April 23rd, 2013
Small businesses and local governments are in a tough spot when they're looking for software solutions. In many cases, they need the features of "enterprise" software, but struggle with the sales and support that come with big business software.
Small organizations usually don't have dedicated staff to deal with projects, so they need more personal service than a big business might. They need a vendor who's involved in the day-to-day. Unfortunately, that's rarely what they get.
The same old story
The normal story for a small company implementing new software looks a lot like this:
- The initial sales phase. You navigate the vendor's sales process and they eventually deliver a quote and initial blueprint to you based on what they think a company the size of yours might need.
- Countless hours are spent hammering out project details on conference calls with the vendor. Lots of paperwork is filled out.
- Months later, an engineer flies in, still tired from his or her last project. It's the first time you've actually talked to someone from the vendor in person and it also seems like the engineer's first time hearing about you or the project. You spend the next week getting them up to speed.
- Assuming the implementation goes well (and that's a big assumption), the engineer flies to their next project, never to be heard from again. This is also the point when the sales team you worked with disappears.
- Your interaction with the original vendor is finished. Any support issues you run across are handled by a third-party call center.
A better way
A lot of the frustration that crops up when working with big vendors has to do with the lack of a local presence. After-all, it's easy to feel dismissed or unimportant when you only ever talk to someone on the phone. From the vendor's perspective, if's hard for them to provide a personal level of service when they have thousands of other customers to support.
That's why one of the biggest benefits we can provide to our clients is that we work where they work. We're based right here in Oklahoma, providing local service from pre-sales all the way through to support.
As Oklahoma's only Oracle Partner focused on commercial and local government clients, we're able to provide our clients with the best of both worlds – the big business software and resources of a company like Oracle paired with the hands-on service of a local firm.
When it comes time to build out a quote or design a solution, we're able to meet, face-to-face, and build a deep understanding of the problems your business is facing. In turn, that helps us provide solutions that are the perfect fit for the problem at hand.
So if you've been frustrated dealing with big vendors who seem like they don't have time for you or simply want to deal with someone you can talk to in-person, give us a call or e-mail us. We'd be happy to show you the difference that local service can make.
April 9th, 2013
It's not often that an emergency call after 5PM on a Friday evening leads directly to a success story. When it does happen, it's worth reflecting to see what went right. Because as much as we can all learn from failure, there's also a lot to be learned from success.
Recently, we took just such a call from one of our clients. The employee time tracking system had experienced a technical mishap which resulted in a ‘system down’. As anyone who has ever been responsible for a similar system like payroll or billing knows, it's the type of outage that can lead to someone needing to find a new job.
Right off the bat, things weren't looking very good.
A particular piece of the technology stack was installed by the client’s staff who had since retired. This technology that was installed by the client predated our software development phase. Also, Oracle no longer supported the technology.
To top things off, due to various technical and operational issues, there was no easy way to restore the application to it's pre-outage state from a backup.
It didn't look like this was going to be a quick fix, so we immediately went to work getting people in place to solve the problem. And because we understood how important the time tracking system is to our client and how fast they needed it back up and running, we skipped over a lot of the normal paperwork.
Before we could get really get started on solving the problem though, we had to do some research, and this is where we learned a lot, both about the actual problem and our strengths as a company. The first thing we did was ask our staff, "Who knows anything about this?"
While we didn’t install the web server caching software, one of our administrators had performed maintenance work on it in 2008. While the client had cycled through several different administrators since the software was installed, that database administrator (DBA) was still with us.
Paired with that, we also found that we had internal documentation concerning the client's software. So even when the client themselves didn't have any knowledge of the configuration, we did. Together with an LSG DBA and some additional brainstorming with technical leaders, we were able to put together a plan to get things back up and running.
Once we got the green light from the client, we went to work executing our plan that weekend. Although there were difficulties reengineering the technology stack, LSG persisted over the next few days. Concerns and doubts began to set in after the initial failed attempt; however, our persistence and confidence soon paid off. The time tracking system was back in running order without any work-arounds. We were happy, the client was happy, and everyone kept his or her job.
It's hard for many businesses to keep long-term database and software development staff. Working on the same projects all the time, these employees tend to move on to other companies, looking for new challenges.
Because our staff is challenged by a variety of projects, they tend to stay with us. That in turn, adds to our value to our clients. In this case, that continuity and tribal knowledge saved both us and the client from a potentially expensive, time-consuming fix. Something to consider before trying to hire in-house is "Can we keep this person challenged and happy? Or are we better off getting help from a vendor?"
This project was also a great reminder of the importance of documentation, something that needs to be constantly reinforced. Good documentation can save the day when things go south. Even though we didn't install and configure the Oracle web server cache technology, the experience, confidence, and knowledge we had of the currently unsupported technology along with documentation of the client’s environment went a long way towards helping us solve the problem.
Being reminded of these things helps us stay focused on making sure our staff is happy and fulfilled, and that we do our best at retaining past client documentation via wiki technology. It helps us provide great customer support and deliver quick solutions when our clients need them the most.