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OT Supporting an application

I have an application written in MS-Access. It is a complete
application that manages the day-to-day operations of a business.

The program is nearly ready to be used in other customer sites.

I am wondering if any of you have advice on supporting an application.
Since it has never had any outside exposure, what I don't want is to
make a bunch of sales and not be able to support the issues that arise.
I believe as kinks are worked out with a smaller set of companies, it
can be released to more companies. I simply don't want to have a bunch
of sales but no means to handle customer support problems.

I also know that companies that purchase it will make suggestions for
enhancements. Others may need some custom programming beyond the scope
of the core program.

So I will need to supply tech support and also additional programming.

My question is "How many companies can 1 person reasonably support?"
I'm not looking for a firm figure, more an idea of what the heck I'm
getting myself into. Without a sale yet, I can't afford another
programmer. I'm wondering if there are "breakpoint s" or milestones
where you need to expand and hire more people.

If you've been involved with or taken a software program from concept to
sales, I'd appreciate it if you'd share some knowledge of your experiences.
Jan 19 '07 #1
35 2167
Salad, congratulations on getting to the place where your application is
marketable.

Hopefully you will get several responses, where you gain the benefit of
everyone's experiences.

Assuming that you have done a good job with programming, and don't have lots
of experience with sales and marketing, I doubt you have too much to worry
about here. Sales will happen slowly enough. You will have the benefit of
feedback to enhance your application. By the time you have dozens of
customers to support, you will have a good, stable piece of software that
works as users expect.

Hopefully have have considered how you charge for support (regular monthly
fee, or $/hr when needed.)

No matter how good you are, there will also be some irrelevant support
questions from users, e.g. "Why won't your program accept Feb 31?", or
"Which printer did my report go to?" or "Why isn't my mouse working?" Since
Access is used by lots of people outside corporate database environments,
some of these users don't have anyone they can ask basic things like how to
set the date on their computer.

Some other suggestions to help with support:

1. Log errors
Users do not read error messages, and can't tell you what happened. Simple
error logging lets you know what the error was, when it happened, who it
happened to, and how often it recurred. You may even want to include a
command button that prints or emails the error log report so the user can
send it to you. Example:
http://allenbrowne.com/ser-23a.html

2. Consider recording basic record info
Every table I create gets 4 additional fields pasted in, to record who
created the record and when, and who last updated the record and when.
Without this, you can't verify if your application is working correctly or
not. Users will ask you, "Why didn't order 999 get invoiced last month?" If
you can demonstrate that order 999 was actually entered on Jan 3rd, and they
generated the December invoices on January 2, you can be satisfied that it
is not a bug with your invoice generating routine. Conversely, if the record
has not been entered or modified, you have proved to yourself that there is
a bug you need to solve.

3. Version info
For remote support, you need to provide a screen where the user can read you
version details on:
- your software
- Office service packs
- JET service packs
as well as basic info about which back end they are connected to. (Don't
laugh: users will connect to a backup, and then ask you why their data is
not consistent with everyone else's.)
Example:
http://allenbrowne.com/ser-53.html

--
Allen Browne - Microsoft MVP. Perth, Western Australia
Tips for Access users - http://allenbrowne.com/tips.html
Reply to group, rather than allenbrowne at mvps dot org.

"salad" <cu*****@george .comwrote in message
news:0v******** **********@news read2.news.pas. earthlink.net.. .
>I have an application written in MS-Access. It is a complete application
that manages the day-to-day operations of a business.

The program is nearly ready to be used in other customer sites.

I am wondering if any of you have advice on supporting an application.
Since it has never had any outside exposure, what I don't want is to make
a bunch of sales and not be able to support the issues that arise.
I believe as kinks are worked out with a smaller set of companies, it can
be released to more companies. I simply don't want to have a bunch of
sales but no means to handle customer support problems.

