Practices: Plucky Purveyors of Print-N-Plot-Ware
Jerry Laiserin

Free association test: San Francisco; Software; Start-up Company; 1999. Odds are these terms evoke images of the dot-comatose—clueless offspring of shotgun weddings between naive biz plans and lemming-like venture capital. However, not every San Francisco software start-up company from 1999 ended badly. Sepialine, Inc., which indeed started up in San Francisco in 1999, has steadily built a real business around "cost recovery"—the unglamorous but essential task of capturing and identifying the cost of prints, plots, copies, faxes, and so on. From "would be nice" status a few years ago, Sepialine's Cost Recovery Platform has become a "must have" in today's uncertain economic environment.

The name of SepiaLine's product is Argos, and like Jason's craft in The Golden Fleece it navigates a carefully charted course between the overly intrusive and the overly permissive styles of cost recovery. Users in a hurry (and who in any AEC business is not in a hurry?) are easily frustrated by systems that refuse to produce any output until they receive the right input code. Folks quickly adopt the bad habit of circumventing these rigid systems for charging plots, copies, and the like to proper job numbers and office codes by entering "overhead" or "admin" accounts such as "four nines." On the other hand, a permissive approach that allows users to defer indefinitely the recording of cost codes, leads either to all costs ending up in limbo or ex post facto creative writing exercises of the sort usually reserved for tax returns and timesheets.

Now in Version 5.0, Argos is a mature product that intelligently integrates with real-world workflow and office procedures. Although especially valuable in AEC and related businesses where the media cost of large-format CAD or graphics output can run up considerable expense, Argos works with the output of almost any software application in nearly any kind of business. Administrative functions include such niceties as: application-based filtering (e.g., track only CAD output, but not spreadsheets or word-processing printouts); workgroup billing/tracking assignments (so that studio coordinators, for example, can track costs for an entire team); and connectors to all major output devices and other cost tracking software.

Unlike the foosball-fueled fantasy businesses of the late 1990s, Sepialine is run by smart young people who are serious about traditional business values. With some 20,000 seats of Argos in use, Sepialine continues to build its business one client at a time. Definitely worth looking into.

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