Sunday, August 14, 2016

Running a Small Business on APEX

LAN Gaming Center
I haven't blogged in a while as the last year of my life has been a roller coaster ride of 60-80 hour work weeks with barely enough time to remember to eat.  In the last year I successfully built and launched a small business - a LAN Gaming Center (pictured above), where people can visit to play the latest video games in a social setting.  We're approaching our 1-year anniversary and I'm happy to say still alive and kicking, working to grow both our in-store and digital offerings.

I'm still employed as a systems engineer during the day, and running a side business while holding down a day job is an incredibly difficult endeavor.  I'm lucky to have a great team of people in place that care for and give attention to the business on a daily basis, but I still can on any given day find myself doing a range of activities including accounting, HR, technical support, management, inventory, or any of a number of other things.  To accomplish this I've relied heavily on caffeine and a variety of software solutions - Gusto for example has made payroll a 5 minute effort, and Slack has allowed my team to communicate from anywhere.  This software is irreplaceable from my perspective, but still there are many customized needs for the business.  I could find cloud solutions for each of these at varying prices but - wait a minute - I'm an Oracle APEX Developer!  I CAN DO ANYTHING!

Fact: spandex increases your ability to code.
With affordable APEX hosting readily available and the ability to create web-based data-driven dashboards with just a few clicks, I've been able to create a variety of customized dashboards for my business to help manage the shop and track our growth.  These dashboards are available to me anywhere I can access the Internet, be it a coffee shop at lunch or at home in the evening, helping me to in effect work from anywhere.  Here are just a few of the custom tailored solutions I've been able to create using Oracle Application Express:

Employee Scheduling

The calendar in APEX 5.0 had a number of improvements including drag & drop rescheduling, daily, weekly & monthly views.  This made for a simple scheduling application for letting employees know what hours they need to work.  A form & report allows employees to add/subtract hours, as well as a summary report for me to quickly pull hours worked for when running payroll.


Bare bones scheduling & payroll totals

Tournaments - Gathering Data

Back in November the local GameStop enlisted us to run a 80+ person Call of Duty tournament to celebrate what is their yearly blockbuster release.  We utilize a website called Challonge to execute complex tournament brackets, but registering people for the tournament offered us a unique opportunity to gather data - game interest, contact information - that could be useful to us for future business.  Using the built in APEX 5 Mobile theme and my personal iPad I was able to quickly get a web form up and running allowing us to register people as they arrived.


Due to poor Internet on site, we set up an ad-hoc LAN at the very last minute to save this tournament.
We also run weekly Smash Brothers for Wii U tournaments, a game our team all enjoys spectating and playing.  I had been entering tournament placings for some weeks into an APEX form as a way to track seasonal points when some customers inquired if we could "seed" the tournament based on a ranking system.  With a bit of work I had a single query to aggregate all available data, apply some weights and come up with a ranking for each individual player.  So now when we register players they are automatically seeded based on their prior results.

Copying & pasting the list of entrants into the Challonge website meets our basic needs, and if I had more time to devote to it I could utilize the Challonge API to automatically pull in tournament results, generate brackets from the push of a button, and even control brackets from within a customized APEX page.

Quests - Unlocking Creative Potential

Our quests system came out of the idea that we should reward some of our more regular and/or skilled customers.  Each quest is an individual challenge for a given game that rewards points, which can earn a customer milestones in the store (for example, we give a free BAWLS energy drink at the 250 point milestone, a free night pass at 750 points, and so on).  APEX allowed me to design the interface for my employees to create & manage quests, and a front-end to let our users view quests and milestones directly on our website in real time.  By giving employees the ability to create and manage quests it unlocked their creative potential, and now we have 325 unique in-store quests available to our customers.
Just a few of our many quests.

Sales - Driving Forward

This page has been a major focus for me and not a day goes by that I don't utilize these reports to track our daily, weekly, monthly & quarterly growth.


Short, medium & long-term moving averages
I've also started to introduce new non-monetary growth metrics to the dashboard such as blog, twitch & social media traffic as we transition our business model from a brick & mortar shop to a hybrid digital business.  These are all areas where with more time I should be able to integrate with other APIs for an automated growth dashboard.

Conclusion

Oracle APEX is a great option for the technically savvy small business owner if you're looking to build your own customized dashboards or applications for your company.  With just a little SQL & Oracle experience you can create some fast, flexible & robust applications perfectly tailored to your business needs. I'm constantly adding to and improving on mine, and currently working on a maintenance matrix that will allow employees to easily track common maintenance tasks that need doing (patching, cleaning, stocking).  This will help keep us more organized as a team and ensure small tasks don't fall through the cracks or compound into larger problems.

3 comments:

  1. Would like to post you on apex.world but we need you as a user there. Juergen

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent case study. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete