Ways Automation Can Improve Your Business Processes

Continuously changing market conditions, high speed in decision-making, multitasking in asset management and the need to reduce risks require modern approaches to the work processes within any business. It allows you to free up precious resources for strategic planning and concentration of management in key areas of the company. Business automation is the partial or complete translation of repeatable, time-absorbing operations and business tasks under the control of a specialized system. As a result, you get to increase productivity and effectiveness of strategic management.

Automation is usually conducted in two ways:

– Automation of the basic business processes: for example, sales management or work with clients. In this case, it is carried out to directly increase the volume of sales, the number of products produced and increase the profitability of the entire business as a whole.
– Automation of supporting processes, such as accounting, reporting, records management. Such automation does not directly affect the increase in revenue, but helps reduce the time and costs of daily work execution.

The main tasks of business automation are the following:

– effective support of operational activities of the enterprise, control and organization of accounting
– preparation of any documents for partners/clients, including invoices, bills and business proposals
– quick receipt of reports on the state of affairs in the company for any period of time
– optimization of staff costs, increasing the efficiency of working hours by freeing employees from routine/habitual work
– minimizing the negative impact of the “human factor” on the most important business processes
– secure storage of information and data
– improving the quality of customer service

Automation of business processes can significantly improve the quality of management in the company and the quality of its product. For the enterprise as a whole, it gives a number of significant advantages like:

– Increase the speed of processing information and solve repetitive tasks
– Increase business transparency
– Increased coherence of staff and the quality of its work
– The ability to control large amounts of information
– Reducing the number of errors and improving management accuracy
– Simultaneous resolution of several tasks
– Rapid decision-making in repetitive situations

As a result of automation of the business processes – the management receives much more information for analyzing business processes in the form of detailed analytical reports and is able to direct the company qualitatively taking into account external and internal indicators.

Find out more about how an automation can help and grow your specific business, or if you have any other software development questions – just contact us at info@dassolutions or by filling out the Contact Form.

Moving Forward,
DAS Solutions Team.

Business Intelligence Software Is Critical for Growth

The savvy utilization of data is essential for the success of a business. Corporate leaders have finally realized what a large value added business intelligence (BI) platforms bring in terms of access to more structured data. This trend toward acceptance and integration of such tools is showcased by the fact that BI software is now rated as a top investment priority by CIOs.

BI includes a variety of instruments, applications, and methodologies that allow to collect data from internal and external resources. BI platforms then prepare that data for analysis, and generate reports that are comprehensible to decision makers. BI also allows to plan and model future situations and assess risks. It doesn’t solve problems, but one can identify otherwise undetectable issues with the help of BI, and then take corrective actions to reach growth objectives.

The BI and analytics market is undergoing an evolution. Analysts predict that cloud-based BI technology investments will grow 4.5 times faster than those in on-premises solutions. The adoption of machine learning techniques and the development of smart data delivery tools also attract more funding. In addition to that, companies are more inclined to use intuitive self-service business intelligence software that doesn’t require profound technical skills. Ideally, the IT department can train the rest of the team on what data is available and how that information can be accessed and used. Once the data warehouses and data marts supporting the business intelligence system are set up, managers should be able to query the data and easily create custom reports.

The ideal business intelligence software is composed of several parts. One of its parts will source data from various databases used by a company. When it comes to sourcing data, every company is unique and it’s highly unlikely there’s a third-party solution that can simply integrate with all the company’s sources of data out of the box. For that reason, a company may want to consider custom software development for this portion of the BI tool.

The other part will process and visualize the information. A friendly User Interface and User Experience at this point is crucial for this portion of your new software. If the employees actually using this tool will not know how to use it properly right away, there will almost certainly be problems and unnecessary expenses in the long term. Investing in usability is a big must. At the same time, the value of a user-friendly interface is diminished if the system does not work properly. Thus the front-end and the back-end of a custom business intelligence software should always be well aligned.

This is why it is important that the logic behind such a product gets ironed out well before the development of the tool. A company’s leaders, therefore have a set of questions they should consider before investing in a custom BI software.

1. What is expected that the system should do?
2. Why is that needed?
3. How will success be measured?
4. When should the desired goals be achieved?

