Business

5 Requirements of a Truly Useful Reports

Posted by Will Gunadi on January 31, 2016  /   Posted in BI and Custom Development, Business, Data Best Practices

Suppose you have followed my suggestion in my previous post where I presented the different levels of Analytics usage that any company can find themselves in: Impaired, Localized, Coordinated, Company-wide, and Competitive.

First, let’s put out again the definition of Analytics that we’re discussing here:

Analytics is the effort to discover and communicate useful patterns within data

You are now aware of the potential power of analyzed data. Here are 5 requirements that will help you to evaluate your existing reports to get them in shape for the next level of Analytics

#1 Reports Must Be Worth The Cost

Measure the time it takes to compile and generate a report. If the time is significant, calculate how much are you paying out of the company’s revenue for the resource to generate that report.

If the time is not significant, measure how long does it take to update the report the next time it’s needed. Add the two measurements together then calculate the cost as the above.

If both measurements added are still insignificant, than you have one of those “magic” report, whose benefits may need to be re-evaluated.

Do you have a budget for company-wide reporting? If the answer is no, it’s time to rethink the way your company does reporting.

#2 Reports Must Be Timely

A truly useful report must be up-to-date when the report consumer needs it. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately a lot of truly useful reports must be compiled from multiple data sources. Generating an always up-to-date report is manageable for one source. But how about four? Six?

Each of these sources usually has it’s own timing of when is the best time to retrieve the data, also if you have 5 data sources (example: 3 spreadsheets, and 2 databases), most likely you also have multiple ways to reliably retrieve it.

Without some kind of automation, how many hours of human resource must be dedicated to this?

#3 Reports Must Be Role-Sensitive

A single set of data may be processed and analyzed in many different ways. Before generating a report for a particular role within the company, be it the CEO, Managers, or even a Field Operator, it is prudent to “walk a mile in that person’s shoes.”

If done correctly, each of the role in the company will have their own specific reports that can truly help the person in the role to see more of what is happening and to anticipate and adapt to changes.

Bonus point if you have a screen for the person in the role to input changes in policies/regulations and process, so those can be used to tailor the updates of the said reports. Hint: You need a well designed Data Warehouse to accomplish this.

#4 Reports Must Be Digestible

What do you call a 23 Excel spreadsheets per day reporting? Some may call it impressive,  productive, or “Wow!”

But the receiver of these reports call it “useless.” Being the receiver of a mountain of non-aggregatedindigestible data does not make someone productive.  It makes the person look for an EXIT sign.

Producing a lot of reports must result in an equally significant increase in visibility and decision-making quality and speed. To do this, reports (or even better: Dashboards) need to be consolidated at the appropriate level.

Does your company have a process in place for this?

#5 Reports Must Have A Purpose

Reports that are truly useful have names, which indicate their sole purpose in life. Here are a few examples:

  • Bad Profits -report (Truthfully, I’d be impressed if you currently have this report always available to you as a business owner or CEO)
  • Unnecessary, Untracked, Unknown Expenses -report
  • High Maintenance, Low Revenue Customers -report
  • High Revenue, About-To-Leave Customers -report
  • Financial “Leaks-Busting” -report
  • Low Productivity Team -report
  • Fuel Consumption On Billable Vehicles or Machines -report
  • Where Is The Industry Going and How About Us -report
  • Time To Renegotiate Vendor Contracts -report

In your next Management Meeting, ask your executives and managers to come up with the list similar to the above.  And compare it with your existing reports, if many of the reports don’t have a name and don’t serve a singular, clear, actionable purpose, question their existence.

Be ruthless, life is too short for useless reports.

At nextCoder

We make new reports or tweak existing ones to meet the 5 requirements above. Our clients love truly useful reports that we compile and generate for them because through those reports, they see not only what is going on, but also where to go next. 

In summary, we save our client’s money and increase their company-wide efficiency by:

  1. Replacing expensive human resources with automated electronic “minions” (computer programs).
    So what happened to the human resource? They are now happier (because they don’t do tedious tasks better suited for computers anyway) and they contribute more significantly by doing tasks that is fit for human brains: Analytics.
  2. Using our highly tuned and constantly improved DataWarehouse platform that can serve multiple companies at the same time. Or if you like exclusivity, we’ll clone one just for yours.
  3. Design, and consolidate numerous and diverse data sources into one readable Dashboard. Yes it could be done, and No, it’s not as easy as it looks.

We invite you to contact us if your company is ready to make your data work harder for you.

Is Your Company Ready To Compete?

Posted by Will Gunadi on September 02, 2015  /   Posted in BI and Custom Development, Business

Compete in what? In your industry, your marketplace. Against who? Other companies who are using analytics to gain market advantages.

Analytics is the effort to discover and communicate useful patterns within data

Surely by now this is not news to you anymore: Companies who took the time and made the effort to discover useful information from data patterns stand the chance to use the resulting insights to corner the market, shorten sell cycles, and often times, they seem to be on top of things before the “things” are even known or popular. 

So let’s talk a little bit about what has to be in place to prepare your company for the already-fiercer competition where those who are still oblivious to the potential usefulness of their business data, vs those who have focused and invested in analytics and are reaping the benefits.

