"Is this possible?
This is by far the most common question one hears when discussing software. The answer is yes 99% of the time. There is very little that software can't do these days. So the first step an FE&S company needs to take to improve their software capabilities is to remove that disbelief on what's possible.
Why is virtually anything possible with software? Your organization’s processes can almost always be broken down into a set of defined rules or instructions that govern what actions or decisions are made. A software program is simply a set of rules or instructions for the hardware on your computer to run. Therefore, you can take any of your organization’s processes and recreate them inside a software program.
Importantly, it's never been easier and cheaper to develop these programs due to advancements in cloud computing and open source software. In the past, companies had to buy and manage expensive physical servers to store and process data. Today, they can leverage cloud computing platforms like Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud. This converts their storage and compute needs from expensive and fixed capital expenditures to significantly cheaper operating expenses (pay for what you need). In addition, software developers around the world are creating new open source software libraries that can be re-used by anyone free of charge. You rarely have to build new technology from scratch. As a fun example, I recreated a text-based version of the popular game Wordle in 10 minutes with less than 40 lines of code for free. You can check it out here: Wordle - Replit.
Let’s take an example of something we’re actively developing inside our Centerpiece platform: Installation Scheduling. Below I’ll show how it can be broken down into a simple set of step-by-step instructions. From there, custom software can automate and/or streamline each step dramatically.
Install Scheduling Steps
- If the installers are already known, the PM selects to schedule the installation manually. They add in the dates and installers, click a button, and an Outlook event is created that syncs with Centerpiece.
- If the installers need to be found, the PM selects to send availability requests. They add the list of installers to message, the install dates, job location, and all required documentation. They can also ask for cost estimates.
- These installers receive an email where they can respond with their availability and cost. The PM sees these responses in real-time inside the platform.
- Once all installer responses are received, the PM can select a winner which will then automatically create the event inside Centerpiece and send an Outlook event.
- The PM can then track all of their installations across all of their projects in their master calendar. Any edits in Centerpiece will flow through Outlook.
There are many parallels between software and commercial kitchen design. The key with both is to identify the objectives and constraints (the collective rules) and then design from scratch the most efficient solution that will stay within those rules. There is very little that isn't possible when designing a kitchen but there is quite a lot that doesn't fit within the operator's objectives and constraints (budget). It's the same thing with software.
This article doesn't prescribe a specific approach as there are many approaches you can take to develop better software capabilities. Companies can hire their own software development teams, they can partner with existing software companies that service their industry, or they can hire custom software development firms. Each of these approaches comes with it's own set of costs, benefits, and risks. The how is much less important than the when. The FE&S companies that leverage better software today will almost certainly take market share from the ones that wait until tomorrow.
I'll finish this newsletter by highlighting that despite the catchy headline, software does in fact have limits. Computers can do certain things way better than us - they can store more data, process it faster, and they never make calculation errors. The power of software is that it automates the boring stuff your team hates doing so they can focus on the critical work that computers can't do: finding new customers, servicing existing ones and building more enduring and profitable business relationships.
Technology will not replace humans. It is humans using technology that will replace the humans that don't.