A long-time Far Reach client has a robust custom portal that allows its sales staff to keep product variants updated and customers to see what products are available for them to buy. We originally built the portal in 2016, did a big update in 2019, and have been developing enhancements throughout the entire life of the portal.
The portal holds a lot of data about each product and variant. One piece of information tied to most products and variants is a map that indicates its recommended geography.
For years, the client’s sales representatives would manually update each and every map in, of all things, Microsoft Paint, which is apparently still around. We knew there was a better way, so we evaluated options and ultimately implemented a solution in which maps can be edited right inside the portal. As a result, sales reps save valuable time and maps are consistent across the platform.
From Manual, Disjointed Process to Streamlined Workflow
Our client has hundreds—nearing thousands—of products and variants in its custom portal, and since most need a map, someone has to create that map and tie it to a product. Before this update, sales reps would take a .jpg file, edit areas in Microsoft Paint, save the file, and upload it to the portal. Map files were hard to track down, it was difficult to see which ones were and weren’t updated, and every the .jpg was saved, the quality of the image was reduced.
For many of the maps, the rasterized file was so degraded that editing had to happen at the pixel level—by zooming in and editing individual pixels in MS Paint. The process of finding existing maps, editing them pixel by tiny pixel, and re-uploading to the portal was tedious and time consuming. Having 20 different sales reps doing this process led to missed updates, inconsistent maps, and lost files—every single year.
The client asked for a better way to upload and manage the maps. When it came to creating the maps, they thought, “Well, this is just the way it’s always been done, so this is how we do it.” When we saw their process during a meeting about something else, we knew there was a better way—likely a solution for editing images within the portal. Our job is to help clients do their work better, and this was a prime example of where a simple solution could save a lot of time and hassle, as well as lead to a better outcome.
Simplicity Over Complexity
As software developers, when we hear “mapping,” we often think, oh boy, this is going to require a complex mapping platform like ArcGIS and some of the mapping work we do in iEmergent’s Mortgage MarketSmart product. But not all features that involve maps have to be advanced map-based functionality.
In this case, we looked at this enhancement not as a mapping feature, but as an image editing one. After getting ideas from the whole team, we identified an open-source command line image editing tool that has been around for years and was, therefore, tested and proven. The tool is free, lightweight, and has a .NET library. We tested the riskiest assumptions, implemented the tool in a test environment, and built out simple functionality to make map editing much easier.
We start with a clean, vector-based map image. When the client opens the map to edit it, they click on the geographic areas to fill and which color (of two brand-approved options) to use for each area. The image editing tool records the click location within the image as well as the fill colors and generates a map image before saving it to the server.
By starting with a clean template image each time and limiting color options, the images retain quality and consistency. Sales reps can now edit the map images right in the portal they know and love (without having to open MS Paint). It was important that the tool be lightweight because many sales reps use the portal on mobile devices. We programmed it to do a lot of the image processing on the server side to keep things fast and reliable.
All of the map images live in the portal’s map manager. Sales reps can see which products have (and don’t have) maps and can view and edit images in a few clicks. When the client was creating images the old way, they had to click into each product to see if it had a map and whether it needed updates.
This image editor solution saves sales reps valuable time and produces better information for them and their customers.
Getting to “Delight” in Custom Software
When you launch a new custom software system, there’s a lot of excitement. You get to use the new tool and watch your team and/or customers experience a better way to engage with your organization.
After launch, there’s excitement around enhancements, but then you fall into a routine of grooming the backlog, building out user stories, developing, testing, and launching updates.
Since we’ve been working with this client on this system for many years, the novelty was long gone for them. But this map feature brought delight to the client and the sales reps using the maps in the system. For this client, updating maps is important but not exciting or complex. But saving dozens of hours per year, with a better output, was very exciting. Imagine not having to use MS Paint anymore!
And to think, creating images within the portal wasn’t even on the client’s radar—they didn’t see creating the maps as something that needed fixing or that could be fixed in a cost-effective way. We identified it as an opportunity during one of our regularly scheduled meetings, which we’ve had every two weeks for years. That shows the benefit of working with a long-term, trusted development partner. As an outside party—one that specializes in helping people work smarter—we can see opportunities like this where a client might not.
Every day, our work helps others do their work—better, faster, most cost-effectively—but because we work with most of our clients for many years, it’s a rare honor to witness true delight from them. We know our work matters, but it’s the little things like this that help feed our drive to continue to make a difference for our clients and, in turn, empower them to make a difference for their stakeholders. It may seem small—a map editing feature—but it’s a big deal to the client and that makes it a big deal to us.
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