This week on NVTC’s Blog, Business Development, Marketing & Sales Vice Chair Jenny Couch of member company Providge Consulting shares critical changes to the IT landscape that your healthcare organization needs to have on its radar.


These days, technology seems to advance too rapidly for most of us to keep up. It’s certainly moving too rapidly for organizations to keep up with every single one of the “hot” trends.

healthITIn the noisy field of today’s latest tech, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the buzzwords and lists of “This Year’s Hottest IT Trends”, and miss the truly critical changes to the IT landscape that your organization needs to have on its radar.

The healthcare industry is uniquely positioned to be impacted by a convergence of critical IT trends within the coming years. But with budgets decreasing, and resource pools shrinking, it’s more challenging than ever to prioritize IT needs within the healthcare space.

We’ve highlighted the top five technology trends healthcare organizations must have on their radar in 2016.

  1. Cloud computing. Whether it’s a pharmaceutical company needing to store large amounts of data from clinical trials, or a hospital with a newly implemented EHR system, healthcare organizations of all kinds are increasingly turning to cloud computing for a variety of uses. According to Healthcare Informatics, the global healthcare cloud computing market is expected to reach $9.5 billion by 2020. And 83 percent of healthcare organizations are already leveraging the cloud. Only 6 percent of organizations have no plans to take advantage of the cloud in the coming years. If you’re in that 6 percent, it’s time to reconsider your plans. Cloud computing can be used to decrease costs, improve access, and create a better user experience for any healthcare organization. But, it’s critical that your organization take a strategic approach to moving to the cloud. Learn more about how you can leverage the cloud to best support your organization here. 
  2. The Internet of Things. Take a look at that FitBit on your wrist. Think about the incredible amount of data that one tiny device is generating constantly. The number of steps you take, the calories you burn, your sleep pattern, the stairs you climbed. These devices get more accurate and more intricate with every passing day. We are not far off from a future when we’ll be able to monitor nearly every aspect of our health, and the health of our loved ones without setting foot in a doctor’s office. Healthcare organizations will have to find a way to address what will be tectonic shift in how care is delivered. Communication methods will need to be established to collect the data generated by wearable and mobile devices. Methods for collecting and analyzing the influx of data will need to be developed so patterns can be identified. The manner in which treatment is delivered will have to change as we move away from the traditional doctor’s office visits, and into a world where a diagnosis can be made through analyzing the information generated through a patient’s mobile device, car, appliances, wearables, etc. And while this future may not quite be a reality, it’s coming soon, and healthcare organizations need to start preparing today.
  3. Data Explosion. Big data. Data analytics. Whatever term you use, the unparalleled rise in the amount and accessibility of data over the past few years is certain to have a massive impact on the healthcare industry. The explosion in big data occurred so quickly that 41 percent of healthcare executives say their data volume has increased by 50 percent or more from just one year ago. 50 percent in just one year. This incredible increase in data will allow medical professionals to more quickly and more accurately diagnose patients, but as with the Internet of Things, it will require fundamental shifts in how data is managed and how care is administrated. Healthcare organizations will need to train, or hire a workforce with the right data analysis  and medical skill sets. Regulations, processes, and platforms will need to be developed or implemented. Healthcare organizations who ignore this trend do so at their own peril. For as Accenture notes in a report released earlier this year for those who take advantage of the wealth of opportunity within big data, “Greater operational excellence and improved clinical outcomes await those who grasp the upside potential.”
  4. Efficiency in IT. If you haven’t heard the phrase “Doing more with less”  in the past few months, it’s probably time to climb out from under that rock you’ve been living under. With healthcare spending wildly out of control in the United States, every healthcare organization from physician’s offices to the largest hospital chains are being asked to do more with less. IT is a particularly ripe area for cutting costs, and resources. In 2016, the emphasis on doing more with less in IT will continue. Expect to see IT departments pursue options such as moving to the cloud, outsourced managed services, and bring your own device to help decrease IT operating costs.
  5. Cybersecurity. In 2014, 42 percent of all serious data breaches occurred at healthcare organizations. Sadly, this trend is certain to continue its upward trajectory in the coming years. Healthcare organizations who have not adequately upgraded their systems, and developed a thorough cybersecurity strategy are especially vulnerable to attack. Now is time to evaluate your systems, processes, and resourcing. Make sure your organization is positioned to proactively protect against attacks where possible, and identify and respond rapidly to breaches when they do occur.