When business owners have answers to these questions they need to remember that the BI tool is an investment that yields results in the long run and only if it is actively used with the appropriate adjustments based on the company’s growth strategy.

CIOs invest in business intelligence systems in order to make informed, data-driven decisions. As a study has shown, decisions backed with data result in significantly higher ROI and sales numbers. These tools can also leverage information in order to gain a competitive advantage, cut costs, and reduce risks. Thus, investing in a good business intelligence software is worth considering.

Use Machine Learning to Produce Higher Value

Facebook uses machine learning (ML) for face recognition, Apple uses it to make Siri sound more human, and Google minimizes energy use at data centers with the help of ML. Machine learning is a trendy element of artificial intelligence that is being successfully used in many industries. Regardless of the industry your business operates in, consider using ML to improve productivity and receive higher ROI.

 

What is machine learning?

In traditional computer science we need to explain the task we wish to accomplish to the computer. For example, if we plan on creating a tool that calculates salaries, then we need to write a program that translates to the computer how to perform each operation in a language that it understands. This limitation hinders innovation because the machine cannot find and fix problems on its own, which can require much more energy from a development team.

Machine learning could simplify this process by a lot, as it involves “teaching” computers to learn on their own. This is done via an algorithm which educates computers to perform a task without having the developer explicitly code “instructions” in the program. In the supervised learning technique, the processor studies previous examples in order to run a machine learning algorithm. The more data is processed, the more accurate the algorithm becomes.

 

Case studies

The Royal Bank of Scotland has launched Luvo earlier this year. It is a bot that can answer customers’ questions and perform money transfers. It uses machine learning to provide customers with continuously better responses over time. McKinsey points out that some European banks that use machine learning techniques saw a 10% increase in sales of new products, 20% increase in cash collections, and a 20% decline in churn.

Dataminr transforms tweets into actionable signals for stock traders. It classifies them based on location, relevancy, and ranks them by their levels of urgency. An alert sent to a trader even a couple of minutes earlier can result in a significant profit.

SailThru learns customers’ interests and purchase behaviors. It predicts when a customer will make a purchase. For its client, The Clymb, it increased the total email revenue by 71%. It also collected data from all digital channels. This predicted top buyers’ next actions, and identified marketing trends.

A startup from London helps its customers generate reports. The company’s technology can scan text documents and establish relationships between concepts. It has increased workers’ productivity by 25% and saved 40 hours of engineers’ work per month.

Machine learning is not limited to the aforementioned case studies. It can be used in fraud detection, cybersecurity, search, manufacturing, medicine, robotics, personalization, and other industries. To implement machine learning technologies, one needs a strategy and a deep understanding of a company’s KPI’s.

If you plan to use ML in your business, define your criteria of success. It is not enough to know what your customers are about to do; the most important thing is to understand some of the reasons behind their behavior.

 

Tech Skills Will Make You a Better CEO

A set of technical skills will bring each CEO closer to the IT department. Tech skills allow leaders to understand more about methodologies in which software is developed. Even basic knowledge of how software operates gives managers ideas about how it can be improved or modified. New tech skills help managers communicate and present their vision more effectively. Managers who continuously learn new things and foster innovation are perceived as better leaders by their employees.

Kevin Systrom explains on Quora that he has become the CEO of Instagram because he spent his nights learning to program. At some point, he was able to build a prototype of his idea in HTML5. He showed it to investors and raised $500k. Instagram appeared thanks to Systrom’s determination and new skills he acquired.

Get acquainted with programming languages

Basic programming courses will help dig into the world of programming. Personal experience with coding greases the wheels with everything from time management to delegation. Signing up for IT newsletters helps keep track of major trends. A CEO has to understand what  the IT department is talking about at least on a conceptual level. He or she generally must have an opinion about it, so acquaintance with the terminology will let them feel in their element.

Master technical writing

Technical writing allows one to engage in a project. In the process of describing technical tasks and features, one remembers the information about the process and timing during which an IT project is created. Technical writing brings the CEO closer to speaking the same language as software engineers.

Learn about Agile

Agile project management methodology turns work in a collaborative, flexible process. It allows to find out more about employees and ways in which they react to exceptional situations. Additionally, projects are delivered based on evolving business requirements which increases competitiveness.

