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Christmas Present December 31, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business, Business Solutions, Efficient Technologies, Tools.
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Before I start I will have to warn you that this post is an idea ramble.  I decided to write down the thoughts that were stumbling through my head.  Enter at your own risk!

Christmas is a great time of year.  Everyone is festive (at least before Christmas) and for most the spirit of the season is in the air.  Also, you get to give/get presents.

My big gift this year was a Garmin GPS unit.  It is one that has traffic update technology built in.  Guess what else is built in to it?  Advertisements.  Very smart move on Garmin/the advertisers part.  Every so often a lit ad pops up on the screen (not too intrusive).

It got me thinking about a couple of things.  First, how long until companies will be able to broadcast coupons/ads when you near their stores?  Imagine your favorite restaurant being able to let you know what today’s special is as you near the corner.  Great advertisement.

The second thought I had was how many ways companies could use this type of technology to make them more efficient.

  • Couriers can use this technology to route their trucks.  That’s a simple one.
  • What about planning a stop at that client you haven’t seen for a while after your lunch meeting because you notice the icon on the GPS.
  • Maybe the tech support company who can know where all of their resources are at any time so when that client calls with a huge issue they can send the nearest technician.
  • Shipping companies who are able to see where loads exist and where they are headed and can give discounts so they don’t have to run half empty.

I think that there are probably a hundred different things that specifically tie to the GPS systems alone.  Think about integrating your phone with Internet access with the GPS in the phone to provide data.  This technology exists today.  You can get the lowest gas prices near you.  You can compare grocery prices on your phone.  These are the first wave of applications of the technologies.  What is coming for this?

How can you utilize the new phone, GPS, PDA, smartphone, etc technology to make your business better?  Can you provide your staff more accurate data?  Can you make your customer’s experience easier?  Give it a try!

IT Resources: Complexity of finding the right people September 16, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business Solutions, Resourcing.
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This is a very difficult topic.  There are so many different ways that companies go about finding the “right” person.  I have been at places where they have a specific salary or hourly range and anyone who may fit within that realm is the best fit.  Also, I have seen people who will base it on years of experience.  Some will simply get in all of the offers and pick the cheapest one.

I personally don’t think that any of the options that I stated above are good ways to choose.  I think that you should base the decision on ability.  How do you figure that out?  It is not easy. 

  1. Look for references (preferrably from previous clients that were happy)
  2. Look for experience in providing solutions NOT just developing software
  3. Look for people who have leadership and management skillsets (this will provide them the ability to work a project with more than one person to completion

 

Cheapest Resource

The easiest way to look at this is the old cliche: “You get what you pay for”.  Most of the time you will be picking up an inexperienced person or someone who really hasn’t done it before.  Also, you will usually be working with someone who is going to work on it when they have free time.  I have seen this option employed by people who turned into my clients after this experience.  Usually, the person low-balled the offer and then failed to deliver on the timeframe or budget.  This is a technique that many people will use to try to land projects.  This is not to say that it will never work but I would be EXTREMELY leery of this option.  After all, ask yourself this question: “If the person is really good at the job, why are they below market rates?”.  Some may have legitimate reasons but most won’t.

In many cases the cheapest resource actually costs you more.  Let’s say the cheapest resource you deal with is charging 35/hour and a higher level developer is charging 100/hour.  Seems like a no-brainer.  Be careful.  With a junior or intermediate level developer the project can take 4, 5, or 6 times as long because they are not prepared.  Now look at this:

If it takes the cheapest resource 40 hours at 35/hour the project cost $1400.  If the experienced contractor charging 100/hour can get it done in 10 hours your cost was only $1000.  This obviously can make a difference to overall cost.  So, simply be careful to look for lowest COST not lowest PRICE.

Fits the salary

This really can fit into the same scenario as Cheapest Resource.  You really should be looking to find someone who can fulfill your requirements for the project solution.  In many cases the decision is purely a money decision.  When this happens many times the projects are a disappointment.  This is due to the fact that the project is driven to cut corners.  I would recommend that you do an analysis to find out costs and then decide whether to proceed or not instead of setting a cost ceiling and then cutting corners.

Experience

While experience is important, in the IT industry it is not a great indicator of ability.  Just because you have been around for 10, 20, or even 30 years does not mean that you have the ability to run a project from start to finish.  In most cases, technology is shifting at least once every 2-3 years (getting faster each year).  This means that someone with 10 years of experience probably really has 3 years of experience 3 times.  What I mean by this is that they have shifted technologies and relearned it.  So they have used 3 technologies each for 3 years.  This is the nature of the market.

Now, I don’t want to belittle experience either.  It is very important.  You can learn a lot about the industry, business, and general architecture tasks through experience (no other way).  All I am saying is that 10, 20, or 30 years doesn’t automatically make you the best resource.

