I had written a system for a client and they are now creating a new business that is nearly the same as the current one. Each businesses needs to fill a large hole with waste material, delivered to site by truck.
Same task: Fill the hole.
We met and discussed the idea at some length and there were clearly similarities. It seemed so very close.
However my task is to create a system that is optimal for the particular business the system is going to be used for.
In the first case there were hundreds of clients per year in the second 10. In the first case the business needed to manage 2-3 truck journeys per client within a few days. In the second there would be hundreds per client over several months.
In the first, the nature of the material was varied but getting it right was critical to meeting compliance. In the second the size of the clients and the size of each job were so large that compliance was as good as guaranteed.
The question was – could we re-use the current system for the second business and tweak it a bit?
We could have – but in doing so we would miss out on all the wonderful benefits of custom databases.
Here are some of the differences:
System A – Many clients/few trucks
- Where there are many clients there is a benefit to creating an online section to the system to allow the client to enter key data themselves – this saves a lot of time collecting data and ensures that the person who knows the data best (the client), enters it. The system can also ensure that the client is not able to return a half completed form and can guide them through the process of filling it out cutting down on errors dramatically. First time right.
- Since we are uncertain of what is being delivered we can stop the truck at the entry to the site and take photos of the registration plate and the contents of the truck and link this back to the delivery note. We now have a visual record of what was actually delivered when and by whom.
- The trucks are all run by the client – what was unknown was the nature of the material being delivered. This meant that we could train the drivers, as we knew who they were, and we could reduce the amount of on-screen hand-holding required.
- From a management viewpoint we were less interested in the client and more interested in the efficiency of the drivers. How many loads were they delivering per day, what was their workload like over the coming weeks, when were trucks due to be maintained- what more work could we pursue?
- In this case we would have many clients – each with a lower value. We would not have time to credit check each client. But some might order more that one job. We needed to be able to learn from their prior payment record.
System B – Few Clients/Many trucks
- Where there are many truck journeys being carried out there is a likelihood that the same drivers arrive on site over and over again. This means that we can put a simple system on site that allows the drivers to sign in when they arrive and complete the notification of delivery. The weighbridge could automatically fill in the weight delivered and produce a printout for the driver. The driver can then be instructed on where to deliver the waste material with an on screen map and the same map can appear on the printed delivery confirmation. This removed the need for any paperwork and resulted in instant feedback to head office and fewer drivers out on site.
- In this case we had little interest in the driver’s performance – they were not our drivers. What we were interested in was the remaining work to be carried out for each client, how many trucks had arrived on site during the last week and therefore how many were likely to arrive during the coming week, we could then predict when the work for the client would be completed. We could also asses how busy the site was going to be over the coming months and when we needed to start scheduling in the 11th and 12th client.
- In this case we had the potential of a single client running 10 trucks to site each day and even with weekly invoicing, the 30 day payment terms meant that if a client was late paying the impact and credit risk could be significant. We needed more controls over payments and a way of stopping new deliveries if the credit limit was being exceeded or likely to be exceeded.
- The client would want a complete record of what deliveries were made to site and we could attach this to the emailed invoice – including the drivers signature.
- The accounts department had little to check as all the data had effectively been pre-verified – they would just need to trigger the invoice process and within seconds emails, with the invoices attached, would be sent out to each client.
These were just some of the considerations, and as they kept accumulating, the decision was taken to create a new bespoke system for the second business. The cost saving to the client would be in the tens of thousands per year.
I was reviewing the next step of a system with a client today and he was asking how he could delegate more responsibility to his site managers.
We had already created a system that allowed the site managers to source their own materials and any savings they made contributed to their profit share. They were very happy with this and profits have already started to increase. Now we were looking at how the labour could be better managed.
The current system indicates how the construction project has been costed. What we will now do is give the site manager access to this section and allow them to work out how best to use their workers on a day to day basis.
They have a clear brief on what needs to be done and how the boss thought that might be achieved. They will now be able to re-allocate staff and work out, before the work starts, how by moving staff around they can save time and use their resources better. The cheapest, but best, candidate for the job. If they are able to produce the same or a better result but at a lower cost, everyone benefits. All of this on an iPad on site.
The boss, back in his office, is able to oversee what is being planned and step in if needed, at the same time he can learn from the insights of the site managers about how to improve his estimates on the next job.
If the revised plan goes against them, the site managers learn why the original plan was as it was and still have the power to continuously challenge and improve it.
As a result of the site manager allocating the job “Scaffolder” to “Bob”, the human resources manager is able to have a clearer idea and what sort of work each staff member is being asked to do. This makes is clearer what gaps they have in their training and skill range within the company. She is also able to better forecast how busy each staff member is going to be over the coming weeks and months.
This next stage is going to offer significant insights, increased profits and help grow the company.
The other day I was asked to liaise with a representative of an accounts package with the aim of transferring data from the custom system I had created to their system. The system I had created had many specific features that produced the very detailed information the client needed to have appear on the invoice.. compliance data, specific product codes etc.
