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Mobile Apps

Coronation Street on Mobile AppsCoronation Street

So, the boss “accidentally” watched Coronation Street last week and it’s ruffled his feathers a bit. (Spoiler alert) Apparently, Street Cars is in trouble because it is losing all its customers to a rival firm that has a Mobile App.  Not to be outdone, Steve and Tim decide to look into getting a quote for their own App to be developed. £20,000.  “HOW MUCH!” They splutter.  Anyway, long story short, the girls are taking over the cab firm and they have spoken to the same developer who has now agreed to do it for £5,000 but it will be built by his trainee.

The boss predicts that this will end badly.  Very badly. Tracey will end up killing Steve and all sorts of other catastrophes will ensue.  This being Coronation Street, he’s probably not far wrong.

 

The Reality of Mobile Apps

The real issue though, is that the storyline may have left the impression that £20,000 is an excessive amount for a taxi Mobile AppsApp.  Do you really think Uber spent less than that on their Mobile App?  I don’t think so.  They probably spent a whole lot more and continue to invest more money in to the App in order to improve the customer experience and keep them using Uber.  I have seen estimates in the region of £90,000 to develop an App with most of the functionality that the Uber App provides.

The reality is that you can build a basic App for £5,000 and it will have a reasonable level of functionality and features.  Ask for something that has such things as geolocation and routing plus the ability to call or text the driver from the App (pretty essential for a taxi App) and you are going to see the costs start to rise.  We need to remember too, that because a Mobile App is downloaded to a specific device, it needs to be compatible with that device’s operating system – queue two Apps in reality, Android and iOS.

 

Is a Mobile App what you really need?

As soon as people find out what I do for a living, they almost immediately as me how much it costs to develop an App.  In fact, if I had £1 for every time I’d been asked, I’d be well on my way to affording my own App that could answer the question for them.

There are many considerations when deciding whether you will really benefit from having an App built, whether you are an individual with a great idea for an App or a business looking to grow.

Individual:

  • Is there a gap in the market for my idea?
  • How can I monetise the Mobile App (advertising, charge per download)?

 Business

  • What do I want my App to achieve (e.g. brand awareness, driving sales etc)?
  • What ROI will I get and how?

Both

  • What is the motivation for people to download my App and to keep it on their device?
  • What functionality/features does my App need to have versus what I would like it to have?
  • What will the App do that a highly responsive, interactive web site/portal won’t?

 

Next Step

Mobile Apps don’t just happen overnight. Your first step in having an App developed is to sit down and discuss it with a developer you can trust and who has the right skills for the job. Any developer worth their salt won’t be interested in pinching your idea but if you are worried about that, copyright it and consider asking them to sign a non-disclosure/non-compete agreement.

 

Data from Statista shows that an average of 6,140 mobile apps were released through the Google Play Store every day in the first quarter of 2018. Business of Apps predicts that there will be 352.9 billion mobile app downloads in 2021.  Will yours be one of them?

More next month on the differences between Mobile Apps and Highly responsive, interactive web portals.

 

Roar Software specialise in bespoke software development, including Mobile Apps and Interactive Web Portals.  For a no obligation discussion about your App idea, please call 07472 972 439 or email judy.marsh@roar-software.com.  And yes, we will happily sign a non-disclosure agreement.

“Our software isn’t working, please fix”.

Computer error

Frustrating Software Fix or Change Requests

Every now and then, a huge groan can be heard from the normally almost silent room that is home to our team of software developers.  The cause is usually a poorly worded fix or change request. An unclear request makes it difficult to effect a fix and results in fixes taking longer than they should, leading to frustration on both sides.  For example:

 

“Tags show GYYV is available on this site but won’t allow GYYV as an option”

The first question is what is GYYV? And “this site” – which site?                           Frustration at failing software

“Bring FG through on current plan”

What is FG and are you both looking at the same ‘current plan’? What is meant by         ‘bring through’?

 

If you do come across a bug in a piece of software, or want to change the way something works, providing a good fix request will make your developer’s life much easier and help them to provide you with that fix much more quickly.

 

So, what are the golden rules of fix and change requests?

 

1. Always include important and descriptive information.

It is wise to assume that the software developer who receives your request is not familiar with your specific software functionality and knows nothing about the nature of your business. Tell them who you are, which piece of software you are referring to, what it does, which site it is on – anything, in fact, that will make life easier.

 

2. Provide detailed steps that will allow the developer to replicate what you have done to reveal the error.

Where did you start in the system and what did you click on / select to get to the point where something didn’t work.

 

3. Screenshots.

When sending your request, attach screenshots of what is wrong.  And screenshot the whole screen, not just a tiny section that doesn’t provide the whole context (yep, we’ve had those kind of screenshots before now!).  Also, it is better not to paste these screenshots into another programme (Word is just – and only just – about OK but don’t even think about putting them into Excel).

 

4. Don’t use acronyms.

Do you know what GYYV or FG mean? Nope, me neither – I made them up in case anyone did know what the original acronyms meant and I was giving too much away! Just by way of illustration, did you know that DM can mean data mining but can also mean direct message; IM is instant messaging, internet marketing or input method; PM could be project manager, program manager, product manager or preventative maintenance?  I’m not saying type everything out in full every time, but indicate your meaning clearly the first time you use the acronym at least: eg We need to look at the Program Manager (PM).