Planning your 2016 health IT projects and priorities? Looking for a partner that will truly understand the challenges you are facing and the need to ensure success? Get in touch with us today. Our experienced health IT experts know the obstacles you face, and are ready to partner with you to deliver your projects on time, and on budget in 2016 and beyond.


Jenny Couch

This post was written by Jenny Couch. Couch is a project management consultant, and Providge’s Business Development Manager. She loves efficiency, to-do lists, and delivering projects on-time and on-budget.

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This week on NVTC’s blog, Kathy Stershic of member company Dialog Communications continues her Brand Reputation in the Era of Data series by sharing principle eight: actively demonstrating respect for your customers.


The final of these 8 Principles clarifies a concept implied across the other seven. To become and remain a successful brand, businesses must actively demonstrate customer respect. Just saying ‘We respect our customers!’ is not enough. Prove it.

This can take many forms, from being transparent and honest about data collection and sharing practices to moderating your outreach below the annoyance level to integrating this attitude into your culture and policies – and many other opportunities mentioned through these posts.

Disrespectful practices were often brought up in the comments I’ve gotten. One respondent noted that “I want to feel like a vendor respects my data as much as I do.” People do not like bait-and-switch, confusing changes to privacy policies or anything that feels sneaky. They don’t like the burden of responsibility to stop something, like too much email or too many pop-ups. When everyone is tired or busy from their own lives, wearing people down or hoping they won’t notice might produce a short term win, but not long-term loyalty.

Having a straightforward dialog with your customers – even the ones who are unhappy with you – is another way to show respect. Everyone messes up – own it! Apologize, make it right and move on. If it wasn’t your fault, but there’s a small cost to making someone feel respected anyway – do it! Nordstrom figured this out a long time ago.

Nothing about customers wanting to feel respected and treated fairly is new. What is new is the exponential increase in vendor relationships enabled through technology. With the tremendous choice the modern customer enjoys, utility, benefit, quality and value are now table stakes. A differentiated and trusted experience, that includes feeling respected, is what will stand out. Someone’s choice of your product or service is a privilege. One of the best quotes from the respondent feedback sums it up: “Respect the customer and the customer will respect you.”

Brand Reputation in the Era of Data: 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 1: Empower Customer Control
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 2: Be Clear and Accountable
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 3: Do Everything You Can to Protect Customer Data
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 4: Mind Your Partners!
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 5: Practice Customer Empathy
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 6: Comply with All Applicable Laws and Regulations. Then Exceed Them.
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 7: Apply Technology Thoughtfully

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This week on NVTC’s blog, NVTC member LMI shares how emerging technology is making it easier for agencies and their partners to share essential data, even when the organizations have different security policies and protocols.


Last week’s Virtualization in a Collaborative Information Sharing Environment Forum, sponsored by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA), shed light on how emerging technology is making it easier for agencies and their partners to share essential data, even when the organizations have different security policies and protocols.

Network virtualization, also known as software-defined networking, uses cloud-based principles and technology to provide a more efficient IT infrastructure while opening the door for different types of users to seamlessly access information for which they are authorized by law and policy.

Kshemendra Paul, who oversees the Information Sharing Environment (ISE), noted that the original vision of a single, universal cloud providing services to all federal agencies has changed. Today, ISE’s emphasis is to establish common policy to “federate trust.”

Groups with different security and access controls share many common elements around trust (i.e., business rules for issuing credentials, individual attributes, data retention), so there is a framework for a diverse range of professionals to come together and share data. Paul noted Alabama already has developed a trust framework to enable the medical and law enforcement communities to share casework data.

To move agencies to a state where users share information without being hampered by technology, the panel discussed the following.

