Every Saturday, the Auction Park in Central California hosts
approximately 500 registered bidders for an auction that typically
includes 300 or more automobiles and several thousand lot-items
including tools, equipment, furniture, electronics, and jewelry,
These items are sold simultaneously from four
to five separate auction rings in interior and exterior locations
scattered across the 22-acre facility. After the auction
begins, a lot will be sold in each ring every thirty seconds or
so; this means a new sale is entered every 6 to 8 seconds.
the scenes, sophisticated auction software (SOLD II, from New
York-based Proven Software) and off-the-shelf hardware are making
this all possible. At Ernst and Associates, the company
behind the Auction Park, this involves a long range wireless
network with approximately 40 computer stations, divided between
clerking stations handling the live bidding at each ring, 10 or
more registration stations and 20-30 cashiers for quick and
immediate check out of purchased items.
At auction houses
across North America, this type of real-time, mission critical,
multi-user environment is the norm. Even seemingly less
sophisticated operations with 2 to 3 users operating a single ring
must deal with the underlying time pressures of clerking,
registering and cashiering with a simultaneity that is rare, even
in the business computing world.
businesses in a multi-billion dollar industry
every auction house is a Christies or Sotheby’s. Most
auction firms are, in fact, small or even family-run businesses.
Although the value of the items sold at auction equates to
billions of dollars each year, these tight-knit groups survive on
a percentage of the sales gross. Even a company like Ernst
and Associates, though considered a large auction house in many
respects, qualifies as a small business.
For these businesses operating on a budget, the concept of
spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for sophisticated,
custom-built computer hardware and software systems is simply not
possible. Instead, they must utilize existing, off-the shelf
solutions that are easier on the pocketbook, yet meet the mission
critical, multi-user requirements of what many call the ultimate
high-wire act: auction day.
Avoiding the high wire
“Painting a picture of the complexity of
activity and the real time pressures during an auction event is
nearly impossible without going into great detail,” states
Carl Borning, president of Proven Software and co-author of SOLD
II, the auction software used by Ernst and Associates at the
Auction Park. “However, in its broadest strokes,
auction software must smoothly manage the ‘big three’
elements of any event – registration, clerking and
is self-explanatory. Although pre-registration is standard,
the ability to handle any and all comers at the door and
throughout the entire event is critical.
the live bidding, a clerk assigned to an auctioneer is charged
with entering the winning bid and the bidder number. As they
clerk each sale, it must be integrated in a secure manner
accurately, efficiently and immediately.
When a customer is ready to pay after winning
an item at the auction, they want to be able to check out quickly
and at any time during the event. Therefore, auction firms
often have multiple cashiering stations for quick check out.
A fully integrated software system allows a bidder to literally
run to the cashier station after winning an item and check out
“Now take all these elements
happening at the same time and add in the requirements of the
physical location,” explains Borning. “Auctions
are performed on site at the company's location and off site –
for example, a convention center or a seller's location; items are
sold within a showroom and also, as in the case of automobiles or
heavy equipment, in an outdoor lot. When multiple rings, or
auctions, are occurring simultaneously, the system has to
accommodate multiple remote locations while allowing the bidder to
cash out at any station on the property.”
still only scratches the surface.
think of a more complex, multi-faceted, time sensitive situation
than a live auction,” says Houston. “Without the
best software and reliable hardware to manage all the elements
smoothly, it would be completely unmanageable.”
If real time,
multi-user computing sounds like a given when it comes to software
and operating systems, it is anything but. Consider that
most end users never use any multi-user applications A true
multi-user application requires that 2 or more users can
simultaneously add or edit records in the very same data files.
Those few other multi-user applications that meet this
requirement, such as some accounting programs, seldom face the
same real time demands and challenges that an auction program must
meet. It's the marriage of well written multi-user
application programs and the operating system that make this
“We have always looked for the proper tools
to meet the needs or our clients and the choice of operating
systems is among the most basic of those requirements," says
SOLD II was introduced as the first
multi-user auction management system in 1982 by Proven Software of
Manlius, NY. The product is currently utilized by thousands
of auction firms throughout North America and abroad.
technology has evolved, so have the options we could offer to our
clients,” adds Borning. “We began with Unix
systems over 20 years ago as the only viable operating system to
support the multi-user requirements of our clients. Windows
networking was deficient in this regard until the release of NT
and later XP. Until that time, correct record locking was
absent. This capability is absolutely essential to avoid
user collisions in the same data records and the subsequent file
damage that can cause.”
Today, SOLD II is
available for Windows platforms (XP or later) as well as for
the multi-user friendly Linux server platform. It is also
available as a secured service via the Internet (SOLDII.net).
The Evolution of Auction Firms and the
Rewind twenty years ago and Ernst &
Associates bares little resemblance to the auction firm it is
“We are a completely
different company than we were then,” says Toby Houston,
owner of Ernst and Associates. “When we first started,
we were selling once a month. We auctioned off maybe 15-20
cars, and perhaps 100 lot items.”
Since the initial
purchase of the product in 1987, Houston has witnessed the
software develop and evolve and her company has embraced many of
SOLD II's innovations. In addition to being the first truly
multi-user and scalable auction system, SOLD II provided the
industry’s first wireless clerking system (online clerking
from mobile auction blocks) and was the first to offer automated
registration from drivers' licenses.
The upgrade to
wireless technology bears mentioning because it allowed Ernst and
Associates to adopt mobile clerking across the Auction Park’s
22 acres. Their wireless system uses the industrial-grade RF
(radio frequency) needed for long distances or where barriers
(such as structures) exist.
Houston, the fact that the software and the technology evolved
with her company over time is a major reason that she hasn’t
considered other software options.
software literally grew with us,” says Houston, whose system
now runs on the Linux platform and includes long-range wireless RF
capabilities. “We were not hampered or stopped in our
growth at any point. They are constantly on the look-out for
affordable new technologies and innovations that anticipate our
evolving needs,” she adds.
For more information about
SOLD II from Proven Software, Inc., visit www.soldii.com
or call 800-487-6532. Write to Proven Software, Inc., PO Box
476, Manlius, NY 13104.