Thursday, September 23, 2010

Does my SME business need off-the-shelf software or customized software solution?

It’s a question that maybe some SME business owners ask themselves when thinking of automating their business but from my experience they don’t really care. SME business owner does not really care what is the official label “we” IT vendors put on our products or solutions, what matters is if it can do what it’s supposed to do, what they are paying for. And as SME business owner myself I totally understand that.
At the same time because we are IT vendor and compete on very rough market where anything and everything can be called anything and everything, its our responsibility to help SME business owners understand the difference so they won’t get lost when searching for solution to their day to day business challenges. Hopefully it will help them to prevent many costly mistakes and decisions when selecting their IT vendor and mainly frustration that often comes in the package too.

To start off, to me there is no direct competition between off-the-shelf software application or software as such and customized software solution if taken literally as one is ready made product that you take and use (even if IT vendor claims it can be customized to client’s requirements, many of them just say it but at the end are unwilling to do so) and second as name suggests is a solution (something crafted especially for you). Simple parallel would be buying clothes – sometimes you just need to walk into the shop and buy off the rack and sometimes you decide to go to tailor and have the suit or dress tailor made for you. When you analyze why you do that and what motivates you, you will be easily able to come up with the answer to the question of this blog yourself even in relation to software solution that your company needs.
Yes, you can always buy clothes off the rack and then customize them a bit here and there to suit you better, that’s also option when it comes to software solutions, but I am sure you would agree that tailors do not compete directly with clothes retail stores and that they are targeting different audience. Not necessarily different people as such, just people in different states of mind, with different motivation and different needs.

What are then factors or motivators for choosing one or the other when shopping for clothes? My husband went to tailor first time before our wedding and when he felt the difference between pants off the rack and the ones he got from tailor, he never went back to buy his office pants to the retail store. Yes, tailored made ones were a bit more costly and it took a little more effort to come up with final solution but the process was worth it as the pants can last longer, he doesn’t have to shop for them as often, they are of much higher quality, they are more comfortable and the moment he liked the tailor he goes back to him for his office shirts and suits also as now the tailor knows what my husband likes and how he likes it and its much easier to deliver to him faster and satisfactorily. Btw, I go to the same tailor for my pants too (basically everything that is supposed to look good on us and at the same time last for longer time as we use it quite often and it must be extremely comfortable too).
Here I need to stress one important thing. We got to know about this tailor through our friend who recommended him as she had very good experience with him. Believe me, even when selecting IT vendor or especially when selecting IT vendor – word of mouth or personal reference goes a long way, the chances of selecting rightly are much better. If that’s not possible, make sure you not just read testimonials of website but actually call people in those companies and ask about IT vendor personally.

To sum up, its actually very simple to know whether you need off-the-shelf software or customized software solution, isn’t it? Are you looking for something that can be re-purchased and changed often because its cheap or should it last as long as possible once everybody becomes familiar and used to it? Are you looking at automating some part of your business that is mostly standard (almost 98% same as in other companies) or something that is unique to your business and your company? Do you want to gain competitive advantage or you do not mind having what all your competitors have? Are you looking at short-term solution or long-term solution that would bring a major business improvement and business growth? Do you have time just enough to go to the “retail store” or do you have enough time to go to “tailor”? Are you willing to invest your time to establish relationship with “tailor” to make sure you get what you want the way you want it?

Don’t take me wrong, I don’t want to brag about customized software solutions. I strongly believe that some companies at certain point at their business lifetime are really better off with off-the-shelf software and should not go into customization until they feel real need for it or until they feel ready for it. It’s not advisable and that is why SMEs should really carefully consider what is the best solution for their company from current perspective and only then look for suitable IT vendor. It’s as simple as that.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Advantages of Automating your Busines

Advantages of Automating your Business

In today’s marketplace one of the keys is to be able to produce more and do it better, faster and still being able to maintain a high quality standard. This will help to ensure continued business growth. Often SME’s (small and medium sized enterprises) have a challenge with this due to many upgrades or changes they would need to do for business automation are cost prohibitive.

Most SME’s will agree, however, that business automation is required for their companies to stay competitive and to continue to experience positive business growth.

Putting money aside for the moment, what are the advantages of an SME if they increase their business automation through implementation of customized web based business software applications.

1. Great reduction or elimination of time spent moving paperwork around an office or company. By automating faxing, filing, distributing and other functions, a company can save thousands of hours each year. And thereby increase productivity.

