Close partnerships with clients are the key to success for software development companies, says Kevin Phillips of idu Software. “Whether you’re developing for an individual consumer or for business, giving customers what they truly need and want is the best route to long-term success,” says Phillips.
Phillips says idu, which makes software to take the pain out of budgeting for mid to large businesses, likes to develop new functionality and modules in partnership with specific clients.
“Once we’ve identified a common need, we try to partner with the client who will generally have the most encompassing request,” he says. “That’s the best way to ensure we stay focussed on what the business needs, not what we think would be cool. It is a win-win, the client gets a product that fits them like a glove – and we get something that we add into our system for the benefit of our other clients.”
idu’s new Third Dimension analysis tool is a good example of this process in action, says Phillips. “More and more of our clients have a need to analyse their budgets and reports by segments of the account code, not just by account or by cost centre. For example, we had a university client who needed to segment their accounts according to different sources of revenue – government subsidies, student fees, donor funding and so on. It was possible within the existing system, but difficult and time-consuming. So we partnered with them to develop what we have termed the Third Dimension, which is now available to all our clients.”
Similarly, a new investment management module was initially developed to help one client in the financial services sector move its revenue budgeting and reporting away from Excel spreadsheets. “Excel is a wonderful tool, but it has definite limitations,” says Phillips. “The more complex the spreadsheets get, the more mistakes creep in, and they are often difficult to detect – as a result you can lose the integrity of your information. Having to share the information between multiple people compounds the problem. The only solution is to maintain all the data in a single central database – which is what our clients are now able to do.”
Both these enhancements to the core idu-Concept product were developed in direct response to client needs – something that is much easier for smaller companies, says Phillips. “One of the reasons we enjoy continuous growth yet maintain consistency is that we believe we’ve found a sweet spot. We’re big enough and have been around long enough to give our clients the security of an established, secure company, but small enough that they can still talk directly to the owners of the business. They tell us what they need, we listen, and when we move then things can get done quickly.”
Clients have also found it an advantage to deal with a locally based company, adds Phillips. “It’s not just the fact that we have a physical presence in South Africa and people can talk to us; it really counts that we understand the conditions our clients are facing. What works well in North America or Europe isn’t always the best fit here; local knowledge counts.”
In short, says Phillips, “Small, locally based software development companies have a distinct advantage. Growing a good business in IT is not always about trying to be the next Facebook or Google or Apple – there is a good future for agile, customer focussed niche players.”