Title:
System and method for calculating fees associated with services
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The present invention is a system and method for calculating a fee to charge a customer for performing a service. Features of the invention include a database for storing electronic information in connection with the service. An employee module is preferably provided to receive from a user information representing at least one person providing labor and used for providing the service. Further, an equipment module is provided to receive from the user information representing equipment used for providing the service. An inventory module is provided to receive from the user information representing inventory used for providing the service. A soft cost factor module is further provided to receive from the user and to store in the database a value representing overhead labor costs associated with the service. Furthermore, a service module is provided to receive from the user information regarding the service. The user selects respective employee, equipment and inventory information from the database in order to define labor, equipment and inventory used for the service. The service module further calculates a fee to charge the customer for the service as a function of the defined labor, equipment, inventory, soft cost factor and an overhead factor.



Inventors:
Zalta, Danny P. (Tulsa, OK, US)
Carsch, Randolph P. (Plano, TX, US)
Application Number:
11/440625
Publication Date:
11/29/2007
Filing Date:
05/24/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
G07F19/00
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
AN, IG TAI
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
OSTROLENK FABER LLP (NEW YORK, NY, US)
Claims:
What is claimed:

1. A system for calculating a fee to charge a customer for performing a service, the system comprising: a database for storing electronic information in connection with the service; an employee module operable to receive from a user and to store in the database electronic employee information representing at least one person providing labor for the service; an equipment module operable to receive from the user and to store in the database electronic equipment information representing equipment used for the service; an inventory module operable to receive from the user and to store in the database electronic inventory information representing inventory used for the service; a soft cost factor module operable to receive from the user and to store in the database a soft cost factor, wherein the soft cost factor is a value representing overhead labor costs associated with the service; a labor rate module operable to receive from a user a labor percentage value, and further operable to calculate a labor rate, wherein the labor rate equals a product of the employee's salary-per-minute and the soft cost factor divided by the labor percentage value; and a service module operable to receive from the user and to store in the database electronic service information representing the service, wherein the user selects respective electronic employee information, respective electronic equipment information, and respective electronic inventory information from the database in order to define labor, equipment and inventory used for the service, and further wherein the service module further calculates the fee for the service as a function of the defined labor, equipment, inventory and the labor rate.

2. The system of claim 1, further comprising an overhead module operable to receive from the user an overhead percentage representing a percentage to increase the fee, wherein the service module further calculates the fee as a function of the overhead percentage.

3. The system of claim 1, further comprising a sub-service module operable to receive from the user and to store in the database electronic sub-service information representing an additional service to be used for providing the service.

4. The system of claim 1, wherein the employee module is further operable to receive and store in the database at least one of electronic wage information representing labor wage, electronic tax information representing labor taxes, electronic benefit information representing labor benefits and electronic insurance information representing insurance provided for labor.

5. The system of claim 1, wherein the employee module is further operable to calculate a cost of labor and to calculate a labor rate for a respective person contributing labor.

6. The system of claim 1, wherein the equipment module is further operable to receive and store in the database at least one of electronic purchase price information representing a price of equipment, a profit percentage for equipment, a profit percentage for supplies, a profit percentage for maintenance, electronic life span information representing an estimated life span of equipment, electronic maintenance information representing maintenance items and respective maintenance item costs for the equipment and electronic operations information representing operating items and respective operating item costs for the equipment.

7. The system of claim 6, wherein equipment module is further operable to calculate at least one of a cost of operation per use amount and a replacement cost per use amount.

8. The system of claim 1, wherein the inventory module is further operable to receive and store in the database at least one of a purchase price of inventory, a unit type of inventory, a number of units of inventory and a preferred markup for the inventory.

9. The system of claim 8, wherein the inventory module is further operable to calculate a total cost of the inventory based upon the purchase price, number of units and markup.

10. The system of claim 1, wherein the service module is further operable to receive from the user electronic employee information representing a plurality of persons providing labor, electronic equipment information representing a plurality of equipment items, electronic inventory information representing a plurality of inventory items or electronic sub-service information representing a plurality of sub-services.

11. The system of claim 1, wherein the user can save or delete any of the values entered into the database.

12. A method for calculating a fee to charge a customer for performing a service, the method comprising: storing in a database electronic information in connection with the service; receiving from a user and storing in the database electronic employee information representing at least one person providing labor for the service; receiving from the user and storing in the database electronic equipment information representing equipment used for providing the service; receiving from the user and storing in the database electronic inventory information representing inventory used for providing the service; receiving from the user and storing in the database a soft cost factor representing overhead labor costs associated with the service; receiving from the user a labor percentage value, and calculating a labor rate, wherein the labor rate equals a product of the employee's salary-per-minute and the soft cost factor divided by the labor percentage value; receiving from the user and storing in the database electronic service information representing the service, wherein the user selects respective electronic employee information, electronic equipment information, and electronic inventory information from the database in order to define labor, equipment and inventory used for the service; and calculating the fee for the service as a function of the defined labor, equipment, inventory and labor rate.

13. The method of claim 12, further comprising: receiving from the user an overhead percentage representing a percentage to increase the fee; and calculating the fee as a function of the overhead percentage.

14. The method of claim 12, wherein the service is a veterinary service.

15. The method of claim 12, further comprising receiving from the user and storing in the database electronic sub-service information representing an additional service to be used for providing the service.

16. The method of claim 12, further comprising receiving from the user and storing in the database at least one of electronic wage information representing labor wage, electronic tax information representing labor taxes, electronic benefit information representing labor benefits and electronic insurance information representing insurance provided for labor.

17. The method of claim 12, further comprising calculating automatically a cost of labor and calculating automatically a labor percent for a respective person contributing labor.

18. The method of claim 12, further comprising receiving and storing in the database at least one of electronic purchase price information representing the price of equipment, a profit percentage for equipment, a profit percentage for supplies, a profit percentage for maintenance, electronic life span information representing an estimated life span of equipment, electronic maintenance information representing maintenance items and respective maintenance item costs for the equipment and electronic operations information representing operating items and respective operating item costs for the equipment.

19. The method of claim 18, further comprising calculating automatically at least one of an equipment cost of operation per use amount and an equipment replacement cost per use amount.

20. The method of claim 12, further comprising receiving and storing in the database at least one of a purchase price of inventory, a unit type of inventory, a number of units of inventory and a preferred markup for the inventory.

21. The method of claim 20, further comprising calculating automatically a total cost of the inventory based upon the purchase price, number of units and markup.

22. The method of claim 12, further comprising receiving from the user electronic employee information representing a plurality of persons providing labor, electronic equipment information representing a plurality of equipment items, electronic inventory information representing a plurality of inventory items or electronic sub-service information representing a plurality of sub-services.

23. The method of claim 12, further comprising enabling the user to save or delete any of the values entered into the database.

24. The method of claim 12, further comprising defining at least one of an employee category, an equipment category and an inventory category for employees, equipment and inventory, respectively, for the service.

25. The method of claim 24, further comprising defining at least one of an employee subcategory, equipment subcategory and inventory subcategory, wherein the employee subcategory, equipment subcategory and inventory subcategory are defined within the employee category, the equipment category and the inventory category, respectively, for the service.

26. The method of claim 25, further comprising assigning the soft cost factor to at least one of the employee subcategory, employee category, and an individual employee.

27. The method of claim 12, further comprising defining a plurality of equipment items as components of a singled piece of equipment.

28. The method of claim 12, further comprising associating a plurality of inventory items with a respective service.

29. The method of claim 12, further comprising defining a return on investment value that represents a percentage or a dollar amount used to increase a purchase price for equipment or inventory.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention relates, generally, to calculating fees for services, and, more particularly, to a system and method for determining fees for services based on costs incurred by a service provider.

