When faced with new compliance requirements, small business owner Cyril Cohen took application development into his own hands. The project ultimately led to a complete revamp of the IT infrastructure for his commercial bakery. See what it's all about, and how this approach could work for your business.
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Cyril Cohen is not a programmer. He owns a bakery that supplies breads and pastries to the food service industry. His products can be found on the tables of many hotel restaurants you would recognize, especially if you've vacationed in central Florida.
As a business owner, Cohen needs to stay on top of the details of his operations. As a small business owner, he can't afford a massive enterprise software effort. That's why he wrote his own.
The shift to a new set of software tools began with a mandate from Cohen's business customers. They demanded that Cyril's Bakery comply with GS1 standards. These standards cover bar codes and the information available through their use. It was 2013, and Cohen said that the company's IT infrastructure was in no shape to support new demands.
"When we started, [the GS1 data] was like a spreadsheet with hundreds of columns," Cohen said in a telephone interview. "I knew I needed a better solution. Our data was all over the place. We had Quickbooks Enterprise, Excel, Word documents -- it was everywhere." He needed a better enterprise data application but there was one more requirement. "I wanted to find something that was cloud based, rather than on our system, because that's even [less] management I have to do," Cohen said.
There are a number of database and application-generation systems that don't require programming. Because Cohen had experience with Quickbooks Enterprise, he looked at Intuit Quickbase as an option. When he described his trial, he said, "I started demoing Quickbase and it was so cool. My background is in IT, but I'm not a programmer or a professional IT person. I went from a complete novice to, eight weeks later, being a moderate-to-expert user." The combination of cloud architecture and codeless development convinced Cohen. He began to develop the applications to support GS1 data retrieval.
Cyril Cohen of Cyril's Bakery
(Image: Cyril's Bakery)
"By the end of the summer I said, 'this product is really good' so I wanted to run our entire company on the product," Cohen said. "We went from a system holding product specs to inventory, ordering, everything." He said that he has expanded the system to a point where, by the end of 2015, the entire business should be on a cloud infrastructure.
Cohen said that he likes to think of himself as a "citizen developer" rather than a programmer. "I love that term because that's exactly what I am," he said. "On Saturday, I would go to Starbucks, get a coffee, and say that I would develop the bill-back application."
Sample packages from Cyril's Bakery
(Image: Cyril's Bakery)
The "bill-back" application is an example of the sort of application Cohen has developed -- applications that he says justify the time he has spent working on projects most CEOs offload to someone else. A bill-back application keeps track of all the coupons and discount codes that can be applied to products. Cohen said that the complexity of the process makes many companies decide that it's not worth keeping up with thousands of tiny transactions. "Some companies won't even do it, they'll just accept all the negative charges. We know to the penny because we keep track of it all."
Being able to keep track is something that Cohen takes very seriously.
Logistics is an example of another tracking application that has created measurable value, according to Cohen. He pointed out that the process of getting goods to market involves many steps that are invisible to the outside world -- steps that most small companies have no way to track and analyze.
He began explaining the process. "If you're delivering something to Wal-mart, there's a third-party service called a lumping service. They re-palletize things to fit in the [in-store] racking system," he said. That means the service takes goods from the pallets they're shipped on from the manufacturer and combines them with other goods on pallets for delivery to stores. Because they deal with many small operations involving many companies, these companies have a reputation for being creative with their charges.
Cohen didn't like not knowing what the charges would be, so he built a way to bring certainty to the process. "I called the lumping service and asked for the price list. I went into Quickbase and put things into a simple formula," he said. It didn't take long for the formula to prove its worth.
"A week later, I was wondering why the system told me my lumping fee was $150 and I was being charged $450," he said. "I showed the lumping service the bill and they said it wasn't their bill: The logo was in color and the company's bills were in black and white."
"We found that the trucking company employed a driver who was creating a fake bill and overcharging us, then paying the lumping company out of the excess charge. We saved over $3,000 immediately, and we couldn't have done it without the application."
For a small- to mid-sized business, Cohen feels that having minute-to-minute information on operations and finances is critical. "Calculating how much money you're making on something is actually very complex," Cohen said. "You pay for many different things along the way. There are layers of cost that get tacked onto the bill."
"We've gotten to a point where, when an order is put into the system, we can tell you live how much profit is in each product line," he said. "Right after the price on the screen, I can see the gross profit and my bottom line."
Cohen said that Cyril's Bakery has seen enough benefit from close business tracking that he has explored the possibility of expanding what the company does. He said, "We aren't afraid of growing our business because we have the service behind us. We've gotten to the point of building Quickbase applications to mission-critical status."
It's Cyril's Bakery's recipe for a small business software success.
Curtis Franklin Jr. is executive editor for technical content at InformationWeek. In this role he oversees product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he acts as executive producer for InformationWeek Radio and Interop Radio where he works with ... View Full Bio
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