Network virtualization

  • Is gaining momentum—already, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is fast-tracking implementation of network virtualization and wants other agencies to join.
  • Could automate security policy—by using the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) framework for trusted identities in cyberspace, XML could be used to translate thousands of access control policies into machine-executable code.
  • Offers flexibility and immediacy—agencies will be able to expand and contract networks, as needed, as well as create them and move them around rapidly.
  • Creates efficiencies—alongside enhancing mission capabilities, virtualization lowers costs and improves end-user service through faster configuration and instant upgrades.
  • Tightens security—patches are quickly applied, since IT departments know all the users and applications for a given network.

Key challenges for implementing virtualization include change management and security. Seamlessly sharing sensitive information between organizations often goes against the grain of agency culture. Making virtualization scalable requires a culture change.

Security remains a constant challenge. As the data grow, IT departments will need to analyze bigger and bigger data sets to find insiders behaving badly. The right security investments need to be set aside for virtualization projects.

Keith Nelson is a member of LMI’s Organizational and Human Capital Solutions group, supporting human resources IT, workforce management, succession planning, and performance management for the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the General Services Administration. Mr. Nelson holds an MBA from UCLA and a Master of Journalism from UC Berkeley.

 

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This week on NVTC’s blog, NVTC member company Kathy Stershic of Dialog Communications continues her Brand Reputation in the Era of Data series by sharing principle five: developing an empathic organizational culture that understands, internalizes and practices customer-sensitive behaviors.


Hand in hand with getting your own house in order to secure customer data is developing an empathic organizational culture that understands, internalizes and practices customer-sensitive behaviors. This can be reflected in the marketing practices you adopt, the way customer data is collected and handled, and the attitude and values that are expressed and embodied from leadership through the ranks.

Several respondents in our qualitative feedback study emphasized that organizations’ observing privacy policies internally was very important to them. While most every organization has an external privacy notice (understandable or not), many companies lack a robust internal privacy policy, data management policies, or even clarity of their privacy mission and position. It is important to thoughtfully define these, then train your people, in a resonant and memorable way about these corporate values and an employee’s role in them. Reinforce the training with an ongoing internal awareness campaign. Help your team remember that behind every purchase, tweet, post, click and share is a human being and all that entails. Anyone who has something or someone to protect can understand that.

This is a foundational aspect of your organization’s personality and reputation – how do you want to be seen and regarded? Are you the respectful company? The service-oriented company? One who customers see as sneaky or arrogant? One who is so consumed with innovation and speed that they forget there are real people who will be served or potentially harmed by your invention?

Consider incenting or requiring those who work with other’s personally identifiable information, whether it belongs to customers, employees, partners, students or anyone else, to get certifications. This can help them more deeply understand the implications of what they’re working with. A colleague of mine likened this to how massage therapists are trained to respect the bodies of their customers, with their reputation and careers dependent upon following those protocols.

A best practice is to conduct what’s called a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) to evaluate risk in both existing and intended practices and services. There are online resources to offer you guidance (shameless commerce warning: Dialog can help with these); you will need some understanding of the legal and regulatory environment in which you operate. Then, when you objectively understand the level of risk, you can consider adjustments to your practices or plans if necessary. Those who may decline to participate should be made fully accountable for any consequences – financial or otherwise.

Acculturating a sense of responsibility and empathy, with policies to back that up, will go a long way toward solidifying your organization’s reputation as a trusted vendor. And that translates to the bottom line.
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data: 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 1: Empower Customer Control
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 2: Be Clear and Accountable
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 3: Do Everything You Can to Protect Customer Data
Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 4: Mind Your Partners!

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How to Select the Right Consulting Firm for Your Project

November 17th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

This week on NVTC’s Blog, Business Development, Marketing & Sales Vice Chair Jenny Couch of member company Providge Consulting shares how you can select the consulting firm that will actually help you complete your project successfully.