2. Description of the Related Art

The ability to determine rates for professional services has been a significant impediment to those desiring to maintain a profitable business while simultaneously providing quality services that are affordable. Multitudes of professional services are provided each year to consumers, and many competing businesses in a respective service industry charge rates that are markedly different. Moreover, consumers who require professional services cannot accurately assess whether the fees they are charged are fair and/or accurately reflect the quality of services rendered. One unfortunate result is that consumers do not call into question the fees they are charged for a professional service or do not question the quality of the service that is rendered without a clear indication of a problem with the quality of service, the fees associated therewith or both. Another unfortunate result is that consumers unfairly call into question the fees they are charged or the quality of a service they receive.

Many businesses that provide professional services require employment staff, equipment and inventory supplies in the course of their business. The costs to a business that are associated with, for example, staff, equipment and supplies directly affect the profitability of a business providing professional services. Costs associated with employment staff can vary significantly depending upon the type and level of skill of the employee. For example, an office assistant is paid a lower salary (or hourly rate) than, for example, a skilled technician. Thus, costs associated with a providing a service depend, at least in part, upon the level of skill of the person either providing the service or contributing to the performance of the service.

Often in the prior art, a service provider may know that many costs are incurred during the course of providing services, however costs are not adequately factored into calculations to determine fees for respective services. The unfortunate result is that fees charged for providing services do not account accurately for all of the costs associated therewith and, accordingly, the fees are set too high or too low, artificially. In case the fees are set too low, consumers will likely be satisfied, but the business cannot realize its financial potential or may lose money. In case the fees are set too high, consumers may be dissatisfied.

Often, fees for services may not be calculated accurately because costs considered by the service provider for equipment represent only the purchase price of the equipment. Equipment, typically, has an estimated life span (e.g., a period of time in which equipment functions properly) and most equipment eventually requires replacement. Accordingly, equipment inherently has a replacement cost per use factor that represents a relationship between the cost associated with using equipment and the cost associated with replacing the equipment. For example, a centrifuge that costs $500 to replace, has an expected life span of five years, and is used two thousand times a year costs has a lower per use cost than one that is used only fifty times a year. One service provider using a centrifuge two thousand times per year should charge, for example, 5¢ per use in order to factor the cost associated with replacement, while a second service provider using a centrifuge only fifty times a year should charge, for example, $2.00 per use in order to factor the replacement cost.

In addition to the costs associated with replacing equipment, maintenance and supply costs associated with operating equipment should be factored to determine fees for services that require the use of the equipment. By factoring a cost per use value into fees, a return on maintenance and supplies associated with the equipment can be achieved, for example, to offset overhead resulting from the maintenance and supplies and/or to realize profitability in maintenance and supplies for each piece of equipment. The more often that equipment is used, typically, the lower the operating costs per use of the equipment.

Therefore and in view of the foregoing, fees for services that require use of equipment should be calculated to make an accurate return on the equipment, and to represent the costs associated with operating and replacing the equipment. Today, in most service oriented businesses, these calculations are not being made.

In addition to equipment, costs associated with employees and staff are also, typically, not factored adequately into a calculation of fees for services in the prior art. For example, variables such as wages paid, benefits (e.g., health insurance costs, license costs, dues, profit sharing, or the like), taxes paid by an employer and paid time off (e.g., holidays, vacation and sick leave) are not adequately assessed to calculate fees associated with providing professional services. A calculation should be made for each paid person that represents the sum of the person's gross wages, benefits and taxes paid. That sum should be divided by the number of minutes paid annually to the paid person in order to calculate a value referred to herein, generally, as a salary-per-minute value.

Further, it is believed by the inventor that labor associated with activities that are collateral to providing a service should be factored into the calculation of fees associated with professional services. For example, labor associated with setting up equipment, clean-up, etc are not assigned. As used herein, the term, “soft cost factor” refers, generally, to business costs associated with collaterally provided labor, and represents overhead labor costs associated with a respective service. The soft cost factor represents, for example, costs associated with setting up equipment, billing practices, inventory control, or the like. The soft cost factor is preferably a value that is used in a calculation to determine the cost of labor associated with providing a respective professional service. In the prior art FAIRFEES system, the soft cost factor was fixed at preset value, for example, 2, and the product of the salary per minute (as defined above) and the soft cost factor represents an accurate labor cost per minute for hands-on and hands-off time expended by an employee associated with provided a service.

In the prior art, a computer software program has been offered for sale and used for more than one year from the filing date of the present patent application that assisted service providers, and veterinarians in particular, with assessing costs and calculating fees. The software, commercially known as FAIRFEES, was distributed as a MICROSOFT EXCEL spreadsheet that required the end user to have a licensed copy of MICROSOFT EXCEL installed on his computer. The present invention is a stand-alone fully compiled software application that provides inventive features, described below, that improve upon the FAIRFEES spreadsheet application in various ways.

In an effort to determine fees for services that are fair and also accurately represent costs associated with labor to provide professional services, an equation is used to calculate a value, referred to herein, generally, as a “labor rate.” For a given service, the labor rate is calculated by multiplying the salary-per-minute value by the soft cost factor, and dividing that product by a percentage (referred to herein, generally, as a “labor percent”), for example, 20%, which sets the labor rate and achieves a desired profit margin. That quotient is preferably multiplied by the estimated or averaged task time (calculated in minutes) to calculate a fair and equitable labor fee for a given service. The labor rate enables the service provider to estimate accurately the costs associated with providing labor for services, and to charge a fair and reasonable fee therefor. Expressed mathematically, a service fee=((salary per minute*soft cost factor)/labor percentage)*task time (in minutes).

Although costs associated with equipment and labor represent a significant portion of a service provider's expenses, it is recognized by the inventor that additional overhead expenses are incurred, such as costs related to leases, mortgages, utilities, advertisements and other operational expenses. It is estimated that labor/benefits/taxes represent approximately 55% of a service provider's accounting expenses. Operating overhead costs account for 22% of a service provider's accounting expenses. Inventory costs represent approximately 20% of a service provider's accounting expenses. Typically, businesses are guessing at the fees and do not know how to cover above costs and only realize a small profit, for example 3%. They do not know how to cost out for their leases, their mortgages, their utilities, their advertisement expenses. For example, 3% is an unfortunate result of low profit, which equates to 100% (i.e., 55%+22%+20%+3%) of a fee for service charged by a service provider In the prior art, service providers were unable to account accurately for labor, equipment, inventory and supplies, and were therefore unable to expense such costs to calculate fees.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention defines a system and method for calculating a fee to charge a customer for performing a service. In one embodiment, the invention is a system comprising a database for storing electronic information in connection with the service. Further, an employee module is defined that is operable to receive from a user and to store in the database electronic employee information representing at least one person providing labor for the service. Also, an equipment module is included that is operable to receive from the user and to store in the database electronic equipment information representing equipment used for the service.

The system further comprises an inventory module operable to receive from the user and to store in the database electronic inventory information representing inventory used for the service. Moreover, a soft cost factor module is provided that is operable to receive from the user and to store in the database a value representing overhead labor costs associated with the service. Further, a service module operable to receive from the user and to store in the database electronic service information representing the service, wherein the user selects respective electronic employee information, respective electronic equipment information, and respective electronic inventory information from the database in order to define labor, equipment and inventory used for the service. The service module further calculates the fee for the service as a function of the defined labor, equipment, inventory and soft cost factor.

Another feature of the invention includes a labor percent module that is operable to receive from the user a labor percentage value representing a total amount charged for a given service. The labor percentage is attributed to labor, and the service module further calculates the fee as a function of the labor percentage value.

Yet another feature of the invention is an overhead module that is operable to receive from the user an overhead percentage representing a percentage to increase the fee. The service module further calculates the fee as a function of the overhead percentage.