2. Automate all route tasks to eliminate wasted time of key personnel and others. This will also assist in business growth as it gives your employees more time to do the things that increase your bottom line.

3. Business automation of work flow and project status ensure that you have accurate and up to the minute reporting of where these projects are in relation to the customers deadlines.

4. Using business automation customize software to create a central location for all documentation will increase productivity as this allows everyone to find what they need immediately without having to dig through unorganized filing cabinets. This will also increase your business growth because less down time means more production time and more product.

5. SME’s often have several individuals who are responsible for maintain their customers’ information and staying in contact with them. Through the use of a central database, the SME can insure that whenever the customer information changes, order status and contact notes are available for everyone to see.

6. Last, but not least, through automation of as many systems and procedures as possible your customers are ensure a higher level of consistency when it comes to order larger quantities of product.

When it comes to an SME thinking about doing more business automation, the questions they need to be asking themselves are:

1. How long can afford to do business without automating most of our business?

2. How long will our customers put up with 10%, 20%, 30% product failure rate due to the need to automate our basic routines and repetitive tasks to ensure consistency.

3. How long can we stay in business with a flat or negative business growth if our customers find another SME who can provide them the same product and service, albeit faster and cheaper.

4. What is better, automating our company to increase our profit so we don’t have to reduce staff or reducing staff to increase our profit?

In today’s market place, the only way for an SME to stay competitive is to utilize customized web based business software applications to automate their business. Thereby allowing them to be better, fast but maintaining a higher quality stand. Keeping their current customers and helping them to secure new ones to increase their business growth.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Web based ERP solution for SMEs in Singapore - the best time to look into cost efficient business automation

After years of hard work developing customized business software solutions for our clients from scratch we are happy to finally offer SME market in Singapore web based ERP solution that automates most important business processes as CRM, sales management, stock management, purchase management, basic human resource management and accounting with important analytical and reporting tools and dashboards. The beauty of course still is a possibility of any level of customization provided by our development team.

Based on our experience we learned that dealing with SMEs requires about 80% of standard ERP features and 20% is a space needed for customization to enable business to create and achieve business miracles. Too much space for customization is sometimes counterproductive for SMEs as we learned so moving forward in our business we are enhancing the offer with what SMEs really need.

And why now and not later ? Cause Singapore government is very supportive of Singapore SMEs and due to economic crisis is now until January 2010 or mid of 2010 providing up to 70% of subsidy for IT projects instead of standard 50%. So while waiting for economy to boost and be ready to kick off immediately after it improves, SMEs should now take their time, automate their businesses and get ready.

The idea of business automation is still very unknown to many business owners but our experience is once they get a taste of it, they will get addicted and won't stop until fully satisfied with the level of the automation of their business. That, however requires a positive experience with IT vendor and successful implementation of the project first. And then at least one year of a little bit of frustration here and there as automating business can sometimes be a frustrating experience. However, if business owners manage, with the tender care of their IT vendor, to go through this painful stage, they will eventually achieve business automation fulfillment manifested in growing sales numbers, better managerial decisions, increased cost savings, in the feeling of being more powerful by knowing so much more about your own business.

Business automation has its range of "standard" benefits like increased productivity and operational efficiency and effectiveness.....but there is so much more that you can learn about your business by simple investing into automating it bit by bit in stages.
The most surprising and sometimes entertaining ones from Nextlogic's experience for example would be:
1. Implementing business software solution many times exposes work of many employees in the company and some of our clients realized that while they quite happily relied on some facts & figures that were provided to them by their employees, they might not necessarily depend on correct numbers & facts (we are all unique and some people have a very unique way of preparing reports manually for example, its not about conscious cheating, it's more innocent belief they are doing a good job not realizing how many problems they might be actually creating for business).

Learning point for business owners: no matter how great is your accountant for example, make sure you learn your part to be able to verify what they feed you with (or eliminate these kind of problems with more transparent ERP software system from Nextlogic :o))

2. Painful experience of "getting to know" your own business - sometimes we can't stop wondering how surprising certain things about business operations are to business owners no matter how many years they have been running the business. Our experience is that often we have to create the state of a real "mess" in the company where many things need to be re-looked, re-thinked & re-evaluated as the whole process of automation requires business owners to define clearly what they want and how they want it. So, while it might look like an easy thing to do, the reality we are faced with every day when we develop & implement customized applications is that it's one of the most difficult thing for businesses and business owners to do.