Picture it: you’re leading a critical project for your company. Success is crucial. And you need to partner with the right consulting firm to make sure the project is a success. So, here you are listening to the fifth consulting company pitch to you today. Each company has promised to literally deliver you the moon if you just place your faith in them. They all have “the best team.” Each company is “innovative” and “world-class” and “client-focused.” Each company gave a visually-engaging presentation while delivering rapid-fire oratory about their “outstanding” experience.

decision_making_process

You’re tired. You’re bored of listening to the same presentation. And you’re not sure how to determine which consulting firm is the best out of the group that pitched. But you have to make a decision. You’ve got a project to move forward!

So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff (please don’t ask, I don’t even know what chaff is), the weak from the strong, the… you get the point. How do you select the consulting firm that will actually help you complete your project successfully?

Sadly, no silver bullet currently exists, but there are a few cues to look for during a company’s pitch to help you select the right firm:

 

  • Confirmation they understand your project’s scope. During a sales pitch, make sure the  firm clearly summarizes your project’s scope. Repeating it isn’t good enough (come on, we can all memorize a few lines). A firm should clearly demonstrate their understanding of your need and the scope. If they aren’t even clear on what the ask is, how can they deliver a viable solution? Bonus points if the pitching firm carefully articulates potential issues with your current scope. After all, you’re hiring them for their expertise – they should demonstrate their experience straight out of the gate.
  • Hard evidence of their greatness. Every firm inserts the following words into their pitch at some point “We’re innovative, world-class, award-winning, best-in-class, outstanding service, client-focused, leader in the marketplace. We have the best team, the greatest tools, the best methodologies, the most cutting-edge solutions.” You get the point. It’s all fine and good to talk about how fabulous you are, but simply stating that you’re the world’s greatest whatever means exactly nothing if you can’t back it up. Look for firms that include evidence of their greatness. How many of their employees are PMP-certified? How many years of experience does the average consultant have? How many consultants have advanced training? What benefits do they offer to recruit the top talent? How long do their engagements last on average with their clients? What actual awards have they won? What tools or methodologies do they use that separate them from the competition?
  • Leadership involvement. Go visit any consulting firm’s website right now. I guarantee you’ll find at least a paragraph, if not entire pages, dedicated to displaying just how focused they are on their clients. Frankly, this should really go without saying. A consulting firm’s business is the success of its clients. If you aren’t winning, we aren’t winning. And a firm that consistently falls down on the job is one that shouldn’t be in business long. But, regardless, a firm being client focused has become an ubiquitous statement in the industry. As with talking about how “great” or “innovative” a firm is, it’s not good enough to simply claim they are client-focused. Instead look for proof of their commitment to their clients through leadership involvement. At Providge, a Managing Director is assigned to every single account, and their cell number is turned over to you so you can reach out to them at anytime throughout the project’s lifecycle. That’s how we work to demonstrate our commitment to our clients, and you should look for similar involvement from your consulting partners.
  • Mitigating strategies and fall back plans – not just empty promises. Sure, we’d all love to have our projects delivered on-time, and on-budget, with no issues whatsoever, no changes in scope, no significant conflict. But this isn’t going to happen. On any project. Ever. If a consulting firm guarantees they can deliver a project perfectly, without issue, conflict, or scope change, oh, and they’ll do it for just 3/4 of the budget, run in the opposite direction. Quickly. Issues, conflicts, and scope changes are bound to come up on any project. Budgets will change and timelines will shift. It’s completely normal. Don’t look for a company that promises to give you absolutely everything you’ve asked for. Look for a company that thoughtfully demonstrates how they proactively address issues and conflicts, how they limit scope creep, how they broach budget or timeline changes. Ask them for examples of how they’ve managed such changes on previous projects. Were the strategies they employed successful? Press them to demonstrate their expertise. If they don’t come to the table with plans for managing commonly-occurring project roadblocks, then cut ’em loose.
  • Real responses to your questions. We’ve all watched politicians respond to questions by giving an entirely unrelated answer. “Thanks for the question, Bob, and let me just talk for a moment about how great this country is, how great the American public is. This country is great, Americans are great, and you’re great. I think that answers your question completely.”  Consulting firms have a similar capacity to spin their responses to questions into another demonstration of how amazing they are, and how they’ll deliver everything you’ve asked for at half the price. So, if you ask a question on say, information assurance, make sure they respond to your actual question – perhaps they provide examples of their approach to information assurance on past projects. Perhaps, they discuss some of the best practices in information assurance and what might make sense for your organization to consider. Maybe the refer to the 75 percent of their team members who have advanced information assurance training. But if you ask about their approach to information assurance, and their response is, “Thanks for the question, Bob. Let me just talk for a minute about how great our company is and how innovative we are when it comes to information assurance. We truly are a world-class firm when it comes to issues of information assurance, and we’ll bring all that greatness, and innovativeness, and world-classiness to your project,” it’s time to give this firm the boot.

