News Blog

Articles and news about us and our latest innovative solutions.

Using Business Intelligence to discover your true business costs.

Posted on March 5, 2014 by Steven Docherty

I’ve previously posted about Business Intelligence (BI) and how the data you already hold can tell you a lot more about your business. But in this post I wanted to pinpoint a real-world need for breaking down overhead or indirect costs.

The true cost of your service or product.

If you have an ERP system that allows you to track your jobs, tasks or projects as well as their direct costs then you can already tell what parts or services were paid for by your business to complete the job. From that you could work out an average cost per job, per department, per branch or per client.

But what about indirect costs – electricity, rent, salaries, IT etc? You may be able to see which branch they are attributable to but what if you could break these costs down by client or by department. Then you would know exactly what a client is costing you to do the job for them; or know the actual cost differences between your departments.

Importantly, you will see your actual business profit by client or by department.

However, indirect costs are usually posted as a single transaction at a head office or branch level. It has no direct relationship to the actual job, task or project that produces the revenue.

What we need to do is find a way to split or apportion the cost across your clients or departments based on some formula. In my time I’ve seen a few different ways including: using salaries per department or client as an indicator of how to break up a cost; or summing time or counting tasks and jobs to measure the effort completed for a client or by a department.

Once we know how to apportion the cost (and how we do that could differ depending on the type of cost transaction too) we can build that into a data warehouse and make it easily accessible to reports, dashboards, scorecards and other applications.

Attributing indirect costs to revenue provides powerful information that will allow you to find good and bad performing areas of your business.

At Whirl IT Solutions, one of our specialties is designing these sort of complex algorithms to produce easy to read and to understand reports for our clients. If you would like to know more please give me a call on 03 5420 7836 or email me at sdocherty@whirlit.com.au.

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SQL Server Reporting Services - get more from your Microsoft SQL Server license.

Posted on January 15, 2014 by Steven Docherty
Many of you own a Microsoft SQL Server license but most don’t realise it comes with a lot more than just a database engine. It also includes a comprehensive reporting service called SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) that allows you to:
  • host securable reports accessible across your organisation;
  • export report data to a variety of formats such as Excel and PDF; and
  • schedule reports to be sent as attachments or links direct to any email address on a regular basis – including direct to your clients.

The reports can also be viewed over a Web-based connection or as part of a Microsoft Windows application or SharePoint site which means you can provide access to the report in a way that suits your business structure.

Importantly, you already have everything you need to set it up. So, what does it take to implement SSRS?
  • A server to work as a web server so it can host the reports. If you are working on a smaller scale1 you don’t have to buy another server – you could even use the same server that is hosting the SQL database engine.
  • Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS) to design and deploy the reports to the web server. But you don’t have to buy BIDS as it is also included with your SQL Server license.
1If you are not sure, you could start on an existing server and migrate to a dedicated server later.

We have installed and configured many SSRS implementations and can successfully complete this for your business too.

Using BIDS with the skills and knowledge of how to retrieve the data, reports can be rapidly designed and deployed to the business. We have developed hundreds of reports for our clients using both our database and developer skills to gather and interpret the data and then design and layout the information on the report.

Reports can be designed to show more than raw data too. They can include charts, gauges, images, maps, shapes, tables, matrices and lists. Also, reports can link to other reports, web sites or applications providing a drill-through experience.

At Whirl IT Solutions, we have found SSRS provides massive returns for little outlay for our clients and their customers so if you would like to know more please give me a call on 03 5420 7836 or email me at sdocherty@whirlit.com.au.

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When to get your software custom-built.

Posted on December 4, 2013 by Steven Docherty
There are four considerations when deciding between an off-the-shelf software solution and one that is custom-built:
  1. Cost-benefit;
  2. How soon do you need it?
  3. Exact fit vs. near enough; and
  4. Do you have an option?

