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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Positive Business during a COVID-19 Shutdown

Well - it's rapidly gotten weird and wild out there with businesses in every single sector of the economy poised to directly - and indirectly - cop a harsh beating from COVID-19 circulating around the Australian, and indeed global communities.

Government incentives, tax breaks, and handouts can help a bit to keep parts of the economy moving along, but what can you as a business do to help weather the storm and even come out the other side better than before ?

As Business Process and Technology Consultants we've recently been part of a number of internal conversations and discussions with our clients, many of whom are trying to war-game different scenarios around their business, industry, customer base, supply chains, and staffing.

Positive Business during a COVID-19 Shutdown (image credit:  pixabay.com)

The fact is that regardless of whatever disruptions might occur in the business community, there's always going to be an "after". Just like weathering a storm or bushfires, the crisis will eventually pass and that's the time to be ready to pick up the pieces and get moving with a renewed vigour!

Maybe you're in the same boat (let's face it, we are all actually in the same boat to some extent) ... so here are 6 of the ideas that we have been bouncing around, just in case they help:

1. Innoculate Your Cashflow


PROBLEM:  A small business in the service industry that relies on staff and/or customer attendance - such as a cafe, beautician, dentist, driving school - is going to suffer during any shut-down because there is literally no turnover/income during that time.

ANSWER:  Sell gift cards (online). Tell your story and get your local community behind you so that when you are able to trade again you still have staff and products to be able to get moving again.

CAUTION:  Remember that you must be able to eventually service the work for which you have been pre-paid and not just kick the ball down the road to become a bigger problem for another day.


2. Work Remotely

PROBLEM:  Your business relies on employees who can't come in to the office but don't have to be onsite for your business to continue operating (accounts personnel, software developers [like us!], sales staff, etc).

ANSWER:  Arrange for staff to work remotely if they need to be isolated for a period of time. Set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for staff to connect to the office network from home as if they were in the office. Make sure that your staff can work as "normally" as possible.

CAUTION:  Working from home isn't for everyone, and you have to help your staff stay focused - so regular video chats (using Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom Meeting, GoToMeeting, etc) is great way to keep your team connected to each other.

Working from home isn't for everyone,
and you have to help your staff stay focused

3. Tweak Your Business

PROBLEM:  Some businesses (for example, restaurants) may not be able to service customers in the same way as usual.

ANSWER: For a restaurant, grab on to the idea of pickup or delivery with both hands! Stop dine-in immediately and put up clear signage and social media posts about your new delivery & takeaway menu. Change your menu to ensure the best quality of food when delivered (hint: a soufflé may not eat as well if it's been on the back of an Uber Eats rider for 10 minutes). Move tables around to improve or optimise the workflow of the restaurant.

CAUTION:  Most small/local businesses have a certain place in the heart of the neighbourhood. Find ways to safeguard that place for later (e.g. include a personal note, a thank you, and updates with every delivery).


4. Reinvent Your Business

PROBLEM:  Some sectors are going to struggle for an extended period of time (certain travel and tourism operators for example).

ANSWER:  Think about taking the downtime as an opportunity to consider the big picture of what you do and what opportunities you may have been too busy to pursue until now. Where is your passion ?  What excites you to think about doing in your business that you're not doing right now ?

Whilst the rest of our business is firing very well, we know that some of our clients will take a little longer than usual to sign off on projects. So, at Creative Intersection we are taking the opportunity to invest some of our war-chest into expanding our existing app and business hosting arm. Our plan is to elevate hosting from a value-add for existing clients to a standalone offering including high-security, private cloud services. 

CAUTION:  Remember that you still need to focus on the original parts of your business and position it to recover when the time is right. It'll most likely be easier to recover an existing business than starting up a brand new one.

What excites you to think about doing in your
business that you're not doing right now ?

5. Work With Social Distancing

PROBLEM:  COVID-19 community management protocols currently suggest "Social Distancing", meaning that some everyday business workflows and practices may need to be adjusted.

