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The Benefits of Custom Software Development
1. What is Custom Software
2. Advantages
3. Cost
4. Case Studies
5. Questions and Answers

There can be significant benefits realized through custom software implementation. In speaking with diverse groups of prospective clients, we have found that in general, there is a lack of understanding about what custom software is about, how it can benefit a company in it's daily operations and what the costs and other investments such as time, training, etc. might be.

1. What is Custom Software Top of page

Custom software design is not new. It used to be practical for only larger companies due to the once high cost and complexities of bringing a custom application to useful fruition. Over the past decade, mainly due to the evolution of powerful data management and programming applications, many smaller companies have realized that the cost is insignificant when weighed against the many benefits to be derived.
Custom software is a program or group of programs that work in conjunction with one another to manage information exactly the way your company does business. When designing a 'custom solution', the procedures and methodologies that exist in your business are what is used as a basis for the program design. The software becomes a reflection of the way you do business. A custom solution can be created to accommodate one small routine that may need automating, or it can handle many tasks within the company up to and including integrating every data management function within your organization. What it does is up to you.

2. The Advantages Top of page

The advantages of implementing a system like this can be measured first by comparing the potential system to the way information is managed now.
Currently on a Paper System - If you are currently on a paper system, the speed, processing and storage capabilities of the computer will provide you with greatly improved productivity within your company. In most cases, switching to an automated system can save huge amounts of time.
Reduced Paper Storage and Printing Requirements - By storing all of your information on the computer you can reduce significantly or sometimes entirely eliminate your need to store boxes of invoices, files, job information, project information, etc. Often printing costs related to forms and invoices can be saved because the software is able to generate them on plain paper or duplicate forms. Large timesavings can be realized by not having to devote manpower to creating, filing, and retrieving paper form reports. Valuable office space can often be reclaimed by not having to store dozens of file boxes.
Safety in Backups - This aspect applies to any computer-based solution, but becomes even more critical in a custom application. By storing your critical company information on the computer, the information can and should be 'backed up' or copied onto tape cassettes regularly. A set of these cassettes can then be kept off the company premises so if there were ever a fire, theft, or other calamity, you would still have a copy of your business information on tape. This is like having two copies of every paper document that your company creates stored in different locations, and it can all fit in the palm of your hand.
More Efficient Reporting - From the operators' level on up, reporting information regarding current and projected operations is crucial. With a customized software system you can design reports to produce the information you want, the way you want to see it at the touch of a few keystrokes.
Hours, even days can be saved by creating custom reports that in seconds generate the data that an employee may take hours or days to compile; and it is available anytime you need it!
Increased Productivity - This aspect is one of the most valuable benefits to be gained by a custom application. Put simply, it means less employee hours spent to produce the same results. This translates into reduced FTEs (full time employees). Think of the money that can be saved if every employee involved in your data management functions saved just an hour a day. Say for example that you have just 5 persons involved with these operations (could include secretaries, file clerks, managers, even general employees).

         5 x $12.50 - average hourly wage for this level of employee
         =62.50 per day total saved
         x 250 - actual working days in a year
         =$15,625 in savings annually

Note that this example uses a very minimal number of employees. Increase the number of employees, the average wage, or the days worked per year and the total savings can increase dramatically, especially in a multi-shift scenario.
Change as you Grow - A custom application can change as you do. One of the main drawbacks to an 'off the shelf' computer application, or even a vertical market product (one specifically tailored to your industry; a custom solution presented in a general way) is that you still have to do things the way the software requires you to. And when you change or improve on a procedure or function within the business, it probably cannot be reflected in the software. With custom software you can have the changes in your business added into the existing system as they occur. You will never have an outdated or obsolete software program because it is infinitely changeable.
More Competitive Position in Marketplace - In business today, no matter what the industry or field, there always seems to be new companies coming along ready to go head to head with you wielding a lower price, or a better product value offered to the marketplace. It is crucial for your business to remain competitive and to do so means optimising the productivity of your staff. A custom solution means increased productivity/lower costs. Lower cost means better competitive position in the marketplace.

