App-titude

Everything’s an app but is an app everything?

In the old days, when I was young and Moby Dick was still a minnow, we worked with databases; that was what they were and what we called them.  The term ‘database’ however was widely misunderstood and, some people even made the sign of the cross, when they heard it said out loud!

Nowadays, everything is called an ‘App’ (short for ‘application’; at least that’s what I think it’s short for but what do I know!).  

Apps do everything and are everywhere.  Your smart phone runs apps that, 10 years ago, would have been regarded as an impossible dream.  Apps manage every aspect of your business life and a lot of your personal life but without understanding the power of an app, and what it can do for you or your business, most apps, like most movies, are a B grade at best and only a very few ever reach the A grade.

But let me let you into a little secret; Apps are just another database but they’re cool where databases are not.  Clark Kent isn’t cool until he changes into Superman; Peter Parker is a geek until he turns into Spiderman.

But as cool as apps are, they are still widely misunderstood and misused especially when they are used for collecting data.  In business, the data you collect is vitally important but only if you actually look at, analyze and use it.  If you just collect it and do nothing with it, it gathers dust until such a time when it gets thrown away and you’ll have lost a treasure trove.  I used to run a big art gallery and we recorded every single sale in a custom application.  We captured the time and date of every sale which is normal but what wasn’t, was that we looked at all of the sales for a three month period and realized that our ‘best’ selling time was between 3pm and 5.30pm on Wednesday.  Nobody could ever figure out why, but it was consistent, month after month, year after year so what we did was add more sales people to the floor during those hours and yes, it paid big dividends; not every week, of course but often enough to make the decision a sound one.

Many years ago, when I was first starting out with FileMaker, my brother had a freight forwarding company and for each shipment, he had to produce up to 11 different documents., all hand typed.  Assuming no mistakes were made, a complete set of documents could be produced in about 45 minutes and then they had to be checked by someone else for errors; let’s say another 10 minutes so 55 minutes in total to produce a perfect set of documents.  While he was away on vacation, I built him a very simple app that produced that same set of documents in less than 11 minutes; all the user had to do was type the information into a series of fields on a single data entry screen.  At the end of that process, somebody checked the record for accuracy and then all of the documents were printed out.  When my brother came back, we had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: “I built you an app to automate your document production.”

Him: “We don’t need it.”

Me: “You can do a complete set in 11 minutes, instead of 45”.

Him: “We don’t need it.”

Me: “Sit down and put a booking in for me, NOW!”

Him: “I don’t have time”.

Me: “Just do it!”

After 7 minutes of data entry (and a lot of muttering under his breath), the first of the documents started spitting out of the printer and 4 minutes later, he was on the phone, ordering 3 new computers.  26 years later he’s still using that same app to produce his documents and buys a top of the line new Jaguar every year which, by the way, he won’t let me drive; that’s gratitude for you.

So, although everything’s an app, not all apps are business related and many of them are just suitable for passing time. such as when you’re at the doctor’s for a 3pm appointment and you’re still sitting in the waiting room at 5.15; or maybe that’s never happened to you!

But, if you are running a business and if you want to run it well, then you need something with the app-titude to do it.  Be careful though because if you use the word ‘database’ somebody within hearing distance is going to be uncomfortable.

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