 

5. Remove all ambiguity.

If there is even a suggestion that, for example, there could be two different systems or locations, make sure you specify which one.  Read back your report and ask yourself: “If I didn’t have the error or what I want to change in front of me, would I be able to find it again from what I have written there?”

 

 

Taking a little time to send a well worded, detailed fix or change request will pay dividends and ensure that your team of developers aren’t groaning and scratching their heads at the other end of the computer.  If you have software that isn’t working for you, our team of developers can help.  Roar Software specialise in bespoke software (including mobile App development),  legacy systems support and systems integration.

 


What’s New?

So last month, I was talking about the Cloud and how the concept had been around since the late 1960s.  It got me questioning just what technology is really new?

Old and New in Digitization
Is anything really New?

I was in a meeting a couple of weeks ago and talk turned to how quickly technology is advancing.  But is it? Paul, our CEO, maintains that very little is genuinely new – most of what we refer to as innovation today is actually finding new ways of using existing technology.  I can see where he is coming from.  So I decided to peel back the years and take a closer look at so called emerging technologies.

 

The Internet

OK, so the internet isn’t strictly an emerging technology, but it is perhaps seen as the enabler for many technological advances so seems a good place to start.

In the late 1980’s, fresh out of school, I worked for an entrepreneur.  His main business was a fixed fee Estate Agency (see – they’re not new either!) but he had his fingers in many pies.  I remember one of his business partners talking about a fantastic investment opportunity called Prestel.  I laughed as he told me how I would soon be able to shop through my TV. This was about the same time as my boss was carrying around a car phone the size of two bricks with its base/charger the size of four.

Prestel

Prestel was a nationwide information network invented by the Post Office.  It actually launched in 1979 and eventually came to an end in 1994. Television was the medium of choice because so few people had home computers.  Prestel used the phone network to provide electronic mail, online banking, home delivery shopping, Beer at Home, theatre ticket booking, chatrooms, software downloads, online games. Sound familiar?

The biggest legacy Prestel left us with is the Computer Misuse Act 1990.  Hackers accessed the Duke of Edinburgh’s Prestel mailbox – fortunately not maliciously – and this raised awareness of the potential pitfalls of computers and the start of all the legislation that exists today.

Packet Switching

But even before Prestel sprang to life, Paul Baran and Donald Davies, working independently of each other, developed the concept for packet switching – the dominant basis for data communication in computer networks worldwide even today.  This was in the early 1960s but it was 1989 before the internet as we know it came into being.

What has changed in the intervening years?  The infrastructure.  The basic principles seem to be the same but the delivery methods have changed – fibre optic v dial up for example. The internet still provides network services enabling such things as the World Wide Web, email, streaming and file sharing (for example) as it always did, it just does it a little faster.

 

Robots

The oxford dictionary contains 3 definitions for the word “robot”, with the first definition being split again.  For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to take definition 1.1 – “a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer”.

The first industrial robot that aligned with this definition was the Unimate, developed in 1954 by George Devol and installed on the General Motors assembly Line in 1959.  One of the latest robots actually used in a setting away from the production line is the daVinci.

Picture of Unimate robot
Unimate
Picture of daVinci robot
daVinci Surgical System

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judging from these two images, very little has changed in the intervening years.  Yes, the daVinci (a robot for performing surgery) has more arms but it still looks remarkably similar to the Unimate.  Robots now can perhaps perform finer work but they are still ‘blind’ and do not have the same 2 arm dexterity that humans have.  The use of robots has expanded but it could be argued that their functionality has not.  What is needed now is to marry the robot with artificial intelligence, or AI.

 

Artificial Intelligence

For a lot of people, AI is synonymous with robotics and science fiction.  Alan Turing published a paper in 1950 (Computing Machinery and Intelligence) where he talked about building intelligent machines.  It wasn’t until 1956, though, that what is considered to be the first artificial intelligence programme was presented.  From then, artificial intelligence moved on quickly, restrained only by cost and a lack of computational power.  For a more detailed look back on AI, read “The History of Artificial Intelligence”. 

AI and business automation technology limitations

As people in business talk about Digital Transformation, AI gets bandied around as the next big thing but what do we really mean by AI? In computer science, most people would say AI is a form of machine learning.  It is a piece of software that can evolve by learning from input data.  The AI can only do this because it has been programmed with an algorithm that enables it to do so.  It could be argued that AI will always be inherently flawed – it will only ever be as good as the data that it can access to learn from.

You only have to look at the AI developed by Amazon to use in its recruitment processes to see a prime example of this.  The recruitment engine developed by Amazon’s machine learning specialists was found to have a bias towards men precisely because that bias existed in the data the AI had been fed to learn from.  Needless to say, the system was taken out of use as soon as a people realised what was going on.  In addition, do we have the ability yet to programme ethical responses?  OpenAI have recently declined to release some of it’s research because of the risk of malicious use.  GPT2’s capability of generating realistic text having been fed a few opening lines is causing concern that it could be mis-used.

Is AI in business advancing?

More recently, within business, it seems to me that the term AI is used to describe any business automation process whether or not there is an element of machine learning.

While there is no doubt that there may be advances being made in true Artificial Intelligence, algorithms for business automation have been around for a long time and what is changing is the applications we are using them for rather than the algorithms themselves advancing.

So, what’s new?

Not a lot it seems when we think in terms of the core technology.  What is new is how and where we are applying and using those technologies.  As internet speeds have improved so has the practicality of implementing some of the business automation available to us. Use has also become more widespread as costs have come down, making the technology more accessible.

 

Just a few firsts for you – you might be surprised at just how early some of these were:

First programmable computer 1938
First commercial car phone US 1946
Birth of Artificial Intelligence 1952-56
First industrial robot 1954
First radio carphone UK 1959
First electronic calculator 1961
First Touchscreen 1965
First demonstration of the internet 1968
First man on the moon 1969
First hand held mobile phone 1973
First digital camera 1975
First Personal Computer 1977
Prestel launched 1979
First portable computer 1981
First Tablet computer 1987
First Smartphone 1993
First Apple iPad 2010
Robot Sophia declared a citizen by Saudi Arabia 2017

 

Roar Software offer a complimentary, no obligation, workflow & systems review and can help you to push technological boundaries as you take your business into the future. Contact us now to book an appointment.

The Cloud

Everyone these days is talking about the Cloud, but what actually is it?  This month I decided to take a look behind the image of fluffy white blobs in a bright blue sky that the word conjures up and explore Cloud Computing.

Burroughs B90 - www.roar-software.com
Burroughs B90

Computing has moved on so much – in my first job the hard drive for my desktop at the office was so big, it was my desk!

In my next job we had networked desktops – much more conventional (and cooler in more ways than one!). We each had our own chunky monitor and keyboard on a normal desk –

IBM mainframe - www.roar-software.com
IBM Mainframe

but only because something similar to this little beauty was hiding in a room of its own to power everything.

And I had to get in half an hour early to “boot it up” – otherwise we spent the time twiddling our thumbs unable to do anything.

 

These days I hook my laptop up to a couple of monitors and away I go.  No separate room for the mainframe and most laptops have more memory and processing capability than either of those 2 earlier computers could even dream of.  Now everyone is talking about migrating to the cloud and reducing our hardware requirements even more.  But the Cloud is about so much more than hardware!

 

What is the Cloud?

As a concept, the Cloud has been around since the late 1960’s. In a nutshell, the Cloud is a system of software and services, including data storage, that run on the internet instead of on your physical computer. Theoretically, you can access everything from any device with an internet connection.  The term ‘Cloud’ is a little misleading, conjuring images as it does that your data is somehow floating around in the sky.  In reality, of course, your data and software have a very physical home – you just might not be aware of its exact geographical location.

Many people are already utilising the Cloud in their personal lives for storage and back up of, for example, photos and you may not realise just how much use of the Cloud you are already making.   Research conducted in 2017 by the Cloud Industry Forum showed that, in business, the overall Cloud adoption rate had increased by 83% since 2010.  The majority of Cloud services were still for traditional web hosting but there had been growth in other areas too.

 

Why Should we use the Cloud?

The Cloud is a Key enabler of digital transformation and offers many advantages in terms of cost, flexibility and efficiency.   When considering scalability in a growing business, migrating to the Cloud also offers advantages.

While there is, of course, a cost implication to the actual migration to the Cloud, generally the Cloud can be cheaper to set up and it also takes up less physical space.  Storage on physical hardware is limited whereas it is easy to increase storage in the cloud when you need to making it more flexible.  It’s like renting space that is fluid – you can make it bigger, or smaller, when you need to.

Migrating to the Cloud doesn’t necessarily mean changing all your systems – your software will just sit on a different server that you can access remotely.  You may need a web portal developing to enable this.

Because you and your employees can access your Company’s data, software and systems from any location via a mobile device, the Cloud also makes it easier to work remotely.

Physical hardware ie servers and hard drives can become overloaded and fail.  This is also true of servers run by your Cloud provider.  The big difference is that they will be able to use economies of scale to provide robust contingency plans in the event of hardware failures. Most Cloud providers will have multiple backups of everything you store with them and will have the facility to move you to another server in the unlikely event that your specific one goes down.  I spoke to a Cloud provider recently who has back-up generators for the back-up generators in the event of a power failure at one of their data centres!

GDPR and the Facebook misuse of personal data has brought the question of security to the fore recently.  When we think about security and the Cloud, we are not just thinking about data misuse though.  We need to consider the security of personal data; company data; malware; bugs; viruses; hacking and so on.  The majority of Cloud hosting companies provide security levels that few businesses would be able to afford to implement themselves.

 

What are the Risks?

The risk of losing your connection to the internet and your Cloud services is ever decreasing with advances in routing technologies and network infrastructure.  However, it does still exist and is more problematic for some than others. The main trade off in moving to the Cloud then becomes accepting the risk of losing your internet connection.  This is where your digital resilience strategy comes into play.  If your connection to the internet goes down, how will you continue to function as a business?  There is a TV ad showing at the moment promising to deliver a 4G unlimited hub in the event of such a failure on its domestic provision but how long will that hub take to arrive?  For a business there is a cost v benefit risk analysis to be done in terms of perhaps having one already on standby – the main question being what value of business would you lose if your internet was down for an hour?