(Although in the end, we know that this is not much of a competition, it’s more like watching a long-distance race between a ship without a compass vs one with a GPS system)

The Stages

It’s actually very simple. When it comes to analytics, every company falls into one of these stages:

  1. Impaired - Severely limited insight to what is going on within the company. Lots of vague, subjective, and approximated information. Changes (both internal and external) are dealt with in reactive mode.  And decisions are made based on “gut feelings”
  2. Localized (or “Spotty” to use a more sophisticated term) – Sporadic exercises of analytics. Usually isolated within certain departments, these efforts get no acknowledgment — let alone support — from upper-management. There is no large  impact on how business is conducted, and as the result, no long term benefits.
  3. Coordinated - At this stage, the upper-management are onboard, and the departments start to get the support for establishing enterprise-wide metrics and analysis. Processes are tweaked based on metrics evaluations.  Decision-makers have access to objective information that they need.
  4. Company-wide - Analytics has been absorbed into the culture, it guides the creation and maintenance of processes and systems. The company can cope with unexpected changes because everyone knows what is coming and are in the position to proactively deal with it.  Decisions are made based on objective *and* timely information due to continuous access to up-to-date data.
  5. Competitive - The company is ready to compete for the spot of market dominance using analytics to outrun and outmaneuver competitors. At this stage, analytics is not limited to internal data, but also external trends, market swing, and the foresight on game-changing — buzzword: Disruptive — technologies or processes.  This kind of power can only be materialized with a cohesive analytics effort from top-to-bottom within the company

In Short

Which one of the above stages is your company in currently?

Despite what we hear in the media today about the buzz surrounding analytics and Business Intelligence, most companies in the world are still operating within Stage 1-3.  

Case in point, I regularly encounter company owners who declared that they are doing very well without all these “Data Analysis.”

Let’s think about this. The only reason the above statement is true at the moment is because most of their competitors are still operating the same way (ship without a compass).  But at the rate that even small companies started to put in place processes and systems to gather metrics (data warehouses, business alerts, Truly Functional Dashboards(TM), IoT systems, API integration, etc.) things will soon accelerate towards analytical competition.

The real question is: Who is going to be the first to install the GPS on the ship? Them or their competitors? 

So what a company to do? In my next post, let’s discuss what you can do to take your companies to the later stages. What sort of personnel would you need, how much coordination and buy-in would you require from the executive team and what role would that play, and lastly, what technology is available to us today and beyond.

Until next time.

Do You “See” Your Customers?

Posted by Will Gunadi on June 17, 2015  /   Posted in BI and Custom Development, Business

In my last post, we’ve established that the right level of visibility is crucial to be able to react — or even better, anticipate – changes that can hit your business from any angles.

Let’s take one of the most important aspects of a business: Customers, and see how we can design a system that provides the right level of visibility to customer information through out the company.

What “System” Are We Talking About?

The word “system” has its own share of abuse, so to prevent that here, we’ll narrow it down to a system that tracks Customer Scores only.

Why Customer Scores?
A Customer Score is a number we assign to a particular customer or customer type.  When it is applied to all customers, then we can rank them from the most valuable to the least.

This is one of the most important component of running a successful business, yet it is one of the most delayed if not avoided. Reason? Because it is tricky to figure out consistently , it takes a lot of thinking, and nobody has time for that, furthermore, after you figure out how to do it, then you have to come up with a continuous process to cope with the myriad parameter changes

Now, really, who has time for that? Our most successful clients do find the time.

Before we begin, the system we are prescribing here (in truth, all the systems we at nextCoder build and design for our clients) is designed with these rules:

  1. Any information is entered once and only once into the system
  2. The system adapts to the different roles within the company
  3. The information (customer in this case) is consistently represented to each company department (the key here is “consistent” not “identical”)

Having established what system we need to deal with Customer Scores tracking, let’s get started by discussing what does it take to calculate a score for a customer.

How Much Is Each Customer Worth?

Notice that I am not simply asking how much does a particular customer contribute to your revenue, that is just the first part of the equation, but what matters equally is how much does it cost to retain them.

At first blush, the first question (how much do they contribute) seems to be an easy one. We just have to ask the Account Receivable department, right? Until we start to ask the follow-up question, are they current on their invoices. Suddenly what seems to be an easy question started to become tricky to figure out.

The second question is much harder to answer. In reality, it cannot be answered until you have a system that asks the right question to every single department in the company involved in servicing the said customer.

The third question is how long has the customer been with the company? This question matters especially when the business depends on customer retention.

But what if my customers comes and go (and I have 100,000 of them)?

If the business only touches the customer for a short period of time (to buy a product, for instance), then a better question would be how likely for the customer to come back or to recommend the product. TIP: E-Commerce systems and their hooks to analytic services is your friend here. (Yes, we help our clients with this also, it’s quite amazing to gather data from six marketing platforms to answer a single question).

Ready for number four? What is the projected value of a customer? The earlier in the sales process we are able to assign the score to a customer, the better visibility we would have.  In this context, visibility means the ability to forecast and predict revenue pipelines more accurately.  This is crucial for business with long sale cycle and hard to predict trends.

NOTE: Obviously, depending on the nature of the business, you may end up with 5th, 6th, or even more aspects that you have to consider. But for the space that we have here, this will get us going.