Be proficient in SQL

A leader who knows how to create queries using SQL can work with different types of databases and generate reports that are important for the decision-making process. Data analysis plays a major role in the identification of customer preferences, trends, and issues at early stages. A survey conducted by PwC says that 63% of CEOs are using digital technologies for strategic decision-making.

Develop your eye for design

It is hard to grow a business if website design and marketing materials are lagging behind. A CEO needs to know the basics of composition, color use, and typography to communicate their vision to designers and web-developers clearly. A leader needs to understand the difficulties that designers encounter and provide argumentative feedback.

Understand IT security

Understanding network security principles helps realize what must be in place in a secure network. When a manager can assess the financial risks accompanied with the usage of a vulnerable network, it becomes easier for managers from the IT department to get more funding for security.

Learning new tech skills is beneficial for CEOs because new abilities help look at business processes from a different perspective. New skills help communicate with colleagues, understand needs and requirements, and ultimately be a better manager. Learning new tech skills is one of the best ways to stay on top of things and formulate your company’s growth strategy in a clear and efficient way.

 

Are Custom Software Solutions for You?

Last week we analyzed the challenges faced by small and medium-sized companies when using off-the-shelf software. This week we will look into 4 major reasons why you should consider getting a custom software solution for your business. Having your own software not only enhances the way you run your company, but can also have a tremendous impact on how your customers see you, and also on the way your competitors start seeing your brand. Let’s get right to it.

Reasons why you need to get a custom software solution

1. Competitiveness

You’ve started your own business, and goal should always be focused: to grow your company. In order for this to happen, you need to stay competitive in the next 2, 3, or 5 years, and custom software will help you do that. If you choose to get your own software that fits your business needs perfectly, then your way of doing business and dealing with information will be different from the way your competitors do it. If you purchase an off-the-shelf solution, you must realize that it has been marketed to everyone in your industry, so if your competitors did not purchase the solution this year they will most probably buy it next year, which forces you to lose that competitive advantage. Focus on the features that you want a potential software of your own to have, and start thinking about how to design its development with an IT partner. Your custom software is part of your identity, so why not consider giving it your own brand look and feel?

2. Cost

Off-the-shelf software can be costly, and it often comes bloated with features you will never use. Furthermore, vendors of such software generally operate on a monthly subscription fee model, which in itself can be quite expensive for a small company in the long run. Additionally, you never know when they decide to fix bugs and to release an upgraded version. Therefore it is easier to develop simplified custom software to meet the exact needs of your company. That’s why hiring a custom software development company can be a good option.

3. Convergence

Let’s say your website isn’t connected with your CRM and you need to put a lot of effort into keeping everything straight. Now, think about a piece of custom software that will do a lot more for you than a regular CRM or ERP. I am talking about a system that will replace 2 or 3 platforms that are generally used in any business. This would help you and your team mates work efficiently, and as a bonus you won’t need to remember all those credentials.

4. Compatibility

Let’s say you are already using a piece of software that you are relatively happy with. You’ve been thinking about integrating it with something else available on the market to boost its productivity. But then you realize that the program you would like to purchase does not integrate well with the platform that has worked fine for you. Do you toss what works out the window and start spending resources to learn a brand new system? That can be costly. Instead, consider getting a custom software solution that will integrate with what you already have, and add those extra features that would make your system irreplaceable.

The list of reasons mentioned above is not exclusive. Increased security and flexibility are also among the reasons for getting a unique solution. Just think about it: custom software solutions are not a luxury, in fact you’d be pleasantly surprised by the costs of creating them. They are a necessity when there is a clear, growth-oriented business development strategy.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below, we’d like to hear more about the challenges you’ve faced by using off-the-shelf software and your experience with custom software.

Are Custom Software Solutions Your Thing?

Some small and medium-sized businesses believe that custom software solutions are not for them. They feel that big companies have all the advantages because they have funds to buy expensive IT solutions. But if you do a little research and find the right partner, it can turn out that you’ll need to pay less for a custom IT solution than you expected. Don’t forget that you can get a competitive advantage by streamlining your operations and boosting your productivity with custom software. Let’s take a look at challenges small businesses face when it comes to using software in general.

IT challenges that are faced by many small businesses

 

  • You’re using too many spreadsheets.