ANSWER:  Take for example a linen cleaning business. Perhaps your delivery drivers don't have to spend 1/2 hour chatting with the office staff or having lunch in the staff room to catch up and work out their next shift ... but they do need a certain level of engagement with their colleagues and management. Consider deploying a simple business-focused app on their mobile phones to stay in touch with push notifications/news about closures and movements of other staff.  Most smartphones can handle video conferencing, so an all-staff meeting can even happen with dozens of participants using established services.

CAUTION:  Don't get caught up in the scary tech questions that naturally come up when you start talking about "apps" or "video conferencing". Try talking to experts (yes, like Creative Intersection) who can help you implement solutions within days or weeks instead of months or years!


6.  Change your perspective

PROBLEM:  Your national broadcast sports game looks strange without a crowd, and the players are feeling disconnected and deflated without the roar of the crowd ?

ANSWER:  TV broadcast is traditionally 1-way. Change the paradigm!  Run a competition for 50 small groups of fans (mates or families) - the winners of which get to be broadcast back from their living rooms to the giant TV screens on the ground and via switched, embedded parts of the broadcast program.  Using existing Internet infrastructure and traditional TV broadcast equipment, this can be active within days, in time for Round 2 of the NRL for example.

CAUTION:  We have two cautions for this one:  Firstly, always remember that real people can do unpredictable and inappropriate things, so a fast finger on the ”dump” button with an appropriate broadcast delay is essential; and secondly, this might forever change the way sports broadcasts are consumed so be ready for a new “normal”.

It's time to get creative and try to forget that there even is a box to think about! And give us a call if you need help.

Ian Exaudi
Managing Director & Senior Solutions Architect
Creative Intersection Pty Ltd

Monday, January 28, 2019

Bright Idea Grant Launches

At Creative Intersection, we're hitting 2019 at a million miles an hour, and next on the hit-list is a Passion Project that I have personally been looking forward to launching for a very long time.

We're calling it our "Bright Idea Grant" and it's all about giving back to wannabe entrepreneurs and more traditional businesses with clever ideas who want to have a go at creating a mobile app or web application.

As a business, starting with seed funding of exactly $0.00 and no employees, we have been extremely fortunate and blessed over the years to have repeatedly had clients take a punt on us and trust in our passion without a proven track record in each of the new fields we've pivoted into as we evolve.

Innovation is part of our business DNA, and as such I get genuinely excited when I see new ideas come across my desk ... and, having worked with just about every type of client imaginable, from individuals to local small business, government, and national brands, I can tell you two things for sure:  The best ideas come from the most unlikely of sources, and it often just takes a small tweak to make a good idea into a potentially great business.

The Bright Idea Grant is open to all Australian businesses and residents

As we're just around the corner of 20 years of operations and growth in our own business, we want to give back to the community that has helped us grow and employ scores of local developers and application experts over the years.

One of the best ways we think we can do that is to provide our services for free as a prize to the best idea submitted to us.

I'd like to encourage anyone who thinks they have a great idea for a mobile app or web application to check out our BIG information page, download the app to your own mobile, sign the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), and submit your idea. There's no cost, and your ideas will be kept confidential.

Ian Exaudi
Managing Director
Creative Intersection Pty Ltd

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Problem with Appster and Buzinga

Mobile apps (and the provision of mobile app development services) are a licence to print money, right ?! ... so why have these two massive Australian app development companies entered into Administration in the past 18 months ?

July 2017:  App development company Buzinga collapses into liquidation after expanding

December 2018:  Young Rich Listers tech start-up Appster collapses after tough four months

As others have noted before, there are a handful of reasons why these app development businesses might fail.

To me, the reasons all centre around a basic premise:  The "Business" around a Tech business is like every other business.

For Appster and Buzinga (among others), basing an aggressive "plant your flag on the mountain top" expansion ethos around managing your costs by using a workforce half way around the world because they cost 1/10th of the salary you would have to pay for local talent might seem like a stroke of brilliance when you first think of it, but the reality is always (ALWAYS!) different.

Sure, as a burgeoning win-at-all-costs startup app development business you can tell yourself that your business is an expert in process management and managing the minutia of projects is what you do - and theoretically there is no reason why you couldn't easily manage projects being worked on by remote teams in Sri Lanka, India, Philippines, Russia, or anywhere else for that matter.