Jenny Couch

This post was written by Jenny Couch. Couch is a project management consultant, and Providge’s Business Development Manager. She loves efficiency, to-do lists, and delivering projects on-time and on-budget.

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This week on NVTC’s Blog, Business Development, Marketing & Sales Vice Chair Jenny Couch of member company Providge Consulting shares potential benefits and risk factors of outsourcing your tech department.


Maintaining an in-house IT department is the right decision for many businesses, especially those where IT is a central, or critical aspect of the business.

But for many companies, maintaining an IT department that is fully equipped to tackle any IT need your company may encounter can be costly and inefficient.

outsource

Outsourcing certain functions of your IT department may deliver a number of benefits to your company. But, in assessing whether outsourcing is the right decision for your company, you should also consider the potential risks.

Let’s take a look at some of the potential benefits, and consider some risk factors of outsourcing your tech department.

The benefits…

  1. Accommodate shifting projects and priorities. IT needs fluctuate constantly. It may be difficult to shift full-time employees who were hired for a specific skill set around as your company’s IT needs change. By outsourcing, you can easily accommodate changes as your IT projects and priorities shift.
  2. Deploy resources where you need them, only for as long as you need them. Going through an operating system upgrade? Implementing a new ERP system? These are projects that will require a temporary increase in resources. Hiring full-time employees to fulfill short-term needs is expensive, and time consuming. Through outsourcing, resources can quickly be scaled up and down to accommodate project needs, or occasional increases in departmental workloads.
  3. Gain access to talented specialists. Certain IT functions, or software require support from highly-qualified specialists. These specialists often have years of experience, extensive training, and a hefty price tag. Bringing them on full-time is expensive. And that’s if you can even find such specialists in the first place. By relying on an external vendor who will either already have these specialists in-house, or experience recruiting these specialists you can drastically reduce the time and money involved in recruiting and retaining such specialists.
  4. Free up internal resources. Roles and responsibilities change over time sometimes for the better, sometimes for well, the not-so-better. Your IT team may have picked up responsibilities overtime they were never supposed to support, thereby neglecting their original scope of responsibility. By outsourcing certain functions, especially those functions that can be easily outsourced, your staff can gain back the critical time they need to perform their role effectively.
  5. Cost savings. Ultimately, when done right, outsourcing your IT needs, can significantly reduce you IT costs. If you’re able to better accommodate shifting projects and priorities, deploy resources where you need them for as long as you need them, gain access to talented specialists when needed, and free up your internal resources, you can reduce costs across the board, and improve the effectiveness of your overall IT department.

And now for the risks…

  1. Your vendor’s approach and plans may not align with your strategic plan. Are you planning to rely on an ERP system to support your back-office functionality? Is there a desire to move to the cloud now or in the future? What are your plans for scaling and growth? Before you consider outsourcing IT functions you need to have a thorough strategic plan laid out so you can understand where an outside vendor could provide support. If you simply start trying to outsource an IT function without considering your longer term plans, you run the risk of engaging a vendor that is not aligned with your strategic vision.
  2. Some IT functions can’t be easily outsourced. Some IT functions lend themselves naturally to outsourcing. Project management support, help desk support, etc. But other functions don’t fit so naturally with outsourcing. If you are considering outsourcing, it’s important to fully evaluate the ease with which you might be able to outsource the function, as well as whether you will easily realize benefits by outsourcing that particular function.
  3. Employee morale may drop. If you plan to cut current staff to accommodate a transition to outsourced tech support, you need to be prepared for decreased morale amongst remaining staff. Lay-offs are never easy, especially if cuts are occurring purely to save costs by outsourcing certain functions.
  4. You run the risk of “getting stuck”. One of the things we emphasize at Providge is documentation and training. We do this because, consultants, and consulting companies, by nature are a finite resource. Eventually, we will leave. The project will wrap up, or the additional support will no longer be needed. If the efforts undertaken by your consulting team during their engagement are not well documented, and/or no training has taken place with your team  you may find you have to continue to to unnecessarily rely upon your vendor. No documentation? No training? Get used to the extra bodies in the office.

