A unique and highly specific application with a cohesive and easy to use interface for comprehensive management of common business processes.

I developed the HOOP24/7 project over the course of around 18 months, including development, importing customer data, provisioning and launching the application. All aspects of the project, from planning, concept and process design, interface design, and documents through to production deployment were undertaken by myself in collaboration with a hugely talented freelance developer Ren Nieuwoudt ( CodeByRen ). Being an in-house designer gave me a unique position with such an in-depth understanding of the business processes, and ease of access to staff - from field operations to accounting, to consult with on developing the many features.

Significance

the HOOP24/7 project was important because engaging design at such a deep and thorough level of the business is still unique, not only for a small New Zealand company, but also within the industry. Whilst many emerging technologies and services are accessible by smaller businesses, few have the technical resource to implement them effectively. By gaining a thorough understanding of the tools available and implementing them in a way which the business would be able to access autonomously, the HOOP24/7 project kickstarted a significant advantage over competitors. In my research I found that even within a large incumbent player, simple resources such as notes on a particular customer, were difficult to access or non-existent. By encouraging front line staff to record interactions no matter how insignificant, we were able to quickly build profiles on customers and immediately improve subsequent interactions. Whilst HOOP24/7 wasn't directly focused on the the sales pipeline, the application aims to build a bigger picture of the client, and significantly improve account retention through preemptive actions. Used to it's potential, the data supports a progressive step to move sales and marketing strategy beyond the default of financial based reporting.

The HOOP24/7 project gave me a window into business beyond making and selling. It was a valuable exercise in how a business can use design thinking to create an internal identity, and by empowering staff with data and tools, they are able to feel in control of interactions and gain confidence from successful engagement. I believe the level of what is (easily) achievable today through api's and tools, far exceeds the expectations or imaginations at an operational & management level of most businesses, and as a designer, understanding these connections is a significant advantage as the definition of 'product' rapidly changes.

Cloud computing presents an exciting opportunity for nimble SMB's to leap ahead of their cumbersome blue chip competitors. Free of entrenched policies and expensive legacy systems, SMB's can quickly embrace the flexibility of these new services. Unfortunately the promised synergy of the cloud remains hugely oversold, and the SAAS industry fly-or-die modus operandi is a formidable risk for early adopters.

Start

Early in my time with the Hygiene Systems I implemented a simple ordering system which would deliver orders by email. This system was gradually developed to include order history, support request tracking and the ability to send out order processing notifications. It was a small self contained application to replace 'contact form' ordering. At the same time I was tasked with moving the company CRM from a legacy Act system which required relentlessly problematic syncing on a poorly configured network. The target was Salesforce.

Fast forward three years and a series of minor updates to tweak the ordering system towards more specific requirements led to a major overhaul project. Salesforce wasn't working. Despite implementing numerous custom fields, processes and forms, strategically limited feature sets required an astronomical monthly cost to extend any further. Compounding the issue, finding complimentary apps which were not only suited to the business but also provided direct Salesforce integration, was (and largely still is) - despite the sales pitch, virtually impossible.
 

The missing link

CRM requires full time dedicated support to customise the infinite array of fields, tabs and apps to suit a particular business vertical. Despite the size of numerous industries, saas/crm platforms are generally reluctant to specialise, instead offering a catch-all approach and placing the configuration burden on the customer.

The HOOP24/7 approach was an ambitious project, however after thorough investigation of a wide range of tools, no one set of solutions fitted the requirements. In particular the list of 'deal-breakers', from requirements to requests, was ever growing. Leveraging open apis, HOOP24/7 could be far more flexible than relying on a proprietary platform.

  • Not a shop: display only products assigned to the individual customer.
  • 100% unique pricing across every customer for every product. No price books/breaks.
  • Mix of physical products and subscriptions on the same quote document.
  • Not calculate totals for the listed products (allow multiple options on same quote)
  • Send templated emails, but allow for whitelisted 'no sales' addresses.
  • Ordering and accounting integration allowing multiple branches linked to a single parent

  • + service scheduling, asset management, leads, and much much more.
     

    CRM essentials

    HOOP24/7 covers the CRM basics, offering up the usual fields, picklists and checkboxes for various key data. It's nothing new but the clutter free interface makes even this level of the application a huge improvement. All data is also accessible to any part of the application and can be used in API calls.
     

    Contacts

    Contact management is built right into the customer page and primary contacts are hard coded into various applicable documents across the application. With two clicks, any contact can be converted to a 'user' automatically delivering login details to their inbox and provisioning their access to the relevant account. The Multi-user ordering system allows for multiple logins on the same customer account, giving any number of staff within a business, including contract cleaners, access to order on behalf. All orders and support are attributed to the user for full accountability. Contacts and users are accessible by both staff and customer users in the ordering portal by using the 'CC' option to include another person in the order confirmation and dispatch email thread.
     

    Postcards

    Using the 'Postcards' feature, staff can send fully templated email messages to any customer contacts. By simply selecting a contact and template, and entering a subject and message, they can send an email with a highly controlled format. Postcards are sent from within the the customer details page, no external apps, no syncing, no manual entry, allowing the marketing department to maintain full control over the visual look and sales pitch of the email template. Postcards leverage the Mandrill api to select loaded templates. Templates can be easily created using the user friendly Mailchimp GUI and imported directly to Mandrill.

