Tips for Designing a Custom Software Solution for your SME
If you are the owner or CEO of an SME and you realize that it is time to take your business to the next level, here are tips for designing the ultimate Software Solution for your business.
As I have been developing and designing custom software solutions for many clients in my business, Noproblem Systems, I have a very good understanding of how to go about it and I would like to share it with you here. I will give you ideas on where to start and which items to focus on at the start, and which items to leave for later.
Start with Familiar Processes
Everyone knows that when you make use of technology, so much more possibilities exist than when you do things manually. One of the biggest reasons that a project could fail is because it is too ambitious. Do not try to get to the ultimate system in the first version. The first version of your software should only replicate what you currently do manually and then also it might not even be a full replacement for your processes. There is such a learning curve that you as a business owner has to go through in order to understand how your business will function with the new software, which pitfalls you didn't foresee and how your staff will react to it.
Target Internal Processes Before Customer Interfaces
It will be tempting to show off your new interfaces to your clients, by providing them with a great new online experience. However, this could be very detrimental for customer relationships if your staff are not fully in control of the system yet. Therefore, focus on your internal processes. Make sure your processes and staff and your new software solution are fully integrated and operational before you can even start to think about client interfaces.
Engage with your Team from the Start
Change Management is a huge topic for many larger business. How to help their staff to accept and adopt the new systems.
In 2015 we implemented a new solution at a client that replaced a very old and limited desktop solution. The client did not involve their staff in the design of the new software and did not ask them what features they would like to see. Consequently, the staff were negative towards the system. This made the transition difficult and it took longer than usual to implement. Years later, everyone has settled into the software and accepted it, but the process is normally so much easier if the staff can get excited about the new software.
The staff of a business is their most valuable asset and should be carefully nurtured. When all of them are involved right from the start, and they feel that they are being heard and that the solution is in fact there to make their lives easier, they will buy in.
Another important part of this process is to make sure that everybody understands that the aim of the new software solution is not to take anyone's job away. In fact it is there to help everyone to be more efficient and professional and with the time saved, the same staff can be applied in places where the business is currently lacking.
Identify the Bottlenecks In your Processes
In every business there are some processes that simply take too long to do. Some of them are out of your control, because they depend on a third party. Some of them are because of slow processes, such as manufacturing, but some of them are just not justifiable. Those processes could be bottle necks, and they should be some of the first processes that you should target.
Take this example from a small company that manufactures pool covers: They have project managers who perform site visits and every month they generate a number of quotations. Once accepted, payment needs to be made and only then material can be ordered. Since the company has only one accountant, they have to wait for payment to be cleared through the bank account before they can order to materials. This is an example of a bottle neck.
By implementing a software solution that focusses on placing more power into the hands of the project managers, the bottle necks are removed. For example, once the client has paid the deposit, the manager captures the proof of payment on the software and therefore no longer has to wait for the accountant to review payments before placing the order. That is one bottle neck busted! It reduces the time to delivery by 2 days for the average customer.
Go After Internal Email Processes
Email is a great tool and even more so because a history of a conversation is held. However, when there are processes that depend upon email communication internally, those processes should be evaluated. Emails are not 100% reliable. They are often eaten by spam filters, people make mistakes in the recipients or they are just lost. Sometimes they are accidentally archived.
That does not mean that email is not a great tool for notifications. In fact our systems usually generate some notices through email, however, there are always interfaces that keep the information in one central place.
One of the biggest advantages of a solution over emails is that you can easily hand over the work of one person to the next. When using email as the method of communication, emails are user specific. You need to get into their mailbox or sometimes into their computer, before you can have someone take over their work when they are sick or on leave.
Your Big Enemy: Spreadsheets
Spreadsheets such as Excel, Sheets or Numbers, are great for performing Ad-Hoc calculations. It is even a wonderful tool for manipulating reports in, and we use it all the time as an output format for our reports.
However, when a spreadsheet becomes a database that is being emailed from one person to another, or even when it is used over a network, on a daily basis, that is bad. When they are emailed they could be lost, become out of sync between users or are not updated in time. When they are used centrally, such on Sheets, that is great, but basically a user could accidentally change important data that alters the result.
In a real business, a process that involves a spreadsheet should be converted to a database software solution, so that the solution provides the protection and guidance to the user. If your business uses any of the above, those processes should be high on your priority list for conversion.
Brainstorm with your Software Providers
Through the entire process is is crucial to brainstorm with your software providers. They should have much more experience of helping companies automate their business processes and therefore will be an excellent source of knowledge. Some companies, like my business, Noproblem Systems, do not charge for a limited amount of initial brainstorming. I myself have sat with many people, advising them from my experience and I love dreaming with my clients about their businesses.
If you would like to ask me some advice on any of the above, please feel free to contact me and may your planning for your business software work out great!
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