Out of this exercise, we get Customer Scores formulas.

The System Itself

What does a good Customer Scores system look like? For starters it would have these components:

  1. Screens for each department to enter information that is relevant for each customer. And other sources within the department that can be automatically extracted from.
  2. A nightly (or hourly) process that gathers the data entered at the screens above. The data is then processed according to the Customer Scores formula while at the same time making sure that the three systems rules above are followed. If not, a business alert would be generated
  3. A set of Dashboards for different roles within the company.  From floor-supervisors to CEOs (even Board members), visibility is manifested in an always up-to-date, always accessible centralized online system
  4. A set of automatically generated reports are sent via email, or get dropped-off a remote server (for example vendors’ or banks’ or government-agencies’)

Once this system is running, everyone in the company will slowly gain the right level of visibility on Customers. Only at this point ideas, innovations, shortcuts without compromise on quality could emerge organically (unforced).  Why? Because everyone is thinking about how they can help serve the customer better within the constraint of their own department

This is the fruit of visibility.

Furthermore, when everyone in the company has this kind of visibility, then as a company, you would be able to anticipate industry-wide changes and you will be in a position to withstand crises that would otherwise bring you down.

In Short

Do you have a Customer Scores system? Wait. Scratch that… Do you have at least a Customer Scores system? How about Employee Scores system, Vendors Scores system? How about Profit Scores? there are bad profits as well as good profits, right? Is there a good scoring system for Costs?

In this post we focus on the Customer only because it will take a book to discuss the others aspects.  But the thrust is the same. Whether you have 10 or 100,000 customers, you still have to “See” them in the right context that is relevant to your business growth.

So it comes down to: Do you want your business to grow? If so, you need visibility, all the time. Without a system that is designed to provide that for you, how can you maintain the visibility over time?

Too many companies are too busy running and not looking for information that can result in better directions.  This is why nextCoder was founded, to come alongside companies and build systems that give them visibility where it matters.

If any of the above resonates with one of the needs within your company, hit me with a note and let’s discuss. And of course, follow this space for more Business Intelligence tips.  This post is also published at our website: nextcoder.com

Why Visibility is Useful

Posted by Will Gunadi on May 18, 2015  /   Posted in BI and Custom Development, Business, Data Best Practices

What is Visibility?

In my previous post I’ve established why visibility is very important in running and growing a business. And how the lack of visibility if both a vicious cycle that can result in the decline of a business, and that visibility is both ways, top-down and bottom-up.

Now let’s explore further what exactly do we mean by visibility? In other words, what needs to be visible and to whom?

The short (and useful) definition of visibility:

Being able to see at anytime what is going on in the business that is relevant to the question or task at hand

From Top to Bottom

Executives have the task of making strategic decisions that should affect the business positively. From this vantage point, visibility is being able to see what is going on to make not only good decisions, but timely ones.  In practicality, this translates to knowing what trends are in effect within the business. In other words where are things going based on the events that happens at certain periods of time.

NOTE: Sampling of data taken at certain intervals is a common way to get this kind of visibility. The cross-section of the company where the sample is taken can also provide important insights.

From Bottom – Up

Employees doing daily tasks are the main source of data in which the sampling can be performed. Every aspects of the tasks that can be measured should be measured. Visibility here means more than just being able to perform the task, but also to know why a task is required and how the task affect other areas across the company.

The more successful a company in providing this visibility, the more it can work as a unit rather than disparate departments busy protecting their own interests.

This is truly what is meant by the term Business Intelligence.

What do we do with visibility?

When we can see clearly what is going on in the business, we can decide which action to take and the timing of which the action is taken. So the main motivation to increasing visibility is to know what to do when certain things transpire in the business that needs attention, way before it becomes a problem.

More importantly, is the long term effect of visibility:
The increase in the overall performance of the company in conducting business. At the extreme level, this could mean becoming a game-changer in the industry. I don’t need to belabor why this is important, it’s what makes a company valuable, to anyone who deals with it.

Enough with Theory!

Let’s take an example, let’s say company A found out that the revenue is increased over the same period previously but so does the cost. Let’s use the concepts we learned above about visibility to find out why.

In this situation, the first step is to find out what caused the revenue increase. Let’s say that the increase of revenue is caused by more new customers purchase the products.

Then we take measurements across departments in the company on how much each department either contribute or is affected by the increased revenue (new customers).

NOTE: This is a good example of looking at things differently, instead of focusing on the Sales Department vs Accounting, we start to get the feel of what is taking place at other departments because of this known fact (increased revenue).

Upon analyzing the result of the measurement, we noticed that the Customer Service calls spiked up during the period and the procurement department also are busy sending out part replacements.

I turned out the new customers are not equipped with enough knowledge about the product, resulting in higher refund rate (dissatisfaction) or parts replacement due to damage.

Knowing that, the company tasked the marketing department to come up with materials that can be incorporated with the product packaging, so the customer has to go through them in order to enjoy the product.

So What?

