Tag Archives: responsive design

Small Business + Technology = Real Solutions

Growing up in a small town has given me a unique view of small business. The convenience store in the center of town (which is still there!), the neighborhood pharmacy, and the floral shop are a few examples that pop into my mind. If you had a good idea and a strong work ethic – the dream of owning your own business was yours!

I remember my best friend’s dad owning his own construction company. He had a pickup truck, some tools, and his wife typed invoices on homemade letterhead – on a typewriter. I picture a bunch of guys from my high school working a summer roofing job and sporting the best tans around thanks to baby oil and iodine. No one cared about the risks of sun exposure and no one had any clue what a huge part technology would eventually play in the construction industry.

Fast forward 20+ years and you’ll find SPF 80, smart phones, and at least a handful of tablets on most job sites. Gone are the days of hand-typed invoices, paper time cards, and magnet boards for scheduling… or are they? Would you believe there are still companies who “have a gal” who types invoices, enters time cards manually, and posts schedules on a dry erase board? No, it’s true! And while what she (or he) does is critical to the success of the company – there is a better, faster, and less expensive way to complete day-to-day operations – with technology!

messy desk
Enter: software and mobile applications for the construction industry. There are lots of companies who have out-of-the-box solutions – licenses for multiple users, programs that either provide too little or too many features. A package that cost a fee to purchase, and requires a monthly or yearly subscription. What about customizing that software so instead of doing about 60% of what you need – it does nearly 100%? How about owning the software and not paying yearly license fees? What about having a direct dial to the desk of the person who created your application – and not navigating through a huge company directory when you need help? What happens when your company grows and expands and you want to add functionality? These are just some of the benefits of having a custom program for scheduling and dispatching, time tracking, bid management, and equipment maintenance.

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If some of your current challenges include sifting through complex spreadsheets (if you can find them), poor communication from the office to the field (and vice versa), and lots of paper waste on your desk (or on the dash of your vehicles) – you need to consider what technology can do for you. Don’t be afraid – embrace all that can be accomplished and made easier with a few clicks or taps!

 

 

Change the Way You Look at Change

This post is part of a series on how the 9 Laws of Data Mining from Tom Khabaza can be applied to analytics. You can find previous posts here.

Law #9: “Law of Change”: All patterns are subject to change

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Photo credit: Tedrafranklin, Shutterstock. CC0 Public Domain

All patterns change — not only because the data changes, but because our understanding of the business domain changes.  As Wayne Dyer said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” (emphasis mine)

For example, when we devise a better marketing campaign after completing a strategic plan to increase customers, we may change the customer profile so that the next time that we run the customer segmentation we may get a different result and those results may trigger other marketing changes. Even when the customer profile does not change, our understanding of competitive offers, substitute products, and other market factors can cause us to change how we decide to implement the business process.  Even when the data pattern is similar, we may have new information about the business or the economy as a whole that will affect how we understand the business and this will affect our evaluation of the model.

The job of a data miner and an analyst is never done—there is always something else to study and a new nugget of truth to learn about a market.  However, we can sometimes fall into the trap of doing things because they have always been done that way. So, how do we get ourselves out of a “rut” in analytics?  How do you repeat a process over and over again while still asking yourself about what could or should change?  The answer lies in having a “cheat sheet” of questions that forces you to think about the analysis in a different way, in other words to change the way you look at the problem. . . or in this case, to change the way we look at change.

This time of year is a great time to think about change, so while we are on the subject of “change”, let’s ask ourselves: How do we measure change? Is there a checklist of things that we should investigate when studying change?  Below are six ways to think about measuring change.

1. How Much?

The obvious and first question that we typically ask is the “how much” question.  In other words, what was the amount of change, the raw total difference from one time period to another?  But don’t stop there!  There is so much more that you can learn about change by asking more questions.

2. Rate of Change: To What Extent? What Percent?

How about calculating the percent change from one time period to another?  This helps us to understand when the change happened and what the extent of the change was. You could also analyze the rate of change over different time periods and ask yourself whether there is a pattern in the rates of change.  If you vary the time period that you are studying, you might get different patterns, like the difference between the average change over months versus quarters versus year over year.

3. What is the Average Change for Multiple Change Rates?

If you have lots of data, you could look at the average change over different time periods and then compare the change rates for one period compared to the difference from the mean or median value.

4. What is the Difference from Optimal?

In some cases, the difference from an average won’t mean much, but the difference from an optimal number or the top performer in a category will give you a lot more insight.  Creating an index is helpful in this case because it makes it easy to see how the current value differs from the optimal or desired amount.

5. Related questions: Where? Causation? Multiple Changes?

Once you have measured change, you can ask other questions that are related to the change, like “Where did the change happen?” or “Who or what factors caused the change?” or “Did multiple changes happen at the same time?”

6. Meta questions: The Nature of the Change

Don’t forget to ask meta questions like: What was the nature of the change? Is it beneficial or detrimental? Was the change an anomaly, an outlier, or part of a larger pattern of change?  And finally, you can ask: How long do you expect or predict the current trend to continue?

We all know that change is inevitable, but how we analyze and learn from change is not.  Understanding the relevance of the changing patterns, what the change means for our business, is how we translate information into insight.  Insight helps us develop a strategy and then we can focus on executing the plan with specific tactics.  However, everything starts with the decision to analyze the change and to look at change in a new way.

 

Requirements Gathering and Selecting the Right Tool for the Job

Contributed by Technical Consultant, Matt Nicol

For most technology initiatives, there are many ways that a solution could be implemented. From a myriad of off-the-shelf products to a wide array of custom development solutions, there is no doubt that there is a way to successfully implement virtually any technology-based business application. In order for an initiative to be successful, however, many considerations must be made.

Above all, fully understanding the requirements of the business goal is key. Purchasing an off-the-shelf product or beginning development before the stakeholders have as detailed of an idea of how a system should operate as possible introduces unnecessary risks that can ultimately increase costs and reduce functionality. Gathering requirements is not always straightforward, however. Systems are typically used by many people, each with his or her own ideas for how to accomplish a given process.

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Before beginning to select a solution platform, it is often a good idea to organize the goals of a system into “need-to-have” and “nice-to-have” categories that are agreeable to stakeholders. To do this, it is also important to consider any broader business impacts the initiative may have. Answering questions like the following can help drive the best value that a system can provide: Will the system serve one specific need in isolation? Could any data, reports, or files produced by the system enhance or integrate any existing business process?

With a holistic idea of what an initiative should accomplish, it is now possible to begin considering how the system will be implemented. At this point, it is important for the parties driving the initiative to ascertain their own knowledge of the available solutions. Every person in an organization has his or her own areas of expertise, but those driving the initiative may not be subject matter experts on the inherent capabilities and limitations of various technology solutions. In such cases, the business and technological expertise offered by 4CTechnologies can be an invaluable resource for selecting and implementing an off-the-shelf or custom solution.

Mobile Friendly vs. Mobile Optimized vs. Responsive Design

If you use a smartphone, you know how difficult it can be to load websites that look phenomenal on your computer, but take minutes to load and look patchy at best on your smartphone. As we discussed in a previous post, there are a LOT of reasons why your business needs to have a mobile presence in 2013.  Depending on your business, your customers, and your budget however, there are multiple avenues you can take to have one.

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