A Business Review

I was invited to conduct a review of a small business, and I looked at all facets of their business. Some of the short-comings I highlighted they already knew, and some they didn't even realize until I pointed it out to them. They were amazed at some of the automated processes available to them in some accounting packages, and after my presentation there is a new zeal to streamline some of their processes. But the biggest shock was my admission that the paper ordering system would be a challenge to build into a computer application.

The ordering system is very basic, and very efficient. There is an area to write the client's name and order date, and the rest of the page lists all the products available with a column next to it for the staff to write down the quantity required. I explained that I could develop an application that does (almost exactly) what their paper ordering system currently does, however that is not what you'd want. You'd just be doing the same thing as before, except you're doing it on a computer instead of paper. I might as well sell you yellow paper for your ordering form and claim that as a streamlined process because in an office full of white paper, your order forms will stick out.

I explained that there are two things that a computer system has to do if it is replacing a paper based system.

It must be just as easy (or easier) to use, and more efficient than the paper system
The ordering system they currently have is already very efficient and easy to use. The date of the order can be automated, but that's not enough to justify a move to a computer system.

The client name poses an interesting dilemma. The clients are shops (a shop name and/or contact person) and a location (suburb and/or town). Currently with a free form field where the staff can write anything they want, staff may opt for abbreviations or certain conventions that make sense for them. Of course what makes sense for one staff member may be different to another, and a computer system may not understand either. So with a computer system that needs data integrity, you have to make sure all staff are on board with the convention that will be foisted upon them with a computer application.

The application must have a unique value proposition
Without a unique value proposition then the only thing the application does is replicate the paper ordering system on a computer. Its the equivalent of having yellow paper. You have to look at what the computer application can do to further enhance its viability, something that could be done by the application, but is done manually (or separately) with the paper based ordering system. I suggested that an entry be automatically generated in their accounting system when an order was entered. I also suggested a link to a module for stock control so they could see at a glance their inventory levels.

The business owners were very impressed with the review that I had done, especially with my ethos of what a computer program needs to do when replacing a paper system because no one had explained it to them before.

They've had a few technology companies come in and tell them what they could do etc (sales pitch), but I was the first to tell them that it would be a challenge and explained the complexities involved. My recommendation was to keep their current paper based system in place until they were ready for the other changes that were necessary to implement a few of the unique value propositions. And it is with that recommendation that I am now their first point of call when they're ready to evolve their business processes.


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