What should you know before planning custom software development?

What is custom s/w development? Why would you have your custom s/w developed? What will you get and what risks you will face? I have seen a number of software projects being started and watched some of them fail. In this document I will tell you all that I have learnt so far and give you many real life examples. You should read and digest this before you embark on custom s/w product development. You will be at amazed what you have learned!

Only constant is change

I will start with an example. An insurance company wanted to provide automatic quotation based on a specific insurance product and offer this on-line to clients. Nowadays you can see this everywhere: you populate the insurance quotation form and it gives you back cost of the insurance. There is nothing fancy about this now. But number of years back, this idea was dearly thought. There was a group in the company that dreamt about that and here is what they did:

They hired a software company to develop this for them. But the conditions that they set were unusual. They insisted on the following:

·         The product had to be hosted by the developer.

·         They didn’t want to pay anything for the development. They would lease the product and pay per month as if this was an existing product and they had just joined to use

·         The most intriguing condition was: their own IT group should in no circumstances find out the real deal and that the product was developed specifically for them!

You can see right away that there was something going on there. Something was not right. Why hide it from the IT group? Aren’t hey there to do software projects for them, just like that one?

This goes to the heart of the custom software development. It has to do with daring, wanting to break out, doing something out of the ordinary. To do that you have many odds to beat: your own establishment, existing procedures, even your own IT department.

We are witnessing technological revolution. We are constantly bombarded with information about new things happening and specifically on Internet. There is constant flow of new ideas; we see new and amazing businesses rising out of nowhere. We feel that everything is changing and the old world is disappearing. It is normal to make your adrenaline rush and to want to get on the wave and do something.

There is one fact that you should have in mind, and it is nicely said: “The only constant is change”. Not only that, the pace of change is becoming faster and faster. The change brings some good and some bad things at the same time. It forces you to constantly adjust and change your business. Those that don’t will lose. It is not a question of whether you want to or not, the question is how quick. You may miss out. Look at examples around you. Some book sellers have adjusted and are now selling electronic books; others have missed out and failed. Think of what is going to happen to video stores and rentals, newspapers that still print. There are examples everywhere. You company may be the next.

New projects to consider

So in order to embrace the changes and get ahead of competition you have to make use of the new technology. To achieve that, you need people with new skills, that weren’t there a couple of years ago. Here is a list of projects that you should consider:

Redo web site

You have to make your web site up-to date; if it is 2 years old it is time for change. You have to use proper platform for the web site, have all latest elements including news feeds, user comments, links for users to find you on Facebook and Tweeter. This list will be different already next year.

We have just redone our websites. What you see is a new version. We have split one website that was offering many things, to several specific sites, each of them specialising in its own area. This is simply a must for many reasons. Being friendly to Google is one of them.

Make sure you have the right people that know enough about keyword optimisation. It doesn’t end up by adding several keywords that you think are right. This is science in itself and requires deep knowledge of Google algorithms, statistics and having right keyword analysis tools. This is an area that must be covered by your company’s on-line marketing strategy and your website is a starting point for all that.

Automate processes

Automate processes to do repetitive jobs instead of people. Properly designed software will do things always right. Processes will be done following your standards, all communication will we done in the right way. Nothing will be lost or forgotten.

You will still need some people as the most you can expect the automation processes to cover is about 70-80% of cases. The rest will require human intervention. There are always exceptions and situations where only people can sort out. Your employees will have better quality jobs and a happier work place.

I have done several automation projects. The last one is described in our Insurance web site. It is called “Virtual Underwriter”. Here is a quick description:

This is software that provides services to insurance brokers. There are several interesting aspects of the software that may give you ideas on how to solve some problems:

The software gets requests from brokers via email. It monitors incoming emails on the system to detect ones that request the services. It processes the requests, accesses database, calculates premium ratings, creates PDF quotation documents and prepares data to be returned to the broker.

Once the quote is prepared the software logs in to the broker’s website and enters the result of the quotation. It logs in like a user but it does it programmatically, behind the scenes. It navigates from page to page until it finds a proper form, populates the data and presses Submit button. All this is done via program and without manpower.

Having the automated process caters for two aspects:

·         It can process much bigger number of quotes, as there is hardly a limit how many the system can do

·         It allowed the service to be offered to many more brokers as providing a quote does not cost anything

There are many variations of projects like that. You can do virtually anything. It is just a matter of seeing the potential what the automation can do.

Make clients do the work for you

How can you make clients do the work for you? This is when they update their data on-line, pay for subscription, populate long forms to request a quote, book events etc.

The fact is that most of your clients will like to do that if allowed. They will feel empowered if they are able to manage their own affairs.  There is also satisfaction when the job is completed and that they are in control.

You will save day-to-day costs by having less people on phones waiting for customers to call.

The data will be more accurate as well. There is no retyping and interpreting of someone’s writing. All data is captured and saved the first time it is entered.

Integrate systems

Integrate different systems that you have. You have already realised that purchasing different systems for different parts of processing may have solved part of your problems but also brought many new ones. You have struggled to make them work together? May be it’s now time to integrate them properly.

I have seen many bandaid solutions. A typical solution involves number of people not doing anything productive, just regularly checking that right files have gone from one system to another. It is not in everybody’s interest to have systems working properly together. It definitely is in yours.

Mobile Access

What about making use of the huge potential of the smart mobile phones to reach your clients and give them tools to access your data while on go? Be sure your competition will do so.

It is interesting what happened to us. We knew that we had to offer a phone app to access data from our applications via phone. It is understandable that an employee should be able to find clients details via phone, or that the client should be able to see their data at any time using the phone. We knew that, and we scheduled the project to be done in three months.

Two weeks later a customer called asking for the same product. Even we have underestimated the need and the speed with which new technology must be mastered. We had to reschedule projects and make it available as fast as possible.

There are other areas that only you can see. Think of an ideal solution you would like to have and try to make it as close to that as possible.

 

 

Slava Krnjetin Slava Krnjetin - I have graduated Mathematics and then turned to IT and never looked back. I have now over 25 years of experience in IT industry doing consulting and development. It has always been my passion to follow the new IT trends and tools as they evolved over years.

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