I also know that companies that purchase it will make suggestions for
enhancements. Others may need some custom programming beyond the scope of
the core program.

So I will need to supply tech support and also additional programming.

My question is "How many companies can 1 person reasonably support?" I'm
not looking for a firm figure, more an idea of what the heck I'm getting
myself into. Without a sale yet, I can't afford another programmer. I'm
wondering if there are "breakpoint s" or milestones where you need to
expand and hire more people.

If you've been involved with or taken a software program from concept to
sales, I'd appreciate it if you'd share some knowledge of your
experiences.
Jan 20 '07 #2
Allen Browne wrote:
Salad, congratulations on getting to the place where your application is
marketable.
Hi Allen. Thank you for your kind words.
Hopefully you will get several responses, where you gain the benefit of
everyone's experiences.
I'm hoping so too.
Assuming that you have done a good job with programming, and don't have
lots of experience with sales and marketing, I doubt you have too much
to worry about here. Sales will happen slowly enough. You will have the
benefit of feedback to enhance your application. By the time you have
dozens of customers to support, you will have a good, stable piece of
software that works as users expect.
That is exactly what/where I am. Good program, little marketing
experience. I expect sales to be slow initially. I figure that for
each sale, kinks will be exposed which I can then remove.

Next month the program will receive the award for product innovation
from one of the industry's organizations. I anticipate the award will
generate some interest.
Hopefully have have considered how you charge for support (regular
monthly fee, or $/hr when needed.)
No, I haven't. I haven't gotten to that point. I don't know where to
begin for even that part.
No matter how good you are, there will also be some irrelevant support
questions from users, e.g. "Why won't your program accept Feb 31?", or
"Which printer did my report go to?" or "Why isn't my mouse working?"
Since Access is used by lots of people outside corporate database
environments, some of these users don't have anyone they can ask basic
things like how to set the date on their computer.
Yes. I expect that. We have a pretty slick documentation system in the
app. External hard copy documents are scanned in. I expect I'll have
to be an expert in scanners in short order.
Some other suggestions to help with support:

1. Log errors
Users do not read error messages, and can't tell you what happened.
Simple error logging lets you know what the error was, when it happened,
who it happened to, and how often it recurred. You may even want to
include a command button that prints or emails the error log report so
the user can send it to you. Example:
http://allenbrowne.com/ser-23a.html
I implemented such a feature a few months ago. It has helped out.
2. Consider recording basic record info
Every table I create gets 4 additional fields pasted in, to record who
created the record and when, and who last updated the record and when.
Without this, you can't verify if your application is working correctly
or not. Users will ask you, "Why didn't order 999 get invoiced last
month?" If you can demonstrate that order 999 was actually entered on
Jan 3rd, and they generated the December invoices on January 2, you can
be satisfied that it is not a bug with your invoice generating routine.
Conversely, if the record has not been entered or modified, you have
proved to yourself that there is a bug you need to solve.
Good point. I have the who created/when but not the who last updated
feature. I could implement that easily enough for the major tables.
3. Version info
For remote support, you need to provide a screen where the user can read
you version details on:
- your software
- Office service packs
- JET service packs
as well as basic info about which back end they are connected to. (Don't
laugh: users will connect to a backup, and then ask you why their data
is not consistent with everyone else's.)
Example:
http://allenbrowne.com/ser-53.html
Yes, I have an About screen that presents my software information.

I was wondering about the Office/Jet service pack points. If the
program is distributed as a runtime, do runtimes also get service packs?
Are they viewable from the help menu bar like having a full version?
Will I need to send out emails to folks when a new service pack is
available?

Thanks again.

Jan 20 '07 #3
salad wrote:
My question is "How many companies can 1 person reasonably support?" I'm not looking
for a firm figure, more an idea of what the heck I'm getting myself into. Without a
sale yet, I can't afford another programmer. I'm wondering if there are
"breakpoint s" or milestones where you need to expand and hire more people.
In addition to Allen's suggestion I'd suggest your carefully track your different
versions. I'd start with a simple text file to explain what changed in each version.

