Analysis: The link between operations and strategy

Why analyze? And why now?

The IT press is currently full of stories about a recent trend; the increasing using of data analysis to built competitive advantage.  Analysis is coming into its own as service sector organisations realise that they can get real time answers to fundamental questions such as, what efficiency improvements are possible in my internal systems? How quickly are we handling customer complaints? Or what exactly are customers responding to in my marketing campaigns?

agileBase has caught this zeitgeist and now allows SMEs to visualise their data in the same way that larger organisations take for granted.

The new agileBase dashboard has operational, tactical and strategic charting features with highlights including:

  • automated reporting of unusual data, to aid data cleansing without requiring additional staff time
  • automated reporting of missing data in key fields
  • simple visualisations for any relevant metrics
  • side by side viewing of charts from different data sources to aid decision making
  • utilisation maps to show which areas of the business are important to users and which under-utilised, to help in evaluating investment strategies

agileBase Dashboard helps executives “see” their organisation in full, using data that’s traditionally been spread across a myriad of spreadsheets and other software tools. Where agileBase is already used for

  • CRM
  • marketing
  • learning/training systems
  • managing assets
  • customer complaints
  • etc.

then all of this data is already collected and shared amongst relevant staff. Just get in touch to enable a free dashboard evaluation and find out about the new features that allow insight into your own data.

New for April/May

Despite certain staff being incapacitated abroad during this month’s volcano ash flights shutdown, we’ve still managed to get out some major feature releases and updates requested by clients.

First is our executive dashboard, available as an addon – it’s now ready for initial users to play with.

The second is the ability to set any field in agileBase as mandated – i.e. a user has to fill in a value when editing a record. If they don’t, the effects are

  • the record is locked until the field is filled in
  • an exception will be shown in the new dashboard visible to managers

The third is an improvement to summary charts. You can now create charts that show cumulative totals and counts, e.g. running totals of a value as time progresses.

Of course, all these and other updates are immediately available to everyone using agileBase and remember, there’s no charge for adding additional users. You can share your company information with as many staff and selected outside users as you need to without additional purchases or the need to install software. Think of the comparison with other software you may have tried!

Here’s to a sunny and busy May!

Dashboard preview

The agileBase dashboard has entered internal beta testing and barring significant problems will be released next month as an add-on. We think this will add a lot of value for executive level staff or anyone who might benefit from a complete overview of the whole system.

It’s not production quality, there are still features to tune and issues to resolve, but if any clients are interested in getting an early preview and giving feedback on direction, please contact cliff@gtwm.co.uk to be set up.

v2.6 charting video demo

Release 2.6 of agileBase introduces some new ways to chart data. Here’s a five minute video that shows how to make the most of the new features for tactical analysis, creating, filtering and manipulating data charts.

agileBase

What’s new?

GT portalBase has a new name, agileBase. The working title ‘GT portalBase’ was overdue for replacement and the new name simply reflects the nature and purpose of the product, an agile development platform – development with agileBase allowing back office software to be

  • just in time (that is, this week and $ rather than next year and $$$$$)
  • just enough (rather than being swamped by bloatware and complex user interfaces)
  • just for us (customisable to business needs and processes)

Log in at www.agilebase.co.uk/start (the old domain will continue  to work as well)

What else?

Today’s release of version 2.5 also adds the ability to create as many summary charts as you like per view – more details in the docs

And coming up

We’re not just changing things on the surface, there are exciting things in the roadmap for the near future. The next development will be a custom addon that adds an executive dashboard covering the entire set of modules in your organisation’s setup, to give a ‘helicopter view’ of all the data as well as automatically highlighting likely exceptions and recent changes. More news on this blog soon…

GTpB 2.4 – build custom templates

Simplifying the building of custom templates has been the main focus for the newest release of GT portalBase this week, version 2.4.

Template plugins in portalBase are used when you need to display data in your own custom formats. For example, one template may be needed to print an invoice, another to generate the text of an email and a third to display timeline data in GANTT chart format.

During the development of portalBase, the focus has been on power and flexibility in the templating API. However, clients are now expressing an interest in building interface plugins themselves using templates.

After a long while mulling over templating improvements, we’ve come up with a set of changes that greatly simplify template building while maintaining backward compatibility. The templating language, Apache Velocity is already very easy to use which is a big help. With the new simplified API for accessing and displaying data, anyone who has a basic understanding of web page authoring should be able to add in data pulled from portalBase.

