|To automate your paperwork you first need to know you can do it.|
|Automation||Power Office||Catalog Two||Zen Bytes|
"Buy Verses Build?" That is the question. Or is it?
Suppose you have a paperwork automation that's ten years old. In the procurement, expense management, time tracking or approval management areas. Your application needs to be replaced. It may have a huge number of features - specifically made for your operations. Users may love it. Others may prefer "the devil they know..."
Still, you are faced with the decision whether to buy a new application and retire the old one or build a replacement for the application. Sound familiar?
Everyone has heard the expression "less is more" but is the principle really true? Should we all ride bicycles since bicycles are "less" than cars? Should we regress back to the days of bows and arrows? Are typewriters better than computers? Surely not.
Okay. So Aestiva is great at custom work. But surprising as it may sound, if you ask Aestiva for a custom job, you won't be getting a development team to build your solution.
Nope. We recognize the pitfalls of custom development as much as you. It takes too much time. It has greater quality control needs, costs too much, and takes too long to deliver. These negatives should give any sane individual pause.
Spreadsheets. They're so cool.
But what if you want to combine the information on different spreadsheets together? Aggregate them? Slice, dice and do a bit of analysis? You know. Seriously use them.
Well then, in that case, they're a big pain in the you-know-what. If this is you, you're not alone. The problem is common in organizations of all sizes. It's called Spreadsheet Fever.
Every so often we come across industry articles about how to apply Six-Sigma techniques to the enterprise software arena.
For those who don't know, Six-Sigma is a strategy for improving quality to less than 3.4 defects per million. It's very popular in manufacturing. And rightfully so.
But wait. Let's do a reality check. Anyone who knows a thing or two about the enterprise software industry also knows how often new deployments fail -- some say fifty percent of the time. Perhaps writers placing Six-Sigma and enterprise software in the same article should be focusing on other issues? As Arsenio Hall used to say, "It makes you say hmmm..."
Faith. It's all around us. It drives us. It's difficult to function without. Don't worry, this post is not a religious sermon. That's a matter of your personal beliefs.
We're talking about the faith we have in our professional lives. It drives our decisions and behavior day to day, doesn't it?
The faith and trust we have in our peers. Our faith in technology. And then there's the faith we have in acting professional, open-minded, respectful, and optimistic. Are these not faiths too?
It seems the more we practice faith the higher the rewards. Steve Jobs had faith in the power of the user-experience. So much so he bet his company on it and won big. Very big. And so did the world.
If you're going to automate, then automate big. Automate as much paperwork as you can. The rewards are there -- if you do it right.
Of course, "doing it right" is what it's all about. So in this blog we talk about that a bit. Automating paperwork takes a bit of discipline. That's all.
The effort requires a cycle where you do one paperwork automation at a time. The cycle looks as follows:
Build and Deploy.
In this post we focus on the "Definition" stage of an automation. This is where so many folks get it wrong so read carefully the next thing we say.
Success requires each automation be properly defining and that the success of one effort not diminish the success of the next.
Today we are talking about clouds. Clouds come in a variety of sizes, shades and textures. Nimbostratus clouds are dark-gray and saturated with humidity. They're your classic rain clouds. Most people go through life without knowing the names of clouds.
A survey of Aestiva staff confirmed this fact. (Yes, we do bug the staff with stupid surveys from time to time. You know, it's for the blog.)
It's the same with cloud computing. Although Aestiva folks fair better in this area than most, the public generally has a fuzzy understanding of the types of cloud computing out there. Let's talk about that. (The real topic of this post..)
Not so long ago a young and bright company man phoned Aestiva. Excited and confident the company man asked to demonstrate an Aestiva product.
Although the company man didn't know it, he was helped by an Aestiva wizard, not a salesperson.
"Joey, a salesperson from one of your competitors told me paper-based systems are old," he told the wizard. "When will you be upgrading," he asked in a half-joking manner.
You think you may be ready to automate.
Okay, you think you're not quite ready but you are getting there.
