Blog

2014 April

4 Symptoms Your Business Needs Custom Software

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Successful businesses have commonalities; good product, a strong team to support your customer base and systems that allow for efficient, scalable operations. Volano Solutions consults with businesses who recognize that they need a better system to support their business but are not totally clear on the way forward. As an experienced custom software developer, we’ve learned a great deal about business process management and the best approach from a technical standpoint. For many businesses, there are some great off the shelf solutions that can help your sales, marketing and operational departments. There are certainly some great CRM solutions on the market for example. However, sometimes businesses requires a custom solution. Diagnosing when to engage a custom software developer can be tough. We wanted to share some signs that your business will see ROI from a custom software solution.

Anywhere You Work

Anywhere You Work

 You Collaborate Using E-mail

Smaller businesses tend to work together in closer quarters and with fewer clients and customers. As companies grow, e-mail becomes a perilous way to manage and track your business processes. The Harvard Law Review touched on the downside of e-mail communication years ago and their points are still relevant. E-mail is inefficient, can be easily misunderstood and lacks transparency. Were the appropriate people on an e-mail chain? Did work get completed and is everyone always clear on the status? Are people and teams clear on the next steps and who is responsible for the next step? E-mail was not meant as a system to manage projects and work yet many businesses that we talk to rely on an e-mail being sent, read and acted upon in order for work to move through a business process. E-mails can be deleted, sent to the wrong person, missing an attachment or simply missed. When multiple people are copied on an e-mail chain, ownership starts to become opaque and when a client needs status on a project, sorting through thousands of e-mails is a stressful way to piece the puzzle together.

 Your People Are Double-Entering Data

 This one is a no-brainer. In Michelle Bucher’s “The 5 Sins of Inefficiency” she captures the origin of the catastrophe known as double entry. “The sin of double entry is committed by inefficient workflows when people re-enter data into multiple systems that do not communicate.” Transactional inefficiency and the associated time and money are one component, but the opportunity to key an error is greater when people are doing it twice and into disparate systems that don’t talk.

 Landing New Business Means Hiring More People

Growing your customer base should be exciting. Naturally as you take on more work, your staff will inevitably increase relative to your industry and demand. If you do not have a software operating system or one that becomes more difficult  to use as you add people, this is a problem. People need to understand their role and daily tasks. Your system should have strong workflow components that match people and teams with their defined tasks. Tracking this work as it moves from the left side of your business (sales) to the right (accounting) is also key. Documents and notes should follow work through it’s progression. If you have a system, preferably cloud-based, that easily allows for the tracking and management of your work steps, it becomes easier to forecast headcount in relationship to new business and it becomes easier and more efficient for your people to work. Are your people clear when they log into their computers as to what they need to do? If not, you have frustrated staff and lack of clarity and transparency on your business process.

Good custom software eliminates e-mail as a source of process management. It brings clarity to your process and a greater level of efficiency. If done well, your software should allow for your business to grow and change as the market does.

 

Software Code Schools Are the New Black

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Omaha Code School

Omaha Code School

If you haven’t noticed, it seems as though software code schools and boot camps have been opening up across the country faster than you can say JavaScript. There are some important distinctions to be made regarding this movement and the reason people are filling these classes up. Angela Chen with the Wall Street Journal wrote a nice piece on this topic recently and differentiated the types of classes being offered and the people taking them. As an Omaha Nebraska-based software consultancy, we understand firsthand the challenges businesses face finding good junior and senior level software developers and have been paying attention to this recent software school phenomenon.

Who Goes to Code School?

 Traditional elementary and middle school curriculum is devoid of scratch programming and web design. Many parents however want their children exposed to the technology at an early age. Code schools appeal to job seekers as well who realize that there are good career opportunities available and a market for junior level developers. Software Programming teaches logic, higher-level math and reinforces concepts in learning that have applicability outside of the development environment. Corporate managers benefit from learning enough code to be dangerous so that they can more effectively manage software development staff.  Code schools like local Interface and The Omaha CodeSchool strive to get software neophytes into technology careers, promising to “turn beginners into hireable web developers in 12 weeks,” focusing as much the mechanics of coding as on the developer mindset and way of thinking and approaching problems. The discussion about the software development approach and coding style is one that comes up here frequently. The challenge is to understand the client need and business process and develop the solution that is right for them and scales. This requires a level of thinking and approach that is critical to the building and maintaining of a system.

