April 19

What are the components of Newstar menu-level security and should I use it?

Menu-level security is the most advanced security offered in Newstar Enterprise and consists of:

* Permissions for each menu item (allow visibility to, allow add/edit, allow delete)
* Permissions for many on-screen buttons
* Permissions offered from basic security level (Batch, Invoice, and PO approvals, AP Processing Rule)

Menu-level security gives you the most flexible and secure way of managing permissions and audit compliance in the Newstar Enterprise system, so we recommend that you begin using it as soon as it is feasible for you to do so. Cornerstone has created a guide and implementation plan so you can determine your best path forward, just reach out to us and we’d be happy to help.


April 18

People are not using our SharePoint site that we worked so hard on. How can I drive adoption?

You are probably overthinking the answer. It’s simple: it doesn’t get used because it is not yet a tool for your organization. If you SP site is a group of links to other sites, people don’t need to go there, they simply bookmark their favorites sites on their favorite browser. If your SP site is a place to store forms, but those forms have existed on your network for years and are still there, people will go to the old place to get the necessary documents.

To drive adoption, design your site to have great functionality such as the ability to fill in HR forms online and have them electronically routed to the right people when the user submits the form. Use your SP site to regularly share important as well as fun information about your organization. Implement workflows and forms and collaboration modules to make this a tool. Yet, be sure to make it cool. Don’t recreate the mess that may be in your old network storage. And be sure to continually communicate the features of the site, train the staff and implement the feedback mechanism so you will know what they want and need.


April 16

I need a low budget phone app for Supers in the field to submit VPO requests, but my ERP doesn’t have external access. Help!

Good news! There is something out there made just for this type of activity: it’s called PowerApps from Microsoft.

The PowerApps software is designed to allow people with no coding experience to create applications that will run on phones, tablets, or through a browser. The design is done through a browser, so you can access your design environment from work, home, or wherever you have internet access.

When you’re ready to publish your application, you simply click a button and it will be available to access by whichever of your organization’s users you choose to share it with. PowerApps is included in many of the Office 365 plans and currently you can access PowerApps with a 60-day free trial, so give it a try!


April 13

We want to build a Help Desk issue tool in our SharePoint site. Should I use the Task template or the Issue Tracking Template?

This depends on the functionality you need.

If you are looking for the ability to enter tickets, categorize them, notify people when tickets have been assigned, then the Issue Tracking template is excellent.

But, if you wish to have your tool sync with MS Project or Outlook, you would need to use a Task template. The task template also gives you more views and a timeline.

So, keep your needs clear. Are you tracking an IT project or Help Desk tickets?


April 9

My ERP system has a Microsoft SQL Server backend. How often should I be rebuilding my table indexes?

Microsoft SQL Server indexes can be reorganized or rebuilt. The frequency will depend upon how fragmented it is. Whenever your indexes have more than 10% fragmentation it is time to clean up your index.

If your fragmentation is between 10% and 30% an index reorganize will be sufficient. If you have 30% or more fragmentation it is a good idea to run a an index rebuild.

A fragmented index can result in decreased performance so why this critical maintenance task is often ignored is a puzzle for sure. Re-indexing can be done with a script, through the SQL Server Management Interface, or can be included as part of a Maintenance Plan. Regardless of fragmentation levels, rebuilding indexes once a week is a good minimum threshold for this task.


April 5

I’m new to the residential construction industry. Can you help me understand inventory turnover ratio?

You bet! First, let’s start with the formula:

Inventory Turnover = Cost of Goods Sold/Value of Average OnHand Inventory

Because of the high dollar value of inventory in home construction, it’s critical for a home builder to monitor and maintain a healthy Inventory Turnover rate. Too much inventory = too much risk and too little inventory = missed sales opportunities. A lower than optimum number indicates low demand, while a high ratio is indicative of under-stocking.

Identifying appropriate inventory levels for each season can mean the difference between a builder who survives market fluctuation and one that doesn’t. The optimum rate will not only depend upon season, but also whether or not the builder is focused on single vs. multi-family and if they primarily sell spec homes or strictly build-to-suit. For a typical single-family builder with a mix of both spec and custom homes, a ratio of 6 to 8 is a good starting point. Tune from there based on your specific environment.

