Welcome to American-Digital's project/task management system known as DICE. An acronym for Digital Interactive & Collaborative Ecosystem, DICE has been in development (and alpha testing) for most of 2105. This past spring, we began welcoming friends, family and business associates to use DICE in its beta stage. Our goal is to make DICE a valuable tool for businesses and homes everywhere.
A Brief History
Prior to 2014, most of our intra-office communication was via email and shouting - mostly the latter. While all of us possess decent verbal and typing skills not to mention loud mouths, the consensus was that our methods were far from productive. Furthermore, there seemed to be an overall lack of accountability and set goals for a particular task, issue or case we (as a team) were working on. This became especially evident when someone was not CCed (or within earshot) and later found them in need of that critical information they missed out on. As anyone with an actively utilized email account can attest, inbox clutter often results in missed information even when copied in with a correspondence.
Case in point, a customer from our ecommerce site calls about an item received that was damaged in transit. Our representative who takes the call will get the specifics and then initiate the claim process with the courier. Sometimes that rep might follow up with an email to the customer and copy others in the office. However, most of the time, the call would only be noted within the customer account notes for that particular order. Moving forward, a day or so later, the courier calls to verify some information and a different representative picks up the phone. Several potential problems have now developed. The courier may attempt to reference the claim by tracking or claim number despite the fact that we may have provided our own internal number for reference. Our "new" representative (#2) now has to scramble to cross reference the information the courier rep has to locate the order in our database. If the courier rep is inquiring about paperwork our rep #1 submitted, our rep #2 will have to now dig through sent items on the shared customer service email folder or, even worse, attempt to locate paperwork that may have been faxed. If rep #1 used their personal email, it gets even more frustrating. While we always were able to get things done, more steps (and time) were needed. Staying with the same example, there will always be follow up calls (or emails) and additional inquiries from the customer. Each ensuing instance can result in similar confusion as well as an elevated risk for error or miscommunication.
The above scenario is just one example of where our communication process was less than ideal. The greatest downside was our loss of time. As with any business, there is nothing more valuable than time. Sure, we always got the job done, but we had to take a step back and consider that, in doing so, we could be losing this valuable resource. Worse still, we may have been inconveniencing clients by asking them to wait for the information they were seeking. In isolated cases, errors were committed resulting in additional time being expended. With all of this in mind, we began our trek for a better way to do things.
Our first attempt was to utilize software already installed and in use on all of our computers - MS Outlook. A great program that we highly recommend. However, for us, the "tasks" feature fell short of our needs. Many of us found it a bit cumbersome, as it did not display details in a manner easy for us to view and access. Another factor was its inability to show our tasks alongside events in the calendar. The second attempt was using the Outlook "calendar" system to track the progress of any task that others needed to be in the loop about. The "calendar" approach was met with similar resistance.
We now needed to look beyond the software we already had in place. After an exhaustive search, we stumbled upon a system that worked on all our computers and mobile devices. At a cost of less than $20/month, it was certainly worth a go. It did everything we wanted and the participation level was very high. It was smooth sailing for a few months until sync issues developed that caused some tasks to appear in duplicate or triplicate and, even worse, vanish. Despite numerous service tickets and emails, they were unable to resolve the issue or recover our lost information. To make matters worse, they did not offer any phone support. If a company collects a recurring monthly fee and cannot resolve an issue in several weeks, it is unacceptable to not pick up the phone to try to get to the bottom of the problem. It is understandable to not offer phone support to users not paying or until the issues remains unresolved for a certain period of time.
With memories of our most recent failed attempt toward task utopia fresh in our minds, we began our last search. After a few days of seeing nothing but the same old things in different packaging, we had a epiphany. Why not just create our own? We could take the best aspects of the software we saw (and tried out) plus other features that we didn't see and create our very own that we now call DICE. Work began early this year and, up to now, has been used just in our office. Our company participation level is even higher than the one we used at the end of 2014. Now in its 7th version, DICE is ready for public consumption.
Who DICE Is For?
The short answer is anyone who has multiple projects, tasks or activities in their business and/or personal lives. This is exponentially true for those in a collaborative environment, part of a group project or member of a family (or social group). Individuals benefit from a comprehensive calendaring system and the ability to keep detailed track of any task project or goal they are working on alone (or with others).
In today's workplace we are faced with a multitude of responsibilities, projects and goals on a regular (if not daily) basis. It is easy to forget all the intricacies of each of these as the complexity grows as it progresses. Other challenges include knowledge of what others are doing in regards to a common task or goal. Valuable time can be expended in the process checking in with others and even performing redundant subtasks for no reason.
To expand on the example of a damaged shipment (mentioned in the brief history section above), it started with just an inbound phone call that immediately expanded to a claim with the courier. It continues with following up with the customer and possibly the courier if they do not respond in a timely fashion. How do others know what has been done already? By viewing the task regarding this in DICE, members can easily see what has been done and what's left to be accomplished. Was the customer called back? If so, the one who made the call would have made note of it. If not, then a call can be made without the fear of bothering the customer with the same information more than once. With the old adage of "time is money" in mind, users of DICE will enjoy that benefit as well.
