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Apps are Great But Does Your Business Need One?


Dan: And it's 8:30, that means it's time for Bit-Wizards, the Tip Of The Wand. In the studio with me, guess what? Vince is in here again. This time he's changing hats. We're going to go from the greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber Of Commerce, chairman of the board to the man who was a part owner of Bit-Wizards. And you guys have got a lot going on, Vince. So I got to ask you, have you already gotten ready for Valentine's day?

Vince: Oh my gosh, you asked me this before and you're going to get me in a lot of trouble. I haven't even thought about it.

Dan: You know and you're probably about 90% of everybody else out there like, oh what are we going to do? What am we going to do? Lots of things to do though for Valentine's day, I guess.

Vince: My wife and I always wait until after or some other time because you know we're were running around with the eight year old and 10 year old trying to coordinate softball and baseball and school and all the activities. I told you my wife's a teacher. So we've always got something going on. So we have to pick and choose when we get together and do things. It's not always convenient to do them on a holiday.

Dan: Well you two have very busy careers though, it's not like you guys have like an eight to five job.

Vince: That is a true statement. In fact, I just got a phone call just before I left here about coming back after I get done with this to pick up my daughter and take her home because she's not feeling well.

Dan: Oh no. You know that's a good point. There's a lot of kids right now that are out because of flu-like symptoms is not like we're talking about China, but you know the kids have got the high fevers and they're not feeling well, so hopefully your child hasn't got that. My grandson's got that and that's horrible. But it's, I don't know, it's going around though. It's a virus.

Vince: It is. It is. And we take precautions, get our flu shot every year, but invariably it only protects against certain strains. And so somebody's going to get something. And you know these schools, they're a Petri dish of

Dan: Oh gosh. Everything mouth, hand, face. They all get it. One gets it, they all get it. It's like those late, well it's Christmas lights. One goes out, they all go out.

Vince: I see my wife, she's often walking around with Lysol on each hip, kind of like a six shooter ready to do the house or clean the classroom or something to make sure and keep the little germs from growing.

Dan: Oh gosh, that's right. You're getting doubled indemnity there sort of aren't you? Because you got your wife and your kids in school.

Vince: That's the trick.

Dan: Oh try to stay safe. All right, let's get rolling.

Announcer: Bit-Wizards, bits and bytes.

Vince: What I thought we might talk about, and I know you love to talk about politics, so I thought we'd talk about mobile apps and the debacle at the democratic caucus in Iowa.

Dan: Oh my gosh, that was a mess, wasn't it?

Vince: Yes, it was so for those of you that are not aware, this came from Wired magazine, but the Iowa caucus had a tech meltdown and they're calling it a warning. After months of build up, Monday's Iowa caucus kicked off with the 2020 primary elections and it just didn't go that great. And the reporting and results was delayed by what democratic officials called a quality control effort. In fact, this, new unvetted mobile app designed to help collect and relay voting tallies had failed due to technical and usability issues. And they had a backup system where they use the telephones for people to call in, but the geniuses involved in this thought that they were going to have a reduced number of phone calls because of the new tech app that was rolled out. And so the lines were clogged with this single phone line and nobody could get through.

Dan: I heard about that.

Vince: And they had another backup, which was they were going to use a general delivery email address, which not everybody had access to because they prevented people from bringing their phones into the tally areas because they didn't want anybody leaking anything. And so people couldn't do the authentication and they couldn't get access to So it was just a debacle and it's a mess. You know, in the end they determined that there was a coding issue in the software, the way it tallied things. And this was on the back part of the app. This is the part of the app that takes the stuff in. So all the votes were recorded properly. The problem was that they couldn't aggregate behind the scenes. And know what I wanted to tell you guys a little bit about is that why is this important? Well, all software has bugs but I'll say that a flaw in the core functionality such as reporting data like this did in this particular app, it's a major failure.

Dan: And when they do that, something like that, Vince, wouldn't, let's say for example, you develop an app, wouldn't you sometimes want to go test that app to make sure that it worked correctly before you implemented it?

Vince: Well, I'm sure that they probably tested the app. In fact, they talked a little bit about what they did, what they call the tabletop or a dry run type of thing. And I'm sure the app developers did testing, but it's really hard to test apps at scale. And so one of the problems is, is that the introduction of technology without proper vetting and planning can cause problems. So if you get in a rush and you don't go through all the steps, people are in a hurry to make an impact, there's always a big impact to getting things in the market quickly and they'll cut corners. And what happens when you cut corners with technology is you end up with problems. And invariably there's always a human element to technology. So we tell people when you bring in a new software, a system or a new hardware or whatever people are going to use it in ways that you didn't intend them to use it. And so, as a result, it's going to change your process. And even if you plan for every contingency, you're going to find that your end users are going to use it in some way that you didn't intend them to.

