How can clever software help customers?

Just a few off the top of my head: 

1. As part of the research for requirements for a new inventory package, I noticed that every pallet was counted by 3 different people and the lowest count was recorded. I worked with plant supervisors to fix the procedures. Management then realized that there was now no need for new million dollar software. They rewarded my effort and concern for the company with lots of great project work and money. Lesson: Look for the obvious first. 

2. A user asked me to help solve her forecasting problem. The two of us sat down and designed the software to do it. I realized there was a parallel effort to do the same thing in another division (with an expensive purchased package), so I made my software work for both divisions. It took 3 weeks to write and people were very grateful. I was employee of the month and got a nice bonus. Lesson: Sometimes little things can solve big problems. 

3. I noticed that warehouse pickers were bending and climbing ladders a lot, so I suggested modifying our inventory system to place the most popular items in bins between the knees and shoulders. The change took one week and made us 10% more efficient (a lot of money after a few months). I would have never thought of it if I hadn’t been walking around, trying to understand how my software was being used. Lesson: Give yourself the chance to find opportunities.

“Did you build anything that you later spun off into a better job or a side business?” 

Yes. Everything I learned using these methods went into 2 businesses: a small business software package and a consulting practice. If I hadn’t stretched myself, who knows what cubicle I’d be sitting in today.