Need more help with your performance indicators? Don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at Cornerstone Solutions.


April 3

I really like using the new Hero web parts in SharePoint, but I can’t seem to add them to my sub-sites. What am I doing wrong?

We are all in love with the new Hero web parts in SharePoint. Unfortunately, as of March 2018, these are not yet available in sub-sites. The sub-sites are still defaulted to one of the Classic templates. We can’t wait for Microsoft to roll this functionality across all levels!


March 29

We have plenty of technology, but our processes have bottlenecks and we need to be better at making deadlines – any thoughts?

Often, our internal business processes are a result of the strongest player in a department or organization defining how things will be done. It becomes more of an evolution than an intentional process. The result may look like one semi-smooth department, but a one dimensional point of view doesn’t consider the overall organization.

Typically the reality is that the organization is riddled with duplicate work and multiple points of checks and balances. When this occurs, it is time to consider performing a Business Process Review. Reviewing the process, identifying the pinch points and the unnecessary efforts, determining and implementing change are all part of the steps in becoming more productive.

While reviewing your processes can be done internally, the fresh set of eyes an external review can bring is often very effective. Whether you go it alone or work with your friends at HMS Cornerstone Solutions, remember to document the current process as your first step.  It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re leaving from.


March 27

Can I send an email directly from my PowerBI Dashboard?


March 23

How much does Constellation’s Newstar charge vendors to access the portal?

Constellation’s web-based vendor portal provides suppliers and trades with real-time access to purchase orders, construction schedules and payment information to reduce phone calls and costly errors.

There is no cost to the Vendor.

Bonus: the VendorGo mobile app is coming in early 2018 (Android and iOS platforms) to connect vendors and their suppliers to NEWSTAR Enterprise, FAST, and BuildTopia to conveniently manage schedules, stay up-to-date on project changes, easily discuss details, and more.


March 21

Is BIM the hot topic in homebuilding systems? If true, should I earnestly learn more about it?

We do see a trend in the industry moving in the direction of unitizing purchasing. For many years, builders have separated labor from materials and now they are beginning to count sticks and bricks.

For more information on this emerging trend, register for our April webinar:

BIM: What it is & How Best to Use it

To find out more about this webinar and see our entire 2018 webinar schedule, visit our webinar page: http://hmscornerstonesolutions.com/webinars/


March 19

Do real estate professionals benefit from the recent tax changes approved late last year by Congress and the President?

Yes. Commercial brokers who are corporations will benefit from the pass-thru portion of the new legislation. We encourage those who have an LLC to contact their tax advisors for further information.

If you would like more information, simply contact the Cornerstone Team by clicking on the Contact Us link at the top of this page.

 


March 15

Can I setup an interface to electronically transfer bill of materials from my CAD software to Sapphire Build (Kova)?

Sapphire Build can easily interface with many of the leading CAD programs with the intent of transferring BOM detail from CAD to the back office. Cornerstone has worked on several projects with MiTek/Sapphire Build this past year and can assist you with interfacing to several systems, including leading CAD software.


March 14

Does InformXL interface with Sapphire Build (formerly known as Kova)?


March 13

I am struggling with the concept of Major Codes, Craft Codes and Tasks. Can you simplify these terms for me?

Absolutely:

CRAFT: The word “Craft” is somewhat an old English term. It refers to what we mean today as a construction trade. For example: the Framer, the Electrician, the Excavator, the Finish Carpenter, etc.

TASK: A Task is the activity performed by a Craft. As you begin to work with Tasks, think of your project schedule and the activities that you will post to it. From the examples above:

The CRAFT Performs the TASK(s):
Excavation: Excavate- The work of digging the hole in preparation for the foundation
Prep Slab-  The work of preparing the ground for the basement slab
Backfill- The work of backfilling against the outside of the foundation once it is poured
Rough Grade- The work of rough grading the lot after backfilling
Foundation: Forming, Reinforcing, Pouring & Striping the footing and foundation
Electrical: Rough Electrical
Finish Electrical
Drywall: Hanging, Taping & Texturing the drywall

The MAJOR CODE: Major Codes are simply another term for Cost Codes. They are the systems tool for organizing and collecting the costs of each Craft into its own “bucket”. For example: The Major Code “Foundation” may include all the costs of the Foundation work: the foundation labor, the reinforcing steel, the window bucks, and the concrete. In lieu of collecting all of those costs into one Major Code, you may decide to track each of those costs individually. Accordingly, you will need to establish a separate Major Code for each of those line items.


