R&D Director and Fusion lead Tim Purcell talks development processes, ERP add-ons – and why customer collaboration is critical to effective research and development.
“I’ve always wanted to develop business software, as difficult as that might be to believe,” Tim says, “but there’s a genuine pay-off to solving recurring problems for businesses, knowing you’re improving their operational quality of life on a daily basis.”
Just a brief glance at Tim’s background reveals that his passion for business-software design isn’t exactly a recent development. In 1993, he graduated with a degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from Liverpool University and went on to design and develop quotation software for a manufacturing company as part of his dissertation.
23 years later, Tim became Datel’s research and development director, a position which includes development of its in-house Fusion range. Australia, America, the UK – the Fusion portfolio is helping businesses around the world expand the functionality of their ERP systems.
Identifying how to best expand that functionality is no small feat, but it’s a challenge that compels Tim to continually refine his team’s research and development processes – all with the help of Datel’s customers.
Customer collaboration – why it’s critical to effective R&D
But add-on development for ERP solutions isn’t always straightforward. From identifying an issue and establishing a solution, to developing, testing and supporting that solution, the life cycle of any given product isn’t entirely predictable.
“You always want your products to be the best they can be before going to market,” Tim says. “If it’s not ready, we give it more time, more testing.”
And to ensure the research and development process is as fruitful as possible, Tim’s team endeavours to help businesses understand what ERP add-ons can achieve - and what can be accomplished by Datel’s R&D team with their input.
“ERP software can do a lot, especially when paired with add-on solutions,” he says. “There’s a lot to talk about, so it’s easy for add-on solutions to get lost in the chatter.
“Your business might have a recurring operational problem, but you might not know there’s a solution available. It’s why communication and collaboration with customers is so important.”
A collaborative approach allows Tim to put concepts in front of potential end users and ensure solutions are designed to maximise improvements for businesses, regardless of size, sector or industry.
But not every idea makes it to market, according to Tim: “An idea might prove too specific to a single business. But even a shelved solution can become the bedrock or springboard for something else - we can leverage those ideas to develop new products in the future.”
Fusion refined - the power of face-to-face feedback
Tim’s collaborative approach is embodied by Datel’s customer events, which are a vital opportunity for his team to crowdsource critical industry concerns. “They’re an outlet for businesses to tell us what they need,” he says. “We can tell them what we have to offer, and work to bridge any gaps between the two.”
Customer events can also enhance and accelerate the iterative process of product development, providing Datel with exclusive industry insight.
“A customer might mention a problem in passing,” he says, "and not long after, we’ve identified the core of their issue – an issue that might be industry wide. Then we begin to develop a proof of concept and see whether or not it can grow into a working solution.”
Yet not every Fusion product is a solution to a specific problem. An add-on might do what’s already being done in a better way, and improve processes throughout an organisation, “A solution can sometimes enhance existing processes within their ERP system, and give a business that extra efficiency where they need it most.”
The rewards of research and development
Talking with Tim, it’s clear that feedback is critical to the development process, both pre- and post-deployment. With every new customer comes access to a new perspective as to how a product is used – and how updates from Datel’s R&D team could further accommodate that use in the future.
And so for Tim, feedback is both a necessity for effective product development and a perk of the job: “We’re sometimes told by our customers that Fusion is the cornerstone of their Sage system, and that it’s what makes their business work. It’s incredibly rewarding to hear.
“Our connection with our customers and industry is something we’re always looking to strengthen – just like everything else we do at Datel.”