Table of Contents
- Stable Innovation
- Consolidated Data Model
- Robust Security Model
- Complete Collaboration
- Flexible Reports
- Project Management
- Full Administration Options
Innovation usually means progress, but for a new product it can also mean chaos, failure, and poor usability. Starta recognizes the risks inherent in being an innovator, and has taken steps to insure that we provide a consistent, understandable, usable product that also happens to be highly innovative. This section details some of our more notable business-level innovations, and the value that they provide to our clients. For information about our technology-level innovations, see our Technology Overview. The way we keep our business innovations grounded and usable is simple: we listen to customers. Many of our best innovations were developed in response to needs voiced by existing customers, and the new features or modules which resulted were developed with continual feedback from those customers. We rigorously maintain a very consistent user interface throughout the system, so that once you learn the basic mechanics of the system (which most people simply pick up intuitively), you know how to "work" any page within the system. We maintain a similar consistency in our back-end code and systems architecture, and this--paired with code reuse--also helps us to make even our newest innovations stable, familiar, maintainable.
Consolidated Data Model
One of the biggest strengths of our systems is that there is always exactly one field per data point. For instance, if your company has an employee named Bill Smith, you only have to type in Bill's name once. Later, you'll always select his name from a list, or search for him. This has the added benefit that most data can then be rolled up in many different interesting dimensions: you could see how many projects Bill works on, or how many different Architects he works with, or how much sales revenue he has generated over a six year period.
Many systems have this sort of rollup capability, but our model both saves you time and prevents some of the more common issues that arise with rollups in other systems. For instance, what if his name was sometimes keyed in as William Smith, and other times it was Bill Smith? What if there is a Bill Smith at another company? In our consolidated data model, these issues are cleanly avoided. A unique back-end number is attached to everything, which insures that confusion over identity never arises.
Our system is certainly not the only normalized database on the market--every well-designed database should be as normalized as possible (though a great many are not). What sets our system apart from even the other well-designed databases is the ease of management that we present through our user interface, and our dedication to always maintaining full normalization.
Robust Security Model
Generally speaking, there are two levels of security among software products: security which is fully-featured, and security which is quick and easy to use. The Starta system breaks this pattern by offering a very full-featured security model which can be configured in great depth or used "out of the box." Our security model is task-based, but all tasks are assigned to customizable roles, which can then be assigned to people, groups of people, or an individual.
This hybrid roles/tasks model allows for great flexibility, and a minimum of configuration. Additionally, Starta maintains a default security schema for all of the basic roles, and overriding this default schema is optional. Some companies use our system without ever configuring any security themselves, and other companies have entirely self-defined schemas. The basic role set is also very flexible--each role can be renamed or turned off completely. So if you like the default security schema, but the base role names don't make sense, all you have to do is rename the roles.
Document Permissions are separate from normal Tasks within the system, but work according to all the same principles. There is also another class of security, which we call "Derived Security," which you never have to explicitly configure. For example, when you route a document to a person, they immediately gain the ability to see that document--they don't need preexisting access. There are many other less obvious examples of situations in which the system automatically knows that someone needs access to a piece of data based on data input by users, especially in our Project Management modules.
We also have a number of features targeted at making security assignments as easy as possible. Teams can be centrally defined and then used throughout the system. That makes it so that when a new member of your staff is added, they only need to be added to a team or two, and then they have access to everything they need. There are other options for easily granting individuals access to parts of the system, as well.
Most systems with features anything like ours have a focus on collaboration--that's part of the core focus, after all. However, most systems focus on collaboration within one organization only. Often they run within an Intranet only, and extending the system to partners is a challenge. Even if you do get your system out onto the Internet, or get your partners access via VPN, partners have to remember the location of your system as well as the locations of any other partner systems they may have access to. This may work well enough if your organization is very large or if you have exclusive or near-exclusive relationships with your partners, but otherwise this can become very challenging.
STARTA is completely Internet-based, which means that all anyone ever needs is their login information and a web browser. IS/IT departments don't have to get involved in setting up new users, and new hardware and software does not have to be purchased by your company as new people are added. Even better, if your partners are also clients of the system, all of their work shows up in one place, making them more likely to be responsive and involved within your own projects.