Dan: And so it could be a problem for the app, obviously?

Vince: Yeah, absolutely. And it's not necessarily an app problem. It can be, it's a usability problem. It's a human problem. It's the way that we adapt systems. We expect so much out of technology. It's like this magic, this smoke and mirrors behind the scenes. And a wand gets waived and it just happens. Right? But the reality is, what programmers trying to do is they're trying to predict what humans will do. And get the computer to do those things for them and to streamline those processes. Well, that's inherently complex. Think about the number of different ways that somebody brushes their teeth every day. Some people want to floss before they brush, other people floss after they brush. Some people brush up and down, some brush side to side. There's a lot of different ways to do things. And so we expect an awful lot out of software. And that gets down to another point is that you've got to set proper expectations when you adopt a new system.

Dan: And like you're talking about, all the software that people expect software to do, I think it's often times people almost think that the software is like human. I do this, it should know to do this in response. Well not really human like you're talking about. They try and predict everything that you might want to use it for. But not necessarily everything everybody is going to use it for. So don't you think that people honestly feel like they're doing something with like another human there that should know what they're trying to do?

Vince: I do. And people would love to talk to a computer and tell it what I want it to do. But we're simply not there yet. And of course then there's always the rise of the machines and the Terminator and all the other things everybody's afraid of. You know? But you know, I would point out about this app and just looking at the way this app came about for the Democratic party it was developed by a company called shadow that was funded by another pack called acronym. And it's a nonprofit that was originally founded by a former Hillary Clinton staff. And the interesting thing to me is that obviously the Democrats can run their own caucus and do what they want to do. But you know, the details of the app were so largely kept secret with an apparent, what we call a security through obscurity, that not even the department of Homeland security had a chance to review it. And the idea of security through obscurity is to make things more difficult for hackers by having a lack of information. And this is just deeply misguided because hackers are sophisticated and they can get in and look at an app, they can intercept things, they can dissect it, they can decompile it to figure out where it's potential security vulnerabilities. So I want to tell people that you just don't want to cut corners with these types of things. You need to set those proper expectations. And implementation of technology always takes time, effort and planning. If you think you're making a shortcut, you're not. And this is why you really need to implement technology in a defined approach. At Bit-Wizards we sort of use a crawl, walk, run that begins with planning and understanding what the business needs are first. Business owners often don't know what they don't know. And let's just face it, technology is complex and that's why you need a company like us to come in and help you out.

Dan: That's right. Well that's because you are Bit-Wizards and you guys have the technology side. And when you do your job it makes it easier for the person owning the business, whatever their business is, to do their business and not have to worry about this. And you guys keep them up and running and you guys do a great job at that. It just sounds to me like you obviously stay up with the times and that must be very difficult because I know technology changes probably day to day any more these days.

Vince: It does and it is accelerating. I mean, it's literally a hockey stick of acceleration. A logarithmic whatever you want to call it. And it's hard to keep up with. We joke around, it's like putting your mouth on a fire hydrant. It's why I tell all of my engineers that they've got to constantly reinvent themselves. What you know today is not what you need to know for tomorrow's tech.

Dan: Lean forward. You're always looking what's in the future. And that's probably really hard to predict. But

Vince: It is. And sometimes you know, sometimes it's educated, guess, it's a guess based upon experience, but it's founded in facts and other things that we've learned to look for key attributes. In fact, there's a thing in the tech community called the hype cycle. And you've got to watch the hype cycle and make sure that you're at the right part of that cycle before you adopt technology.

Dan: Wow, that sounds complex. Thank goodness we have guys like you going to do that, because us laymen, we depend on you guys for that.

Vince: Yeah, absolutely.

Announcer: Bit-Wizards. What's up our sleeve?

Vince: So I thought we might take a look, and since we're talking about apps, because we have a lot of people come to us and say, hey, I need an app, I need a mobile app or I need you to build me a new app. And I want to kind of make people aware of some things that they need to think about. So the first question you need to ask yourself is, do you really need an app? This or something that's off the shelf that already exists.

Dan: Oh, I mean, why reinvent the wheel, right?

