There's got to be a more efficient system than what I have...

Discussion in 'IT & Internet' started by K0608, Aug 11, 2020.

  1. mattk

    mattk UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    You may well pay for someone to implement the solution, design the initial configuration and do the up front heavy lifting, but the whole point is these systems are designed to be user configurable.

    I can absolutely assure you that they do. In fact by definition you cannot customise SaaS in the same way you could with the old on-prem solutions where the source code was effectively open. Companies have been badly burned in the past from customising these solutions and then realising they have created a rod for their own backs when it comes to applying patches and upgrades.
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: mattk Member since: Dec 5, 2005
  2. TopSpek

    TopSpek UKBF Regular Free Member

    175 13

    In the past, the small business didn't have access to bespoke solutions because they were too expensive, or the technologies for creating bespoke solutions didn't exist, or bespoke software providers didn't have rich archives.

    This is a matter of granularity. The functionality available from an experienced bespoke company covers much of what the customer needs, but of course it needs to be integrated into a specific architecture. The result is that a much more 'bespoke' system can be achieved; a software system model which closely reflects the actual system used by the organisation in the real world.

    There is some relevant history here. Many of the technologies you describe were originally targeted at desktop users - i.e. individuals. In those days, only the larger organisations used bespoke solutions, and the 'production' of these systems was improved by concepts such as 'reusable' code.

    Meanwhile, the desktop individuals began starting their own small businesses using the disparate solutions you recommend. Absolutely nothing wrong with this approach, but if a small business reaches a point in its evolution where it can invest in a system which improves efficiency, then it should do so because it will have significant competitive edges.

    What a bizarre comment! If this were the case, then why on earth would I recommend that K0806 contact ffox for a solution similar to the one which you are recommending here? Quite offensive because it implies that we're trying to deceive people and rip them off!
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: TopSpek Member since: Jul 15, 2019
  3. gpietersz

    gpietersz UKBF Ace Full Member

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    @mattk I think your argument is flawed:
    1. You assume big business make good choices of systems.
    2. You assume that these choices work the same way for small business as for big
    To expand on the first there are plenty of examples of big business making bad choices. Systems that need replacing because they do not work as expected, systems that prove unreliable, systems that are delivered late. They also have tendency to make CYA decisions.

    On the second point, enterprise customers are often not buying the same off the shelf system and can spend a lot of money integrating or customising it. They might have an on-premises option where smaller businesses only have an SaaS option for the same system. If they use an SaaS solution they might have replication of the data. They can negotiate terms and pricing.

    The cost of customising things those systems can be huge. its very easy to spend millions on an SAP implementation.

    My former employer was in the business of providing systems that were more frequently custom developed in that past (and still are by some), and even "small" customers would spend millions of dollars on customisation.

    For small businesses I agree the cost of an entirely custom solution would be very heavy. The most cost effective solution that specifically targets your niche. I used to maintain a custom system for film festival and they replaced that with an SaaS that does exactly that - I am not fond of SaaS but it was absolutely the right decision for them (as was running their public website on a Squarespace). There are solutions for a lot for narrow industry verticals. GP surgeries, sailing clubs, recruitment.....

    On the other hand, if a custom solution fits better with your workflow and requirements, it might be worth the cost. Keep it simple, or extend an existing solution keeps it cheaper.
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: gpietersz Member since: Sep 10, 2019
  4. TopSpek

    TopSpek UKBF Regular Free Member

    175 13
    There are systems within systems. Individual systems, departmental systems, overall company systems. Departments have budgets. Departments are sub-organisations of parent organisations within the overall root organisation.

    Some components, facilities, tools, etc. can be used by all departments, individuals, etc. within the same company. Other components are specific to a particular department. So, parts of systems used by one system are used by other systems, and they can all be modelled as input-process-output units where outputs from one unit can be inputs to one or more other units. This is where metaphors such as "well oiled machine", "ecosystem", "organism", come from. Man-made organisations have become very complex and they can never reach an optimum 100% point of efficiency.

    So, everything is joined up and interconnected, most often indirectly, and most often inefficiently. But in the vast majority of large systems, hardly any joined-up thinking is used. Of course, they collaborate and communicate, but most organisations evolve according mainly to improvisation without very much meaningful analysis. This is one of the main reasons why they are so inefficient, and their departments and individuals use disparate technologies to carry out their business.

    For anyone interested in an analytical study of systems, take the Open University's level 2 BSc technology module "Understanding systems: making sense of complexity". I can guarantee that it will change your life.

    So, with such complexity all around us, there should be no room for competition between the types of solution. Instead we should be collaborating at this level. For example, I saw that K0608 did not want to allocate a budget high enough to buy a highly efficient bespoke system, so I remembered ffox and recommended his type of solution.

    There's a time for competition and debate, but we should try to collaborate wherever possible because this will make us more efficient and more prosperous.