Let’s imagine that you have a spreadsheet or even a set of spreadsheets that you work with on a daily basis. At some point it gets pretty inconvenient, because you need to make sure that the information is up-to-date or that you don’t accidentally lose this file. On top of that, it is not user-friendly and you feel exhausted when you are done working with the list. Does this sound familiar?

You can get a small custom CRM system instead that will cover your basic needs and will allow you to focus on growing your business.

  • You are not using reminders.

One of the major worries for small businesses is to get payments from clients and to pay bills on time. A piece of custom software can solve this issue by sending notifications (to you or your clients) or by making automatic payments for services you use. You can also send your clients email or SMS reminders. By the way, sending bulk text messages is a good way to keep your customers informed about literally anything.

  • You are using too many small programs.

You are using too many tools to run your business if you need to update the information about calls, emails, payments several times on different apps to keep them in sync. As the amount of work that has to be completed increases, you need to take care of more and more details, which will eat up your precious time. This is counterproductive. Instead, get yourself a custom software that keeps all that info synchronized across platforms and focus your energy on something else.

  • You are not taking advantage of project management software.

Do you feel that in order to move forward with a project you need email your entire team at once? Then you must have also noticed a decrease in productivity when your team  members get distracted by the large flow of emails (especially if the emails do not relate to all team members copied). It is much easier (and more productive) to use a tool where you can work together on a project without spamming the whole team with messages or emails.

How to start the path to software innovation?

 

Listen carefully to what your colleagues have to say. Create a group discussion in a project management tool and track all ideas from your colleagues, and after that work to identify what your business is missing out on by not investing in custom IT solutions.

Custom software solutions are for small companies too.  You need to find the right partners and get a solution that perfectly fits your requirements. You’re in the business to grow, so think big.

Next week we will dig into reasons why a small business needs bespoke software solutions.

Meanwhile, you can read all about how easy it is to create a software development project plan.

The Fintech Transformation is Determined by Enthusiasts

There are around 4,000 registered fintech-related companies globally and their number keeps growing.

The fintech transformation stimulates the appearance of new payment providers, peer-to-peer lenders, innovative crowdfunding and trading platforms. According to Fortune magazine, $19 billion were invested into finance startups in 2015, which is a significant increase from $2 billion in 2010. These companies are changing the future of finance.

Fintech vs. Traditional Banking

Banks did not face any competition for centuries, which removed their stimulus to innovate and be transparent. Traditional banks have usually out-of-date, yet well-established IT infrastructures. This is an additional deterrent for incumbents to implementing new technologies, adapting to new customer demands and providing clients with the apps they expect to have.

Banks do not change quickly. Their established reputations force them to consider and reconsider lots of issues before moving one inch forward. If clients’ funds, or worse, their personal data (!) gets lost due to a new system, serious consequences will follow.

Even though the fintech transformation is happening quickly, banks are trying to adjust as well. Some of them are running accelerators such as the Barclays TechStars, others are opening separate divisions, for example Citigroup established its own Fintech unit. Thanks to this department that is focused on rapid prototyping, Citi plans to release a mobile-banking app with a cool facial recognition feature by the fourth quarter of 2016.

Fintechs are making it really easy and cheap to:

1. Transfer money;
2. Keep one informed about all account updates across devices;
3. Make better financial decisions through analytics, accounting, budgeting, prediction, and decision-making software.

Forbes gathered a list of the most successful fintech startups of 2015. It contains companies that deal with trading and investing, lending, payments, personal finance, currency exchange, you name it! They all stand out thanks to their brand new idea or approach that brings value to their clients. Here are some of the fintech areas in which you can open a startup:

1. B2B payments;
2. Mobile apps development for the unbanked and underbanked population;
3. Creation of social media platforms with integrated financial options;
4. Sales platforms for fintech products, etc.

It is today’s digital customers and their high expectations who push the fintech transformation on, while the trends toward the Internet of Things and Augmented Reality will only spur innovation in finance. One must only identify the areas which have been neglected and find a niche where more value can be brought. Can you think of some other areas which you feel could use a healthy dose of disruption?