Cost-benefit

Custom-built software will be cheaper if you don’t need all the features the off-the-shelf option provides. With an off-the-shelf option all the cost is upfront – you get all the features now, whether you need them or not. A customised solution allows you to introduce new features (and their costs) over time and when you see the benefit.

How soon?

An off-the-shelf product is likely to be quicker to implement in your business. However software projects that adhere to the principles of Agile can deliver your custom-built solution in smaller parts, meaning you get to use it sooner (see our blog post Agile – why do you care? 25/10/13).

Exact fit vs. near enough

Ultimately it comes down to whether your requirements need to be met exactly or if you can change your business process to fit the off-the-shelf system. Perhaps, importantly, the way you do business is what makes you different from your competitors and so buying the same software as them limits your competitiveness. You could still go with the off-the-shelf option if it allows you to customise it. For example, mature systems will offer an API (Application Programming Interface) that will allow software developers to custom-build around it; adding on or modifying features to suit you.

Do you have an option?

You might find the software market lacks any other option for your business, in which case you need a customised solution. However, that may be an indication that your business is an IT leader in your industry.

At Whirl IT Solutions our first advice to clients is to always check the market and see what off-the-shelf options are on offer and understand the limitations they face. We can assist you decide which product addresses your needs best and if it is customisable. Alternatively, we can design an exact system for your business. If you would like to know more please give me a call on 03 5420 7836 or email me at sdocherty@whirlit.com.au.

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Agile – why do you care?

Posted on October 25, 2013 by Steven Docherty

Let me explain the benefits of the Agile software development methodology without the jargon and why you should care.

You are someone who has, does or will in the future rely on the success of a software development project. It will be a project that should result in a piece of software that makes your work experience better, saves you money or even makes you money. But some of you have seen projects fail to deliver these outcomes - in fact it was quite frustrating and painful!

Then came Agile. It has become the default way to run software development projects because nine out of ten times it is the best way.

So very quickly let me explain why: among many other things it delivers the software in very small, useable parts meaning you get to start using it sooner. Importantly the sooner you start using it the better you understand what you need. So, you get to try it and make changes to the next part before time and money is spent building more of it.

Agile embraces change. Change can only be good because you are making it better.

Whilst using the new piece of the software you might decide to cancel the project because you can see it won't deliver what you need or won’t be cost effective. Well, the good thing is with Agile you haven't invested months of development to find that out.

At Whirl IT Solutions our default approach to software development is Agile. We have successfully completed many projects adhering to its principles so if you would like to know more about how we can deliver your software solutions, please give me a call on 03 5420 7836 or email me at sdocherty@whirlit.com.au.

New Staff Member!

Whirl IT Solutions welcomes new staff member, Simon Trewhella to the new position of Junior .NET Analyst Programmer.

Simon has been a high achiever during his academic studies recently completing his Master of IT which included 6 months at the University of Bonn, Germany. Simon has also previously been awarded a scholarship at the CSIRO's Advanced Scientific Computing Group.

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Updating Legacy Systems - Making better use of what you've got

Posted on September 16, 2013 by Steven Docherty

Most businesses have software systems that have served them well over many years - in fact, more years than the original software developers ever intended! However they are built on business rules and processes that were relevant then, but have now changed.

That doesn't always mean you have to throw the whole system out and start again. Here are your options:

  1. Replace the system entirely – bigger up-front cost, large re-training program, longer testing and implementation phase.
  2. Retire the system slowly – retire functionality and redirect processes to another system through integration. This option allows you to purchase a smaller and less expensive system to replace particular roles of the legacy system.
  3. Redevelop the legacy system in stages – identify the major issues in the current system and tackle those first by modifying only those sections of the system. This option greatly reduces the up-front cost and the re-training required.

Options B and C can prolong the life of older systems by scaling back their importance in readiness for system retirement or replacement.

Integrating legacy systems with others can be an effective and measured way of maintaining the old system whilst reducing its importance over time, particularly with system retirement or replacement in mind.

