Enterprise software: The pros and cons of building versus buying

From order processing and accounting platforms to customer relationship management and data collection tools, the need for enterprise software becomes more and more important as your business grows. After all, your ability to compete in an increasingly complex and dynamic market depends on your efficiency and productivity.
The question isn’t do you need enterprise software but rather, should you purchase software from a third-party provider or develop and maintain your own.
Building versus buying!

Developing your own software gives you the ability to meet the exact needs of your company and use your own identity mark. That said, software or technology purchased from an external supplier can be highly customized to address your needs. Of course, not to the same degree as custom-developed software.

Still, even large global organizations – both public and private – are beginning to migrate to third-party software. This, after having invested millions of dollars in the development of their own proprietary solutions. Why? Because doing so substantially reduces their IT costs and reliance on software and development support.

Ultimately, both options are valid, and the route you choose depends on a number of variables, from cost to functionality and more. Here, we look at the pros and cons of both based on some of five variables.

1. Time to market

With so many cloud-based software solutions now on the market, many companies are migrating away from building their own in favour of buying. In-house solutions can take months to develop. In fact, development projects typically take anywhere from seven to 18 months to complete. To complicate matters further:

  • Only 19% of application deployments are delivered on time
  • Approximately 70% of IT projects fail
  • The larger the development project, the lower the chances of success

On the other hand, most third-party software can be integrated into your existing application in minutes. What’s more, these ready-made solutions can usually be applied easily, with little to no technical expertise required on your part.

2. Total cost of ownership

Ready-made solutions, such as the offline data collection tools offered by Coral Collect, are available at a set price. You get what you pay for at time of purchase. With internal solutions, however, pricing is rarely predictable.

According to a McKinsey survey conducted among IT leaders:

  • Large IT projects run over budget 45% of the time while delivering 56% less value than expected
  • 17% of projects go so badly, they “threaten the very existence of the business”

These high-impact overruns, often referred to as “black swans,” result in budget overruns of 200 to 400% and can result in project abandonment or even bankruptcy.

Also, consider your opportunity costs. Developing and maintaining effective in-house solutions usually requires a dedicated IT team. Here, you have two options. You can:

1. hire individuals who are qualified to take on the task of development and maintenance

2. reassign existing employees to the task and bring in new people to fill their shoes

Either way, you’re going to need to expand your talent pool, which requires both time and money.

3. Features and functionality

In-house development gives you unlimited flexibility to create software that meets your unique goals. You get to include and retain ownership of features your rivals have no access to, which gives you a competitive edge.

However, ensuring these features operate without malfunction can require several months of testing and working through the kinks. Meanwhile, with third-party software, thousands of hours have already been invested in trouble shooting. Furthermore, you have the freedom to shop around and evaluate vendors based on features and functionality.

For the most part, software vendors offer free demos, trials, and proofs of concepts, thereby minimizing risk. You might even be able to negotiate future features in your contract for a premium.

4. Knowledge and know-how

As mentioned above, if you opt for in-house solutions, you need the resources to manage both development and maintenance. Your IT team is responsible for identifying and solving any problems you encounter.

With third-party software, you not only get the technology you need; you get the expertise required to manage it. Most vendors have dedicated representatives who can help you get the most out of your software. At Coral Collect, our experts have worked with clients of all sizes to develop best practices, and can work with you to create a personalized plan for success.

5. Basic skills

Last but not least, you need to ask yourself if you have the core competencies to build great software. And if so, will doing so be faster, cheaper, and/or more efficient than sourcing it from a third party?

If you can confidently answer yes to the above questions, building your own enterprise software will be to your advantage. If, however, you are even a little unsure, delegate the business function that software solves to a third party. Doing so will save you future headaches and mitigate the risks associated with in-house development.

The bottom line is this: deciding whether to build or buy enterprise software is a question of resource allocation. It’s up to you to determine how to invest your time, money, and talent, in order to reap the greatest return on investment.

How to collect and document customer feedback

The success of your business depends on your ability to meet customer needs. This requires a clear understanding of behaviours and trends within your business sector, as well as feedback from the individuals you serve. That’s why it is essential to collect and document customer feedback.

Feedback helps highlight your company’s strengths and weaknesses. It gives you a clear understanding of how customers feel about the products and services you offer, as well as their overall experience with your brand. It helps you make informed business decisions that support the retention of existing customers and equally important, the acquisition of new ones. 

There are several ways to acquire customer feedback. Before you begin, though, you need to be clear about your goals.

  • Are you looking for insight into how your products and services are currently being used?
  • Are you planning to reorient your products?
  • Are you considering the development of new products?

Once you’ve defined your purpose, you can craft the questions that will get you the answers you seek. Here are five ways to gather customer feedback.