Of course, the old adage is true here:  "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, while in practice there is".

And what of the clients themselves ?

Every single time, it's heartbreaking when we speak with a disillusioned app investor who has spent a large chunk of their savings (or hard-earned Startup Runway funding) to try to grab the proverbial brass ring to only ever be tantalisingly close-but-not-quite-there to being ready to launch their idea to the world.

More often than not, it's because their choice of development partner has a "local" office but it turns out that the actual work is being farmed off to teams far away from the marketplace in which the solution will ultimately be deployed.

Timelines blow out. Project costs triple. The quality of work drops as the initial team disintegrates and reintegrates into other projects over time. And disillusionment sets in for the investor when the honeymoon period is over and they still don't have a working app that performs as they had dreamed. 

The risks of outsourcing development hits from both sides and if we delve a little deeper, we can see some of the bigger problems that this can cause to the sustainability and reputation of a business.

"... any experienced business person will smell a rat ..."

If we take at face value the statement to AFR Weekend in December 2018, where Appster's co-founders, Josiah Humphrey and Mark McDonald said that 4 months of sales forecasts missed by about 50% meant they were unable to pay their bills and therefore had to fold the business we could be excused for thinking that this was purely a Sales Department-induced business heart attack.

But any experienced business person will smell a rat in that statement. What business hasn't had a handful of lean months and has had to trade out of that over a period of time? There's got to be something else at play here.

Clearly what they're not owning up to is a business that had far deeper issues than just poor sales figures across 4 consecutive months. Did the co-founders take their eyes off the ball or just not realise that they had built a business that was unsustainable both financially and in its ability to deliver on its promises of service quality until it hit a tipping point and fell in a giant heap ?

Did they actually experience many months of dissatisfied customers demanding refunds due to poor quality work and missed deadlines, and the straw that broke the camel's back was the last 4 months of poor new sales ?

That would make a lot more sense.

And then being hit with the reality (and a retrospective tax bill) over dealings between their Indian and Australian operations (based on the Tech Mahindra ruling by the Full Federal Court) will have made them have to think long and hard about the wisdom of relying on squeezing profitability out of cheap labour through their overseas subsidiaries.

In my opinion they had, ostensibly, built a business entirely on outsourcing labour from cheap markets. And that's an incredibly risky thing to do for any service business including one in the tech industry.

Buzinga, by all accounts, suffered the exact same fate a year earlier but - puzzlingly - were not seen as a cautionary tale by their brethren at Appster (or any of the dozen or so rapid-growth app development shops operating under the same paradigm in Australia right now). Buzinga is now a division of The Butterfly Group and seem to be aiming their aspirations at more reasonable, sustainable targets.

Appster's WIP (Work In Progress) and client roster will likely be snapped up by another large app company with pockets deep enough to make money from doing so and who will have to try to churn through a terrifying list of incomplete work (and disappointed/angry clients) in a timely manner to get those client projects to market before they lose their edge. We know that are already a couple of large outsourcing app development outfits sniffing around for this.

But how does this all relate back to your own business ?

I previously wrote a quick reminder of the Simplest Principles of a Service Business - at least as I see them. These basic principles work whether you're selling consultancy services face-to-face or providing an app solution to users who you will never meet.

In short, if you provide a poor quality of service and have consistently low customer satisfaction your business will eventually fail.

How do you pick up the pieces if your app project is unfinished or locked away about to be auctioned off by an insolvency administrator ?

Start by getting your hands on your source code and every other piece of work product for which you have paid (if you have paid something for work, you should be entitled to at least that portion of work performed) and go and see a couple of reputable development companies to get their opinion.

Look for established businesses with a solid track record and a focus on delivering good work. You'll recognise them because they aren't busy telling you how many awards they have won and how many million dollars their clients' app businesses have raised in venture capital funding. They won't be aloof and will actually see that helping you realise your vision is rewarding for everyone involved.