A cost analysis will determine if updating your current system is worth it and if it's not then a replacement system can be developed (option A) to incorporate the positive aspects of the legacy system. It also provides a great opportunity to implement new workflows, new IT architecture with better performance and security.

With over a decade of software development experience, Whirl IT Solutions has a skillset that goes back in time before .NET. With skills and experience adding or modifying features in Classic ASP and VB 6.0 Forms applications, legacy systems can be upgraded with new business rules and interfaces that can extend their life for many more years.

We have successfully rejuvenated many legacy systems so if you would like to know more about how you can make better use of what you’ve got, please give me a call on 03 5420 7836 or email me at sdocherty@whirlit.com.au.

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Business Intelligence - getting more from the data you have

Posted on August 12, 2013 by Steven Docherty

In this edition I'll uncover Business Intelligence (BI) and how the data you already hold can tell you a lot more about your business.

Business intelligence is a set of theories, methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transform raw data into meaningful and useful information for business purposes. - Wikipedia.

Many businesses rely on more than one system to operate. This is a legitimate strategy because no one system will do everything well. However it does make it more difficult for decision makers to understand the position of the business.

The solution is more than dumping data onto a report. Decision makers need the data pre-interpreted based on existing business rules, measures, KPIs etc so they can see, at a glance, if an area of the business is in trouble.

For example,
The number of jobs completed for the month doesn’t tell you if it’s good, bad, better or worse. Even if last month’s numbers are next to it, it doesn’t tell you if the difference is significant. Visually, you need to see indicators such as traffic lights or trend arrows to inform you immediately of a problem.

Traffic Light A red traffic light indicator alerts the decision maker a serious problem.
Trend Arrows Trend arrows can indicate if an issue is getting better or worse.

Defining a KPI will allow the data to report if the KPI was met; and defining whether a 10% decrease is significant will allow the data to visually draw you to a problem area.

For our clients, we use Microsoft's SQL Server Analysis Services tool (included in your SQL Server licence) to define their rules for interpreting the data. With this base we build reports, dashboards, web and Windows applications that provide insights into their business that were never previously possible.

We have completed many successful BI projects so if you would like to know more about how you can better use your data, please give me a call on 03 5420 7836 or email me at sdocherty@whirlit.com.au.

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Integrate with your customers and suppliers

Posted on June 19, 2013 by Steven Docherty

Hello and welcome to the first edition of Whirl IT News – information about our latest innovative solutions.

In this edition I would like to cover business-to-business (B2B) integration – its benefits; as well as a real example of how we have implemented it to improve efficiencies for our clients.

Essentially I’m talking about connecting your business to your customer or supplier using data, so current business processes can be automated and there are several benefits to your business:
  1. Reduced manual entry requiring fewer staff or allowing existing staff to focus on more highly skilled tasks;
  2. Fewer mistakes caused by data entry;
  3. Instant availability of information to your customers and other areas of your business; and
  4. Your customers come to depend on integration, which only strengthens your relationship.

Our real world example...

So let’s look at our real world example which comes from the Freight Logistics industry.

Our Freight Logistics clients receive hundreds of new jobs from their overseas agents every week requiring staff dedicated to registering this information in their operations line-of-business (LOB) system.

The information is received via email and requires the operators to sift through to find the data needed to register a job. All of which is time consuming and prone to:
  • missed jobs;
  • incorrect entries;
  • delayed availability of information to customers or other areas of the business; as well as
  • instances of out of date information.

As their overseas agents had the capacity to provide the jobs as data files (XML) we were able to implement a solution that automatically registered the jobs into their LOB system immediately after they were received. Importantly, as the solution was custom built we were also able to implement strict business rules specific to their needs.

For those in the Freight Logistics industry, we have provided this solution for systems such as Cargowise’s ediEnterprise and HTFS's Cyberfreight but the process is much the same for other systems.

We have completed many other successful B2B integration projects so if you would like to know more about how we can streamline your business processes, please give me a call on +61 3 5420 7836 or email me at sdocherty@whirlit.com.au.

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