Then keep a copy of the .mdb (with full code - not a .MDE) for each verson or consider
using a source control software like Microsoft's Visual SourceSafe.

Another software you might consider creating yourself is a Problem Tracking app to keep
track of support calls, resolution, etc.

They can serve as a Knowledge Base for future support requests, allow you to prioritize
multiple requests and do reports, etc.

--
'---------------
'John Mishefske
'---------------
Jan 21 '07 #4
Salad, John's point about version tracking is a good one.
I use a table in the front end to record each change in each version.

Re your question about runtime, the Microsoft packaging wizard is
particularly bad at this. Those who've used Sage or one of the other
installers might like to comment about how it works with those.

--
Allen Browne - Microsoft MVP. Perth, Western Australia
Tips for Access users - http://allenbrowne.com/tips.html
Reply to group, rather than allenbrowne at mvps dot org.

"John Mishefske" <jm**********@S PAMyahoo.comwro te in message
news:45******** **************@ roadrunner.com. ..
salad wrote:
My question is "How many companies can 1 person reasonably support?" I'm
not looking
for a firm figure, more an idea of what the heck I'm getting myself
into. Without a
sale yet, I can't afford another programmer. I'm wondering if there are
"breakpoint s" or milestones where you need to expand and hire more
people.

In addition to Allen's suggestion I'd suggest your carefully track your
different versions. I'd start with a simple text file to explain what
changed in each version.

Then keep a copy of the .mdb (with full code - not a .MDE) for each verson
or consider
using a source control software like Microsoft's Visual SourceSafe.

Another software you might consider creating yourself is a Problem
Tracking app to keep track of support calls, resolution, etc.

They can serve as a Knowledge Base for future support requests, allow you
to prioritize multiple requests and do reports, etc.

--
'---------------
'John Mishefske
'---------------
Jan 21 '07 #5
salad wrote:
I have an application written in MS-Access. It is a complete
application that manages the day-to-day operations of a business.

The program is nearly ready to be used in other customer sites.

I am wondering if any of you have advice on supporting an application.
Since it has never had any outside exposure, what I don't want is to
make a bunch of sales and not be able to support the issues that arise.
I believe as kinks are worked out with a smaller set of companies, it
can be released to more companies. I simply don't want to have a bunch
of sales but no means to handle customer support problems.

I also know that companies that purchase it will make suggestions for
enhancements. Others may need some custom programming beyond the scope
of the core program.

So I will need to supply tech support and also additional programming.

My question is "How many companies can 1 person reasonably support?"
I'm not looking for a firm figure, more an idea of what the heck I'm
getting myself into. Without a sale yet, I can't afford another
programmer. I'm wondering if there are "breakpoint s" or milestones
where you need to expand and hire more people.

If you've been involved with or taken a software program from concept to
sales, I'd appreciate it if you'd share some knowledge of your experiences.
One large company that supports 10 to 20 companies with the same
electronic health care billing program limits the customization to
changes that will be used by most of the companies. They basically
tell their customers, "You are not allowed to have that particular
functionality." That is not a good idea. You want to be able to make
changes for a single company without making the application much more
complicated. You don't want to support 15 different versions of the
software so you need something like conditional compilation.

Take a look at the following thread entitled "Tip - alternative to
conditional compilation"

http://groups.google.com/group/comp....1d961323f7066c

If you don't have a plan for handling this kind of branching you will
soon reach a point where you wonder why you got into the programming
business at all. I wish you success in your venture. Not many
programs reach that level, but I have been involved with some. I
remember that the idea of a huge margin from selling custom software
for the cost of CD duplication was one of my incentives for getting
into this business.

