Tag Archives: Billhighway

Giving on the Go

Billhighway recently offered a webcast, in partnership with HandsOnTech Detroit covering the many mobile fundraising options for nonprofits.  In it, Tracy Ann-Palmer and myself outline some of the challenges facing nonprofits, specifically related to fundraising and donation processing and how to embrace this new era of mobile fundraising.

While mobile alone can’t remedy the decline in charitable gifting, there are techniques to leverage the areas that are working – notably online and special event fundraising, which grew more than 50% (Nonprofit Fundraising Study 4/12.)  Further, organizations that have embraced mobile technology have raised up to 180% more funds (Nonprofit Technology Network, NTEN.)

During the webcast we highlighted 5 [Mobile] Fundraising Flavors:

  • Text to Give
  • Scan to Give
  • Mobile Card Readers
  • Use of Native Apps
  • Use of HTML5

The above topics were chosen because they have the most potential for nonprofits to embrace quickly and cost-effectively.  The topics are also part of a larger mobile payments movement, which were outlined today by Business Insider as the only four to matter, which is consistent with our experience.  Again, they are:

  • Carrier billing: Where the consumer pays by text message and the charge is added to their phone bill. This is great for a variety of specific use cases (reaching the unbanked, especially teenagers; ecommerce and gaming), but is crimped by carrier fees and control.  
  • Near-Field Communications (NFC): Where the consumer can pay at the point of sale by waving his phone in front of a terminal. NFC has been overhyped: it’s not more convenient than cash or credit, and the many companies who want a piece of NFC are canceling each other’s efforts out.
  • Apps: Where the consumer uses an app on his smartphone to pay, typically by scanning a barcode at the register. This is especially useful for specific companies and retailers to offer, as it allows them to offer loyalty rewards and discounts on top of payments.
  • Card readers: Pioneered by startup Square, with recent entries from eBay (PayPal), Intuit, and Verifone, these solutions allow merchants to take payments by plugging a card reader into a smartphone or tablet. They’re very convenient (swiping a credit card is already ingrained consumer behavior) and piggyback on the existing credit card network.  However, only Billhighway’s Give App is catered to the needs of nonprofits.

You can read the full report from Business Insider here.

The slides from our presentation can be found here.

Who’s ready for Web 3.0?

Just when people started to become comfortable with Web 2.0, Social Media and increasingly “Cloud” – those internet hipsters have to push the envelope further!  In true geek style, increasing a version # is the equivalent to retail’s “New & Improved” formula for laundry detergent.  For supporters it sticks immediately because it has to be better than 2.0 – right?  In IT we move fast, learn, fail and iterate – using a zero based integer reflects our progress. For others it’s just another opportunity to exploit a “buzz word” an over-used, misunderstood acronym that attempts to differentiate the cool-kids from the has-beens.

Well, the only constant in technology is change – right?  Half the battle is determining what concepts are worth your time and which are just noise.  A good CIO should be able to help decipher that for your organization.  I often say, my level of detail fluctuates between 2″ or 20,000 feet – and not much in between.  It takes a respectable amount of time to stay abreast of what seems to be a daily innovation – as somebody, somewhere has uncovered the latest must-have technology/process or technique that you simply can’t live without.  Everyone once in a while, they’re right, most often they’re not.

At Billhighway, R&D is a first class citizen.  It’s important we’re able to speak to all modern technologies, tools, resources or methodologies – we pride ourselves on continuous improvement.  Agile, Scrum & Lean are deeply embedded into our thought process and rarely is there only a single way for getting something done.  Often, the correct answer to an IT question is “it depends.”  There are simply too many variables that can impact your results, having diverse perspectives and a process that can remove emotional decision-making is often key.  And, in a way, that’s what Web 3.0 is all about – the Semantic Web.

Arguably, each of the previous web generations was transformative to business and 3.0 aims to build upon that evolution.  Web 3.0 is a smarter Web, giving users/computers/processes better ways to share information, helping to make faster, more accurate decisions (business intelligence the the 3rd power.)  This has enormous benefits for people who need to search for information, automate business processes and transactions.  Information in a Web 3.0 world will be much easier to access, because systems will do a lot of the time-consuming work that people still do today.

Ultimately, it’s about transparency – by providing incentives for reducing waste and improving accountability.  The orchestration of tools that cut years of research down to days – the holy grail of “do more with less.”  The promise of Web 3.0 suggests information will be much better linked and more efficiently utilized on an increasingly global scale.  Gone are the days of walled gardens.  Sure there will always be private and confidential data, but it will be increasingly abstracted and consumed in more meaningful ways without jeopardizing critical data – via personal data lockers where you control access to your identity, configuring who gets access to what and in what context depending upon role, intent and location.  Think of it as a deeper understanding of the relationships between people, services and objects – paving the way for Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), Open Energy Information (OpenEI), advancements in biotech and even improvements in customer service.

It remains to be seen, if Web 3.0 will have the fan fair of say, Web 2.0 – which even casual observers could see or feel an impact.  3.0 is about transparency whereas 2.0 fundamentally changed the landscape and has touched nearly everyone in a meaningful way.  Think I’m wrong?  Have you managed to boycott Facebook or refuse to tweet?  How about read the news on an iPhone/iPad or eReader?  Still writing checks?  It’s hard to imagine any brand that isn’t somehow trying to incorporate a social strategy – even if done poorly or lacking initial value. The “conversation” has begun and the integration of one’s online and offline life is becoming co-mingled – with or without your participation.  The pace of change is increasing, knowledge has paved the way for tools and business processes to streamline, automate and exploit what we were taught in kindergarten – SHARING.