Our reports are all generated in Microsoft Word or Excel, which has a number of advantages. There is always a read-only source copy on our servers, but once you download a copy you can change as much as you like. This can be useful for quickly sorting, pivoting, or otherwise analyzing data using the same methods you already know in Excel. This can save time and money as compared to other solutions like Crystal Reports, which often require additional server queries in order to drill into data.
Having Word and Excel as our native reports format also means that you can simply give us your existing spreadsheets or documents, and we'll automate them. You're assured of having exactly the formatting you want, because it's the formatting you already had in the first place. Your executives don't have to get used to even a slightly different format--reports continue to look just as they always have, while at the same time you avoid the massive amount of work it takes to manually update data across many spreadsheets.
The Starta system makes it easy to run cross-project reports, or reports on a single project. You can even use our single-project reporting capabilities to automatically fill our legal or financial documents, which can make maintaining a consistent format very easy. Our cross-project reports can also be scheduled for run on periodic intervals, and the results of each scheduled run can be automatically emailed to any addresses you like--and no login is required to get the results, as a secure key is embedded in the link itself.
All of the features discussed thus far refer to our "Standard Reports," but we have another class of report as well--"Ad-Hoc Reports." These reports are not pre-programmed, and are instead configured by people via a simple point-and-click interface. No knowledge of SQL or any other programming is required. Once the report is designed, it is exported into an Excel file and can then be manipulated farther if need be. Ad-Hoc Reports can be excellent tools for on-the-fly analysis of data.
One well-known problem with many Project Management technology implementations is that all too often the technology does not see real use, either due to complexity of the system, time required to administer the system, or issues with convincing staff to alter their existing business practices. The Starta system combats all three of these potential pitfalls by offering three separate highly intuitive Project Management solutions.
Our Job Tracking module is by far our lightest-weight Project Management solution, as it simply lets people track upcoming events or deadlines, and estimated vs. actual dates of completion. These jobs can be templated, or they can be configured on the fly. Email alerts can be sent to various roles, which lets people simply check their email every day to see their To-Do list. This module is extremely easy to set up, requires almost no time to maintain, and is adequate in many cases.
The next level of functionality is our Workflows module, which takes a bit longer to set up the first time, but which is really intended to be run off central templates (though workflows can be created on the fly, as well). Workflows tie in documents from our Document Management system, and allow for a linear progression of work, often moving documents along a chain of people or departments to completion. Email alerts are sent from this module as well, so that people assigned to the active workflow stage can simply check their email to see that it is time for them to do work. The Workflows feature is a little more complex than Job Tracking, but also requires very little maintenance and is still very easy for the end users to update and view.
Our highest level of Project Management functionality is in our Process Tracking module, which is a non-linear, branching process. The initial setup of a Process can be time consuming, but most of the time spent is on defining and quantifying business processes, not on translating them into the system. Once a Process is in place, however, it is easy to maintain, and very easy to use. As with workflows, assigned users simply get an email when it is time for them to do work. Each email contains a task list and a general description of work. They then click a link into the system, and simply choose the appropriate outcome when they are finished. Based on the chosen outcome, the process then proceeds to the next node(s) as necessary.
All three of our levels of project management offer alternative solutions to traditional project management solutions. Compared to Gantt Chart project management, our solutions are easier to set up, maintain, and use. Our system shines best when there are complex, repeated business processes (such as processing of loan applications), whereas traditional project management systems are often most used when there is one long, drawn-out project that does not follow any central process.
Full Administration Options
STARTA is massive, and has a tremendous number of administrative options. This could become quite a problem for users if not handled carefully. Fortunately, we keep complexity to a minimum by keeping the administrative functions very separate from the screens used by typical end users. Most administrative functions are used either off your central Account Administrator sidebar, or off of an advanced node on other sidebars. These features don't even appear except for authorized users, and are out of the way when not needed by users who do have access.
Most screens, administrative or for end use, are so intuitive that many people don't require any explanation at all. Starta does provide classes and online training, as well as our Online User Manual and other guides, but many times people find these tools extraneous for everyday use. This can be tremendously valuable to our clients, as they spend less time and money on training, and new staff is able to start working on the system very quickly.