Business Benefits

The future is flexible working

To catch the eye of top prospects and keep hold of the best you have in your business, you need to be able to offer benefits that are no longer just financial. Flexible working has become demanded by employees and job seekers and choosing a work schedule that suits their chosen lifestyles has provided many benefits to both employer and employee.

At Coherent, we have found that flexible working arrangements have brought many positive benefits and is just one of many things we have done to increase our company culture. Both for the company and the employee. Flexible working hours and the ability to work remotely has given many employees better control in their lives.

Some employees are more productive first thing in the morning, others mid-morning and in the afternoons, therefore their levels of productivity, motivation and happiness has increased greatly due to the fact they are no longer having to fit into a traditional 9-5 that doesn’t work for everyone. Being able to balance work and life has reduced stress and anxiety, giving employees more loyalty to their company and a greater level of job satisfaction.

 

“Your employees are your company’s real competitive advantage. They’re the ones making the magic happen-so long as their needs are being met” -Richard Branson 

 

There are solid grounds and very tangible benefits to offering flexible working arrangements. Many have seen improvements in recruitment and staff retention, reduced absences and improved commitment and productivity. The millennial generation no longer focus solely on high pay and bonuses. They also value flexibility and having a good work/life balance.

Recent research from Cranfield University revealed that “Flexible workers, managers and co-workers of flexible workers reported a generally positive effect on the quantity and quality of work performed. In comparison to those on standard working arrangements, flexible workers had significantly higher scores on organisational commitment and job satisfaction and nationally and internationally, our research has informed debate in several policy and professional organisations and has been cited as evidence in a number of policy documents” -Professor Clare Kelliher.

Finding the right people for your business is often difficult so in order to attract and retain a talented workforce, businesses need to understand what drives them.

“Being able to negotiate on when I start, and finish work has saved me £197.00 in childcare, I no longer have to juggle my family and work all at once. I am far more productive earlier in the morning, so by starting earlier, I feel I can achieve my daily objectives to a higher standard. Some of my colleagues are more productive later in the day and by having flexible hours they are able to work when they are at their most productive. Whether you’re a morning person or feel sharper in the afternoons, flexible working enables you, within reason, to be on the job when you’re feeling at your best. This will help employees to approach their role in a more positive way which benefits both the company and the employee, as employees look forward to work while the boss will enjoy the higher performance levels you’ll achieve in peak condition’’ said Office Manager Chantelle.

Adapting office space has also seen a rise in employee morale, satisfaction and creativity. Creating flexible workspaces where employees no longer have to be “glued to their desk” has the advantage where they can work in a group or on their own in a more informal setting such as in a café or on the office sofa with a laptop, giving employees better control of their wellbeing.

So why not see if flexible working will suit your business and reap the same rewards as we do at Coherent.

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Why Coherent is using Python and is staying at the forefront of demand

  • So, what exactly is Python?

Python is a general-purpose, interpreted and high-level OOPs based dynamic programming language that focuses on rapid application development. Writing a program in Python is often five to six times faster and due to ease of syntax in Python, the programmers can complete coding in fewer steps as compared to Java or C++. Python’s ever-evolving libraries and support makes it a viable choice for any project, be it Mobile App, Web App, IoT, Data Science or AI.

  • How does using a Python Programmer benefit your business?

Software development is a dynamic field. Developers need to constantly be learning new skills to stay relevant. At Coherent Software, we’re continually evaluating which programming languages are in high demand from those seeking bespoke computer software due to the world’s growing reliance on technology.

“In my opinion, the customer benefits when the developer benefits because if code is quick, easy to write and quick to compile and test then that is saving the customer time and money, combine that with our experience of using it and the good community, documentation, frameworks, and support and you can ensure that not only is the code quicker to develop, it’s probably less buggy…” Said Coherent Software Engineer Dan James.

Businesses in today’s world need dedicated software for successful operation and growth. It is, therefore, a crucial business asset to choose your software carefully so that it matches your business needs. Due to Pythons flexibility and the fact it can be integrated with many other programming languages, it is no wonder that it has been adopted by companies like Google, NASA, and Intel. That is why the demand for Python specialists keeps growing at an incredible rate.

“Python enables us to develop efficient and secure software in less time and encourages our developers to follow modern best practice” Said Managing Director James Hadley.

