track inventory in an automated way. Most of our fully integrated systems requests have been from people coming off of those types of systems. It’s not a three-year trend, it’s longer. We’re still encountering prospective customers who use photocopy machines to copy drivers’ licenses and still shots from surveillance cameras for law enforcement photo requests. There are still people like that out there. Many prospective customers we have performed demos for have existing systems but have been adding pieces rather than integrating. They have been piecing a system together after the fact.
RT: To what extent is it considered standard now to access recycling operational software via mobile devices? Are there still some operators who prefer not to “take their work home”?
PJ: It’s not always a matter of whether recyclers are taking their work home, but more often it’s a trader being able to access the customer’s data while he’s sitting in front of them making a site visit. A business portal site solution can offer transparency—so the customer can see the same information as the recycler. Our customer’s employee or traders also want to see the same things. Just a simple remote desktop connection, whether on a phone, tablet or laptop, if a customer can connect to the Internet he or she can do anything the system can do. As far as taking work home, with an automated system, instead of taking all the paperwork home they can have scale operators scan in dispatch tickets and bills of lading, grade sheets, etc. They can then view that information through electronic document storage. That can actually make for less paperwork to take home.
RT: How has the interface (touch screens, etc.) portion of recycling software changed over the years? Do vendors such as Shared Logic get good ideas and suggestions from recyclers?
PJ: We like to say there is almost nothing in the software that we thought up ourselves. The layout of the screens and the features and the fields—those are all based on customer requests and suggestions. We take those every day—every suggestion—and as the owner and developer I consider them and determine how they fit into the software. The interface piece of it has advanced remarkably in terms of ease of use. A customer I visited in Chicago recently was using tablets to buy the material; they put Wi-Fi throughout their yard. They are connecting to the server to run the software and using mobile device entry. It is a touchscreen—a tablet—and using the touchscreen or tablet in that way to enter information. Our competitors have apps or features that do that as well. It can depend on what a recycler’s needs are in terms of what type of program they want to run.
RT: How has metals theft legal compliance changed what recyclers need from their software?
PJ: Compliance, in the United States, has become the main reason to require software. For us it has been the number one reason why we’ve been getting recyclers to call us. For instance, in some states or cities, they need to scan documents and upload them. While there haven’t been as many anti-metal theft laws passed in the past two years, they are starting to enforce laws in some areas more than they had been previously. This has led new customers to contact us or for existing customers to come to us for upgrades or training. The training is important. You can have software, but if you’re not using it right you’re not in compliance. You’re going to get fined if you don’t comply, even if you have paid for a software package.
RT: Do you think recyclers will always need industry-specific, customized software, and if so, why?
PJ: Yes, and in part because of the compliance. There is no way using QuickBooks or a spreadsheet that you can use the anti-theft compliance system in the U.S. and truly comply with it. We’ve had prospective customers who entered information into law enforcement compliance databases but didn’t really have a record of their own to maintain after they did that.
Regarding inventory, because recyclers don’t sell what they buy, but instead process it in some way, non-custom software packages can fall short. With recyclers, some material goes from unprepared to prepared—say wire into chops or stainless steel into blends. There are so many different grades created and involved in the operations; it’s not widgets or production in the sense of what off-the-shelf software offers. Recyclers just don’t do it that way. Each recycling company can be very different also. Even those accepting the same materials can have very different operating methods.
The other factor is that the customized products will need to continue to evolve rapidly. A lot of recent attention has gone to the mobile part of it, for Android and iPhone apps. This can allow even drivers to take pictures of material. Another growing aspect is business intelligence (BI). There is ongoing demand for customized reports with graphs and data presentation beyond what standard spreadsheet software can offer. Traders and back office people at recycling firms are savvy and they want those kinds of analytics tools built into the software.