Why Choose Custom Software?

To meet the software needs of your business, there are two main paths:

  1. Buy software “off the shelf”
  2. Build custom software (in-house, or with a development firm)

In most cases, off-the-shelf makes the most sense, and it should be your default choice:

  • Acquiring and deploying off-the-shelf software is usually faster than getting custom software developed. Even complex installation and configuration it typically faster than developing new software.
  • Off-the-shelf software is generally cheaper than developing your own. The development cost of an off-the-shelf package is distributed among multiple firms, possibly many firms worldwide. These many customers more than offset the extra cost of mass production and distribution. Comparatively, with custom software your business alone bears most of the costs.
  • Off-the-shelf software typically has years of testing and years of production use, as well as feedback and improvement, giving confidence that it actually works.
  • Off-the-shelf software may include a money-back guarantee in case it does not meet your needs.

For all these reasons, the option of designing custom software bears the burden of proof in your decision-making process.

There are good reasons, though, to consider custom development, especially in mid-sized or large companies. Under the right circumstances, these advantages can make the decision to develop software the best choice.

 

Read the rest on the Oasis Digital blog.

 

New Focus, New Tagline

I registered and launched kylecordes.com 12 years ago, in March 1998. At the time I was working inside a manufacturing company personally creating and expanding an in-house ERP/CRM system. My intentions and expertise were almost entirely technical, and I named the web site “Kyle Cordes’s Software Site”, which I carried forward as the subtitle/tagline when I converted it to a blog a few years later.

Since then, my own focus has expanded, and is as much on the business of software and related technology as on the technology itself, along with occasional posts about neither of those things. So today, I’ve changed the tagline to “Software, Business, and Life”.

If you have a suggestion for a catchier tagline, I’m all ears.

My First Emacs (plus Slime, Swank, Clojure) on Mac OSX

Emboldened a talk that Ryan Senior gave at the St. Louis Lambda Lounge (now available as a video), I grabbed the most popular two Emacs versions for Mac OSX:

and set up each on my Macbook Pro (10.6.2). For each Emacs, I also set up SLIME, Swank, and Clojure.

If that sounds like a bunch of garbled nonsense, don’t worry, it is simply a sign that you are a normal, well adjusted person, rather than a Lisp person.

It was a bit irritating to get these tools up and running the first time; there are countless web pages with the details (I won’t make that worse by adding my own here). The challenge is figuring out which instructions to follow, while ignoring the rest. The most tractable approach for me, for a quickly-installed, easily-updating, fewest-steps process, was to install the needed packages from ELPA, without any manual downloading/configuration of SLIME, Swank, etc. at all. I have no command line operations to share with you, because in the process I recommend, there aren’t any.

I used Emacs in school, but not at all in the last 10 years. Since then, my expectations for developer tools have grown – I think it is reasonable for a modern development environment to simultaneously:

  1. be easily discoverable, for a fast start
  2. cooperate with its environment well
  3. make good use of the large high-res display on most PCs, to expose expected status and control surfaces
  4. be deeply configurable and highly powerful

My experience, coming in from that point of view, differs from what Ryan and a couple other people suggested: I suggest Aquamacs. It is much more of a good citizen on the Mac platform. Its menus are much more approachable. Printing works in a Mac way. You get tabs showing your buffers, by default. You get menu options to gather them up in to one window(frame) or split them apart, all by default.

It may indeed by worth switching to the non-Aqua version later, if/when you get so deeply in the toolset that the pure emacs experience is preferable… but I estimate you’d need to be pretty far down the path (much further than I).

Something I should try out eventually is the Emacs Starter Kit. Perhaps it would have given a sufficiently “saner set of defaults” to make the non-Aqua version a more reasonable choice. Emacs gurus seem to lean that direction, overall.

Mobile Workforce Management, a Five Year SaaS Mission Completed

Here is the story of a substantial chunk of my professional life over the last five years. I didn’t tell this story in real time (for various good reasons), though I have mentioned bits of it in various talks.

In 2004, I co-founded a vertical market Software as a Service firm, Mobile Workforce Management (MWM). MWM serves the underground utility locating industry with a Software-as-a-Service offering, TicketRx. Most people interact with this industry only with an occasional “call before you dig”, and think of it as just a phone number. However, there is a lot more to that industry than a phone number; there are numerous companies involved, each interacting with the others to complete the work. It is a vertical market niche with specific software needs, which our product met.

