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4 Things to Consider When Creating Your Employee Portal

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An employee portal can be a very powerful tool. It can save company resources, increase employee engagement and expedite processes, but it must be created thoughtfully and with the end user in mind. Employee portals have become (watch out, here comes a software buzzword) robust! Truly though, employee portals are now far more than an access point to the employee handbook. Be sure to consider the following when designing your employee portal.

Offer Self Service

Although employee portals are expanding, their traditional core functions should remain IT and HR functions. When employees need to make a request or access information, they should be able to rely on the employee portal as the centralized hub. Now, the employee doesn’t have to track down emails, information, forms, etc. to accomplish a simple task. Furthermore, instead of reaching out to IT or HR, waiting a few business days for a reply and wondering what stage the inquiry is in, your employees can get things accomplished quicker and with fewer company resources.

Make It Mandatory

If you’re a business owner or leader, that part about using “fewer company resources” probably caught your eye. While custom software isn’t one of the cheaper things on the budget, the ROI can be pretty fantastic if created and deployed correctly.

At Volano, we create custom software that works for you. Your employee portal should be streamlining processes and saving company resources. There’s just one catch; your employees have to actually use it. To put this into perspective, a recent study reported that two thirds of the respondents say their employee portal has reduced the administrative burden on HR.

Don’t maintain antiquated systems for the folks who simply don’t want to create a log in or “figure it out.” Optimize your ROI by making certain functions of the employee portal mandatory. With a little training and patience, you can get more out of your software investment.

Populate It With Information Your Employees Care About

While the core functions of HR and IT should be a big part of your employee portal, it doesn’t have to be just the stuffy, corporate stuff. You can house information about company events, the calendar for the softball team, or employee recognition and rewards. Make it a fun, social place for employees to connect.

Make It Mobile

Did you know that here in the US we spend an astounding 4.5 hours each day on our phones? It doesn’t even sound possible, right? Well, it is. They’ve become an extension of our bodies. Currently, only 11% of employee portals offer mobile access despite the fact that those portals which do offer mobile access gain more than 2 times as much engagement. Your employees want barrier free access to information, they want mobile access. Ensure that your dollars are well spent by making mobile access a must for your employee portal.

10 Things the Volano Team Loves About Omaha

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Some of us are transplants and some of us are lifers. Some of us have strong roots here, and some of us admittedly long for the coast or a mountain range, but we can all agree that Omaha is a great place for the Volano Team for several reasons…

The Tech Community

We’re in what’s known as the Silicon Prairie; an emerging tech hub right smack dab in the middle of the US. Tech talent has recently been drawn to cities like Omaha for the abundance of job opportunities and our strong economy. There are even great resources like code schools and internships all over the city to get the next generation involved in tech and keeping the tech community growing strong.

The Entrepreneurial Support

Not only can Omaha area entrepreneurs lean on our great economy and strong pipeline of tech talent, the community support of our entrepreneurs is pretty insane here. Investors and connections don’t just fall in your lap, but they certainly aren’t impossible to find. Coworking spaces and incubators are popping up all over the city to foster the growth of startups and entrepreneurs.

Omaha is Becoming More Walkable and Bike-Friendly

We’re seeing more bike lanes and more people using them. The city has also made plans to bring in an expert on making cities more walkable. We’re about a 7 minute bike ride from the heart of downtown, in NoDo (or North Downtown), so safe walking and biking is a huge plus for us.

The Music Scene

With several awesome, funky, divey venues around town, you can have your pick of genres in the underground music scene here in Omaha. You can catch a show somewhere around town just about any night of the week. We’ve even had a few successful recording studios pop up with great promise.

We Have an Abundance of Great Food Trucks

The food truck scene exploded in Omaha in the last few years and we couldn’t be happier about it. Every Friday a different food truck comes to our building and we have yet to be disappointed. That might just be the best part. You can find food trucks in any other city just as easily…but are they anywhere as good? We think not.

