Zero Friction

I have been thinking lately about how to quantify what differentiates our company and offering from competitors like ADP and zenefits.

There are the obvious answers, we have a complete, integrated, single-database, single-system, end to end solution. We have, according to our clients, the best personable customer service. We have, in my view, the best software application in the industry. This is all good, but not enough. I mean I hope everybody in our industry strives to have great customer service and continues to update and innovate on the software front. I would consider that a minimum baseline and not a distinguishing feature, not a company identity.

While I am pondering those thoughts in my head I saw a beautiful UltraHD 70″ Vizio t.v. at Costco, selling for a good price.

my gorgeous t.v.
my beautiful new t.v.

I went home and found out that Costco.com had a special on it for $500. The initial warehouse price already matched Amazon’s, so with the $500 off it became a no brainer and I purchased one, delivered to the comfort of my home.

Then when I was setting it up, I saw that it came with two bags of screws, each with four screws, identical color, almost identical size and look. The screws are used to assemble the stand and to attach the stand to the back of the t.v.  One set was used to assemble the stand and the other set to attach it to the t.v.

screws

So far so good, I cannot visually tell the screws apart, but they are different sizes according to the caption. So I reached out to the bags of screws and the only thing printed on the plastic bags was a sequence of digits, a product number maybe, with nothing significant as far as telling me which is the 20 mm and which is the 23 mm screws. So I took a gamble and chose the screws that looked a tiny bit larger as the 23 mm screws. I installed it, and of course I had picked the wrong set. So I had to start over and swap them. Not a big deal, just added few more minutes to the installation time.

Then it hit me. That’s what differentiates us from everybody else. Ever since we started on this journey back in 2008, our goal was to create a zero friction experience for our users.  When deciding between printing a random set of numbers on a bag of screws or clearly identifying the bag as “M5 de 20 mm” we always chose the latter. When deciding between telling our clients to reach support via automated, cumbersome, systems or assigning them a real live person they know by name, email and direct phone number, we chose the latter. We never had an automated, maze-like, drive me crazy, support system, and we never will. When choosing between cubicles, opaque walls, or open office environment we chose the latter. When choosing between trying to integrate separate payroll, HR, benefits, Applicant Tracking, performance review, time keeping systems and building a kick ass, fully integrated, cohesive, single source, single database, system, we chose the latter.

Most importantly, every spring, when we sit down and ponder the next set of innovations that we will tackle over the upcoming year, we always base it on what provides our clients a zero friction experience. Every time we look at something and have to decide between making it simpler, easier, more natural for the client to use, vs. developing it faster, cheaper, easier, we always chose the former. We always chose to provide a zero friction environment to our clients. We want the software to enable their productivity not to limit it or slow it down.

Are we perfect? Of course not. The minute we start thinking that we succeeded in delivering the zero friction experience is the minute we fail. We have a long way to go. We will always have a long way to go. We will never achieve perfection, but that will not deter us from always chasing it.

New Addition to the Dev Team

Say Hello to Jason Diehl
Jason is currently a student pursuing a JasonDiehlComputer Science degree at the University of Central Florida. Most of his programming experience comes from developing simulations and games within the Unity engine in C#. Before starting at StratEx, Jason was the lead programmer at E2i Creative Studio, a research lab funded by UCF that creates a variety of simulations focused on experiential learning. Jason is also a contract programmer, recently having developed an interactive virtual avatar system used for training therapists dealing with victims of Alzheimer’s. Jason’s alter go is Gahtzu, a professional Super Smash Bros. player that stuns crowds and slays many. He was recently ranked as one of the top 100 players in the world and broke a Guinness record for playing for 72 hrs straight during a charity event. We are happy to have him in our ranks!

Monthly Wage Reporting: Here to Stay

Ask anyone who processes payroll… if there’s one task they don’t need, it’s filing another report. Make it a time-sensitive, penalty-threatened report, and the topic becomes grim quickly.

Here’s an example hitting some of our clients: In June of 2012, Illinois governor, Pat Quinn, signed the Save Medicaid Access and Resources Together Act, more commonly known as the SMART Act. The Act included a mandate for Illinois employers to file a report with their employee wages on a monthly basis. It went into effect in January of 2013 for employers with 250 or more employees, and that threshold has been systematically reduced to employers with 25 or more employees over the last year and a half. Critics say (quite rightly, in our opinion) that the required monthly wage reporting has presented employers with yet another burden of risk and increased administration costs.

The monthly wage reporting has been a hot button issue since it was enacted. Prior to the Illinois monthly reporting mandate, most payroll departments were only equipped with software to report wages on a quarterly basis. Employers and payroll service providers were given a short six months to develop software that would fit the specifications to meet the electronic filing requirement. Meanwhile, the Illinois Department of Employment Security has been quick to assess penalties for companies that have not been in compliance. The penalty for filing late ranges from $5 to $10 per $10,000 in wages filed.
Unfortunately, monthly wage reporting does not appear to be going away. In fact, it may be slowly catching on with other state employment agencies. In May of 2014, New Jersey introduced a bill that, if passed, would require employers with 50 or more employees to report employee wages to the agency within 20 days after the end of each month. This mandate would include “every form of remuneration.” The American Payroll Association notes that this would be an even bigger burden than the Illinois mandate because both the due date is ten days earlier and the types of payments/benefits that would qualify as remuneration in New Jersey can be difficult for a payroll department to calculate on a monthly basis.