The other glaring risk is the flip side of one of the big advantages – the ability to log in from anywhere, using any mobile device.  Of course, adopting high levels of security and user authentication minimises the risk of unauthorised access to the system but you will no longer be able to prevent a disgruntled employee gaining access just by locking them out of the office.  At what point during a grievance or disciplinary do you consider denying an employee access to data?

 

What is involved in moving to the Cloud?

Cloud Computing - www.roar-software.comA migration to the Cloud needs to be planned in order to prevent minimal downtime and loss to the business.  It is important to identify which workflows you want to migrate to the Cloud and why.  Working backwards from the desired end result may lead to bigger changes than first envisioned but will undoubtedly provide the best outcome.  Asking a third party to assist in the process is possibly a wise move. Our own ideas can often blinkered us and holding on too tight to the “baby” that our business has become may prevent us from exploring fully every opportunity.  The most visionary of leaders surround themselves with teams that are willing to challenge them and support them in pushing the boundaries.

 

As technology advances and concerns about security and cost diminish, we may all soon have our heads in the Cloud rather than being fettered by our hardware.

 

If you are ready to migrate to the Cloud and don’t know where to start get in touch! Roar Software offer a free, no obligation business systems review and can help you to push technological boundaries as you take your business into the future.


New Year, New Business?

With the beginning of a new year, people’s thoughts turn to resolutions and predictions.  And perhaps it’s a good time for Roar Software - Self-Innovationbusinesses to take a step back – review the old and decide on the new.  Self-Innovation. Innovation in this context isn’t about new products or services, it is about innovating the way you do business. Tom Goodwin in Digital Darwinism believes us to “live in a time of innovation as gesture”.  He describes most innovation as being “like installing new artwork or refurnishing the staff canteen when the building is about to fall.”

If he’s right, then it is no wonder so many old established businesses seem to be failing around us.  2018 saw the demise of Toys R Us and the almost-loss of House of Fraser. Maplins disappeared from our Hight Street too as they failed to self-innovate while seemingly being at the cutting edge of new technology.

The Challenge

The world we live and work in is changing rapidly and it can be a struggle to keep up.  But the pace of change is so fast that even keeping up isn’t enough anymore. For businesses to not just survive, but thrive, in the twenty first century, it would appear they need to be prepared to completely re-invent themselves.  This may mean high risk, high cost investment in more than a little digital disruption.

Goodwin suggests that only a brutal and honest re-evaluation of your company will do in these interesting times.  He asks “what your business would look like if it was started today”?  A difficult question to answer I think.  How many of us can disentangle ourselves sufficiently from the here and now to answer that question properly?  It can be very difficult to move your focus away from what you are actually doing to what you could be doing.  Break the pattern of your thinking.  This is where, sometimes, having a consultant come in who knows nothing about your business can be helpful.  Particularly when they also know what is possible in terms of disrupting business systems and workflows, and are able to challenge the status quo.

 

Self-Innovating

Where do you start when you are looking to self-innovate?  If you can, get right back to basics, pretend the business doesn’t exist and this is a new idea you have and you are looking for investment – you’re in the Dragon’s Den! First question – will it work? How?  Are you in the right location? How important is location? Scalability. If the business you started 10 years ago was successful then but if you came to market with the same idea now, it wouldn’t be, why not?  And what can you change about the idea to make it successful now?Roar Software - Self-Innovation

How can you Self-Innovate?

Perhaps we could use Uber as an example.  If you came to market now saying you wanted to start a taxi firm and needed a £150k investment to buy cars and radio equipment, rent an office etc, what do you think the result would be? Blockbuster was a huge part of many people’s lives in the 1990’s. When they started in the mid-1980’s it was on the back of new technology as video emerged.  By 2010 though, it was all but over as the company failed to keep up with the rapid pace of change and companies such as Netflix surged forward.

How could Maplins / Toys R Us have re-invented themselves?  What is it Sports Direct are planning to do to House of Fraser to turn them round (and do we think Debenhams and John Lewis are watching with close interest so they can follow suit and save themselves?).

As companies do seek to self-innovate, what will it mean for jobs? The World Economic Forum suggests that 133 million job roles could be created by the introduction of automation in business over the next 5 years, versus 75 million job roles that could be lost.  Imperative, then, that part of your strategy is to upskill and retrain your existing employees in order to retain them. 

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Before you get too carried away with all the new innovations and technologies out there, a word of caution.  Just because it’s available and you can, doesn’t mean you should.  Innovate for your business, not someone else’s.  Take, for example, Self-Checkouts.  Recent reports show the cost benefits to those stores that have introduced them to be marginal.  This is, in part, due to Increased theft and scams.

I still see queues at the supermarket checkouts. Personally, I like a bit of human interaction and nearly every time I’ve used a self-checkout, it has had an error (and it can’t cope with the alcohol in my basket either!).