Lots of people come up with good ideas for making money. It is the
people who have followed through from concept to reality who actually
come away with the most valuable knowledge. The famed Egyptologist Sir
William Flanders Petrie remarked that the real treasure to be found in
Egypt is history rather than gold. I can't say that I've had anything
even remotely close to Lyle's success in my dealings in these matters,
but the experience is invaluable. Maybe Canadians in the 50's were
inherently more honest than the people I dealt with :-). I know where
most of the snags are going to be the next time around. Please keep us
apprised of the situations you encounter.

I have some end-to-end applications that I can market but I haven't
made one yet that I feel can separate me sufficiently from the
competition. I keep improving my skills and always look for a way to
develop a new market.

James A. Fortune
CD********@Fort uneJames.com

Blue Ocean Strategy : How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make
the Competition Irrelevant
by Kim, W. Chan.; Mauborgne, Renée.
Publication: Boston, Mass. : Harvard Business School Press, 2005.

ISBN 1-59139-619-0
>From the preface:
"Blue ocean strategy" challenges companies to break out of the red
ocean of bloody competition by creating uncontested market space that
makes the competition irrelevant. Instead of dividing up existing--and
often shrinking--demand and benchmarking competitors, blue ocean
strategy is about growing demand and breaking away from the
competition.

The contents of this book are based on more than fifteen years of
research, data stretching back more than a hundred years, and a series
of "Harvard Business Review" articles as well as academic articles on
various dimensions of this topic. The ideas, tools, and frameworks
presented here have been further tested and refined over the years in
corporate practice in Europe, the United States, and Asia.

Jan 21 '07 #6
On Sun, 21 Jan 2007 10:29:34 +0900, "Allen Browne"
<Al*********@Se eSig.Invalidwro te:

Indeed, the Microsoft one caused me headaches a few years back. Approx
15-20% of the installations of our app would not succeed without one
or more support calls.
Recently another client hired Sage to build the installer for her, and
it works flawlessly.

-Tom.
>Salad, John's point about version tracking is a good one.
I use a table in the front end to record each change in each version.

Re your question about runtime, the Microsoft packaging wizard is
particularly bad at this. Those who've used Sage or one of the other
installers might like to comment about how it works with those.
Jan 21 '07 #7
On Sat, 20 Jan 2007 19:01:25 -0600, John Mishefske
<jm**********@S PAMyahoo.comwro te:

On the topic of versioning: put a version number in both the front-end
and the back-end, and write code such that the two must be in sync for
the app to start up. You don't want FE 3 to run against BE 1.

-Tom.

>salad wrote:
My question is "How many companies can 1 person reasonably support?" I'm not looking
for a firm figure, more an idea of what the heck I'm getting myself into. Without a
sale yet, I can't afford another programmer. I'm wondering if there are
"breakpoint s" or milestones where you need to expand and hire more people.

In addition to Allen's suggestion I'd suggest your carefully track your different
versions. I'd start with a simple text file to explain what changed in each version.

Then keep a copy of the .mdb (with full code - not a .MDE) for each verson or consider
using a source control software like Microsoft's Visual SourceSafe.

Another software you might consider creating yourself is a Problem Tracking app to keep
track of support calls, resolution, etc.

They can serve as a Knowledge Base for future support requests, allow you to prioritize
multiple requests and do reports, etc.
Jan 21 '07 #8
On Fri, 19 Jan 2007 17:47:40 GMT, salad <cu*****@george .comwrote:

Congrats Salad. A great achievement. I often think it's easy to get to
95% complete, but to get to 100%: golden.

Do you have a website promoting this app? I think you were working on
a ski resort app? Some of my suggestions might be tailored better if
I knew more about your app.

The topic of offering customer support is one you need to figure out
BEFORE you start selling. Clients have the right to know what they are
getting into. Perhaps it makes sense to offer first 30 days free
support, after that on T&M basis. They download and fax back a Support
Contract, and you bill against that. It may state that you can bill up
to 4 hours per issue, and if not resolved need to go to a Work Order
contract. Again, this differs widely depending on kind of application,
purchase price, etc.

