An Agile Roadmap – Going the Extra Mile for AOT’s New App
Not exactly frostbite. But their feet sure felt like they were freezing.
Brendan Decontie and Clint Reece are getting used to the unexpected as they journey across British Columbia to show retailers AOT Technologies’ new system for simplifying some provincial tax reporting on First Nations lands.
The software is designed to replace a cumbersome paper-based system that records exemptions from tobacco and fuel taxes (TAFT), a system that’s awkward to use when a purchase is rung up at the point of sale (POS).
As a result, the provincial government decided to plan a TAFT modernization project. After lengthy consultations in order to come up with the right specs, it opened up the project to bids and AOT Technologies was happy to win the contract.
But first, AOT teamed up with Ursa Creative, a First Nations technology company in Victoria.
Brendan admits that when AOT co-founders George Philip and Praveen Ramachandran visited Ursa Creative’s offices, he was a bit wary. In the past he’d felt that some companies just wanted a token First Nations representative, but after chatting with George and Praveen he felt they genuinely wanted to gain a better grasp of how Indigenous issues played into this project.
So Brendan agreed that Ursa Creative would join forces with AOT, and gave George and Praveen a first-hand demonstration of what was involved.
“We went to an on-reserve gas station and my brother used his status card to buy some tax-exempt fuel, so they saw the whole process ahead of the RFP (request for proposals) to give them an idea of what exactly the process was,” recalls Brendan.
“They’ve involved us every step of the way and we feel more like a partner than sort of a subcontractor,” he adds.
AOT and Ursa Creative joined up in an agile team to work with BC’s Ministry of Finance to create a prototype that met the latest requirements.
Once the application was ready to preview, Brendan and Clint, the project director hired by the BC government to oversee the effort, hit the road with iPad in hand.
They weren’t sure how retailers would react, but it soon became clear that the personal touch was key.
In sessions lasting maybe a couple of hours, Brendan and Clint would go over details with the owner or manager, sometimes with other crucial personnel such as a bookkeeper.
And just getting to see the right people could be a challenge. Many reserves were largely shut down due to Covid-19, but Brendan and Clint were still able to make appointments, sometimes by showing up in person at a barricade and setting up a time for the next day.
But Lower Post, close to the Yukon border, was the most memorable. A couple of retailers in Fort Nelson spoke of the town. It could use some more attention, they said.
“We went into one place and they mentioned them, and then we went into a second retailer and they said we should definitely go visit them,” says Brendan, “and so we walked out of the second retailer and looked at each other and said, ‘Well, we should probably go see them then.’”
So they drove the 500 km to Lower Post, arranged a meeting for the next day, then headed across the border to Watson Lake, Yukon, to spend the night.
Clint had done work in the area years ago, and it had always been easy to find a motel room. But for whatever reason, rooms were filled up, and the two travellers faced no vacancies at the hotels and motels they tried, while a bed and breakfast turned out to be just a field.
Eventually they found an RV campground, but with nothing to hook up, things got chilly as the temperature outside fell below freezing. With stoic resolve, the intrepid adventurers did their best to fall asleep in the back of their SUV beneath a pair of blankets bought at the local gas station, as darkness grew ever darker.
And that’s how in the morning two tech workers ended up with what felt like frozen feet in an RV campground.
Making their way back into BC, the retailer in Lower Post said she actually owned a house in the area, and they could’ve stayed there.
And she volunteered to be one of the new system’s early adopters.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
With two dozen retailers willing to be first to try out the system, Brendan and Clint will hit the road in the new year. Their experience so far leads them to believe that training in person will be key, as it has to be customized to every retailer’s specific needs.
The new software should alleviate concerns retailers expressed even before the bid was awarded.
Some retailers had already invested in expensive POS systems (basically fancy programmable cash registers) and didn’t want to see those investments go down the drain. Some retailers worried about losing records if the power or Internet went out.
AOT’s solution has been to create a standalone iPad app that covers all those bases. It’ll help check eligibility, do the calculations, and make it easier to upload figures—with no data loss if the power or Internet acts up.
And if there are any features that need to be added or tweaked, those early adopters, numbering more than Clint and Brendan had ever hoped for, will help iron out the details.
Meanwhile, Brendan and Clint anticipate starting their travels anew in January to distribute the iPads and provide training.
And when a quick change of plans calls for a detour, these TAFT travellers will likely call ahead to a motel. Or bring extra-heavy socks.