Posts Tagged ‘business’

4 Ways to Empower a Customer

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Out-of-the-box software systems from big-name software vendors are always a big contender for CIOs and other business decision-makers when selecting the best systems to power their business. As a customer, choosing what systems to best manage your business can come with unexpected repercussions. Software vendors often develop their products to “capture” their customers, tying them to the system by isolating and creating dependencies on their product and services. These tactics can result in limitations that confine and even cripple the growth of their business.

A great software product shouldn’t have to encapsulate and limit their users just to keep them “hooked in”; the product itself should be useful and attractive enough for users to want to continue using the program. So what kinds of “capturing” tactics should you look out for, and what can you do to have greater control over the software solutions you choose to power your business?

1. Request to know what kinds of integration and compatibility options the system provides. – Software vendors often take an all-or-nothing approach that often limits integration with other software products and services. This lack of integration results in manual conversion of data between software that hinders the efficiency and capacity of your business.  The purchaser should be able to use non-competitive 3rd parties where applicable. If the system does not allow for integration and compatibility for the products you’re already using or hoping to use to power your business, evaluating whether that trade-off is worth it is a must.

2. Request for training, documentation, and configuration. - Oftentimes, software vendors will either develop a “black box” application without access to the code of the program, or give you a product so complicated that it requires a vendor expert. Without access to the inner workings of the software product, the customer is completely dependent on the vendor for how the system operates (and in turn, how your business is run).  By requesting training, configuration tutorials and system documentation, you can ensure you’re getting the most control over the product as you can.

3.  Request to know how the products work together and to access training materials on configuring them yourself. – Compatible software products from the same vendor provide additional software functionality to your system, but they can also leave the customer clueless as to how to use the products together if there is no knowledge or training transitioned between them. If you choose to use the original vendor across multiple products (which you may be forced to), it’s important to understand how you can use these compatibility options to get the most out of your business processing system.

4. Maintain as much direct contact with the vendor as possible, and make use of any feedback service the vendor offers. Large, out-of-the-box software products from major software vendors rarely provide all of the functionality that you need to run your business exactly the way you want (despite the large price tag you dished out for a name brand product). Often times, the packaged system will come with plenty of bells and whistles, but falls short when it comes down to the real tools you need to build your business. Yet these large software vendors rarely allow the customers to direct the development of the products they buy, limiting the opportunities for feedback, compromise, and criticism of what they use (and put up with).  There are no guarantees that large-scale vendors will pay any heed to feedback, but it is the customer’s right to have an active voice wherever possible.

7 Ways to Get the Most out of your Off-Shore Team

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

In the IT industry, off-shore teams have been a major player in the productivity and the sheer work-force of a company. Yet companies continue to have mixed (or worse, no) approach to utilizing their potential for the greatest output. Some companies are happy with adopting a process-over-people approach, satisfied with consistent, standardized productivity in exchange for high turnover rates and impersonal communications; others demand a more robust, personal approach that maximizes individual efficacy and work ethic. In my two major successes with off-shore, I’ve come to realize the differences in productivity and quality lies in the way we manage all of our employees.

We believe that it is important to invest in human capital both in house and off shore. I’ve worked with many major outsourcing firms in India (as well as worked for one) and most have a “process over people” approach. Their main priorities are the hiring practices, training procedures, development process and rates (per hour/day) and not the quality of the individuals or throughput of expected output/deliverable. In my experience with these outsourcing firms, the ones that are the most successful are the ones where the people are treated like people. Point is — they are people too and when treated with incentives that reward their work and input, like anyone, they are far more productive.

How we got the most out of our off-shore teams:

1. Treat them like your own: By treating our off shore workers as if they were our on-site employees, they are enthusiastic about their contribution to our product and work more efficiently to meet our company goals. Some of the ways in which we have treated off-shore like our own are:

  • Pay for company outings
  •  Create a bonus pool to compensate them for their extra efforts

2. Invest in cultivating face to face relationships: By creating and investing in more personal relationships with the off-shore team, they not only feel a greater morale and loyalty towards the company, but will recognize themselves as a part of the big picture. Ways we’ve cultivated face-to-face relationships:

  • Brought them to the US to work in our headquarters in Edison, NJ
  • Sent our employees to India to work with the off shore team
  • Invited them to company meetings and parties when they were here in the U.S.

3. Conducting quarterly reviews to make sure the company and individual targets are met ensures that both the company and the employee are growing and getting the most out of each other

4. Real-time communication as much as possible – skype, IM, video, calls, etc.

5. Retain the good people: I strongly believe that the range of production you get out of an average person vs. good person vs. great vs. elite triples at each level. So, the range of productivity from average to elite = up to 27 times greater (3x3x3). So, when I get the good, great and elite people on my projects, I don’t want to trade them in for average (or god forbid “below average”).