    Last edited: Aug 12, 2020
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: TopSpek Member since: Jul 15, 2019
  5. gpietersz

    gpietersz UKBF Ace Full Member

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    I see two, which is not exactly many.

    I think its fine for people to suggest expensive solutions. Also fine for you to shoot them down, of course.
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: gpietersz Member since: Sep 10, 2019
  6. namesweb

    namesweb UKBF Regular Full Member

    133 16
    Just to try and provide some balance; those systems are not cheap by any stretch, and consultancy work can easily run into multiples of 4 figures a day for simple work... I know because I work with some of those "largest companies" and a common theme seems to be "those SAP monkeys can't get my (insert portion of the system) right and have taken 3 weeks over it".

    Of course, there are many successful implementations too - its just the cost is the cost is the cost, and it's not a "cheap" solution, and the more you have to throw at it, the more likely you are to have a successful implementation long term as your business evolves. All well and good it working for day 1 but if you have to spend £xk just to implement minor changes the cost can quickly rack up. From memory systems like workday have a minimum license requirement (250 rings a bell but don't quote me).

    Bespoke is definitely not the way to do it in all circumstances though, as generally you find yourself tied into that software company - in effect the same as the big boys.
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: namesweb Member since: Jan 27, 2015
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  7. gpietersz

    gpietersz UKBF Ace Full Member

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    Most of the development work I have done has been working on bespoke systems originally developed by someone else.
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: gpietersz Member since: Sep 10, 2019
  8. TopSpek

    TopSpek UKBF Regular Free Member

    175 13
    I agree with the first part where you say "Bespoke is definitely not the way to do it in all circumstances", but I don't agree with the reason you have given for this; i.e. that "generally you find yourself tied into that software company".

    As an essential part of a bespoke software project, a bespoke software house should maintain a design document . A bespoke software system's design document works in a similar way to, say, a motor car's technical manual. This enables any motor mechanic to work on the car, and even develop it - owners of the car are not "tied into" the manufacturer of the car. (A somewhat loose analogy, but I trust you understand what I mean.)

    So, car owners can use a variety of motor mechanics, and in a similar way to which a motor mechanic's services can be dispensed with at any time, the creators of a bespoke software system can be sacked at any time, and the design document can be handed over to a different software house.

    If the design document has been created and maintained properly according to best engineering practices, then a new software house will be able to get to work on the bespoke system within hours.

    But thanks anyway for mentioning this, namesweb. If this is the way that potential customers feel about bespoke software, then I do need to provide some reassurance.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2020
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: TopSpek Member since: Jul 15, 2019
  9. Wayne Smyth

    Wayne Smyth UKBF Contributor Free Member

    38 16
    I don't recall mentioning a price @gpietersz , so how people can determine what I suggested is expensive, is beyond me.

    Most of the original suggestions I gave are mostly comprised of opensource boilerplate/library code integrated together, with some small customisations and use of some free SaaS facilities.

    It also needn't cost anything up front. Many bespoke software providers are far more interested in charging a monthly fee for usage and nothing up front. Exactly the same as some of the 'cheaper' alternatives suggested.

    Ultimately the OP needs the most cost-effective solution to run his business, so he stop paying freelancers to do the work he could be doing himself. If there are well fitting tangible solutions off the shelf, people should post them here, not shoot down others, make a whole bunch of incorrect assumptions and accuse them of dishonesty to boot.
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: Wayne Smyth Member since: Nov 11, 2019
  10. ffox

    ffox UKBF Regular Free Member

    1,354 253
    Many thanks for the recommendation. However, I will point out that my solutions are far from -

    You said -
    It doesn't matter if the business is large or small it will be running disparate software systems and at some level these will need 'gluing' together.

    In 40 years of IT I have never encountered a business running a bespoke system that is all things to all men. There are APIs, data dumps and data imports that glue the bits together. The idea that Sage, or Quickbooks, or Zoho, or anything else can to everything the business needs is a myth, and the same goes for any expensive bespoke system that can be imagined.

    The first thing any business principle or manager needs to do is to examine what the business need is, what data needs to be generated, or collected, and then find the tools to bring that together efficiently.

    This is what I do.
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: ffox Member since: Mar 11, 2004
  11. TopSpek

    TopSpek UKBF Regular Free Member

    175 13
    @ffox. You're welcome, and my apologies for my choice of verb phrases - no offence was intended.

    A contradiction in terms if I might point out. The point of a 'bespoke' system is to model the organisation's unique way of doing things. Every organisation has it's own way of doing things. Even individuals achieve the same goals using different methods.

    For example, your way of preparing eggs, toast and fried tomatoes would probably be completely different to the overall system that I have developed for doing this. If we could automate these processes, then I would be in the market for a bespoke solution because my method is highly efficient and I like the way my version tastes.

