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Do You Need a Technology Consultant or a Freelancer? Here’s How to Decide

When it comes to navigating technical hurdles with grace and agility, there are a few options open to your business. Two of the most effective choices are hiring a technology consultant, (like the team here at BTC), or bringing in a freelancer on a one-off basis. But when is the “right” time for each of these options? In today's article, we’ll find out.

It’s no exaggeration to say that software implementations can make or break a business. When you’re looking for a solution that’s going to streamline your workflow and allow your employees to do their jobs better, getting it right is essential. Just as having the right tool for a DIY task can make all the difference, so too can choosing the right technical solution provider pay huge dividends. Having said that, you don’t always need to bring in the big guns for smaller tasks. Which raises a question: when do you need a tech consultant, and when will a one-off freelance contract be the better choice?

When to choose a technology consultant

There’s no getting around it: hiring a technology consultant is the more expensive choice. However, as you’re likely well aware, cost is often the least important factor – especially when it comes to software. A technology consultant is the clear choice for any task that requires a large scope, such as a multi-user system that will be used day-in and day-out. Likewise, a technology consultant is ideal if you know what the problem is, but you’re not sure of the solution. The reason? Well, a technology consultancy firm will have a huge toolkit and pool of experience to draw from. They can use this to analyse your unique challenges, then propose and develop a bespoke solution that’s 100% tailored to your business. Pretty neat, right? A technology consultant is the ideal choice for the development of large-scale software solutions that you’re planning to become a key component of your everyday business. When there’s little room for failure, or when time is tight, a tech consultant can be a real lifesaver.

When to choose a freelancer

An important part of running a business is prioritisation, and it’s this skill that’ll let you know when a freelancer could save you a bit of dough. Generally speaking, hiring in a freelancer on a one-off basis is going to be far less costly than a tech consultant – and for good reason. With resources, expertise, and experience limited to just one person, a freelancer is ideal for smaller jobs with a more narrow scope. For example, let’s imagine you have a few gigabytes worth of customer data that needs to be imported from one system to another. Tedious work, yes, but does it really require a bespoke solution designed from the ground up? Probably not. In this case, a freelancer is the perfect way to get the job done in good time without breaking the bank. Even better, freelance resources can be found in no time using one of the ubiquitous auction-style websites like oDesk or Upwork. One word of warning when heading into freelance contracts: manage your expectations!

 

How much does your project matter?

When it comes down to it, the decision about whether or not to hire a technology consultant or a freelancer is all about the scale of your project. No matter if you’re a start-up looking for a software backbone for your business, or a long-established firm who needs to step things up, any large-scale software project will always be handled better by a tech consultant. Ask yourself the question: how much does this project matter to the business? If we’re talking about mission-critical, high-value, day-to-day essential business factors, you’ll want to work with the best and have the job done to the highest possible standard. On the flipside, if you just want a few files moved around or to migrate to a new operating system, well, a quality freelancer will provide just what you need. Want to talk more about how a technology consultant could solve your business challenges? Get in touch with the BTC team today and we’ll help get you on the right track.

What's your thought process when it comes to deciding on a tech consultant or freelancer? If your business does things differently to our rationale, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below or via social media. And when you're ready to hire a technology consultant that really knows its stuff, the team at here BTC will be waiting to hear from you.

Software Developers vs. Technology Consultants: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to finding a new software solution for your business, you’re presented with a choice. Do you engage directly with a software development company, or take advantage of the guidance a technology consulting company can offer? In today’s article, we’ll give you the straight facts your business needs to make an informed decision.

It’s tough to underestimate the value of a good software implementation in a business. It can make the difference between a company thriving or struggling to keep up. Whether the software is designed for stock control, order processing, staff management, CRM, or anything else, the quality of the solution makes all the difference. Achieving this goal begins long before the first line of code is written, with a choice you need to make about going direct with a software developer or engaging with a technology consulting company.