Coherent Software has managed to hire a team of skilled Python professionals, which gives us an important advantage over the competition. If you are considering an app or new business software, call us today on 0800 292 6474 or fill out the contact form on the right . We can tell you free of charge how feasible your ideas are and what a development roadmap might look like.

 

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What it costs to develop an app

 

I am a hypocrite. When I speak to a designer, marketer or copywriter about a project, I can’t help but ask these three questions:

  1. What will it cost?
  2. How long will it take?
  3. What will the results look like, precisely?

Their businesses, just like ours, are project based, and the answers to all three depend on a lot of variables.

It’s because of these variables that we don’t normally publish prices or turnaround times on our website. Every project is different and, although we want to be open and transparent, it’s important to understand that minor details can have a large impact on a costs and turnaround times.

But really, what does it cost?

Our day rate is £490+VAT. This is extremely competitive by UK standards.

For a very basic app, for one platform (i.e. Android or iOS), a sensible minimum is about £3,000+VAT. Double that for both platforms. For a small app, most of the time goes into laying the foundation, so doubling the feature set doesn’t usually double the price.

Are Android apps cheaper than iOS apps? Are iOS apps cheaper than Android apps?

Generally, they are roughly on par. There are extra costs associated with buying the Apple hardware and licences needed to build, test and publish apps, but the smaller range of devices and interface designer makes up the difference.

How long does it take?

There are typically three phases for mobile apps:

  1. Design phase. We create a unique “look” for your app. This can take 2-4 weeks depending on complexity. To save time and costs, this stage can be omitted if there are no specific aesthetic requirements.
  2. Build/test phase. Minimum 2 weeks for a very basic app. No maximum!
  3. Publishing on the App Store / Play Store. It can take at least a week for Apple to approve your app and list it on the App Store, allowing people to download it. Google is generally a bit quicker.

I have a great idea. Can you build the app for free?

It’s shocking how often we’re asked this – especially about mobile apps. Sadly, ideas are easy; execution is difficult. We also need to keep the lights on, so no, we don’t work for ideas, equity, exposure or appreciation.

What about cross platform development (e.g. HTML5, ReactJS?)

We don’t do a lot of cross platform development. There are a few reasons for this. First, Apple and users generally dislike apps that do nothing more than a mobile-friendly website could. Second, most cross-platform development toolkits deliver a sub-par user experience (e.g. lag). Third, some more advanced functionality isn’t available at all, so it’s possible that an HTML5 app may need to be rewritten entirely later.

That said, we know HTML5, ReactJS and Java, and if you’re dead set on a cross platform app, do get in touch.

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Think before registering a “new gTLD” domain

TLD stands for Top Level Domain. It’s the last part of a domain name – for example “.com”. The “g” stands for global which just means it’s not tied to a particular country.

About a year ago, there were just a few gTLDs and everyone wanted a .com for their business, their brand or their own name. .com was thought to be the most credible option since it stands for “company”.

The web has been around a long time, though, and good .com’s are in short supply. If you’ve ever had a great idea for a business name or a product name only to find that the .com is taken and isn’t being used for anything in particular, you’re not alone. Because they’re cheap to register and keep, and potentially very valuable, some people have made a very tidy living from hoarding good names and selling them at very inflated prices.

To try to solve this problem, about a year ago, a lot more TLDs arrived. Coffee shops can get a .coffee, clubs can get a .club, accountants can get a .accountant and so on. We very quickly went from a small number of TLDs to a huge catalogue.

For a lot of brands and businesses, it means that you can finally get the name that you actually want.

But it isn’t quite that simple.

Each gTLD, new and old, is maintained by a company. That company leases names on gTLDs they own, to wholesalers (“registrars”) who sub-lease it to you. The older gTLDs are generally provided by Verisign, an American company that has been doing this since around 1985. Over the last 32 years, they’ve not changed much. Their prices have increased roughly in line with inflation and there hasn’t been any notable foul play.

The new gTLDs are owned by a range of other companies. The best known is Uniregistry. There isn’t any evidence of foul play from Uniregistry either – but they don’t have the decades of stability that Verisign has.