    I would pit my system for this against anyone's! :) In the same way, a significant proportion of an organisation's competitive edges are found in the way they do things - i.e. their unique systems which they have developed for achieving their goals. High level solutions cannot always accommodate crucial details in an organisation's systems, and so they must think at a finer granularity, and descend down to re-usable libraries, classes, code blocks, methods, functions, and so on, down to low level code instructions and even beyond for some requirements.

    And so, as Wayne Smyth has pointed out, a bespoke software house will know when to include existing code, and when to write new code. Not everything will be done from scratch, but a finer grained solution can be achieved if the client thinks that it will be a good investment.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2020
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: TopSpek Member since: Jul 15, 2019
  12. ffox

    ffox UKBF Regular Free Member

    1,354 253
    'Course you do. It is your stock in trade :) - I have no issue with that

    Absolutely. Which means that most bespoke systems are out of date before they go live as new demands and business needs development never stop.

    That results in project creep and increased cost or, even worse, the onset of Shadow IT, where departments and users attempt to implement their own solutions, rather than wait for the corporate solution.
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: ffox Member since: Mar 11, 2004
  13. namesweb

    namesweb UKBF Regular Full Member

    133 16
    I think it was probably @TopSpek that bandied about the sums of between £5k and £15k, and agreed, I don't understand how without looking at the actual spec needed in more detail, current architecture how such a wide ranging sum can be given.
    This for me is where as a small business owner I'd want to be - the sweet spot between making the system work for me, but having that element of open source-ness. To add to the point made by @ffox very very rarely will a company simply use one system as a one stop shop (whilst individual functions may).

    It all depends really - there are quality software companies that will maintain a document with ongoing changes, but that will naturally come at a cost; and putting together bespoke and full comprehensive documentation isn't going to be a quick job. So you may end up in effect being tied into that software company simply by choice of wanting to reduce the cost base (which for a small 2 man business will probably be a big priority...
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: namesweb Member since: Jan 27, 2015
  14. TopSpek

    TopSpek UKBF Regular Free Member

    175 13
    A bespoke software system is not just created, tested, etc., and then handed over to the client. A bespoke system is placed under some kind a source control and versioning system (such as Git) just like any other system.

    Any changes in the real-world system, or requirements specified at any time, etc. can be brought online according to priorities - just like a motor car, or an operating system, or a type of frigate for the Royal Navy.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2020
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: TopSpek Member since: Jul 15, 2019
  15. TopSpek

    TopSpek UKBF Regular Free Member

    175 13
    It's exactly because of the lack of detail and negotiation that I gave such a wide range. Going off the original post (which incidentally was quite well written compared to most of the initial requirements statements I receive) the range was actually quite easy to give.

    The idea is to find out whether the client has an adequate budget to commit to a bespoke solution. Potential clients want to hear about how much it's going to cost them. If they don't have the budget for a bespoke solution, then there's no point in continuing with the negotiation because you would just be wasting their time and yours.

    Therefore, move swiftly on to an alternative solution which, and at the risk of repeating myself, I did by recommending ffox. :)
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2020
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: TopSpek Member since: Jul 15, 2019
  16. TopSpek

    TopSpek UKBF Regular Free Member

    175 13
    A design document (DD) is an essential part of a project and thus evolves with the project - it is not a separate job. The DD is written as the project progresses - it is not written up as an afterthought on completion of the project.

    Indeed, the project would not actually be a 'project' at all without the DD. For one thing, the DD includes the engineer's specifications which are indispensable for development and versioning.

    Therefore, the cost of the DD is included within the costs of the project - it is not an 'added' or 'extra' or 'unseen' or 'undisclosed' cost, or anything sinister like that. :)
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2020
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: TopSpek Member since: Jul 15, 2019
  17. mattk

    mattk UKBF Newcomer Free Member

    2,297 844
    I wouldn't recommend one of those enterprise solutions for a small business, they are merely an example. However there are smaller, less complex and of course cheaper (or even free) solutions specifically aimed at SME.

    For me, a bespoke system is the worst of both worlds. By definition you're not getting a tried and tested solution AND you have to pay for a developer or even worse a team of developers to make anything but the most superficial change.

    PS. I don't know of Workday does have a minimum licence requirement. However, with a £million plus ballpark implementation cost, it doesn't make sense for a company with fewer than 10k employees.
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: mattk Member since: Dec 5, 2005
  18. Paul Carmen

    Paul Carmen UKBF Regular Full Member - Verified Business

    320 80
    This seems to have descended into a bit of a slanging match about who said what and verb use!

    The reality of most businesses marketing, IT and web infrastructure is that there will be a mixture of off the shelf software/plug-ins, and bespoke systems or customisation of off the shelf, almost always with some gluing together via API, data feeds etc.