Other features and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the following description of the invention that refers to the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

For the purpose of illustrating the invention, there is shown in the drawings a form of the invention, which is presently preferred, it being understood, however, that the invention is not limited to the precise arrangements and instrumentalities shown. The features and advantages of the present invention will become apparent from the following description of the invention that refers to the accompanying drawings, in which:

FIG. 1 illustrates an example hardware arrangement according to a first embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2 illustrates the functional elements of a workstation and/or information processor;

FIG. 3 shows an example display screen associated with a preferred embodiment of the present invention;

FIGS. 4A and 4B illustrate an example display screen that is provided after a user selects a control to access an employee module in a preferred embodiment of the present invention;

FIGS. 5A and 5B show an example display screen that is provided after a user selects a button to access an equipment module associated with a preferred embodiment;

FIG. 5C illustrates an example display screen 500 that includes a dialog box and including controls to enable a user to define a return on investment percentage/dollar amount for equipment;

FIG. 5D illustrates an example display screen 500 that includes a dialog box and controls to enable a user to define a return on investment percentage/dollar amount for operating supplies and/or maintenance costs;

FIG. 6 illustrates an example display screen that is provided after a user selects a graphical screen control to access an inventory module associated with a preferred embodiment;

FIG. 7A illustrates an example display screen that is provided after a user selects a graphical screen control to access a services module in connection with a preferred embodiment;

FIGS. 7B-7E illustrate steps associated with adding employees, equipment, inventory and sub-services, respectively, to an identified service in connection with a preferred embodiment;

FIG. 7F illustrates another example display screen provided after a user has defined a service; and

FIGS. 8-11 are flow chart drawings illustrating example steps associated with processes associated with the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EMBODIMENTS OF THE INVENTION

The present invention improves upon prior art systems and methods for determining fees to be charged for one or more services. One component in determining fees relate to costs associated with labor. Another component of fee determination includes costs associated with equipment and inventory supplies. The present invention preferably provides an interface whereby users can define various values for respective services and/or procedures. Furthermore, the present invention enables a user to define a plurality of employees required for a respective service, a plurality of various equipment required for a respective service, a plurality of inventory supplies required for a respective service, and a plurality of sub-services associated with a respective service. Moreover, for any given equipment, the present invention enables a user to define a plurality of operating supplies and maintenance supplies. Thus, the features and benefits defined and described herein improve upon prior art techniques that assess and quantify costs associated with providing a service. By an accurate return on investment of labor, equipment and inventory supplies, the present invention enables a service provider to maintain a fair, profitable and competitive business.

As used herein, the following terms are made reference to and are to be construed, generally, accordingly:

    • “salary fee per minute” refers to the salary per minute (spm) multiplied by the soft cost factor;
    • “labor per cent” refers to a value that represents a percentage of a total amount charged for a given service that is attributed to labor;
    • “labor formula” refers to a calculation of the salary per minute, multiplied by the soft cost factor, divided by the labor percent;
    • “labor fee” refers to the labor formula multiplied by time (in minutes) to complete a task associated with a given service;
    • “minutes” refers, generally, to the total number of minutes required to complete a task;
    • “salary per minute (SPM)” refers to a calculation of the cost of an employee, including gross wage, employer taxes and paid benefits, divided by the number of minutes worked per year;
    • “service fee” refers to an amount to invoice a client for a service performed and represents at least labor, inventory, equipment and overhead;
    • “cost of operation (COP)” refers to the replacement cost and maintenance expense of equipment used to perform a service includes all expenses and supplies associated with equipment, such as insurance, calibration, parts, or the like;
    • “cost of operation per use (“COPU”)” refers to the annual cost of equipment divided by the number of times equipment was used in a year, plus a profit percent/amount assigned by a user;
    • “life span” refers to the number of years a piece of equipment is expected to be in service;
    • “overhead factor” refers to a value that represents a percentage of a total amount charged for a given service that is attributed to overhead;
    • “replacement cost (“RC”)” refers to the cost of a piece of equipment to be purchased at a future date, including tax and installation (if necessary);
    • “replacement cost annual (“RCA”)” refers to a replacement cost divided by the life span;
    • “replacement cost per use (“RCPU”)” refers to an annual replacement cost divided by the usage per year, plus a profit percent/amount assigned by a user. This number is preferably added to the cost of a service fee to provide a total cost to a client when equipment is needed for a service to be provided; and
    • “usage per year” refers either the total number of times or the total number of minutes that a piece of equipment is used annually.

As noted above, these terms are intended to be construed broadly and in their appropriate context.

An example service industry that is regularly referred to and described herein is the animal veterinary service industry. Operating costs associated with veterinary services are numerous and believed by the inventor to be particularly difficult to calculate. This is, in part, due to the large volume of services and procedures comprising a veterinarian practice. Within a single service, for example, dozens of procedures may be employed, each that may result in the service provider incurring expenses. Although many of the examples cited herein refer to a veterinary service provider, the invention is not so limited. Any party who provides a service and who requires equipment, labor and/or inventory supplies during or near the course of providing a service can benefit from the inventive features defined and described herein.

Referring to the drawings now, in which like reference numerals refer to like elements, FIG. 1 illustrates an example hardware arrangement according to a first embodiment of the present invention, and referred to herein, generally, as system 100. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 1, system 100 comprises at least one information processor 102 and one or more workstations 104. Information processor 102 is preferably configured to operate as an internet web server and is further operable to access and update a database. Information processor 102 accesses communication network 106 and communicates with workstations 104, such that workstations 104 are operable to transmit and receive data there-between. Communication network 106 can be any network, and is preferably the internet. Preferably, workstations 104 and information processor 102 communicate via the known communications protocol, Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (“TCP/IP”). Also as illustrated in FIG. 1, some of the workstations 104 are configured with output printers 108, as known in the art.

In a preferred embodiment, a workstation 104 is configured with a software application, which operates as stand-alone executable software, as known in the art. In this way, workstation 104 implements many of the features described herein without a need to maintain a communication session on network 106. Thus, workstation 104 can be “off-line” when the application software is installed thereon. In an alternative embodiment, workstation 104 operates standard web browsing software and communicates with information processor 102. In this alternative embodiment, the features described herein are provided to a user operating workstation 104 via information processor 102 during an active communication session over the internet or other communication network. Accordingly, display screens and graphical screen controls enabling a user to calculate service fees are provided while workstation 104 is “on-line” via communication network 106. In yet another alternative, workstations 104 receive updates and/or patches, as known in the art, from information processor 102 via communication network 106.

Information processor 102 and workstations 104 are preferably any devices that are capable of sending and receiving data across communication network 106, e.g., mainframe computers, mini computers, personal computers, laptop computers, a personal digital assistants (PDA) and internet access devices such as Web TV. In addition, information processor 102 and workstations 104 are preferably equipped with a web browser, such as MICROSOFT INTERNET EXPLORER, NETSCAPE NAVIGATOR, MOZILLA FIRREFOX or the like. Thus, as envisioned herein, information processor 102 and/or workstations 104 are devices that can communicate over a network and can be operated anywhere.

The nature of the present invention is such that one skilled in the art of writing computer executable code (i.e., software) can implement the described functions using one or more of a combination of popular computer programming languages and developing environments including, but not limited to C, C++, Visual Basic, JAVA, PHP, HTML, XML, ACTIVE SERVER PAGES, JAVA servlets, MICROSOFT .NET, C#, ASP.NET, and a plurality of various development applications.