Because of the regulations governing TLDs, instead of giving notice to increase their prices, Uniregistry have set fairly high prices for many of their extensions and have discounted them initially to gauge demand. This means that they can effectively increase the price of domains at the top of a hat if demand isn’t what they had expected. This has already happened to some of the extensions, including .guitar and .hosting.

In conclusion, you don’t get any more or any less guarantees buying a “new gTLD” relative to a traditional one. You do get more uncertainty, though.

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Make your documents searchable without giving up control

Ever year, I get a letter from my accountant. Our year end just finished and he wants a pile of paperwork from me to prepare our annual accounts.

I print it all off (sorry, tree), put it in a box, walk it over and dump it on the receptionist’s desk.

Someone their end then has to do some menial tasks like looking through our bank statements and make sure there’s an invoice for every payment in and out. I don’t envy that person!

They might scan it all in or make another paper copy of it for their records.

This sort of workflow is really common amongst accountants, solicitors, conveyancers, IFAs, estate agents etc.

It’s a huge waste of time because:

  1. A lot of the time, you are literally looking for a needle in a haystack
  2. You are following the same process for each customer

You might have heard of OCR. It’s where you scan the paperwork in and the text becomes searchable like on a web page or in a Word document. Maybe you’ve even been pitched to by a company offering a “document management” company. They want you to send them all of your files (??!) to do the recognition and for “safe”-keeping.

But what if there were a way to get the same benefits without ever giving up control of the documents? What if you didn’t have to pay a subscription or tie yourself in?

What if it were dead easy to find precisely what you’re looking for? (an invoice from the council on the 2nd of May for £120).

Enter, bespoke software. Neato!

Bespoke software is a great fit for document management because it gets around the biggest security concerns, eliminates vendor tie in and cuts your ongoing costs substantially.

We’re experienced software developers and we’ve done this before and we can do it again. Give us a call if you’d like to start taking control of your documents.

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Preparing your store for Black Friday and Christmas shopping

First and foremost, Christmas is not here yet. We have two more months before we have to sit down with our most annoying relatives. Phew.

But, if you’re in retail, you’ll know how important the next two months are. The next two months pay for the rest of the year. If they go well, you’ll be in great stead for 2018. If they go badly, you might get your P45 in your Christmas card.

If you have physical stores, you might be advertising temporary vacancies to help cope with the rush. Good thinking, Batman.

Your online store might not have the capacity it needs.

There are four factors that influence the capacity of your online store:

  1. The number of people who visit your website
  2. How they interact with your website
  3. Your online store’s coding
  4. The servers that host your online store

If you use Google Analytics, (1) and (2) are really easy to find so you should definitely do this now.

Log in and select your store and go to Audience > Overview.

 

 

 

Drop down under Overview. You’ll probably see Sessions selected. Choose Pageviews.

On the right hand side, choose Hourly.

Then, hover over the graph and you’ll see the number of pageviews per hour.

Select your busiest period. This might be your Black Friday or Christmas sale from last year. Find the busiest hour or the busiest day.

To make the maths easy, let’s say there were 36,000 pageviews in that hour. There are 3600 second in an hour, so divide that number by 3600 to get your pageviews per second. In our example, we arrived at 100.

We then need to adjust this number for your projections this year. If you’re spending more on advertising this year, you might want to add 20%. If you’re spending less, you might want to subtract 20%. It’s better to overshoot than to undershoot, though, and it’s worth adding a buffer in case your estimate is a bit out.

The number you arrived at is the number of pageviews per second that your store and hosting need to be able to accommodate so your Christmas card contains an awful joke and not a P45 (I’m not selling this well, am I?)

Armed with your pageviews per second, your developer and hosting company (or Coherent… just sayin’) will be able to run tests to determine if you’re already in good stead or if you need to make changes so your online store doesn’t fall flat when you most need it up and running.

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How we use automation in our workflow

Bureaucracy isn’t just the domain of large corporates. Even as a young, hip software development company, we have it. In this post, I want to describe how we use automation and bespoke software in our own workflow.

Systems we use

We use several off the shelf systems:

  • Xero for accounting,
  • GitHub is a key part of our software development workflow,
  • Harvest to fill some of the gaps in Xero,
  • Dial9 for our phone system,
  • Matomo for website analytics,
  • Kayako (legacy) as a support desk / shared inbox.

Harvest integrates nicely with Xero (which is why we use it) but apart from that, there’s little integration between our systems.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter much. Integrating our phone system with our accounting system wouldn’t help much. We had a few challenges, though.

Challenges

  1. “He said, she said”
    Most of our customers are an absolute pleasure to work with (thanks!) but every so often, we had to trawl through emails and phone call logs to find out if we’d made a mistake or if a customer was trying to pull a fast one. It was sometimes so time consuming that we would just assume that we made a mistake even if it meant the company made a loss on a project.By integrating with our phone system, we can quickly find out who spoke to whom, when, and what was said (i.e. the recording) on a timeline simply by clicking on a customer’s name. The timeline also has emails and meeting notes, and everything is searchable. A very detailed audit trail isn’t for everyone but for us, it occasionally saves a lot of time in “he said, she said” scenarios.
  2. Keeping data in sync
    Xero has a list of our customers, invoices and payments. Harvest has a similar list. Dial9 and Kayako have address books that, if they’re accurate, make it easy to know who’s who. By keeping our Dial9 address book up to date, we can see the caller’s name on all of our phones. Because the right person can pick up the phone, we rarely have to transfer calls.By integrating Harvest and Dial9, our phone system’s address book is always up to date. Every time we take on a new customer, their name pops up on our phones when they call without us having to fiddle with the phones or Dial9’s address book.
  3. A single pane of glass
    We’re a small company and mitigating the risks that small companies face (such as cash flow) and making sure that we’re doing the right things to grow our company (such as making sure our marketing budget is well spent) are hugely important. We track loads of KPIs from search engine ranks, to Adwords clicks, to the number of customers with whom we work in a given month, to our website’s traffic, to aged debtors, to projects that are likely overrun and so on.All of our KPIs are always up to date and visible on one page. Really. It wasn’t hard, either. All of our systems had the data we needed inside them but, because every company’s approach to reporting is unique, the data we needed in the format we wanted it in took some time to get to. Now it doesn’t.
  4. That feature we needed
    One of the big drawbacks of off the shelf software is that if there’s something you want it to do, that it doesn’t do (say, because most of their customers don’t need it), it can feel like you’re paying for something that doesn’t fit or that you’re tied in to it.For us, the feature was retainers. A lot of our work is on retainer – if customers commit to a certain volume of work, it gives us the stability we need to grow our company and in return, we can get things done more quickly and be more flexible. Harvest’s concept of retainers didn’t fit out own so we decided to layer bespoke software on top of Harvest to use Harvest’s invoicing, time tracking and project functionality but keep a separate log of retainers.
    5. Correlating data
    One of the greatest advantages of connecting systems is that you can see data from different systems on the same table or the same graph. We correlate our marketing spend with our website traffic and our monthly revenue which allows us to quickly see how well our marketing is performing.

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Why understanding the GDPR can’t wait

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is all over the news. Whilst the deadline of the 25th of May 2018 for UK businesses to be compliant might seem like a long way away, many businesses will have to make substantial changes before then to avoid hefty penalties. It is hard to overstate the differences between the already complex and important Data Protection Act (DPA) and the GDPR and the impact it will have on businesses and consumers.

Who does it apply to?

The GDPR will have an impact on every business and consumer with any EU presence. It “upgrades” the protections enshrined in law by the DPA for today’s digital world, thereby offering more protection to consumers and placing more responsibilities on businesses.

What about Brexit?

The Government has, with unusual (!) clarity, stated that the changes in the GDPR will continue to apply after Brexit.

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Client experience: Alarm System Reviews

Their website is based on WordPress. We were engaged to provide server administration services to improve the performance (i.e. speed up) the website taking advantage of the latest web technologies.

Jon Gavejian from Consumer Media, the company behind Alarm System Reviews, describes their experience:

“We came across Coherent while searching for a SME (subject matter expert) to install and configure the Google PageSpeed Module on our previous hosting provider’s server. We knew right away that the Coherent team had the expertise we needed and awarded the project to them. Throughout the initial PageSpeed Project we found them to be refreshingly responsive to our communications and proactive about suggesting improvements to our technical requirements. Coherent completed the project on time and within budget. Their suggestions even led to performance gains that absolutely exceeded our goals and expectations.