3. The Cost Top of page

The cost of a custom application is not definable without knowing the exact requirements of a project. Applications we have produced range anywhere from $300 to $200,000. It just depends on the scope of the application. If all you need is a database to keep track of client contacts, or perhaps a simple program that tracks company vehicle scheduling, these would probably fall in the very lowest end of the cost range. If on the other hand, you need an application that manages 75 stamping presses, handles operator activities and provides management with reporting on plant processes, it could fall well into the mid to upper range.
The dollar cost of producing an application needs to be measured against the gains to be derived. To determine the cost, you need to compare the time you spend now at tasks against the time you would spend doing things (data entry, filing, storage space, printing cost, etc., better information access) from within the custom application. It is difficult at best for us to determine what a particular company can gain by implementing custom software without knowing the specific requirements, but we have done studies with three companies in the past year to try an evaluate their gains. The following examples are from actual clients and should help you gain some perspective on the potential.

4. Case Studies Top of page

         Case #1 - Travel Agency
         Personal client contact manager 1 Shift - 3 agents - 5 Day Week
         Time saved per day, per agent - 1 Hr.
         3 Travel Agents - 5 Hours Saved Per Agent Per Week
         15 Hrs x $9.60 Per Hour = $144.00 Saved Per Week

         Total Project Cost = $750.00
         Total Saved Per Week = $144.00
         Weeks to Recover Cost - 5.2
         Annual Savings After Cost Recovery = $6,738.00

         Case #2 - A Large Engineering Firm
         Construction Project Management Application
         1 Shift - 9 engineers - 5 Day Week
         Time saved per day, per engineer - 30 Min.
         9 Engineers x 2.5 Hrs Saved Per Week, Per Engineer
         22.5 Hrs x $35.00 Per Hour = $787.50 Saved Per Week

         Total Project Cost = $4,540.00
         Total Saved Per Week = $787.50
         Weeks to Recover Cost - 5.7
         Annual Savings After Cost Recovery = $40,950.00

As you can see by these examples, the 'break even' point on these projects was not very far down the road. These are not 'pie in the sky' examples. These were average examples of real clients investment/return on a project. Even in a case where a project took six months to break even, it would, to most business owners more than justify the expenditure. One factor not included in these figures was the cost to train users on the new system as well as slowed productivity during that brief period. This draw-down on the cost benefit would be less that 3% of the total annual savings the first year only.

5. Questions and Answers Top of page

These are a few questions from past clients that we have fielded. We provide them here with the hope that they may answer questions that you might have.

1. I already use a good computer application by company XYZ. What good will it do me to switch to a custom solution?
Answer: Company XYZ had a great idea for a software application when they created it, but unless it was a custom solution (which it was not if others could purchase the same package off the shelf), they probably did not create it with your company in mind. Since it is impossible to build a computer application to be all things to all companies in a specific industry or field, they created it 'generic' enough to do most things that would be required fairly well. I will admit that in many cases this is enough for a business to survive and grow just fine. But if you find yourself wishing that the software could do things that it cannot do, the solution becomes clear.

2. If your company writes a program for me, would I always need your help to maintain, support, and make changes that I might want in the future?
Answer: Once an application has been developed, fully tested and debugged, there is little or no need for our presence except in the event of changes you may require. If we are fortunate enough to call you our client, be assured that we will do our best to provide for your needs over time. If however, you should require another company to service or work on your program, or if you ever decide just do it 'in house' with a staff developer, this is very workable. Our software is currently developed under Microsoft Visual Basic, Access and SQL as well as some integrated products, Excel, Word, Outlook, Project and Viso.
Microsoft, the largest software manufacturer in the world, supports these products and there are other companies that provide services similar to our own. So no, you are not 'tied to us' in any way.

