Blog

Our software engineers take on Total Ninja

 

One of the most exciting developments in Manchester’s Trafford Park has to be Total Ninja. I was really excited when I heard about the launch and saw the promotional video – and what better place to take the team out of the office for a team building day?

Last week, we took most of our software engineers out of the office (and off their chairs!) for most of the day to attempt the obstacle courses at Total Ninja. The courses were more difficult that we had expected – and quickly showed us who has been keeping up their fitness and who hasn’t.

Obstacle courses at Total Ninja

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Coherent to exhibit at the North Lancs Expo

 

We’re pleased to announce that after exhibiting at the inaugural North Lancs Expo, organised by the excellent Lancaster & District Chamber of Commerce, we’ll be exhibiting (with a much larger presence this time!) at the 2018 expo.

The expo is due to be held at the Lancaster Brewery (hint!) on the 23rd and 24th of September between 10am and 4pm.

Please come by and meet some of our team! We’ll also be giving away plenty of goodies.

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Bringing Worldpay’s payment pages into the 21st century

We know that, to put it nicely, Worldpay’s hosted gateway payment pages (“pay by link”) are a little dated. We manage because:

  1. They are the UK’s largest payment processor and one of the most cost effective,
  2. There are other options, such as “direct XML”, if you really need it to match your brand.

Recently, we found ourselves addressing a separate problem – the lack of integration between Worldpay’s core products and the Xero accounting system. There has been huge demand for this, for years. Worldpay ended up responding to this by bringing out Worldpay Online. Worldpay Online is their modern, easy to integrate payments platform that unfortunately is much more expensive than their core products. Despite a finally seeing a direct Xero-Worldpay integration, the community responded exactly as you’d expect.

Software development is what we do and, as active users and developers of both systems, we decided to take on the challenge of integrating the two systems as the community wants. The result is our second app, Coherent Pay.

Coherent Pay works well (we’re biased!) but the weak point is the part of the process where customers are redirected to a payment page that was probably built in the early ’90s and changed little since. With this in mind, we got our design hat on and created a new look for both pages (click to enlarge):

Worldpay modified payment page 1Worldpay modified payment page 2

We’re releasing these, free of charge, to Worldpay users everywhere, whether or not you use our Xero integration!

How to install the new pages

  1. Log in to the Worldpay Business Manager and click on “setup”
    Step 1
  2. Click on “Edit Payment Pages”
    Step 2
  3. Choose your installation ID (probably called Pay by Link) and click Edit Payment Pages
    Step 3
  4. Click “Header and Footer”:
    Step 4
  5. Click “Edit Header” and then repeat the following steps for “Edit Footer” as well
    Step 5
  6. Paste the header (footer) code into the box and click “Save File”
    Step 6

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Coherent supports the Django REST Framework

 

Django is the gold standard for creating web applications in Python. The Django REST Framework (DRF) is the gold standard for creating RESTful API-driven applications in Django.

DRF has been a key building block to ensure the quality of our bespoke Django development for over two years. It has:

  • Provided new developers in our team with a wealth of documentation and examples,
  • Made it easy to test our applications and contributed to our test-driven development (TDD) approach,
  • Helped to define a coherent structure for our API-driven applications.

We are therefore very, very proud to employ DRF in our stack.

[ninja_form id=4]

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What the GDPR means for software

The GDPR is the successor to the Data Protection Act in the UK. There is a lot of worry and panic about the changes it brings.

If you’re in the Northwest of England, I recommend attending a talk by Baines Wilson on the practicalities of the GDPR. It could be the best 2 hours and £25 that you spend for a long time (but I’ll forgive you if you can drink 8 pints in 2 hours).

Cumbersome as the changes are for some businesses, they make a lot of sense from a technical point of view. They’ll help to stop sensitive personal data “floating around”, email addresses being “subscribed” to email marketing lists and data sharing and aggregation between apps and websites.

