I’m a computer programmer. When a business owner tells me that “they can’t get information from their systems,” I cringe because data is often easier to get than they realize. It just takes someone who understands data. A good computer programmer is the key to unlocking the information business owners need and already have. The data often exists within one or more systems, but there seems to be no easy way to visualize the information that is needed to make informed business decisions. Too often, all of us blindly accept the limitations of the systems that we have to do our jobs with. Sometimes there are surprisingly simple solutions sitting there for easy pickings when the right questions are asked.
A couple of years back, I was having lunch with a buddy who is a top notch account executive and has a number of technicians working in the field for his clients. Our conversations covered our usual: What is wrong with the Red Sox’ pitching, Sam Adams Summer Ale vs Fat Tire Amber, but then the conversation turned to work issues. He mentioned that with his brand new Customer Relationship Management, “CRM”, system, he had to work to stay on top of what his engineers and technicians were doing at client sites. He never wanted to be in a position where he was talking to a client without a full understanding of what had transpired on a visit.
I had some knowledge of the new CRM system he was using, and therefore knew that the technicians were required to report time on a daily basis. The data was there. “Why don’t you just look it up in your CRM system?” I asked him. He replied “there’s no easy way to do that… I’d have to look it up by every customer every day to try and find recent visits, it would take too long.” I chuckled and said “give me a few hours.”
I knew the schema of the CRM system well enough, so with just a few joins I was able to write a view that pulled together a report which showed every technicians’ visit, their time on site, full notes on the activity and could be sorted by client and service manager. I put the whole thing into a report using SQL Reporting Services, added a date filter to only pull the previous day’s activity, and voila, I had the “10:05 Report”.
Every morning at 10:05 my buddy started receiving an email with all his client’s activity from the previous day. Of course, once the other service managers saw what he was getting, they all wanted in, and with SQL Reporting Services “Linked Reports” and “Subscriptions” it was just a matter of a few clicks and the whole team was set up.
This whole process started with just an informal discussion over a few slices of pizza. I’m not saying the formal processes for project development isn’t vitally important to organizations, but sometimes a quick hit is all that’s needed to solve a BIG problem… if you can get the right resources involved.