The costs associated with developing and administrating these monthly wage reports along with the potential penalties have made this mandate a gloomy topic in the payroll world. Small businesses that process payroll in house feel the increased costs and frustration with these ever-changing mandates most acutely. No good news here… sorry to say that the reporting mandates don’t appear to be going anywhere.

Minimum Wage Updates for 2015

If your company pays minimum wage to any employees, one payroll year-end task is surely on your checklist: updating minimum wage rates.

To help in your endeavor, here’s a quick overview of states that have minimum wage changes beginning this Thursday (or Wednesday, in NY’s case):

Alabama– $7.25 Montana– $8.05
Arizona– $8.05 Nebraska– $8.00
Arkansas– $7.50 New Jersey– $8.38
California (San Diego only)– $9.75 *New York– $8.75
Colorado– $8.23 Ohio– $8.10
Connecticut– $9.15 Oregon– $9.25
Florida– $8.05 Rhode Island– $9.00
Hawaii– $7.75 South Dakota– $8.50
Massachusetts– $9.00 Vermont– $9.15
Maryland– $8.00 Washington– $9.47
Missouri– $7.65 West Virginia– $8.00

*effective December 31, 2014

Ending Support for Old Versions of Internet Explorer

As we continue to push out beautiful new releases to our flagship software, we are announcing that we are matching Microsoft’s and Google’s policies and ending support for old versions of Internet Explorer.

We continue to utilize new technologies that were not around a decade ago when IE 7 and IE 8 were released and thus cannot continue to support those versions while still providing you with the best possible experience in our system. While IE9 is slightly newer, it is still three major releases behind the current IE11 and lacks in many ways.

Thus, going forward we will only support IE11 and IE10 not running in compatibility mode, because it is time for out with the old.

Any questions? ask your friendly service specialist, or tweet me @born2code

eStratEx Development Update: 2014R7

We’re excited to announce the latest updates to eStratex. There are several updates that you will want to be aware of, so please download the Release Notes here and read through them carefully.

 In addition to the items described in the Release Notes, you will immediately notice a new look and feel throughout the system. A few weeks ago, we informed you of our plan to rethink HR. This release is the first step in our journey towards a more beautiful, more responsive and more intuitive application designed to truly streamline your business.

 While we have a strong vision for the next generation eStratEx, we cannot and will not succeed in this effort without you. We have set up a mailbox dedicated to your feedback. Please do not hesitate to drop us a note at feedback@stratex.com with your comments, concerns, criticisms and/or kudos :).

 As always, questions regarding items outlined in the Release Notes can be directed to your friendly Service Team.

eStratEx 2014R7 Release

The 2014R7 release of our flagship software has been released last night. As our users know, we release in place, with no down time and no interruptions. There has been nearly 50 items in this release, those impacting the end user are detailed in the release notes. We will have a separate blog post describing some of the functional changes in this release but I wanted to touch on some of the technical changes today.

As you may know the eStratEx stack is built on a MySQL back-end running on Ubuntu. We use Percona MySQL and not just because Percona is a client, as we used them before they became a client, but because of its superior performance.

The data access layer and the business layer are written in .NET, specifically VB.NET and C#. They currently run on II7 deployed on Windows 2008R2 but with the recent decisions of Microsoft to open up .NET and to make it truly cross platform we may be running it on Ubuntu in the future.

The front end is written using HTML, Javascript, CSS. We hand crafted a lot of our front end code with jQuery being the main library we typically used in our system. As of this release we are starting to use Bootstrap V3 for eStratEx.

eStratEx Login

This will allow us to provide a crisp, modern, refresh to our user interface. It will also allow us to focus on Mobile First strategy, where each aspect of our application is meant to run beautifully in your favorite mobile device. After some debate we chose this approach over releasing a handicapped, limited app providing minimal functionality to our users as have been adopted by others.

In conjunction with our Bootstrap v3 change we have switched to using Knockout v3. We have used knockout in the past on few admin pages but now we are fully embracing the Model-View-View Model (MVVM) pattern across the application. Our front end and middle layers are now very similar to what Microsoft is doing with their Azure portal.  When we started eStratEx however ASP.NET MVC was a very nascent technology and thus we went with class asp.net web forms. Two million lines of code later we are not about to re-do our system in MVC. However, all the neat stuff Microsoft is doing for web forms is making that a moot point. We are using Friendly URLs, as described by Microsoft’s Scott Hanselman (@shanselman), and URL routing to build out MVC style interface using web forms. Microsoft has a vision for a unified ASP.NET and we are capitalizing on that fully.

As soon as you login to the application you will start to notice the new changes made possible via combining the best of knockout, bootstrap, .Net and MySQL.

@Born2Code