Your Software

The key point for business software is governance. Governance has always been a part of big business. Now it needs to be a part of every business.

Example

The Data Protection Act required that businesses only retain sensitive data that they need. The GDPR goes further by requiring businesses to have a demonstrable process to remove sensitive data they don’t need.

The difference might seem subtle but if you store customer records in a CRM, does your CRM let you set up a “rule” to remove unneeded data automatically?

If not, how laborious would it be to log on every month and remove stale data?

Divide, then Conquer

You need to identify each system that stores sensitive personal data. For each system, identify the risks of a data leak and what you can do to mitigate them.

The easiest step you can take to mitigate risk is to remove data that you don’t need. If your systems make it easy to identify data you don’t need and delete it, great. If not, you may need to consider new software.

You should also identify the safeguards in place in each system. Who built the system and what is their track record like? Where is your data located? Do you have full control over it? Do the systems have appropriate protection against attacks?

New Software

Some systems you use might not be adequate. If so, now is the time to devise a plan of action.

Are your systems generally good but lacking in some areas?
Consider a bespoke integration to add additional governance to your existing system.

Do your systems need to be replaced completely?
We might be able to create software to help migrate your data to a new system.

Should you consider a bespoke software package?
If off the shelf packages are expensive or limiting, now might be the ideal time to consider moving to bespoke software. Bespoke software gives you more control, more oversight and generally lower ongoing costs.

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We’re the Northwest’s first Xero Developer Partner

 

We have recently become the first and only software development company in the Northwest to be accredited by the accounting platform Xero.
Our accreditation follows a range of highly successful projects incorporating a Xero integration. Our Xero integration work creates bespoke functionality on top of your accounting system to tailor it to your own business needs.
Typically, our integrations fall into two categories:
  1. Connecting Xero to one of your existing systems to ease manual work – for example, if an invoice is created in another system, it automatically flows over to Xero and when it’s paid in one system, that payment automatically flows over to the other system (how much time would that save?!).
    Read more about our Xero integration work and join the likes of Jacadi, Chaney Associates and Wealth Preservation Holding Company
  2. Bespoke software including a Xero integration. Most of what we do is building entirely bespoke systems.
    Read more about our bespoke software development and join the likes of Thunderbird Releasing, CareRadar and ACCq.

 

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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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Give your customers the self-service portal they want

The photocopier is broken again. Ugh. At least their phone number’s on my recent calls list from yesterday…

.. Ring ring .. For sales, press 1 ..

.. This is really adding insult to injury ..

.. For accounts, press 2 ..

.. I need to remember the menu options for next time ..

.. For support, press 3 ..

.. At last! ..

.. We record all our calls ..

.. That’s great. So do we. …

.. All of our agents are busy .. doo doo .. doo be doo .. Your time is valuable to us ..

Sound familiar? Of course it does. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way.

Self-service portals and apps are huge win-win opportunities for you and your clients. Your customers can get the information they need when they need it (even if they’re photocopying their face at 4am after a classic work night out). You don’t have to employ people, to help to one person at a time, who probably knows what they need and doesn’t want to have to phone in.

That person might even click a button that the customer could have clicked themselves. Efficient, huh?

This sort of workflow belongs in the ’90s. You just have to let go!

That photocopier problem could have been solved with an online troubleshooter. It could also have been solved with an in-app chat that would allow one staff member to help several customers at once (some companies take this to the extreme which is why they seem to have just woken up). In-app chat would also let the customer take photos of the problem. How much quicker would that be?

Whatever systems you have in place now might be great for what they do but if customers can’t help themselves then there is a tremendous opportunity to improve your customer experience and lower costs at the same time. It’s what we do as software developers. We create software that could become part of your website, or could be a mobile app, to plug into whatever systems you have now and deliver extra functionality.

Even if your current systems are decades old black boxes, even if you’ve never worked with software developers before, we know our stuff and we can make it easy for you to deliver the service your customers expect. Call us!

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