1. Online surveys

Online surveys are one of the simplest ways to gather customer feedback at a low cost. There are many survey tools available. Survey Monkey, Typeform, Google Forms, and Zoho Survey are just a few of the top contenders.

Once you’ve created your survey, you can email your customers an invitation to complete it. To broaden your reach, you can also include a survey link on your website.

The beauty of online surveys is that they automatically collect responses in “real time.” This means you have access to feedback as soon as it is submitted.

2. Feedback forms

Inserting a comment box at the bottom of a website page is an easy way to gather insight without expending much effort. You can also create a feedback form and include a button on your website inviting customers to leave comments.

When using this method, however, it’s important to consider the user experience. You’ll want to make sure that your request for feedback isn’t hindering navigation of your site. If it feels invasive, it may annoy customers, which could influence the quality of feedback you receive. Worse, it could cost you a customer.

3. Social networks

Social networks are a great feedback tool as they’re designed specifically for engagement. People use them to share their opinions and express their feelings about products, services, and life experiences. Connect with your customers in a social environment and they’re far more likely to be in a ‘sharing’ mood.

Many social networks have built-in survey tools that enable you to collect valuable information. You can also use auto responders, direct messaging, and stories to open up a dialogue about your products and services.

Furthermore, you can monitor social channels for unsolicited feedback, although this can be a time-consuming endeavour.

4. Live chat software

Live chat software comes with many benefits, including convenience, speed, and cost-effectiveness. By asking the right questions before a chat begins, you can direct customers to the right department immediately, which improves satisfaction. You can also use pre-chat surveys to gather useful feedback.

Best of all, post-chat surveys (often underused) allow you to determine whether or not you were able to satisfy your customer’s needs.

5. Customer calls

Calling customers is by far the best means of obtaining feedback. When well executed, it can generate the best responses. Why? Because it shows your customers they’re worth your time, which in turn makes them feel valued.

Of course, you need to be mindful of when you call. Nobody wants to be disturbed first thing in the morning or last thing at night – especially by a customer service representative.

Coral Collect offers highly efficient and effective data collection tools to support you in this regard.

How to use the feedback you gather.

Feedback is invaluable to your brand and your ability to remain competitive.

Use customer comments to guide future product development. Deepen relationships with happy customers and turn them into advocates. Feature positive comments on your website as testimonials and help turn visitors into valuable customers.The benefits of gathering feedback are endless. For help gathering the data you need to better understand your customers and manage that data efficiently, reach out to Coral Collect. We’re here to help.

Data collection in the field: taking human factors into account

Technology has been an important framework in field service organizations for many years. In the drive towards Industry 4.0 we’re seeing the increasing use of drones, smart devices and sensors to collect field data for back-office reporting. Data collection in the field remains the main driver of operational excellence. Yet with all the technology at their fingertips, field technicians and inspectors are ultimately responsible for the quality and integrity of the data they collect.

This is why it is imperative that the data collection workflow in the field be as efficient as possible so that field staff can work in the best conditions.

We will discuss the main human challenges that technicians and inspectors may face when collecting data in the field and how mobile data collection facilitates some of these challenges.

What is field data collection?

Field data collection is a project performed by an individual or group of individuals in a chosen physical location using approved data collection methods and tools.

Often the data is captured with a field data collection software.

There are many reasons for collecting data in the field. Inspect urban infrastructures to know their condition, obtain information on residents during door-to-door visits, assess the extent of damage during an environmental emergency.

The data relating to the project are important, however, we must not forget to put those who collect them in the best conditions.

The challenges of field data collection

Collecting data in the field involves lots of moving pieces and its fair share of logistical challenges. The field is by nature an uncontrolled environment, and many conditions are outside of the control of technicians and inspectors. Some challenges they need to think about include:

  • Transportation: how to travel to and from the service location. Another point to consider is the nature of the environment being surveyed (eg. rugged terrain, water courses), potential dangers such as wild animals, and access to medical assistance in the case of emergencies. A mobile data collection tool equipped with a GIS app helps technicians and inspectors plan their journeys, to locate nearby services and it provides offline data collection capabilities in the event internet access becomes unavailable.
  • Weather: It’s critical technicians and inspectors take accurate measurements in all weather (rain, sun, intense heat, cold, etc.) to ensure the quality of the data and their own well-being. The use of tablets with the appropriate protections and accessories (cases, batteries) is essential to avoid breakage and power cuts. Technicians must provide for themselves, adequate clothing and footwear, sufficient water and food, as well as a first aid kit.
  • Fatigue: technicians and inspectors may be on their feet for hours at a time. As fatigue creeps in, errors in data collection occur more frequently. Easy to use mobile form apps and field survey apps make the job easier.

