Omaha, NE—DMSi Software has spent more than 40 years designing business software for the lumber and building materials industry. They are well-known for their Agility ERP, an end-to-end system developed specifically for the needs of businesses that buy, sell, and process lumber. The company’s newest offering, TallyExpress, is another solution tailor-made for the hardwood industry.
TallyExpress allows users to capture end tallies from an Android smartphone. It uses a mix of object-recognition technology and machine learning to measure each board in a bundle. Users simply take a picture, review the results, and everything uploads to the cloud.
Henry German, part of DMSi’s family ownership group, leads the TallyExpress product. German explained, “We immediately recognized this was a technology breakthrough for the industry, we wanted to be involved in bringing this to the market because we believe it is the right solution for our customers’ futures.”
Andy Nuffer, a veteran of the hardwood industry, heads up business development for TallyExpress. “At every stop in my career, getting accurate tallies is key to the bottom line. TallyExpress is quick, it’s accurate, and it fits in your pocket. In my opinion, it can help everyone in this industry.”
According to DMSi, TallyExpress combines, accuracy, speed, ease of use and affordability – all on the most widely-used device available: a smartphone. Skeptics may hear this description and think the product sounds too good to be true. To examine these claims, we reviewed several major hardwood businesses currently using TallyExpress in their operations to determine if the app delivers on its promises.
Accuracy is a big concern for any hardwood company. Most TallyExpress customers went through extensive testing before fully implementing the app.
“The company who put our accuracy through the most rigorous test was Northwest Hardwoods,” said German. During their trial, Northwest Hardwoods tested over 100 bundles and compared TallyExpress with their hand and machine tally methods. They followed this initial test with a three-month pilot where they tallied over 5,000 bundles and performed weekly spot checks by tallying each board with a tape measure and comparing it to TallyExpress. “Overall we were 99.5% accurate to these tape measure tallies, some sites were seeing 99.8 to 99.9%,” recalls a company representative from Northwest Hardwoods. “At that point, we were confident this app was going to work.”
Richard Buchanan of Granite Hardwoods in Granite Falls, NC also did extensive testing before implementing TallyExpress at his business. “To verify the accuracy, we tested around 32,000 feet from a kiln. TallyExpress was within 16 feet of our tally and it took us about 1/3 the time as it would have manually.”
“One thing that stood out to us during testing was how good TallyExpress is at detecting splits or two boards that are really flush,” said a representative from Allegheny Wood Products of Petersburg, WV. “One pack in particular had a board with a really wide vertical split plus another area where two boards were perfectly flush together. It was even difficult for the naked eye to determine if the flush boards were one or two. TallyExpress picked up both of them correctly. That was pretty impressive.”
In addition to accuracy, businesses want to make sure TallyExpress delivers reliable, consistent results over time. Tim Brownlee of Brownlee Lumber Co. described their experience. “We have been live for almost a year now and the results are consistently accurate with where I would expect them to be. We only need to edit one or two boards on 150-200-piece bundles. In our opinion, just taking the human error element out of the process improves the consistency and accuracy of our tally.”
Using photo records also addresses consistency issues with order fulfillment. Businesses can provide their customers with photos and tallies of the specific bundle a customer purchased. This provides a shared point of reference for the order, making it easier to resolve issues. “Being able look at a picture of your bundle after it’s shipped is very helpful,” said Richard Buchanan of Granite Hardwoods “If a customer questions that we sent them a pack of Common and it should have been FAS, we can look up the bundle on our side instead of asking them for a photo. It resolves issues faster, doesn’t inconvenience our customers, and makes us look smarter as a company.”
Balanced with concern for accuracy is a concern for speed. If staff can’t tally accurately and quickly, operations grind to a halt until employees work through the backlog of bundles. This is another area where TallyExpress has proved itself. “Conservatively, we can say tallying a bundle with this app takes 1/3 the time of tallying it manually,” said Nuffer. “The average time to tally a bundle is between 1 to 1 and a half minutes, depending on the material being tallied.”
“It is much faster than all of our other tallying methods,” agreed a representative from Allegheny Wood Products. “We think a couple of our facilities will be able to push out more lumber in less time because TallyExpress reduces the end tally bottle neck.”
Richard Buchanan of Granite Hardwoods recalled a specific instance where TallyExpress was helpful. “One day we were backed up with 12 bundles on our line. Normally, it would have taken a very stressful 30 minutes to get those tallied and moved. With TallyExpress, we did all 12 bundles in about ten minutes and it was a stress-free experience.”
Northwest Hardwoods realized the saved time in terms of labor-savings. “Previously, end tallying was a huge bottle neck. We were regularly paying 16 manhours of overtime on Saturdays just to catch up,” said a company representative. “TallyExpress has completely eliminated that extra day of tallying because we can process bundles faster during the week. Another element of time-savings is that it’s a mobile app. We can tally from where the lumber is instead of taking the lumber to where the tallying device is.”
Improving efficiency not only helps the bottom line, it is a welcome improvement for employees. “I have noticed a big morale boost in the yard because of this app,” said Buchanan. “If you have ever tallied lumber manually, you know it is a pretty unpleasant experience. TallyExpress makes it a pleasant one. Our tally employees are excited that we made this investment to make their lives easier.”
TallyExpress functions similarly to other photo apps many people have on their smartphones, making employee training fast and easy.