For example, data may be configured in a MICROSOFT EXCEL spreadsheet file, as a comma delimited ASCII text file, as a MICROSOFT SQL SERVER compatible table file (e.g., MS-ACCESS table), or the like. In another embodiment, data may be formatted as an image file (e.g., TIFF, JPG, BMP, GIF, or the like). In yet another embodiment, data may be stored in an ADOBE ACROBAT PDF file. Preferably, one or more data formatting and/or normalization routines are provided that manage data received from one or a plurality of sources. In another example, data are received that are provided in a particular format (e.g., MICROSOFT EXCEL), and programming routines are executed that convert the data to another formatted (e.g., ASCII comma-delimited text).

Furthermore, data entered by users and stored by the present invention can be exported to one or more formats for third-party software applications. Alternatively, data in a particular format can be imported into the present invention. For example, data can be imported to or exported from a computer software accounting program. In this way, various functionality provided by other software programs can be provided from data originating from users of the present invention.

It is contemplated herein that any suitable operating system can be used on workstations 104 and information processor 102, for example, DOS, WINDOWS 3.x, WINDOWS 95, WINDOWS 98, WINDOWS NT, WINDOWS 2000, WINDOWS ME, WINDOWS CE, WINDOWS POCKET PC, WINDOWS XP, MAC OS, UNIX, LINUX, PALM OS, POCKET PC or any other suitable operating system. Of course, one skilled in the art will recognize that other operating systems are or will be available.

Moreover, a plurality of data file types is envisioned herein. For example, the present invention preferably supports various suitable multi-media file types, including (but not limited to) JPEG, BMP, GIF, TIFF, MPEG, AVI, SWF, RAW or the like (as known to those skilled in the art).

FIG. 2 illustrates the functional elements of workstation 104 and/or information processor 102. The functional elements include one or more central processing units (CPU) 202 used to execute software code and control the operation of workstation 104 or information processor 102, read-only memory (ROM) 204, random access memory (RAM) 206, one or more network interfaces 208 to transmit and receive data to and from other computing devices across a communication network, storage devices 210 such as a hard disk drive, floppy disk drive, tape drive, CD ROM or DVD for storing program code, databases and application data, one or more input devices 212 such as a keyboard, mouse, track ball, magnetic card reading device, bar code reading device, microphone or the like, and a display 214.

The various components of information processor 102 and/or workstation 104 need not be physically contained within the same chassis or even located in a single location. For example, storage device 210 may be located at a site which is remote from the remaining elements of information processor 102 or workstation 104, and may even be connected to CPU 202 across communication network 106 via network interface 208. Information processor 102 preferably includes a memory equipped with sufficient storage to provide the necessary databases, forums, and other community services as well as acting as a web server for communicating hypertext markup language (HTML), FLASH, Action Script, Java, Active Server Pages, Active-X control programs on workstations 104. Information processor 102 are arranged with components, for example, those shown in FIG. 2, suitable for the expected operating environment of information processor 102. The CPU(s) 202, network interface(s) 208 and memory and storage devices are selected to ensure that capacities are arranged to accommodate expected demand.

As used herein, the term, “module” refers, generally, to one or more discrete components that contribute to the effectiveness of the present invention. Modules can operate or, alternatively, depend upon one or more other modules in order to function.

FIGS. 3-7F illustrate example display screens that are provided in accordance with a preferred embodiment. All of the examples shown in FIGS. 3-7F, as noted above, represent embodiments of the present invention used in connection with veterinary services. As noted above, although many of the examples cited herein represent veterinary services, the invention is not so limited. One skilled in the art will recognize that any service provider can tailor the options and controls provided herein to represent a particular service industry.

FIG. 3 shows an example display screen 300 associated with a preferred embodiment. Display screen 300 includes module selection section 302, services list section 304, members list section 306, operations control section 308 and modification control section 310. Module selection section 302 includes graphical screen controls, formatted as buttons, to provide access to a module relating to employee information, a module relating to equipment, a module relating to inventory and a module relating to services. When a user selects one of the buttons in module selection section 302, options associated with the module represented by the selected button appear for the user. Each of the modules are described in greater detail below.

Continuing with reference to FIG. 3, services list section 304 includes a list of services that are provided by a service provider. In the example shown in FIG. 3, veterinary services are listed for anesthesia, bath/grooming, dental, euthanasia, etc. Members list section 306 lists procedures that correspond to a respective service selected in services list section 304. In the example shown in FIG. 3, anesthesia is the selected service, and corresponding procedures shown in members list section 306 include Feline Induction, IM/IV, IM/IV Dormitor/Antecedant, Induction Rapinovet, etc. Preferably, each of the services listed in section 304 are selectable, whereby selecting a respective service results in a corresponding list of procedures shown in section 306. The services displayed in section 304 and the corresponding procedures displayed in section 306 can be customized and, preferably, no limit is made for entering values for services and/or procedures. For each procedure, a user is able to assign the types of employees for the procedure, numbers of employees for the procedure, combinations of employee types, task time, inventory items and equipment used for the procedure. The user can, further, assign sub-services to a service. Components of one procedure (e.g., Injection Doc/Assist), and which may be commonly used in more than one procedure, can be defined as a sub-service of another procedure (such as IM/IV).

Also shown in FIG. 3, operations control section 308 preferably enables data-related operations in connection with a selected module (e.g., “Employees,” “Equipment,” “Inventory” or “Services”). Operations control section 308 further includes graphical screen controls, configured in display screen 300 as buttons, to Add, Delete or Print items from the active module's categories and corresponding features. Furthermore, section 308 enables a user to perform data backup and restore utilities in order to manage data associated with the present invention.

FIGS. 4A and 4B illustrate example display screen 400 that is provided after a user selects the employee module in module selection section 302 (FIG. 3). Although the term, “employee” is used with reference to the figures, the descriptions herein are not meant to limit the invention to employees, per se. Any party or person who contributes any labor in any respect for a service provider can be identified as an employee by the present invention. Thus the term, employee, is meant to represent parties who contribute labor for a service provider, and not restricted to parties who are formally employed by a service provider. The display screen controls shown in FIGS. 4A and 4B enable a user set up various payroll scenarios and affect service fees and pricing, accordingly. Thus, the user can modify salaries/wages, bonuses, benefits, or the like, thereby impacting fees for services. Furthermore, the user can define categories of employees, subcategories of employees, and can define or associate employees within one more categories/subcategories.

Continuing with reference to FIG. 4, once a user selects the employee module in module selection section 302, employee category list section 402 and employee name list section 404 are preferably provided. Furthermore, employee details section 406 is preferably displayed that includes data entry controls (e.g., radio buttons, checkboxes, text fields, or the like) for a user to submit information regarding an individual employee. For example, the user can submit information regarding the status of the employee (e.g., full-time, part-time, salary), the employee's wages, hours worked per week, weeks worked per year, annual bonus structures, or the like. Moreover, display screen 400 provides data entry controls for a user to submit a labor rate and an average rate. The labor rate, described above, represents the salary-per-minute value multiplied by the soft cost factor, with the product divided by the desired profitability percentage. In case multiple employees are assigned to a single category, an average rate is preferably calculated taking an average of all labor rates for all employees for that labor category. As shown in FIG. 4A, a user can select control 410 to enter a soft cost factor that is used in the calculation of the labor rate. Also, the user can select control 412 to enter a labor percent value, also to be used in the calculation of the labor rate. Thus, unlike prior art pricing systems, the present invention enables the user to submit a respective soft cost factor and a labor percentage to accurately assess a labor rate.

In the example shown in FIG. 4A, a user is proceeding to add an employee. The user selects an appropriate category of employee in employee category list section 402, and, thereafter, selects Save/New button in section 308. The user can, in addition, select add category control 405 to add a new category in section 402. In employee details section 406, the user enters the new employee's name, selects from among Full Time, Part Time and Salary, wherein the Full Time and Part Time textboxes preferably designate hourly employees. In most instances, the Auto Calc box is preferably checked to enable automatic calculations. In case a newly added employee is a full time or part time employee, a value is preferably entered in the Hourly Wage text box.

