Blog: Bill Wagner & Dianne Marsh

My, how the ENIAC has grown! Southeast Michigan's IT companies, often overshadowed by snazzier startups, are in prosperous mode. Meet Bill Wagner and Dianne Marsh, co-founders of Ann Arbor software firm SRT Solutions. Their blog? The challenges of growing a tech biz and how the tech community is supporting the region.

Dianne Marsh - Post 2: Software to Help Companies Grow

Most companies rely on software for business functions.  How can software help your business grow?

Do you consider yourself a software company?  Unless you're a big company, the answer is probably not.  But at the same time, it probably does play a significant part in your business.  Accounting, sales and customer management, and word processing software are common to nearly every business.  Just as a phone was essential to business in decades past, email and online calendaring are ubiquitous now. 

Beyond the common features, businesses take advantage of software in other ways.  From keeping track of time spent on projects, for project tracking or billing purposes, to providing and updating marketing information online through websites, even today's smallest businesses make extensive use of software.

In years past, companies had to develop software to meet most of their needs.  Most of us have written time tracking software and many of us experienced the early days of data storage and retrieval.  Back in the mid-80s, my first job was with LECO Corporation in St. Joseph, MI.  At that time, LECO, a Michigan owned company started in 1936, built laboratory instruments and developed software to both control the instruments and to analyze the results. 

In many cases, custom software is no longer necessary. Off-the-shelf packages, configurable for most uses, are available and much less expensive than developing proprietary code.  While I haven't kept up with what LECO has been doing with their software in the past 20 years, I'm not surprised that its website shows screenshots of commercial software.  By focusing their efforts on the unique aspects of their business, freed from the expense of developing and maintaining software to control the instruments, companies like LECO are able to focus on their core strengths.

Even companies who don't deliver software often make extensive use of it in the design and manufacturing of their products.  Off-the-shelf software can be used to build incredibly complex simulations quite capable of mimicking real-world events that are difficult to control and test. Of course, you have to know that the software exists and what its limitations are in order to effectively choose it for your business.

Software and IT should be treated like other business disciplines.  Entrepreneurs who engage with software professionals early in their planning phase, just like they do with lawyers, financial experts, and marketing professionals, reduce the likelihood of unnecessarily building proprietary products, or choosing a package that won't grow with their businesses.  By selecting a trusted advisor and explaining your business model, you will learn how existing software can be used effectively and customized only when necessary.  You will also learn how using it can be a competitive advantage for finding new customers, engaging them, and providing additional value.

But what if you have an existing company that is still building proprietary software?  Ask yourself if your business seems constrained by it or if it is outdated. If so, your company might benefit significantly from a software audit.  Just as an accountant or lawyer advise on business practices, a responsible software partner will point you at new technologies that solve your problems with very little customization, and will tell you where your proprietary software is still required.   Armed with that information, you can make the business decision as to whether or not an investment in software will help your company grow.