February 2013

You Can Benefit from Software Integration

You Can Benefit from Software Integration

In 1997, Paul Strassman stated in The Squandered Computer, “Aligning information systems to corporate goals has emerged as the number one concern over the last five years in surveys of information systems executives.” Today, his words are still valid. Software integration is an important component of a strategic plan to help your business effectively compete.

Paul A. Strassman, The Butler Group—Former Director of Defense Information, Dept. of Defense, and CIO for Kraft, Xerox, and General Foods.

What is Software Integration?

Data and information travel between different software applications. Passing from one application to the next may cause changes that translate, repackage, or regroup data and information, which can become lost or incorrectly transformed. Frustrating to management and staff, time is wasted reentering data and information, and the possibilities for errors increase each time.

Overall, software integration can either improve company operations or become a detriment without the right expertise to guide the process. Taliferro IT Consulting possesses the right expertise for implementing seamless information alignment to company data that is easy to retrieve and manage. Moreover, a company will benefit from significant savings in worker hours by eliminating the need to enter information into several applications.

Eventually, disparate and unaligned systems are costly to companies. To solve your software integration challenges, we focus on how all your systems exchange data, and if the exchanges consistently occur. A real-time, valuable assessment of your business does not result from poorly integrated systems.

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Strategic Tuning with Project Management

Strategic Tuning with Project Management

Project management is about managing activities that drive business success.

Businesses are most effective when tasks are under control. Management and staff must perform many tasks to remain competitive. Tasks such as creating invoices, tracking projects, opportunities, emailing prospects, filing electronic and printed documents, scheduling appointments, maintaining customer information, and monitoring social media require daily attention. While necessary, time spent on the tasks described tend to dilute focus on strategic aspects of your business.

Your employees work together, shouldn’t your software?

To run a business on several different software applications is challenging. A software package for accounting. Different applications for sales and customer support.

Strategic Tuning with Project Management

A Web site to market products

and services, another application to manage social media, and stand-alone shipping and receiving software can separately create information silos.

Share information between applications? Sometimes, between some applications. In most cases, employees have to re-enter data into each application, increasing the possibility of errors and decreasing productivity. A lack of integrated reporting hinders management from real-time information crucial to important decision-making.

Yes, integrated applications exist. However, for many businesses the costs associated with monthly, Cloud subscription pricing per user, installation, and maintenance can be off-putting unless persuasive evidence of long-term benefits are clearly articulated.

Consider a single, integrated strategy to run your entire business enhanced by the use of technology. An integrated strategy should connect project management with daily tasks, and your organization’s overall goals and objectives.

An ideal strategy:

  • Reduces IT costs.
  • Increases productivity because entering data is only required once.
  • Provides individual access to information in the Cloud. Role-based permissions define what functions each person can see and use, which dramatically improves productivity and efficiency.
  • Provides integrated reporting capabilities to give managers and employees a complete view of all facets of the business in real-time.
  • Allows industry terminology customization and on-the-fly reporting.

To develop an integrated strategy enhanced by technology requires a complete understanding (that only comes from experience installing and creating integrated systems) of Web-based, legacy, and enterprise solutions. Understanding all the front and back office functionalities needed to run a business, with tools to manage products, services, leads, customers, partners, vendors, and employees is difficult but not impossible to achieve.

Project Management and Productivity Tips

Project Management and Productivity Tips

Project Management and Productivity TipsCommitment to effective project management must begin at the top. Head management must demonstrate a serious commitment to project management and productivity by requiring staff to input their time into project and time management systems. A mandate for all management levels to work within the same environment creates a real time view of a business.

Establish and Set Goals

A mission statement backed by clear direction is important to foster collective responsibility toward achieving organizational goals. Working within an open environment promotes accountability. Using real time functionality makes monitoring progress easier while striving to achieve goals.

Time management is important for accomplishing tasks and satisfying customers. Effective time management increases productivity. A happy customer leads to more sales.

Encourage Input and Activity Assignment

Give staff approval for offering ideas and assigning activities or reminders to others. Team members who do the work are in the best position to identify and suggest alternate courses of action. An online activity manager program provides real time snapshots of a company’s internal workings.

Acknowledge Accomplishments

Inspire confidence and nurture staff loyalty by rewarding hard work and clearly communicate slacking is not tolerated. Periodically, acknowledge the accomplishments of all staff who meet company expectations. Management can use the tips described to maintain a motivated staff to continue effective time management behavior.

Create a Meeting Agenda and Stick To It

Management should take time to write an agenda for each meeting to prevent deviation from the meeting’s purpose. If meetings are held on certain days of the week, remain consistent by setting a pre-determined time on the same day each week. Repeatedly changing meeting times creates confusion and reduces effectiveness. By holding meetings at the same time on the same day, everyone can plan ahead and attend prepared.

Reduce Meetings

Hold a meeting when absolutely necessary. Track activity or task status systematically instead of through the inefficient waste of time, money, and resources that typical meetings have become. The use of an effective activity or task management system used by staff, and top management saves companies hundreds of hours in lost productivity.

By following the tips in this article, you can ensure your company’s time will be effectively spent. Both staff and management will avoid the frustration that arises when objectives are not completed and no one is aware until a crisis develops.

