“Simple can be harder than complex: You need to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”
– Steve Jobs
Developing software for a millenary, highly regulated, and ever-changing industry is challenging. Our customers have varying degrees of sophistication, control, and compliance needs. The key to success is to create solutions that adapt to each customer, impacting and benefiting their business directly.
In this blog, I will highlight one of many cases in which a lot of effort took place behind the scenes to develop a simple solution, an example of the care and consideration we put into each change we make to our products.
From an early stage in the life of our Q88VMS product, we knew we wanted it to adapt to how the end user work. This meant no built-in workflows, no massive error prevention validations, and no stopping the flow of information because “something seemed missing or odd.” However, as the product matured some customers commented, “We love the flexibility of the product, but we need to make sure we do something, or we fill in an input box because it is important for our reporting structure, integrations with other systems, etc.” We found ourselves in a situation in which our customers were asking us to remove, at least partially, the flexibility built into the product, even as they were saying they liked it.
The easy solution would have been to add a validation so that the field in question cannot be left blank, for example. That seems straightforward; most software providers would not hesitate to make such decisions, but in our opinion, that is how one ends up with users of the product feeling that they are “working for the system” and not the other way around. With quick implementation of validation fields, the original flexibility would be quickly lost, resulting in a system that forces users to enter information even if they don’t have it, a system that forces users to work with unnatural workflows, and a system that demands the completion of unnecessary details, just to be allowed move on to the next step in their process.
At Q88, we recognized that this request for data validation was not unique to a particular data point. The first requirement we decided on was to create a solution that would satisfy all such needs for validations, mandatory fields, and even workflow steps. We also wanted to ensure that the main beneficiary would be the actual user of the product. This idea is compatible with one of our core design principles, “It’s all about me”. We also knew we wanted the tool to be loud so users would pay attention to the alerts and warnings identified, but not too loud that would prevent them from doing what they needed to do within the platform.
Therefore, a lot of thought, consideration, collaboration and teamwork went into the design of this feature, beginning with the VP of Design, who created the specification document. Several team members within the company also collaborated on the design, and we then passed it on to various customers who were asked to run tests and provide additional feedback. We collected all feedback and finally arrived at a feature we now call the Lighthouse, which has been added to our Q88VMS product and has been very well received by our customers.
The Lighthouse is a tool that requires no administrator, so each user can select which rules they would like the system to alert or warn them about. No administrator also means no delays getting any setting you need to be adjusted; users decide which warnings and alerts they want so only truly relevant ones are applied. Further, the list of rules the Lighthouse is looking out for is already extensive, and it will grow over time to provide an easy pathway for expansion. Unnecessary or irrelevant rules can be switched off, so the information provided is always relevant.
We focused a lot of attention on the loudness of the alerts. We concluded that we wanted the alerts to be very loud, but only if users wanted them to be. For that purpose, users switch the tool on with a single click or switch it off if they do not want to see it.
But what happens if a rule is invalid for a particular case? No problem! Users can choose to ignore any particular alert or warning at any time and add comments. The system keeps track of who made any changes and when, such that an audit trail is built for each ignored case.
In conclusion, the Lighthouse has proven to be a very effective tool for our users. It retains the precious flexibility of the system while it empowers its users to be in control. What began as a complex and conflicting set of requirements developed into a solution that simplifies the work of our customers.
At Q88, we are very fortunate to have assembled a team of very talented people who specialize in building great software solutions and who also have a lot of experience working in several areas within maritime shipping industry. When it comes to our products, we work very hard to make things simple for our customers.