How many software programs do you use to run your business? Do you even know?

With the rise of online hosted software applications, you might have quite a few. You login and logout of different applications all day long without even considering there may be an easier way to work.

Clients often tell us “everything is in QuickBooks” or in their manufacturing system, but when they step back and reflect on overall operations, they realize that’s not true.

  • Orders are coming in through their eCommerce website
  • Sales being managed in Outlook or in a CRM system like Hubspot
  • Emails being sent to customers using MailChimp
  • Support is being managed with ZenDesk

Missing the big picture

While each department is self-sufficient and able to get their work done, having siloed business systems eventually creates problems because you don’t have a full view of your business. Some real-world recent examples we’ve seen include:

  • Salespeople trying to sell to customers with large overdue balances.
  • An inventory system with 5000+ SKUs, detailed product descriptions, shipping weights and cut sheets that don’t exist in QuickBooks, making it difficult for the company to get a detailed understanding of profitability by product.
  • The customer updates their address in the online web store, but because this information isn’t updated in the manufacturing system in real-time, the order is sent to the wrong address, creating extra expense and an unhappy customer.
  • Online orders come into a salesperson’s email inbox, which then has to be typed into the manufacturing system, leaving room for error.

There are hidden costs when your business information is disconnected like this because you can’t see the full picture. Connecting your systems will give you new insight and save you a lot of trouble in the long run. Integrations will also improve your business by:

  • Reducing human errors made because of multiple systems
  • Cutting down data security risks with fewer systems and passwords involved
  • Offering a full view of your business from angles you’ve never had before

Developing a streamlined process

Before we actually do any software integration work, we help clients come up with a process for updating the multiple systems to decide:

  • When should a record or system be updated?
  • Which system takes priority?
  • What’s the “one source of truth”?
  • Who has authority to make changes?

Sometimes these processes are straightforward:

Other times, these processes are more complex, and need to be flow-charted:

  • Is this a multiple item order?
  • Do we have all the inventory in stock?
  • Are there raw materials in stock?
  • Do we need to manufacture or assemble any of these items?
  • Are these all fast-moving inventory items?
  • Can we have items drop shipped?
  • Should we split the delivery?
  • Which warehouse should we ship from?

Signs that software integration should be considered

See how many of these apply to you:

  • You don’t trust the data.
    • You have to check multiple systems to make sure information is correct
    • You spend a lot of time in meetings, on phone calls and walking down the hall to clarify and verify information
  • You’re spending too much time on low value administrative work
    • Employees are re-keying information into multiple systems
    • You have spreadsheets for everything
    • Employee turnover is high because the work is boring and repetitive
  • Mistakes are happening
    • You can’t deliver because the parts aren’t in stock
    • Customers aren’t getting the right information or shipments
    • Information is mis-typed from one system to another


You’ve decided. You need to integrate your software applications.

Once you’ve decided that integrating your software applications is something you want to explore, give us a call. We’ll help you understand what’s possible and how to achieve your goals.

If your software has API access, we may be able to get away with low-cost integration tools without having to create a custom code. There are a few low-cost tools on the market like Zapier, Microsoft Flow, and IFTTT.

If these aren’t enough, we can recommend how to use software development to integrate your systems.  We’ll work with you to understand your business, goals and systems to make a recommendation that best fits your needs.

 

LOOKING FOR SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENT EXPERTS?

Every day we see how profoundly software development can make a difference in our client’s businesses and lives. Software can dramatically increase efficiency and reduce frustration. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help, schedule a call with us! 586.263.1775.


Why is system integration important?

Integrating your software systems is important because it’s the easiest way to stay up to date with our evolving technology. An integrated system will cut down data security risks, streamline your processes and reduce errors.

What are some benefits of system integration?

Benefits of integrating your software are: • Reduced costs • Streamlined process • Easier collaboration • Less security risk • Reduced errors

What is involved in software integration?

All of your current systems will become one system without duplicate information. This will streamline your process and reduce errors. Find a software development team to help you get started.

What are examples of integrated software?

Software integration is many systems becoming one. An example of integrated software is Microsoft Office – containing most programs you need in an office (Word, Excel, Outlook etc.)

Small business has increasingly become dependent on technology. In fact, we often say,

“Every business is a technology business.”

When it comes to small business technical support, you often can’t afford to hire full-time IT staff – and even if you do have one IT professional – that one individual doesn’t always have all the skills needed to keep business operations running efficiently.

Evaluating Small Business IT Consulting Services

When hiring an IT Services company, here are 5 questions that can help you get the best fit for your company’s needs.

