Is software (or the lack of it) hurting your business?

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re thinking about or have thought about having custom software created for your business. This article (the first in a series) will hopefully help you get more clear about when and why custom software can be a good investment for your company.

Full disclosure: My name is David Galownia and I own a company (igNew) that creates custom business software. But I’m not the guy who’s going to tell you it’s always a great idea to get customized software. I always tell companies the truth about both the benefits and drawbacks of custom software for their specific situation. It often happens that a client believes they need custom software when they actually don’t. And it often happens that a client thinks they have a great idea for custom software but actually there are several factors that make it not that great of an idea.

I have no problem telling potential clients my honest opinion about their chances for success, because I want to, above all, make sure the solutions we provide for them have lasting value and that the company decision-makers have no regrets about their decision.

Okay, now that you know a little about my philosophy, let’s move on to the topic at hand.

Reasons for getting custom software

While every company is different and it’s hard to speak in generalities, most good reasons to get custom software boil down to a company having a unique business process burdened with a troublesome amount of inefficiency. Mostly this will be inefficiency of handling data–i.e., a company doesn’t have an easy way to collect, aggregate, or analyze their data.

Let’s look at a few ways this can play out in concrete ways. (The stories used below are all taken from our clients.)

Current software is outdated or not well-aligned

Some companies have legacy software in place (off-the-shelf or custom) that has ceased to be helpful. As companies and business practices change, software that made sense a few years ago might not cut it. And the company has such unique processes, there is not a good off-the-shelf software that will meet their needs.

One of our clients is an investment management firm that uses unique algorithms to track portfolios and make investment decisions. They had legacy software in place, but as they had grown that software was not ideal for their now larger volume of clients. When they came to us, they were relying on a patchwork of different processes, including a legacy custom system, Excel spreadsheets, an Access database, and various paper forms. The current work processes were time-consuming and inefficient. It was clear that their legacy software wasn’t meeting their demands, and there was no off-the-shelf software that would either. So custom software was the most logical choice.

No dedicated software; things are done manually

Some companies are lacking in dedicated software, despite having repeatable business processes that would clearly be a great fit for automation. This is especially the case for niche companies who are not well-served by off-the-shelf software. These companies may still use spreadsheets and manual calculations to get the data they need, and they may be fully aware that they’re wasting a lot of time as well as taking away from the core focus of their business.

It’s understandable how things can get to this point. When companies are small, inefficiencies are easy to overlook. When a company gets big enough, though, at some point the inefficiencies pile up and affect more and more employees and cause more and more waste of time and money. And this will usually also lead to poor outcomes for customers. Many of our clients are companies that only recently grew to a size big enough to where the inefficiencies in their processes became so obvious they could no longer be ignored.

One of our clients is a large metal processing facility with hundreds of employees. Every month, they had to look at their orders and forecast demand, so they could a) know how much product to make, and b) allocate money in the right places. They were doing most of this manually, using a system of multiple employees, spreadsheets, and manual calculations. If they wanted to look at what-if scenarios, all the factors had to be input manually in the same time-consuming process. Because their business was unique, off-the-shelf software was not a good fit for them.

Data spread throughout organization

Similar to the last client’s story, many companies end up in a situation where important data is spread far and wide throughout the company, and it’s difficult to “pull” the data out when it’s needed.

It’s been said that these days, “data is the new oil,” just because understanding customer data and business data is so fundamental to getting an edge on the competition and succeeding. The more visibility you can get on your business-related numbers, and the more real-time that the data can be seen and analyzed, the quicker you can adapt to market conditions. The right custom software will allow that data to be pulled more efficiently into one place, and for it to be parsed and distributed quickly.

Bottlenecks slowing up workflow

Sometimes there are certain processes at a company that run slower than others. These bottlenecks can be good candidates for custom automation.

A company in the health insurance industry frequently needed to reach out to medical offices and doctors to send them various forms. The forms then needed to be completed by the outside parties and sent back. The company was doing this manually, with several employees writing the emails, attaching the forms, and then uploading them once the forms were returned. This was a clear candidate for custom software. We built them a system that automatically selected the necessary forms, emailed the forms and a message to the offices, and allowed those offices to upload the forms directly to our client’s servers.

Added value for customers

Besides pure work efficiency, sometimes custom software improves a company’s image and adds value for their clients. A company might add a membership portal for their clients, where they can check up on their account information. A company might create a tool where customers can go online and place orders, apply for services, or run reports. A mobile app could be a huge value-add when a company’s customers find it valuable to access their information on the go.

These days, many customers expect a company to provide them something in the way of an online software application, and this is one reason many companies look into having custom software made.

A client of ours works in commodity risk management; e.g., they consult for large companies that use common materials in their production processes and help them determine when to buy and sell the associated futures contracts. Before deciding on custom software, their process involved consulting with their customers via email and phone and sending them manually created reports. Their expertise was extremely valuable and their process got the job done, but our client also knew that a dedicated customer portal would be more impressive: it would give them a competitive advantage in the marketplace and open the door to acquiring new customers.

Just part of the story...

Again, a process being inefficient is just one factor in thinking about whether custom software would be a good idea. There are other factors that must be looked at before moving ahead.

In our next article, we’ll discuss other signs that investing in customized software would yield a large ROI for your company.

If you have any questions about anything I’ve said here, or want to talk about whether custom software might be a good idea for your business, reach out to us with our online contact form here, give us a call at 502-272-1123, or email me at david@ignew.com.

About igNew

I’m David Galownia, the owner and President of igNew. igNew is a proven software development team; we’ve been building transformative solutions since 2005.

At igNew, we’re driven by a passion for solving problems and enabling your business to achieve greater heights through technology. Our clients are typically medium sized, high-growth companies who are striving to be more efficient, more agile, and more profitable. We will work with you only if we’re confident we can drive a substantial return on your investment.

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