-Tom.

>I have an application written in MS-Access. It is a complete
application that manages the day-to-day operations of a business.

The program is nearly ready to be used in other customer sites.

I am wondering if any of you have advice on supporting an application.
Since it has never had any outside exposure, what I don't want is to
make a bunch of sales and not be able to support the issues that arise.
I believe as kinks are worked out with a smaller set of companies, it
can be released to more companies. I simply don't want to have a bunch
of sales but no means to handle customer support problems.

I also know that companies that purchase it will make suggestions for
enhancements . Others may need some custom programming beyond the scope
of the core program.

So I will need to supply tech support and also additional programming.

My question is "How many companies can 1 person reasonably support?"
I'm not looking for a firm figure, more an idea of what the heck I'm
getting myself into. Without a sale yet, I can't afford another
programmer. I'm wondering if there are "breakpoint s" or milestones
where you need to expand and hire more people.

If you've been involved with or taken a software program from concept to
sales, I'd appreciate it if you'd share some knowledge of your experiences.
Jan 21 '07 #9
Tom van Stiphout wrote:
On Fri, 19 Jan 2007 17:47:40 GMT, salad <cu*****@george .comwrote:

Congrats Salad. A great achievement. I often think it's easy to get to
95% complete, but to get to 100%: golden.
Hi Tom:

Thanks for your support and encouragement.

I have to wonder if I am at 100%. I know there are more features my
application should offer. I have what I term a "Microsoft view" of my
program. If I wait forever to get the perfect program it will never
leave the door. If Microsoft waited for the perfect Windows, we might
never have seen version 3.1 when Windows started to gain acceptance.
Do you have a website promoting this app? I think you were working on
a ski resort app? Some of my suggestions might be tailored better if
I knew more about your app.
No. The ski resort app is Albert Kallal's. If his app is like the
pictures on his website, he does beautiful work.

My program manages a commercial subcontractor's office. The contractor
can run one or many types of businesses; hvac, electrical, plumbing, etc
from it. The target audience is companies having 5 to 20 office staff
and however many tradesmen they require in the field with annual sales
between 1 million to 100 million.

You ask if I have a website. You've exposed a "major flaw". No I
don't. I do realize it is the electronic equivilent of a business card
thatt can reach more people. It is a top priority of mine.
The topic of offering customer support is one you need to figure out
BEFORE you start selling. Clients have the right to know what they are
getting into. Perhaps it makes sense to offer first 30 days free
support, after that on T&M basis. They download and fax back a Support
Contract, and you bill against that. It may state that you can bill up
to 4 hours per issue, and if not resolved need to go to a Work Order
contract. Again, this differs widely depending on kind of application,
purchase price, etc.
Very interesting. I like the concept you described.
>
-Tom.
>>I have an application written in MS-Access. It is a complete
application that manages the day-to-day operations of a business.

The program is nearly ready to be used in other customer sites.

I am wondering if any of you have advice on supporting an application.
Since it has never had any outside exposure, what I don't want is to
make a bunch of sales and not be able to support the issues that arise.
I believe as kinks are worked out with a smaller set of companies, it
can be released to more companies. I simply don't want to have a bunch
of sales but no means to handle customer support problems.

I also know that companies that purchase it will make suggestions for
enhancement s. Others may need some custom programming beyond the scope
of the core program.

So I will need to supply tech support and also additional programming.

My question is "How many companies can 1 person reasonably support?"
I'm not looking for a firm figure, more an idea of what the heck I'm
getting myself into. Without a sale yet, I can't afford another
programmer. I'm wondering if there are "breakpoint s" or milestones
where you need to expand and hire more people.

If you've been involved with or taken a software program from concept to
sales, I'd appreciate it if you'd share some knowledge of your experiences.

Jan 21 '07 #10

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