The Art and Craftsmanship Community

We’re builders, it’s what we do! Some of us are even part of the Omaha Makers Group. There are a lot of events and organizations that support the arts and craftsmanship in and around Omaha. You can see a strong embrace of the repurposing movement here in Omaha, with a unique blend of old and new; you can see it everywhere from our art to our architecture.

The Economy

The strong economy here makes it a little easier to compete for and attract great software development talent. It also makes it easier for us to offer a healthy work/life balance. The folks in Omaha don’t live to work, they work to live and fortunately, that’s a currency we can get behind.

The Folks are Friendly

It’s kind of like an airplane around here, if you don’t want to chat with someone, you should keep your earbuds in…and even that doesn’t always work. People are just plain friendly in Omaha. There are always outliers, but you’ll just about always catch a smile and a wave on your walk, whether you know a soul or not.

Craft Brewing is Huge

Not gonna lie, if this list had an order, this might be #1. The craft brewing scene has blown up. We now have several really top notch breweries around town. There probably isn’t a day you can walk into the Volano office and not see a growler sitting around waiting for the next fill up.

The CWS is in Our Backyard

Not literally, but if we had a backyard at the office and it was one block away, the CWS would be in our backyard. It’s a really fun time in Omaha and a really fun time at the Volano office. We can walk to the stadium, hang out around the tailgates, or make that short bike ride to the heart of downtown.

Workflow Automation Fails

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As they say, “Every rose has its thorn.” Workflow automation is intended to create efficiencies and increase consistency, but that isn’t always necessarily the case. Custom workflow software needs to be created thoughtfully, with a team of professionals who have seen it all and done it all. As leaders in custom software development in Omaha, we know exactly what the common pitfalls of workflow automation are, and how to avoid them. In this industry, knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does.

Fail #1: Information About Process Management is Being Hoarded

Let’s say Suzie (not Suze, for all those Seinfeld fans out there) was part of the creation and management of a core workflow. Everything was flowing perfectly, until Suzie left the company without passing along vital process management information. Now, the employee taking her place either spends company resources figuring out the process, making and correcting errors, then eventually gets it. Or, they simply abandon the established, working process and create their own to get work flowing again. Neither of these outcomes are ideal. Be sure to procure documentation about every process with context around details and functions. A documented workflow system effectively kicks down the walls that castle builder Suzie has erected. This will seem like a back burner task…until Suzie has left, then it’s a full on situation.

Fail #2: The Workflow Prevents Manual Error Manipulation

There are many situations in which a person in a workflow or post workflow sees an obvious error but cannot manually fix the error or effectively alert relevant persons about the error. In these situations, the person using the software and the person having to clear up the mess the error caused might just wish for their old pen and paper process. The last thing we want is for your custom software investment to work against you. We will always suggest manual intervention in certain areas of your software development.

Fail #3: Your Workflow Lacks a Transparent Look Into the Sequence of Events

We see this roadblock cause the most damage in employee portals. Every employee loves the convenience of an automated process they can complete on their smart device. The problem arises when they have made a request or filed something that requires follow through…but it never comes. They’re not sure if their request got lost in the series of tubes that is the internet, they’re not sure if someone is working on it, or if they performed their submission incorrectly.

In any workflow in which a sequence of events would be relevant to someone involved, we suggest offering that transparently. It’s an oversimplification, but we love how Pizza Hut created their app; it shows a clear timeline from order to delivery; who’s making your pizza, and when it went out the door. ‘Cause people need to know about the status of their pizza!

Experience in workflow automation is really the only way to avoid these common fails, and we’re proud to say we have plenty of it. Not all software is created equally. The planning and thought that goes into your custom workflow software, is what will make the finished project a success. For more on the Volano process, click here.