“The training is almost nothing,” said a representative from Allegheny Wood Products. “People take pictures with their smartphones every day. It’s very familiar technology. Basically, you show someone how to use it on one bundle and they’re ready to go. It really does only take a couple of minutes to train someone.”
“What really drew me to this product was that anyone can use it and get accurate tallies, even if you don’t know anything about tallying lumber,” said Richard Buchanan of Granite Hardwoods. “So that day where one tally guy is on vacation and the other calls in sick, I can train someone else on TallyExpress in about five minutes.”
This also addresses a perpetual issue for hardwood businesses: finding qualified tally people. “Usually tally people are your best employees, so they often move on to other positions,” said a representative from Northwest Hardwoods. “Because of our size, we’re constantly doing tally training. With the old hand tally method, it would take a couple of months for someone to be proficient. With TallyExpress, you can have them tallying bundles within a couple of minutes. By the end of the day, they are basically an expert.”
Tim Brownlee said, “We really like how anyone can use it. To achieve accurate results in the past, you had to find the right tally person who was detailed, patient, and who could endure the tedious process of tallying lumber by hand all day. Today when using TallyExpress the app, we get the same accurate results regardless of who does the work, and we haven’t found an employee yet who wouldn’t prefer tallying lumber with a smartphone vs. manually tallying.”
“When we first heard about the product and what it could do, I was curious. When I found out how inexpensive it was relative to other tally devices, I was extremely interested to try it out,” said a representative from Allegheny Wood Products. “Now that we are using it and it’s doing everything they said it would, the price makes it a no-brainer.”
“In comparison to the upfront cost of other tallying methods, the payback period is so much faster with TallyExpress,” said a representative from Northwest Hardwoods. “It’s very easy to justify the cost.”
“Some people have asked us, ‘if the program is really this good how can it be so cheap’,” said German. “There was a large upfront investment to build this product and we continue to enhance and maintain it, but software apps like this get the benefit of being able to be programmed once and deployed to many. Put simply, all you need to do is buy a phone, buy a reference square, download the app and start taking pictures. Since we get to keep our variable costs low, we are passing those savings on to our customers.”
The only equipment you need to run TallyExpress is a phone and reference square; both are inexpensive and readily available.
“We keep spare parts and backups for almost every other piece of equipment we have,” said Tim Brownlee. “For most equipment, we can only get parts from a couple of suppliers, I can’t always be certain on lead times, and downtime can be extremely costly. But with TallyExpress – we don’t need to keep spares on hand. If our phone breaks, we can use mine temporarily or we can easily swing by a store and pick up a new one the same day. Either way, we would be tallying again in less than an hour.”
Service and support are always a top concern when businesses invest in new technology. Henry German explained DMSi’s approach to customer service, “We see ourselves as partners with our customers. We want to make sure we’re servicing and supporting TallyExpress to the same degree as our Agility inventory system. We’ll do everything necessary to help our customers.”
Tim Brownlee recalled his initial experience working with DMSi. “We had the benefit of being the second or third customer to obtain TallyExpress, Henry came out to our facility to help us verify the accuracy before we bought it.”
German continued recounting the experience, “Tim and I got a permanent marker and a tape measure to test the accuracy. Our plan was to measure the exact width of each board, mark it on board, and compare to TallyExpress. It felt like it took us all day but at the end we had a width written on every board. Then we took a picture of the bundle with TallyExpress, compared the results, and found TallyExpress was 99.74% accurate to our manual measurements. It was a long day – but seeing that level of accuracy was worth it!”
In addition to assisting with exhaustive testing, DMSi also helps customers integrate TallyExpress with whichever inventory system they have. “Integrating with our current inventory system was a very quick and simple process. We gave DMSi the requirements and they nailed it on the first try,” said a representative from Allegheny Wood Products. German added, “Of course, we’d love for our TallyExpress customers to use our inventory system. But we are committed to our customers and will help them get their TallyExpress data into any inventory system they have.”
DMSi’s Customer Service Lead for TallyExpress, Anna Elam said, “Customer service is very front-loaded for this product. We take great care in assisting our customers in all phases of the trial and implementation, especially during the phase where they’re testing the accuracy. Once customers are live, they can contact us 24/7 for help. But the product is so easy to use, we actually don’t get many support requests.”
Brownlee affirmed this description, “We haven’t had many needs for support on this product but when we have, DMSi’s support has been able to resolve the issue immediately.”
TallyExpress is quickly proving itself in hardwood businesses across the country. The app officially launched nine months ago at the 2018 NHLA meeting in Toronto, and already more than 30 different companies are using it in their operations. It’s delivering on the potential Henry German saw for TallyExpress and benefiting businesses throughout the supply chain.
German said, “This app gives any sized company, large or small, access to a consistent “machine” method for end tallying lumber. Because you have a picture showing the end tally nobody needs to wonder what amount of human error is in an end tally anymore. Is it missing a board or a whole row, or did they measure the same board or row twice because they got distracted? Those uncertainties are removed with TallyExpress. As the business owner you just had to trust everyone is manually tallying with the same level of care that you would, with TallyExpress it is programmed to measure the same way every time and you can log on the website to visually see the bundles and how the program measured each board.”
Nuffer added, “What we are trying to tell the market is, ’just try it out’. We offer a free 30-day trial, so you can test it on your own bundles and decide for yourself. We are currently converting over 80% of our trial accounts into customers so we are very confident that if you try it out you will like it.”
This article originally appeared in National Hardwood Magazine.