Collecting data in the field is a difficult task to accomplish, even under the best conditions. Fortunately, the use of data collection applications has many advantages:

  • They minimize data entry and duplication errors, reducing unnecessary time spent in the field.
  • They allow the optimal route to be drawn without unnecessarily prolonging the time spent outdoors in sometimes unfavorable conditions.
  • Mobile forms are easy to use and capture data with more precision and standardization. No need to take out a pencil, and spend time writing on a piece of paper in the sun, wind or snow. Digital forms are completed with just a few clicks and at the same time reduce the time spent in the field.
  • Field survey and inspection applications are not limited to text. They also capture other types of data such as images and GPS coordinates. Thus, there is no need to carry additional equipment such as cameras or portable GPS devices.
  • Data is stored in the cloud for real-time access and analysis. This way, employees don’t have to return to the office after a long day at work since they can transfer data directly from the field.

There are many critical factors to keep in mind when conducting a field data collection operation. Many of these are beyond the control of field technicians and inspectors. Mobile devices equipped with field data collection app make their work easier and contribute to their safety.

Trace a course in the field and make it available to data collectors

When you send teams into the field to collect data, it’s important to trace a course to increase their efficiency while working. This way, teams won’t waste time orientating themselves during field work and can fully concentrate on their data collection tasks.

There are a number of data collection apps out there, some good and others not so good, but not all of them feature course tracing functionality like Coral Collect. In this article we will show you how to use the Coral Collect data collection app to plot a data collection course for your teams in the field.

Some of the Coral Collect app’s features

  • Can be used to fill out digital forms during data collection work in the field
  • Can geolocate data collected by means of the app’s integrated GPS functionality
  • The app also integrates a cartographic interface, which is necessary to find one’s way in the field
  • Can be used to import external data layers and display them on the app’s integrated map interface
  • The Coral Collect app also features the GeoJson.io tool, by means of which you can plot the itinerary of each of your teams on a map

How to get Coral Collect 

1.   Create an account on the Coral Collect website

If you haven’t already, the first step is simply to head over to the Coral Collect website and create an account: https://coral.chaac.tech/

2.   Plot your route

Plotting your route is simple and can be achieved by simply following these steps:

  • Go to “Geojson.io”
  • Select the “line” button
  • Draw a line on the map which represents the route of your field team
  • Save the route in GeoJSON format

3.   Import and view your routes in the Coral Collect app

In the Coral Collect dashboard, follow these steps:

  • Click on “Data layer”
  • Import the data layer you just created

Open the Coral Collect app, and follow these steps:

  • Press the red menu button
  • In the menu, click on data layer
  • Click on the ‘cloud’ button next to your data layer
  • Choose the color of your route
  • Check the box next to your data layer

If you return to the map, your route will appear. By following these steps, you can create as many routes as you want and assign a different route to each of your teams.

For more questions about route plotting, or any of the Coral Collect app’s other features, feel free to make an appointment with the Coral Collect team at any time.

You can also check out the Coral Collect intro video.

How efficient are your current data collection methods?

If your organization uses pen, paper, and/or spreadsheets to gather and manage your company data, it’s probably time to rethink your data collection methods.

Let’s face it. You’re in business to make a tidy profit, and the profit you earn isn’t based solely on sales. It’s also related to your operational costs. Regardless of the size of your organization, the more efficiently you run your business, the lower your operational costs.

The perils of pen and paper data collection.

If you’re still collecting data the old-fashioned way, chances are you’ve encountered some or all of the following problems:

·   Paper forms end up lost or damaged, requiring you to repeat the data collection process.

  • Illegible handwriting and entry errors lead to inaccuracies in the data.
  • Surveys have to be geolocated manually, requiring an additional investment in time.
  • Videos and photographs can’t be attached on paper and must be attached to the corresponding data after it’s been gathered.
  • Analyzing the data involves you reviewing paper forms and, even then, only provides a general sense of what’s going on, versus actionable information.
  • Manual transcripting data takes time and generates human errors.

To address some but not all of the above challenges, many companies that are looking to modernize their data management processes look to spreadsheets for a solution. Spreadsheet programs, such as Excel or Google Sheets, record data in the form of rows and columns, which certainly allows for greater clarity. Unfortunately, however, spreadsheets come with their own set of constraints and limitations.

The drawback of data collection using spreadsheets.