March 7

When I’m out of the office can I use our company’s SharePoint site without full browser access?

YES!  Get your intranet in your pocket with the SharePoint mobile app. With easy on-the-go access, the SharePoint mobile app helps keep your work moving forward by providing quick access to your team sites, organization portals and resources, and the people you work with – across online in Office 365 and on-premises. You can see site activities, get quick access to recent and popular files, and view and arrange lists on your team sites.

• Sign in to your SharePoint sites, whether they’re in the cloud or on-premises. The app works with SharePoint Online, and SharePoint Server versions 2013 and 2016. You can add multiple accounts, and easily switch between them.
• Quickly find your sites. Check out the Sites tab, to see the sites you frequently visit and the sites you follow. Tap on a team site to dive into it. See site activity, navigate using the familiar quick launch navigation, easily follow or share the site, and work with your lists.
• Check out recent and popular files. In a team site, get to your recent or popular files quickly to view or share them, and have full access to your document libraries using the new integration with the OneDrive app. Edit your files easily using Office Mobile apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
• Search. Enterprise Search is available throughout the app and results are organized into sites, files and people.
• Find and browse for people you work with. Tap on a user to get to their contact card and to see who they work with and what they are working on.

Note: To sign in to SharePoint, your organization needs to have an Office 365 subscription that includes SharePoint Online, or an on-premises SharePoint


March 7

What is a “web concierge” and why would my business care about it?

Just as in your favorite hotel, the concierge is a doorman, a porter or an attendant. A web concierge assists “web traffic” coming to your site. This can be a person or an automated tool. The goal is to “greet” incoming web inquiries to your site and “guide them” to the correct place. For example, a homebuilder or real estate site may have people inquiring via the web about buying a home. The web concierge may look over the data provided, immediately respond to the inquiry and also pass it on to the most appropriate sales agent. How long the web concierge manages the inquiry is a matter of your own business process. If you need help with more detailed best practices, give Cornerstone a call.


March 5

How can I ensure that both our procedures and our training program are up to par?

The easiest way to achieve consistent process documentation and training is to deploy an intranet. This will be an internal website just for your employees and teams. This can be done with an off the shelf package, Sharepoint (online) or even custom design. When designing your intranet, first identify your main goals. Adoption will be driven by your intranet becoming a daily tool for all employees. To populate training materials, consider developing a team of SME’s (subject matter experts) from the different departments. For example, you would have 1-2 SME’s from AP, AP, PR, Purchasing, Operations, Sales, Tenant Relations, etc. Develop a standard training template and then assign each SME the job of creating the training procedures, along with a document for their functional area. You have now developed an internal set of trainers. You can even provide them a tool to create short training videos.

Your intranet must also contain fresh and necessary information to be sure the general population of your company has a reason to go there frequently. This can be set up as an access point to document repositories, systems, HR functions, workflows, etc. But don’t forget, there must be also be something there to bring in the line level employees. Dashboards and reports can help both management and line level teams.

A word of caution: be sure you identify and stick to the quarterly and long-term goals as well as lock in a management champion. Many companies start to run in too many directions mid-project and this becomes a recipe for failure. Scope creep is a common side effect of a loosely planned deployment, causing costs to skyrocket and morale to crash.


March 4

How important are Customer Portals? Are they worth the effort?

Ten years ago, not many of us were concerned about managing a customer portal. Today, whether our customers are home buyers, property tenants, property asset investors or trade partners, they are all inclined to sign in to a portal and review their information. They expect a web based portal they can access from anywhere. They expect the site to be secure and protect their information, and they expect easy access to contact information. The good news is that most back-office systems now offer some pre-packaged portal and we no longer need to build these from scratch. The Cornerstone Team can help with both your implementation and best practices.