Hindsight is 20/20, but a rare few are able to decipher the climate of the internet economy and position themselves and/or their organizations to benefit from the next wave of innovation – bring on the “real-time-web.”

*If you find this an interesting subject, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of The ClueTrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual.

Substance is Everything

Responsibility. Resolve. Resourcefulness.

The list of qualities the very best executives demonstrate goes on and on. But first and foremost is a keen sense of leadership. Of knowing what needs to be done and doing it, unflinchingly, taking a never-give-up attitude to its logical conclusion. This year’s crop of Corp! magazine’s Michigan Top Executives is no exception. Once nominated, the list of individuals are further scrutinized and screened. And what remains are those who any company would be proud to consider their own.

I’m very thankful to have been recently recognized as a 2009 Honoree of Corp! Magazine’s Michigcan’s Top Executive Award.  More details can be found here: http://www.corpmagazine.com/Departments/CoverStories/tabid/54/itemid/871/Default.aspx

Many thanks to Corp! Magazine for helping to promote Michigan businesses and the leaders within those businesses helping to make a difference.

Billhighway.com – growing again!

At Billhighway, we’re committed to not participating in this economic slowdown, and are currently looking to fill several new positions among our development team, including: 1.) strong .net developers, 5+ years of experience; 2.) QA folks (junior and/or senior); and 3.) a certified Scrum Master.

Billhighway has 20ish employees and growing rapidly.  We create world-class financial software for membership-based communities, serving 100’s of thousands of customers throughout North America. Think of mashing up QuickBooks, PayPal & SalesForce.com and you’d have a good basis for what we’re all about.  We employ the latest tools (VSTS, TFS) technologies (.NET, AJAX, SQL, SOA & grid-computing) and methodolgoies, such as Agile.

If you’re seeking a new challenge, or want to be part of a fast-paced, pure technology company – check us out: http://www.billhighway.com/aph/marketing/careers.aspx

Agile 101

ok, here it goes.  So everybody knows, Billhighway has been growing like gang-busters the past several years, and consistent with everything in technology the only contstant around here has been change!  We’ve undergone several large project initiatives, fluctuating team sizes, in-sourcing, out-sourcing, consultants, staff-adds, off-shore development, new technologies – you name it.  Lots of wonderful lessons learned right?  Right.  Now, as the smoke clears, we have a rare opportunity to reflect upon our development efforts in the past and actually take time to evaluate what has worked and what could use improvement.

We’re a technology company, thru-and-thru.  If our technology engine isnt “humming”  the whole company feels it.  Now, we’ve always prided ourselves on being innovative, pushing the boundries and embracing change, when and where it makes sense.  That said, it hasn’t always been easy.  Software development presents numerous challenges, non of which I intend to get into here, but instead, I would like to begin to showcase the direction I intend to begin taking our software development efforts, with the help of our new production manager, Doug. 

Doug and I  have begun an exploration into Agile, (he actually having previous exposure in a prior life, me living mostly thru success stories of other outfits) and, as most we’re moving forward with a hybrid-like adoption model, borrowing from the concepts which make the most sense for our environment.  Over the coming months I’ll shed some light into how things are going, hoping our efforts can help push the Agile community forward.

So what exactly is Agile? 

The need started long ago, as a number of methodologies formed to address the failures of Waterfall, which included analysis paralysis, long waits to get return on investment (one big release at the end of the project), projects that resisted change at all costs. They also addressed problems with the RUP methodology, which although iterative, was, at the time, heavy on documentation and process. The new methodologies shared a number of best practices, and the general movement became known as Agile.Some of the better known Agile methodologies are XP, Scrum, DSDM, AUP, ASD, and Crystal. Although each has its own spin, they agree on many points. The Agile movement was solidified when representatives from a number of Agile methodologies met in 2001 and produced the Agile Manifesto. The groups also agreed to the shared principles behind the manifesto.

One of the best aspects of Agile is that it is not a dogmatic approach, but rather a collection of best practices that should be used as they make sense for each project.   

Agile Best Practices

The best approach to implementation of a new methodology such as Agile is one best practice at a time, with 1-2 teams at a time. Get a win or two under your belt, and people start to see the light. Here are some of the best practices that are generally accepted by the various Agile methodologies, which I managed to scrap together.

  • Agile Project Planning – User story requirements gathering that avoids heavy documentation, plus prioritization, estimation and overall project planning.
  • Iterative development – Deliver value early and often. Includes iteration planning and an iteration review.
  • Daily team interaction – Enable daily face-to-face communication between developers and the business.
  • Daily stand-up meeting (“scrum”)– Short daily meeting to clear roadblocks and keep everyone on the same page.
  • Welcome changing requirements – Even late in development, changing requirements should be welcomed.
  • Sustainable development pace – A reasonable, sustainable work pace and avoid the death marches that lead to burnout and turnover.

There are some additional Agile practices that have less universal support but are nevertheless closely associated with Agile.

  • Test-driven development– Developers create their tests before development. Development is complete when they pass their tests.
  • Pair programming – Developers are paired for an iteration to work together.
  • Continous Integration –  the process of completely rebuilding and testing an application frequently

That should about cover the basics – stay tuned for more Agile know-how, from the trenches as we continue to dive-deeper in the weeks/months to come..