Custom software development is commonly perceived as a black pit into which you pour your hopes, your efforts, and loads of money and time. Scare stories abound of organisations big and small which have been brought to their knees by projects that spiral out of control into the realm of blown budgets, missed deadlines and nervous breakdowns. The tragedy, apart from the fact that they have usually blown their budget so there is nothing we can do for them, is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Chameleon [name changed] is a small specialty publisher based somewhere south of the Bombay Hills. Highly successful as a business, their internal administration needed attention and as they are managed by a husband-and-wife team, the time had come to do something to preserve domestic harmony. They had an accounting package (MoneyWorks), a separate and rather rudimentary booking and commissions application, lots of emails and bits of paper. Working both from home and an office in town, they were literally transporting computers to and fro each night and swapping files. They had some very reasonable concerns regarding giving unlimited access to any system to commission-based sales staff, and so the general manager/husband was doing data-entry when (if) he had time. On top of that they were considering their future options for the business and realised the need to have a coherent system in place for it to be worth more than a client list. The budget was limited, with only 4-5 staff being considered for data entry, and there was a tight deadline as they also wanted to get it all bedded down before going off on honeymoon. They were nearly too busy working in the business to work on the business, and there was a faint whiff of desperation in the air when the associate general manager (wife) contacted us. The initial specification was to concentrate on developing a multi-user solution replacing the bookings and commission application, importing as much as possible of the legacy data, integrating the solution with the accounting system, and providing enforced privileges to support their business rules for who could see and do what. It needed to incorporate a reliable backup capability and remote access for the home-office and outworkers. The most important thing in delivering a project like this is to be definite; there needs to be an agreed specification, schedule and budget. The price was agreed and (in their words) was as much as they had spent on the preceding system over the past few years, but this time they were getting something that would work for them. The schedule was agreed and we delivered the first trial for testing and evaluation within a month. There followed another month of testing, debugging and quite a lot of additions which they requested before we signed off the design, installed the system and uploaded the data. There were some ‘IT’ issues on the day (there often are) but we got there after a day or three. By then we were too close to the honeymoon, so implementation took a brief recess. Probably the best indication of their satisfaction to date can be taken that from the fact that while we were still in the test and evaluation period, they could see the potential and cost-effectiveness and were starting to think about the next phase: an integrated CRM.So the inevitable question has to be: how much, how long, and was it worth it? Well, we achieved the functional gains; staff have a great deal more autonomy and responsibility in data entry, the manager’s workload is reduced, security and data quality will be significantly improved. The integration to MoneyWorks was significantly improved, and is now automated and supports a two-way data flow. The system is designed with future CRM and email campaign capabilities in mind, so it is future-proofed from the outset. Cost-effectiveness through reduced labour is hard to demonstrate in this particular case, but in terms of added value to the business, this is a very sound investment.