3 Ways You’re Killing Productivity

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Every business owner is concerned with productivity. It’s one of the most important metrics a leader can measure and improve upon. It’s usually pretty easy to focus on outside distractions and seek out obvious inefficiencies. It’s not quite so easy to realize when you as leader are the roadblock or the bottleneck. Take a second to reflect on these common ways leaders are killing productivity in the workplace.

You’re Bogging Your Team Down With Tasks That Could Be Automated

Have you embraced technology? We mean really embraced technology. You’ve probably ditched the filing cabinets and ledgers, but there’s so much more. There are endless possibilities when it comes to automation.

When you automate tasks you enhance efficiencies and consistency, and reduce the use of redundant resources. Take a look at each task that is repeated on a daily or weekly basis and at least consider the idea that it could be automated. What would that look like and what would be the return over one, five, or ten years?

Read more on automation here.

You’re Hoarding Information and Responsibility

Information is power, so why do we tend to find all the information closest to the top of the ladder? Sometimes leaders don’t think the information is necessary for the task, they don’t want to take the time to give context, or they might even think giving too much information can be overwhelming.

Stop underestimating your team and start empowering them. First, figure out why you aren’t delegating and sharing information. No time? Maybe you need a centralized information hub. Worried about follow through? Perhaps you need automated work queues and accountability alerts. Doing it yourself is just easier than training someone? We know it’s hard to give up that control, but it’s 100% necessary in order to foster growth and support scalability.

You’re Not Conveying Clear Expectations

Do you ever get frustrated because you can’t seem to get your team to do exactly what it is you want? Well, have you stopped to consider whether or not you’ve made your expectations clear? Communication can be a really funny thing, especially when your main communication medium is email. So much can get lost in translation, and lack of context can be a productivity killer.

Stop assuming your expectations are clear. Stop relying on email as a project management system. Instead, create concrete goals for staff members. Be sure you and your team have a shared understanding of what success looks like with each step. Does this feel like a lot more trouble than it’s worth? Trust us, it’s not. Conveying clear expectations and standards consistently will set the bar going forward.

Could you use a more productive staff? Let us help you help them! It’s what we do; we help leaders find the inefficiencies and productivity blocks in their team (including themselves). Let’s talk about how we can make work flow in your organization.

Let’s Talk About Your Sales Emails

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Custom workflow software is a necessity for any sales team that is not operating optimally, solely with an out of the box CRM…basically all of them. Over the years, we have worked with many sales teams. We’re the guys who create the software that makes sure all of the promises made by a vendor or service provider are followed through on: on-time delivery, security, accurate ordering, automated communications, and a whole bunch of other great stuff that keeps customers happy and coming back.  

Given all of our success working with sales teams and managing our own sales, we thought it would be a nice change of pace to talk about the beginning of the sales cycle, rather than the end, where we spend most of our time. More specifically, we’d like to talk about sales emails! Here’s what we know…

A little effort, please?

We get that there is a diminishing return when you spend too much time optimizing your sales emails with personalization and customization. There really isn’t any practical way to ditch the templates and canned emails, but a little effort can go a long way.

Take your sales email template and add fields within to make customizing each email quick and easy. There are the obvious point of contact fields and company name, but be sure to add specifics about their business challenges and industry insights that add value to your communication.

Get down to it.

Lead with the benefits of your product or service. That is really all these people care about. What can you do for me? What will I get out of speaking with you? What is the value? The sooner you can provide these answers, the better your chance of getting a solid lead.

The proof is in the puddin’.

People want to see results. They want proof that you can and will deliver on whatever it is you’re peddling. Hard numbers and statistics can be really powerful. Not everyone has time to read your case study, so make it short and sweet with a powerful proof point, before and after pictures, or client testimonials.

Use your CTAs wisely.

“Learn More” is getting a little stale, right? Remember up there when we talked about adding specifics and industry insights to your email copy? Use those bits of information to create eye-catching, customized CTAs.