    Mandrill integration also provides instant feedback on bounced emails, allowing for easily diagnosing issues and re-sending or re-directing mail.

    image: Mailchimp template UI
     

    Inventory & Accounting

    Utilising the Rest API of Unleashed inventory, we were able to build a simple 'push' integration. Customers and products are manually linked using a look-up call. Because HOOP24/7 -> Unleashed is a many-to-one relationship, syncing accounts was unsuitable. The flexibility of HOOP24/7 easily facilitates this critical connection where pre-baked apps would not. As soon as a customer is linked, orders can be pushed through to Unleashed. HOOP24/7 provides the entire order content, including addresses and prices. Unleashed matches the customer and product unique ID's, pushing the data to the accounting system to complete the process. Unleashed doesn't support end user outbound 'push' or webhooks, so HOOP24/7 uses Azure Scheduler to run cron sync jobs and retrieve the updated order statuses.

    HOOP24/7 solved two key issues in this area, a 1:1 pricing relationship per customer, and Many : 1 relationship with the accounting system. Many : 1 comes in the form of multiple branches/locations being billed to the same parent account. Whilst seemingly obvious, this connection was yet to be effectively solved by the group of applications we were using.
     

    Assets & Service Scheduling

    A variety of scheduling hacks and recurring event calendars were being used to conjure up Service scheduling documentation, with few if any suitable replacement options. Scheduling software almost without fail wants to narrow down the 'event' to a day, often also a time. Some options exist for a 'week', but generally calendaring aims to be more specific. An app is capable of taking dates, times and geographic locations to compute schedules, but repetitive servicing rarely works on such an on-demand basis. Perhaps in the future, but for now there is still a large lee-way for technicians to evolve and perfect their own routes and workload. Computers and lee-way don't generally mix.

    The process developed for HOOP24/7 permits specifying service for individual dispensers on a customer account. Customers are manually assigned to runs based on field ops feedback. If HOOP24/7 finds a corresponding service, documentation is produced that includes the customer, and only the specific items requiring service for that run. Equipment totals will vary week to week to month based on the frequencies assigned to individual dispensers. HOOP24/7 utilises an unique calendar producing 48 working weeks, allowing for flexible distribution on a real calendar, and critically, frequencies which will cross into a new year. Documentation is scheduled to a 'week' giving technicians flexibility, and documents are returned by querying a year and week.

    HOOP24/7 servicing was designed to allow connected asset management. Using sequentially numbered QR codes or NFC labels, it is possible to link a unique url parameter to an individual dispenser in HOOP24/7. For example, scanning the label with a smartphone during installation would bring up a url ie: hoop247.com/asset?id=14334 . HOOP24/7 presents an html page with a number of options: "install product", "service product" etc. Upon clicking to install, the user is presented a customer index/search and selects the appropriate customer. Within the customer window, the user selects or creates the 'service point' to locate the equipment within the premises. Back at base, the operations team can now assign the dispenser a service schedule. If an asset is faulty, the customer can simply read off the asset id and the equipment and details are instantly located. It is a simple implementation for very low cost with no specialised hardware required.
     

    $40 Raspberry Pi + $300 27" led monitor + a few lines of code = realtime business metrics dashboard anywhere, anytime.

    Feedback

    With all the information feeding into the HOOP24/7 system, providing feedback to all departments in the business was critical. Deploying a live dashboard of key metrics would have been costly and time consuming only a few years ago, now not so much. Enter the Raspberry Pi, the gutsy Linux micro computer. At $40 a piece, the Raspberry Pi connects directly into the HDMI port of any cheap monitor, and networks via ethernet or wifi. A couple of simple configurations are setup so that the computer boots directly to a fullscreen browser window pointed at the desired url. On the web application side, the page is designed to work fullscreen and either refresh regularly or utilise web sockets to obtain updated data.

    Once configured, the Raspberry Pi doesn't require any further attention. Simply power it up and wait a minute for the boot sequence to complete. Adding new dashboards is as simple as adding a basic webpage to HOOP24/7, supplying the required queries/functions and configuring the destination url on the Pi.

    Every piece of data in HOOP24/7 is instantly accessible via a query, meaning metrics which previously required running a report are now available to display as live results.

    Changing Gear

    Shortly after the initial deployment of HOOP24/7, the company undertook a major acquisition, more than quadrupling the customer base. I was tasked with transferring the new customer data into HOOP24/7 and deploying the new accounts within an extremely short time-frame. Parsing the incoming data to fit the HOOP24/7 data structure would have been a big job in itself, but to make matters worse, the supplied data was badly formatted and in many cases inexplicably incomplete.

    Using a number of formats and techniques from Google Apps Script to SQL queries, I parsed 5 years of sales data to save individual customers product pricing, addresses, contacts and addresses.

    Following the import, I assisted with the launch and on-boarding of the new customers, creating specific pages to walk through the process. With a combination of email and live chat I worked closely with frontline staff to help with training and troubleshooting. By shadowing customer interactions as they happened, I was able to resolve most issues in the background in realtime, providing a seamless experience for the customer.