The Treasures Unknown

The Treasures Unknown

NOTE: If you’d like to know some technical details about this story – feel free to reach out. I can provide them, including Harvey’s real name – if you’re interested in his solution – which is far cheaper and more flexible than well-known solutions. Not kidding; read through, and you’ll see why.

A story begins

This is a success story. It is about a successful implementation of an Open Source Software solution and the entrepreneur who had the guts to take the challenge, despite the circumstances and timing. He is my customer and friend, and I deeply respect his business acumen and business ethic. 

I won’t tell you about the technical difficulties and the solution design, nor will I mention the DevOps team who made it all possible. Those stories are plentiful and not always enjoyable – it’s just how we build and implement software every day.

I will tell you about Harvey (not his real name), the decisions leading to his project and the fantastic outcomes for his business and personally. 

Harvey is 70 years old, still thriving in managing his business and has a knack for data analysis and statistics. I mean that he is always careful to look at his company’s statistics before making decisions and adjusting how things work.

The “too hard basket.”

Harvey tried for years to find a “CRM” solution for his business. He was always reluctant to go ahead because of the visible or hidden costs involved. Not only that, but he noticed missing bits and pieces in most software solutions that were particular to his way of doing business. Add to that the greedy model behind most software solutions today, driven by profit maximisation, not value offered, and you can understand his position.

In one of our discussions, he admitted he is aware that a business may have to change some internal processes to match how the software works. Before this project, he underwent an ERP implementation in another company he was involved in and knew the inherent pains and dangers of such a project. That made him continuously postpone choosing and deploying such a solution. 

He even mentioned thinking about re-developing his 20 years-old MS Access database. “It ‘s doing the job – collects data about customers and projects and provides simple reports” – is what he said.

I told him my opinion – MS Access lacks the power and flexibility of modern solutions. Instead, I suggested deploying and customising a well-known open-source CRM. Once he understood the significant differences between commercial and Open Source Software, a plan formed in his mind, and he accepted the challenge.

Does the fun begin?!

We started the work, and after about a year of tribulations and changes in direction or design, we were ready for implementation. I won’t bore you with the details of that year – that’s not the point of this story.

What I will tell you, however, is that Harvey increasingly got accustomed to the DevOps environment, the software structure and what is possible in the world of automation.

We built new modules, an external custom (and very complex) quoting tool, SMS communications and XERO integration. We also deployed another solution for complex reporting (yet another Open Source platform). He was in charge of the project all this time and had direct input in everything the team built.

It wasn’t an easy task, nor a low-cost one. Free and Open Source Software is free of licensing costs – but still has a price associated with it. From the hardware (or cloud servers) used to run it to the human resources involved in customisation, implementation and ongoing maintenance, there is always something that costs. Sometimes, it costs a lot – six-digit figures and more.

Hmmm. I bet you didn’t think about that.

Here’s where the story becomes interesting. Harvey planned to invest in the development personally, retain ownership of the resulting solution (the custom part) and provide it as a service to his business. Why? Well, at 70, one starts thinking about either retiring or moving into a different business space – consulting and training. Should the opportunity arise, selling the business won’t result in losing the hard work, and other similar companies may be interested in the solution. 

You get the idea :).

On the business side, the plan was to improve internal processes and make data entry more accurate. Additionally, the CRM was supposed to provide improved reporting on project statuses, to gain better control over activities.

Surprise, surprise

About six months after the implementation, Harvey realised the immense benefit the business was about to have from the solution. The CRM improved many other areas, not just sales and project schedules. It delivered streamlined and semi-automated data entry and enhanced many internal processes due to an intelligent permission matrix and workflows. He once mentioned, “this is an ERP, not a CRM”.

A couple of days ago, he sent me a list of gains – after a year and a half of using the CRM whilst continuously improving it on the go. Remember – the solution is Open Source. Hence one can modify it anytime.

  • Opportunity conversion to sales – 59% (6 out of 10!)
  • Quote to Project cost difference – 0.19% (down from 3%)
  • Workforce tasks management – a reality (from none previously)
  • Per department accountability – improved across the board
  • Customer relations – “gone through the roof due to SMS solution.”
  • Profitability – up 109% compared to previous years(!)

One comment he made on profitability was that perhaps it is not all due to the CRM but also the further digital transformations we made in the business. However, the team would not have been able to cope with the increase in sales if it wasn’t for the new system.

Needless to say, he is very excited about the final product – calling it the CRM that keeps on giving 🙂

The above list is more impressive if we consider the pandemic raging through the country, affecting every sector. 

Can you top this?

The icing on the cake? Today, Harvey is actively promoting his software solution, already having two prospects who “fell on their backs during the demonstration”, to use his own words. He’s probably looking at recovering the investment over the next couple of years and making a decent profit. On top of that, he’ll have a dream retirement: consulting and imparting his business wisdom to a younger generation.

I bet you such a scenario would not be possible with a commercial solution. At most, you’d be able to develop some integration or module and try to sell that. Not the entire solution.

So, what’s all this Open Source Software thing?

The term “Open Source Software” (OSS) has recently gained much attention in the marketplace. It denominates software with its code visible and accessible for changes, fixes and customisations. It is usually free of licensing costs, but there are commercial solutions that went the open-source path (at least partially). One can download OSS from websites built by the maintainers or platforms like Github (github.com) and install it on own servers or in the cloud. OSS is extremely popular in the younger development communities and has a specific way of being built, maintained and customised by sometimes extensive communities of developers.

At the same time, we’ve seen a shift in business models surrounding software and computing platforms, with software companies now adopting “OSS first” models. There are considerable benefits in opening software code to communities – increased popularity, bug fixing and code improvements being just the starting points.

The Hidden Treasures

However, I believe the OSS’s importance and potential to change the world profoundly are still unknown to the large public. To be more exact, the adoption rate in the small to medium-business world is relatively low, with most business entrepreneurs showing an acute preference for commercial solutions.

We’re sitting on vast treasures that very few know about, and there are many, from lower business costs to the freedom to customise and improve the software stack.

This situation is somewhat understandable due to the perceived financial and personal effort to implement an open-source solution being far more significant than in the case of a paid, off-the-shelf piece of software or cloud platform. But the picture may be slightly different if we look at the hard facts and listen to the correct stories. By that, I mean that the actual cost of implementing FOSS is similar or lower – especially in the long term. And the benefits greatly outweigh the initial effort.

The story I presented is just one of the scenarios. I can tell you about companies that have built entire software application ecosystems with minimal investment in licensing for the initial building blocks. They are now competing with platforms that have spent years and millions of dollars to achieve the same results.

But those are stories for another time.

For now, I’ll get back to work with Harvey, see what his next digital challenge is, and help him achieve his goals. Because that’s my gig: helping others to figure out how technology can be captivating and exciting 🙂

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