While a recent study indicates that approximately half of the population likes self-checkouts and may actually prefer no Roar Software - Self-Innovationhuman interaction, it’s important to remember that still means nearly half the population prefer human interaction (and are they the half with the bigger disposable income?). Those figures change vastly depending on what is being purchased as well as the demographic group of the shopper. So, if your business sells small quantities of simple, small items to a younger demographic, the self-checkout may well be perfect.  But if you are selling to, ahem, a slightly older demographic, or your product needs an explanation, or some help picking and packing, then maybe self-checkout isn’t the best thing for your business?

Are you brave enough?

Stripping your business right back takes courage but it is exciting and can open up massive opportunities!  Thinking in terms of survival isn’t enough anymore and some short-term pain could result in a massive gain. So what are you waiting for? New Year, new broom as my Gran used to say.

 

If you are ready to self-innovate in your business and don’t know where to start get in touch! Roar Software offer a free, no obligation business systems review and can help you to push technological boundaries as you take your business into the future.

Why Bespoke Software?

Businesses seem willing to accept that whatever software package they buy will not be perfect and they expect to have to adapt their working practices to the software – but surely it should be the other way around?? This is where bespoke software comes in.

People often ask me what exactly we do at Roar and when I explain that we develop and build bespoke software, the response is almost always “Yes, but what kind of software?”.  There seems to be a need to fit Roar into some sort of category, but the reality is that we take on a huge variety of projects from small, but crucial, half day tasks, to huge development projects done over many months. This month, I thought we’d take a look at some of what we do and why bespoke can be better.

CRM

I was talking to someone last week who worked for a company that had just invested a significant amount of money in an “off the shelf” CRM.  The CRM was (as most are) geared around a sales function.  Unfortunately, the people using the CRM in this instance were not sales people.  The language and the process used in the CRM were completely alien to this team and so had no real meaning for them.  This had resulted in half the team being reluctant to use the system at all (making it practically worthless) and the other half making up their own list of term translations in an effort to ensure consistency across data entry.  This company are continuing to pay licence fees for a product that is not really fit for purpose and has already alienated a large proportion of users.

In theory, changing the labels (in well written software) is not a huge task.  In reality, getting labels changed in “off the shelf” software can be a nightmare because the original developers may be quite far removed from the end users. Plus, they will now be working on their next “off the shelf” product.

Obtaining a custom CRM system doesn’t have to cost a fortune.  And there are huge advantages!  The system is built to fit with your business and perform in the way you need it to so your employees will find the transition to the new system easy. Another advantage is that you own the software.  It’s yours.  There are no ongoing licence fees.  The system will be easily maintainable by yourselves and if you want to expand it at some point in the future, you can go back to your original developer or appoint someone new.Bespoke Software https://roar-software.com

Systems Integration

Sometimes, when you buy an “off the shelf” software package, it is already designed to integrate with other stand-alone packages or systems (a payroll package integrating with a Workplace Pension Provider, for example) but often these can be restrictive, only integrating with certain providers, and functionality isn’t always what you would like it to be.

We got a call a few weeks ago from a small, local firm who had purchased a piece of software on licence to integrate their website with their CRM.  This particular piece of software kept crashing, though, and then their whole system fell down and no-one could work.  They called us out of desperation (it wasn’t our software) to ask if we could help as it had crashed once again.  Paul went down to take a look for them.  When Paul looked at what this particular piece of software did, it was apparent that we could build an equivalent product for the client for less than the cost of one year’s licence fee.  The software we built is robust and reliable.  This particular company have not only saved money, but have improved their efficiency and reduced the stress levels of their employees as they are no longer frustrated by constant crashes.

Business Automation

Before I worked at Roar, I hold my hands up, I had no idea just how many administrative tasks could be automated.  And I probably still don’t.  The example in our case studies of the automated dunning systems we created is just a small taste of what can be done.  Creating this zero-touch system reduced the number of data entry points and in doing so, reduced the risk of errors being made and communication delays to virtually nothing.  Of course, there was also a time saving as the previous system was very labour intensive.

You can automate a whole business process or workflow, or just a part of it, allowing your employees to get on with the work you actually pay them to do instead of the repetitive administrative tasks that go alongside it.

APPs

We recently developed an app that allowed users to book in to exercise classes.  Prior to the app being developed, the user would either have to contact the gym or teacher to book into the class, or just turn up on the day and hope for the best. If the class was over-subscribed or cancelled, the user would have had a wasted trip.  From the gym’s perspective, the app will allow them to not only see how many people are booked in but to track the popularity of a particular class – valuable when making business decisions.  The app also provides a means of communicating with users so that if a class needs to be cancelled, a message can automatically be sent to those booked in.

Anything else?

Need a countdown clock anyone?  One of our clients did.  They needed the clock to display on a big screen and count down to the start time of an event. They now have a piece of software that enables them to do that whenever they need, or want, to.

Another request we had was for a piece of software to help with some payroll calculations.  In 2015 there were some important legal cases that resulted in employers having to include commission when calculating holiday pay.  There were several complications around how this calculation should be carried out and we were asked to write a piece of software to help with this so that it would not be a time consuming process for HR and to ensure consistency of treatment when making the calculations.

Already got a CRM that you have invested a lot of time and money in? But it doesn’t do what you need it to or does it in an awkward way? Again, this is the type of thing we can help with.  It may be that we can develop a piece of software that runs alongside your CRM and just makes everything that bit easier and smoother.