The above scenario sounds like an easy and typical problem to solve. But consider this:

  1. What raised the red-flag and triggered the “investigation” ?
  2. How did the company found out quickly that the revenue increase is caused by new customers?
  3. How long would it take to take the measurements out of each department in the company? Without a conscious and concentrated effort to gather the data, this can take months or longer
  4. How long would it take for Accounting to approve the budget for the new marketing materials?

Interesting questions, isn’t it? And it’s a set of questions that is rarely talked about.  Let’s consider some answers:

  1. What triggered the investigation is the Executives having visibility to what happened to both revenue and cost over a period of time. Contrary to what most believe, this is not the job of the accounting department.  Without a conscious and concentrated effort, no one would have time to do this
  2. The company quickly can pinpoint the source of the revenue increase because it knows the customers. Only companies who took the time to know their customers via analyzing their data would be nimble enough to use the insight when the need arises
  3. The reason this company were able to analyze the situation is because of the visibility across different departments. Each of the department has indicators that everyone can see when their tasks (and cost) spiked up
  4. Lastly, the reason this company were able to address the problem quickly is because the accounting department has visibility to what the marketing department is capable of in terms of designing the new packaging, and the ability of the production department to dole it out.

As we can see clearly, without visibility, this whole process would be much slower if it happened at all.

In Short

Now let’s make this closer to home. Were the above story to happen within your company (or the company you work for), what would be the outcome?

Do you have enough visibility?

In a form of a list, this is Visibility for starters:

  1. Periodical sampling of data to discover trends
  2. Transparent cross-department measurements
  3. Customer tracking and scoring
  4. Employees performance scoring
  5. Vendors tracking and scoring
  6. Documented Time

Visibility is something that we don’t miss until bad things start to be noticeable. Companies who are proactively putting in place a system — Business Intelligence tools such as a Data Warehouse, Dashboards, fall into this category — that allows for visibility to be achieved, will find out that the more they use it, the more effortless for them to not only react, but also to anticipate changes and “roll with the punches” so to speak.

Next post, we’ll see what is the make up of a good system that provides the 6 aspects of Visibility listed above.

Who Writes Your Reports?

Posted by admin on January 26, 2015  /   Posted in Business, Online Platform

Newspaper city route Graph

What Reports?

Reporting has been and still is the most important part of running a business. Without taking the pulse regularly (or better yet, constantly), how would you know if your business is healthy or sick, thriving or dying.

Here’s the catch, truly useful reports take careful planning and considerable time to compile. A truly useful report cuts down the amount of parameters to wade through, and it highlights the most important and relevant information for the business owners and managers to make not only good decisions, but to make those swiftly — because in decision-making, next to the quality of the decision itself, the timing is the most important aspect, and a lot of people don’t realize this.

And since it has to keep up with the changes both internal and external to the company, it also has to be modified continuously.

Another important aspect of today’s reporting is: Visualization. Far from being just pretty charts, modern reports takes advantage of the fact that our brain has a tremendous capacity to process information when served in a coordinated visual pattern.

So here comes the question, who takes care of the reporting in your company? The answer, as we shall see next, is not as simple as you may think.

No One?

Most surprisingly, most companies are not doing nearly enough tracking and checking the pulse of their business processes. Reporting is just an afterthought in which the goal is “just enough info to get by” instead of being recognized as one of the key aspects of the whole business operations.

Despite the increasing popularity of Executive Dashboards, Infographics, Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence tools in general, there are still far too many businesses whose reporting activities are reserved for end of the week rush jobs or those tense accounting department fire-drills where you can feel the heat rising at the beginning of each month.

In Short: Unacceptable. Someone has to be responsible to compile and generate your truly useful reports.

Isn’t That The Company Accountant’s Job?

While accountants should generate useful reports, they are limited to only one aspect of the business, the financials. Truly useful reports encompass the whole business operations, not just the financials.

Even in the realms of financial report, your accountant most likely would not have enough visibility into the business to tell you important information that could help you grow the business.

For example, a report from your accountant would state how much profit the business is generating this quarter, but most likely it will not say which part of the profit came from a high-maintenance customer who takes up twice as much resources to serve. Nor it would tell you that you have a leak in your business process because you are paying a vendor extra for something that isn’t contributing to your business process.

From customer demographics and statistics, to inventory flow and trends, to manufacturing logs and exceptions, to vendor analysis, and more, these are important “pulses” that a truly useful reporting should cover. The more regular and painless it is for you as the business owner / manager to get a hold of these information, the better you would be able to run the business and grow it.

In the ideal setup, financial reports would be one of the inputs into the reporting system. A whole lot of information can be cross-analyzed between departments in your business. By taking time to do this, these reports can yield insights that you never even considered before!

In Short: No. Your business accountant should be one of the sources for the data that went into your truly useful reports.

Is It The Business Owner?

Since the business owner is the one who ultimately make the decision for the company, it makes sense that he or she is the one who consume and utilize these reports the most.

The distinction here is between consuming vs creating the reports.

Business owners should use the reports to monitor, and make decisions, but if they are also the ones responsible for creating them, when will they have the time to read them? And sadly, since they are busy putting out fires (show me a business owner who is not doing this all the time) while trying to keep the sales pipeline filled up, more often than not, reporting takes the back seat and the business loses a lot of potential revenues from the lack of monitoring and decision-making.