Vince: Yeah. And so I kind of divided up into kind of three areas. And if you're a company like Nordstrom and the retail industry and having an app or a mobile app or something like that, is Orthodox that you might want to buy, then it's a minimum requirement to kind of compete in that space. So you may need an app, right? You may want to do that. And customers expect to have access to mobile stuff, mobile apps to buy your stuff, or to learn about your store, that type of thing.

Dan: Well, it seems like there's an app for everything anymore. So I would be amazed if there's not an app out there that would help somebody in their business.

Vince: Well, and there's different types of apps. Do I want to sell to you, do I want to inform you or do I want to do some sort of process or operation for you? Do I want to accomplish some task? What I might divide between our marketing apps and maybe what you might call utility apps. You know, on the flip side we talked a little bit about an app that might be Orthodox and it might be required like a Nordstrom's, but if you're a company like Papa John's and you're in the food service industry, you might have an app to add value to your brand experience by allowing somebody to order online and they have just an awesome app to order online. I mean, you can move pepperoni on or pepperoni on half or on a quarter or whatever, really slick the way it works. And it puts it into your local organization or into the local pizza shop, whichever one is closest to you. And then you have an app as a product, which is another one, which is it's an app like the Wall Street Journal that provides a product to your customer where the app itself is the product that you're delivering. And then finally you've got like utility apps. Apps that do things for you, like a calculator or something like that.

Dan: Okay. That would be an app that would do some figuring or something that you would be able to download? Not just like the regular apps. Now I get what the restaurant ones. I've got some of those myself and that does help a lot so I could see that. But a lot of these apps you're talking about, aren't they also an app that goes, like if you're on your regular computer, like a desktop, and you have the app that will allow you to do the same thing on your cell phone?

Vince: Yeah, that's absolutely correct. So you have desktop apps that you might use on a Mac or you might use on a Windows PC. And even within that, you've got apps that are like desktop apps, things that actually run the bits and bytes on that particular machine. And then you have web apps that are served up through a browser. And they all have different characteristics in the ways that they need to be done. And then lastly, you've got the ones that are on our mobile devices. Like our phone and our Android device. And those have their own flavor and they have different types that can be served up for them as well. Because they have some, there are some on those devices that are browser based or some that work with And each one of those is a different environment, right. And for the programmer, it produces unique challenges. And so if you want to develop a custom app, it's very, very expensive. There's a lot of complexity that you have to distill down into that calculation functionality that you get at somebody's fingertips. A lot of people don't really understand what that means. I mean, people come by all the time say, hey, I'd like you at Bit-Wizards to build us an app. And I'd say, okay, well tell me what it is that you want me to build. And they said, well, we need an accounting app. And we want you to build this for us. I said, wait a minute. Have you ever heard of QuickBooks? Have you heard of, of, of Great Plains Dynamics or Mass 90? And they go, yeah, but we're different. Wait a minute. You do accounting different than everybody else does? Maybe the IRS might want to talk to you.

Dan: Got to be careful with that one. How many sets of books do you keep?

Vince: Well I think what people are looking to do is that they realize that the first of all, you know an accounting app, knowing accounting and understanding how to do accounting is already difficult in itself. Right? Well then the app is attempting to simplify that for you. And help you perform the task of accounting and all those things. But then on top of that, you've got to learn the app itself. And that app has a human to machine interface. And then it's also trying to take away the complexity that is that particular discipline, which is accounting. Putting it in an app and making it easier for you. It still doesn't relieve your responsibility for understanding some of the basic principles of accounting and things like that to go and do it.

Dan: That's just your tool to help you.

Vince: That's just a tool to help you. Exactly. And so what people are often looking for is what they're looking for is they want integrations or they want things that give them that extra bit, right? So when you develop like an accounting app, right? Like QuickBooks, QuickBooks itself is general stuff, right? But then there's things around specific industries. Like if you're a construction organization or you're a membership-based organization like the chamber, you have some other needs that are a little bit different than everybody else, right? And so what will often happen is somebody like QuickBooks or Great Plains will create modules that specifically overlay over the top of the accounting software and they will I'll give you the sort of the terminology and the functionality that you might need that's over and above for your specific industry. Well, people will come to us and what they want to get is that extra functionality that may not exist out there. And oftentimes the way that we do that is we find other pieces of software and we integrate them in because it's a lower total cost of ownership in order to have that application.

Dan: That makes sense. Maybe I'm just not real smart about this stuff, but I kind of get lost on what's the difference between an app and some software. Is there a lot of difference?

Vince: Well, there's a lot of difference on the underlying, how it's built, how it's constructed and all that, but it's just another piece of software, right? So an an app, the way most people refer to it these days is really, they're talking about an app that you might have on your mobile phone.