Top Features of an Effective Claims Management System

Claims are a critical part of the insurance business. Even if your insurance company is not as big as Axa or Allianz, you need to have an efficient claims management system. Clients’ mindset and expectations are different from what they were 10 years ago. A recent survey called Insurance 2020: The digital prize — taking customer connections to a new level  has brought to light some fascinating facts:

  1. 71% of consumers made an online research before buying an insurance product.
  2. 68% of respondents were willing to download and use an app from their insurer in order to access services.
  3. 50% (!) stated their readiness to additional personal and lifestyle information so they can get the best deal for insurance services.

Insurance must thus move quickly to become more customer-centric and to improve customer experience. For successful communication, your customers and team members need to have access to an intuitive claims management system. In this post, we’d like to highlight some features that would be welcomed by both your customers and your staff.

Features of a claims management system appealing to customers:

  • A simple submission process from any device

Users need to have the possibility to complete a short and simple form using their smartphone or tablet. Claimants’ basic info, such as first name and last name (as well as other contact information) should be  filled in automatically when the customer decides to submit a claim. This should be easy to do since the info is already in the carrier’s database. In addition, the claims process will be easier if customers understand intuitively how to attach photos of receipts or invoices to their claim.

  • Tracking claims progress

Claimants need to be able to track the status and decision of consultants regarding their claim, further steps they have to take, as well as the final outcome.

  • All documents in customer’s pocket

When the customer uses their insurer’s app, they need to store their paperwork such as copies of their ID, driving license and policy documents on their application.

  • Online claims payments

Clients can save a lot of time if the transaction of claims can be done online. It also adds transparency to the process because both the customer and the consultant have access to the final decision of the claim.

  • Simplicity and security

For fast and easy access one can log in with a PIN code that is easy to remember. Any claims information entered must not be lost until submitted. At the same time all personal data must be secured via encryption. It is also useful if most of your app’s features are available even if the user is offline.

Your team will thank you for the following claims management system’s features:

  • Reminder function

This is a useful feature because it enables a consultant to stay on top of the tasks that require a timely response. The reminder feature facilitates the service provided by the insurance company.

  • Handling different types of contracts

It is preferred that the claims management system can handle various types of standard contracts. Furthermore, as the clients and the consultants might introduce amendments to the conditions of the standard form of contract it is critical that the system is able to deal with changes.

  • Keeping documentation up-to-date

Some claims are more challenging to prepare because more documentation is required. Thus claims managers need to have a system to help them keep an up-to-date documentation, prepare the claims, and prevent them from losing relevant documents.

  • Extended search capabilities

The agent needs to have the possibility to search virtually any data within the claim, including claimant, address, policy number, phone number, check number, etc. This function makes searching easier.

  • Centralized database

If you have several offices across the country it is better to have a centralized database so that the management can have access to the files, templates for claims and any other information. A reporting tool will help them analyze the outcome and status of claims.

So here we are! Ten features that a claims management system should have to improve your company’s performance. All in all, the app has to address your customers’ and your employee’s needs, which is why it is so important to choose a system with a user-friendly interface that fits well with your specific needs.

How to Start a Custom Software Enhancement Project?

Custom software enhancement is often confused with custom software maintenance services, because the line between these two terms may seem blurred sometimes. You need to know that software enhancement includes advancements in features, platforms, performance, usability and design. Through enhancement your software application becomes faster, more efficient, more usable, more useful, and more desirable. It’s the next step in your software’s evolution, that’s why you need to know how to prioritize the changes.

Step 1: Get an idea on where to start your custom software enhancement project at.

Create a database of requested changes where users of your solution can offer what they wish to see in the upcoming version of your software. In addition to this, you can approach your most valuable clients/users and ask them directly what kind of new features they would like to add.
Afterwards, ask the development team what kind of functionalities they would add.

They may speak in favor of:

Upgrading the software to be compatible with new database releases;
Adding new statistical analysis and visualization tools;
Adding a new tab to the dashboard;
Improving the search function; etc.

Step 2: Evaluate the information and take a decision.

As with all business decisions, it’s a cost/benefit problem. What is the benefit of adding a feature? What will it cost (including the costs that will result from not adding the feature)? Calculate how much it will cost to add it.
Tip: Usually the cost is calculated in hours that have to be spent by developers to develop a feature.

Analyze the information you got from the users of your platform and identify those missing features that will have a tangible business impact on user experience. It makes no sense to add a feature from which only a few will benefit.