In case the new employee is a part time employee, the user preferably enters a value in the Hours/Week and Weeks/Year text boxes. Alternatively, if the new employee is a salaried employee, a value is entered in the Yearly Wage text box. Moreover, a value is submitted in the Bonus Yearly text box, if applicable. In case the Auto Calc checkbox control is selected, the remaining text boxes in section 406 and 408 (e.g., Taxes, Total Cost, Labor Rate and Average Rate) calculate automatically. Furthermore, values are submitted in text box controls relate to Benefits and Insurance, preferably all entered to represent annual amounts. For example, if the company pays the new employee $100 per month into a 401K account, the amount entered should be $1,200. After the user has completed data entry, he preferably selects Save/New button control in section 308.

After the user has finished entering information for a new employee, the user can modify the data, such as illustrated in FIG. 4B In FIG. 4B, in order to view or change an employee's data, the user preferably selects the appropriate category of employee in employee category list section 402, and further selects the employee's name in employee name list section 404. The user can view data and/or make modifications to existing data by typing directly in the respective text box controls or selecting other graphical screen controls. When finished, the user preferably selects Save/New button control in section 308.

In a preferred embodiment, various subcategories can be defined for a category. For example, employment categories, equipment categories, inventory categories and/or service categories can each have respective subcategories defined by a user. Further, assign values, such as a soft cost factor and/or a labor percentage/dollar amount can be assigned to a respective subcategory. In the example shown in FIG. 4B, five employee categories are displayed in section 402: assistants, kennel, management, office, and owners/doctors. Also in section 402, three subcategories of owner/doctors are displayed: anesthesia, internal medicine and surgery. As shown, the anesthesia subcategory is selected (displayed as highlighted) and a corresponding anesthesiologist, Mark Smith, M.D., is displayed in section 404. In the example display screen 400 shown in FIG. 4B, the anesthesiologist, Mark Smith, M.D. is defined as a full time employee with an hourly wage of $35.00 and an annual wage of $75,000. Further, taxes are estimated to be $5,700, plus federal unemployment tax (“FUTA”) to be $198, for a total annual labor cost of $80,898. The labor rate is calculated at $1.83, which represents the total cost of the employee per minute as expressed by the labor formula.

In the example shown in FIG. 4B, the subcategory, anesthesia, is selected in section 402. In accordance with a preferred embodiment, a soft cost factor/labor percent is defined by the user and assigned by the selected control in either section 402 or 404 (e.g., a category, subcategory or individual member). In the example shown in FIG. 4B, the selected control in section 402 corresponds to “anesthesia.” Accordingly, any soft cost factor or labor percent defined by the user will be applied to anesthesiologists. If, alternatively, Mark Smith, M.D. was selected instead of anesthesia, the soft cost factor and/or labor percent defined by the user would apply only to Mark Smith, M.D. If the user had, alternatively, selected Owners/Doctors instead of anesthesia, prior to defining a soft cost factor or labor percent, then the soft cost factor or labor percent would apply to the category, Owners/Doctors.

Moreover, preferably, an individual member (i.e., person, piece of equipment, supply, etc.) or subcategory may have an assigned value (e.g., a soft cost factor) that overrides a previously assigned value. For example, in case a user defines the soft cost factor, 3, for Owners/Doctors, and, thereafter, defines a different soft cost factor, 2, for an individual veterinarian, then the individual veterinarian has the soft cost factor 2 applied, and all other owners/doctors have the soft cost factor 3 applied. Thus, the present invention preferably enables a user to apply various soft cost factors and/or labor percents for respective individuals, subcategories or categories. Preferably, any value that is assignable by a user can be applied in various contexts.

Moreover, the user can elect to print data representing employees by selecting a respective employee, and, thereafter, selecting Print button in operations control section 308. In this way, information can be output to printer 108 or to any other device available on workstation 104. Any data appearing in the display screens can be output in various data reports for a user, including formatted in tables, free-forms, graphical representations (e.g., line graphs, bar graphs, pie charts, etc.), as well as to be output in various data formats (e.g., comma-delimited ascii text files, spreadsheets, data tables, etc.). Moreover, it is envisioned herein that data output reports can be fashioned that represent the various category and subcategory levels for employees, equipment, inventory and services.

FIGS. 5A and 5B illustrate example display screen 500 that is provided after a user selects a button corresponding with the equipment module in module selection section 302. Once a user selects the equipment module in module selection section 302, equipment category list section 502 and equipment name list section 504 are preferably provided. The user can, in addition, select add category control 505 to add a new category in section 502. Furthermore, equipment details section 506 is preferably displayed that includes data entry controls for a user to submit information regarding respective pieces of equipment. For each piece of equipment, the present invention preferably enables a user to submit information related to the equipment's purchase price, life and usage such that replacement costs and costs associated with the equipment's operation can be determined. In the example shown in FIG. 5B, equipment usage represents an estimate that is based upon a 2-3 doctor practice generating an annual revenue of approximately $750,000. Of course, one skilled in the art will recognize that this amount can be adjusted to represent equipment usage in other contexts.

Continuing with reference to FIGS. 5A and 5B, values entered by a user in equipment details section 506, such as purchase price, life of equipment, or the like, are used to determine a value automatically that represents a total service cost as derived per unit of operation. The total service cost variable is preferably referenced as a component of the fee for each procedure in which a respective piece of equipment is used. Moreover, a user can select control 508 to enter a return on equipment profit percent/dollar value on equipment and/or supplies/maintenance, also to be used in the calculation of the total service cost in connection with the respective equipment. Therefore, the total service cost variable represents the replacement cost per use of the equipment plus the cost of operating the equipment per use, plus any profit percent/dollar value identified by the user to make a return on the equipment and/or supplies/maintenance.

In the example shown in FIG. 5A, a user is proceeding to add a new piece of equipment for the subcategory, laboratory, under the general category, treatment. In practice, the user selects an appropriate category of equipment in equipment category list section 502, and, thereafter, selects Save/New button in section 308. In equipment details section 506, the user enters values in respective text boxes representing the name, purchase price, life expectancy and usage of the new equipment. The usage represents use-per-year measured in number of minutes-per-year or number of individual uses-per-year.

Additionally, the user submits entries (e.g., items) representing maintenance associated with the piece of equipment. In the example shown in display screen 500, the user selects a graphical screen control (e.g., a button) labeled “Add Maintenance Item,” and a dialog box is preferably displayed comprising text box controls enabling the user to enter a name of the maintenance item, an expected annual cost of the maintenance item, and an expected number of times the maintenance item will be used per year. The user preferably selects another graphical screen control, such as a button labeled “OK” or “Cancel” to complete or abort his entries, respectively. In case a user inadvertently enters a maintenance item, or otherwise wants to delete a maintenance item, the user selects the respective item and selects a graphical screen control (e.g., a button) labeled “Delete.”

Occasionally, several pieces of equipment may be required to make up a single piece of equipment. For example, a dental digital radiograph device includes a computer, a processor (separate from the computer), and a digital radiograph. In the prior art, only one price can be assigned for a piece of equipment (e.g., the dental digital radiograph device). In accordance with the teachings herein, various prices and equipment components can be assembled and used to define a single piece of equipment. Thus, according to a preferred embodiment, a single piece of equipment, such as a computer, may be defined as a component of other pieces of equipment. In this way, users have improved flexibility to define previously submitted equipment items as components of other equipment.

