Will Custom Software Make Your Company More Efficient?

January 4, 2019

Will Custom Software Make Your Company More Efficient?

Every business wants, needs, to be more efficient, to do more with less — bluntly to make more profit. And business owners should ask themselves, “Will custom software make my business more efficient and increase my profits?”

Often it can. What are your current pain points?

  • Do you have a clumsy paper-based, error-prone, manual system?
  • Are you running your business on Excel and it’s no longer working or scaling?
  • Do you have people out in the field who need to report to the home office?
  • Do you manage a manufacturing process and your current system is inaccurate?
  • Are you tracking inventory or transportation all over the country? Or just all over the county?
  • Do you have an existing legacy system that can’t keep up?

Then, yes, custom software development may make your company more efficient, and make you more money.

Custom Software to Address Your Pain Points

Of course, if you don’t have any pain points in your current business, you don’t need custom software. (And if so, you might let us know how you’re doing it, because we know we have some.) But assuming you do have some company needs to be more efficient or scale, here are some problems and approaches.

Custom software can replace your paper processes and make things better
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Paper-Based Systems

Many companies, especially small and medium sized businesses (“SMB” — business articles are required by law to use acronyms and initialisms) still use paper-based systems, and paper-based systems have inherent problems:

  • Handwriting. It’s terrible. (Think about a doctor scribbling a prescription.) Reading handwritten notes, and transcribing from a handwritten note, is a major source of errors. Errors cost time and money.
  • Paper. It gets lost. It gets ruined by rain, by coffee spills, by the office puppy.

But paper continues to be used, because it’s cheap, it’s portable, and it’s easily available.

Spreadsheet-Based Systems

Every company uses spreadsheets for some systems. Some companies never get away from spreadsheets as they grow.

  • Is your company using gigantic spreadsheets that have been grown over years and no longer work the way there were intended to?
  • Do you have problems where multiple people in the company need to access the same spreadsheet to do work? You are using a spreadsheet like a database and you are probably frustrated when someone locks out another employee.
  • Are your spreadsheet systems so huge now only one or two people even know how to updated it?
  • Are your spreadsheets limiting the scale and execution of your company?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your business is limited by your use of spreadsheets as a system. Custom software can solve that problem.

Workers Out of the Office

Business no longer happens in the office alone any more. Workers are out in the field, workers are working remotely, workers want to be able to keep in touch when a kid is sick or a car battery died.

Watch anyone who travels for work: they have their phone in their hand. The UPS driver, the person delivering groceries, the trash truck operators. Mobile is the future for a lot of businesses.

Controlling a Manufacturing Process

There are a lot of small manufacturing businesses out there, doing things like custom cabinets or metal fabrication, and all of them have the same problem: raw materials in the door, finished goods out the other door, and customer promises to keep. The old-fashioned way to handle this is a form, usually multi-part, and someone going down on the shop floor to find out where Mrs. Schneider’s kitchen island is.

Where’s My Stuff?

Then you need to get Mrs. Schneider’s kitchen island to her in Chillicothe, so even after it leaves the shop you still need to track it. And back in the shop, you need to account for that special-order marble, or the walnut veneer, or the ridiculously expensive zebra wood you special ordered for her. Meanwhile, in the music store down the street, someone is counting the clarinet swabs and guitar picks because you need to account for inventory in your tax filings.

My Existing System is Bleeding Me

Sometimes the worst problems are ones you already have. You bought a custom solution ten years — or about 4 technology generations — ago. Now you have it, but it’s running out of capacity, it’s hard to change, it’s out of date, it’s just generally beating you up and taking your lunch money.

Custom software, developed with your help, can improve efficiency
Photo by NEW DATA SERVICES on Unsplash

Can Custom Software Help Me?

These problems can be fixed.

First of all, custom software isn’t the solution for everyone. The first thing you should do is look for commercial off-the-shelf software that will handle your business. One of the best things a consulting company can do for you is identify a commercial solution and help you get it installed.

Custom software can put you ahead of your competition in a lot of ways, though.

Mobile Apps

When your business happens out of the office, a mobile app can be a very helpful solution. With modern technology like React Native, Ionic, or with progressive web apps, you no longer need to find specialized developers and create separate apps for iOS and Android. Give your salespeople, delivery drivers, technicians, a mobile app that lets them connect to the home office and you save them trips back, paperwork, and all the associated errors.

Moving to the Cloud

In the Paleolithic Internet, there was always a worry: where would you host your applications? What happens if you get mentioned on TV and suddenly the whole world wants to visit your website?

Or maybe you just have desktop systems that you have to maintain, back up, and manage. It’s all a pain.

Moving to the cloud means moving your applications and servers to somewhere else. Remember, what “the cloud” really means is “using someone else’s computers” and that’s a good thing. Why worry about that when you can pay a very small fee to someone like Amazon AWS, which has to manage all their computers anyway including those scary security challenges?

The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is this year’s popular buzzword. It’s a simple idea, even though it sounds like adding WiFi to a Dr. Seuss book. All it means is that significant, serious computers with WiFi can be bought for around $10, so we can use them in places we never thought about computers before. Like, attached to “things”: flow meters and pressure gauges in oil and gas fields. Scales in a farm or a grain elevator. Even light bulbs and wall switches.

Move manual operations to the Internet of Things and you gain reliability, accuracy, and flexibility, as you can put people to work on unexpected situations and turn over the routine to computers.

Custom software success makes happy companies -- and isn't that what it's all about?
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

How Can I Get Custom Software to Solve My Problems?

Of course this all sounds great, but how can we “bell our custom software cat”?

There are several things to consider. First of all, integrated solutions to these sorts of problems require a wide variety of skills in different areas of technology. Usually, trying to hire your own development staff is a poor solution, and especially for an SMB going overseas is risky. You’re better off with a US development company with a track record of success that can call on a wide variety of skills.

Software development itself has changed. The preferred approach today is what’s called agile development. This means instead of writing a proposal and then waiting six months for the results, the project works with:

  • very close interaction with the customer (you) to make sure your needs are being understood
  • rapid deliveries of software, ideally as quickly as every week or two weeks, so the software grows toward the system that really meets your needs
  • targeting a minimum viable product (MVP), which is simply the smallest system that produces actual business value. Once an MVP is delivered, your business starts to realize value while you learn more about your problem. Then successive deliveries provide more value each time. The MVP approach reduces your risk — if the wheels are really coming off, you know quickly — while providing early value and valuable feedback as you refine the system.

For many companies, custom software, especially mobile applications and cloud-based computing, can make your business much more efficient, save you expense, and improve profits.

Your competition is considering custom software. Shouldn’t you?

Interested in considering a custom solution for your business? Contact us for a free estimate and phone consultation.

Charlie Martin
Consulting Software Engineer

Charlie Martin is a consulting software engineer and writer in Erie, Colorado, with interests in systems architecture, cloud computing, distributed systems in general and innovative applications of blockchains in particular. He is available for consulting through Flint Hills Group.


Charlie Martin
Consulting Software Engineer

Charlie Martin is a consulting software engineer and writer in Erie, Colorado, with interests in systems architecture, cloud computing, distributed systems in general and innovative applications of blockchains in particular. He is available for consulting through Flint Hills Group.