We quickly moved forward with a series of additional projects related to website speed/server optimization. The team at Coherent continued to deliver amazing results that surpassed performance requirements and ultimately secured us as a long-term client. Coherent is now a core part of our organization and just recently pushed live a new custom, high-performance Nginx server for us that is yielding enterprise class performance for a fraction of the cost. The new Nginx server’s custom build includes multiple WordPress installations, the Google PageSpeed Module, CDN integration, server-side caching, PHP7, MariaDB, and HTTP/2 protocol (among many other performance enhancements). We even have the ability to purge all caches at once now. Coherent’s implementation was virtually flawless and the website migrations were quick and painless. You can see firsthand how Coherent is helping us push website performance and speed to the limits by visiting https://www.alarmsystemreviews.com. Check it out and then reach out to Coherent with your project or needs. You’ll love them.

Big thanks to the Coherent team. You guys are awesome!”

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How to choose the right backup strategy

We hear a lot about backups being neglected, and wrote an article some time ago about why backups are so important. Yet, what can be equally infuriating is a backup policy that is not as useful as it might seem when the times comes to actually use it. This article touches on the pros and cons of different approaches. In particular, we consider the speed to restore a backup, compression to save space and encryption to protect the backed up data.

Speed to restore

If you have a lot of important data – whole server backups, VM snapshots or lots of static contents – videos, images and so on, speed is important. It is not unknown for a backup restore process to take several days in these cases, due to a sub-optimal backup choice. If you have a lot of data, one backup strategy must be the speed and cost of restoring everything in a worst-case scenario. An excellent article suggests why Amazon Glacier is the wrong choice for this.

If you have double-digital gigabytes of data to restore, I strongly recommend against lots of compression or encryption for your backups. If the data is very sensitive, consider backing up to an encrypted disk rather than encrypting the backups directly as it is often faster. Compression and deduplication (i.e. storing incremental changes over time) also deteriorate the speed of your backups to sometimes unusable levels. Finally, consider the geographic distance between the backup storage and your normal server – it should be great enough that it survives a disaster, yet small enough that data doesn’t have to travel far.

Compression, deduplication and encryption

Compression means rewriting files in a more efficient way and has a lot of similarities with deduplication, storing multiple copies of files by only recording changes over time. Compression and deduplication are perfect for accidental deletions as it’s easy to restore a handful of files from months or years ago. In these cases, the speed doesn’t matter much as, without compression and deduplication, you probably would not have been able to store the files for so long anyway.

Encryption is a more complex subject. Platforms that claim to offer encryption often offer encryption that can be decrypted by someone else. This sort of encryption offer negligible security benefits in my opinion. Good encryption needs to be end-to-end, meaning that there is only one feasible way to decrypt the data at any stage – with the relevant key. The downside is, strong, end-to-end encryption can be slow and, combining it with compression can make restores very slow indeed. It also places additional stress on your servers, potentially increasing hosting costs.

For sensitive data, such as e-commerce databases, separate the sensitive data and store it somewhere away from prying eyes. Tarsnap is an excellent choice for this sort of sensitive data. Although the pricing seems fuzzy, at least one of our clients stores data at Tarsnap at a surprisingly low cost.

RAID and Snapshots

One client this week found out the hard way that neither RAID nor snapshots were of any use when the hosting provider had a major incident, resulting in corrupt data, overwriting the snapshot with the corrupt data and eventually telling him that the snapshots shouldn’t be used as backups.. Right.

Snapshots are actually great when they are done properly – a few are stored off-site. They are fast to restore and generally very reliable. However, they only apply to backups being made by a hosting company on a virtual machine that they sell. It is not feasible to back up an entire running system consistently. Therefore, if you rely on your hosting company for backups, you should have a second backup, in case you hosting company get it wrong – as they often do.

Backup Service Providers

With our managed hosting and managed cloud, we take care of the complexities of backups. Other managed service providers generally do the same. I would still urge clients to keep their own backups, particularly for the cases of a dispute between the provider and the client, but, generally, someone else is worrying about it.

For others, on unmanaged services, consider Tarsnap for your most sensitive data. If you use a control panel, such as cPanel, there is already a great backup tool built in, that is specifically designed to work with your server, that just needs some space. The space should be somewhere else, off your server, and, you might be surprised at how cost effective that backup space can be.

Get help implementing backups

Contact us to get help designing and implementing a backup strategy that really works

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