Let’s say Volano wants to work with a trucking company, building their employee portal (which we totally did). We might add a “Let’s Get Truckin’” linked button within our sales email, or a “Portal to Your New Portal” link. Cheesy or professional, these are really simple customizations that grab attention and prove your eye for detail.

We hope this helps our sales team friends out there. Generic emails to huge lists will only get you on the spam list. Taking just a few more small steps to add personalization to your sales emails will prove worth it! Even if fewer emails get sent, a dozen well-written, thoughtfully crafted sales emails can be more impactful than a cold, canned email sent to thousands.

7 Ways to Instill Trust in Your Website Users

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A couple of months ago we launched our interactive division here at Volano Solutions. Every project is different, but there are a few things every client wants: increased revenue, more sales, and customer loyalty. Those are standards in our website project objectives. Whether you have an ecommerce site or your site is simply meant to be informative, there are some elements we consider essential in establishing trust with your users. So, let’s talk about how Volano builds trustworthy websites…

  • Reviews and Testimonials

According to a Bright Local study, almost 90% of consumers have read online reviews to determine the quality of a local business, and 39% do so on a regular basis. When you make these reviews readily available, you can establish trust sooner without making your customers dig for the information.

  • Showcasing Clients

Showcase your clients by adding their logos and links to your site. A nice touch would be adding case studies for those really successful projects and relationships. It’s always best to gain consent first.

  • Press Mentions

Be sure to share your positive press mentions. A simple slider with excerpts from articles in which your organization is given props can go a long way in reassuring potential customers and clients that you have a solid reputation for taking care of your customers.

  • Memberships and Awards

Do you have A+ ratings, certificates, memberships, awards, etc.? Be sure to add mention of these on your website. These acknowledgements let your site visitors know what they can expect from you. They are further proof that you can guarantee the level of service they’re looking for.

  • Security Policy

Your customers want to know what measures you’ve taken to ensure their information is secure. Be sure to offer a security policy that includes what systems and tools you use on your site, complete with logos/badges.

  • SSL

An SSL is now a standard online security feature. An SSL is a digital certificate that verifies the authenticity and identity of the merchant or organization. This certificate proves to visitors or online shoppers that the website is secure and reliable.

  • Presentation

Last but certainly not least, presentation is key to gaining trust. You need a professional site with authentic imagery and relevant resources. Additionally–we beg you–please be sure your text is grammatically correct and proofed for spelling errors. Nothing will discredit an organization faster than an unprofessional site.

Not too bad, right? These are all really easy additions to make to your site to instill trust in your visitors. Want to know more about how you can offer your site visitors a safer, more reliable online experience with your brand? Read more about our interactive division here. Then, give us a ring.

Top 5 Reasons to be a Developer at Volano

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We are one of many custom software development agencies in Omaha looking for great developers, but that’s where our likeness with local firms ends. Everyone offers cool perks and the promise to deliver great code, but those are expected variables, not differentiators. The same way a ping pong table isn’t an employer brand.

It’s tough to find great talent that’s in it for the long term and fits the company culture. It requires more than a classified ad, it requires real transparency of the value proposition of employment. So, away we go…

Project Diversity: At Volano, you get to work on a myriad of projects, not just the same old project month after month. We have a diverse client base and lasting relationships, meaning our developers and clients work together long enough to establish a true understanding. Still, new and exciting projects are always coming down the pipeline. As a custom workflow software development agency, it’s not only clients and industries that change, but the problems, solutions, successes, and strategies that change as well.

Software De Novo: There’s nothing quite like a blank canvas to foster collaboration and ignite creativity. This is how most of your projects will begin: from scratch. Our tagline is, “We make work flow.” We revel in finding dynamic, innovative ways to optimize processes and workflows with our clients. You will never deliver a product you’re not proud of because we don’t offer 80% solutions.

The Latest Software Development Tools: Around here, we’re picky about a few things: clients, technology, and whiskey (or whisky, depending on your palette). We want to be the best, so we settle for nothing less. We fully understand and appreciate the ROI of using the right tools, being selective about clients, and… who cares about the cost of whiskey as longs as it’s amazing.