    @K0608 wants to know if there's a better way of doing things and to be fair to him he's provided a pretty detailed description. It seems the real question is "can the systems be more automated and reduce workload complexity and is this a worthwhile investment?".

    The devil, as always, will come down to the detail and what compromises you're prepared to make on cost, ways of working etc. There are also some missing elements in the description that might influence what you do as well; e.g. how do you capture your customers in the first place (word of mouth, offline marketing, PPC or SEO etc?) and what's your marketing process to do this. The answer though is yes...

    To give a rough idea of what we believe could be improved upon and semi/fully automated (based on your detail and the systems you've said you use now), without starting from scratch with everything, is as follows: -
    1. Client capture and management - This could be improved by switching gravity forms for a WordPress email platform integration; in conjunction with CRM/contact management this could auto respond to clients, allow you to book call-backs, funnel different requests into different processes etc
    2. Replying & contact management - Add a simple CRM/contact management system; this could allow you to manage leads in a more efficient way, with pre-planned outbound email responses and move them through a more controlled client management process, including nudging those that don't respond in a certain timescale, all the way onto payment
    3. Guide management & availability - This could all be managed through a different channel in the website or CRM/contact management setup; e.g. you could list all the guides and have automated contact requests for availability, or even create a regularly updated guide availability matrix so you know what resources you have in advance, you could also automate the actual guide booking in a similar manner
    4. Payment - In order to manage this well you need to have one system looking after the client contacts, we'd suggest this becomes an online payment system, driven into the contact management system that is then pushed to Quickbooks for accounting purposes; e.g. you could integrate Stripe with the WordPress website fairly easily, plus add a bacs receipt payment setup that allows you to take control of the bank to bank transfer process
    5. One week to go - the customers who are going out with guides are moved into a new contact list once they've paid; e.g. they get an automated email with a link to the one drive folder with details of their trip
    6. Reviews - using the contact list above you send an automated email 3-7 days after their trip asking for a review on GMB, Trip Advisor etc.
    Now this is slightly oversimplified, as there may well be web work and customisation required, and you might need to add configure WooCommerce. Plus, there will probably be some API work or maybe even use of a 3rd party system like Zapier to get everything working and data into something like Quickbooks.

    In essence, this should all be achievable, the exact cost and requirements will need further scoping with you...
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2020
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: Paul Carmen Member since: Jan 27, 2018
  19. TopSpek

    TopSpek UKBF Regular Free Member

    175 13
    All the most difficult logic for a particular task, or set of related tasks, is tested at the engineering stage. There are mathematical tools for this - just like there are in construction engineering or mechanical engineering or electrical engineering, etc..

    An implementation is produced from an engineer's specifications. These specs are produced using mathematical tools such as propositional calculus, rules of inference, pre- and post-conditions, pseudocode walk-throughs, etc., to completely test and affirm the logic of the proposed component. Thereafter, the implementation of the specs by coders is largely a trivial matter, with any minor problems being reported back to the engineers for inclusion into the specifications.

    Also, the various software artefacts which are introduced into a system on an ongoing basis are thoroughly tested in a testing environment after implementation, and before being added to the main working system.

    So, there will be no logical bugs whatsoever if your engineering specifications are correct, and minor problems can easily be tackled by the coders.

    As I've already described, a bespoke software project is ongoing and versioned - just like any off-the-shelf solution. One of the differences is that an organisation's proprietary software is rarely available to other organisations or to the public. One of the reasons for this is related to the company's 'competitive edges', as I described earlier.

    Therefore, an organisation's software house is part of its business - like their accountants, solicitors, etc.. An organisation's proprietary software systems are part of its ever-changing assets - not a static piece of technology which needs to be replaced every so often.

    And commencing a bespoke software system is actually quite inexpensive these days, even for small companies. For example, we could analyse K0608's initial requirements further, and focus on a particular area which he might want to start with. As you will appreciate, this would significantly shift the range I gave earlier downwards. (That was not a pitch by the way, I mention it because it relates to your concerns.)

    Thank you for mentioning these concerns Matt.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2020
    Posted: Aug 12, 2020 By: TopSpek Member since: Jul 15, 2019
  20. Chris Ashdown

    Chris Ashdown UKBF Legend Free Member

    11,861 2,465
    Just had a look around for some software and found below seems designed for tour operators but nothing more i can offer but look up your industry for software like "Google Tours software"

    Here are just the first few i found may be good bad or for much larger firms, but at least you know software is out there - UK (Search) | Desktop&utm_term=travel software&utm_keyword=travel software&utm_content=398505065265&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI3arH55CY6wIVWODtCh2abQP8EAAYAiAAEgI7dvD_BwE might fit in with your tours
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2020
    Posted: Aug 13, 2020 By: Chris Ashdown Member since: Dec 7, 2003