Dan: That's what I think of it as.

Vince: And so an app is really just a smaller bit of functionality designed for the mobile phone. It's the same thing as an app or a software application on your desktop. It's just designed and implemented differently for that platform.

Dan: Differently than software?

Vince: Yeah. So for example, for Apple, to go on an iPhone, you have to design for iOS, which is the Apple operating system. For the Windows desktop, I have to do it for the Windows 10 or Windows 7. And God forbid anybody's still on XP. You shouldn't be on XP. Way outdated. So is seven for that point, you should be on 10 now. The same thing with your Macintosh. You want to stay with the latest version of Mac when you operate in that environment, it's very different. So when I design for an application for the Mac desktop, it's different than the way I design and implement for the Mac iOS or for the Apple iOS on the phone. It's a different form factor, there's different processors, different ways that you go about it. And so when you think about it, when you use this particular app right here on your mobile phone, it's different. It's smaller. It has to be designed to use your fingers, right? Your thumbs and you don't have the ability to put in a lot of data at one time. Whereas a fully featured desktop application has a total different user interface and a total different experience. It can do more things for you, right. And it requires a little bit different thinking in terms of how the software engineer would put it together or the what we call the user experience engineer that helps design the front end side of it can implement. Apple has a lot of limitations. So if I'm on a phone here or not Apple, but any type of a mobile phone for that example, I'm not necessarily guaranteed to have connectivity. Right. They may have turned off their cellular, they may not have wifi because they want apps to run well and not interfere with the phone function. Apps on this phone run in a sandbox. In other words, it's not necessarily allowed to reach out and touch other apps on the phone. Whereas a desktop app that you might have in Windows, or a Macintosh, you can have Excel talk to Word and Word talk to Excel, or you can export things out directly into Excel from your QuickBooks, for example. You aren't necessarily able to do those types of things because of security considerations and the way it's sandboxed on an iPhone.

Dan: That sounds very complex.

Vince: Well, it is.

Dan: I mean you are trying to simplify it, I know you are, but it sounds very complex to be able to have everything run. So that explains the apps versus the software. Obviously it's got to be different app. Application? Is that what it stands for?

Vince: Yeah, application, that's the shortage for an app, right? It's just an application, whether it's on your iPhone, whether it's on your Android or whether it's on a desktop or whether it's a web application through your browser. They're all software, every one of them.

Dan: So it's kind of the same thing, just specific?

Vince: Yeah, and then they operate in different environments. It's like, think of it this way. If you put on one set of clothes to go up North and go into the tundra and you've got another set of clothes that you might wear if you were down in The Bahamas. It's a different environment.

Dan: Gosh, that sounds very complex. And at Bit-Wizards. You guys can design all of that and integrate?

Vince: Well yeah, we design and build a lot of applications for companies. And everything from overtime management system for Dow Chemical. We just built a kiosk system that does engravings for Anheuser Busch. We work with a TSA consulting group, which is a local company, helping them aggregate 403 (B)s and 457 retirement plans from the school systems and then transmit those retirement contributions to Fidelity, ING. And the those are the types of systems that we build.

Dan: God Vince, you are a big brain, I swear.

Vince: I don't know that I'm a big brain, just got a lot of experience.

Dan: You've got a lot going on in there. All right.

Announcer: Bit-Wizards from the spell book.

Vince: So the spell book's where we kind of demystify some technological geek speak each week and give you a little factoid. So we're really fond of acronyms. It's kind of like being in the government in tech. So although I don't think we're quite like the United States Navy, I don't think anybody does acronyms like the Navy does.

Dan: Well, military is real big on that, that's for sure.

Vince: Well today's term that we're going to talk about is SDLC. And that stands for software development life cycle. And a software development life cycle is a process that produces software with the highest quality and the lowest cost in the shortest amount of time. And it basically includes a detailed plan on how to develop, alter, maintain and replace a software system. The most popular SDLC models you'll hear about are like waterfall model, spiral model or agile model. But basically what it is, is just kind of step you through the process, it's the requirements and elements analysis, which is what don't we want or what problem are we trying to solve? And then the plan, what do we want to have happen? And then you design it and that's how do we get what we want, right? We lay out a plan for how we're going to get it. And then we're going to build it. Let's create what we want. And then we're going to test it. And when we test it, we're going to say, did we get what we wanted to have happen? And then we're going to deploy it and we're going to start using what we got. And then we're going to create that process all over again because we're either going to maintain it or we're going to iterate on it and add new features. So what we call that is, let's get closer to what we originally wanted, right? So every time you build a piece of software, it's in a constant state in this SDLC, of improvement and going through that whole process over and over again. It's not if you build it once, it's done. It doesn't work that way because technology changes. And then also we talked about that complexity of the human factor, the interfaces with the software. And so you've got to take those things in. So it's not, if you build it once it's done.