An Open, Collaborative, Team Based Environment: We’re not siloed here. In fact, our software developers work directly with our clients. We saw an intrinsic flaw in the traditional client>project manager>developer flow of creating custom software: a massive game of telephone in which all parties speak a different language. We saw work environments in which developers would walk in, soak up some third party information about a client, and code for hours to create software for problems, organizations, and people they’ve never met and have no chance of understanding. Little to no collaboration seems to be the norm, but that’s not how we develop. We believe in an open, collaborative, team-based approach to innovative software and solutions.

Fun As a Core Value: Be it daily darts, Whisky Wednesday, or ‘putting the week in the books’ on Friday, we provide a fun work environment. We’re in this together and we’re in it for around 40 hours each week. Fun and a work/life balance are not lost on us. From the top down, we want everyone to walk into and contribute to a positive work environment. Something, somewhere along the way sparked an interest, or dare we say passion, for software development–the way it challenges you, the excitement of “going live,” or when you finally find the bug! We want to keep that spark alive.

If this sounds like a company you can get behind, contact us and let’s see if we’re a fit. Or, if you know someone that sounds like a fit, we are hiring a mid-level and/or senior-level developer with placement bonuses for referrals after 6 months. Thanks for your time and we hope to see you slingin’ darts in the Volano office soon.

Work Management Is Not Task Management

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You often hear of people complaining they need a better task management system. That’s why there are so many different apps for task management. But who needs an app for something that is relatively easy to manage with a good, old fashioned pen and paper?

Work management, however, is where people generally need help, but most don’t know the difference between managing tasks and managing work. There are so many differences that we’re going to cover the similarities first, of which there are two.

With both work management and task management, you have something to do and after you take care of it, you check it off the list.

Those two instances are the only similarities between work management and task management. Since work management tends to be a bit more involved, we will delve into its key features.

Steps

Work is always part of a multi-step process. In order to begin managing your work, you need to determine the steps and where they fall in the workflow. You also need to define who is responsible for each step.

Fields

Pertinent and ancillary information associated with your work will fall into fields. The information in these fields can range from contact information to the date a contract was signed. You define what type of data will be stored in the fields, including: text, numbers, web addresses, geo-coordinates, pick lists, or anything else you can think of.  We have found that many times, particular fields are filled in by the people responsible of certain steps.

Work Queues

Work queues foster the accountability we talk so much about.  They allow people to see what they need to work on and in what order. How does work end up in a particular queue? It can either be directly assigned to a person or can appear based on which team they are assigned to. For example, all of the work in step 1 is directly added to each team member’s queue. Pretty nifty, huh?

History

Having a history of work completed is essential to good work management. It brings the transparency necessary to know where the bottlenecks are in your process or to answer your clients when they ask, “what’s taking so long?”  It would be short-sighted to not keep a running history of who worked on what and when.

Reporting

The purpose of capturing fields, tracking steps and recording all other detailed information is to be able to produce reports. Reports are essential for both a high-level and micro-level view of the work. At a high-level, it is important to ensure nothing is falling through the cracks. On a micro-level, you need to be able to answer the questions of who, why and when for each aspect of the work.

Over the past 9 years, we have focused on architecting and implementing custom software that helps businesses manage their work, allowing it to flow through their unique processes.

What Has Workflow Automation Done for Me Lately?…A Lot.

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It’s no secret, we are big fans of automation. We love finding processes of all kinds that can be automated with thoughtfully developed software. It’s very satisfying to work with a client and find those processes that be redesigned to save time and valuable resources. The ROI of this type of software development makes workflow automation a no-brainer. In case you’re still on the fence about your organization’s need for workflow automation, we thought we should share some of the more impactful benefits of workflow automation.

