Making Connections: How We Think About Software Services

Making Connections: How We Think About Software Services

Today, businesses recognize Software as a Service (SaaS) as an accepted way to deliver applications, but it was not always that way. Companies began adopting this strategy in the late 1990’s, but it didn’t really take hold as a widespread practice until the mid 2000’s.

I was fortunate to witness the transition firsthand as part of LeanLogistics, a SaaS pioneer in the supply chain space. We founded the company in 1999, in an era where enterprise software was always installed on-premise. But, over the course of just a few years, that mindset completely shifted as companies moved through the adoption curve to fully embrace this new way of doing business.

So why is SaaS so powerful? Here are three reasons:

clouddiagram-001Flexible Integration

Today’s world of API-enabled online services makes it infinitely easier to link disparate systems, and create visibility to information in new ways. This added visibility helps to eliminate information silos, which continue to thrive in enterprises of all sizes, but especially in those that have a mix of software systems.

We’ve built Local Orbit as an “integration friendly” platform, driven by API’s to connect external systems and data that can drive significant value for each customer individually, as well as the collective network as a whole. This means that we’re agnostic to where data comes from, or how it gets to us. That’s important because we know that customers use everything from Excel spreadsheets to sophisticated ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems to manage their business, so we need to provide the linkages that make it easy for them to do business with us.

Single Instance

SaaS delivers tremendous value to companies without them having to own or manage physical hardware, or having to deal with the headaches of updating software. New features can be deployed in days, as opposed to months or even years, as all customers are always using the same version of the software. In a true SaaS environment, all customer information resides in a central data warehouse, so that the network’s “information exhaust” that is generated by daily transactions can easily be aggregated and leveraged to create even more value for every customer.

This is exactly how we deliver our solution. We release new versions of our software every couple of weeks with new enhancements, or tweaks to existing capabilities, based on customer feedback.

Deep Configurability

Local Orbit believes in the power and flexibility of SaaS. In fact, we use dozens of other cloud providers to manage our own business, which enables us to provide more powerful tools to help the suppliers and buyers on our platform manage and grow their businesses.

Indeed, the future of business – and the future of sustainable supply chains and local economies – is in connected software services that balance business process and data standards with flexibility and deep configurability that enable businesses to efficiently provide unique, localized value.

Creating Business Value with Open Source Software

Creating Business Value with Open Source Software

At Local Orbit, we frequently hear of efforts to build or utilize open source software (OSS) for local food businesses. Commonly misperceived as “free” software, it sounds appealing to small, cost-conscious operations that strive to make a social impact while building a sustainable business. People sometimes think that OSS will provide the tools that can meet their business needs with minimal upfront or ongoing cost.

There are many scenarios in which open source software makes sense, and we’ve explained some below, including how Local Orbit uses OSS in our platform.

Before you dive into deploying an OSS solution, it’s important to understand that creating, managing, and updating software is complex – even if you’re just making changes to existing OSS. Indeed, it’s generally an entire business in and of itself!

Software isn’t static. You can’t build it once and walk away. It requires ongoing refinement and development, and an architecture that can adapt to changes in the market or the evolution of a business. And it needs to keep up with evolving internet technologies, browsers, and a range of operating systems and devices — much like local food production and distribution businesses need to keep up with changes in markets, regulations, weather, and other variables over time.

So, what exactly is OSS? It’s computer software whose author publishes its source code with a license that allows anyone to study, change, and distribute the software for any purpose.

OSS projects run the gamut, from small “helper” libraries built by one person, to entire applications developed by largeopensource communities of programmers located throughout the world. In fact, much of the software that runs the Internet itself is considered Open Source, and is continually being changed by people with a passion for pushing technology to its limits.

Platform service providers, like Local Orbit, frequently use OSS within some portion of their development and deployment process. From small snippets of code to large functional modules, this software model is part of practically every application today, and reduces development time by hundreds, if not thousands of hours every year.

Because OSS code is freely available, companies can be more cost effective with their development. Which is why we use OSS tools like Ruby and Postgres, along with dozens of other OSS libraries, extensively at Local Orbit, and with every other company that I’ve worked with for the past 25 years.

I’m often asked why companies would not simply use open source software for all of their business functions. After all, you can download everything from word processors to spreadsheets to sales, manufacturing management, and e-commerce tools, all for free.

The primary reason is the support and knowledge that enable better business processes, along with a continual development focus that volunteer projects cannot sustain. This is especially true when working with specialized software that is dedicated to a specific industry or market, like CRM (sales) or ERP (manufacturing) platforms. Often, there is a challenge in aligning the development and business goals of these tools, to ensure they deliver continuous value to customers.

This is where platforms like Local Orbit shine. Our development and operations teams have  the skills and experience to assist new food economy organizations in addressing complex supply chain issues that can prevent them from taking their business to the next level. You see that reflected in the software we create, the network we enable, and the value we deliver.

Learn more about Open Source Software here.

The Power of Data to Grow Local Food Systems

The Power of Data to Grow Local Food Systems


BigData ©Camelia.boban


How Local Orbit helps organizations access their data, and how they can use it to plan for the future and develop sustainable local supply chains.

Each day, our digital footprint grows larger and larger. In fact, it permeates our lives so thoroughly that we don’t even think about how far reaching it is. We are surrounded by Big Data, a term coined to emphasize the vast amount of information that is continually generated by, and about our world.

If your organization knows how to leverage the “information exhaust” generated by your daily activities, you will have a distinct advantage in today’s business climate.

Platforms such as Local Orbit generate millions of transactions on a daily basis, across all aspects of the order to cash process – from selecting suppliers, to managing products, to placing orders, tracking the delivery process, and so on. Each of these activities contains tiny pieces of information, that when taken together as a collection, add up to valuable insight to industry trends and customer habits.

Think about how your business would benefit from real-time access to pricing trends for your specific geography. Or, the ability to evaluate alternative suppliers, based upon the availability of products you purchase regularly. Ultimately, this kind of network data enables you to benchmark yourself against best-in-class organizations.

At Local Orbit, we’re building a powerful data warehouse and self-service discovery engine into our platform that can answer these kinds of questions, and help you tell a great story about your place in the new food economy.

Beyond static dashboards and spreadsheet exports (CSVs), these new analytics capabilities will give you the power to create everything from simple pie charts to sophisticated mapping visualizations, and then share them with your team and trading partners.

However, your own Local Orbit data is just one piece of the puzzle. To truly make sense of the big picture, you must combine it with other information sources to understand it in context. But, this additional data resides in many different places, and in many different formats, making it very difficult to analyze.

To address this issue, we constantly review new sources of information from government, academics, and business for inclusion into our data warehouse. This means you will be able to create dashboards, reports and KPIs that combine your Local Orbit activity with relevant data about crop production, transportation costs, commodity pricing, and much more.

Data is quickly becoming a new type of currency that you can use to identify procurement opportunities, identify more sustainable menu ingredients, improve production planning, reduce delivery costs, tell compelling stories, and more. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can use data to accelerate your local food journey, get in touch.

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