Custom Software Apps & SharePoint Consulting

How to think about software if you’re not a software engineer

I’m not Entrance’s typical employee. I love technology, but don’t consider myself technical. Ask any of our programmers – I’m the canary in the mine here. If there’s a way to break something, I’ll manage to do it – with my aura alone. But being surrounded by brilliant software minds is kind of catching: Even with my propensity to ‘break’ computers, I’ve learned to love metrics and automation. I thought I’d share my beginner’s guide to understanding how to think about software for business. I hope it’ll help any other non-techies appreciate software’s growing role in our lives!

I’m not a natural at software, but I’ve discovered that I am a natural at metrics and have completely fallen in love with them. I jumped from marketing space technology to software a few months ago, with the instinct that software is key to technology advancement (after seeing it created for the world’s largest nuclear fusion facility, ITER). I’ve joined a great team of people, have been introduced to super-efficient technology, and have kept my ears open enough to hear the warning bells ringing that it’s no longer just rocket scientists and gamers who drive the next steps in software – the speed of business is changing. We’re at a crucial moment where everyone needs software – from field ticket management to executive dashboards it’s happening whether you’re savvy or not. And this is the moment to decide to sink or swim. Businesses are being inundated by an ‘info-lanche’ to quote Andrea Kates in ‘Business Genome’. Are you comfortable with that much data? Are you ready to work with it? When I got inundated, I learned to swim – so let me share my floaty!

Software isn’t just for nerds anymore!

I’m extremely right-brained. I see patterns easily, but I’m not a very structured thinker – I’m intuitive and creative instead. Yet somehow our engineers have bridged that and made systems work the way I think! I had two very separate moments of clarity this week about how universal ‘metrics’‘key performance indicators’‘feedback loops’ and ‘workflows’ really are. One was at physical therapy (no kidding – just had surgery on my knee last month) and one was in my role as a marketing manager guiding our rebrand.

Metrics in Sports Medicine

There’s a machine at the Ironman clinic where I do physical therapy that lets me ‘play games’ while strengthening my knee.

Let’s take the simplest game as our example – it’s like Pong. The plank at the bottom of the screen moves left and right as I bend and straighten my knee (and oh man does bending and straightening hurt one month out of surgery). The software is a simple way to explain all of the metrics good software should give to let you know where you stand:

  1. A)Feedback loop: I get immediate feedback that keeps me engaged despite the burning thighs. It’s all about instant gratification – my score goes up when I manage to bounce a ball back upward, and falls when I can’t get there in time. And of course, things turn red – which is never good, and as a perfectionist I’ve got to go in and get my score back on track.
    B)     Workflows: It remembers who I am, sets up specific targets for me and I get to play X number of games, with a break of Y (not enough) seconds in between. Seems so easy – but when I saw my trainer customize it with three clicks, I knew that it was just right for me – and that I could do it on my own.
    C)     Key performance indicators: Before starting I get a quick score overview that not only lets me know how I did on this game last time, but how I’ve done on other games – showing me where to concentrate most.
    D)     Metrics:  The biometric software gives me not only feedback on the spot but summaries at the end. I know where I stand both going into and coming out of the workout, and I know that the next time I step up to that machine it’ll re-engage me and guide me to that next step toward being able to run again. Status known, goals set, what more could I want?You can call me a super-nerd if you’d like for spending my time at PT thinking about these things. But ask any marathon runner – there’s not much else to think about 1.25 hours into a workout.

Software for Marketing

I expected, and you’d expect, that as a Microsoft Partner, we’d work with all the latest and greatest software – and we do. But I never realized how much I could love working with good software that’s made to work like me. I knew it would save time, but it also motivates me, helps guide decisions, lets me not sweat the small stuff and keeps the forest and the trees in balance on my radar.

  1. I love SharePoint: We just migrated to Office 365 and our new SharePoint Team Lead taught me how to assign tasks, create automated pings when I add data that’s important to certain people, have a tracked team discussion about a topic we’re not sure of so that we always know what we’ve talked about – even if we haven’t formalized documentation yet. All of these are extremely compelling functions of the work environment. Also, since we’re rebranding, I get to go in brand it to reflect the direction we’re going! This way we consistently represent ourselves both internally and externally. I also can’t wait to promote our company culture that’s so dear to my heart with the fun social aspects of Office 365 and SharePoint 2010.
  2.  Think like a marketer, structure like a programmer: We’re creating a new website as we speak – and I’m going through and making sure that we have all of the content to match all of the potential goals of our visitors. There’s a great little diagram from Eloqua which grids content types with buyer decision making process. So moving this into the way we do business I started thinking that the best way to make sure that our audience is covered is to create content to match our 4 main industry types, 4 main buyer needs, and the 4 buyer stages toward wanting to work with is. Now, as someone who is fascinated by the concept of a ‘datacube’ but has never worked with one, it took me a while to settle on this cube pattern – and now with that and the pages everyone needs (about us, careers etc.) I should have my bases covered. I’m now using SharePoint and tagging to put all of our content into one area, tag it and then find our gaps. This way I know where I need to be writing more content, where I need to be editing what we already have, and where we already have enough!
  3. Making it personal: As part of our rebrand, we’re looking into what our visitors are interested in knowing about us. Part of the fun is creating heat-maps with imposed metrics. I sent this image around at the end of the day yesterday, and suddenly after having attempted a few times to let people know that keeping a current picture and bio matters, our sociable but humble software consultants are flocking to show off not only their new beards (no kidding) but their experience, interests and expertise. Of course, to generate interest I titled it ‘Boys > Girls’ and I think that worked quite well to start the inputs toward showing off our awesomeness as a company as we move toward our new site!
  4. Bring home the bacon with KPI’s: This is the biggie. Between Pardot (my marketing software automation tool) and Mycrosoft Dynamics CRM, I can go in to my CEO’s office and say hey, this week we have more visitors, and engagement is up, but we have touched fewer of them personally, and our opportunity generation has dropped. How should we go about reconnecting? And where are the opportunities we’re missing based on this data? Marketing used to be very theoretical, and while it’s still retained the creativity I love, I’m no longer working on instincts alone, but proving and disproving them with relevant and recent data. I’ve always needed creative release, and have also always loved scientific processes. I am really happy to have found a place where those two live in harmony!

Metrics = insightful, informed decision making

In my first posts, you can tell I was testing the waters moving from my aerospace comfort zone into thinking like a software engineer, but now I’ve seen the impact to my effectiveness first hand, and have learned to trust our engineers to think like engineers – and therefore let me think like me. The end result is accessible information that’s valuable to me, when and where I need it. If you had 15 minutes today would you know where to spend it based on real-time data? I do now and it’s made all the difference.

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