Fine, you have only just begun to think about it but you know you want to do it -- eventually.
What usually hinders folks in the beginning stages of an automation is the lack of experience. Let's compare the process to remodeling a kitchen. Maybe some of you have already done this. But remember back when you were new to remodeling and didn't know where to start. It's nerve-wracking and a lot to bite off.
SaaS -- Software as a Service.
What is it? Your firm signs up for a service - like an on-line expense report service, for example.
You pay a monthly fee based on the number of users you have. There are no computers to maintain. No hidden costs. Everything is on the "cloud." SaaS appears great on the surface.
In this post we use the term Big-SaaS to mean a SaaS service with twenty or more users.
But is it? Big-SaaS has a dark side.
It is based on exploiting a short-term benefit for the customer, while gaining a huge long-term financial advantage over the customer. The short-term benefit of Big-SaaS is "deployment-simplicity."
The dark side of Big-SaaS is its long-term cost to the customer. It burdens larger businesses with large recurring costs for software that only needs to be delivered once. Although small-business SaaS will continue to do well, we predict Big-SaaS will die or, at best, experience a major nose-dive.
Consider a multi-user business system that costs $40,000. The Big-SaaS will charge $40,000 in the first year and repeat that charge every year thereafter. The internal costs to host the system are nominal. Even with hundreds of users. Nevertheless, the Big-SaaS will repeatedly charge the customer $40,000 for the system they paid for in year one. That's a high cost compared to the industry standard of 15-18% annual for support. In affect, you pay about 400% more than you should after year one. And you're locked in. No option to simply pay a support fee.
You've heard the phrase, "the Customer is Number One"? How about, "The Customer is Always Right"?
Of course, who hasn't heard this before? We're sure these maxims are over a hundred years old. But does their prevalence make them correct for business? Is this an honest basis for a relationship?
No, we don't think so. We do better. A company with good products would simply give them away if their customers were "Number One". Businesses would go bankrupt if they truly followed "The Customer is Always Right". And a defunct company helps nobody. These sayings do stroke customer egos, but they are not honest. Nor is it the proper attitude.
Most software firms do one or a few things. Some do expense management. Others procurement. Others time tracking and others asset management. It seems everyone these days is a one-trick pony.
"As specialists we do a better job," they say. But do they? To be fair, sometimes yes. When hunting for a product to manage oil exploration, you want an oil exploration software firm. This is known as a "software vertical." Verticals apply themselves to the "core" operations of a specific business segment.
Non-core operations, such as expense management, procurement, inventory management and time tracking are not vertical. If you need a solution in a highly core arena then Aestiva is (most often) not a good choice. But if you're looking for a non-core automation Aestiva is the better solution. The one-trick ponies are not.
Go green, everyone says. Paper kills trees. Paper is wasteful. Let's face it, paper can get out-of-hand. Yes, actual paper has limitations. But those issues aside, the "concept of paper" represents one of the greatest innovations of mankind. Without it, where would be be? Writing on cave walls?
We live in the age of computers but the things we do most with the computers is create electronic versions of paper. Emails, doc files, spreadsheets. Things we pass around. Paper.
At Aestiva we regularly receive RFQs (Request For Quotes). Most often these RFQs were drawn up by one or two managers with excellent insight into the operation needing automation. The RFQs are simple, straightforward and well-constructed. But some RFQs we get, to be frank, are ridiculously extensive.
The other day a software industry exec told us that the lifetime of software is between three and five years. We don't know who thinks up these things, and for a number of reasons we're not buying it. At any rate, the lifetime of an Aestiva automation is longer than that. We introduced our Power Office automation platform in 2002 and still don't see customers giving up on it. Not after almost a decade.
Whether this three-to-five year software lifetime thing is true or not doesn't matter to us anyway. Let the techies chew on that one. We don't create systems with built-in obsolescence - neither obsolescence of desirability or obsolescence of function.
If your Aestiva rep told you, "You can probably save millions of dollars with our software" would you believe him?
(Sigh). You wouldn't. That's one of the problems we face at Aestiva.