Writing Makes You Think

Last night I tweeted an article about how writing makes you learn better. My experience isn’t so much with learning, but with organizing thoughts and problem solving.

When I have an email to write that is either full of many interconnected ideas, or is sensitive in nature, I reach for the pen and paper. The mechanics of physically writing the words are slow enough to allow my brain time to contemplate the larger point I am trying to make. Very rarely is my handwritten version typed verbatim; the published version is more succinct and concise. Fewer words mean less chance of misunderstanding, and this is critical when the wrong word can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

I also reach for my pen when I have a tough problem to solve. Trying to write a summary of the problem forces me to rethink the problem, and I usually don’t get the summary written down before I have a solution. This happens because I am forced to slow down and think about what I’m trying to convey.

The next time you find yourself in one of these situations, pick up a pen or pencil and start writing. The few extra minutes you spend organizing your thoughts will pay dividends in the long run.

(And yes, this post was drafted with pen and paper.)

Let the Computer do Your Dirty Work

You know those tasks that you have that keep coming up? The ones that are long and boring where you do the same thing every time? Maybe you have to do them every week or month. Or worse, maybe you have to do them every day. There’s a good chance that task (or process) can be automated. Let’s take a look at how and why you should automate your processes.

What Is Process Automation?

Automating a process is taking steps performed manually and turning them into code so the computer can do them. That’s pretty much it.

Benefits

Save time – If your process has 8 steps and each takes 1 minute, the time taken is 8 minutes. It’s a pretty good bet that you can take those 8 minutes and turn them into seconds. We recently took a client’s 3 hour process and reduced it to 5 minutes.

Reduce Errors – Computers are good at doing the same thing over and over. If you give it the same input, you’ll get the same output. Computers don’t make errors because they’re tired or because they forgot what they are doing before they went for lunch. Having your process automated means you’ll get the same consistent result each time, without errors.

Save Money – There is a small up-front cost for the development of the automation software. However, this cost is saved many times over once the software is used regularly. Using our client as an example, she’ll save almost 3 hours of expense per week by automating her process. Those 3 hours can now be used to create more product. This doubles the value of the time saved. Put another way, the time and effort that would have been wasted as expense can be used to create profit.

Take a look at the things you do. Ask yourself if you could benefit from automation. More likely than not the answer will be yes.

The Purpose of a Web Application

In the previous post, I gave some background on what a website is and why you might want to have one. This post describes another useful addition to your arsenal – the web application.

Web applications (or web apps) are programs on the internet that can be accessed in web browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, IE, etc). These programs can provide any kind of functionality that you need to help your business or organization run more smoothly. Some examples of web apps are product catalogs, search engines, project management tools, web mail, and the list goes on and on.

Web apps are very dynamic. They allow users to interact with your data to get the exact information they want. They are also very good at automating day-to-day tasks. Imagine a system that lists your inventory, shows related parts for a chosen item, and allows a user to order a part and have it shipped, all automatically. This site would automatically update for people as they used it – the number of parts in the system changes as the number of parts grows or shrinks. Keeping a static web site up-to-date with inventory, counts, orders, etc, would be so much work that it borders on impossible.

The key to a system like this is the database. A database is a place to keep your data, and is (usually) centrally accessed. This central access to data gives everyone the same view of the system (that there are no more replacement blades available, for example). Based on the data that is retrieved from the database, the web app chooses a course of action. By merging the dynamic abilities of the web app with the data storage/searching abilities of the database, you can create some very efficient and time-saving apps.

Web apps don’t have to be accessed by your customers. If you belong to an organization that has annual sign-ups, a web app can help store the registrant info and eliminate the hassle of a secretary entering data off of paper forms. The web app can show which classes are full and not allow any more registrants  for that class. Reports can then show how many sign-ups you have, how many girls vs. boys, and how much money you (should) have taken in. These reports can then be supplied to your governing body, if required. All of this comes with no extra effort on your part because the data that drives these reports is in your central database, and just needs to be accessed.

Web apps are pretty amazing. They can do anything you need them to. Because they are accessed over the Internet, anyone with a browser can use them. And because they are accessed in a browser, they integrate seamlessly with your web site. Most websites have a web app component for support questions or product catalogs.

Do you need a web app? That depends on a lot of things. Generally, if you have a process to automate or data to share, you could benefit from the advantages that a web app can offer. Consider the following questions as a starting point:

  • Do I have processes that could be automated or simplified?
  • Do I have data that should be centrally located so it is easy to share with others in my organization?
  • Do I need to periodically report on data that I accumulate?
  • Do I want/need to keep a closer eye on my inventory?
  • Do I want my customers to see that inventory?

In summary, web apps are great tools that integrate into your web site and save time and money.

The Purpose of a Website

Welcome to the Evening Design blog! My initial post discusses the purpose of a website.

What a Website Is

Your website is your little space in the online world where you get to showcase your brand. It’s your stake in the sand that declares “This is what I do!” or “This is who I am!” It’s the place where you tell people how your company got started, how they can contact you, and where you put your catalog/price list/menu. It’s where you share your poignant bloggable thoughts that enhance the depth of your offering. Your website has all the information about you or your business that people need to know.

Why You Need a Website

You put this information on your website so it becomes the one place that people go to learn about you. Your tweets, business cards, flyers, and Facebook status updates can only provide a limited amount of information. Your website is the information source that these social avenues lead back to so that people can explore and discover more about you or your business.

If you are looking to have an online presence or want to tweak your existing site, let us know, we’d love to help you come up with a solution.