So, What Exactly Do you Do?

All of the above and so much more!  I guess you could say we do the bit that is invisible to you and your employees but just makes things better.  Makes things easier. Makes tasks quicker, less ‘clunky’. We are the company that can make your life easier, your business more efficient and (potentially) your employees happier.

 

Roar Software offer a free, no obligation business systems review for anyone ready to explore how bespoke software could help their business to grow whilst at the same time improving workplace wellbeing.

Digital What?

Once again, workplace stress is in the headlines as the number of people suffering continues to grow. Last month, I Roar Software Digital Transformationblogged about how embracing new technologies in the workplace could provide a golden opportunity to improve workplace wellbeing.  I touched on Digital Disruption and Digital Transformation as I highlighted research that claims adopting AI in the workplace will give workers back two weeks a year.

The more reading I do, the more I am convinced this is the way forward for any business wanting to improve workplace wellbeing.  But as I read, it is clear there are a lot of terms being bandied around that could be confusing and get mixed around.  Zandra Moore, CEO of Panintelligence, talks about the use of “mind-boggling language which confuses people and is a barrier to working together” and I think her point is valid across all industry sectors.  So, in this blog, I am going to try to define some of the phrases and buzzwords you might come across.

 

Digital Disruption

On the face of it, using digital technologies to change the way you do business.  It also includes applying new business models and the aim is to affect the value proposition of existing goods and services.  Or, how can you do what you’re doing now in a different way that will make you more profitable. Digital Disruption can be applied to a single area of the business or the whole business – for example moving from ledger books or excel spreadsheets to cloud based software for your accounts is a digital disruption; as is the adoption of the Platform Economy (think Uber).

Digital Transformation

 Essentially, what happens to the business when a digital disruption takes place.  But it is so much more!  Digital transformation needs to be cultural for digital disruption to be truly effective.  It encompasses “organisational activities, processes, competencies and models to fully leverage the changes and opportunities” I think the most important part of digital transformation is the cultural aspect.  I am sure I am not the only person who has worked for a company where the CEO has decided to make a digital leap, believing it will benefit the company and employees, without ever really instigating the cultural shift that is needed to ensure successful adoption of the technology.

 

Digital Business Automation

This is part of the digital transformation.  It could be described as the automation of repetitive work, tasks, processes, workflows and even decisions.  Successful digital business automation requires the task, the workflow, whatever to be completely broken down and examined from end to end.  It’s really important to think about the impact of each automation on the rest of the process, workflow and business as a whole. As I said in Scalable Technology, there is no point in automating one part of your business if it means another part will not be able to cope with the increased productivity and you are not ready to address that at the same time.

 

Digital Resilience

So you’ve weathered a digital disruption and completed a digital transformation!  You’re good to go right?  But what about your digital resilience? This is about your reversionary modes of operation.  What happens if your tech goes down?  There have been a few incidences recently of the banks grinding to a halt (very frustrating) because their “computers are down”.  If that happened to you, would your business still be able to function? And if it couldn’t, what would the impact be on you, your customers and your employees?  It’s definitely worth considering a fall-back system if it is something you can arrange.  Depending on the size of your business, that might just be taking the information down with good old-fashioned paper and pen.  If your systems are all cloud based, it’s making sure wherever your servers are they have a system to cover them in the case of, for example, a power cut. But what happens if the power cut is in your office?  How much battery back-up time do you have for your electronic devices? How frequently do you back up your data?  Do your employees know how to complete a task manually if absolutely necessary?

Regardless of whether you are undertaking a digital transformation or not, these are all good questions to ask of any business and undertaking that risk management exercise is invaluable.

 

AI – Artificial Intelligence

Do you automatically think “robot” when you hear the term AI?  For a lot of people, “Cybernet” springs to mind.  But what does AI in the workplace mean?  And what does it mean for jobs?  The first thing to remind ourselves is that this is nothing new.  Did you know that the first prototype industrial robots were actually used as early as 1961?  I think there is a difference between a machine that has been programmed to do something (for example a robot that has been programmed to spot weld something to a car) and true artificial intelligence.  Computers capable of learning in order to better carry out the task they were initially programmed to do, could provide a huge benefit and time saving within the workplace.

We are already seeing the use of chatbots – and while they may have been stilted and struggled to understand everyday conversational terms in the past, things are changing. Robots are very successfully carrying out manual repetitive tasks in many environments – picking product off shelves, for example.  Robots that can learn – AI bots – provide a plethora of opportunity that we should embrace.

These AI systems will work alongside humans, not steal their jobs.  AI will potentially make your job easier, quicker and possibly different. It does not mean there will be no jobs – how long has voice recognition software been around?  Did it get rid of the secretary or PA? No – it made the job easier perhaps, but not redundant. The Davinci Robot has been around for a lot of years carrying out surgery with great precision but it will always need a guiding surgeon (due in part to the unique nature of every human body).

AI is only as good as the data it is provided with to learn from.  A great example of this and of how essential human sense checks are for any AI implementation is the Amazon AI recruiting tool that was eventually dropped when it proved to have a gender bias.

