Customization for Clients
The customer is always right, especially for customers who are paying for customization. But meeting a client’s specific business needs requires a development and design process. Open lines of communication are needed to customize an application effectively. In the past, businesses might have used a more traditional sales model or a non-automated process that was not application-driven. Preparation is needed to make sure business needs are translated into a linear or standardized process.
“The process revolves around conversations and meetings with the client to determine specifically what their needs are,” said Darren Hearsch, chief operating officer and senior developer at Objectware Inc. a software company specializing in the development and hosting of custom Web, mobile and wireless applications. “We have to sit down with people who often have their business needs fairly well defined, but they don’t necessarily understand all of the intricacies involved. That’s the challenge—to take these needs, wishes and ideas, and really make the client understand what limitations there are in terms of how people are going to interact with the application. Is security involved? How are back-end systems involved? It’s more of a large-architecture view all the way down to the actual details of who’s going to be using the system, how many and what are their different roles.”
Asking questions to find out who will use the system and how it will work for users is critical. “We usually just tell people to take us through your daily work,” Hearsch said. “As they do that I’ll stop them at certain points along the line and ask them, ‘When you do this, what happens at that point? What’s the chain of events?’ The goal is to think about these processes in terms of a loop of completion. Often you can’t do that dealing with a single person. You might have to interview one person, then get the next person in line. You have to take a process and trace it along its path, which might involve a long period of time. It might involve many different people or external people and vendors. You have to close the loop. Understand a process from start to finish. There are prompting questions, but trying to have a conversation with somebody about that is an intuitive process. You have to get in and put some conclusive understanding to how that process works.”
After the discovery process, there must be an assessment of the client’s existing infrastructure. According to Hearsch, many of Objectware’s larger projects involve clients that already have existing infrastructure, such as accounting systems or inventory management systems. If so, you have to ensure that the new application fits with the client’s existing infrastructure. “You have to be sensitive to that,” Hearsch said. “In other situations people don’t have that infrastructure, and it’s up to us to put it in place, which is a nice place to be because it gives you a little bit more flexibility. But we don’t run into that situation that often.”
Applications are usually designed from the user’s perspective because they should meet both the client’s requirements and the user’s requirements. Hearsch said technical considerations also play an important role in design because an organization’s software, hardware, networking and communication systems dictate how the business requirements will match its technical requirements.
“In certain situations business requirements might be dependent on technical information, and you certainly don’t want to design a process that you’ll have to go back and rethink because you didn’t take into account the technical aspects of it,” Hearsch said. “Coming in as an outside developer, you never know what the personality of the client is. Some have a very rigid IT department, and they’re very set in the way they do things. We have to conform to what they want to do. We have other situations where clients look to us to tell them what we think is the best way to set things up. It’s give and take, assessing the personality of the client and making sure that whatever we produce fits with their expectations.”
–Kellye Whitney, firstname.lastname@example.org