To go with this release, we’ve also spent some time evaluating a number of template development environments, from code editors to WYSIWYG graphical drag and drop systems. Please feel free to get in touch to discuss which applications may suit your needs.

Strategy in IT

With the whirlwind of development and recent announcements about portalBase, it’s time to take a step back and think about why we’ve been making these improvements and what it all adds up to as a whole.

Lets think about how IT can work in various strategy scenarios:

  • Best of suite: your organisation attempts to buy the best all singing, all dancing ERP suite that can be found, geared to handling all of your important needs. Great! This can work smoothly for core and stable areas of business. However if you need to adapt, change, learn and explore new areas, it’s likely this won’t cover everything. In fact, even if one could buy a system that had everything you could need built in it would probably be so complex it would sink the organisation that tried to adopt it
  • Best of breed: a popular approach is to purchase lots of piecemeal products that do one thing each and do it well. This is often the ‘default’ approach used by organisations who don’t really think strategically about IT. Integration generally isn’t considered at purchase time. It can be done but at the cost of fragility – one small update or change can magnify down the line causing expensive unforseen consequences. An alternative is to not bother, resulting in silos of separate data and people lost in a flurry of spreadsheets flying around.
  • Bespoke: popular once, until purchasers realised how expensive the ultimate development cost was and how  s l o w  change requests were to action. Interestingly it seems a lot of government projects still take this approach
  • Agile platforms: are a recent development that’s proven popular when used as a wrapper around ‘best of suite’ or as a quick prototyping and learning application. They do however have technical limits and aren’t a cure for all ills.

Our background in Lean thinking and ten years’ experience in the IT sector has given us a strong set of core beliefs about the direction that IT in the business is headed in, for leading organisations.

With portalBase we’ve had a chance to put this learning into action.

We find that ERP suites, vertically tailored applications and the like, commonly suit the core day to day tasks that any particular business needs to get done to function. However, there’s an astonishing amount of agro. that can be caused if a company tries to be at all entrepreneurial and branch off into other areas – either they don’t have the IT support necessary, which causes artificial constraints or the pain of dealing with suppliers is too great from a blood pressure or a cost (or both) point of view.

However an expandable platform that allows quick development (and teardown if necessary) together with visibility into how the data is being used, provides the lightweight support necessary for growing, without getting in the way.

Please feel free to comment and see you again soon. We look forward to continuing to build in cutting edge technology while we learn with new and existing clients.

YouTube integration

Why, you might ask, make youtube integration a priority for a business tool such as portalBase? Recently we came across an interesting radio broadcast of the BBC’s ‘In Business’ programme which focussed on how 21st century organisations are becoming ‘learning’ organisations – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lszhn

It described how even very large scale organisations are looking to speed up the roll out new learning and abilities by bypassing the more traditional and bureaucratic approaches. A major part of this new approach involves allowing staff to generate short, ‘amateur’ training videos and resources that are posted on youtube. These resources can be particularly effective precisely because they originated from internally staff members with the relevant knowledge and experience.

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=double+entry+bookkeeping

At GTwM we’ve taken inspiration from this and built in direct integration with sites like http://www.youtube.com and http://www.vimeo.com into our agile development platform GT portalBase. Just paste a video URL into any text field and the video will appear in place in the interface. The normal youtube ‘full screen’ button can be used to zoom and play the video. Any other information you want to keep in your database can then be added such as who’s viewed each resource or the departments it’s useful for.

Aside from content that can be generated in-house and uploaded to online services, there are many existing learning resources online that cover many areas, from the general through to specific narrow areas for particular skills.

Why Open Source?

After four years of development GT portalBase is still a truly innovative product.

However increasing interest from a variety of organisations means we have become aware that adopters will be looking to use the product in a variety of different ways.

We have decided to make GTpB Open Source for two reasons. To allow organisations the technical freedom to implement their systems in ways that match their needs and to give them the commercial peace of mind that comes with having full access to the source code.

Nous voir à Paris

pgdayeu09.medium_banner2.enWe are also pleased to announce that Oliver will be presenting a talk at the European PostgreSQL database conference in November titled ‘Introducing portalBase – agile database development with PostgreSQL’.

As you may know, PostgreSQL is the enterprise class database at the heart of portalBase. We are proud to be Bronze Partner of European PGDay 2009.