 

Augmented Reality (AR)

AR adds digital elements to a live view.  Simplistically, think about a furniture company allowing you to see how a sofa fits and looks in your living room; or being able to see what a new pair of glasses or hairstyle would look like on you.

 

Virtual Reality (VR)

VR, on the other hand, is an immersive experience.  Putting on that virtual reality headset really does block out the “real” world around you and take you to another place – or even dimension.  My first experience called to mind training in laparoscopic surgery – looking at a screen to see what I’m doing with my hands instead of staring down at my hands and what they were touching.  The training possibilities are endless.

 

These are just some of the terms that I am reading in the various articles that cross my desk each day.  I think some may be being used interchangeably (digital disruption and digital transformation for example) but the most important thing to focus on is the huge benefit any size business could realise from assessing the opportunities the digital world opens up for them.

 

Roar Software offer a free, no obligation business systems review for anyone ready to explore how digital disruption can help their business to grow and improve workplace wellbeing.

Digital Business Automation

It’s that time when I start thinking about what I’m going to write about for the next blog.  Some months, I won’t lie, it takes me a while to come up with a topic I want to write about.  This month, however, I have already written nearly 4 pages of notes on digital business automation.  It all started with one article that struck a chord with some blogs I’ve already written but got me thinking about several other issues too:

 “AI will give workers back two weeks a year, says research”www.roar-software.com October Blog

So many questions!  AI doing what?  What will workers do with the extra time?  How does that fit with Digital Transformation? Is it just about Digital Business Automation or will it need full Digital Disruption?  What’s the difference between the three? What about Digital Resilience? What even is Digital Resilience??? Lunchtime Yoga!!

Workplace Wellbeing

Those of you that follow my blogs, may recall that way back in April I wrote about businesses introducing lunchtime yoga as a way of trying to reduce workplace stress.  You may recall, that while I am not against lunchtime yoga per se (I actually do an 1.5 hour evening class every week), I feel that there are other approaches that could potentially be more beneficial.  I guess some of what I was getting at was the cultural shift that was really required (more on cultural shifts later). I have experienced businesses that introduce lunchtime activities driven by HR and designed to help reduce stress only to see them fail because management aren’t bought in, and employees don’t feel able to leave their desks to attend.  I suggested that a better approach to reducing workplace stress would be to tackle the main cause – overwork – and that one way of doing that may be to look at how tech could be utilised to reduce workloads for individuals. According to this research, using AI in the workplace could release 3.5 hours per week for the average employee. That would enable employees to take a proper break at lunchtime; to reduce the extra unpaid hours they put in arriving early or leaving late; give them thinking time; enable them to be more productive because they are not as stressed and overloaded.  It’s a win, win! BUT ONLY, and I mean ONLY, if a cultural shift also takes place to make all of those things acceptable in the workplace.

Workplace Culture

My working day ends at 5.30pm.  I have a boss who is very protective of his own free/family time and doesn’t expect anything different from any of his team.  Yet I still feel guilty when I pack up at the end of the day.  There is still a sense of dawdling so I’m not the first person to leave the building.  So deeply ingrained in me after all these years of working is the “can’t be seen to want to go home” attitude that even in a totally different environment, I struggle to shake it. Lucky are those of you who just pack up and leave without a care.

The culture of a company is so important and going to be even more so as the use of AI becomes more widespread.  There is a lot of scaremongering going on – stories in the media about how robots and AI are going to steal our jobs are an almost daily occurrence – but actually, this is a golden opportunity to improve our workplace wellbeing.

What would you do with extra time?

Of course much depends on how businesses view those 3.5 hours a day and some of that may depend on the drivers and motives for them undertaking the digital disruption that will lead to those 3.5 hours becoming available.  There are so many possibilities: a shorter working week; shorter working days; more manageable workloads; utilising the time created to upskill employees so that both they and the business can gain the maximum benefit from emerging technologies.

 

Digital Disruption isn’t just about the introduction of new technology, it is about introducing new systems and new ways of working, too.

 

More on Digital Disruption, Digital Transformation, Digital Business Automation and Digital Resilience in the next blog.


Scalable Technology

I keep hearing people talk about scalable technology but what do they really mean and what impact could it have on your business?Implementing Scalable Technology - Roar Software

When we talk about scalable technology, we are really referring to the extent that a system, network, or process is capable of coping with increasing volumes of work – or whether it can be easily expanded to accommodate those increasing volumes.

In theory it should be simple.  But with so many technologies out there, all promising to deliver efficiency savings, or bring you up to date with the latest happenings and technological advances, it can actually be a lot more difficult than it might first appear.

 

How do you implement Scalable Technology?

There are many considerations when you are looking to implement new technology, whatever form that may take, and you are keen to ensure it is scalable.  Here are a few questions that might give you food for thought if you are about to disrupt your business.

 

  1. What is your overall aim?

Take a step back and revisit your original business and growth plan.  How does the technology you are considering implementing fit in with that? What do you hope to achieve?  It sounds obvious but there is no point in investing in, for example, a new all singing & dancing payroll and accounts system that is designed to cope with up to 10 employees if you are planning on having 20 within 2 years (even if you only have 2 now).