At first, pick those features that have the most benefit for the smallest cost. Resources are often limited, while requirements and desires are not, that is why it is so important to prioritize correctly.

An accurate estimation of a custom software enhancement project may be a herculean task. These questions will help you estimate the project:

1. How will your existing solution be affected by modifications?
2. Do you need to build the new feature from scratch or does something similar already exist in the system?
3. Can you reuse the existing code?
4. Will modifications require the testing of the whole system?
5. How many developers are needed to make modifications?
6. How much time will it take to develop, design and test new features?

The bad news is that you can miscalculate the time and effort required. For instance, the development of a new functionality might take longer than you expected and result in higher production costs.

In order to avoid this kind of errors it is better to entrust your custom software enhancement project to an experienced team of software developers who know how to:

• Thoroughly analyze existing software documentation
• Analyze the architecture of the existing software application and offer structural changes
• Analyze and make changes to the existing code
• Perform software security analysis

Custom software enhancement cannot be made by a low-skilled developer. That’s why you need someone who has experience in adding new features to a code written by someone else, who can understand not only how to build in new functionalities, but also to see the business essence of the system.

One of the most important things in software enhancement projects is to clearly prioritize the requirements and take an approach to incrementally work on one function or feature at a time. Your users will thank you for the changes they’ve asked and waited for.

Custom Software Maintenance Is More Significant than You Think

Custom software maintenance is the last phase of the software development life cycle. Unlike software support services we’ve covered last time, maintenance services include backups, small changes to functionality, bug fixing, optimization for identified performance problems, and other tasks agreed upon in the contract. Software maintenance is complex and challenging, that is why you need to choose your maintenance team wisely.

All types of custom software maintenance are aimed at keeping the system usable and valuable for the company. At the same time, software maintenance has more service-like aspects when compared to software development because maintenance results in benefits for users. Software maintenance can thus be classified as:

  1. Corrective – deals with the repair of faults found.
  2. Adaptive – deals with adjusting the software to new hardware or recent operating system updates.
  3. Perfective – covers minor system improvements, such as the reorganization of data sets within a database so they can be searched faster or use less storage.
  4. Preventive – includes modifications that do not have a direct effect on the user. This type of maintenance aims to prevent problems that can happen in the future and to provide a better basis for future development. That is why it includes updates of documentation and comments.

Maintenance processes vary depending on the software and its complexity, but generally they include:

  1. Problem identification and tracing
  2. Analysis and determination of priorities
  3. Design
  4. Implementation
  5. Testing
  6. Delivery and documentation updates

As you can see from the description of maintenance above, this is a complex process. But maintenance is frequently viewed as an undesirable type of work for mid-level, senior developers, because it seems too constraining. Most companies hire junior level developers for maintenance positions. This is not always a good idea, because a junior developer may not fully understand the purpose and value of the system, and may fix bugs in a clumsy way.

Assigning a different software development team member to be responsible for maintenance every week is a good idea. This way developers keep maintenance in mind and are more focused on producing high quality code. Additionally, programmers will learn from each other’s code. If you wish to maximize your effectiveness at maintenance activities, you need to change the way in which people are assigned to maintenance.

You should have mid-level developers doing custom software maintenance because:

Maintenance is intellectually and technically complex

Code maintenance is not easy as far as it requires finding innovative solutions to existing code problems. Moreover, the maintainer must be able to work with concept design and its code at the same time, and this ability comes with experience.

They know how to program well

Skilled programmers recognize what makes good code good, and working with lots of code will refine that skill. Through maintenance, developers learn how to write clear, optimized code, but new development in its turn helps them put into practice what they’ve learned.

They know how to prioritize

Programmers who do maintenance know better how to prioritize tasks when the platform is live and actively used. The prioritization of fixes sets rigid timeframes and thus improves the team’s productivity.

As Dave Thomas said, all programming is maintenance programming. Even in a new project the code is original only during the first couple of minutes, because afterwards the developer makes changes and optimizes it.

The good thing about maintaining your custom software is that you can save from 10 to 25% of the IT budget in case you decide to work with a third-party custom software maintenance company, because IT outsourcing service providers have lower costs of delivery if compared to original software vendors.

In summary, choose the maintenance team wisely, maintain all upgrades, archive older releases of custom software so you can find it easily, and help your software evolve by adding new features and improving the user experience.