I personally wrote and administrated the first version of the TicketRx software and the first few servers, and my cofounder personally performed analysis, support, documentation, operations, and mountains of other work. We then incrementally hired a team to expand our capacity (and make ourselves replaceable), building an organization to serve its customers. Our software startup became an operating business with a life of its own.

Fast forward… five years of incremental and accelerating growth…

In 2009, the opportunity presented itself to sell MWM, and we did so. MWM is still there, operating fine without me. The press release about the sale is online and is also reproduced below. It is amusing to see how PR-speak invaded, labeling TicketRx as “custom” even though its whole essence was to not be custom, but rather off-the-shelf and highly configurable. Perhaps it is custom in the very broad sense of being industry-specific.

As is common in deals like this, the “terms of the transactions were not disclosed”, along with many other interesting bits. Still, I have a great number of lessons-learned to share in future posts and talks; and as of early 2010, there is extensive information about the product itself on the company’s web site, http://mwmsolutions.com/

Where does that leave me?

For some reason, the notion of having two companies then selling one, has been surprisingly hard to communicate. I still own Oasis Digital Solutions Inc., a consulting / custom software development firm, and work more intensely than ever with its customers and developers. Oasis Digital is growing up rapidly, with marketing efforts and ever-increasing process and organizational maturity.

Growing a product/SaaS business was a great experience, and one I hope to repeat. I’m actively on the lookout for another non-consulting software business to launch, when the time and opportunity are right.


St. Louis-based MWM sold to Consolidated Utility Services Inc.

Custom software product TicketRx, provides cost effective job tracking for utility locating company

Jan. 19, 2010: ST. LOUIS, Mo. – St. Louis-based Mobile Workforce Management has announced the successful sale of its company assets, including its commercial software as a service product, TicketRx, to Consolidated Utility Services Inc., an underground utilities locator company based in Omaha, Nebraska.

“With TicketRx, we created a customizable system to provide field service staff remote access and management tools for receiving, routing and tracking tickets and job assignments in real time,” said Kyle Cordes, a principal of Mobile Workforce Management (MWM) and owner of local consulting firm Oasis Digital. “We started TicketRx in 2004, and experienced great success with over 1,000 users and a growth rate of 25% per year.”

The sale of TicketRx to Consolidated will allow the company to integrate the system into their full spectrum of services that serve to protect utility companies’ underground infrastructure. In addition to ticket tracking, Consolidated offers clients systems for locating utilities, performing field audits and managing claims.

“Creating a comprehensive software solution such as TicketRx that fulfills a complex set of needs and watching it operate successfully is a very rewarding experience,” said Cordes. “I am confident the custom software solution we developed will make Consolidated’s business stronger.”

TicketRx processes one-call tickets from ‘call before you dig’ call centers or utility companies and then routes the work to the appropriate field worker. Technicians have immediate access to the information they need, which improves on-time performance. And managers have easy-to-use tools for scheduling, balancing work loads and providing emergency notifications. The system tracks all activity on the ticket, which can be used to create invoices and reports.

TicketRx is a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, a growing trend in which companies are adopting easy-to-use services that can be integrated efficiently, with minimal risk and at a cost advantage. With SaaS companies can have the service they need without the responsibility for their own internal servers, data centers or related IT staff, saving them time and money. According to industry analyst firm Gartner by 2010, 30 percent of all new software will be delivered as a service

Since the sale of MWM, Cordes will focus his energies on Oasis Digital. “The sale of MWM and TicketRx allows us to concentrate our efforts first on our consulting clients here in St. Louis and elsewhere, then later on our next SaaS opportunity,” Cordes said.

About Oasis Digital Solutions Inc.

St. Louis-based Oasis Digital develops custom software for workflow management, application integration, business process automation, and handheld devices for companies nationwide. Oasis Digital can produce a whole project or subsystem depending on the needs of the client, using a variety of computer languages and technologies. Fore more information, visit www.oasisdigital.com.

About TicketRx

TicketRx is a product of Mobile Workforce Management, LLC, and is a software-as-a-service program for the underground utility locating industry that can manage locating tickets from one-call centers or directly from the utility companies. TicketRx offers a unique combination of a broad feature set, fast setup and quick learning time. For more information, visit www.mwmsolutions.com/ticketrx.

SaaS: The Business Model – Slides, Audio, Transcript

On Feb. 27 at St. Louis Innovation Camp 2010, I gave a talk on the SaaS business model. If you missed it, you might be interested in: