NS1 - It’s my information and I want it now!
By Tom Cowan, Director of Operations with Nexus 5 Group
What is NS1?
NS1 = (NexSys1) It's a Nexus 5 Group developed software focused on project/operations operating systems - BORING HUH?
In this article I will dive deeper into what NS1 is. But I'm hoping the bigger message you get out of this is the importance of real time analytics or, as we say, “information now”. More importantly, this information isn't just for the privileged few executives, it's for EVERYONE IN THE COMPANY for crying out loud!
The NS1 Creators
Before we begin, I wanted to take this prime paragraph placement to thank two guys who played the biggest role in the development of NS1. Mark Fletcher was the developer of our previous operating system and the real pioneer in keeping this in-house. Matt Lyons is the developer of our new operating system. He is pushing the envelope past what we thought it could be. For both, it's way beyond just coding and designing. They had to learn the business processes and strategies of Nexus 5 Group before being able to create the code. They also had to learn our accounting software so they could make sure the two systems work in harmony. THANKS GUYS!
The NS1 Foundation: Open and Honest Communication
It wasn't that long ago when this company, formally Service Technologies LLC, had a desire to do “it” a little bit differently than the rest. We didn't always know what that represented. A few things we knew we wanted to stand for were keeping ourselves and our employees informed. We wanted to create real value and a sense of ownership. This doesn't just happen because you want it to.
We encouraged our team to push the boundaries of "normal communication". This could have resulted in our team feeling like they were sharing too much or feeling personally/professionally vulnerable. But if we wanted everyone to rally along with us, we all needed to let go of those fears. Back to the present, we think back and ask ourselves, “how did we ever do without open and honest communication?” And we knew the same level of communication would be critical to the success of a real-time analytics application.
Buy it off-the-shelf or build it?
To start, we tried using "off-the-shelf" software. With our first attempt, the learning curve was daunting. We were a growing company and had to consistently train new team members as they came aboard. When it really come down to it, we only used a portion of what the software was capable of doing. And we had to navigate through a mountain of items that weren't important to us.
We tried other software packages. We found they were too basic and didn't add any real value. (We tried tons of those by the way.) At the end of the day, those systems were only a supplement to the other process specific software that needed to run independently (i.e. estimating software, project management software, operations stuff, etc.)
Time to draw a line in the sand!
Full disclosure: we might not have ventured down the path of developing our own software if it weren't for Mark (mentioned above). He is an in-house coder for our parent company. He was really jazzed about the growth of Nexus 5 Group. So, we needed to decide whether to keep wasting our money trying to find that unicorn software that did everything we wanted OR just do it ourselves. Mark called it a “buy vs. build” exercise.
Think about how hard it may be to convince investors that a construction company was wanting to employ coders/developers instead of buying something pre-built. It sounds ridiculous, I am sure. The cost of doing so was going to be way, way more. And who am I to pitch something I have no history of success with? Luckily, our investors were supportive. We got the “let’s see what happens” green light.
At this point, I could get going down a long path, albeit a fun, nerdy path. But I won't because I'm not a salesperson trying to sell you software. Instead, I want to summarize what we've accomplished, try to articulate the benefits, and then offer you some real, insightful stuff.
The NS1 Structure
Here is a list of the main components of the software at the time of this writing (we keep adding to it). Project estimating, project management, client relations management (CRM), time/material/equipment tracking, timesheet management, inventory management, analytics (company and divisional levels), team member goal management, company budget tracking, incentive plan management, client and internal survey management, safety training and recording management and marketing resource management.
All under one roof. The only thing missing is the accounting software. Maybe someday.
The benefits to having almost everything handled in one system are profound.
Here are a few of the benefits:
Jumping from one software to the next, especially when Excel is involved, could create input error, or even input neglect. Not to mention redundancy.
When the whole system is integrated, different parts of the process can warn other parts that something needs to happen. We rely heavily on visual flags to aid in thoroughness and timeliness.
Completed project and financial visibility. This visibility is crucial if you offer an incentive plan so that they can engage in the details that create them more wealth.
Our budget season use to be a long strung out, crystal ball guessing dog and pony show. Today we can do a yearly budget in a day with extremely high accuracy. Seeing trends helps us anticipate ebbs and flows which may aid in determining whether we need to hire more folks or get out and sell, sell, sell.
You see, we figure that that crazy amount of money and resources it takes to develop something like this is a drop in the bucket compared to hiring peeps to do the things that could be automated. And when it's automated, there's less chance of input error. When it is automated, the results are instant. When it's automated, it's repeatable. When it is automated, you can focus on culture and client experience.
Everyone is playing in the same sandbox, so anybody with access (for us, it's everyone) can show a new person around the sandcastle.
NS1: Information is power.
Before we had NS1, we were fine. When we finally had it, we were great. No more running a business in fear... just look at the analytics. Let the software sweat the details.