February 27

How do I get everyone on board to take down new releases?

Keeping systems current is critical for many reasons, including features and functionality improvements. Planning and communication are key to successful upgrades. Most organizations have a test environment or sandbox. The best practice is to copy most current data from your live environment to your sandbox.

Next, be sure to read the release notes. Take down the current release to your sandbox environment only. Be sure to upgrade all linked products as some are dependent on each other. Based on the release notes to know which areas have been upgraded, perform normal routines in the sandbox and test for functionality.

Give a time frame to the end-users for their testing. For example, allow two weeks for testing and have a person in AP perform normal tasks such as entering and invoice and cutting a check. Once testing and acceptance is complete, you are ready to upgrade your live environment. Plan your timing, inform the staff, distribute the release notes, upgrade. Voila!

If you need help with this, the Cornerstone team has decades of experience helping people through this. We even perform the normal testing for some of our clients as their staff may be too busy to test.


February 20

Is it possible to link Microsoft CRM to my Sales System?

Absolutely! In fact, without this integration, your staff will be doing double work and defeat the purpose of one of the systems.Cornerstone has been very successful in helping our clients integrate MS CRM to sales systems.

The goal is to keep the lead/opportunity in the CRM for management until the prospect is ready to write a contract, then, electronically push the pertinent data over the to sales system when triggered by the end user. There is no double entry of information.

Some of our clients go even farther to push back information to the CRM and use the CRM to continue touch points with buyers or tenants. These clients are getting the best value of both systems and feel it gives them the technical edge required today.


February 13

Is SharePoint right for my company?

That’s a pretty open-ended question.  SharePoint remains Microsoft’s flagship for intranet and document management.  Many large organizations use the platform for the internet as well.  Being able to use SharePoint in conjunction with Office 365 make this a remarkable tool.  Some of us can remember when “copy & paste” was a new function in the world.  Microsoft continues to weave the product offering and collaboration tools into a wonderful web.

Is it right for you? There are many best practices that should be followed in making the decision to go down the SharePoint road.  We would recommend that you work with professionals such as those on our team to help you decide if this is a fit for your organization.  Things to consider is how much of the product would benefit you, how long to deploy and consider a phased approach, will it be hosted or on-premise, what is the annual budget, do you need multiple languages.  Give us a call and we can help you through the decision-making process.


February 6

I’ve heard certain builders are on “auto-pay.” What is it and do I need it?

Auto-pay is a general term for payments that are triggered by 1) having been issued a purchase order and 2) having the items on the PO tied to a construction task in the field.  When the builder’s superintendent approves the work as completed in the field, the related purchase order becomes part of an accounts payable batch in the builder’s ERP and posts as an invoice.  The trades no longer send in invoices, they are truly paid from PO and satisfactory work completion.

This process saves time and money for both the builder and the trade.  Many programs such as Newstar, BuildPro/SupplyPro, Sapphire Build, and others offer this great feature.  The Cornerstone team can help you roll this out in your organization.


January 30

What is Positive Pay and Do I Need It?

Positive Pay is an automated fraud detection tool offered by the Cash Management Department of most banks. In its simplest form, it is a service that matches the account number, check number and dollar amount of each check presented for payment against a list of checks previously authorized and issued by the company. All three components of the check must match exactly or it will not pay.


January 30

How does Positive Pay work?

Positive Pay requires the company to send (transmit) a file of issued checks to the bank each day checks are written. When those issued checks are presented for payment at the bank, they are compared electronically against the list of transmitted checks. The check-issue file sent to the bank contains the check number, account number, issue date, and dollar amount. Sometimes the payee name is included, but is not part of the matching service.

When a check is presented that does not have a “match” in the file, it becomes an “exception item”. The bank sends a fax or an image of the exception item to the client. The client reviews the image and instructs the bank to pay or return the check.

There is generally a fee charged by the bank for Positive Pay, although some banks now offer the service for free. The fee might well be considered an “insurance premium” to help avoid check fraud losses and liability.