Ability

This is by far the best measure of the resource.  It is also the most difficult.  I would highly recommend looking for references.  Someone who has provided quality services before will have references.  Make sure to look at services like LinkedIn where they can request references.  I would recommend looking for experience providing the types of services you are looking for.   Try to find network connections that can refer people.  It is absolutely true that referrals are the best way to find this out about a person.

Final Thoughts

In today’s market, it can be very tough to find the right resource to get your solution created.  Be careful of viewing the IT resource market as a commodity market.  Not all developers are equal.  Try to find contacts that you can trust have the ability.  I have seen too many projects fail because they didn’t have the right resource it place.  Try to find someone you trust that can help and advise you. 

If you need any help please feel free to contact me.  I would be more than willing to provide guidance and assistance.

Technical People vs. Business People September 11, 2008

Posted by Jeremy in Business Solutions, Development Process.
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The Issue

I have heard and seen so many stories that say “the IS department at our company can never get anything done” or “the users don’t know what they need”.  It is at epidemic stage at many businesses.  At many companies it is an us vs. them idea.  This is extremely sad due to the promise that technology can hold for optimizing the work and business environment.

Typical Scenarios

Why does this happen?  I would say the biggest reasons are: communication, time, and understanding.  Those three items are a triangle.  In many businesses the timeline is set long before anyone spends any time fully outlining the problem.  So by the time that the business unit and IT get together they are already behind the “eight-ball”.  So they limit the communications to a few meetings to describe what the business is looking for.  Many times the business unit doesn’t have the time or the training to create specifications so they leave that to the IT staff.   The IT staff doesn’t have the business training to fully understand what they are being told and what the business unit is trying to do.  So by intermixing lack of time, lack of communication, and lack of understanding the specifications are not complete and quite possibly not correct.  Since the business unit does not completely understand specifications they may think that it is complete and correct.

Once into the project, the business users are now able to see what is coming together and find that it is not what they need or requested.  At this point, there are discussions of what needs to be changed. 

When that happens, there are two routes that are usually pursued.  First, the technical people will have a problem with the change because their solution is “to spec” meaning that it meets the written specifications.  This causes there to be discussions of the specifications being incorrect and many times finger-pointing ensues.  The second possibility is that somebody will just say “fine, we’ll change it” without altering the specifications or understanding the complete scope of the change.  In this scenario, many times changes start to be made without control which causes more issues and more fixes.  This can turn into the “black hole” project.

So what do we do?

Both sides of the equation need to understand that there is a knowledge gap.  The business unit will not typically understand what the technical people are asking/meaning because they are not trained how to develop solutions or even how to do analysis.  The IT staff will not typically understand what the business is asking for and why they are asking for it.  You really need to have one or more people that really understand both sides of the game.  There are a few solutions that I can think of

Business Analyst

In some cases, the solution is a business analyst.  This is a good solution as long as the person understands both sides.  This is a good solution as long as they can understand both sides.  This can be difficult because if you bring an outside analyst who understands analysis they may not understand the business or IT.  If you use and internal business user who really understands the business may have a tough time communicating it to technical people and may not understand how to do the analysis.  If you use a technical person, some of them may not be good with the business and/or analysis.

Education of resources

Some companies will have both sets of resources to spend time with each other to understand what each other does.  They may also spend the time and money to help both sides understand how to do analysis.  The developers will spend time learning how the business runs and the business will spend time learning how the systems will operate.  This can be a great solution.  It can also be time and money intensive.

Solution Architect

This is the term that I use for someone who has the education and ability to do analysis, design and development of the system.  The advantage to someone like this is that they have the ability to work with the business users to do the analysis.  The same person has the ability to architect and design the solution that will solve the problem.  They may even be involved in the development effort.  The advantage you get with someone like this is that less will get lost in translation.  The only thing that the solution architect will need to do is spend time to learn the business process.  This can be done by having that person spend time with business users or maybe even train and allow them to do the job.  This is a process called shadowing.

In many cases, the solution architect has the ability, knowledge, and experience that comes with doing this process many times so they know what they are looking for and really how to learn from what they are watching.  They then will have the ability to analyze and document the process.  From that they would come up with a proposed solution and design and architect it.  This will allow the developers to understand what is being built from a technical aspect.  This allows one person to translate between business and technical people.

Final Thoughts

As I said, it is sad to me that so many IT projects have issues due to timelines, miscommunication, and misunderstandings.  If companies and people will begin to put people in place that can be the “translator” between business and technical jargon, I think more companies will realize the vast improvements that technology can bring.  It really shouldn’t be “us vs. them” it should be “how do we solve this issue?”.  Honestly, in some cases they speak different languages so in turn they need a “translator”.