In Short: No, the business owner should be the last person responsible for generating the reports. All of their time should be spent consuming and utilizing those reports to make business decisions.

Is It The Employees?

If the business owner delegates the report generation to an employee, then the employee should have enough visibility into the business *and* the knowledge and experience to build the kind of report that is truly useful, which usually requires a lot more than just familiarity with spreadsheets.

So not only does the business have to put a process in place to disseminate the visibility to the responsible employee(s), but also, there has to be an implicit (or explicit) trust that the employee would not abuse the authority by combining what they know about the company with the new information that is accessible due to the new level of visibility.

In Short: Maybe. Unless the company has the budget and the infrastructure to support a team of experienced reporting and data-analysis as staff, reporting is not a good side-job for existing employees due to the experience required and the sensitivity of the information.

Okay, I Give Up!

So really, who should do the reporting? The answer may surprise you: An outsider.

There are service providers whose goal is to do in-depth, automated, reporting for others. Due to the abundance of data both within your company and relevant ones outside (what often referred to as Big Data, sometimes correctly, other times not), these kind of services will become as mainstream in the near future.

One of the benefits of outsourcing reports is that you get a fresh perspective and an impartial view of your company’s data. Why is this important? Typically, a reporting service provider has a lot of experience seeing patterns of data that can be useful when mining for information. Let me explain below.

Business owners usually think that their data set is unique to their business, but this is often not the case. Whether we are talking about soil humidity data gathered via telemetry, or the number of customers who predictably buy a certain product each month, to an experienced data analyst or scientist, those are just numbers that exhibit a certain pattern of distribution.

In fact, these patterns are what makes things interesting. They can be visualized to give business owners a different view to their business. The kind of view that could be very useful to make those important decisions.

Another important benefit in outsourcing reports is the fact that the service provider has not stake in the company. They are motivated to provide the best service possible without having to know the meaning of the data that is analyzed.

In fact, any decipherable sensitive data should be scrubbed before it goes out of the company, and when the reports are generated, those went through an automated mapping process (setup within the company boundaries) that puts back the right context into the generated information.

In Short: The key to setting up a reliable automated reporting system is to find a good reporting service provider who knows how to handle your company data professionally. We don’t yet have household names for this kind of service, but there are companies who are working on that. Including nextCoder.

At nextCoder, we help our clients get a constant and useful, distilled, aggregated information that they can use to make business decisions better, quicker and with a higher degree of confidence.  Often times using the data they already have.

As the result, our clients experience a steady improvement in their visibility into their business processes and this turn into the ability to measure the relevant KPI (Key Performance Indicator). As the old adage says: What gets measured, can be improved, is certainly true in this case.

-WG

Subscription or One Time Payment?

Posted by admin on January 08, 2015  /   Posted in Business, Online Platform

The Question

When it comes to funding an online business systems that implements your business processes and ideas, which one is the better way to go? Pay every month (or year) or cough up a larger sum in the beginning and never pay again?

The first option is the Subscription model, where the cost of the development is spread over a period of agreed time (most often ongoing).

The second one is the One-time Payment model, in which the company decides on a budget and the system developers are given a certain period of time to design, code, and test the system. Notice something missing in that list? Correct, maintenance and modifications. A business system has to be maintained and also modified to suit the changes in the business. After all, the system is created to support the business, not the other way around.

What is the consensus?

Whenever I asked this question to a business owner, in seven out of ten the answer leans towards a One-time Payment (usually upfront and a much larger sum). Except those who has tasted the experience of a properly-planned and properly-executed Subscription model development.

In a sense, this is not surprising, it is human nature to prefer a one-time purchase rather than subscription, unless the benefits of paying subscriptions is clear (or if they do not have a choice in the matter).

The reality is, building a system to help implement a business process has a lot more parameters and is prone to changes, both from inside or outside factors. Therefore, and the statistics agrees, it is rare that a custom business system can be developed in one iteration. The successful ones are built in several iterations with some that takes care of the inevitable changes.

The Comparison

Subscription Model

  • The company pays a subscription periodically
  • The developers are motivated to continuously enhance the system because doing so will make their job easier. As the result, the system is getting more stable and robust over time
  • The system can be built to follow the changes in the business processes. This is very important when the company is trying to train and organize their employees in phases
  • There is time to build measurement functions into the system, enabling the company to know exactly how effective the system is. This is a key feature for those answering to a board of investors
  • Everybody wins in the end

One-time Payment

  • The company pays one time
  • The developers are motivated to do their best, but more often than not, the requirements collected upfront is not complete, therefore the system cannot be as stable and robust as it needs to be, before the time or the money (or both) run out
  • The system is highly susceptible to changes in the business processes
  • Everybody loses in the end

Can We Not Pay Later for Modifications?

Certainly, you can hire the same system builders or someone else to do the modifications to the system later on, but this does not solve the problem of whose responsibility is it to monitor the performance of the system and make sure that it is still aligned with the business process it is supporting?

If the business owner is willing to take on this responsibility, then the risks are:

  1. The business owner may not have the time to do it because he is busy running the business (as he should be)
  2. The business owner may not have the necessary skills and experience to determine when the system needs to be modified

The better candidate for fulfilling this role is actually the system builders. They are in the position to setup automated monitoring system (which in itself, an evolving sub-system) that can notify the business owner when certain events are detected within the system.