With any luck, they can leverage what has already been done ... and if not, it often is a more straight-forward shot to build a solution if the owner of the Intellectual Property (IP) - that's you - have had some experience with shaping the business already.

And just maybe you can turn that terrible experience into something positive, and have a stronger app business because of it.

(EDIT 14/3/19:  It seems that my theory of Appster actually having financial troubles a lot longer than they stated is being validated by the liquidator, Paul Vartelas. Our friends at SmartCompany have an interesting article about this).

Ian Exaudi
Managing Director
Creative Intersection Pty Ltd

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Tech Businesses are just Businesses after all

I have a basic premise that I like to share whenever potential clients with little experience in the tech industry come in to talk to us:

The "Business" around a Tech business is like every other business.

Let me explain ...

In a tech business, like every other business, you have to manage growth, cashflow, changing markets, and shifting opportunities & risks every single day, month, year, and decade throughout your existence.

Without that deliberate and fairly conservative management strategy, your venture is likely to be a flash-in-the-pan or at best a very long lucky streak before it will falter and need more capital investment just to keep feeding the cash that it's burning.

If you build a business to service only one type of client or a customer base that all have the same motivations for buying your services as each other (land grabbing on new technology for example), when those motivations shift (as society does constantly), you damned well better be ahead of the curve and try to predict how you can service the next iteration of your customer base ... or risk trying to sell a dream to someone who is no longer willing to just dream.

The inverse can be said, too. Especially within the ever-so-cool, startup-centric-tech-entrepreneur-set.

If you are only ever trying to place yourself at the cutting edge to leverage greenfields opportunities before they happen, it's all too easy to forget that a truly sustainable business needs stability at its base.

Having more than a few grey hairs myself, and the experience that comes along with successfully navigating and iterating our own tech business (Creative Intersection) through ups and downs over the past 18 years, I can tell you that a conservative mindset to nurturing this base can help more safely take advantage of cutting-edge opportunities as they approach.

If you forget that you have a full range of things to keep an eye on in your business, the neglected ones will eventually come back and bite you.

Ian Exaudi
Managing Director
Creative Intersection Pty Ltd

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Reminder: The Simplest Principles of a Service Business

Many of you run service businesses - and some would argue that especially in the era of social media even product-based businesses need to think of themselves as a service business ... so to help us all get a good start to the new year, let's remind ourselves of the simplest principles of a service business:
  1. Always deliver a great product (on time and at a reasonable cost)
  2. Never compromise on that product (be careful not to lose control of your supply chain by outsourcing operationally)
  3. Never be in a hurry to sign up customers (panicked and aggressive sales tactics might work well on a subset of the population and for a period of time, but you'll earn a reputation and eventually run out of fresh meat that hasn't yet heard of your dodgy behaviour)
  4. Always treasure your customers (and don't expect that there will always be an infinite pool of new customers who blindly believe your marketing materials and media releases)
  5. Don't let your ego get in the way (remember that your customers have come to you because they are not experts in your field. Help educate them to make informed decisions and don't lecture them or speak to them like they're idiots just because they don't know the terminology)

As you're reading this, if you are one of the dreamers considering building (or extending) a business based on an app solution, I would suggest that the exact same things apply to you too. If you're in that boat, try reading the list again and imagine what your app users (customers) might like to experience from your app offering. Makes sense, doesn't it ?

Have a great year, everyone!

Ian Exaudi
Managing Director
Creative Intersection Pty Ltd

Friday, September 8, 2017

iPhone 8 Rumours - touchID and a Boring Name

The rumour-mill is yet again running hot in anticipation of the latest refresh of Apple's flagship iPhone device.

It's been 10 years since the iPhone first hit the streets and revved up the mobile app marketplace revolution that has been responsible for keeping many businesses - including our very own Creative Intersection - busy engineering and deploying mobile apps.

Our insiders (and lots of leaked reports) tell us that there are some interesting things happening with this milestone release .... tipped to be called the "iPhone Pro".

Aside from sporting an AMOLED screen, which is brighter, crisper, more vivid and less power-hungry than the current crop of iPhone screens, there are rumours about touchID being removed from the device and replaced by facial recognition.