In addition to maintenance items, a user can further add or delete respective operating supplies associated with a piece of equipment. Accordingly, the user preferably selects a graphical screen control to add operating supplies, and in a corresponding dialog box enters values representing a name of the operating supplies item, an annual cost of the operating supplies item, the number of times the supply is used per year and a mark-up that is desired for that operating supply (as described more fully below with reference to FIG. 5D). The user can delete an operating supplies item that was inadvertently or otherwise entered. Moreover, as shown in FIG. 5B, a user selection screen control 511 (labeled “Inv.”) enables the user to select and designate a previously submitted inventory item as an operating supply. Once selected, control 511 enables previously submitted inventory items to be designated in various contexts, for example, to be used during the course of providing services, and/or to be used as an operating supply for equipment.

After a user has entered values in equipment details section 506, yearly totals, costs of operation (referred to herein as “COPU”), replacement costs (referred to herein as “RCPU”) and a total service cost are preferably automatically calculated. After the user is satisfied with the equipment data entered, the user selects the Save/New button in the operations control section 308 to save the equipment information in a database.

After the user has finished entering information for a new piece of equipment, the user can modify the data, such as illustrated in FIG. 5B. In the example shown in FIG. 5B, the user has selected a microscope for the equipment, with a purchase price of $1,783 and a six year life span. The microscope is estimated to be used 1,065 times per year and, further, includes an annual cost of $100 in maintenance due to cleaning, and an annual cost of $56 in operating supplies (resulting from lens paper and oil and stains). Accordingly, the cost of operation per use has been calculated by the present invention to be 15¢ and the replacement cost per use is calculated to be 28¢. Thus, by factoring in a combined fee of 43¢ (15¢+28¢) per use, the present invention ensures a return on investment related to a cost for operation, and factoring in a cost for replacement.

Continuing with reference to FIG. 5B, in order to view or change equipment-related data, the user preferably selects the appropriate category of equipment in equipment category list section 502, and further selects the equipment name in equipment name list section 504. The user can view data and/or make modifications to existing data by typing directly in the respective text box controls or selecting other graphical screen controls. When finished, the user preferably selects Save/New button control in section 308. In a preferred embodiment, Yearly Totals, Cost of Operation (COPU), Replacement Cost (RCPU) and Total Service Cost are automatically calculated fields, and are not preferably directly modified.

As noted above, a user can select control 508 to enter a return on equipment profit percent/dollar value on equipment and/or supplies/maintenance to be used in the calculation of the total service cost in connection with the respective equipment. FIG. 5C illustrates an example display screen 500 that includes dialog box 510 including controls to enable a user to define a return on investment percentage/dollar amount for equipment. As shown in dialog box 510, the purchase price for the selected piece of equipment (microscope) is shown, as well as text box controls enabling a user to submit a return on investment percentage and/or a return on investment dollar amount. In case a percentage value is submitted, the percentage is multiplied by the equipment purchase price, and then added to the equipment purchase price to calculate an equipment total price. In case a return on investment dollar value is submitted, the dollar amount is preferably added to the equipment purchase price to calculate an equipment total price.

Thus, by selecting profit percent control 508 that, accordingly, causes dialog box 510 to be displayed, a user can adjust the return on investment for equipment, maintenance and/or supplies which directly impacts the replacement cost per use value (FIGS. 5A-5C). This feature of the present invention enables users to tailor return on investments for various aspects of their businesses.

With reference now to FIG. 5D, return on investment dialog box 512 is provided that includes text box controls to enable a user to submit a return on investment percentage and/or a return on investment dollar amount for a selected supply/cost of maintenance. In the example shown in FIG. 5D, lens paper is the selected operating supply, having a cost of $11. The user has selected a mark-up percentage of 10%. When a percentage value is submitted, the percentage is multiplied by the supplies/maintenance cost, and then added to the supplies/maintenance cost to calculate supplies/maintenance total. In case a return on investment dollar value is submitted, the dollar amount is preferably added to the supplies/maintenance cost to calculate a supplies/maintenance total.

FIG. 6 illustrates an example display screen 600 that is provided after a user selects a button corresponding with the inventory module in module selection section 302. Once a user selects the inventory module in module selection section 302, inventory category list section 602 and inventory name list section 604 are preferably provided. Furthermore, inventory details section 606 is preferably displayed that includes data entry controls, such as radio buttons, checkboxes and text fields, for a user to submit information regarding respective inventory supplies. For each inventory supply, the present invention preferably enables a user to submit information related to the name, purchase price, number of units, unit type and preferred percentage price markup for a piece of inventory. As described above with regard to equipment, a user can select subinventory item control 608 in order to define sub-inventory items. In a preferred embodiment, when control 608 is selected, any previously submitted inventory items are displayed and selectable, for example, in a list, and the user selects one more items. This effectively assigns a bundle of inventory that can be assigned to any service.

The price for a piece of inventory that is submitted by a user preferably represents the actual cost of the inventory. The mark-up value represents a percentage increase over the purchase price of the inventory as desired by the user for profit. In accordance with a preferred embodiment, any good or service provided for resale is considered inventory.

Similar to adding new equipment and new employees, as noted above with reference to display screens 500 and 400, respectively, a user can select a respective value in inventory category list section 602 and, thereafter, select the Save/New button in operations control section 308 to add new inventory. The user can, in addition, select add category control 605 to add a new category in section 602. In inventory details section 606, the user submits a name for the new inventory item and selects an appropriate unit type (e.g., a pill, fluid or an item). Moreover, the user submits values representing the purchase price of the inventory, the number of units and a preferred markup percentage. Thereafter, the present invention preferably calculates a total cost automatically. When the user is satisfied with the entries, he selects Save/New button control in section 308.

FIGS. 7A-7F illustrate example display screen 700 that is preferably provided to a user to integrate the information described above, with reference to display screens 300, 400, 500 and 600, in order to identify particular employees, inventory and equipment required to provide a respective service, and further to generate a fee that corresponds thereto. The parties that perform the service, the length of time required to perform the service, and the inventory, equipment and overhead that are used are preferably identified via graphical screen controls, substantially as shown in FIGS. 7A-7F.

FIG. 7A illustrates an example display screen 700 that is provided after a user selects a button corresponding with the services module in module selection section 302. Once a user selects the services module in module selection section 302, services category list section 702 and services name list section 704 are preferably provided. The user can, in addition, select add category control 705 to add a new category in section 702. Furthermore, services details sections 706-714 are preferably displayed that include data entry controls for a user to submit information to identify a service, assign one or more employees to the service, assign one or more items of equipment for the service, assign one or more inventory supplies for the service, and define one or more sub-services for the service. The present invention preferably uses the respective entries provided in sections 706-714 to calculate a proposed and fair fee value for the service. As described above with other modules, the services module can be customized for respective services and service providers, with virtually no limit on the number and kinds of services that can be entered.

In accordance with a preferred embodiment, the user can select a control, for example, “global overhead” button 715, that enables the user to assign a value that is calculated to add to the total fee for any given service. For example, the value entered, once global overhead button 715 is selected, may be a percentage that is multiplied by total fee for a service, and then added to the total fee to calculate a new total fee. Alternatively, the value entered, once global overhead button 715 is selected, may be a dollar amount that is preferably added to the total service fee. In any case, via the graphical screen controls provided by the present invention, a user can increase (or alternatively, decrease) the total fee for a service by assigning a global overhead value.

In the example shown in FIG. 7A, the value “Miscellaneous” has been selected in services category list section 702, and the respective service selected by the user in services name list section 704 is “Injection Doc/Assist” which represents an injection given to a patient (i.e., a pet) by a doctor or assistant. In services name section 706, the fee calculated by the present invention is $21.56. This value is calculated by the total cost ($21.08) of employees, selected by the user as Owner Doctors/Associate(s) for a count of 3.00 minutes and a cost of $15.60, and an assistant for a count of 3 minutes and a cost of $5.48. Additionally, two inventory items are displayed for a combined expense of 48¢, 1 syringe at a cost of 38¢ and a fee related to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) at a cost of 10¢. Thus, the sum of employee and inventory expenses combine for a fee of $21.56.

