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15 years of making complex tasks simple

Simplification of complex procedures is often more challenging than you might first imagine. The first step if to break down the procedure into its simplest components; decompiling each step in order to arrive as a series of micro decisions that ultimately result in a true or false statement. Once you are able to break down a procedure to this level you can rebuild it – removing the complexity from the user interface – and make a complex task simple.

Software engineering is broken down into three layers:

1.      Data

2.      Business rules

3.      Graphical User interface (GUI)

Making complex tasks simple involves shifting the complexity from the GUI to the business rules or logic that the user doesn’t directly visualise. In essence, business analysts take responsibility for the decision making and application of business rules whilst enabling the user to determine the results with a series of questions or actions via the GUI, often referred to the User eXperience (UX).

A real world example

Let’s look at an example that we did several years ago for an events business. The objective of the event management team is to match businesses together over the three day event, ensuring each participant meets businesses that have expressed an interest in their product or services. Participants are split between delegates (usually FTSE 500 businesses) and suppliers that are pitching for business from the delegates.

Prior to the event, each participant is asked for the preferences, including who they would like to meet at the event; delegates select from the list of suppliers and visa versa.

Once the participant preferences are collected – via a drag and drop GUI – which we developed for the event management team, they run the event schedule that collects all the preferences and compiles their individual dairies. The dairies contain each participant’s itinerary for the event, based on their preferences.

How does the event schedule work?

This is where we move the complexity from the GUI / UX to the business logic, making complex tasks simple, in order to get the best results as there are simple too many variables for a person to compute, in order to come up with the best itinerary for every participant.

Let’s have a look at the core activity – the one to one meetings between suppliers and delegates – held over two days, consisting of thirty minute meeting slots. We use the participant’s preferences and break them down to create a priority based system. When making their selections participants are asked to prioritise their selections between high, medium or low that is used to create the order in which preferences are processed. Supplier’s selections are weighted, so you end up with the following list of priorities.

Priority table

Once we have prioritised the preferences, we can process each request, based on the resulting priority that ensures participants are more likely to meet the businesses they want to at the event.

A typical event will process over a thousand preferences in a matter of seconds and build each participants diary, with details of the meetings achieved. Furthermore, the scheduler then builds a seating plan for each meal and attempts to match any remaining meeting requests in order to seat suppliers and delegates together over dinner or lunch.

The results speak for themselves

The event management team have used the on-line database application – traditionally called an extranet application – since 2004 and have now used the scheduler for well over 30 events. Their objective is to ensure that each supplier achieves the number of one to one business meetings associated with their package. During the recession following the financial crisis in 2008 the ratio between suppliers and delegates was marginal, but they were still able to achieve their primary objective and have done ever since they have used our event management system, even as recently as this week in Barcelona!

Conclusion

When we described the approach for how we would process the participant’s preferences the client was shocked at the simplicity of our approach and initial, sceptical about whether it would work, but once they saw the results they were delighted.

making complex tasks simple

This is an excellent example of how we make complex tasks simple and the reason why we used Piet Mondrian’s artwork as the inspiration for our logo, as his work was about breaking nature down to its simplest form, much as we break down business procedures in order to create intuitive solutions that are simple to use.

Date: 13/10/2017

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