Organizations may have inefficiencies in their processes that can be costly in terms of man hours. Time performing trivial tasks, dealing with poor software, or handling mistakes would be better spent elsewhere. To help your organization make better use of its time, this article will show you how to find inefficiencies and evaluate potential solutions.
This document focuses on inefficiencies that have software solutions - I call these inefficiencies software problems. Such problems manifest themselves in different ways. They can be related to performing menial or error-prone tasks, such as doing calculations by hand, or may be experienced as frustration from using the wrong software for the task at hand.
Software problems have software solutions. I consider two types of solutions: off-the-shelf and custom solutions. Off-the-shelf solutions are pre-made solutions for solving generic problems that are usually experienced by a wide audience. Custom solutions are tailor-made to solve a specific problem, and work with unique systems and processes.
The rest of this article is divided as follows. It will first describe how to find software problems in your processes. It will then cover how to determine if an off-the-shelf solution is adequate for solving inefficiencies in your processes. Finally, it will provide a guide for deciding whether a custom solution is best for you, and how you can evaluate different solutions.
Finding Software Problems
Software problems may exist in a number of your processes, without you even realizing it. They cause inefficiencies, leading to wasted man hours performing unnecessary or trivial tasks. The goal of this section is to serve as a guide for finding problems in your processes that can be solved with software.
To determine if one of your processes has software problems, look for the following symptoms
- Repetition: You or your employees perform the same step, or series of steps, more than once. An example could be entering the same data into different pieces of software.
- Performing menial tasks: Your process involves a person performing trivial actions by hand, such as calculations or copying information. Such tasks can be performed more efficiently by a computer, with less likelihood of error.
- Frustration: You or your employees may often get frustrated or annoyed during a step of your process. This is a sign that your software or process could be improved.
Tasks that are repetitive, trivial, or prone to human error can often be automated through software. Generally, the solution is to only require inputting the information once. The software will then perform the necessary calculations and update the relevant systems. This improves efficiency by reducing the time spent performing unnecessary tasks, while limiting the opportunities for human error to the single input stage.
Frustration is a sign of problems with existing software. It may be poorly made, or the wrong tool for the job. In this case, your process can be improved by finding a more appropriate piece of software for the task.
By solving inefficiencies in your processes, you can spend more time on productive tasks, improving your bottom line. Finding the appropriate software solution, however, is not trivial. The next section provides a process for determining whether an off-the-shelf solution is appropriate, or whether you require a custom piece of software.
An off-the-shelf solution is an existing piece of software that you can purchase or use for free. This section provides a guide for determining whether such as solution is adequate for solving the problem at hand.
The first step is to write down your problem. For example, the problem might be that your task tracking process is inefficient, because you are having difficulty managing a large list of tasks in Excel.
Once you know your problem, make a list of existing solutions. You can search online, or ask colleagues in your industry. If your issue is an inefficient task tracking process, you could search for “task tracker” or “issue tracker” in Google
Now that you have a list of potential solutions. Go through each solution and ask the following questions:
- Will it actually solve your problem? Does it have the features you need?
- Does it have too many features? This can be a sign of over-complicated software.
- How much does it cost? Will increases in efficiency make up for this cost?
The last question is particularly important. When estimating the cost of software, you should not only look at the price, but try to find hidden costs, costs that don’t show up in the price. Hidden costs can include
- Support costs: if you require immediate help from the developer, you may have to pay extra.
- Training costs: if the software is difficult to use, you may have to spend time or money training your employees.
- Customization costs: if the software is customizable, you may have to spend time or money changing it to fit your process.
- Management costs: some software requires a dedicated full-time expert to manage and customize it. For example, companies may require a specialist to manage platforms such as Sharepoint or Salesforce for them.
- Other costs: if the software you are using is poorly designed or meant for a different task, time may be wasted by using it instead of a piece of software more suitable for your needs
If the solution solves your problem while reducing costs, it is adequate. Off-the-shelf software is generally adequate for processes that are similar between companies. Such processes include
- Project management
- Payroll and human resource management
Even if off-the-shelf software is adequate, it may not be the best solution. The next section discusses how to determine whether a custom solution is the best choice.
This section serves as a guide for determining if a custom software solution is best for you. It will provide factors to consider when deciding whether to go with custom software, and how you can determine which custom solution is best for you.
A custom solution is tailor-made for a specific process. As such, a custom solution is best applied to a unique process that gives you a competitive edge. If you manufacture furniture, for example, increasing the efficiency of your manufacturing process will boost returns and give you an advantage over competitors.
Other factors to consider when deciding whether to go with a custom solution include
- The length of time you plan on using the software: While custom solutions tend to cost more initially, they make up for this cost over time by increasing efficiency and reducing the time wasted performing trivial tasks. The longer you plan on using a piece of software, the more that a custom solution reduces costs.
- You want to adapt to problems as they arise: Custom software can be modified upon request. As you become aware of inefficiencies, the software can be modified to handle them
- It can replace multiple pieces of existing or off-the-shelf software: It may be worthwhile to have a single solution that does everything you need instead of multiple solutions that do not integrate well with one another.
- If you will require ongoing support: Custom software developers will often provide better support than off-the-shelf providers. If you require a feature or need a bug fix, it will likely be done faster by a custom software developer, as they do not need to consider a large and varying audience when making changes.
If you decide to go with a custom solution, you can request proposals from development shops. When comparing proposed solutions, important factors to consider include
- Whether the proposed solution will actually solve your problem.
- The length of time it will take to see returns. If the developer writes software incrementally, you will likely see returns quickly.
- The cost savings from improving efficiency will likely negate the cost of developing the software.
As with an off-the-shelf solution, if the proposal solves your problem and is cost-effective, it is likely a good choice. A major advantage of custom software is that, over time as your understanding and awareness of inefficiencies improves, you can keep improving the software.
If the process you are improving is unique to your company, if you plan on using the software for a long period of time, if you want to adapt to problems as they arise, or if would like to replace multiple pieces of software, a custom solution is likely best. In this case, it is worthwhile to contact software developers to discuss potential solutions and get quotes.
If your problem is common to many companies, such as task tracking or accounting, then an off-the-shelf solution is likely best. Compare existing solutions to see if they meet your needs, but be aware of hidden costs such as support or training.
If you are unsure, please contact YGen for a free consultation on the problems you are experiencing and your available options. We can help you determine whether you should go with an off-the-shelf solution or a custom one. If we believe a custom software solution is best, we can discuss potential solutions and provide a quote.