Software services gone good
May 1, 2008 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Can you please help us think of niche software/IT services that positively impact people or the world... and can turn a reasonable profit?

I'm a partner in a small software strategy and development company. We've got steady client work and we want to take this opportunity to refocus our business on markets for hosted software solutions that we can feel good about. For example, we want to build fewer Web sites for manufacturing companies, and instead sell some kind of IT/software services to nursing homes, or family members with aging loved ones far away, or specialist doctors and their patients, or a hosted service that helps manufacturing businesses reduce the negative impact they have on the environment.

In short, we'd like to either develop a software solution that fits a real need in the social/healthcare arena, or we'd like to offer hosted open source or third party solutions that will make a positive impact.

Any suggestions, ideas, input are *greatly* appreciated!
posted by pallen123 to Technology (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm presently at work on two apps for the iPhone that will ship later this year.

While I don't want to go into the specifics here, they are both home-made solutions to tasks in totally separate fields that creating a software front-end to clearly made performing these taks greatly more enjoyable and doable.

My advice is to cast about in your personal areas of expertise for "mash-ups" of real-world tasks that could use a good software interface into and productize each one you find.
posted by tachikaze at 6:47 PM on May 1, 2008

If you can come up with a good CMS solution for nonprofits, you'll have people lining up to buy it, and you'll be doing good by better enabling nonprofits to help get the word out.

I've been moonlighting as a Web developer for one particular non-profit this year, but I didn't take the job until I was sure that there was no off-the-shelf solution that met our needs. What were our needs? A decent framework that allows non-technical people to put content (news stories, pictures, events) online, collect emails for mailing lists, and process simple Web forms like donations and signups. We found one organization that would give us 90% of what we wanted, but for double our budget because they would have also done the design, hosting, content population, and maintenance (which we COULD have done in-house easily). I'm willing to believe that Plone could have done what we wanted, but in the time it would have taken to coax it into doing the right thing we could have just rolled our own. The Website that existed before I took over was Plone-based and a complete shambles.

Most non-profits have one or two technical people who can do initial setup and help out in a pinch but who aren't interested in taking on the day-to-day job of being in charge of Web content. The missing piece is a system that enables the technical people to do the "hard" parts but leaves the "easy" parts to non-technical folks without letting them screw things up too badly. And there are oodles of small community-focused nonprofits out there who have enough of a budget to shell out $1000-$5000 for something like this but who don't have the cash to pay technical people to perpetually manage their day-to-day Web presence.

And if you do go down this road, Mefi Mail me and I'll get together a list of groups that would be interested in buying.
posted by goingonit at 7:25 PM on May 1, 2008

Please, just say no to custom CMS.
posted by PueExMachina at 12:32 AM on May 2, 2008

I would suggest that you budget some some time to go "out in the field". For example, visit a nursing home and shadow some of the workers. Or volunteer. Talk to anyone who will talk to you and try to find out what are the biggest challenges? What problems do they face? What trends do they see?

If you don't have this kind of first hand experience, then you'll likely spend a lot of effort designing and building something that may be fundamentally flawed.

An anecdote: Looking for efficiencies in a healthcare system, a developer noticed that people being treated for cancer had frequent regular meetings with the doctors. If the treatment was going smoothly there wasn't much to talk about, and they were basically just getting results. The idea was to built a system so people who were doing fine, could get their results online. This would free up much of the doctors time. Sounds good, right? The doctors hated it, as it meant that the only people they saw were the bad news cases. They needed to see and talk with people who were beating their cancer in order to not get totally depressed.

btw PueExMachina: a CMS should meet an organization's needs. It really doesn't matter if it is custom, off-the-shelf, proprietary, open source, java, php, etc. etc.
posted by kamelhoecker at 7:04 AM on May 2, 2008

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