The cool thing for the business owners are: They are not wasting time monitoring the system, but they are notified so they can make the decision where it matters, at the business process level. The best way to get this benefit is to adopt the Subscription model.

Can One-time Payment Ever Be a Good Choice?

The answer is yes, if the following conditions are true:

  1. The system’s requirements can be defined clearly upfront
  2. And, more importantly, those requirements do not change a lot as time goes

A good example would be a well-known system like a shopping cart, or an accounting system. Unfortunately these systems alone are rarely sufficient to help a company serve their customers and grow at the same time. Most companies seeking to build their own system has way too many customized rules and a lot of unmeasured assumptions.

In Summary

In business today, you can’t survive without taking advantage of what technology has enabled us. From remotely scanning documents, to SEO marketing, to a full-blown employee resource tracking and management system, to a data-analysis system capable of evaluating the quality of customers, we have so many technologies that a custom business system can take advantage of, that also changes rapidly.

The only way to keep up with it is to have a team of developers who are always on the ready to make the necessary changes to the system. A subscription-based arrangement is designed to fund this kind of project because as they say: Time is on our side.

Change The Way You See Your Business

Posted by admin on October 02, 2014  /   Posted in BI and Custom Development, Business, Data Best Practices

What do we tend to do when we are too focused into something? That’s right, we tend to lose sight of what the big picture looks like, and lacking that crucial perspective can be costly when you are in charge to run and grow a business.

As the saying goes “Don’t miss the forest for the trees,” as business owners and managers, we are to be vigilant in maintaining a clear vision and a good sense of where our business currently are.  Only when we managed to do so, then we would be in the position to determine where to go next and how to get there.  Furthermore, it helps us to focus on the right detail, the ones that has a big impact on the business.

The good news is, there are a plethora of tools and techniques out there that can help us in this regard.

In this article, let me try to illustrate this concept using a simple example:

mini_theater

Take a look at the chart above. What did you notice? Bubbles, different shapes, and colors.  For those of us who are data-geeks, this is one variation of a bubble chart.

Now the story behind this chart: Once upon a time, there was an imaginary theater company, who performed in their own facility, three times a week, on Monday and Thursday afternoons, and on Saturday mornings (represented on the vertical axis of the chart).  Each performance slot is indicated on the horizontal axis.

So if we do a mapping between the time-slot and the day, we would find a single performance — a bubble and a number — representing the available seating for that particular performance.  In other words the seating capacity of the theater minus the ones that are already sold for the performance.

Now that you know what the chart is about, take a moment and look at the chart again and let’s see what jumps out at you.

All done? Now put yourself in the position of the business owner of this theater company and let’s compare notes:

  • The size of the bubble intuitively indicates the seats left (which means tickets unsold)
  • The color of the bubble indicates the type of seatings available (main seatings have more capacity than the balcony or the box)
  • The larger the bubble, the worst it is from business perspective, again, intuitively, you want to shrink the bubble to 0 available seats, which means a full-house performance
  • What about those large negative numbers on some of the bubbles? Those indicate overbooking.  Something that must be dealt with before the actual performance, otherwise two or more annoyed audiences will be the result — which in today’s world will likely translate into negative tweets and facebook posts (bad for our reputation)
  • The chart represents one week, it would be easy to produce one for next week, the next two weeks, etc.  In fact, the chart can be an effective planning tool for promoting the performances based on which time slot still have a lot of seatings available
  • Once we have multiple of these charts, we start to see the forest, which weeks of the months is the best time to promote a particular performance.  Is this the time to introduce a Season’s Pass ticket? How far are we from having to get a new building?

Do you see what we’ve accomplished? With a single chart, as a business owner, we can see:

  1. What is going on
  2. Where to focus our attentions to
  3. What bad things that would happen
  4. Which options are available for us
  5. How to create a strategy to do something about it
  6. What does the big picture look like

That is the power of Data Analytics and Visualization.

What About Real-world Scenarios?

Here is the kicker, although I  created a fictitious story for the chart, in actuality, it is based on a real-world visualization that we produce for one of our clients.  It is a real business tool which takes the concept of charting to a whole new level.  That is, we made it a user interface where the business owner can actually reserve a seat, or upgrade it right there on the chart, without having to go through extra screens.

Our client loves this view of their business because it gives them visibility way beyond hundreds of numbers in a spreadsheet that they are used to deal with.  And it make efficient use of both their time and strategic thinking, so they can arrive to better decisions, faster.

Ever wonder why military generals over the ages plan their next moves by analyzing a map?

Let us know what you think about this, and let’s work towards changing the way we see our businesses.

-WG

Validating Your Online Form When User Clicks Submit with ZK Framework

Posted by admin on August 19, 2014  /   Posted in Business, Online Platform, Web Development, ZK

So you’re using ZK Framework to build your online forms, and your forms have fields which needs validations. You have a “Submit” button which your user will click when they’re done filling out the form. You’re using the MVVM paradigm with the data binding. You tried adding constraints to the fields, but you want the validations to happen only when your users click the “Submit” button. We have discovered this little trick that might help you.

