Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Seeing the wood from the trees!

In my business I get to meet many business owners, from all industries and services. Whether they are IT focused, plumbers, builders, accountants or even schools - Each one has their own needs, their own pain points and their own requirements for their business.

The Conversation

Last week I met with a new contact. He was the business owner and was interested in how Apptimi could help him work better. To help him in the discussion he brought along an IT contractor who "spoke my language". The conversation that followed was interesting:

The IT pro started first:

Q1: Doe's it have an API?
Q2: Doe's it export in XML?
Q3: If so what standard?

Next was the Business owner

Q1: Will I need to train my staff
Q2: Will I need to spend more on IT integration?
Q3: Will it export to Excel and Sage?

The Lesson Learned

What struck me (once again) was the completely different perspectives on what was required. For the developer it was all about this standard and that standard, or about extending it to do other functions. He was looking at our products as a starting point and was already looking to extend and add in additional functionality. He was looking to start more development even before the system was even launched internally.

For the business owner it was can he get it installed and running now and will it work with his existing apps. He was looking for a solution for his needs now and how it would make his life easier today.  He was looking for something to make his business more productive today.

If the business owner wasn't present at the meeting what would have been the feedback from the IT guy about the suitability of the product?  Would we have been excluded because we didn't make his needs in the future? It was an interesting thought.

Seeing the Wood... from the trees

As technologists we are very at ease with technology. We are very comfortable with the vast number of different platforms, standards and where the technology business is going. We are also regularly in contact with other developers and other IT companies, and as a result we get lots of input on our tools and where we should be focusing. We also have our likes and dislikes and love passing our advice and knowledge onto others. Me included!

This can be a death sentence to any business. While I love talking to my fellow technologists and hearing what they are working on, what's important to them is not necessarily important to our customers. Relying on reviews or input from your own circle of industry experts can lead you in the completely wrong direction and take away your focus.

For the Business Owner

As a business owner you should take time to ensure your needs are being addressed and while IT professionals are great and their advice can be indispensable, it sometimes pays to ask the basic questions. Believe it or not but you know most about your business and what it needs today.

Developers - Staying close to the Coalface

The business owner is the person at the coalface. They are the people who work away each day to make their business happen and It is their pain points we need to be addressing and where we put our focus and our efforts. As developers and IT professionals we need to put ourselves into the shoes of the business owner and help figure out what's really needed, not what we would like to be working on.

On to the next conversation!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Getting A Grip on Your Data

Too much data
If you’re a business owner, then you know about data overload. As business owners, we produce way too much data in too many formats yet most of us lack the right  tools to manage all this this data. Whether it’s data generated from invoices, deliveries , time sheets,  expenses , site visits, development tools, customer support and lots of other sources most small businesses need more help to manage this avalanche of critical data.

There’s more to data management than Excel
Let’s face when, when most business owners are asked what they use to manage some of their most valuable data, the answer is often just Excel. Excel has been the go-to data collection and management tool for so many businesses for so many years. And while Excel is an easy option for the unskilled, it’s no longer of much real value to businesses that want to maximize the value of their data 

Push data so you don't have to look for it

Sharing is  caring
While spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel  are very useful and reliable tools, they are essentially financial planning tools. They are for capturing tabular text and numbers but what about everything else? What about sharing with other staff, or interacting with your customers and suppliers?

It is not just about numbers
When you look as your data needs you find more and more non numeric data is being managed - This can be sharing entire documents, pdf’s and even excel worksheets ( try attaching a PDF into Excel).  Add in the fact that we work in a time where we are interacting more with our customers, our suppliers and the need to exchange rich data with all players is critical to business success. There are more and more requirements to exchange information with other systems such as accounting, CRM and stock management applications. This is where a smart database with sharing and workflow integrated can make managing and sharing your data smarter and

Enter the Business Database

This is where having a database integral to the business can be critical to the success of your business.

Do you know your Mysql , Mongo db or  SQL?
Importantly  business database should not require a degree in IT to manage. Having to install Mysql , Mongo db or  SQL Server is ok for those that make a living out of IT systems, but for business owners and staff this low level tech is not their day job. You shouldn't need a degree in SQL query to be able to create and manage your own database.

Time = money
For most SME’s,a dynamic database builder tied with workflow can provide all that is required and yet are simple to set up and manage. These are key to the SME - Why invest additional time and resources in a database when time and resources are the two things you have the least.

10X better
When you share data what happens when it is updated or something is added? How do you get notified in a way that doesn't consume what little time you and your staff already have? This is where workflow layered on top of a flexible sharing tool-set can energize your business and increase productivity ten fold.

What can a database do for my business?

With a flexible database and query tools you can not only improve your productivity with your staff, you can transform how you work and interact with customers and suppliers.

A good cloud database and workflow solution can let your customers share your information, use forms to enter new requests to your staff, allow customers to order new products, or suppliers to update details directly to your database. All this in the cloud, 24/7 and with no software development required.

Endless opportunities to manage your data

Add in workflow for smarts
Small business  can be put off by Workflow applications - It sounds complex and takes too much time and resources to properly implement a sound workflow application. While that is true of some of the more complex workflow apps, many modern apps are more than usable for any small business owner.

Smart workflow takes the pain out of managing your business

Workflow gives you actions on your database - When an inquiry is added by a customer or a contact form is submitted who  receives a notification? Who is responsible for action on the form? By building simple workflow rules or actions on to your database you can transform how you business operates and increase your productivity enormously.

Features that every business database should have

When looking at a database solution for our business you need to keep in mind some requirements that will serve your business well:

  • Sharing in the cloud (access 24/7 from anywhere)
  • Supports both desktop and mobile users
  • Facilitates interaction with your customers, suppliers and contractors.
  • Rich data storage such as attaching documents, photos
  • Access management controls such as roles and groups.
  • Extensive Data security built in
  • Workflow for managing actions on your database
  • Import/Export tools for exchanging data with other systems
  • … doesn't require extensive IT skills to set up and manage.

Get a grip
Business data needs are going to only go in one direction and that’s ever increasing in both volume and complexity. Getting a grip on your data now will help your business manage it better in the future.