Embrace Your Business Uniqueness! Your Web Server Can Run Your Entire Business The Way You Want It To
One of the things I notice with clients is that, no matter what industry they’re a part of, there are usually desktop or web-based software solutions available that are (1) specific to the client’s industry, and/or (2) otherwise desirable even though they cater to a more broad range of industries.
- Specific Industry Example: a software suite to help realtors manage properties for sale — very industry and process-specific stuff there.
- Broad-Ranging Example: a CRM system that is ostensibly applicable to any business model. And why not? All businesses need to manage customer data somehow.
Commonly, though, no matter what solutions have been implemented, companies often find themselves incompletely satisfied by either end of the above spectrum.
Problems with Industry-Specific Solutions
Getting an industry-specific software package is great, and is usually a good way’s toward what would be absolutely ideal in terms of a software suite to move forward with. But, as each business is unique in its practices and preferences, you may not find an *exact* fit for your purposes and processes.
In these cases, business owners tend to either (1) simply move ahead and not get what they truly want — maybe it’s just some very specific type of report based on data in the system, but just isn’t a standard menu item, or (2) supplement these systems via standard office-type software (such as Excel, for example). Yep, that works too. Excel to the rescue once again! (Only, you wish you didn’t have to bother with what should really be part of your core system.)
Problems with Broad-Based Solutions
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s often much worse. If you select a big CRM package, for example, you’re likely going to have to install something that’s 100 times more powerful than you need — way, way more complex than is practical for you.
Desktop-based CRM packages are like this, for example. Often, they do things like provide email services. And, yeah, that’s great — but maybe you like Gmail or Outlook and don’t want to use some new package for that.
Or if it’s a cloud-based CRM, it may still be overly complex — replete with a huge learning curve, too many options and levels to get your head around, as well as ongoing monthly expenses, often on a per-user basis, too, which means you have to decide who gets what, and at what level. Hey, it’d be great if the office manager had “unlimited”-level access, you might think… but is it worth an extra $125/month for me to add her to my account? That’s kind of the thinking that goes into these things sometimes.
The “We Do Everything Out of the Box” Solutions
There’s even a third (far worse) scenario out there, which is the industry-specific software that also attempts to provide, in *one* ridiculous package, “everything” a business needs.
For example, it might be one of those pieces of software that claims something like: “Restaurant Master” provides 100% of your software needs for running a restaurant. It does ordering, it does HR, it does accounting, it does social media, it does your email, it generates coupons… and sure it does do all of that — in the way that it prefers, not necessarily how you would do it.
And of course there’s always that one thing (or two things, or three, etc.) that it *invariably* doesn’t do — which is a major bummer for you, not to mention the issue of: What happens to all of your data if you ever want to switch? It’s just kind of messy.
Same Industry Does Not Mean Same Needs
What’s more… in *any* scenario above, these packages still have to cater to widely differing business needs. After all, even if you’re a contractor (a specific industry) and using some package for, say, estimating jobs (a specific task within a specific industry) … well, that package probably caters to all sorts of various ways contractors approach that — not to mention the various trades that all probably do it differently and (often) inconsistently company to company.
Conclusion: You’re Unique
When it comes down to it, most businesses are *unique* in their desired processes and preferences. And, while what I’m ultimately getting at here is normal time-honored database / server / programming techniques, I’m amazed that more companies today do not seem to consider *100% customized* systems to manage their corporate information and processes.
What I’m saying is that, whatever your business wants to accomplish in terms of handling all of the data it generates and manages, one hugely attractive option is to build out a system for that using your web server.
Hypothetical Case Example: “Premium Auto Sales”
So, let’s imagine a company called “Premium Auto Sales.” They have 20 sales people, some marketing people, an HR manager, accounting, etc. When we imagine this dream system of theirs, let’s think of all of their needs as “screens.” These screens aren’t web pages anyone online could see; rather, they’re back-end screens available to people who login. In other words, ALL of the employees (and owners) of the company could login and gain access to areas that help them manage their roles. So, what types of screens would they need to have access to?
Well, let’s start with the owner. She needs high-level information — realtime reports about sales over various periods, maybe some sales employee performance graphs, and of course the ability to make changes or edits to anything on the system. (The sales manager would need some similar screens and functionality.)
Individual salespeople would need access to their own stats, and maybe some comparisons. They would also want input screens for customer information when sales happen, as well as various screens to record financial info. They could mark cars as sold, or change the status of cars — maybe input details of any trade-ins and mark them as new tasks for the mechanics.
Mechanics would need screens to open vehicle files, make notes about what they do, and maybe mark them ready for sale.
Marketing people would need access to the vehicles to input pricing info and marketing copy (which would then flow seamlessly to the web site). They may also benefit from screens that generate ads for their favorite online promo sites like CraigsList, for example. Naturally, those ads would pull from the descriptions already written about each vehicle.
Human resources would need access to screens for hiring and terminating people, and perhaps to manage other employee manual-type information, and maybe even to manage salary information.
Accounting could benefit from customized reports from sales-data, which they could copy or export to their software (and/or possibly even integrate with it in a more real-time way, if such an API were available.)
Roles and Privileges
In systems like this, users have roles and privileges. Owners cam usually do everything, and others can do only what they are allowed to do. What’s neat about that is, while it sounds highly complex (and it is!), much of that is already built into open-source web software anyway. So, when we build out custom systems to handle all of the above for all of those parties, the foundation is already there, more or less.
So, we setup and define such roles, decide who can (and can’t) do whatever is available, and then we get to building out all of those screens. There’s a great degree of efficiency in such a system because so much information gets used over and over for all of the parties, only in different ways.
- The mechanics input their service history once; that then flows to the sales side where the sales rep can access and print it for the customer.
- The marketer inputs the description once; that then flows to the web site and the advertising copy.
- The sales person inputs the final sales price once; that then flows to the owner reports and to accounting.
So, any time we need information, we get it from the original source and re-use it in new ways. It’s efficient, and keeps all reporting for all parties up-to-date in realtime vs. the old ways of exporting data to Excel all the time and generating new reports that are outdated upon delivery.
Of course, the big question is: What’s the cost-benefit analysis for my company? And, really, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that since all companies are unique. I can tell you, though, that while it may seem a daunting task to build-out all of those “screens,” as I described them, what we’re really talking about is a standard data-driven web-based application. That sounds complicated to many business owners, but it’s actually a routine project for web development companies.
I think many business owners are so far removed from this aspect of the tech world that considering such an approach just doesn’t happen very often. But, it really should because you get a solution that’s 100% tailored for the business you’re running — zero extra features that you’ll never use. There’s something very attractive about that for a good deal of business owners because they get exactly what they want instead of settling.
Jim Dee heads up Array Web Development, LLC in Portland, OR. He’s the editor of “Web Designer | Web Developer” magazine and a contributor to many online publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. Photo atop piece is adapted from “Unique” by Ross Griff (Flickr, Creative Commons).