Dineapple is an online food delivery gig that I have been working on recently. In essence, a new food item is introduced periodically, and interested customers place orders online to have their food delivered the next day.
Getting down to the initial build of the online ordering site, I started to think about the technical whats and hows. For this food delivery service, a customer places an order by making an online payment. The business then needs to know of this transaction, and have it linked to the contact information of the customer.
Oh okay, easy. Of course I’ll set up a database. I’ll store the order details inside a few tables. Then I’ll build a mini application to extract this information and generate a daily report for the cooks and delivery people to operate on. Then I started to build these things in my head. But wait, there is a simpler way to get the operations people aware of orders. We could just send an email to the people on every successful transaction to notify them of a new incoming order. But this means the business loses visibility and data portability. Scraping for relational data from a bunch of automated emails, although possible, will be a nightmare. The business needs to prepare to scale, and that means analytics.
Then I saw something that now looks so obvious I feel pretty embarrassed. Payments on the ordering service are processed using Stripe. When the HTTP request to process a payment is made, Stripe provides an option to submit additional metadata that will be tagged to the payment. There is a nice interface on the Stripe site that allows business owners to do some simple analytics on the payment data. There is also the option to export all of that data (and metadata) to CSV for more studying.
Forget about ER diagrams, forget about writing custom applications, forget about using automated emails to generate reports. Stripe is capable of doing the reporting for Dineapple, we just had to see a way to adapt the offering to fit the business’s use case.
Beyond operations reporting through Stripe, there are so many existing web services out there that can be integrated into Dineapple. Just to name a few, an obvious one would be to use Google Analytics to study site traffic. Customers’ reviews on food and services could (and probably should) be somehow integrated to work using Yelp. Note that none of these outsourced alternatives, although significantly easier to implement, compromise on the quality of the solution for the business. Because at the end of the day, all that really matters is that the business gets what it needs.
So here’s a reminder to my future self. Spend a little more time looking around for simpler alternatives that you can take advantage of before jumping into development for a custom solution.
Engineers are builders by instinct, but that isn’t always a good thing.