The Value of Transformational Software Projects: A Case Study
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At Worthwhile, we talk a lot about how software upgrades should bring value to a business.
We emphasize this because it really works.
Our client, Weber and Associates, proves it. Weber and Associates is a services firm that helps colleges and universities process financial aid decisions in accordance with federal law.
We talked to Joel Weber, the COO, about how software has helped their business gain efficiency and save money. He explained why he is so committed to continual improvement when it comes to software:
“Over the past five years, we’ve increased revenue per employee by over 60%, greatly improved production speed, and eliminated costly errors. But it’s not just about faster production and lower errors—it’s a morale enhancer. People want to be productive in their jobs, and if their tools enable them to do that, all the better. IT is a huge force multiplier to all parts of a business, positively or negatively, and can make things far better or far worse very quickly.”
Joel says that he has found that software improvements lead to a healthier work environment and greater employee engagement. That’s because these improvements actually give employees more purpose and meaning in their jobs. “Humans are terrible at data entry and terrible at repetitive tasks. People are meant to be thinking. Making software improvements is a tool to help you actually get more out of human capital.” At Weber, this means “trying to get as much deterministic data processing in the hands of computers, and get the grayscale judgment calls into the hands of people.”
Joel has found that this kind of employee engagement is a key milestone on the path to business transformation.
“One of the abstract values of software improvements is that they create a whole new reality that opens up numerous new, previously unseen opportunities and ideas because you’re not worrying about the same things. You’re engaging people’s natural creative abilities to create value.” This new reality, Joel says, is where innovation can really happen for a business.
Weber and Associates’ newest software success in a data integration project that accesses information from the Department of Education and its subcontractors. Weber built this solution in house using publicly available APIs to eliminate certain information silos and seamlessly integrate with external data sources. The results of this eight-week project are:
* Reduced errors from eliminating the need to manually enter data
* Reduced repeated data entry because all of Weber’s systems have access to this data
* Increased processing speed by 50-75%, allowing Weber to move its employees to more strategic tasks
Joel expects the company to recognize ROI from this change by the end of the 2nd quarter this year, which just goes to show why this project is already a huge win.
This is one example of a mindset of software improvements that Weber and Associates has embraced over the last five years. The overarching goal has been to accumulate and integrate data so that the company can let computers make 80% of the decisions about financial aid grants, so that humans can concentrate on the cases that really need care and attention. This workflow automation focus has allowed employees to focus on the parts of the business computers can’t do.
“We can do what we do with less staff working on data entry and data management activities,” Joel said. This allows the business to align its headcount with more strategic roles like data scientists, developers, business analysts, customer service, and sales, with only a few people focusing on processing financial aid exceptions and special cases.
And in a data-driven business, you can’t just automate data—you have to make sure data is shared across software applications and departments. This is a continual focus for Joel and the Weber and Associates team.
"When you start a services company, you naturally build up some information silos. When you grow up, you have to break those down and have an integrated solution for data capture, processing, storage, reporting, and exchange with outside customers, partners, and vendors,” Joel said.
Four Lessons for Your Business
Your business may not be financial aid, or even in the services realm. But Weber and Associates’ story has lessons that can apply to anyone. Here are four of the biggest ones:
One size doesn’t fit all
Weber’s success is in part due to a willingness to look at a bunch of different kinds of solutions. Their upgrades include:
* Data integration
* SaaS offerings (like Microsoft 365 and Sharepoint)
* Custom software development
* Internal-driven projects
* Externally contracted projects (like their website)
This is a key. Even though Worthwhile is a custom software development firm, we look at the same options, and choose different solutions tailored to specific needs. Your business should too.
It takes preparation
Joel said one key to the quick turnaround of the recent 8-week project was knowing what had to be done before work began.
“The importance of business analysis, requirements analysis, and stakeholder identification cannot be overemphasized. Involve actual users. Involve them in requirements process.”
It takes courage
Joel said that the hardest part of a software upgrade is not the technical work. It’s having the courage to push go—especially at the managerial level.
“The key is not the coding. We had to get the right people in the right seats. We needed a change agent in management to work in process improvement and automation and improvement who saw it as a win and not a threat to a job, who saw that this would make things better for their customers and for themselves.”
Even with an internal software project, you need to make sure that you know the connection to your customers.
“It’s got to have a good impact on your customers that they can feel and see.”