3. How can I determine if a custom solution is right for my company?
Answer: The custom software solution is not right for everyone. Many organizations can get by just fine with 'off the shelf' applications. A custom solution becomes practical when you realize that there are many functions or even one important function within your organization that needs to be automated, but has not been due to lack of the proper software to perform the task. Sit down and create a list similar to the case examples cited above. They are of course condensed versions of the actual data used to create them, but your task is to identify areas that could possibly be improved though use of a custom application. Think of all those times you thought 'I wish that the computer could do this', and write them down. Then try to value those functions in terms of time spent now, as opposed to what time might be spent under the custom application. This last comparison may be difficult for you with knowing how exactly we would make things work within the application itself, but development companies will usually be happy to assist you with this process. Most simple analysis are at no cost. Those that are more complex can sometimes carry a fee, depending on the vendor. Our policy is to take the cost of a complex analysis off the contract price, should a client go ahead with the project.

4. What is the process of creating an application like? And what time will it require of my staff and employees?
Answer: The actual processes that take place are as follows: Design Development - Developer works with your staff in determining exactly what program(s) will be required to do, reports that will be needed, system configuration (i.e. networkable, etc.), and in general just define the project.
Formal Quote - Developer presents you with a formal quote on the project, and on approval, will begin the work.
Design Implementation - Further detailed work is done on the design concepts, as we begin to generate screens and things that you approve on an incremental basis so that both parties are both confident that the project is 'on track' with regard to design.
Testing and Debugging - Once the application has been written and is in place, you begin to learn how to use it (in a test mode) while at the same time 'debugging' it with the developer. 'Debugging' is a term used in programming for finding and correcting the flaws.
Real Time Monitoring - Once the program is in actual use, we monitor operations to make sure that everything is functioning correctly. Obviously with a smaller project, all of these steps may not be required, but they are presented to give you an idea of the process itself.

5. What language do you use to develop your programs?
Answer: Different developers use different programming languages to produce custom applications. We are presently developing all of our software in Visual Basic, Access and SQL For Windows. These products are a database development language produced and supported by The Microsoft Corp., the largest and most successful software manufacturer of all time. They offer an immense amount of flexibility as well as the ability to tie into other programming languages as well as applications if required. The Microsoft products are acknowledged by most impartial industry analysts, as being the premier leading edge product among it's peers.

6. Do I have to upgrade my computer systems to accommodate a custom program?
Answer: This depends of course on the equipment that you are using now. In general, a Pentium with 1Gb of RAM will suffice for many windows based applications, although you could probably get by with 512Mb. Hard drive space available to store the custom application could range anywhere from 2 to 30 MB, depending on the size and scope of the application.

7. What about training our personnel on how to use the program?
Answer: During the development phase of the project, we work one on one with you personnel in creating and debugging the application itself. Through this process those involve usually acquire a reasonably good working knowledge of the program. At the conclusion of the project we then fill in the gaps. Documentation, or a user's manual can also be produced, when requested. We find about 50 % of companies having their own software developed choose to create the user's manual in house It is one area that can be used to help reduce the overall up front development cost.

8. What kinds of business applications does your company develop?
Answer: Pretty much any type of business can be addressed. We are obviously not experts in every area of business, but on those applications that have very unique, industry specific aspects, we have access to a wealth of consultants in any particular area that assist us with special problems. We have developed applications in the following areas;

         Light Manufacturing
         General Business
         Service Businesses
         and many others...

One of the services our company offers is an initial consultation at no cost or obligation to you whatsoever. We will come to your site or speak with you by phone to discuss the issues above with you within the context of your operation. By the end of this consultation you will have a pretty good idea about whether a custom solution is right for you. We are very straightforward about this, in that if we feel a custom design is not necessary for your company we will tell you honestly. We may recommend an existing software package made by another company, or other improvements to your data management procedures that could save you money.


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