Points of distinction

Perhaps the best place to start here is to explain the key differences between software developers and technology consulting companies. It’s easy to see why the line between the two may be blurry, so let’s break things down a little:

  • A software developer is focused solely on the creation and deployment of a software-based solution. As the client, you will provide a detailed brief of exactly what you want the software to do, and the developer will create this for you. Because developers work to spec, you need to be absolutely pinpoint during the briefing process, because there is usually little room for movement once a brief has been finalised.
  • A technology consulting company won’t actually start with the software, but rather it’ll start by looking at your business. You will naturally need to provide a rough goal for the software, but the actual specs (and brief) will be handled by the consulting company. Their team will look at your business and perform an in-depth analysis of exactly where your core value lies. From here, they’ll be able to make technology-based recommendations about how you can best maximise this value, and this includes the potential development of software solutions.

If you’re still a little fuzzy on exactly how a technology consulting company differs from a software developer, don’t worry. Let’s make things clearer with an example.

The core contention, visualised

Imagine that you want to build a vehicle to take you from A to B. You probably already know that a car is the most popular form of transport, and that it’ll likely do a serviceable job. Now let’s imagine that you take your idea to both a software developer and a technology consulting company. To highlight the differences between these two options, here’s how each one would treat this request:

  • The software developer would ask for a specific description of the vehicle you’d like to build, and you’d mention cars being the most popular choice. From here, they’d probably build you a perfectly good car that’ll perform the job exactly as you’d imagine. You’ll get from A to B as expected, and in good time, but it may not be the fastest or smoothest ride.
  • A technology consulting company would do things a little differently. They’d take your ideas about cars being a good choice, but they’d also take the time to explore all the other options too. This may include testing out other forms of transport – cars, boats, planes – to see which one got you there faster. They’d build a prototype, test it themselves, see where improvements can be made, then build another one. This process would continue until they had the optimal solution to your original problem, at which point you’d be well on your way from A to B in the shortest possible time.

It’s as easy (or as hard) as you make it

What this decision really comes down to is the scale of the business challenge you want to solve. If it’s a straightforward logistical issue with a clear solution, a software developer should be able to help. However, if you’re not 100% clear on how the issue should be solved, or you want to ensure the solution is streamlined and optimised, a technology consulting company can come in very handy indeed. Not only will they guide you through the various solutions open to you, but they’ll also handle all of the legwork too. So while your solution is being tested, tweaked, and perfected behind the scenes, you can focus on the important stuff – like the day-to-day running of your business.

Do you think we’ve covered all the bases here, or is there a distinction we’ve missed? Whatever your opinion, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or via any of our social media profiles. And if you’re not yet familiar with Better Technology Consulting, and how we can help your business discover the right software, please feel free to explore the site now.

The Fine Art of Balancing Usability with Functionality

When it comes to developing software, there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all. In fact, one of the toughest jobs for any developer is to create software workflows that are simple for beginners, but also scalable enough for advanced users. In today's article, we’ll explore how to strike this delicate balance.

This software balancing act really comes down to two things: usability and functionality. The former refers to making applications easy to use from the starting blocks, so even brand new users can navigate the software with relative ease. The former, on the other hand, refers to providing the maximum number of functions to the user – thereby making the software more powerful and, arguably, better at its job. So let's jump in and explore some strategies that developers can use to keep this balance on an even keel.

Strategy #1: Cater to both audiences

Perhaps the preferred solution for users and developers alike, the first strategy we’ll discuss is the idea of building the software with no restrictions at all, and then locking down advanced functions. For example, imagine a piece of software for connecting to the internet; for most users, it’s a matter of typing in the Wi-Fi password and clicking a button. But advanced users may want to configure DNS settings, static IP addresses, and so on. In this case, it’s easy for a developer to create a menu of functions in a dedicated Advanced section accessible by a single button. To spin this another way, developers may even want to create two modes which users can toggle between: basic and advanced. This way, the decision is with the user, making the software more flexible.

