After 20 years developing digital solutions, I have concluded that companies are ill-served following the conventional software product development process. Bringing in a development team at the point of implementation is rolling the dice. Inevitably something is implied or assumed in the requirements, which often leads to misinterpretation or critical elements overlooked. The smarter choice is to bring a team in as early as the R&D stage.
Lessons learned on the Digital Frontlines
A crop insurance company was struggling to collect accurate data from policyholders. The company needed some way to take the burden off producers, simplify the process for agents, and validate the accuracy of claims. The data also helped ensure they were providing the right type of policies for the customers they insured.
The data integration involved multiple sources. The company had customers in all 50 states. They grew crops, raised livestock, and owned nurseries. Weather extremes, poor yields, commodity prices all presented different risks, requiring different policies and pricing, and integrating different data sources in different formats. It was critical to ensure the data’s consistency and integrity as it traveled through different software systems to the administrative portal where agents could access it.
The project was a big investment that ultimately paid off handsomely, but not before one oversight early in the process led to a $100,000 cost overrun. The requirements failed to include the technical system in which the platform would be deployed. The development team found themselves working within a closed system, a VPN that could not interact outside of their networking infrastructure.
‘How was this missed and how do we fix it?”
The only option at this late stage was to reengineer the original solution, so it could work within their technical environment. Had the technical team been involved in this conversation from the outset, it would have prevented the three-month setback.
Even with the delayed start and $100,000 added cost, the portal ultimately was a success. The first year the application increased the number of acres processed by 1900% for a tremendous savings in time, cost, and paperwork. The greatest benefit, perhaps, was shifting the burden from the producer to the agent and automating the process.
An aggressive timeline increases the odds of cascading risks
An aggressive timeline is a reality and risk factor in software development. Being first out of the gate can mean the difference between leading the market or following it, but condensed timelines can lead to myopic thinking in the rush to release a new product or feature. And the more complex the project, the greater the value of engaging an expert resource early in the planning process.
If a company is looking to change its pricing model, for example, the development team likely will be focused on the software application that stores the prices. But four other systems may need to interact with that pricing data, each requiring changes that may impact yet more applications. A technical partner experienced in end-to-end development can identify gaps that easily fly under the radar of an overtaxed internal team.
“If I have to teach one more developer about seeds…”
Skyward Apps client
Then there’s the value of domain experience out of the gate. Every commercial lead knows there is no room for error in agriculture. Planting dates and harvest dates are immutable. Missing a requirement can be significant enough to jeopardize the product’s release. Software engineers with ag experience are familiar with the technical realities and constraints. Consulting them early is your first line of defense.
Top software developers look for the best solution, not necessarily the most obvious one, and early guidance has been known to increase ROI by an order of magnitude.
We worked with a climatology firm that wanted to collapse its processing time to develop long-range predictive weather models. By inviting us to help think through the best approach, the technical solution improved response time by 5900%. That’s not a norm by any stretch, but it does demonstrate the potential value of having technical expertise from the start.
Is it time to bring in a senior solutions architect?
Here are some things to think about as you embark on a new digital solution:
- Can we calculate the risk reduction ROI?
- How much would early technical involvement add to the project cost or time estimate, and can we compare to the probability and impact of risk?
- Does the project involve end-to-end data integration?
- How can we work checks and balances into our software development requirements?
- What if we have to pare back on that digital solution?
Partnering with experts make work simpler and more predictable. No need to train. Faster to market. Higher quality products, fewer surprises, and no costly communication gaps.