Learning point for business owners - If you prefer less painful experience, go for more standard or off the shelf application where everything is pre-fixed and you just need to somehow fit your business processes into what these solutions offer. If however, you want to once and for all "clean up" what's not working in your business and replace it with better approaches and you are confident about what you want and how you want it, the freedom of customization is required.

Even if 80% is standard and only 20% needs to be adjusted to your unique business processes, be prepared that those 20% will be most painful one, will require your attention in terms of time, decisions about your business and so on. However, it is a business investment, its worth to go through it if you are serious about your business long term.
We recommend NOT TO go into customization earlier than maybe after 2-3 years into business experience, because to be able to customize efficiently you need to have some experience to work with to be able to do it right.

So to sum up, there are few conditions to be met when you want to efficiently go through business automation with some level of customization (20-100%):

1. SME pre-requisites: at least 2-3 years of business experience, business owner serious about the business long term and willing to invest time during development & implementation, time commitment of project manager for at least few hours a week (for testing and providing feedback), budget of at least 2ok (for projects of about 3-4 months)

2. right decision when selecting your IT vendor - this is a very sensitive topic and I am not going to say it must be our company :), actually every IT provider is great for something else so really depends on what you need and what IT vendor can provide, just make sure you check minimum: experience of IT vendor (call their clients and see what is their experience, nothing better than this), check on all and hidden costs involved (development cost, licenses cost, application maintenance cost, server & hosting and server maintenance & user support cost, customization cost, consulting cost, training cost, etc.), ability to deliver what's promised, flexibility (this is very crucial, be careful cause many times if you define your system and sign the requirements document, you will be charged extra for every single change and our experience is that 90% whatever our clients define at the beginning is usually not what they really want but they only realize it much later when they start using the system in real day to day operations - so try to bargain for as much flexibility as possible), ability to help you apply for grant or advise you the best solution for your situation & budget available
(!!! Do not be afraid to share your idea about the budget with your IT vendor, they can advice you better when they know what they can work with - also do not expect to get a "Porsche" software solution at the cost of "Toyota", BE FAIR or you might be disappointed by no fault of IT vendor !!!)

3. right time - when you can allocate your time and time of your key employees to focus on business automation project and when you can get a government subsidy (usually economic downturn is the best time to look at your operations and making sure you smoothen it up so once market is up you can just "run" with full power & back end support).

Hope, it's been helpful,
Thank you

Dasha (blond business automation advisor :o))

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Business - an exciting roller coaster

I can't believe it's been 2 years since I updated this blog last time. Well, it's been 2 years of amazing lessons in business as well as in private life. Though it seems like we (Peter and me) did all the wrong decisions we could and now we have to iron it out, it did not look that way during those 2 years while it was happening. Actually, in terms of projects and profitability it seemed to be the best years in NextLogic history, however only now we know what the reality is.

One way or another, it's been great, we learned a lot, we had a chance to go from 2 man show company to fully operated 10 men company and drop back down to 4 people who can do much more than 10 ever could. Yeah, it's been years to learn that to manage human resources is really damn difficult and whatever could go wrong, went wrong, but hey, that's the beauty of having your own business. You try, you fail, you loose lots of time and money, but you end up being much bigger, evolved human being and entrepreneur with so much of experience that nobody can ever take away from you anymore.

It is so hard to explain and describe it, but once you make a peace with everything that has happened, it all looks positive and so self enhancing and that's the whole purpose. The important thing is that though we might have suffered a lot, our customers still got what we promised them and we fulfilled our promises and that what counts.

Thus I would like to express great thank you to everything that happened in past two years and to all that contributed to it to happen. It has grown us so much and though we still sometimes struggle to let it go and move on, we are trying every day our best.

NextLogic is still around, more mature, more grown, more established, ready for more, ready for bigger projects, ready for more quality people, ready to rock n roll.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The magic of dreaming and planning