Strategy #2: Signpost the software

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying that tooltips and other forms of text guidance in software perform a valuable function. This form of signposting is particularly handy when it comes to guiding users who may be new to the application. In fact, in many businesses, UX (user experience) designers are being paired with UX copywriters whose job it is to write this text that informs and instructs users in how to achieve their goals in the software. In the best cases, this text-based content can be bolstered with videos and only made visible when the user explicitly asks for assistance – hence the necessity for clickable tooltips. By signposting applications in a smart way, developers are able to make even advanced functions accessible to beginners – effectively striking the all-important balance between usability and functionality.

Strategy #3: Keep things simple

There’s a reason that those UX designers we mentioned earlier exist, and much of it has to do with some developers’ tendencies to ‘kitchen sink’ software development. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you’re developing a tool to perform a specific task, you naturally want it to carry out as many ancillary functions as possible at the same time. But from a development (and user experience) point of view, this can lead to cluttered interfaces which can be off-putting to users. One solution to this problem is to focus on usability first, by designing a UI which caters to the core function of the software, and then add options which increase functionality at the request of the user. For example, imagine you have a list of rows where users can type in up to 100 product names. You could include 100 empty rows to give the user room, but it may be better to start with 5 empty rows, then add a simple + button to manually add more empty rows. This is just one small example, but it speaks to a design philosophy that manages to balance usability and functionality in a very real way.  

Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to software ease-of-use? Whether you're a beginner feeling a little swamped or an advanced user frustrated with lack of functionality, we'd love to hear from you in the comments below or via social media. And of course, if you'd like to know more about the smart way that our team at BTC develops software, explore our website now or call any time on 0208 144 3900.

5 Things to Consider When Driving Adoption for New Software

Nobody likes change, and nowhere is that more true than the world of software.  Consider the public reaction when popular sites like YouTube or Facebook change their layout. But just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s something to avoid – and in many cases, it would actively help the user.

Low adoption rates can be the bane of any software company, but there are plenty of tactics you can employ to drive greater adoption without too much added stress. Here are some easy ways to boost your software adoption.  

1. Position your software as a ‘push’ or a ‘pull’

Broadly speaking, there are two different ways that new software will be adopted by staff: either it’s ‘pushed’ on them by company policy, or they’re ‘pulled’ towards it by virtue of the fact that it genuinely helps them do their job. When trying to maximise new software adoption, it’s always a good idea to focus on the benefits to the user – both in the short and long term.

2.  Ensure your users actually need it

Before you even consider a change in software solutions, be sure that your users really need it. Generally speaking, you should avoid making changes for the sake of making changes. One idea is to run a survey prior to development to identify the level of need for the new software. If workflows are working just fine as they are, you’ll have your answer – and vice versa. 

3.  Find your champions

It is inevitable that some users will be more engaged than others; leverage this by convincing them to become your ‘champions’ who are willing to promote the benefits of it, train other users and provide comprehensive feedback.  Be prepared to offer 'sweeteners' such as specific features that they will benefit from in order to get these users on board.  Front-line champions are vital to successful adoption.

4.  Keep your roadmap open

It’s never fun to fumble around in the dark, and the same can be said for software. To get users both using and engaging with new software, it’s a good idea to be open and honest about the product’s roadmap. By signposting key features that will be available down the line, you can encourage users to make the most of software now, so that they can hit the ground running when the ‘killer feature’ they really want is introduced.

5.  Focus on a smooth user experience from day one

Software is always easier to adapt to when it just works. There are few better ways to guarantee low adoption than to provide software which is buggy, crashes often, or just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. Smooth adoption happens when you create that magic balance of software that improves workflows, and does it in a way that’s fast, smooth, and easy. 

These are just a handful of ways you can improve user adoption of your software. For more ways to make software even easier to use, get in touch with us today. 

What Makes BTC Different?

Building a business from the ground up is no small task. But with a little technical know-how, a pinch of luck, and a lot of hard work, Better Technology Consulting is truly here to stay. In today’s blog post, we’d like to explain a little about where we came from – and exactly how our past helps us stay focused on our future.  

