DCSL Software developed a custom operations management system to replace an outdated database. They added enhanced features to track schedules, materials, and orders.
Though the software was only recently launched, it performed smoothly and was expected to result in a 50 percent improvement in user productivity. Despite an extended deadline, DCSL Software stayed within budget and delivered a solution that was simple to use and maintain.
“[T]hey figured out how best to get us from A to Z using the most efficient route possible.”
Please describe your company.
We're a culinary academy. We provide professional training for people who are looking for careers in food. There are two aspects to our business. We have a professional academy, which is entirely a skill-based cooking school. Then, we also have a restaurant attached to the school, staffed by graduates of our academy while they're studying for a hospitality management qualification.
What is your position?
I'm the managing director.
Could you describe the business challenge that you were trying to address with DCSL Software?
We had a very antiquated Microsoft Access recipe database. We have about 2,000 recipes that we use as training materials. The database we were using was an automated system that allowed us to plug in the number of students we've got cooking a particular recipe at any one time, and the database would produce all of the ordering lists for us to contact our suppliers and place orders. The database was created in 1997 or thereabouts, and it was a very old system. A couple of years ago, I learned that Microsoft was ending support for that particular version of Access, so if the database crashed, we would be back to doing our ordering with a pencil, a bit of paper, and a calculator.
That's when we went to DCSL Software to build us a new database, but also to incorporate into it a system whereby, once we've plugged in how many students we've got cooking a particular recipe on a particular day, the software would automatically produce all of our educational management materials. So, it would provide the students' timetables and recipe schedules, along with lists of what recipes they were cooking and when they needed their supplies and materials. The system could produce student recipe files and learning materials, and on top of that, perform the functions of the old Microsoft Access database to produce all of our order sheets. So, effectively, what we asked DCSL Software to create was a complete operations management system for our business.
What technologies were used to develop your database?
You're now speaking a language I don't understand. I'm a chef by trade, and what I wanted DCSL Software to create was a system that is completely user-friendly, so that I could bring a new member onto my team who has no computer training, and he or she could easily grasp how to use the database. So, what we wanted them to do was create a piece of Web-based software that they can manage in time, so as the technology evolves the software can grow with our company. I wanted DCSL Software to create a piece of software that is really user-friendly, and that's what they've done. So, when you start asking me about what software they used to build the database, I have no idea. All I know is that it works.
Did you provide the visual collateral and strategic guidance in-house?
Yes. That's right. DCSL Software came down here and spent about two or three weeks with us. They looked at our existing Access database, how we used it and what its various functionalities were. They also looked at our existing recipes. The 2,000 or so recipes we have are basically all saved as Microsoft Word documents. What they did during those two or three weeks was a lot of data gathering. They learned how our business works and talked to us a lot about what we wanted this software to do.
Essentially what they had to do was get an understanding of how we work, and then identify where there were opportunities to create a more efficient, automated process. We gave them the basic requirements, we showed them the recipes, and we showed them what we wanted the end product to look like. They had a look at our current operation, they looked at what we wanted the end product to look like, and they figured out how best to get us from A to Z using the most efficient route possible.
Could you provide a general cost estimate for this engagement?
We've spent about £40,000 [approximately $61,200] working with DCSL Software.
Is this an ongoing relationship?
It's ongoing in that we're just in the process now of taking the finished product and implementing it into our day-to-day activities. It's also ongoing in that we're going to keep them onboard with a monthly retainer to manage the software moving forward, so as our business grows and evolves, the software can grow and evolve with the business.
Could you share any statistics, metrics or user feedback that would demonstrate the quality of their performance?
It's a bit too early to tell because we're only just starting to use the software now. I'm expecting to see about a 50 percent improvement in productivity from the people who are using the software. Historically, the systems that we were using were quite slow and labor intensive. I think this new software is going to save people an awful lot of time in not having to push bits of paper around desks, so I'm thinking 50 percent improvement in productivity. At least, that's what I'm hoping for.
Regarding their responsiveness and ability to deliver your assigned work on time and within budget, have you had any issues in those areas?
No. The only thing I would say is, that during the initial meeting we had with them, they underestimated how complex the project was going to be. When I asked them how long they thought the project would take, their estimate was that it would take about nine months, but it's actually taken something like 13 months. I knew from the outset that nine months was probably unrealistic because I felt certain that once they came down here and spent some time learning how our systems work, they would realize the job was a lot more complicated than they had initially expected. But, importantly, their price has not changed from their original quote. So the project has taken a bit more time than they originally thought, but they've honored their original quote.
Is there anything you'd consider unique about their practice?
I have no comparison here, since I've never used anybody else for a piece of software development on this scale. I have used a company recently that built us a new website. Our website was a £30,000 project, and I actually think DCSL Software has been much easier to deal with. They got it right the first time around, while the people who built our website created one that has needed a lot of attention and maintenance since it went live.
In retrospect, are there areas in which they could improve as a service provider?
I would like to have seen the solution delivered within nine months rather than 13, but that's also because it's the estimate that they proposed to begin with. We're a small business, so an investment of £40,000 is a lot of money for us. On the other hand, I would rather the project take four months longer if that was what was needed to deliver software that worked the first time around. So, from that perspective, I'm not too worried about the time issue.
Do you have any advice for future clients of theirs?
I can't say that there is any advice I would give. I've been really pleased with DCSL Software, and, if you asked me whether or not I would use them again, the simple answer is yes – absolutely.