FIGS. 7B-7E illustrate steps associated with adding employees, equipment, inventory and sub-services, respectively, to an identified service.

Referring now to FIG. 7B, a user adds employees to a particular service by selecting a graphical screen control (e.g., a button) labeled “Add” in service employees section 708. When selected, dialog box 716 is preferably displayed within display screen 700 that enables the user to select a respective employee category type. The employee category types were previously entered and provided, as described above with reference to FIGS. 4A and 4B. The user is prompted to select an appropriate type of employee, and, thereafter, to enter the number of minutes or the number of units for the employee. When finished, the user selects button control labeled “OK” (or, alternatively, “Cancel”) to add the employee to the service. The costs associated with the employee are preferably defined when the employee is added, as described above. The user can add any desired number of employees for a respective service.

In many cases during the course of providing services, various parties may be providing the services, such as a technician or an assistant, or a physician. In the example shown in FIG. 7B, two types users are selected, assistants and owners/doctors. Multiple user types can be selected, for example, by selecting the user types while simultaneously pressing the Ctrl key on the user's keyboard. In a preferred embodiment, after multiple user types are selected, an average labor rate is calculated that represents the average labor rate of the selected users. In case, for example, an assistant performs a service once, and a physician performs that same service once, the customer is charged a fee that factors the average labor rate of the two. By averaging the labor rates of the selected employee types, the present invention provides for accurate fees for service.

Referring now to FIG. 7C, a user adds equipment for a particular service by selecting a graphical screen control (e.g., a button) labeled “Add” in service equipment section 710. When selected, dialog box 718 is preferably displayed within display screen 700 that enables the user to select a name associated with a piece of equipment. The equipment names were previously entered and provided, as described above with reference to FIGS. 5A and 5B. The user is prompted to select an equipment name, and, thereafter, to enter the number of minutes or the number of times for the equipment. When finished, the user selects button control labeled “OK” (or, alternatively, “Cancel”) to add the equipment to the service. The costs associated with the equipment are preferably defined when the equipment is added, as described above. The user can add any desired number of pieces of equipment of any desired units for a respective service.

Referring now to FIG. 7D, a user adds inventory for a particular service by selecting a graphical screen control (e.g., a button) labeled “Add” in service inventory section 712. When selected, dialog box 720 is preferably displayed within display screen 700 that enables the user to select a name associated with an item of inventory. The inventory item names were previously entered and provided, as described above with reference to FIG. 6. The user is prompted to select an inventory item name, and, thereafter, to enter the number of units, e.g., per item, or milliliter (for fluids) for the inventory. When finished, the user selects button control labeled “OK” (or, alternatively, “Cancel”) to add the inventory to the service. In a preferred embodiment of the present invention, inventory identified as “outside services” are added to a group labeled “Miscellaneous” within the inventory module. The costs associated with the inventory are preferably defined when the inventory is added, as described above. The user can add any desired number of items of inventory of any desired units for a respective service.

Referring now to FIG. 7E, a user adds sub-services for a particular service by selecting a graphical screen control (e.g., a button) labeled “Add” in sub-services section 714. As noted above, the present invention improves prior art pricing systems by enabling a user to select a plurality of sub-services for any given service. When the button labeled “Add” is selected from section 714, dialog box 720 is preferably displayed within display screen 700 that enables the user to select a name associated with a particular service. The user is prompted to select a service name, and, thereafter, to enter the number of units, e.g., minutes, for the sub-service. When finished, the user selects button control labeled “OK” (or, alternatively, “Cancel”) to add the sub-service to the service. The costs associated with the sub-service are preferably defined when the service (now defined as a sub-service) is added, as described below. The user can add any desired number of items of inventory for any desired units for a respective service.

FIG. 7F illustrates another example display screen 700 provided after a user has defined a service (“Urinalysis: Collect and Diagnose”) for an automatically generated fee of $27.86. The user has used the interface included in the present invention to define the service with a plurality of employees, a plurality of equipment items, a plurality of inventory items and a plurality of sub-services. Thus, unlike prior art fee pricing systems and methods, the present invention enables a user to add, delete and/or modify a plurality of employees, equipment items, inventory items and sub-services for any number of services provided by a professional service provider.

Thus, as shown and described, the culmination of the values, described above, includes the subservice total cost, the inventory total cost, the equipment total cost, the employee total cost, and an overhead adjustment to derive at a fair and equitable fee for service that results in a reasonable profit and an affordable rate to the consumer.

The present invention is now further described with reference to the flow charts illustrated in FIGS. 8-11.

FIG. 8 is a flow chart illustrating steps S100 associated with adding/editing data related to employees in accordance with a preferred embodiment. In step S102, a user selects a control (e.g., in module selection section 302, FIG. 3) to select the employee module to access data regarding employees. Once selected, the user selects a respective employee category (step S104). In case the desired employee category is not listed, the user can select a graphical control, such as a button, to add a new employee category. When the user has selected the respective employee category, a list of respective employee names that correspond to the selected employee category is displayed, and the user makes a determination whether the desired employee name is listed (step S106). In case the employee name is not displayed, then in step S108, the user selects an option to add a new employee, and the process branches to enable the user to add the employee (step S110). Alternatively, in case the employee name is listed, then the user selects the respective employee, for example by using his pointing device and “double-clicking” on the respective employee name (step S1112).

Continuing with reference to the flow chart shown in FIG. 8, after the respective employee is added or selected, then the process branches to step S114 and the user adds/edits data related to the employee. For example, the user adds/edits data related to the employee's wages (step S114), benefits (step S116), employer-related taxes (preferably automatically calculated) (step S118) and insurance (step S120). Thereafter, the user makes a determination whether to add/edit another employee (step S122). If the user wants to add/edit data related to another employee, then the process branches to step S104, and the user is prompted to select another employee category. Alternatively, the process branches to step S124, and the process ends.

Thus, in accordance with the example process steps S100 shown in FIG. 8, a user can add/edit data related to employees who will be required during or for providing professional services.

FIG. 9 is a flow chart illustrating steps S200 associated with adding/editing data related to equipment in accordance with a preferred embodiment. In step S202, a user selects a control (e.g., in module selection section 302) to select the equipment module to access data regarding equipment. Once selected, the user selects a respective equipment category (step S204). In case the desired equipment category is not listed, the user can select a graphical control, such as a button, to add a new equipment category. When the user has selected the respective equipment category, a list of respective equipment names that correspond to the selected equipment category is preferably displayed, and the user makes a determination whether the desired equipment name is listed (step S206). In case the equipment name is not displayed, then in step S208, the user selects an option to add a new piece of equipment, and the process branches to enable the user to add the equipment (step S210). Alternatively, in case the equipment name is listed, then the user selects the respective equipment, for example by using his pointing device and “double-clicking” on the respective equipment name (step S212).

Continuing with reference to the flow chart shown in FIG. 9, after the respective equipment is added or selected, then the process branches to step S214 and the user adds/edits data related to the equipment. For example, the user adds/edits data related to the equipment's price and expected life span (step S214), maintenance requirements (step S216), maintenance and supplies costs (step S218) and the user can supply profit margin percentages (step S220). Thereafter, the user makes a determination whether to add/edit more equipment (step S222). If the user wants to add/edit data related to another piece of equipment, then the process branches to step S204, and the user is prompted to select another equipment category. Alternatively, the process branches to step S224, and the process ends.

Thus, in accordance with the example process steps S200 shown in FIG. 9, a user can add/edit data related to equipment to be used during or for providing professional services.