Check Point

Recommended Service SDLC Governance Checkpoints

Check PointAfter defining our first set of services we need to build and deliver. Developing services in REST (i.e., for purposes of reuse across multiple applications) usually requires more of the production team than a single-use component, module, or object. For example, a reusable service is maintainable, discoverable, and consumable.

Maintainability introduces such concepts as version control, models, and other design documentation. In addition, maintainability involves requirements traceability (why was the asset implemented in a certain way from a technical and business perspective).

Discoverability forces us to consider how we help potential consumers of the asset find the asset.

Consumability involves looking at the asset from a downstream project planning point of view to determine how to use the asset. For instance, is there a user guide, a well-documented API, sample code, and other artifacts available to help a user rapidly understand how to apply the asset? Further, are dependencies on other assets (and to prior versions of the asset) specified and easily navigated?

We achieve high standards for our services under development by establishing standardized governance/review checkpoints throughout the service SDLC. Taliferro IT Consulting recommends at a minimum, organizations should review services under development upon reaching the following points in the SDLC:

  • Requirements Complete: All business requirements documented and initial service definition specified (ideally as WADL) to allow reviewers to validate the service against its business architectural context
  • Design Complete: Implementation approach defined with sufficient documentation (e.g., design models, relevant legacy APIs identified) to allow reviewers to validate design against technical, application and/or integration architectural contexts
  • Implementation Complete: Service implemented and deployed in a test environment with sufficient supporting documentation (e.g., sample code, test cases and results, usage guide) to enable a potential consumer to understand the service and to trust its quality and stability

Other review points are necessary based on organizational needs and objectives. However, refrain from overwhelming your development teams with process for the sake of process. Otherwise, you will quickly instill a revolt of the masses by forcing seemingly arbitrary hoops for developers to jump through in the process of completing their work.

Management’s objective should be to instill “just enough process” – not an unnecessary workload. Provide enough guidance at key points in the production and consumption life cycles to make sure things stay on track. Using the approach described, you will very likely reach the right level of process for your organization.

Begin with as lightweight a process as you think will work, and then add process steps as needed. Ultimately, a well-designed services registry/repository can assist in automating governance processes. The result is a reduction in “organizational friction” that often hinders all involved from “doing the right thing.”

Versioned Governance

Versioned Governance

Versioned GovernanceREST resources and components are meant to be used in more than one application. Organizations should plan for the incremental enhancement of resources over a long deployment lifetime. Essentially, organizations planning to build a robust, stable, and extensible REST resource need to treat resources as “products.”

What does treating a resources as a “product” mean to our IT organization?

  1. Each produced resource must have a regular and well-defined release cycle. The release cycle should occur often enough to meet consumer needs on a timely basis. However, not so often as to churn existing consumers. Typically, an appropriate release cycle for most organizations is between three and six months, which allows organizations to meet new resource needs without unduly disrupting existing applications. When multiple versions of a resource are released, consider defining the life-cycle states for your resources:

Under Development: Available for requirements gathering and application development team planning purposes

–  Production: Mainline version for use in new development

–  Retired: Still in use by existing applications but not allowed for use by new apps

–  Obsolete: All applications should be migrated off this version; version metadata is maintained for traceability/audit purposes only

2. Resources must preserve backward compatibility when possible. Deprecation techniques (where obsolete operations are identified, and notice given to consumers operations will be removed from resource interfaces in future releases) gives existing consumers time to migrate to newer resource releases. Additionally, resource providers should offer n-1 version support at a minimum. All resources provided in a prior version (except ones marked as deprecated) should be preserved intact in the current version. Moreover, consider offering a “grace period” for both resource versions during deployment to allow consumers to make necessary changes while integrating to the new resource version. Dynamic run-time binding techniques via Web resources management infrastructure also simplify the migration process from an old-to-new resource version.

3. The enterprise architecture and resource review teams need to establish mechanisms for gathering requirements from current and potential “customers.” Consider establishing a “product manager” role within the organization, one that manages the aggregate set of business requirements for the resource, and works to prioritize requirements with its current, and potential customers.

Again, a well-designed discovery mechanism helps an organization manage the lifetime of resource versions with automated notifications, and embedded discussion forums for requirements gathering. Further, analysis through filter-based search capabilities, which expose resources to potential consumers based on a resources state, also result from a well-designed discovery mechanism.

Moving From Pieces to Harmonic Processes

Software Integration – Moving From Pieces to Harmonic Processes

Achieving business objectives requires a seamless flow of information between all business functions.

Multiple business departments need integrated information flow:

  • To retain customers
  • Capture customer information
  • Follow up with clients
  • Receive a customized request for a product or service
  • Product design
  • Manage processes
  • Deliver finished goods
  • Collect payments

Further, to execute complex processes efficiently quick data exchange between applications through efficient software integration is necessary.

Achieving an ideal solution requires one of two actions:

  1. Integrating and customizing existing applications, which can be time consuming and result in a hodgepodge of programs strung together with complex coding and programming processes.
  2. Adopting flexible applications designed, developed, and supported to work together.