For many in the recycling and environmental sectors the New Year marks a time for expansion, diversification and investment. Never before have we seen so much change, and so much opportunity, it is the true leaders who will capitalise.
Business success can be put into a very simple formula; provide what the market demands, at a profit, and invest some of the profit in growth. Of course, 21st century business is not that simple, in fact it is very complex. In the waste and recycling sector often low margins and high transaction volumes can easily push a business into a loss making position. Where prices are controlled by external forces, companies need to look at adding greater value to their customer proposition, whilst maximising efficiencies and minimising overheads.
Few companies have in-built spare capacity, but many are still very wasteful. For those who are planning a strategy for success (or even survival) they should consider implementing business software to support their lean processes from one end to the other. In planning to implement a software solution to meet those needs you have a fundamental decision to make: Do we develop a bespoke solution or implement an off-the-shelf package?
Bespoke or off-the-shelf
Bespoke software has been seen as the ultimate in meeting a company’s most exacting needs and is considered to give you control of your future destiny, as it is you who determines its future development. In business, if the specific needs of a company are to be met, it was often the only choice available. But today, why would a company develop its own payroll system when there are so many off-the-shelf payroll packages available? The strange phenomena with bespoke solutions – they tend to stay around for a very long time. The thing here is that as a company develops its own solution to meet its very precise requirements why would you consider curtailing that investment in favour of a package that you will still have to pay for, but does not meet all your perceived needs? Companies and individuals believe they have specific requirements, or that they should perform certain tasks, but the question that should be asked is does fulfilling that need add value to my customer?
Bespoke development can be very costly, and high-risk. Simple economics apply; the cost of writing software code for one company is always going to be greater than if it is developed for ten, a hundred, or a thousand companies. Careful management is critical whether the development is being performed by internal resources or by an external provider. Bespoke solutions require a good technical design, documentation (technical and user) as well as a plan for future development and support.
All too often, particularly in small companies, we see bespoke development outsourced to one man bands. This is often a decision based on initial cost. Some companies have been tempted to place larger bespoke development projects off-shore. Both routes present challenges and a great deal of due-diligence should be performed before entering into such an arrangement.
Scope creep is where the requirements and the solution expand, often over the life of the development project. This is a huge risk but one that can be pretty much mitigated if good management (and a dose of previous bad experience) is applied. The key to this is agreeing, in writing, the scope of the project at the outset – it should be done in a way that all parties are 100% confident of the scope of the project and the composition of the solution is to be delivered. However, dynamic businesses are often a moving target – if the development is to take a number of months or even years, will the end solution meet the needs of the day?
Another key area, where bespoke projects seriously over-run, is in the hidden or unappreciated complexities – what we thought was a simple requirement to program becomes a minefield. This is the danger of a top-down approach taken to software design development – it looked simple on the flipchart but it is only when you get into the minutiae that the real complexity is understood.
With both scope creep and hidden complexity, what is the impact on the project in terms of time, cost and final deliverables?
A package business management software solution could be the best option
Over a relatively short period of time the software industry as a whole has developed a huge number of off-the-shelf packages for a very diverse set of business sectors. From Architects to Zoos you can find a packaged software solution, if you Bing/Google hard enough. And yes, packages exist for waste, recycling and secondary commodity trading companies such as Prodware adjust Waste and Recycling which are based on Microsoft Dynamics. Some solutions are more functionally rich than others, so a good assessment process needs to take place to ensure that the package will meet your current AND future business needs. The challenge is that often a business may not know exactly what their future requirements are.
Again, with the packaged solution path you need to perform due-diligence; understand what will happen if the software author goes out of business, or if they discontinue the on-going development or support of the solution you are to invest in. Implementing a packaged solution is not just about the software, it is also about implementing industry best practice. Of course, there is a downside to implementing a standard packaged solution – you can become the same as your competitors and perhaps lose your USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Whilst some packaged solutions are fixed, others are flexible and have an in-built development environment that can support the enhancement of the solution to include your USP’s. This will ensure you have all the cost, low-risk and best-practice benefits of a package whilst continuing to allow you to differentiate your customer offering from that of your competitors.
Overall, bespoke development projects still have a place but only where a packaged solution is not able to meet current and future needs. For companies already operating bespoke solutions some hard questions need to be asked and possibly some emotional ties cut. A good business software package can create a high level of efficiency, allowing profits to increase. Creating a business based on best practice is an essential part of a platform for growth.