Reduce Errors

It’s the simplest way to reduce errors -reduce the number of decisions a person has to make in a given process. At its core, workflow automation is an interactive checklist wherein the completion of one action, triggers the start of the next action. Everything happens in a predetermined order, making errors a thing of the past. The right software will notify relevant members of the team of late work, missing approvals and overlooked tasks.

Improve Communication

Manual notification of completed tasks is no longer needed. The moving of responsibility to push an action forward is no longer up to teammates. Instead, automated notifications keep every project moving forward. Communication isn’t eliminated, it is fostered. With automated workflow software, notifications and project status updates are designed to keep all members of the team communicating about and working toward the same goals in a central hub.

Foster Employee Success

Workflow automation drastically reduces human error and lag times inherent in unguided processes. Employees are given the tools, information and accountability they need to be successful in their given role.

Reduce Costs and Save Resources

The element of human error in manual processes can have a domino effect and become quite costly. Additionally, the lag time in manual processes can be crippling. When a process is automated, it is optimized and streamlined, saving time and resources.

Provide Scalability

When the day-to-day tasks that burden your workforce can be automated, organizational resources are opened up for other, more dynamic work to be done. These vital resources are now available to drive the success of the organization, rather than continue to slow employees down with mundane, mindless tasks.

Improve Organization

Chats, email and the human memory will only get your organization so far. Organization is essential to growth and success, no matter what data or information we’re talking about. Information needs to be searchable and accessible and automatically presented to employees to move progress forward as quickly as possible.

Real-Time Reports

Paper-based processes can be painfully slow and inaccurate. With automated processes, information is documented and shared in real time. This makes reports immediately actionable, rather than suffering intrinsic lag times that often make information irrelevant by the time it is acted upon.

What Does a Successful Project Look Like at Volano?

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There are a lot of components that define the success of a project. Most would use budget and timeline to define the success or failure of a project. However, if the project is completed on time and under budget, but the product of the project isn’t optimal, that can hardly be called a success. So, we think it’s important for our clients and prospective clients to understand how we define a successful project.

Complete or Complete Success?

Everyone defines a successful project differently. Beyond that, successful project management doesn’t always necessarily mean project success. An author at the International Project Leadership Academy classified common definitions into five tiers:

  • Tier 1 – The project was a success if it delivers all or most of what it said it would (the scope), regardless of schedule or budget performance.
  • Tier 2 – The project was a success if it delivers what it said it would, on schedule and/or within the agreed budget.
  • Tier 3 – The project was a success if it delivers what it said it would, on schedule, within the agreed budget and to the expected quality standards.
  • Tier 4 – The project was a success if it delivers on all agreed project objectives, be they scope, schedule, budget, quality or outcomes based (i.e. goals to be achieved or strategic positions to be attained).
  • Tier 5 – The project was a success if the product produced by the project creates significant net value for the organization after the project is completed.

Communication is Key

It’s a lot right? Because there are so many different definitions of success, it’s important to have an open dialogue with clients about what the success of every project looks like. When you’re on the same page from start to finish, expectations can be communicated and met at every step. I know what you’re thinking, Shouldn’t this all be mapped out in the initial contract or scope of work? Well yes, but there aren’t too many projects that go exactly to plan and sometimes that’s for the best. And since we know to expect it, we can communicate it.

Our Client Relationships Are Never Complete

Not only are there many different definitions of success, there are different perspectives. A project can be deemed a complete success, but then a few months down the road things start to look quite different. Let’s assume we’re talking about custom software to fix a pain point. The software development project might stay on budget, get done ahead of the deadline and do exactly what it was designed to do. However, after some time, it becomes apparent that no one is using the software, they don’t know how, they don’t have the time to learn the new process and keep up with business, etc.. Whatever the reason, at the end of the day, that’s not a successful project.

All of this is to say, we actually don’t define what a successful project looks like. Instead, we work with clients to flesh out what their definition of a given project is. After all, it’s theirs -their software, their investment, their solution. Let’s talk about what this all means to you and your organization.