Every year during Christmas break we sit down, relax and plan, usually first only with Peter on more strategic level and later with our staff. As said in many books, we do not find the final output important, but the process really is inevitable for certain things to happen. So, this year in January we were discussing how by Juny/July '07 we will grow our company and bring NextLogic to the new level - move to real office, hire more programmers and designer, start working on developing e-learning platform for our staff and how we might move into Ruby training in Singapore as no one else is really doing it here yet.
There you go, not even knowing how, its September and our business is exactly there. We have our great real office in Singapore, we are expecting our team to grow with 2-3 new members at the beginning of October (we will be hiring ex-offenders as we planned it, finally after one year of training in prison they are ready and able to join our team and we cannot be more happy about it). We just ran our first commercial Ruby on Rails training this weekend and Peter has been training SMU and NUS students since ITCS approached him last month and he will also be sitting in as a judge in ExtremeApps 24hours programming competition sponsored by Google coming weekend.
It really looked nothing like that maybe even a month ago. Its unbelievable how things sometimes out of nowhere start falling into place maybe because we planned them many months ago. I guess it applies in life and in business. We are very happy that our baby NextLogic has survived officially its first 2 years, that its growing and we are looking forward to the experience ahead.
Here are some photos from this week training that, by the way, was very successful and we are planning for more in the coming months.
We aim to be pioneers for Ruby on Rails in Singapore and its really happening.
So, dream and plan, as those dreams and plans might come true if the motivation behind them is strong enough.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

NextLogic's trade secret

I am not a programmer. I am "just" in charge of sales and marketing in NextLogic but I know what I must know about our trade and I am more than happy to share it. If only somebody would listen.
We have been around at the market for about 3 years now and we keep repeating small simple tricks that we use in our business to all IT companies, especially software development companies. It is not because we are so damn proud believing that nobody can copy us anyway but because we hope they will improve their service, prices, etc. and thus the whole image of software development industry would improve too. But its not happening. Maybe they think we are lying to them to confuse them :o).
What are the simple tricks or magic tricks that we use that not many software developers yet want to implement:
  1. give away your source code (at least if you develop customized software applications) - do not lock your customer to you just by holding back the heart of the application, give it away, its a great motivation to provide an outstanding service so your clients will be motivated to continue working with you and they will trust you more
  2. use Ruby on Rails - move on from old outdated programming languages like Foxpro, C sharp, PHP or even from Java - use the best that you can at the time, upgrade your skills set regurarly, do not sell solutions developed in languages that are already outdated, its like selling food after its expiry period. Do not think that because something is simple, it can't be powerful (Ruby). We have built over 40 customized applications in 21 different industries in past 3 years in Ruby and Ruby on Rails and they all work well and saved us lots of time and money and thus we could provide much more affordable solutions to our SME clients. Btw. if by now you do not know what Ruby on Rails is, better go and study fast or join our trainings :o),
  3. utilize Open Source & contribute to Open Source - save time and cost to your clients by utiling tools/libraries, etc. that Open Source offers, there is no need anymore to reinvent the wheel BUT there is a need to contribute back so we all can learn and get better (by all I mean Geeks called IT people including anybody who provides software development services, hosting services, web design, etc.)
  4. use agile development practices - the waterfall approach it outdated and not suitable anymore, upgrade the way you approach development and deployment of your applications and the way how you deal and interact with your customers, use test driven development, object oriented programming , etc.
  5. do not sell BMW if the client is looking for Toyota - meaning its our responsibility as IT experts to provide to our clients or prospective clients solutions that match what their needs are (as in any other industry). Do not think that because people are not IT savvy you can sell them anything, do not assume they are stupid. I have seen many cases in which my clients paid lots of money for something they didnt need at the first place. Unfortunately, its still a very common feature of IT vendors to recommend inappropriate solutions just to increase sales. I am not sure why they do it but I would love to encourage all to stop doing that. Its proven (from our experience too) that if you start with small simple application that your client actually needs and will see the benefits faster, he would definitely ask for more evantually, just be patient and do an outstanding job.
  6. take responsibility - we are all human and we make mistakes, that's OK and our clients understand that. So, lets try not to bulshit them, if we make a mistake, we should admit it, apologize and fix it, not start fingerpointing game with fighting over contract whose fault is what, it makes no sense. Customer IS always right. If you make a mistake and customer wants his money back, give him money back with the smile and apologize, do not charge for something you had not delivered, no matter how much time you spent on it already.
  7. use SDM ( to save cost for your clients and to be socially responsible company - SDM is something like a small IT company within Singapore Changi prison. It consist of very talented people (inmates) who could develop simple designs, videos, CMS websites for very little money and in much better quality than many IT vendors or freelancers at the market. How do I know it ? Because we trained some of them for the past one year :o) and we work very closely with SDM and support Yellow Ribbon Project. Many times I am suprised how little Singaporeans know about some of the government initiatives that are very powerful and mainly related to their business. Put SDM on your list of partners or competitors as its for sure one of those depending on how you see them. We proudly outsource lots of design jobs to them and we are happy about it.