Response

 The response to code schools has been mostly positive.  The World Herald ran an article recently on Omaha Code School’s Sumeet Jain who felt Omaha needed a way to get potential software talent into smaller and mid-sized companies. Some in the software development world are concerned that 12 weeks can’t scratch the surface for teaching coding skills. However, the schools are set up as an intensive introduction and provide the basic framework from which new skills can be acquired and built. Ideally local code schools will help encourage young talent to stay in Omaha as well.  This is not an abstract concept. Recently Mindmixer CEO and co-founder Nick Bowden decided to consolidate his offices in Kansas City , in no small part because a greater talent pool of developers resided outside of Omaha. In that context, the discussion about the efficacy of code schools, at least locally changes the question from are they relevant to what other things can we do to attract, develop and retain people that might be passionate about writing software code. Traditional educational institutions are opening up on-line lectures and classes to the general public and the way in which we learn is changing as the technology that has changed the way we do business continues to evolve. Perhaps code schools, as they mature, will provide outlets to students who might not have otherwise realized a hidden passion for code.

 

Knowing Expectations with Workflow

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In the early 1990s Gallup started to collection data and analyze the correlation between employee performance and various aspects of work life. They discovered that employees who knew what was expected of them at work were the most likely to be in productive teams. When employees answered negatively or even ambivalently, the lack of job clarity often gummed up production.

Two years ago, Volano had the privilege to be part of Gallup’s EAS program and it was there that Rod and I learned about the Q12 employee questionnaire and just how important setting expectations is for employee engagement. Gallup’s research tied in completely with a concept we started formalizing and implementing in 2009 as part of our custom software: Work Queues.

Work Queues are the home page of your workflow. They are lists of the work you or your team are responsible for. These queues are shown to you immediately when you sign into the application and provide navigation directly to the area of the application where you can complete the task you’re responsible for.

This creates an excellent work environment for the employees who want to be effective – the employees you make sure you keep.

Custom Software and The Growth of SaaS

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Software as a Service

Head in the Cloud

Cloud-based software is blowing up these days. Recently Cisco, Google, Amazon and Microsoft made the headlines after announcing their investment in cloud technology. According to Eric Knorr with InfoWorld, the latest news helps us better understand the utility of cloud software and its role in user experience and b2b technical relationships. Knorr states, “To be clear, the events of last week do not indicate that we’re getting any nearer to putting everything in the cloud. But it’s getting clearer what should and shouldn’t be there. And what should be there is getting closer to its destination.” As a software consultant, Volano has seen firsthand the rise in demand for cloud-based technologies. In fact, consumers and businesses are realizing the benefit of cloud-based software that allows access to their work anywhere, solves a specific problem, has simpler, less-expensive pricing structures and is often more intuitive and business process friendly. Two of our mobile apps, Action Card and Steelwool are good examples. Both mobile apps were created to help serve a businesses where traditional on premise software was cost-prohibitive or did not solve their problem.

Software as a Service

Software as a service (SaaS) is defined as multitenanted software maintained by the provider with a browser-based client with a key focus on the user-experience. The opposite of this would be larger, enterprise systems or on premise licensed software. There are some key differences between the two. On premise software takes time, personnel and equipment for setup. Usually businesses need to purchase and maintain the server hardware and the systems are complex and expensive. Often maintenance contracts are needed and can be a large time commitment. SaaS models do not require server hardware, are priced on a “pay as you go” model and offers secure access from remote offices or the field. For many businesses, SaaS product offers a less expensive means of operating their business, tracking work and managing costs.

Working on the SaaS side of software as a consultancy forces us to continually evaluate the efficacy of our software in terms of the user experience. How easy is it for customers to find us? How easy is it for them to try the software and perform the necessary configuration to allow it to function in their business? This understanding comes from relationship building, communication and listening to the needs of our clients. To a large extent, the key to success in the SaaS space is bridging the gap between theoretical need and practical application. What was it designed to do and how is that playing out by the client? Good SaaS product incorporates features requested by the user and enhances their involvement and user experience.

Ideal SaaS Product Design

Joel York, the Executive Director of Marketing and Product at Meltwater Group wrote a good piece on SaaS product design that touches on the challenge of maximizing relevance for this cloud-based technology. Noteworthy is the extent to which marketing plays a role in the right potential customer driving traffic to your site. Creating content (public page optimization) that is useful to people, original and optimized so that search engines drive key the right people to your site. York writes that “great SaaS products provide an experience that adapts to the interest and expertise of users over time.” I agree with this. Software changes rapidly and SaaS product requires that you become an expert on the challenges your clients face. Not only does your software need to make life easier for them, your clients will stay with you when they see you as a subject matter expert in their field. Steelwool is wonderful representation of Volano’s understanding of workflow management and business processes. Action Card quickly demonstrates a keen understanding of franchise relations and the challenges of brand protection and franchise field management. As your customers adapt to the changes in their marketplace, so to must software continue to change. Agility, utility and access are at the core of this and the SaaS model will likely continue to grow.