"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" - Arthur C. Clarke
Many people I talk to view software as something akin to magic. Very powerful, but mysterious and incomprehensible except for the special few with the training and talent to manipulate it (i.e. software developers). The result? Myths about the powers and use of software that don't always match reality. As much as those of us who work with software like being thought of as wizards, the truth is we are not and software is not quite so magical. Here are three myths and misunderstandings about the value and use of software.
Myth #1: If it ain't broke, don't fix it
Myth: Once you build and deploy your system, you don't need to think about it again, even if it has been a long time since it went live.
Fact: Sustaining a successful business means that you are constantly exploring new markets, finding new ways to bring your customers more value, and searching for ways to grow. As your business grows and changes, so too will your software needs. The applications that served you well as a brand new business with a handful of customers may struggle to keep up as you grow to millions of dollars in revenue and hundreds, thousands, or even millions of customers. Along the way, you need to continually invest in your software, changing both how it works and how your business works with it. Your technology should be an enabler to your business, not a roadblock.
The best way to keep your software aligned with your current needs is to build it into your operating model. Many businesses think about software as a capital investment, buy it once and then leave it alone. We find that thinking of it as an operational investment is a better model. In the same way that companies use continuous improvement for process, constant, iterative improvement in software is the best way to get software that remains closely aligned with your needs. Neglecting this ongoing improvement of your software can lead to systems that are difficult to change to match your business, impeding productivity and reducing your ability to respond to competitive pressures.
Myth #2: Software will solve all of my problems
Myth: A common thought (even we catch ourselves doing it!) when facing a business challenge is: "All we need is ABC Software to solve this problem." Rarely is the true answer "yes."
Fact: Software is a tool and it can be used effectively or ineffectively just like any other tool. An efficient process and the right tools are what's needed to solve a business challenge. Good information helps you decide what's best to use.
Consider this example: Say you are digging for gems in the dirt in your backyard (lucky you with a backyard full of gems!) and you want to get them all out as fast as possible before someone else finds out and steals them. You pick up a shovel of dirt and carry it inside to spread the dirt out on your table and pick the gems out. You then carry the dirt back outside to discard. The process works but it is taking too long. You exchange your shovel for a bucket to see how that goes. The process moves a bit faster but now you notice that your back is sore from moving so much dirt back and forth at once. The bucket helped in one way (you can search through more dirt each trip) but hurt in another way (now your back is sore).
As you are resting your sore back, you decide to try moving your gem-dirt separation process to your backyard, right next to where you are digging. Now, because you don't need to take trips inside, working with one shovel full of dirt at a time is faster and your back feels better. In addition to your shovel, you now introduce a screen to sift the dirt directly into your discard pile leaving the gems behind and much easier to extract. You see your gem recovery speed improve yet again!
In our example, the shovel, bucket, and screen are technology options used to make the work of finding gems faster. However, by first considering and improving the process for extracting gems (i.e. moving the gem sorting outside) the investment in a screen becomes much more valuable than the investment in the bucket ever was. Software works the same way. It can be used to run inefficient processes faster, but improving the underlying processes before implementing software delivers a much larger return on investment.
Myth #3: Software is a big expense that I cannot afford
Myth: For small and growing businesses, surveying the market for software can be a shock when it comes to pricing. Many of the best-known software platforms (e.g. SAP, Salesforce, etc.) are aimed at large enterprises and carry a price tag to match. Such systems also have an (at times well deserved) reputation for costing much more to implement and being less useful than expected.
Fact: There are many options for purchasing and connecting cloud apps, supplementing with custom development as needed. Companies are now able to create the technology package that works best for their unique needs at an affordable price.
The best approach is to go slow and iterate. Start with one or two apps and build from there. Some apps will connect with others right out of the box and some require more work to integrate. The most unique business needs may require custom software works with your other apps. No matter what you chose, by building functionality incrementally you create the most efficient processes, spread your overall cost out over time, and discover previously unknown features and needs as you go. To do this, budget for a consistent investment in your software as part of your operating expenses. Work software improvement into your operations budget and continually invest in improving how your software supports your business. Over the long run, you will end up with systems that serve your business!
Your software is a critical set of tools, get the most out of it!
Ultimately, software is a tool to support your business. Continually investing in your processes and your software allows both to grow together to create a foundation for long-term growth in your company. If you don't know where to start or just don't have time to think about it, we can help! With frameworks for working both process and software improvement into your daily workflow, we can help you prepare for your next level of growth and success!