  • Spreadsheets aren’t mobile device-friendly. Viewing data on a small screen requires endless vertical and horizontal scrolling, and locating specific cells for the purpose of data entry is tedious.
  • Because spreadsheets don’t have geolocation capabilities, you have to determine geographic coordinates using a GPS and then add them in manually.
  • Field data entered into a spreadsheet can’t be accessed in real time, which means managers and analysts are required to wait until surveyors have returned from the field and updated information.
  • Photos and other media can’t be entered into spreadsheets and must be matched to data separately.
  • Although spreadsheet software contains powerful tools for statistical analysis of data, data analysis and report creation are still cumbersome and time-consuming.

Consider the inefficiencies of the following scenario. A charity goes door to door collecting donations. Collectors gather data from each address they visit. In order to share that information with their manager, they need to enter it into the company database when they return to the office.

Their manager then manually creates a map of all addresses visited, putting them into one of four categories:

1. Donated

2. Declined

3. No response

4. Undecided

This manually created map is then used to plot the route for the following day’s field personnel, and this laborious process must be repeated every day.

Consider also the task of managing field data pertaining to remote areas. Enter incorrect latitude and longitude information and you can end up with a rural property of interest in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean versus its actual location.

Spreadsheets offer no safety net. No validation of entries. Enter the wrong information and without close examination, human errors remain unidentified. Field data collection apps, on the other hand:

  • offer data traceability and validation
  • eliminate the need for manual, time consuming, and error-prone manipulations and transcripts
  • provide access to real-time data
  • allow for the integration of data analysis and report creation

Ready to update your field data collection methods?

Look for a field data collection application like Coral Collect.

With Coral Collect, your field workers can enter data using a mobile device, with or without cellular or WiFi service. Once that data has been synced to the cloud, it gets instantly transferred to a database and becomes available in real-time to anyone with access to your organization. Among the many benefits:

  • No damaged or lost paperwork to worry about
  • No retranscription required
  • Significantly fewer data entry errors
  • The ability to take and automatically link photographs and other media to data

In the interest of maintaining more accurate data, operating with greater efficiency, and turning higher profits, get started with Coral Collect.

How automation is helping energy and utility companies optimize data

Managing an organization’s infrastructure, client information, billings, customer service, and other essentials demands a huge investment. This is especially true for energy and utility companies.

If you’re in the energy and utility sector, you likely have tens of thousands if not millions of customers to please. To satisfy these customers, you need to constantly:

  • Monitor the condition of your infrastructures
  • Gather customer information
  • Analyze field data
  • Be ready to respond instantly in the event your network goes down.

You’re also subject to numerous compliance requirements.

“Amidst a highly regulated environment, where ethics, governance, and risk management are top priorities, energy and utility organizations are under increased scrutiny.”

Source: 7 Top Trends in Energy and Utility Compliance, May 17, 2020

As a result, you need to document your operations meticulously – and such operations require a huge amount of data.

Some energy and utility companies continue to process data the old school way. Many, however, are now recognizing the costs associated with managing data manually and they’re turning to automation.

Automation benefits energy and utility companies on many levels.

In addition to improving your operational efficiencies, integrating data digitally drives your operating costs down. It also saves your employees time so that they can focus on finding innovative ways to optimize the delivery of your resources and maintain a high level of customer service.

The advantage of digital data collection methods extends beyond the gathering and management of customer information. Mobile data collection forms, for example, allow utility workers to collect georeferenced information from the field. Such information can then be shared with head office and remote teams in real time.

This helps to:

Manual data management is cumbersome.

To understand this, compare the following two scenarios:

1. Manual: Utility workers use paper to collect data in the field. At the end of each workday, they return to the office and manually enter that same data into the company database.

2. Automation: Utility workers use mobile devices to collect data in the field. That data is instantly synchronized with the company database and accessible in real time. Plus, it can easily be integrated into and overlaid onto existing data for scalable trend analysis.

Mobile data collection applications and other data collection tools can help you better organize your data collection operations in the field. Plus, they improve data flow, increase the reliability of data collected, and help you operate your network with greater efficiency.

Automated processes also help you:

  • Meet regulatory requirements
  • Streamline your operations
  • Gain real-time access to data that delivers valuable insights that manual data collection processes are unlikely catch

Such insights help you better serve your customers, manage the safety of your equipment, and gain a competitive edge.

Want to optimize your company’s field data collection methods?

Consider a mobile forms application like Coral Collect. Using a mobile form builder, your field operations managers can deploy custom-create forms to your teams in the field. These forms can be used to collect all kinds of geotagged data, including photos, with or without an internet connection.

Using an offline data collection method means your field workers no longer have to drive back to your office and manually transcribe data. This is good news for those who have already put in a hard day’s work. What’s more, it’s great news for your company’s profit margins.

Are you ready to leave cumbersome manual data collection processes behind? If so, empower your fieldworkers, salesforce, and other employees to manage data more efficiently. Explore how Coral Collect’s data collection tools can support your energy or utility business.