Better Technology Consulting (BTC) is the brainchild of a technology geek who spent years as both a City trader and management consultant.  After getting bored of the "intangible" solutions that many consultancies were selling with little measurable impact, he soon realised that he could leverage his experience and channel it into developing real solutions for a huge range of companies, particularly by streamlining and automating processes through smart use of technology.

Smart. Simple. Focused.

So how exactly does BTC set itself apart from the pack? Well, we like to think there are multiple answers to that question, but there’s one that’s at the heart of every project – and that’s client-focus.

We don’t mean simply looking at what a business needs strategically in the long-term, but also looking at a more granular level by engaging with the users themselves. It’s amazing how quickly core issues can be identified when we see them first-hand.

Here’s a good example of this: one of our national clients had a few problems with a shared MS Excel spreadsheet that its sales teams were using. Put simply, there were too many people trying to use it at once, which made it slow, unstable and a pain to use.   The client suggested that we upgrade it to an MS Access-based database, however we knew that meant that each salesperson (who could be based anywhere) would need to be using a computer with MS Access installed in order to update their sales.  

After we spoke to the end-users themselves, it became apparent that the ideal solution would be something that could be updated from anywhere, and not require any new software.  Alongside that, a few extra requests cropped up, such as in-built reporting. 

Our solution? To develop a bespoke web-based application that could be accessed from anywhere with a connection to the client’s VPN (for security) and would grow with the team. A separate section on the website would host the in-built reporting and breakdowns and that was updated in real-time, every time a user entered information.  It didn’t take long for our client to accept our proposal and hop on board.

“Start small, and work with agility”

There’s an inherent risk with any software project that what you plan for might not be what you really need. Rather than waiting until the testing phase to discover potential pitfalls, here at BTC we do things a little differently. (And, dare we say it, better).

As part of our standard practice, we get involved in the design process as early as possible. This allows us to crystallise the essence of the project up-front. We start with a small team to keep initial costs down, then quickly create a working prototype of our proposed solution. This part is essential, because if everything goes right, the bulk of the budget can then be dedicated to something we already know will work.

Smart stuff, eh? At BTC, we use the well-known Agile methodology, meaning we develop in bite-sized chunks with time set aside for testing and feedback. This gives clients directional control of development, and keeps everyone on-target every step of the way.

Laying the groundwork for the road ahead

At BTC, we’re not satisfied until we’re sure our software is being used to its full potential. The best app in the world won’t do anyone any good if nobody uses it, which is why we focus on user adoption from an early stage.   We have a number of tools in our toolkit that we use to drive adoption early on, including a focus on the direct benefit to the user, documentation, training videos, and live demos.

We lay the groundwork from the start to ensure that the road ahead is smooth for both the software and the people who are actually using it every day. Even better, our unique design philosophy means that the software we deliver can be expanded and upgraded should the need arise.

It’s all part and parcel of the BTC philosophy, and it’s just one of the reasons that we’re the perfect choice for business software solutions.

The BTC team is always interested in what the community has to say, so please feel free to share, like, or let us know what you think in the comments below. Want to know even more about BTC? Don’t hesitate to check out the rest of our website or get in touch for a quick chat about your project.

 

Welcome to the BTC blog!

We’ve had a very busy few months since our incorporation, but it's about time for us to get involved with the business and software development community by sharing our views on industry topics that we feel are important to us and our clients.

Our goal is to kick-off a discussion around current issues in the business technology world, discuss our experiences, talk about lessons learnt and share our company philosophies with the wider community.

Our hope is that you’ll find our content interesting, get involved with the discussion to make us all more knowledgeable and improve the services we offer.

We are very interested in connecting with all types of readers, from fellow developers to IT project managers, end-users or even just BTC friends who have an interest in business software or technology consulting - we’d like to invite you to join in with the community by sharing, liking or commenting on any of our blog posts.

And if any of our content ever strikes a chord with you, please don’t hesitate to check out the rest of our website or get in contact with us for a quick chat about your project.