The increased complexity of our lives is not limited to the workplace. A typical home has many things going on at any given time. With many couples working full time jobs, the need to keep accurate track of duties, commitments and responsibilities is more important than ever. Gone are the days when one spouse was present at home all or most of the time enabling them to be able to tackle most of the aforementioned responsibilities. DICE enables couples to both be on top of everything at all times.
The Leaky Pipe Example - How can DICE help? Spouse A spots a leak while doing the laundry. Turning off various visible valves does not stop it. Fortunately, it is not too bad so placing a bucket beneath it is a temporary fix until a plumber can get there. Spouse A calls the plumber, leaves him a voicemail and creates a task in DICE. Spouse B sees the new task and takes a second look upon returning from work. Still unable fix the problem they need to determine who can be at home to be with the plumber. They note in DICE as to when the best times are for the servive call. When the plumber calls back, either spouse can tell him when the best times are.
While a very simple and crude scenario, the above example illustrates how DICE can save time and allow the spouses to be more efficient in dealing with a common household issue. There are infinite uses in the house such as scheduling of doctor appointments, car repair, a dinner out and even vacations. Bill paying is yet another use. In addition to creating due date, a pdf of the actual bill can be uploaded for quick and easy access. Now add in kids (or grandchildren) and watch the number of uses multiply even more. As they get older, they too can be an active participant in the family DICE group.
After registering for DICE, you will be placed into a group of your own named "YOURNAME's Stuff" that you will have full administrative control over. While you are free to change the name and add others as group members, the true benefit of this group is that it is yours and you have complete control and privacy. Maybe you are planning a surprise party for your spouse. If so, that is certainly not something you would want in the family group. Maybe you need to pay a speeding ticket that you would prefer to keep to yourself for the time being. What about a medical procedure? For anything that involves you that you wish to keep to yourself, this is the ideal place for it.
How to Use DICE
DICE is designed to be an easy to use and clean interface. Upon log in, you are provided a layout divided into sections that include Agenda, Tasks, Events, Files, Members, Contacts, and Settings. The agenda can be organized in various ways, allowing you to see what you need done for the day, week, month, and all together. Tasks have its own separate tab to view all the tasks in one list that groups them by upcoming reminders, due dates, recently added, etc. This makes it easy to track what needs to be accomplished.
|A new task can be created by utilizing the NEW button on the top right hand corner of the page. While hovering, you can create a new task, event, file, or contact from the dropdown menu that comes into view. After clicking on Task, you be provided with a layout where you simply fill in information such as a title, due date, categories, and more. A reminder is not mandatory, but if you choose to use it; it cannot be scheduled after the due date. Further, this reminder will appear on that day’s agenda that is ordered by time.|
|The Alert Center which, when a reminder time (or due date) arrives, is added to a black panel near the top of the screen, encouraging you to take action on that task. Throughout the task’s duration of a task, you may add comments detailing what you have contributed or actions taken. This provides others involved an understanding of how they need to proceed in a seamless manner. You may also add a quick note to attract attention to an urgent need. That way, as soon as the task is opened, the member can see it right away. After a task is marked as complete, all the information will stay in DICE, so in the event a similar issue recurs; it can be reopened or directly associated with a new task.|
Associations provide easy reference to information from previous or concurrent tasks. In addition, history task members to see all previous actions take, thus further assuring all members are aware of what has been done and what is left. The Work Flow is a constant that is displayed on the right side of the page with a similar role. Work Flow shows the last 10 updates anyone apart of the group has recently made, which keeps everyone on track and makes it quick to look back on recent activity.
|There are several methods to keep members engaged and focused. Tasks are divided into Details, Comments, Files, Checklists, Associations, and History. A checklist can be set up to make sure all loose ends are tied up. This feature allows you to split a task up to assign parts to other members.|
Events are created and organized in a similar manner to tasks. The primary difference is that events are less detailed and complex as they serve to be, for the most part, as a reminder. Often, events are associated with tasks. For instance, if said task is a leak in the basement, an event might be created for when the plumber will stop by.
|Another useful feature of DICE is the ability to upload files. You can upload PDFs of invoices, images, spreadsheets, etc. for quick and easy access for all task members. Other can, when given permission, may edit and upload files as well. DICE provides an organized view of all files you have uploaded (and what others have given you access to).|
DICE 7.0 Beta
DICE is now available to our friends, family and clients for the first time in beta form. If you have requested and received an invitation, all you need to do is register, confirm your email and start using DICE. If you did not receive this invite and are interested in using DICE, please register and confirm your email to be placed on the waiting list. Part of the beta process is to ensure our servers do not get overloaded. If they do, then wait times will drastically reduce the user experience. Once we (and the beta testers) are comfortable with the speeds, we'll allow more members in. Additional servers will be added on an as needed basis.