6. Make sure everyone sees the big picture. Sub-teams are always necessary to break down tasks and projects, but they have to feel part of the overall team and understand the big picture. By creating an environment where they feel like an integral part of achieving the company’s overall objective, off-shore developers will take greater responsibility for the quality and success of the product.

7. Let the senior people do the work: many cultures want to be in “management” and not do the development, design or testing – incent people to “do the work” at all levels, and everyone will work that much harder to produce something they can be proud of.

Darwinism of Innovation: The Evolution of Automation and the Software Development Industry

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

In 50 years, will we still have armies of programmers coding business systems for companies? Will it still be necessary?

In the history of industrial growth, the replacement of tedious production processes with automation is essential to the progression of invention and ingenuity. But we seem to have forgotten this key to innovation in software development. We are so caught up in creating new processes, new languages, new “big system” solutions to address the same old problems of tedious code-writing in traditional software development that we forget the true purpose of this industry in the first place – to replace tedium and inefficiencies of the paper-pushing era. We seem to have it stuck in our heads that software development is too complicated to automate.

The key to replacing expensive, labor-intensive and entrenched systems is not by engaging in expensive, labor-intensive big-bang projects, but in increasing productivity, flexibility, and function-leveraging. This is industrial Darwinism at its finest: instead of replacing one inefficient system with another, find a solution that eradicates the costliest, labor-intensive processes altogether. In short, creating dynamic software that will automate technical coding so that the user can focus on the functionality and conceptual use of the software is the true innovative key to the future of the software development industry.

Here at FAST, we have done just that. As a part of a four-person newly hired team of university graduates, we were assigned the daunting task of creating a fully functional application with FAST 8x in just four days, inclusive of training, configuration, building, and presentation. The exercise focused on showcasing how software development automation can achieve what normally would take a team of developers, analysts, and engineers months of code-writing to accomplish. None of us had any previous experience with software development; only one of us had any true technical knowledge of software design, and we were granted access to one engineer to assist us in the configuration process. By the end of the week, we had presented a production ready SOA based set of components that included 40+ database tables, 4 components, full user interface w/20+ business processes, 100+ web services, integration into other applications, 5,000+ test scripts (that are on a nightly regression cycle), technical documentation, and a how-to guide.

This proof-of-concept exercise is a reflection of what we’ve been doing for months on a larger scale with our life insurance client. In less than nine months, we were able to build an entire suite of legacy-replacing components which included 800 database tables, 35 components, full user interface w/25+ business processes, 700+ web services, integration into other applications, 13,000+ test scripts, technical documentation, and a how-to guide. This legacy system modernization process, which would have normally taken approximately three to five years to develop traditionally, is a remarkable step towards the breakthrough technology necessary to take software development to the next level.

If “double dip recession” happens, is your IT group prepared?

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

I started writing this blog a couple weeks ago…so, now that the market has dropped by 10% it might not look as impressive that I am asking this question.  Obviously, we’re all hopeful that the economy can stabilize and all of our budgets don’t get cut for 2012.  Unfortunately, that might not be the case.

“More with Less”

If you look at Celent’s CIO study from earlier this year, the major theme was: Business expects more from IT. They reference supporting expanding list of initiatives, prioritizing across business groups, escalation of expectations of IT, and balancing cost reduction/capability creation as key challenges and pressures they’re facing.

 

In the last downturn, companies settled for budget cuts equating to less productivity.  Now, I believe we’ll be challenged to get the same amount done for less budget. So, what can be done?

  • Go Agile – if you’re already using an “Agile-like” development methodology, great.  Dive in and examine how you manage your priorities, who the impact players are, and which areas of the process are adding most value.  Eliminate everything else.
  • Get the most out of the tools that are currently available – FAST 8x  (http://www.fasttechnology.com/software/8x/) is an example and I’d be remiss if I didn’t promote our own software.  With FAST 8x, you can build smaller components to solve targeted business problems at a fraction of the cost, time and risk.
  • Avoid big mistakes – Diversify by spreading out your initiatives and deliver value sooner rather than later.  Don’t buy that big packaged core system that is going to be a burden on the entire organization, cost too much money, and risk the farm.
  • Staff reduction is not a “cure all”.  Obviously, eliminating staff and consultants are necessary triggers that can be used to work within a budget cut, but that will most likely compound the problems with the business needing more.  In some cases, you might want to cut even deeper to free up cash for tools and the “right people” to help you navigate through these times.

Pressures and challenges could increase.  Are you prepared?

 

Tom Famularo

FAST