Jenny Couch

This post was written by Jenny Couch. Couch is a project management consultant, and Providge’s Business Development Manager. She loves efficiency, to-do lists, and delivering projects on-time and on-budget.

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The Evolving Role of Database Administrators

November 2nd, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs | Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

This week on NVTC’s blog, NVTC member company Robert Half discusses huge changes the past two decades have brought to database administrators and the IT industry. 


Database Administrator Jobs

To make the best decisions, organizations big and small depend on the data their systems collect on customers and internal operations. And they need someone to keep them in touch with all that information. Enter the database administrator. But today’s database admin is not the admin of the 1990s. The last two decades have brought huge changes to the IT industry. Let’s take a look at how these changes have evolved the database administrator role.

Before the data-driven Web

In the early days of computing, data and the systems it was stored and processed on were synonymous. There were no “database administrators” because the database was the system and applications themselves. The specialized role of database admin developed as operating systems became more generic and database technology grew into a separate application running on top of an operating system. Organizations needed someone to manage increasing amounts of data stored in mainframes and client/server applications. The database admin role developed into a gatekeeper and caretaker, ensuring that the data was properly maintained and helping programmers to work with it.

The Web fuels big demand

Databases did not play much of a role in the early days of the Web. However, once web development technologies improved enough to easily connect web sites to databases, the need for more database administrators became obvious. Web projects took weeks or months to build in stark contrast to the years it would take for a mainframe or client/server application to be built. With such rapid development, database administrators often found themselves trying to corral dozens of developers and applications to comply with data integrity and security standards. Since many of these web developers got their start inweb design or as “web masters,” lacking substantial experience or knowledge in database design or security principles, database administrators had to work even harder to keep things running smoothly.

Over time, the programming languages, frameworks and techniques used for web development became much more supportive of sound database design. Object/relational mapping (ORM) systems such asHibernate and Entity Framework automatically enforced best practices and greatly reduced the need for programmers to directly write database queries. The reduced exposure to direct database access made it easier for database administrators to see what code was accessing the database and to ensure that it met organizational needs and standards.

NoSQL databases, big data and the cloud

In the last few years, NoSQL databases, the big data movement and the cloud have all morphed the database admin’s role. NoSQL databases relieve many of the traditional issues of the database administrator by focusing less on structure and data relations, and shifting significant amounts of control over data into the hands of application developers.

Big data technologies have moved into the space traditionally occupied by data warehouses and made analysis faster and more capable. Like NoSQL databases, big data technologies have empowered technology professionals to perform significant amounts of work themselves and allow database administrators to focus on improving performance and finding better solutions.

Cloud applications have changed the database administrator’s job as well. As organizations put more data in applications outside the firewall, database admins have had to find ways to enable integrations to work with these applications and still maintain security and data integrity. Use of cloud applications has decentralized some data and pushed it into specialized silos outside the database administrator’s reach, making it more difficult to see what data is stored where. At the same time, organizations often still have their most critical data stored in traditional relational databases. The database administrator of today is adaptive and knowledgeable about multiple types of data storage and maintenance.

According to our Salary Guidethe average starting salary for database administrators is projected to increase 5.6% in 2016 to a range of $95,750 – $142,750 in the United States. Data experts will be in demand, along specialists in mobile and security, in the coming year. The major qualifications to become a database administrator are:

  • A strong technical foundation in database structure, configuration, installation and practice
  • Knowledge and experience in major relational database languages and applications, such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle and IBM DB2
  • At least two years of postsecondary education is typically required
  • Professional certifications from Microsoft, Oracle and others
  • Attention to detail, a strong customer service orientation and the ability to work as part of a team

Data storage has dramatically changed over time from mainframes to databases to the cloud. But as long as there’s data, that data will need to be managed. The database administrator role is not going to lose steam any time soon.