There are many more things you could do to make life of your clients easier, lets share, explore and get better so we all can be proud of what our industry is like.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

How not to waste money on your CRM

Today, I would like to touch on the issue of utilizing CRM so it actually makes sense to use it and pay for it. Our SBS CRM is very simple and basic and it mainly caters to very small business owners, sole proprietors or even agents. Its is also very cheap yet those money might not be worth to spend if its not used properly. The more clients use our system the more I can see what kind of problems they are facing and it all comes down to the same thing - it doesn't produce what is expected because its not fully and properly used (unless technology fails of course).
I just would like to share how I am using the very same CRM for my own business as we are also SME and we do use it on a daily basis.
All it requires to make you money and save you stress and energy is DISCIPLINE, CONSISTENCY & PERSISTANCE.
Well, it might sound simple but its not as its directly linked to the traits of the human beings who are using the system. So the system is just as good as the person who is operating it.

How I do it and how it works for me ?
Being an addicted networker I go for many networking events where I collect many business cards and as soon as I come back or latest within a week (during weekend) I make sure I key in into the CRM details of all people I met or talked to with comments that I remember about them.

The second step is to follow up and here is how my simple follow up looks like:
1. I send thank you and "happy to meet you email" to all people I met, I do not wait for them to make a first step cause surprisingly, when I tested that approach, I didn't experience much initiative from their I don't wait, I email them stating also that I will have a look at their web to learn more about their products and services so I can refer them correct people if I get a chance. This initiates two basic responses - none or email back :o). The ones that email back are worth to follow up on and I make a remark into CRM about all that happened - who answered, what I learned at the websites about companies, who might be potential good people to introduce to them, etc. Btw. after email I also sms to ask people to check their email and reply as in this age of spam you never know if they will receive your email or not.
2. I send 2nd email to the ones that responded and some others that I called or smsed stating that I would like to meet up in person and learn more about them and their services. Its so called "get to know each other" meeting. Most of them agree and here I mark down into CRM when is the meeting so I do not forget and make sure I will not schedule anything else there.
3. Meeting - I go for the meeting and learn more about the person and tell them about my business and myself. Most of the time is to see if we like each other and if there is any avenue for cooperation at all. Most of the time there is no potential at the first meeting, it usually takes me 3-6 months of permanent follow up till some real action takes place (meaning they refer me or I refer them or we become partners, etc.) I do not rush it, just use my CRM as my diary to keep note of everything that is happening and my comments. After the meeting, I key in what we discussed and what should be follow up and set up follow up date (being a follow up call, proposal, next meeting or just "no reason KIV")
4. Regular follow up - if there is nothing specific to work on I put follow up date as one month from the date that we met. I will make sure I will email the person at least once a month or call them to say hi and of course track it in the CRM. I also write down in case I meet them again at another networking event. With every event we usually know each other better and better so meeting same people at different networking events all over again and again might not necessarily be a bad thing. You can enhance relationship, just make sure you remember them (which for me is a challenge as many Asians look alike to me :o))
5. Sooner or later I definitely utilize the contact for something meaningful for the business and if not after 6 months I categorize them as "trash" in my CRM but I never delete their record. In case I get in touch with them again I must know what has happened before. And as my company grows and I will pass some of my contacts to my staff to follow up with the whole story linked to those accounts. It will be much easier to take care of them and much more professional. Having a proper info about all your contacts pays off, sometimes you do not even imagine how and when:
a) you decide to venture into another business and suddenly all contacts you found useless for your current business become very important
b) by writing it down you remember better whom you met and what happened and will avoid many unnecessary embarrassing situations when you proposing something to someone for the second time (or more times) not even realizing it
c) the history of your dealings with your accounts can serve as role model process of dealing with contacts and serve as a training to your new staff (saves you lots of time)
d) helps to avoid lots of finger pointing and blaming who is right and who is wrong - if you take your little time to write down everything down when it happens, you can always refer back to it as a proof

There are many benefits and they will be different for different people, but you will never experience them until you start to practice something along the line of what I just described. It doesn't have to be exactly the same, as long as it makes sense and brings results to you.
In this century, if somebody tries to outsmart me by saying that they remember it all by heart and do not need any system, I just laugh. Its possible with 10 customers but not with 100 customers, thats a fact. Information about your contacts is your future gold, do not throw it away, keep it, update it, use it for everybody's benefit.
At the end of the day, it does not matter which CRM you use as long as you use it properly and of course as long as it saves your time and makes your life easier and not more complicated. More complicated only means how data and data entry is structured in CRM, not that you can be flaky about using CRM.

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