The Zen approach to designing a business system

Part 2: Modeling—The Who, What & How of it

This is a continuation of Julie’s story who is trying to automate her entire Bakery Cakes-&-Kisses (which makes yummy cakes for weddings and special occasions). From age-old pen-and-paper methods, they are moving all their business processes to Zoho Creator, an online cloud business application maker. Join us on our journey with Julie as she marches ahead.

So Julie designed this system with long forms and a lot of data duplication. She realized it is soon becoming messy. So she sought the help of an expert business consultant Natasha to get things sorted out. And here’s what Natasha tells Julie.

Who’s who in the business system?

Natasha’s first exercise was to help Julie identify who the people and the things are that are involved in her business. Here’s the list that Julie came up with:

  • The Bakery Staff
  • Cakes
  • Customers

What are the properties/attributes?

The next thing is to identify what attributes/properties of these things/people matter to Julie’s business activities. “For example, let’s take ‘Customers’. What attributes of ‘Customers’ matter to you, Julie?”, asked Natasha. Here’s what Julie instantly jotted down in reply:

  • Name
  • Gender
  • Address
  • Zip/Postal Code
  • Returning Customer?

Separate changeable and unchangeable attributes

So which of these attributes could change over time? It is most probably the customer’s address. So it is important to separate the changeable ones from the unchangeable ones (or ones that wouldn’t change often) into separate tables (In Zoho Creator terminology, we say: separate them into different forms).

So in our case, for Cakes-&-Kisses, we would create a separate form in Zoho Creator (‘table’ in computer database terminology) for ‘Customer Addresses’. Natasha made Julie repeat this exercise for all other people/things involved.

How do these relate to each other?

The next step is to establish relationships between these various people/things (let’s call them ‘entities’ for easy reference). How is the ‘Cake’ related to ‘Customer’? How are the ‘Bakery Staff’ related to ‘Cake’ and ‘Customer entities?

Entities born out of relationships

When we form relationships between these entities, we see that some new entities are born out of these. For example, what is the relationship between ‘Cake’ and ‘Customer’? It’s an ‘Order’! Yes, because the Customer places an Order for the Cake. Let’s look at another one. What about the relationship between ‘Customer’ and ‘Customer Addresses’? You got it! It’s ‘Delivery’! So we need a Customer’s Address to deliver the Order.

Business scenarios

Another thinking exercise is to go over various user scenarios, also called ‘Use Cases.’ This also helps us identify the missing entities we haven’t thought of yet. We will go over this in detail in the next blog post.

Why all this toil?

So here’s Aunt Ann’s advice! Before you sow the seeds, you need to spend time and effort to plough the soil. Isn’t it? So this is just that. So keep ploughing, so your business system is built on fertile soil!

This is a guest post by Priya.Sri, a Zoho expert. Passionate about the ways in which software and automation help achieve in the real world, and in making businesses more productive, she publishes articles about best practices for businesses. She has been designing and implementing custom business workflows/apps for small and medium businesses for four years, and brings with her a rich experience of about 15 years in the software industry. For more information, contact