Speaking at Solar Focus 2014 Conference

Sullivan Solar Power
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Not long after fall's trees have shed their summer leaves, as if to clear the view for beautiful winter skies, the city's flora and fauna settle into their cold-weather routines. Squirrels are plump; the fox builds a new den; families gather around the hearth. On the street, people are a little nicer; the shared experience of hunkering down for the winter affects young and old, rich and poor. A reminder, perhaps, that we all share the same connection to mother earth and her whims.

Then there's me. Unprepared for Washington DC in November. I was born in San Diego, and have only ever lived in San Diego. I have been in cold weather before; countless snowboard trips, visits to relatives in Missouri; heck, it even gets down into the 30's in San Diego in the middle of winter (sometimes, maybe, and only at 3am). Somehow the cold of this DC trip was penetrating in a way I've never felt before. Like most Californians, I have a big jacket way in the back of the hall closet reserved for the occasional winter trip. I felt prepared. Turns out that what frigid DC air likes to do it find the little holes in your wardrobe and sneak in. The space between your glove and your cuff. The back of your neck. The gap between your toes and the front of your shoe. Even when layered, the wind picks up and gets between your shirt buttons or the skin above your socks. You sit down to quickly be reminded your pants are 70 degrees colder than the back of your legs. When it dropped into the 20s I decided being outside was no longer natural and retreated to my hotel room for the duration.

Contrary to above, this blog post is actually about a conference. I was invited to speak at Solar Focus 2014 in Washington CD, an event put together by the Maryland/Virginia/DC SEIA. I was on the New Technologies and Developments panel. My presentation was about our experience with a software platform called Quickbase.

One of Sullivan Solar Power's not-so-secret-anymore advantages is we develop our own business software. We do this without software engineers or (much) outside help. And I mean nearly all our business software, from lead generation to sales to engineering to payroll to accounting... to servicing systems and warranties long after systems have been installed. We do it all on one platform, seamlessly, and develop it in-house.

How is this possible? The folks over at Intuit have a platform called Quickbase, it's a cloud workspace. It's software that lets non-technical people write software. Or it lets technical people write software easier. We use it to create workflow. For example, when a sales lead comes into our system, it's wrapped in workflow, meaning the lead is assigned to the right people, tasks are created, and things are set to happen at certain milestones. As the sales lead progresses, things like alerts get emailed, or certain fields become read-only, or tasks are marked as complete. What starts its life as a sales lead turns into a sale, then into a project for the Project Managers, then a construction job, and eventually marked off as a complete and installed system.

The beauty of Quickbase is we created nearly all of this workflow ourselves! The reason you don't need a software engineer is Quickbase has a user-friendly layer that you work with. It's things like buttons and drop-downs and right-clicks, stuff you are already used to working with. You never actually write programming code, Quickbase writes it for you behind the scenes. Think of it like this: when you want to attach a document to an email, you just click the Attachments icon, select the file, and click Attach. You didn't have to write, or even think about, the programming code needed to make it all happen. Quickbase lets you create workflow in the same way.

Why this is so important to us, is the solar industry is new and very dynamic. There is no standard business model to write off-the-shelf software around. We need something customizable, I really mean 'need'. We bob, weave, and maneuver around our competitors and deliver a higher-quality product because we can make changes to our software and workflow instantly. We're not waiting around for a vendor to build our feature request or submitting support tickets - we make it all happen ourselves.

I do need to add, however, that we use a company called Sympo for some of our heavy lifting. They specialize in Quickbase development. Sometimes we need functionality built that's outside our skillset, and they handle it for us. They have been key in getting our Quickbase build where it is today, but for the most part they wait quietly on the sidelines, ready in case we need them.

Ultimately, what Quickbase does is eliminate software as a hurdle to delivering quality people, quality products, and quality systems. One less thing to worry about on our goal to change the way the world generates electricity.

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