Moreland Connect

Building Amazing Custom Software with a Shovel

Tackling a big software development project is like tackling a big landscaping job — you have to decide whether to sketch it out and hand it off or to work with a custom software developer who will help you interpret your vision and bring it to life.

Many times, consultant-developers are the best choice to create custom software to support your bold idea. More than just programmers or web designers, they are passionate about advancing your vision and bringing it to life with innovative technology.

To illustrate, let’s wander back to a sunny summer day in Ohio…

My neighbor Carl wanted to upgrade the landscaping in the front of his home. He and his wife snipped magazine photos they found appealing, had worked out a good vision of what they wanted, and were prepared to invest in the plants and trees to move ahead with a transformation. Carl chose not to hire a landscape architect. Instead, they spent a few long afternoons in local nurseries and had their new items delivered. Knowing that this project was extensive, he hired the guy who already cuts his grass to plant everything. He had the tools and inexpensive help to make this project take flight for less. On Tuesday morning, he and his wife handed the lawn care guy their magazine clippings and left for work.

When Carl returned home, he wasn’t happy at all. Although everything was planted and his guy had clearly worked hard – the results weren’t what he had hoped for, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Maybe there were gaps between some of the plants? Maybe the colors weren’t distributed evenly? While all the plantings were technically OK, the whole thing just didn’t look right. Now Carl was facing the looming question – should he rip it all out and start over with a landscape artist or just live with it?

Where Did It Go Wrong?

I am sure that the grass cutter tried to do his best work. I imagine things happened that complicated the build and lacking experience and a deep understanding of Carl’s vision, he struggled to achieve a the look that Carl was hoping for. He may have had to work around a sprinkler head or a rock or an old stump. With limited tools, experience, he had to improvise. And he made decisions based on his limited understanding of what Carl was trying to achieve. He didn’t have enough information to make it perfect, so he made it good enough.

The Technology Angle

Designing and building a custom software application can turn out the same way as Carl’s landscaping project. I have seen organizations draw up screens and ship them off-shore to be programmed for a low price. Software development has become a bit of a commodity – like digging a hole. The art of a customer software application can only come to life when the group can articulate their vision of the system and what benefits will come from it. The back-and-forth of visioning, designing, and coding by the visionaries, designers, and coders needs to be wrapped in a shared understanding of the answer to a single question:

“What will make this software great?”

There are a number of ways to build custom software to support your business goals, and many of them will eventually result in a “working system”. But using professional consultant-developers will avoid the long-term disappointment that stems from fatal flaws such as security exposure, poor performance, painful maintenance, or a frustrating user experience. Just as you wouldn’t expect the guy who mows your grass to develop a first-class landscape project, you shouldn’t expect anyone but experienced consultant-developers to create custom software that delivers on your vision.

Why the Cloud Is Casting a Shadow on the MS-Access Application that Runs Your Business

cloud-storm-bearIt was a 90s thing. Microsoft released its MS-Access SQL database and custom application toolkit that allowed organizations to write, deploy, and self-manage PC-based custom software. And it was easy. The availability of MS-Access helped small businesses who were desperate to retire their unsupported green-screen AS/400 software. It also helped midsized businesses and departments of Fortune 1000s whose IT departments were not delivering solutions for rapidly changing needs.

Six Reasons to Get off MS-Access and on to the Cloud

As we approach 2017 and more businesses switch to cloud-based software solutions, MS-Access applications that many businesses rely on have become expensive to maintain and difficult to integrate. From security and flexibility to must-have features like mobile and remote access, here are six reasons your organization might need to start planning for a switch to the Cloud.

1. Security

Microsoft Access does not support encryption of sensitive data such as SSNs and credit card information. When your physical or network security is compromised, your most sensitive data is fully exposed. Well-architected cloud-based solutions provide unsurpassed physical, network, and encryption security.

2. It’s fragile, and the infrastructure is crumbling

Printers, networks, and even PC operating systems are making bits and pieces of your original database inoperable. MorelandConnect has seen it firsthand, and you can learn more about our cloud-based alternatives to MS-Access here.

3. Remote access

Today’s workers and business processes demand flexibility of data access. Internally hosted MS-Access solutions usually require a rudimentary (and unsecured) third party access solution. If you are using Microsoft Remote Desktop, gotomypc, or TeamViewer outside of a VPN, you need to take action.

4. Mobility

Check your order queue from the beach? Absolutely. Browser-based, web-responsive solutions can be securely accessed from mobile platforms, tablets, and PCs, adding a layer of convenience and flexibility for your organization.

5. Transacting commerce

For some organizations, the simple “tracking of information” tool grew into something bigger, where inventories and even customer orders are managed. This commerce typically requires rekeying of information. Low-priced ecommerce solutions can provide great value, but they don’t connect to MS-Access.

6. Integration

Aside from connecting with Microsoft Excel, moving data between MS-Access and other systems is cumbersome. A cloud-based SQL database provides many effective ways to import and export data to be shared with vendors, suppliers, and customers.

Wrap all of these growing issues in the blanket of “the gal who wrote this retired in 2012, but you can still call her for support,” and your business has a disaster waiting for you under one of your 2017 calendar pages.

What to Do About It

Smart businesses are using the cloud to host replacement solutions. Browser-based applications with cloud-hosted SQL databases provide secure, anywhere access to data and processes and require no infrastructure investment. Call MorelandConnect at 234-284-9788 to learn more about your options.

Three Lessons I Taught High School Athletes that Can Grow Your Career, Too

I recently shared a day with the Euclid High School football team (Go Panthers!) to talk about careers in consulting and help them to create a plan to have a successful future long after they hang up their helmets for the last time. I wanted to share stories that the students could easily relate to and apply to their everyday lives. As I reviewed the consulting lessons I was sharing, I realized that these apply to any career – and could help people to become better team members.

 

Below are three of the lessons I shared with the group of 50 football players to help empower them to study hard, think outside the box and make a plan for the future. You can use these to take a view of your current approach at the office – and learn some small changes in your way of thinking that may have a noticeable positive impact on your career.

Lesson 1: Learn how to solve problems – ANY problems.

One story that stood out to the students was MorelandConnect’s solution for the Ohio Department of Transportation. ODOT asked us to solve their problem of keeping track of where their plows were located throughout the day. Moreland created technology that tracks 800 snow plows with sensors and GPS, helping the team at ODOT to instantly know where plows are moving and how much salt they are spreading.

 

I don’t expect high school students to create a mobile application that will track a fleet of vehicles, but what stuck with them is importance of solving problems. Isn’t that what every business does today? To become better employees, bosses, owners, and consultants, we need to be “in shape” to effectively solve problems. Do riddles in your spare time (seriously, Google them), think critically, look at a problem and think of at least three different ways to solve it before moving forward. This way of thinking will pay off in the long run and can really set team members apart.

Lesson 2: Power with STEAM.

The players readily grasped our “STEAM” approach, which is what MorelandConnect uses when hiring new team members and to frame our performance reviews. Luckily, the STEAM skillset doesn’t require expansive coding knowledge or years of experience in developing custom software; it’s more about character and attitude. It works for business, at home, and on a team. Use this approach to attract talent that will grow with your company – and consider if you carry it on a daily basis. In what areas can you grow?

STEAM:

Sled Dog – Hardworking. These types of people work with a team to get the job done without being asked, without asking questions, and taking the lead when necessary. They keep pulling even when things get tough or uncomfortable (and sometimes, they have to do crappy work).

Team First – Being mindful that it’s not always about “me.” Put the team first, whether it is your high school football team, IT department or family. Share credit when credit is due. When a job is done, do you have the mindset of “we did it” or “I did it”? The blame belongs to you. The glory belongs to everyone.

Easy – Be easy to work with, easy to talk to, easy to spend time with. Be dependable. Come armed with answers to problems. And no, the dog didn’t eat your homework.

Attitude to Win – Not always “win at all costs,” but always stay positive – believe that your project, task or assignment can get done and you can win. Never give up. Keep in mind that it is important (and OK) to lose now and then.

Mindful – Think of others first. Figure out what motivates people. Ask questions and remember the answers. Notice the little things: bring in your neighbor’s garbage cans, reach out to a friend, or help out a coworker who is having a rough day. These little actions can go a long way in the office and in life.

Lesson 3: Find your strengths – then think outside the box to develop them.

In high school, thinking about what you want to do with the rest of your life can seem overwhelming. Instead, it can be helpful to take smaller steps by figuring out what you’re good at – the same goes for those years into their careers (with how often people switch jobs today, there are bound to be new skills you’ll need to learn for your next career move).

 

Think about what you’re best at, and then hone those skills. If you are a lineman, you don’t need to improve your ability to catch the ball. You are a blocker so become great at blocking. You shouldn’t rely on your job or classwork to provide all of the necessary resources to grow; it’s critical to seek out new ways to learn. Interested in data? Take an online Excel or SQL class. Love writing? Start a WordPress blog in your spare time to expand your skills and learn basic HTML. Need to become more savvy with client presentations? Grab a book on public speaking or attend a seminar to polish your approach.

 

Sometimes, all it takes is a chat with 50 high school kids to give you the tools to rethink your approach. No matter what field or industry you’re in, these three simple lessons can help you grow your career – and your team.

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