FIG. 10 is a flow chart illustrating steps S300 associated with adding/editing data related to inventory in accordance with a preferred embodiment. In step S302, a user selects a control (e.g., in module selection section 302) to select the inventory module to access data regarding inventory. Once selected, the user selects a respective inventory category (step S304). In case the desired inventory category is not listed, the user can select a graphical control, such as a button, to add a new inventory category. When the user has selected the respective inventory category, a list of respective inventory supply names that correspond to the selected inventory category is preferably displayed, and the user makes a determination whether the desired inventory supply name is listed (step S306). In case the inventory supply name is not displayed, then in step S308, the user selects an option to add a new item of inventory, and the process branches to enable the user to add the inventory item (step S310). Alternatively, in case the inventory item name is listed, then the user selects the respective inventory, for example by using his pointing device and “double-clicking” on the respective inventory item name (step S312).

Continuing with reference to the flow chart shown in FIG. 10, after the respective inventory item is added or selected, then the process branches to step S314 and the user adds/edits data related to the inventory. For example, the user adds/edits data related to the inventory item's price (step S314), unit-related information (step S316), adds data related to a unit type (e.g., fluid, item, pill) (step S317), and percentage markup value (step S318). Thereafter, the user makes a determination whether to add/edit more inventory (step S320). If the user wants to add/edit data related to another item of inventory, then the process branches to step S304, and the user is prompted to select another inventory category. Alternatively, the process branches to step S322, and the process ends.

Thus, in accordance with the example process steps S300 shown in FIG. 10, a user can add/edit data related to inventory to be used during or for providing professional services.

FIG. 11 is a flow chart illustrating steps S400 associated with adding/editing data related to services in accordance with a preferred embodiment. In step S402, a user selects a control (e.g., in module selection section 302) to select the services module to access data regarding services. Once selected, the user selects a respective service category (step S404). In case the desired service category is not listed, the user can select a graphical control, such as a button, to add a new service category. When the user has selected the respective service category, a list of respective service names that correspond to the selected service category is preferably displayed, and the user makes a determination whether the desired service name is listed (step S406). In case the service name is not displayed, then in step S408, the user selects an option to add a new service, and the process branches to enable the user to add the service (step S410). Alternatively, in case the service name is listed, then the user selects the respective service, for example by using his pointing device and “double-clicking” on the respective service name (step S412).

Continuing with reference to the flow chart shown in FIG. 11, after the respective service is added or selected, then the process branches to step S414 and the user adds/edits data related to the service. For example, the user adds/edits data related to the employee(s) who will be used during or for the service (step S414), amount of time required for a service (step S415), equipment that will be used during or for the service (step S416), inventory supplies that will be used during or for the service (step S418) and the user can add/edit sub-services that will be used during or for the service (step S420). Further, the user sets an overhead amount, formatted, for example, as a percentage or a dollar value, to modify the total service fee (step S421). Thereafter, the user makes a determination whether to add/edit another service (step S422). If the user wants to add/edit data related to another service, then the process branches to step S404, and the user is prompted to select another service category. Alternatively, the process branches to step S424, and the process ends.

Thus, in accordance with the example process steps S400 shown in FIG. 11, a user can add/edit data related to providing professional services.

The present invention is now further described with reference to an example.

A provider of landscaping services uses the present invention to set fees associated therewith. After installing a stand-alone executable software embodiment of the invention on his computer, he selects in module selection section 302 (FIG. 3) an option for the employee module to define people whom he pays to assist him in his landscaping business. In employee category list section 402 (FIGS. 4A and 4B), he selects a management employee, enters a new name for the employee, and defines the employee as a full time employee, with annual wages of $27,000. Additionally, the provider adds benefits, insurance and tax data, and a labor rate is automatically calculated for the employee. The provider further defines his own soft cost factor to be set at 2.5, and he defines his labor percent to be set at 20%. The landscape provider saves the new employee and proceeds to add three additional workers who are paid hourly, and receive no benefits, insurance or the like.

Continuing with the present example, after the landscape provider has finished adding the employees, he selects in module selection section 302 an option to enter information in the equipment module. The landscaper adds data regarding various pieces of equipment he uses for the management person. For example, he adds information related to his office equipment. Further, the landscaper adds information for equipment he uses during the course of landscaping. For example, he adds information regarding trucks, chainsaws, lawn mowers, spreaders, shovels, rakes or the like. Thereafter, using the inventory module, he enters information regarding inventory supplies he uses. For the management person, he adds office inventory, such as toner for the printer and copier, paper, pencils, and the like. Additionally, he adds information related to inventory he uses during the course of landscaping. For example, he adds information related to seeds, fertilizer, bags, plants, or the like.

Continuing with the present example, after the landscaper is satisfied with his entries, he select the service module to define prices associated with various landscaping services. For example, the landscaper defines information for the service of planting bushes. He adds two employees required for planting bushes, he adds two pieces of equipment for clearing a space and digging holes, and he defines the types of plants that will be sold to the customer. Moreover, the landscaper adds sub-services to the service, which include raking, clearing, and dumping, each of which are defined services that can be provided to customers in other contexts. When the landscaper is finished, the present invention calculates a fee for the service which is equal to $2,500.00. Prior to using the invention, the landscaper had charged $1,750.00 for the exact same service. Using the invention, the landscaper realized that he was charging too little, and adjusted his professional fees, accordingly.

Thus, as will become apparent to one skilled in the art, although many of the examples of embodiments in which the present invention is used relate to veterinary services, the invention is not so limited. Any service provider can use the present invention to calculate and set fees. The invention has a broad range of users, for example, attorneys, plumbers, educators, transportation providers, information technology specialists, to name a few.

The present invention is an improvement over prior art pricing systems and methods. Users of the present invention are able to add a plurality of employees, equipment, inventory and sub-services to define a service. Furthermore, users can define their own respective soft cost factors, labor percents, and profit margin percentages. Using the present invention, users will have increased confidence in client relations because they will be sure that the prices and fees they charge are fair and equitable, and will not result in undercharging or overcharging customers.

Further, various kinds of output reports can be provided by the present invention. For example, any data entered or viewed in the various display screens, such as illustrated in the reference figures, can be printed in concise and meaningful reports. Information directly affecting the profitability and return on investment relating to employees, equipment, supplies/maintenance and respective services can be graphed or displayed in various formats. Further, forecasts and cost estimates can be made that use the data displayed in the various display screens of the present invention, thereby enabling, for example, managers and business owners to predict levels of profitability and return on expenses. Moreover, output generated by the present invention can be used to indicate various employees, and/or pieces of equipment that are particularly profitable or otherwise. Managers may choose to reward individual employees in view of data output by the present invention that illustrate employee performance.

Another benefit of the present invention is that accurate cost estimates can be provided by service providers. Using the controls, modules and features described herein, a service provider can provide an accurate cost estimate for a service, and manage to stay on budget until completion. By providing accurate estimates prior to starting work on a service, providers are far less likely to lose money on a project. Further, providing an accurate cost estimate in advance enables a service provider to assure customers that the cost of a service will not change.

Other uses and products provided by the present invention will be apparent to those skilled in the art. Although the present invention has been described in relation to particular embodiments thereof, many other variations and modifications and other uses will become apparent to those skilled in the art. For example, the present invention can be implemented in an internet web interface. In such a context, a user can be availed of the features and options described herein using standard internet web browsing software, and establishing a communication session with information processor 102 (FIG. 1). Much if not all of the data provided by the user can be managed in a database maintained by information processor 102. Various users can “log in” to information processor 102, for example, by supplying an authorized user name and password, and the users' respective data will be served by information processor 102, accordingly. Other features and benefits will become apparent to one skilled in the art.

It is preferred, therefore, that the present invention not be limited by the specific disclosure herein.