From left to right:  iPhone 7, iPhone Pro, and iPhone 7 Plus  (pic via 9to5mac.com)

Whilst facial recognition is likely to appear on the new iPhone Pro, touchID is likely to stay despite the all-glass front (with a screen that spans the entire area of the phone, there is no room for the traditional "home" button).

Apple rarely do leaps-and-bounds innovation these days, so their iterative approach would have the touchID sensor still being available in some way - if only to not scare existing users into thinking that they're being watched and probed every second of the day by the nefarious creatures that inhabit their digital security blanket.

Ultrasonic fingerprint sensors developed by Qualcomm, for example, are not quite ready for prime time, so how could Apple still include a touchID sensor without having to resort to a rather pedestrian placement like the back of the phone (where the logo sits, for example) ?


The touchID sensor in a standard iPhone and iPad is in the form of a circle (the metal bit around the home button) that can sense ridges along that edge boundary. Do some maths on the ridges being detected (in the form of an algorithm, described in Apple's "Efficient Texture Comparison" patent) and you can work out with a fairly high degree of certainty that the finger touching it is a match.

Now straighten the circle into a line and you still have a decent sensing area (a high number of ridges) ... then apply the same algorithm (modified slightly) and you still know that the finger touching it is a match.

So - why wouldn't you just put the touchID sensor along the side edge of the phone ?  It only needs to extend along a part of the edge, and if one is placed on either side then the sensors can work in tandem to provide faster sensing with high accuracy (two half fingerprints are as good as a whole one). Maybe it'll need to be renamed to "gripID" but would still work the same way.

Cases would need to be modified to include access to the sensor, but every new iteration of any mobile phone needs some modification to cases anyway - so it's just a good opportunity to sell more cases.

.... or ... we're full of crap and have no idea what the iPhone 8 will be like or what it'll be called. Only time will tell.  😀

Tune in to Apple's live stream from their shiny new Spaceship Headquarters on 13th September at 3am (AEST).

And if your business needs a mobile app, check out "Business Apps Powered by ciSUITE:".

Update 13/9/17 ... YEP! We got it wrong for the new OLED iPhone (officially released today as "iPhone X" - pronounced "iPhone Ten"). There is no touchID but the name is still pretty boring.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus have also been released and they are just a refresh of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus - including retaining their touchID hardware.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Short URLs and Click Tracking on a Budget

We often have a need to provide a URL to someone and want to see if it gets used ... and if it's a public link then it'd be nice to see how often (and when) it has been used.

Sure, there are ways to do that but they can be a bit difficult and especially so if the URL doesn't belong to us (i.e. we can't access analytics / site statistics for the target URL).

There are URL shorteners out there that either work automatically (YouTube, Twitter etc use their own when you create content), or that you can use yourself (bit.ly, for example). In bit.ly's case you can also access some basic click-through information to see how popular your link has been at any given moment.

Google Analytics from our Link Shortener service (back-end reporting)

But, we all know and love Google Analytics because it's free and the analytical/graphing side of things are quite mature so you can create a complex set of analysis tools without the need to move to something like Google Analytics 360 (the insanely expensive, but equally insanely powerful Enterprise version of Google Analytics).

So we thought we'd fix the problem of bridging the gap between a URL shortener and Google Analytics.

And a couple of hours of internal "code challenge" later we have a brand new service that we are already using ourselves to create and track link usage throughout our own network of web properties.

It's called CI Link Us (https://cilnk.us) and you'll see that each of the URL's we have linked to in this blog post already run through the service - so we can see when someone has clicked a link.

Currently, we are only sending basic metrics to Google Analytics ... the shortened URL and the target URL ... and that's mostly all we need because Google Analytics will add the location info by way of the referring IP address and we can create drill-down reports based on time-of-day etc.

How did we do it ?

We actually used a server-side PHP script class to do the work for us ... so instead of Javascript in a user's browser talking to Google Analytics (which would be impossible because the shortener site immediately redirects to the target URL), we do that talking in the background (server to server) and flick the user to their desired URL.


Want to try it ?

What's stopping you ?  .... Go for it.