Most likely, you are using the @bind(…) method to bind your form fields to the View Model attribute, e.g:

<textbox value="@bind(vm.someAttribute)" constraint="no empty" .../>

We noticed that when we used @bind() in conjunction with a constraint on the field, the validation was triggered immediately, for example, when the cursor left the corresponding input field. Depending on your requirement, this might be acceptable, but in one of the project that we have with our client, we went the extra mile for our client and opted for a cleaner solution, which is to trigger the validation only when the user clicks the “Submit” button.

The answer is to break the @bind() into @load() and @save(), and make sure the @save() is called before the command which handles the “Submit” button, i.e:

<textbox 
     value="@load(vm.someAttribute) @save(vm.someAttribute, before='save')" 
     constraint="no empty" .../>

<button label="Submit" onClick="@command('save')"/>

Note that the @save() expression has before=’save’, which matches the name of the ‘save’ @command() handler. This way, the validation is invoked just before the ‘save’ command, and the invalid input pop message is only shown at that time.

That’s it for now. We hope this tip helps someone out there with the same situation.

A little bit about us, NextCoder is a team of data analysts, software architects, and developers.  Using our up-to-date skills and experience, we help businesses make profitable decisions while increasing their capacity to grow. We combine Business Intelligence methodology with our vast software development experience to provide effective and unique solutions for our clients. Some of our products includes:

Tutoring Metrics

Team Tag 24

How To Build and Maintain Multiple Online Platforms

Posted by admin on May 14, 2014  /   Posted in BI and Custom Development, Business, Online Platform

The other day, out of curiosity, one of our clients asked me: “How are you guys able to build and maintain the quality on so many platforms simultaneously?”

That question prompted me to pause and think about this:

What are some of the things that make it possible to build and maintain multiple online platforms simultaneously without overwhelming the capacity?

As I started to write out the answer, I decided to go ahead and share two “ingredients” or “secret-sauces” that works for us and enable us to serve multiple clients simultaneously without compromising on either quality or support.

So What’s The First Secret Sauce?

Just like in the movie “Kung-Fu Panda,” — don’t read the rest of this sentence if you haven’t seen the movie yet — the “secret” turns out to be a blank scroll.

No really, the reason we at nextCoder are able to crank out a lot of platforms is not because of a secret-sauce recipe, rather, our carefully (and painstakingly) selected and molded “ingredients” (think building blocks) that we continually evaluate, test for fit, improve and build upon.

Because we are intentional about it, these building blocks are ready to be attached together to become the online platform that serves a particular industry domain. But in their disassembled state, they are just like “a blank scroll.”

See, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth — that’s the era of DLL-thunking, MS C++ vs Borland C++ vs Intel C++ to you, young programmers — the choices to make when developing an application is which compiler, which sorting algorithm, which expensive optimized libraries, even which memory manager.  The concepts such as Open Source code repository, data sharding, virtualization, JIT compilation, UI-templates, Aspect programming, had yet to become mainstream.

Today, we have the luxury to pick and choose from literally hundreds of already-made “blocks of code” to build our platforms with.  Some are Open Source, some have to be purchased, some are as complex as a whole application or platform framework, some packaged as neat little libraries, and the others, a network of code snippets and functions.  Internet browsers (big or small, desktop or mobile) is everywhere, and themselves, serve as a platform that does the heavy-lifting.

Therefore as platform builders, we can focus more on helping businesses map their needs through the use of data modeling, system configuration, deployment models (see Docker.io if you want to see an impressive technology) and of course: Business Intelligence and Data Analytics.

Ok, That’s The First One, Out with The Second

The second ingredient has to do with how we fit our client’s business model into the building blocks we just talked about.  Having done a lot of deployments across different business domains, we found that there are a lot of businesses out there whose data and information can fit the following model:

Building Blocks 800px

Basically, beyond infrastructure facilities such as security, user, configuration, email, role-specific dashboards, scheduling, notification system, full-text indexing which comes with every online platform worth its salt, we usually can organize data in the business in one or more grouping hierarchies, which typically ends with the main business object. What is this main business object? you may ask.

The main business object is typically tied to how the business serve their customers.  So for example, in the legal industry, the main business object would probably be legal cases, for a bookstore, the books, for a landscape-maintenance company, it’s probably the customer’s property, for a gymnasium, its member’s goals (lose weight, gain weight, get fit, etc.).  The Main Business Object is what most people associate with what the system manages.

Then predictably, almost all of the businesses that we came across associate the main business object with the same concepts such as trackable / auditable notes, links and tags, custom fields (who does not need a handful of these…?) and the ability to sort, search, and filter under various contexts.

Speaking of contexts, all of us know that chronological context is used all over the place, “when” something happens, and what else happens “after that” will always be the primary way in which we process information.  Thanks to the Geographic Information System (GIS) technological advances nowadays, Geospatial data is fast to become the next super-context which will find its place in many aspects of our lives.

Then after all this are put together using the building blocks, we begin the implementation of the proprietary process owned / copyrighted / trademarked by the client’s business or personally. We have been very blessed to work with innovative business owners whose brilliant process is just waiting for a good home to be built.

This process fits the definition of an Online Platform where construction and enhancements never really ends.  All of our platforms exhibit this characteristics.

