By JAN FALSTAD Of The Billings Gazette Staff | JAMES WOODCOCK/Gazette Staff
No worker whose job depends on a computer has escaped the frustration of crashes, or the ongoing curse of software that hails from a different planet than its developer promised.
Delivering what is promised and making the software easy to use appear to be the top reasons Tom Rupsis, who owns Granite Peak Systems in Billings, has successfully landed two local clients: the nonprofit Alternatives Inc., which tracks and treats prisoners at two pre-release centers, and City Brew Coffee.
City Brew regional manager Abby Reno said she used to spend 20 hours a week making sense of the faxes her 14 local managers sent her and scheduling 200 employees from Kalispell to Sheridan, Wyo. Now, she spends five hours max on scheduling, thanks to Rupsis’ software program called Schedappy.
“It’s incredibly user-friendly,” Reno said. “If you haven’t been a techie or gone to college, you can figure it out and everything is mostly double-checked, so you really can’t mess up.”
Each day, City Brew pays its workers, who earn $10 an hour on average, including taxes, for 400 hours of labor.
“That’s a lot of money every day and 15 minutes here and there matters,” Reno said.
Under the former paper-driven system, Reno would have to enter the data from the faxes into an Excel software program and manually check most of the numbers.
“It was just crazy. You might miss a time off request or somebody’s availability changed,” she said. “We’re only human.”
Reno said she cajoled Rupsis for five years to buy or write a software program.
“The best way is to buy software out of a box, but we couldn’t find any system that worked,” he said.
So, Rupsis used some down time last winter to build Schedappy and launched the program at City Brew in April. Rupsis currently charges $10 a month per location for the Web-based program with no long-term contract required.
The software has allowed Reno to dump her scheduling “black book” and more accurately track the complicated schedules of college students, who make up 70 percent of City Brew’s workforce.
The software program also centralized the ordering and sales systems.
No Geek Here
While working in suburban Chicago, Rupsis met his wife, Kim Rupsis, a Billings Skyview High graduate and they moved to Montana in 2004. Two years later, Rupsis started Granite Peak Systems, still a one-man shop.
He’s neither a programmer nor a network facilities guy. His specialties, honed working outside Chicago for McDonald’s Corp., are analyzing businesses and managing projects.
Rupsis’ first move is to study the business, determine its strengths and weaknesses and then design the software to improve efficiency. Then he hires software designers and programmers in the United States, Canada, Mexico, India, the Philippines, Bolivia, Gaza and Ukraine to grind out the computer language.
“I am probably the only one doing this in Billings,” he said.
In other words, he’s a techie translator mediating among the various, often feuding, parties.
“I can speak the differing languages of executives, end-users, and technical experts,” he said. “I built Schedappy using this approach.”
He also designed another custom software program for tracking prisoners.
Like managers at City Brew, supervisors at Alternatives Inc.’s pre-release program for male offenders in downtown Billings were still pushing paper to track hundreds of prisoners.
At the affiliated Passages Women’s Center on South 27th Street, managers were using computers. But Alternatives administrator Dave Armstrong said the program kept locking up, losing data or producing different answers to the same question.
The nonprofit has to track hundreds of functions from photos to parole dates, case notes to room searches, as well as pat downs and urinalysis for 350 Alternatives residents, plus another 1,500 offenders living outside the Montana State Prison.
So, Rupsis developed another software package to document and link up prisoners’ photos, criminal histories, medications, travel and treatment such as parenting or anger management classes.
“Tom Rupsis built us a much more stable, robust program capable of managing thousands of files and it’s very easy to get around in for staff members who aren’t computer savvy,” Armstrong said.
The new system was developed and deployed while Alternatives supervisors were using the old system — paper — to track male prisoners.
“He was able to put together this project and that is no small feat,” Armstrong said.
The software is working so well, Armstrong said he is trying to sell the program to the other five Montana pre-release centers and perhaps nationally.
“It’s not inexpensive to develop software and we want to share the costs of development with them,” he said.
Whether the other pre-release centers buy the program will depend largely to what happens to their budgets during the 2011 Montana Legislature, he said.
Marketing is his least effective skill, Rupsis admitted, so he is incorporating suggestions from a plan that marketing students at the University of Montana completed for him last month.
“I’ve been talking to Sysco (Food Services of Montana) and ran Google ads and picked up a restaurant in L.A., which was completely random,” he said.
The Montana Rib & Chop House at 1849 Majestic Lane started using Schedappy six months ago and then launched the program at Rio Sabinas, a Belgrade restaurant serving Southwestern grill cuisine.
John Uzlack, vice president of the 10-restaurant company, said the scheduling software also helps him compare labor costs to food sales. But some kinks remain.
“We’re testing it still. I call him (Rupsis) and say it would be great if we could do this and he does it. He’s been great to work with,” Uzlack said.
The program works for most retail businesses, but restaurants are naturals.
“Scheduling is just one of those things that is a pain for all restaurants, including keeping track of vacations and spring breaks,” Rupsis said. “It really sucks a lot of energy out of managers.”
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