1. How will you be billed?

IT service company consulting fees vary based on the billing model. Common models include:

Managed Services – You pay one set price per month, and in return, your computer network is kept running smoothly. This model provides predicable income for the service provider and a budget-able expense for an organization. The challenge is gaining clarity what’s within scope of the set fees.

Set Price Services – Some IT service providers offer set fees, similar to getting an oil change on your car. This pricing model works well for small, discrete jobs.

Time & Expense Services – This billing model allows you to fluctuate your IT expenditures based on cash flow and the intensity of your current IT initiatives

However, you are billed, a good IT services provider will help you find the resolution to the problem but can’t always resolve the problem.

  1. The problem may not be worth fixing. It may be easier and less expensive to buy a computer than repair one that’s 10 years old.
  2. The problem may not be fixable. The hardware and software may be incompatible, and your only choice is to replace one of the system components.
  3. The problem may reoccur. We can remove malware, install anti-malware software and provide recommendations for IT policies and procedures to stop the problem from recurring, but we can’t guarantee your systems won’t become re-infected.

2. Where will the work be performed?

Very few IT services need to be performed on-site any more. While some clients may hire us because we’re a Detroit IT services firm, we actually support clients across the country. Even when clients are right in our township, it’s often simpler and more cost effective to login remotely. That said, when you need software training or have multiple hardware and software issues that need to be diagnosed and resolved, it can be valuable to have local IT professionals come on site.

3. Are you a value-added reseller (VAR) or an independent IT advisor?

Value added resellers typically make a commission on top of the IT services revenue. An independent IT advisor may make an affiliate fee – or may not. The reason you want to know is because a VAR is not going to be as objective. They have a particular software solution to sell. They’re not looking for the BEST software solution for your organization. They’re looking for a good fit with the software they sell.

Now, if you’ve done a software evaluation and you know you want to implement QuickBooks Premier (for example), it makes sense to work with a QuickBooks Pro Advisor who knows the software inside and out. We partner with small business software VARS all the time.

As an independent IT consulting firm, we start with questions like “What’s possible?” “What’s the BEST way to achieve your business goals using technology?”
That may mean looking at several small business software solutions – or even custom software development. We begin with the end in mind and work backward toward the right software solution.

4. Do you do software configuration or software customization?

When an IT consulting firm says they do software configuration, what they mean is that they set it up for your organization. In the case of QuickBooks Premier, they’ll ask you a series of questions, like:

  • When’s your fiscal year end?
  • What states do you pay sales tax in?
  • Are you on a cash or accrual basis?
  • What financial reporting do you need?

The system already supports these options, so the main job of the small business IT consulting services firm is to ensure you understand the questions, and that the software is setup correctly.

When the term is used correctly, software customization can mean a multitude of things, but it ALWAYS involves software programming. Software customization includes:

  • Taking a base pre-packaged software solution, like QuickBooks, and adding features that are unique to your organization. For example, you may take orders in from the web and create an auto-look up of shipping weight and zip code to create a custom shipping cost.
  • Building custom integrations between two software programs.
  • Building an entirely new software program that’s customized to meet your needs. However, this is more commonly (and more accurately) called custom software development or custom software programming.

5. Do you outsource software development overseas or do you use US-based IT professionals?

In this global Internet-connected economy, it’s easier than ever to outsource software development overseas. While you may be able to lower the cost of your IT project, you also need to consider:

  • Business & industry expertise: With most offshore developers, you can’t just “hand off” a project. They don’t understand your business or industry. Can you develop a scope of work that is 100% clear on what you expect to have built? Will the offshore development team understand how to handle exceptions?
  • Communication: How will you communicate your needs? Working with an overseas developer means much more than overcoming a language barrier. Understanding how to translate ideas to software code is a challenge for all programmers.
  • Quality: What’s the quality of the software code? How will it be tested?
  • Support & Upgrades: Will anyone else be able to support the software? How will you upgrade and enhance the software in the future?
  • Privacy: Will your sensitive data and proprietary processes be protected?

Finding the Right IT Services Partner

Very few small businesses today can thrive without leveraging technology to boost efficiency and track metrics. Very small businesses may be able to get by with GeekSquad-type support. As your business grows in size and complexity, it pays to find a strategic technology advisor who has understands both your business goals – and your business challenges. If we can help, please let us know!

What other questions do you ask when you’re hiring an IT consulting firm? Leave us a note in the comments below.

technology business

custom software development maintenance

Custom Software Development – Post Implementation Tips

Custom software applications help businesses get the exact functionality they need. When you’re the only business that does what you do, custom software is a way to add speed and enforce structure, while retaining your unique business processes.