Many of the mainline accounting or ERP systems offer this feature to create the file to be sent to your bank.  Give Cornerstone a call and we can help you get this fraud prevention function running.


January 29

How to get my superintendants to update their schedules daily?

To get the superintendents to adopt a new tool, it must do something for them.  Demonstrate what benefits the field will gain by using the scheduling tool.

There are several things that you can do to see that schedules are updated daily, depending upon the approach that fits your company culture best:

> Have the system send out reminders, follow-up information, etc. that the superintendent previously had to remember to do. For example, six weeks before the cabinets are to be installed, have the system send a reminder to the installer of the upcoming date. This can help ease the lag time issues.

> Use the information in the schedule at the routine backlog meetings. Have the schedule information be the one source of truth. If we allow “off-line” schedule related information to be used, your scheduling tool becomes redundant and is left by the way-side.

> Provide training. Sometimes tasks don’t get done on time because people aren’t sure how to start or complete them correctly. Providing access to training and refresher courses pave the path to compliance.

> Using the schedules and your back-office system, implement auto-pay. The schedule now is critical to the superintendent and his trades. The schedule now saves the superintendent time in approving invoices, saves the trades time not creating invoices, gets the trades paid quicker and makes you a builder partner of choice.

> Get management involved. Sometimes people just need a little nudge from above to grasp the importance of some tasks. If management is using the data and speaks up when it is wrong or lapsed, people will value the use of the tool.


January 23

What’s the difference between Power BI and SSRS?

SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) and the Power BI Service are both Business Intelligence tools designed to present data to the end user. While they are both part of the Microsoft BI stack, they are geared towards different audiences and intended to be consumed in different manners. Power BI is intended to leverage an existing data warehouse, providing analytics based on a snapshot of data. This allows the power-user to ‘self-serve’ their reporting needs and drill into the same data from multiple perspectives.

An SSRS report requires a developer or report writer to design and deploy a static report layout, however SSRS can read data real-time and reports can be delivered to users through the browser or on a schedule. SSRS does have drilldown capabilities, however the Power BI interactive visualizations provide a more interactive experience for the end user. SSRS comes with SQL Server Standard or Enterprise Editions and is hosted locally, while the Power BI service is a cloud based solution that requires O365 licenses and does not have robust security options until reaching the Enterprise level. SSRS is the go-to solution for reporting, while Power BI, based on Excel’s Power Query, is nestling in as the future in interactive dashboards.

Have questions about which BI solution fits you best or if you should consider both options?  Don’t hesitate to reach out, we’re happy to help.


January 16

Should I use Docusign for my sales contracts?

Cornerstone Solutions has a great deal of experience with Docusign and believes that it saves both significant amounts of time and money.

We have worked with several clients on implementing Docusign from the ground up, and continue to work with companies on Docusign projects today.


January 9

My warranty cycle time is 3 days, is that the average?

Warranty cycle time of 3 days is not bad at all.  Of course, you should be tracking different types of warranty with different planned response times.  Your “normal” warranty call with a response time of 3 days is not bad.  Most builders are striving for 2 days.  But, your “emergency” warranty calls (burst pipe, no heat, popping breakers) should have a target of immediate or less than 4 hours.  Tracking these cycle times is very important to customer satisfaction and loyalty.  A customer can’t be loyal if they are not confident that you will take care of them.  In this world of immediate response, be sure you have a touch point of phone call or email prior to being able to get a tech to the home.  Communicate who is coming and approximately when.On the subject of warranty cycle times I know diddly squat.

 


January 2

I have 75% variance for PO. Is that bad?

A variance should represent a surprise and unexpected event that we could not predict.

In any case, if you have multiple and large variances, that should send up a flag that something is wrong, or at least alert you to review your processes. And we’re not just going to “answer and run” on this one – if suspect something is wrong and need help tracking down root causes and cleaning up processes we are all too happy to help!  One of the key indicators of an internal process issues is the number and total dollar value of your variance purchase orders.  If you are building your homes on variance purchase orders, you cannot project true margins until well after you close the home.  This is dangerous water for any builder.