As the meeting progressed I asked a series of questions about the ability of the off the shelf package to receive data in various formats to meet the client’s requirements. The answer time and again was: “No – we can’t do that”. Could it be done if they modified the system? Again – “No – we can’t do that”.
In the end I did a bit of work at my end and we were able to produce what was needed by presenting the other system with the data pre-formatted as required.
This got me thinking…. Is it better to ask if a system can do a certain task and be told “No” or to ask the same question and receive the answer – “No! But it could do”.
If the system could be modified within days, sometimes hours, to meet the new requirement would that not be useful?
I often see clients develop coping mechanisms when their systems cannot do what they need it to. This starts a proliferation of spreadsheets and sub-systems and a whole new task of cross checking is created. (Since, in the process of transferring data to the sub-system errors creep in…)
This is a business owner’s nightmare from day one.
Now of course I would say that being able to modify the system is preferable – but then as I was writing this very piece – the phone rang.
So for the next hour I will be making a change to a system that will save the client (and in turn their client) an hour a week per staff member.
Let me refer you back to my previous article…daft figures…
A client asked me to have a look at a task that their staff have to carry out every week. It takes them 1 hour to do. It cost them just £120 for me to make a change that removed the need to do the task – at all.
When I had completed the coding work I was throwing out my junk mail and noticed an offer for a high interest bank account offering…
Instead of my client dropping £120 into a bank account the client had handed it to me and in turn I had removed the need to spend an hour every week doing a very boring task. The staff are estimated to be worth at least £100 per hour. so they had just saved £5,200 a year on this staff member – but there were 20 staff carrying out this task. That is £104,000 a year that they no longer had to spend… for a cost of £120. The return on investment =
Imagine if they had had to spend an hour a day (instead of a week) or had more staff carrying out the task.
The coding was good for all of time – so this saving will be taking place every year.
What if the task had taken longer or there had been more staff?
Improving your data processing functions saves money. Lots of it. Start with a system that can respond to your specific needs and which can let you make changes quickly.
What tasks do you have that take a long time, frequently that could be automated? Sometimes clients are so used to having the task carried out they have not questioned if a human needs to be involved at all.
What could you do with the time that the removal of this task would give you back?
“Then the client may phone up and change their mind, then we find out that the last one in stock is damaged so we have to change it again, then we might find that the truck driver is ill, then we might find that the consignment needs to be moved to another truck run, then the client might not be at home or rejects the delivery….”
All of this can be handled and contingencies put in place by a good system and this is fine. But why do the changes take place? What are the changes taking place, how often do they happen and which of them can be predicted and avoided or reduced?
If your system could start alerting you to the likelihood of changes being needed and if it could give you feedback on the numbers of points of failure and nature of failure would that be useful?
This process of improvement never stops and it is both necessary and beneficial. It also applies to all types of business and data management.
What data are you processing needlessly?
This chart represents just 4 figures 30%, 30%, 30% and 10% and can be produced in a variety of ways. The user can create the chart and enter the four figures. Or, if the system is a bit smarter, the data can be drawn down from a database where the live figures are being recorded.
So apart from the time spent creating the chart and getting the look right your staff could be spending a lot of time collecting the data to ensure that the slices are right. What if the system did this for you as well?
We recently produced a report where for each active design project the project managers wanted to know at what stage the procurement was for several different categories of product (lighting, furniture etc.) With over 10 projects running at any time this could have meant days of work and the whole thing could have been out of date before it had been assembled.
The system we created required automatically produced the reports and emails for each project were sent to the relevant project managers giving them an up to date report. Wherever they were on the planet.
It could be that simple.
You have a tried and tested process – but legislation changes, or office policy changes, or you just want to see if things could be done better. To do this you need a new step in your system. How quickly can you get it implemented, indeed, can you get it implemented without having to resort to an external system.
I often see companies that have had such a change and as a result they have multiple systems – some that do part A, C and D but, part B – the system could not do, so they do it in Excel – that wonderful catch all.
Except…. to get part B to work, data has to come out of the main system (cue endless checks and cross checks) then it has to go back in for parts C and D (more checks).
After a few years the system is no longer a system. It is a nightmarish collection of applications and Excel spreadsheets and usually there is one person (only one) who knows how it all works.
The right kind of custom solution could make the nightmares stop. Find a system developer to help.
It took me 3 minutes to produce this graphic using my Sharpies, 1 minute to scan it, 10 minutes to get it to be the right size for this post…. that is ok it is a one off. However I watch in horror as I see clients spending more time correcting data and formatting it for presentation than it took to assemble the data to start with. This would be acceptable if these were one off reports, they need time to digest and look right, but this is less acceptable if the document is produced regularly. Sometimes every hour or so. I am thinking of quotes and invoices being adjusted in Word and Excel. After the data entry and automated error checking – formatting could be a time waster that could be dropped. What would gaining a third of your time back save you? What would adding a further third by automated error checking do? If you watch your staff do this – or worse still are having to do it yourself – it may be time to get a system in place.