Software Development Tools

Over the last 20 years, our software development team has developed, modified and maintained tons of custom applications. In our early years, we used Microsoft Access for many of the applications we developed.  In fact, we still do quite a bit of Access maintenance work. However, for new software projects, we’ve primarily switched to using rapid software development tools like Django and Python with PostgreSQL or Microsoft SQL Server.

If you’re the business owner or department head, you probably don’t care that much about the software development tools themselves. Your focus (rightly so) is on getting the right solution that fits your needs and is easy to maintain.

What often gets overlooked is the plan for routine custom software maintenance.

Maintaining Custom Software

Like ALL software, custom software needs to be regularly updated and maintained. Unlike off-the-shelf software, the maintenance schedule is primarily driven by you. Certain events may trigger an update:

  • Release of new operating system environments (like Windows 10)
  • Loss of a key software developer
  • Upgrade of a connected software application
  • Change in business processes and procedures

But some clients like to play the “How long can we hold out from upgrading?” game.

Is this you?

  • You have an older computer or server entirely dedicated to running this one application.
  • There’s only one person who is allowed to touch the programming code for fear the entire system will crash.
  • Your business can’t upgrade its systems or business processes because you don’t know how it will impact your custom software.

Outdated Custom Software Creates Risk

You may think you’re stretching your IT budget, but that’s not always true. Delaying custom software updates can add unnecessary risk and cost.

  • Clients who maintain their software regularly typically don’t have to start from scratch every few years.
  • As technology advances – and your custom software doesn’t – your company may be missing out on features that increase efficiency, security and profitability.
  • You may be “forced” to upgrade or replace your software at a time that’s inconvenient.
  • You risk having no one left who is willing or able to support your application.

Make Updates Part of Your Custom Software Development Plan

If you decide to build custom software, budget a certain amount of money to keep your software up-to-date and backed up. You may not know which operating system or database updates will require a patch to your software, but you can expect to do some software maintenance on a regular basis.

Backup and Recovery for Custom Software

Companies that use custom software need to have backup and recovery processes for both the production system and the software source code. The production system, which is the executable version of the software in use in your office, should be backed up regularly with the rest of your company files and databases.

You should also consider how and where the source code is backed up. Without the source code, you won’t be able to make changes to the software program itself. You and your software development company should discuss how many versions of the source code to keep, and the frequency and location of the source code backups. You should be able to access this code in the event something happens to your software development team.

Finally, insist on keeping a change log of updates to the software. If you ever need to bring in a different software development team, this documentation can help them get up to speed quickly.

Need Help?

The custom software development team here at Eclipse Consulting has built mobile apps, custom apps, integrations, and customizations using a wide variety of software development tools. We can help you build from scratch or update the solution you have in place today. See the questions you need to evaluate small business IT consulting services.

Give us a call at 586.263.1775 or click below to see how we can help.

Request a Tech Check

We’re Not Website Designers.

However… We do a lot of work on websites – just not those things you see on the surface.

We do back-end website development work like:

5 Examples of Advanced Website Functionality

The right technical website functionality can make a huge difference in your business. Here are five common website software development projects we regularly see.

1. Enabling Website Self-Service

Today, do-it-yourself sales and support is a growing trend. Adding features like secure distributor portals or customer knowledge bases provide more autonomy at less expense. Built-in security measures can prevent unauthorized users from accessing private information. Self-service gives you economy of scale to support multiple customers and distributors at once. Less overhead for you!

2. Accepting Orders Online

Spend less time taking orders over the phone. Automate the response process. Smooth streamlined sales features ensure your business is presented as professional and trustworthy.

3. Managing Business Processes

Whatever your business is, technology can usually create an easier way to manage the process from end-to-end. Recent projects we’ve worked on include:

  • For a flower shop, we created a workflow that told the florists which specific flowers went into each bouquet.
  • For an events company, knowing the stage of a project, from lead to delivery.
  • For an insurance company, tracking policy applications through to payment of agent commissions.
  • Sending alerts reminding employees what action needs to be taken next.

What needs to happen next in any process? That’s what we help you automate, so you create consistency and build trust with your clients.

4. Routing Requests

Automating workflow reduces paperwork for you. Don’t let sales or support requests get lost in the virtual shuffle – augmenting online support through your website will take care of that for you! Clients get answers promptly. Support personnel can prioritize cases and keep on top of open support tickets until the issue is resolved. Automation can be set to follow your unique business rules.

5. Integrating Sales with Processing and Shipping

There’s no value in re-typing information, only risk of making mistakes. Setting up software integration one time can send new sales orders directly for processing and recoup your precious time for more valuable things.

If you’re a website designer who wants technical assistance, we’d love to work with you! If you’re a customer who loves their website designer but wants more functionality, we’ll work with your website designer to get you exactly what you need. Request an Explore the Possibilities discussion.

Technology to fuel your business