Analysis: SapphireOne for Macs, PCs and iOS

Macworld Australia Staff
2 May, 2011
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There are many elements to running a business that can be considered exciting. However, we doubt that there are many people who would put using their accounting or inventory systems at the top of the list of the most interesting parts of their business.

SapphireOne is a financial and Enterprise Resource Planning software suite that covers everything a business could likely need. In fact, compared to many other systems that offer similar functions, it’s able to trump its competition with a couple of features that make it stand out from the crowd.

SapphireOne can be run either as a standalone application or in client-server mode. It’s intended for larger businesses with multiple users.
At the time of purchase, you choose whether you’ll run the server on either a Mac or Windows platform but clients can run on either a Mac or PC simultaneously; or through a web client on iPad or iPhone.

Installation is straightforward but, as with any business software, the real work starts in setting up the software with your chart of accounts, warehouse configuration, product list and all the other data that makes your business operate. SapphireOne says it is committed to improving the software. There are major releases of the software two or three times per year – usually tied to changes made by the Australian Tax Office and other agencies – and new features are added every week and made available to customers as part of the annual maintenance costs.

The user interface is very easy to use. A single toolbar provides access to every module within SapphireOne. If you prefer to work mouse-free, shortcut keys can be used to jump between different parts of the software suite.

Where SapphireOne distinguishes itself from the competition is in the development of three features:

VoIP telephony

A significant part of SapphireOne’s functionality is Customer Relationship Management. CRM systems are usually a double-edged sword for businesses. Everyone knows it’s important to capture customer information, but the accompanying complaint is that it’s often too difficult.
SapphireOne has alleviated some of the pain by offering integration with VoIP. Wherever there’s a phone number on a SapphireOne screen, there’s an icon that can be used to call the contact using a soft-phone. Many VoIP providers provide soft-phone functionality rather than relying on a traditional handset.

SapphireOne has integrated its software with VoIP provider Splice so that all calls are logged within contact records. When a call is made from within SapphireOne, a timestamp is added to the customer’s notes so that the caller can record what the conversation was about. It’s even possible to record and save the call. When a call comes in, the caller ID can be logged into SapphireOne.

Although SapphireOne’s support is focused on integration with Splice, it’s possible to use other systems if they comply with TCP IP protocol.
SapphireOne CEO John Adams says the choice of Splice came down to market share and compatibility. Though there are other VoIP providers around, at the time when they built the functions, none of the others had a decent Mac client.

Document management

The reality in today’s world is that businesses rely on the felling of trees for storing information and communication. In many businesses, the cost of printing is outweighed by the need to store documents.

SapphireOne offers a fully integrated document management system within all of its modules.

The system it’s developed is very simple to use. Simply open a past invoice and click on a red paperclip icon. This allows you to browse your file system, choose a document and add it to the invoice record. Once a document is attached, the paperclip becomes green so that anyone else accessing that record will know that there is further information available.

Integrated document statement: adding a document to an invoice is as easy as clicking on a paperclip icon and choosing a document. The icon then turns from red to green.

iPad support

As well as supporting Macs and PCs, a custom SapphireOne interface is also accessible through your web browser.

Training and costs

With a software package as comprehensive as SapphireOne, training new staff or brushing up on skills is a difficult challenge.
As well as a significant library of user documentation covering installation and how to use each different module, SapphireOne is building a library of instructional videos. These are accessible, free, from the SapphireOne website.

At the time of writing, the accounts payable and receivable functions were supported with video tutorials. Other modules will be supported in future with plans for a library of several hundred video tutorials.

For many Mac users, particularly those accustomed to smaller software packages, ERP systems can deliver a significant shock when it comes time to write the payment cheque. SapphireOne isn’t cheap but it’s not as expensive as some of the other options such as SAP.

The software costs $3000 per concurrent user plus GST with an annual maintenance fee of $750 per year per concurrent user plus GST. However, as the licensing model is based on concurrent users, you can install the software on every computer on your network. The iPad version requires a separate web-browser licence and currently handles unlimited users.

For smaller businesses who are interested in utilising a fully functional ERP, but as yet don’t require more than one person on the system at a time, SapphireOne retails a Single User version for  $800 plus GST per annum for a term of four years.

The Single User version has the same functionality as the Concurrent User (Client/Server) version of the software, and you receive all the latest updates and new features over the four-year period.

In a nutshell

It’s not easy to make a specific recommendation when it comes to ERP software. Its success depends on your business model, how the software is set up and how well users adapt to any business process changes it might require.

SapphireOne is a well-designed system that delivers plenty of excellent functionality.

It’s not cheap but it is designed to support complex businesses with broad requirements.

Case study:

Bordo International

With a need to run Windows to support specific printing hardware in their warehouse but a preference to run Macs whenever they can, Bordo International uses SapphireOne to run just about every part of its business.

It runs the SapphireOne server on a Mac Pro with a second machine for testing new releases before applying them in their production environment.
However, one of the things that makes Bordo different is how it’s embraced iOS devices across the business.

In the warehouse, the company has modified its trolleys so that they can hold an iPad. The iPad is kept in a ruggedised case held in position with Velcro.

SapphireOne runs inside Safari so warehouse staff are able carry out their work without bits of paper or their old, functionally limited, Windows Mobile devices.

The iPad software is complemented by a small Bluetooth barcode reader – the Scanfob 2002 from Operators simply scan a barcode and the data feeds into the Inventory module of SapphireOne.

The browser app has been customised to Bordo’s specific needs. Even the Scanfob manufacturer was in on the act. As barcode scanners are detected as keyboards by iOS, their firmware was modified so that the iPad’s soft keyboard wouldn’t pop up all the time.

Bordo’s iPad software allows simple data entry and reading, but has other smarts. For example, if an operator needs to collect items from around the warehouse, SapphireOne delivers the fastest pick-path by arranging the items for best efficiency.

While the iPad has great battery life, Bordo has sourced a third-party battery pack that allows users to keep the iPad charged through a whole day.

On the road, sales teams are now being equipped with iPhones so that customer sales history can be accessed in the field and orders can be entered on the spot.

In the past, orders were written on paper and the sales reps would phone them in to operators. Using the iPhone has made the process more efficient and accurate.

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