In Summary

The combination of carefully selected building blocks and the right level of abstraction (at the business object level) gives us the ability to serve many clients simultaneously through our platforms.

This is not something that we take lightly, in fact every processes that we created and use takes this as one of the main goals, by which everything else is taken into consideration.  Why is this so important? Because this is the only way we can extend two biggest benefits to our clients:

  1. Continuous technical improvements, an improvement created for one platform can and will be replicated to the others
  2. Consistent quality and ease of maintenance, which translates into lower cost

Given that most of our platforms are priced in accordance to the number of usages, the growth of our clients’ business means growth for us as well. This is, to us, the prime motivation to go the distance towards excellence.

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, we are living in the “golden-hours” of the Information technology, where the efforts of many finds its uses to benefit a much larger portion of the population than ever before.

We are the beneficiary of many-many hours spent by dedicated and incredibly smart people. At nextCoder, we intend to pass along these benefits to help as many business as possible out there. In other words, it’s time for the “secret-sauce” to be enjoyed by many, many more.

- Will Gunadi

Online Platforms: Building Shoulders To Stand On

Posted by admin on April 02, 2014  /   Posted in Business, Web Development

Background

I often heard that today, we are living in the “golden hours” of the Information Era where the advances is nothing short of incredible.  Example? For the first time in the known history, we became one global society.

The question now is — as those who surf would often ask — where is the next big wave?

We at nextCoder believe that the Online Platform (Software as a Service or SaaS is another name for it) sector has reached the condition where one of those big waves might happen.  And a lot of software development companies (including us) are gearing up and getting ready to ride this wave. And a lot of Business Intelligence and Data Analysis companies (including us) are getting ready for this also.

What Qualifies As An Online Platform?

The first thing to be clear about is that an Online Platform is not simply a website or a web application.  There are millions of websites out there going up and down, and there are millions of web applications developed either for private usage or public.  Obviously not all of these can be regarded as platforms.  So let’s take a look at what is it exactly that separates a website or a web application from a real Online Platform:

  • Free or available at a lower cost for the users
  • Non-exclusive systems, the more users, the better it is
  • It is continually being developed and improved
  • Users produce content or other platforms within the platform

Who are these Online Platforms Users?

The users are the bread and butter for an Online Platform. Without its users the platform is … well, useless.  And just like how it is for businesses, the type of the users or customers can be divided into two broad categories: B2B and B2C.

Each of these categories have its own characteristics and determines how the Online Platform would have to be designed, constructed, and maintained.

B2B Online Platform users are using the system within the context of their respective companies.  Therefore such platforms are usually full of complex features, heavy on customizations, more robust and secure, and zero or limited interactions between users from other companies. Attlasian JIRA would be a good example for this.

B2C Online Platforms like Twitter on the other hand puts a lot of demands in terms of capacity (thousands to millions of users using the system), but not so much on complex transactions, workflow, and security.  At least not in the beginning, but since one of the characteristics of a platform is that it grows continually, eventually, even a B2C platform can have complex workflow. Also, this does not mean that B2C platforms are insecure or not robust.

And then there are Online Platforms that deals with both Businesses and Customers at the same time. eBay would be a prime example of this kind of platform.

Online Platform Categories

Educational / Entertainment – These platforms collects, share, and serve content that is educational or entertaining (or both) in nature. These are typically B2C.

Social / Networking - I think everyone know what these looks like.

Transactional / Operational – What used to be the domain of custom and exclusively built applications now has started to be available as an Online Platform. This is possible thanks to the Internet which drives the acceptance of connectivity even among businesses, which are far more conservative than individuals in this regard. These are mainly B2B.

Why Does This Matter To Everyone?

Eventually, almost all of us will become a user of one or more Online Platforms. Why? Because the next generation of Online Platforms will be even more useful, connected, and convenient than what is available today. This should be regarded as an excellent opportunity especially for Business Owners, company Executives and Entrepreneurs.

For individual customers, the sheer convenience and quality of services will continue to climb up. The amount of information that we would know about each other will also increase. That can be either scary or good, depending on your perspective.

For Business Owners and company Executives, what does this mean? Online Platforms can be used to operate existing businesses at a much lower cost.  How so? Because the Online Platform builder can spread the cost among platform users.

What about competitions? Why would a company use an Online Platform along with its competitors? It depends on the nature of the business. A good Online Platform has to be built independent of the factors in which the users compete on.

For example, a platform that automate operations, collect metrics, and perform data analysis, would boost the service quality of its users while keeping the playing field level.  On the other hand, platforms that share users’ data without their consent, or provide unfair advantages to some of the users, is a big no-no and should be avoided at all cost.

For Entrepreneurs, Online Platforms can be used to generate new streams of revenue. Build platforms for existing businesses to use.  There are so many niche opportunities that depends more on who do we know more than what we know.

What’s The Stats?

Those of us who loves statistics, here is an interesting Google trends plot on the level of interest of the term Online Platform over the years:

It should be noted that the trend is slightly increasing. That means the awareness of the Online Platform concept (represented by the term) is rising among us.

So the next time I hear someone says “golden hours” of the Information Era, I now have an idea what some of it may look like.  Let’s ride the wave together.

– Will Gunadi


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