The best software solutions don't normally look like "one of the cool kids".
When looking at small business software solutions, we tend to look for:
- The most powerful looking, sounding, or appearing.
- The most sophisticated, most cool, most modern (and maybe even have a new acronym!)
- The most intricate and detailed.
However, there is still a fundamental rule about finding a customer or vendor phone number in your organization:
"The quickest, fastest tool for getting a contact phone number in your organization is still the Rolodex"
Think about this before you rush to your conclusion that we are crazy, outdated, or perhaps even a technological Luddite . . .If your problem is you can't quickly find a customers phone number, the best software solution isn't even software. By the time you open your email/contact manager, get your smartphone, or some other technology you can reach 2 feet, and get to the letter, if not the very entry you are looking for.
Lots of solutions are like this. We can create sophisticated, multi-layered tools (and there are good reasons we will get into later in the article), but it's important to rethink what the best solutions is.
Let's bring more clarity:
- A Rolodex is great if you only have one user needing contact information. If you have more users needing the same information, it can be horrible.
- Anytime someone needs a phone number, you have to stop, get up, and interrupt the Rolodex master, and get what they need.
- If the user doesn't have a great memory, the have to write the details down before they walk away.
- A Rolodex is great if the contact detail doesn't change often. If it does, you can find yourself in a mess.
- Changes require copying and rewriting the WHOLE card perfectly. Any error will be permanently committed, and recopied at every change.
- Every change has to be conducted by the Rolodex master. When someone else requests a change, they have to submit the change, and wait for the update (assuming it did get updated).
- A Rolodex is great if you already KNOW what you are looking for. If you don't know the index name, it can be almost impossible o get the information.
- If you index by company name, you need to know the company name. If you index by the name, you need to know the name (first or last?). What if you only remember the last name and city?
- The index makes sense to the Rolodex master, but no one else might even think that way.
"So clearly, a Rolodex is the best solution when you only have one user who needs the information, manages the information, and knows the information."
If you are still hanging with the "Rolodex" metaphor, then lets think of how it applies generically to information within an organization. How do we develop the best software solution for your organization?
Determine the Real User(s)
Is there one central user/role in the organization? Are there other users that can benefit from this information? Can the information be used in other processes in the organization?
Determine how Dynamic the Data is
Does the data change often? Is it all the data, or just key elements? Does the data need to be validated before it is updated?
Determine how Users Access the Data
Do users already know what they want? Will users ever need to find data by partial elements? Will users need to access the data in the middle of other processes? Is the data critical to a process, or can it wat?
Determine Data Validation
Is it faster to empower users to update information directly rather than run through a "gatekeeper (or vice versa)? Do you need a history of the changes, or just the current values?
Clearly, this is a bigger thing than it seems . . .
Take the above and walk through a mental exercise. Instead of a customers phone number, substitute a vendors. Or an Inventory Item. Or a Purchase Order. Or a Sales Order. Or a Item Standard Cost. Or a received payment.
All these data elements are important. Some closing thoughts to think about:
In some cases a Rolodex (or in modern equivalence a printed report or binder) for a key user is the fastest way for them to have access to a piece of data.
Multi-User access is a key element in designing the best software solution. If you have multiple users (or processes using the data), you must centralize and possibly control access.
Controlling who updates data is worth the extra effort in designing the best software solution for your organization. Sometimes it is overkill and not worth it.
In the real world, it can often be the smallest, simplest solutions that gain you the most benefit. Let's revisit the idea of finding the contact details for a customer.
Look for Time Savings, Data Integrity/Quality, System Stability
A key element in evaluating whether a solution is effective or not comes down to the following questions:
- Does it save time? Just think about a 10 user office, saving 5 minutes a day. Sounds infinitesimal. However that's 50 total minutes a day, On a classic 5 day work week, that's 250 minutes (4 hours). 52 weeks results in 216 hours. That is almost 5.5 work weeks. What would you do if you hired someone (for free) who already knew your organization, was already in your systems, didnt need retraining, for almost 6 weeks?
- Does the data have integrity? Is it accurate? Is it relevant? Is it accessible? It is easy to manage and validate?Is it protected from theft, damage, or disruption?
- Is the system stable? Is it sustainable? Is it backed up and can it be restored in case of errors or misuse? Can it scale and grow?
Building the best software software solution for your organization can take a lot of thought. Don't assume the latest and greatest is the answer. And don't assume it's not. Evaluate what it is you really need, and why. Then look at the solution. Avoid investing in bells and whistles, and look for the key elements of a real solution, fit for your organization.
Want to know more?
We are very interested in talking with you about your needs. We want to make sure we are a good fit, and understand what you are trying to accomplish, and the best way we know how is some quick discussion. Please contact us via the link to get the process started.