Off-the-shelf software customisation to get the perfect fit (& get our house in order!)

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author by admin , 30 Oct 2020 Custom Software Development, Software Development Company

Often our customers have well-established processes that cover 90% or more of what they want to do – but are missing that added touch that will make their ‘off the shelf’ software package the perfect tool. They may be bound to a certain piece of software due to compatibility requirements, or it may be that having examined the market, a number of packages exist which between them have the functionality they require – but none of them individually have the golden feature set they require. What to do?

When faced with these problems there are two main options that people consider:

  1. Either limp along with their current software (after all, it’s 90% there), or
  2. Get a bespoke development for the entire project to get the missing 10% – a big investment for limited gain.

We realised we were in this position ourselves…

This was the situation we faced with our own time tracking software. Let’s explain our issue:

In dealing with customers, it’s important to us that our projects remain on budget and on time. To help facilitate this we break down our projects into small milestones, by which we can more easily estimate the level of effort to bring about a quality conclusion. This is done with a commercial 3rd party tool. We also use this tool for developers’ time entry.

The problem

Using the application, time management required project managers to regularly check each task and monitor the effort expended vs the estimated hours, combined with routine check ins with developers to monitor progress. We felt that while the system worked, it was labour intensive (i.e. expensive and wasteful) and could be done better.

There was also additional functionality lacking from our vision of a perfect tool.

We wanted to implement immediate reporting of task progress vs spend, AND be aware of any issues that may affect our ability to deliver projects on time and on budget.

The starting point

Before deciding to either ‘make do’ or write a new application from scratch we took stock of the functionality we already had.

  1. Our third party time logging tool allowed us to track hours and report on them.
  2. It also allowed us to view the estimated hours for each task…

All good – but these processes all depended on manual data entry, which took time and also meant things got missed and mistakes were made. So it was decided to automate the process as much as possible.

The solution

We decided to take a third route; a custom software extension allowing us to get 100% of the functionality we wanted at a greatly reduced cost – and without the team having to learn a whole new system.

Fortunately, as with most applications, the software had a number of ‘hooks’ that allowed modification. In particular there were web-hooks that could notify a web service when hours are submitted and allow reporting on the data.

So we found we could modify our current application to leverage greater performance with minimal time and expense – certainly compared to writing brand new software.

Customising the standard, off-the-shelf software to create a new solution

The result: We created a web service that is triggered whenever hours are logged, and it performs a number of functions for us.

  1. Firstly, it sends project managers daily reports of the hours logged against that project.

  2. Secondly, it sends warning messages to the project managers as the estimated hours approach predefined thresholds.

  3. Finally, it periodically sends notifications when hours are logged to request a progress update.

Without major changes to the core application, we streamlined our business processes and enabled us to act more proactively to ensure our customers get the software they require on time and on budget.

It was win-win for everyone involved.

What this means for you…

We took our “almost there” off the shelf package, and through a small amount of development generated something that is a perfect fit for us. Labour intensive data analysis is now performed automatically and possible incidents flagged before they develop to the point they impact the client. Whilst we still insist on regular communication with the development team, we can do so now safe in the knowledge that things are already running to plan.

The same approach can be applied to your own applications, whatever processes you feel need improvement in your business. You may not have to make the choice between ‘putting up’ or investing thousands in a new application. A little modification could do the job as effectively, at a fraction of the cost. Give us a call to find out more!


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