Dan: It's kind of like, would this be the same as like for Windows like seven or 10 or whatever it might be. And they are constantly sending you updates to update that software because that is part of that life cycle as far as cost and improvements? Is kind of the idea.

Vince: Yeah, it's constant improvements of the usability, keeping up with tech, security, because we're constantly out looking looking out for security and security vulnerabilities. Tech continues on, it's always going to continue on and it's marching forward at an exponential pace.

Dan: And then maybe in the software cycle when there's things that are kind of outdated that nobody uses anymore, you drop it out of your software and replace it with something else?

Vince: You do. And then sometimes what you'll do is you'll say, I'm going to sunset this software because it was built so long ago that it's time for us to sunset it. And you may build a new piece of software all together. Now what we try to do is that you try to iterate and keep software up to date over the long haul because it's very costly to basically can it and re-engineer it again from scratch. So that iterative process is to extend the life, to keep it up to date and keep it going.

Dan: I would also think that once an individual, like just a layman, is using that software and that's dropped in a whole new piece of software is introduced, and that's another learning curve for the person that's using the software.

Vince: It is and that's why we tell businesses when they adopt technology, whether it's software or hardware or whatever, you need to plan for some training for the users that use that software. People don't like change and it really throws a wrench in things. But what you can't do is you really can't just continue to maintain the status quo because it really puts you behind, ends up costing the business a lot more money.

Dan: And you guys have said, over and over again. It's better to continue to maintain an upgrade on a regular basis, than let everything go and then four or five years down the road have to redo everything.

Vince: Well yeah, to put into context, I would love to own a house over here on the water somewhere. And you go up on one of the protected bayous, and your choices are trying to find a piece of blank land, which there isn't, or find an older home and then remodel it up to new standards. Or you look at some of them and they're like the old 1940s and 50s or 60s cinderblock houses and you look at it and you go, you know what? It's going to cost me more money to basically try to revamp this house. I should just knock it down, take the land and rebuild it from scratch. Same thing exists in software and you really need a technical professional to help you come in and do those costs trade offs and decide what needs to be done when and how. And again it goes back to that thing that I'm talking about. Don't do technology for technology's sake. There has to be an overriding business reason in order to make the decisions that you do.

Dan: Roger that Vince, man, you guys got so much information. So here's the point in our show where you can talk about one of your clients.

Vince: Well I decided to pick a customer that's predominantly a software engineering client of ours, although we do a lot of infrastructure for them, but I wanted to give a Bit-Wizards thank you and shout out to our customer Rex Lumber and Rex Lumber has offices in Graceville, Florida, Troy, Alabama, Brookhaven, Mississippi and I can't remember. I guess there's another place in Florida, I can't remember the last one.

Dan: Gotcha.

Vince: Rex has been manufacturing forest products since the 1920s and in 1970 they focused on Southern yellow pine, which is a predominant resource in our area.

Dan: Perfect.

Vince: And it became their main product line and they are a leader in the softwood lumber industry. You know, one of the core pieces of software that's used to manage the lumber process there, it was created by Bit-Wizards and it's a sophisticated software that interfaces with their Mellow or Toledo scales. In other words, that when the trucks roll in, we interface, the software that we built reads the weight off of the scales, they tag the back of that truck with or the logs with an RFID tag. And then we have readers that interface with the software that follow that lumber as it goes through the entire process. It also uses camera recognition to look at the back and count the number of logs on the back of that truck and it follows the lumber as it goes through the entire raw material, as it goes through the process and into finished lumber. So Bit-Wizards does software engineering, but we're also helping Rex with their digital transformation and move to Microsoft's Azure Cloud with their infrastructure. So I want to say thank you to the McCray family who own and operate Rex Lumber, and Paul Watts who is their director of IT and his team for choosing Bit-Wizards. You know, I want to say we really enjoy working with your team.

Dan: Gosh, who'd of thought that Bit-Wizards would be involved in a lumber project. Now that's awesome. Vince, we're out of time, my friend. Vince Mayfield from Bit-Wizards, the Tip Of The Wand. We'll see you next Tuesday