 

  1. How will any single change/upgrade affect people?

Before you implement any new technology, plan in your mind (or on a piece of paper) how it fits with all your existing processes and workflows, and the impact it will have on them. Consider the impact it may have on employees, users, customers.  Say, for example, you introduce an automated process that means Jane in production can produce twice as many Whizzbits in an hour than she used to – what does that mean for Jay in packing? And how will he feel if he can’t keep up?

Last time I looked, a company’s most valuable asset was still considered to be its employees. Introducing change is often a challenge and handled the right way is almost always a pleasure.  Just remember to answer the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) for each of your users.

 

  1. How will any single change/upgrade affect everything else?

Where new technology is introduced into a work flow, what will the impact be at either end?  Will your existing technology integrate with the new and what will that mean?  If your existing servers and networks don’t have the capacity to cope with the new technology, you may get frustrated as well as not being able to maximise the true benefit.

And It might be great to improve sales but not if your customer response times can’t keep up and you start to lose some of your reputation.

 

  1. Are you introducing technology for technology’s sake?

Have you been caught up in the latest fad? Everybody on the block is talking about some new gadget or way of doing things and maybe you’re starting to worry that you may be perceived as being ‘behind the times’.  Perhaps engage in a cost/benefit analysis to assess whether this will really benefit your business in the way youwant and need it to.  What might you lose if you go ahead?

 

  1. Do you already have the capability you need?

You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that you already have scalable technology and that all you need is a little expertise to help unlock that existing capacity.  It may be that some of the processes you still handle manually can be automated with very little effort, freeing up people and capacity to handle new business without detracting from your existing customers and clients, for example.

 

 

As our businesses grow and the way we work changes, it is all too easy to get caught up in the feeling that we need to implement every technology possible.  I bet though, if you think back over your life you can remember at least one piece of technology that you bought into, used once or twice and is now sitting in a corner gathering dust.  Perhaps it didn’t quite do what you wanted or hoped it would do? Or perhaps it just didn’t make a big enough difference to your life to warrant the effort involved (I’m thinking the portable CD player that wouldn’t skip tracks if I took it out running with me… Or Vista! – need I say more?).

Having said that, selecting the right scalable technology will provide you with a benefit that will just keep giving, and working with the right provider, who cares about your business, not just their own, will pay dividends.

 

If you are interested in finding out more and exploring technology solutions that would work for your company, Roar Software offers a Free Systems Survey.  You will be provided with a report encompassing the capabilities of your existing technology and making recommendations that will benefit you now and in the future.


Women in Software

As we continue to expand, we are recruiting again at Roar Software.  Sifting through the applications it becomes glaringly obvious that we are lacking something – female candidates.  “Why are there no women?” I can be heard asking the room in general.  I am met with a puzzled silence. None of us is sure.

I’ll be honest, while I occasionally read about professional female software engineers, I have yet to meet any.  Having Isobel in the office in June for training/work experience was a breath of fresh air.  Isobel was obviously enthusiastic about pursuing coding as a career and displayed talent – she has an open invitation to come back to further develop her skills – but Isobel has not come to coding through the traditional route and, up to this point, is largely self-taught.  The whole situation has got me thinking about why there aren’t more women in the industry.

Nothing new

Women programmers are nothing new.  The recent film, Hidden Figures tells the story of women working at NASA, effectively as ‘human computers’.  The story is based on the lives of women such as Annie Easley.  Easley began working for NASA in 1955 and became a computer programmer when the ‘human’ computers were replaced by machines.  Given that was more than 60 years ago, it feels disappointing that I am still sat here lamenting the lack of female coders.

What about now?

Linkedin have done some statistical analysis showing that across all industries, females only represented 9-23% of the workforce with software engineering skills. This might not be the most scientific research and in light of other statistics, I think the figures may be a little skewed.  Only 8% of students studying A level Computer Science in 2017 were female (only 0.4% of females opted to study Computer Science in 2017 according to a report from the Department of Education looking at A-level and other 16-18 results in England).

The 2017 GitHub Open Source Survey found that out of approx. 3,800 respondents, 91% were male and only just over 3% were female.

What can we do?

The multi-million-dollar question!  And with no easy answer.  I read about lots of initiatives encouraging young women into STEM.  How young do we aim for? At what age do we start to foster interest in STEM subjects?  Those initiatives are definitely needed but there are women coming through now who have discovered coding as a career a bit later on (like Isobel) and we need to ensure that they make it in the industry and that they stay.  The number of females leaving mid-career is double that of men.

One thing that keeps coming up is the lack of female role models and mentors – who do our young female coders aspire to?  This is a bit of a vicious circle.  I watch the guys working in here, heads down, sometimes oblivious to the outside world and I wonder if female coders work in the same way?  Can we encourage them to lift their heads and get more involved in encouraging the next wave of female programmers?  There is talk of gender pay gaps, lack of advancement, stereotyping and, even worse, sexual harassment all contributing to an unwelcoming culture.  Reading that ‘language and/or content’ makes females feel unwelcome has encouraged me to revisit our recruitment to see what I might be able to change.

If we want to see more female software developers, everyone in the industry already needs to take a close look at what they are doing and how they might be able to do it differently to make women welcome.