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When Your Office Tech is Older Than Your Employees 

I had the pleasure of doing a technology consultation the other day at the behest of a colleague attempting to improve the organization’s payment processing. In his initial discussions with the organization, he found that the software that ran their office was very outdated. He was fearful that it would not be compatible with modern payment processing solutions.  He was right in his thought process as I quickly discovered the software in question was written in 1998 and had minimal updates since that time.  While in theory, 1998 isn’t that long ago, in the world of technology and development, it is the equivalent of the 1950s to the present.  As such modern features like cloud-based operations, support of touch interaction, adaptability to a wide range of screen sizes and pixel densities, socially-oriented interface patterns such as event streams, timelines, and social graphics were nowhere to be found.

The situation this office found themselves in is not uncommon.  While still a long way from typewriters and carbon paper, old software has a tremendous impact on the operation of an organization. A recent Techradar article points out that an almost unanimous 96% of people think the businesses they work at could improve when it comes to computer software. In comparison, only 17% of people believe that their business is exceptionally well equipped – and 8% say it’s ‘poor.’

Solution In A Box

It wasn’t long ago that places like Staples, and OfficeMax had rows and rows of software in brightly colored boxes.  If you needed better word processing, you just simply went down to the store and picked up the latest version of WordPerfect.  When you were lost in a spreadsheet maze, there was a Lotus 123 for that.  Even today, there are mass-produced solutions for many challenges a business or organization faces.  But just like two snowflakes are not alike, many similar companies have differences that affect the productivity of the software. Some places, like the one I consulted for the other day, have software that is just outdated with few new options available.

Randall Rice and William Perry, in their book Testing Dirty Systems, found 20 common challenges many businesses and organizations experience. Number eight on their list, Obsolete Software, speaks to the heart of the matter.

This refers to software-based on functions found in older versions of databases and operating systems. An example of this can be found in old COBOL code that will not compile on new compilers due to the use of verbs no longer supported in the compiler. Many vendors try to make new releases of support software upwardly compatible. Still, there are usually cases where one minor area of non-support from the base system can cause a major revision of the system. The only other option is not to upgrade the support software. This decision can be justified for the short-term, but a point is usually reached where the software must either be replaced or modified.”

The other area Rice and Perry, points out with their 14th challenge, Incorrect or Inadequate Interfaces with other Systems, plays a massive role in many organizations.

“This means that the software does not correctly accept input (data, control, parameters, etc.) from other systems or sends incorrect output (data, control, parameters, print, etc.) to other systems. An example of this is when a system has electronic data interfaces (EDI) with external systems but does not correctly receive or format the information.” 

In June of 2007, Apple released the iPhone, and the world changed dramatically overnight.  Today we are a mobile society.  Plumbers take payments with the swipe on their phone, attorneys file legal documents from the courthouse steps with e-signatures, Apple Car Play has a Zoom integration, and you can conference with 100s of people while stuck in traffic. iPads, Tablets, Phones, and Laptops have changed the game.  Yet some business software requires things like PC Anywhere or LogMeIn to access from the road.  In the age of Covid, with more and more remote working occurring, it becomes exceptionally problematic as remote access software tends to be slow and unreliable.

Is It Time To Create?

So how do you know if your business or organization should consider investing in a custom software solution? When do you go off the shelf, and when do you go custom?  To answer that question, here are some things to think about?

  • Does my business or organization have a critical need that I’m having trouble finding a service to address?
  • Would my business be able to serve my customers with a custom application better?
  • Do my department’s applications need to be upgraded to work with other departments and vendors?
  • Is our current software challenging to use or outdated? Do employees complain about their use?
  • Is our current software cloud-based or easily accessible remotely?
  • Does our business need a new edge to take on the competition more effectively?

The odds of finding pre-made or off the shelf solutions to fulfill your requirements are slim if you found yourself answering yes to any of these questions. By investing in custom software solutions, your companies’ specific needs are targeted.  All of the things that slow you down or cause issues with your current setup are addressed. Facing the decision to create a custom product is not easy; the Coast Technology team and I encourage you to look at things from 30,000 feet.  Your current situation will not improve on its own, and you need to factor in future expansion. By choosing the right type of software now, you can simplify current operations, reduce errors, improve customer morale, and make your employee’s lives much more manageable for years to come.