Bureaucracy isn’t just the domain of large corporates. Even as a young, hip software development company, we have it. In this post, I want to describe how we use automation and bespoke software in our own workflow.

Systems we use

We use several off the shelf systems:

  • Xero for accounting,
  • GitHub is a key part of our software development workflow,
  • Harvest to fill some of the gaps in Xero,
  • Dial9 for our phone system,
  • Piwik for website analytics,
  • Kayako (legacy) as a support desk / shared inbox.

Harvest integrates nicely with Xero (which is why we use it) but apart from that, there’s little integration between our systems.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter much. Integrating our phone system with our accounting system wouldn’t help much. We had a few challenges, though.

Challenges

  1. “He said, she said”
    Most of our customers are an absolute pleasure to work with (thanks!) but every so often, we had to trawl through emails and phone call logs to find out if we’d made a mistake or if a customer was trying to pull a fast one. It was sometimes so time consuming that we would just assume that we made a mistake even if it meant the company made a loss on a project.By integrating with our phone system, we can quickly find out who spoke to whom, when, and what was said (i.e. the recording) on a timeline simply by clicking on a customer’s name. The timeline also has emails and meeting notes, and everything is searchable.A very detailed audit trail isn’t for everyone but for us, it occasionally saves a lot of time in “he said, she said” scenarios.
  2. Keeping data in sync
    Xero has a list of our customers, invoices and payments. Harvest has a similar list. Dial9 and Kayako hav address books that, if they’re accurate, make it easy to know who’s who. By keeping our Dial9 address book up to date, we can see the caller’s name on all of our phones. Because the right person can pick up the phone, we rarely have to transfer calls.By integrating Harvest and Dial9, our phone system’s address book is always up to date. Every time we take on a new customer, their name pops up on our phones when they call without us having to fiddle with the phones or Dial9’s address book.
  3. A single pane of glass
    We’re a small company and mitigating the risks that small companies face (such as cash flow) and making sure that we’re doing the right things to grow our company (such as making sure our marketing budget is well spent) are hugely important. We track loads of KPIs from search engine ranks, to Adwords clicks, to the number of customers we work with in a given month, to our website’s traffic, to aged debtors, to projects that are likely overrun and so on.All of our KPIs are always up to date and visible on one page. Really. It wasn’t hard, either. All of our systems had the data we needed inside them but, because every company’s approach to reporting is unique, the data we needed in the format we wanted it in took some time to get to. Now it doesn’t.
  4. That feature we needed
    One of the big drawbacks of off the shelf software is that if there’s something you want it to do, that it doesn’t do (say, because most of their customers don’t need it), it can feel like you’re paying for something that doesn’t fit or that you’re tied in to it.For us, the feature was retainers. A lot of our work is on retainer – if customers commit to a certain volume of work, it gives us the stability we need to grow our company and in return, we can get things done more quickly and be more flexible. Harvest’s concept of retainers didn’t fit out own so we decided to layer bespoke software on top of Harvest to use Harvest’s invoicing, time tracking and project functionality but keep a separate log of retainers.
    5. Correlating data
    One of the greatest advantages of connecting systems is that you can see data from different systems on the same table or the same graph. We correlate our marketing spend with our website traffic and our monthly revenue which allows us to quickly see how well our marketing is performing.

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