Planned in the style of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Central Park, Riverside Cemetery is a 100-acre facility that is more than a century old. Based in Saddlebrook, N.J., the company maintains public records for burials, private records on families, maintains billing, and oversees all the work done to burial plots in addition to taking care of monuments and records relating to them, and other tasks associated with running the business.
The company has a strong focus on customer service and continuously modernizes operations to keep up with changing requirements.
“Most people think a cemetery is two people with shovels, people digging holes and putting caskets in the ground but that’s really not all a cemetery is—there is a lot happening behind the scenes,” said Peter A Blacksberg, president of Riverside Cemetery.
A cemetery is a combination of landscape work, record keeping, financial planning, accounting, and personnel management, as well as additional considerations such as maintenance vehicles, Blacksberg said.
At Riverside, all records are kept permanently and, until 25 years ago, all of it was stored on paper. The 1980s brought dramatic changes to Riverside. Office procedures that had been stranded in the 1950s were replaced by early personal computers for letter writing and record keeping. Standards for each aspect of cemetery maintenance were established, and the field crews were professionally trained in each task.
This technological transition in 1980 was aided by WinWin Solutions, parent company of Revelation Software. Initially using Revelation Software’s DOS-based Advanced Revelation, and then migrating to the Windows-based OpenInsight platform, Riverside has evolved technologically while remaining a traditional cemetery serving the community with warmth, compassion, and professionalism.
And today, Blacksberg believes Revelation’s platform is at the center of an operations-based organization that no one ever sees.
Keeping it Straight With OpenInsight
Riverside Cemetery worked with Mike Ruane, president of WinWin Solutions, to overhaul document storage and maintenance procedures.
Riverside runs its business on OpenInsight, which helps with everything from keeping track of phone calls from funeral directors, to printing and paying the bills, and tracking employee hours.
“Nearly everything is structured through a process control system that we custom designed with WinWin Solutions,” Blacksberg said. The entire work flow process is custombuilt to meet the needs of the cemetery, Blacksberg explained. “We have permanent relationships with families,” Blacksberg said. “That’s one of the many things that make our cemetery really different; we don’t purge the customer list.”
Using the database, the company records conversations with customers and can later pull up that data when customers call. The computer system provides a very rapid and essential first view of what’s going on, according to Blacksberg.
Transitioning Into the Future With Revelation Software
Changing from a paper environment to information automation is complex and not trivial, Blacksberg explained.
At first there was resistance to giving up doing work by hand. After 5–6 years of development and data entry, the cemetery was able to integrate more tools such as document merging, digital photography, and records based digital mapping.
“Each year we process over 2000 work orders on the cemetery grounds. With document merging we were able to print a map of the precise location where the work is to be done. It saves time and limits frustration. We were able to move away from one-off word processor-typed letters to dynamic database merging,” Blacksberg said.
Over time, the company has incorporated more tasks which have enabled them to use the staff in more effective ways.
Deciding on OpenInsight
Before choosing OpenInsight, Blacksberg created a prototype and educated himself on programming software to adjust and add features to the database. Blacksberg was already familiar with different methods, he had worked previously in Silicon Valley.
After being introduced to Revelation’s software, he found the product to be malleable and adaptable to the cemetery’s purposes.
“Even though we’ve used it for 20 years we’re always finding new ways to extract data from the database and the data goes back 100 years even though, obviously, a lot of that had to be keyed in,” Blacksberg said. “We have generations of information to ponder.”
The records expand to thousands of burials and former owners of the property and is all localized.
Solving Problems With Revelation
With the help of Revelation and OpenInsight, recently the company solved an issue with recording employee time cards.
“I wanted to replace our time and attendance swipe card system with our own version of it,” Blacksberg said. Ruane helped him design a custom touchscreen-based interface.
“We built it from scratch and it works online with our database,” Blacksberg said.
Now the staff has a big touchscreen that it uses to clock in for work. “And we have a touchscreen on our office computer.” The solution unifies office and staff hours with the rest of the database, Blacksberg said.
Along with maintaining records, the cemetery offers a landscaping service that sends out between 3,000 and 4,000 invoices annually. This was previously done by hand but is now done by the OpenInsight software. And, noted Blacksberg, the flexibility of the solution allows the company to modify the way it does billing.
“Once those bills go out, the returning payment is keyed back into our operational management system so that work orders that have to be created are based on payment,” Blacksberg said. “We’d have this bottleneck in the days before the computer system and that process took weeks. The computer system we now use takes only 2 hours to create and bills are printed inhouse at a time convenient to our staff.”
The company has been able to continuously develop as the world changes due to Revelation’s help. As other software can become stagnant, OpenInsight continuously updates, Blacksberg noted.
While transitioning into digital photography, Revelation was very instrumental in the process, aiding the company when needed. “We were able to add that feature of attaching a photograph to a record of the gravesite,” Blacksberg said. “Documenting the state of a gravesite, both before and after work is performed on it, gives us tremendous assistance when working with customers.”
While a database failure is a fear, Revelation helps Riverside avoid this threat with its Universal Driver. It has redundancy in the system, and can serve the public reliably and accurately, Blacksberg explained. “Being automated the way it is, is assurance that the company can continue doing its job for the consumer base we have,” Blacksberg said.
For the moment, the company is still operating in a Windows-based interface but doesn’t rule out moving to web in the future. And with OpenInsight 10 being released soon, Blacksberg is confident that Riverside will continue to use Revelation Software products for the foreseeable future.
“What makes Revelation Software powerful is that it’s not only a relational database but it’s a MultiValue database,” Blacksberg said. “For us, it’s been a real boon. Its flexibility is exceptionally powerful.”
Any time the company gets an idea they can add it to the existing program without having to rework the entire system. That’s a “powerful” characteristic for the company as it continues to change with the times.
Riverside is considering constructing a CRM platform to help it better analyze its relationship to people who are customers versus individuals who are established family members of the already deceased.
Blacksberg said he’d also like to refine the time and attendance program with the additional ability to deliver web-based payment and streamline the process.
Though Riverside has considered moving elsewhere in the past, instead, it is mulling a decision to upgrade its software with Revelation. Porting to another environment would be expensive and unnecessary, Blacksberg said. “One of the most difficult aspects of information automation is communicating between technology people, programmers, designers, and hardware and software people, and application end users. I would say in my experience in working with computer folks I haven’t met anyone better than the people at Revelation.”