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Find the Top Programmers for the Job

October 27th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

This week on NVTC’s blog, member company Robert Half shares three technical questions you should ask in an interview in order to find the top programmers for the job. 


The technical interview for a software developer position should give you a clear picture of the candidate’s ability to perform the most important aspects of the job: writing quality code and fixing broken code.

The interview should include specific questions related to the technologies your organization uses; ASP.NET or JavaScript might be some examples. Beyond these general knowledge questions, you’ll need to ask technical interview questions that determine the candidate’s understanding of software development itself.

Here are three questions that will help you uncover top technical talent.

1. Please describe the architecture of your most recent project.

Ask candidates to describe a recent project in depth. Invite them to use a whiteboard or a large pad of paper to draw diagrams, if needed.

You’re looking to accomplish two specific things with this type of question. First, you want to look beyond what is listed in the candidate’s resume and confirm that the developer truly understands the work. This process will also help you determine just how active the software developer was in the example project and give you a good idea of that person’s level of decision-making.

The other goal is to see how well a programmer can present a technical concept. Evaluate the developer’s answer as if that person were presenting to both technical and nontechnical business leaders and project stakeholders. Would every person in the audience walk away with a solid understanding of how the application works and why things were done in a certain way?

The ability to communicate well with nontechnical colleagues is a critical skill if you want someone who can be a lead developer or software architect.

2. What lessons have you learned from your current project?

Every project presents an opportunity for a software developer to expand skills and knowledge. A candidate who has the curiosity and open-minded nature required of a top programmer can take away something valuable from every project they work on.

One of your technical interview questions therefore should be designed to give candidates an opportunity to share what they have learned on previous projects. Another version of this question is “What do you like about your current assignments and what would you improve?” The candidate you want to hire will be able to answer this in a way that shows the ability to learn from their experiences, whether they were positive or negative.

3. Let’s see some code.

Many interviewers fail to ask technical interview questions that require candidates to prove that they can do exactly what the software developer job entails: write code.

So, be sure to have the candidate write a few simple pieces of code. Two or three small code samples (about the size of a function, roughly 5-10 lines of code) should tell you very quickly if the candidate actually knows what he or she is doing.

One popular version of a short programming test is FizzBuzz. You might want to give  a time limit on this test or the results could be misleading. HireVue shows how long it takes candidate to complete challenges set up by the hiring manager. Another example of a test is to ask the candidate to write a function that finds the maximum value in an array of integers.

These tests do not merely help you identify unqualified applicants, they also can provide insight into how a particular candidate thinks. Does this person launch into a problem without proper planning only to realize he or she made an easily foreseeable mistake? Is the developer’s code clean and demonstrating sound coding practices? Does the candidate listen to instructions and follow them properly to solve the problem?

Try asking these technical interview questions in your next interview with a software developer candidate. You might just be surprised how many professionals with impressive resumes you’ll end up weeding out.

If you’re hiring software developers or any other IT pros, check out our Salary Guide for current starting salaries and hiring trends: 2016 Salary Guide

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This week on NVTC’s blog, Kathy Stershic of member company Dialog Research and Communications introduces the first in her 8 part series of principles for responsible data stewardship to help guide behavioral change that will preserve customer good will and trust.


Following up to the introduction of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships, here’s the first principle.

I know right off the bat that espousing customer control of coveted data collected at great effort and expense is marketing heresy. But it’s what they want. Sensed loss of control (psychological or otherwise) was the predominant finding in Dialog’s recent research.

Control extends to multiple domains. Perhaps most contentious is who ‘owns’ someone’s data. People believe they own their own data; the businesses who collect it feel they do, and in reality, they do legally own what’s collected in the course of transacting business. Customer data is a critical asset. But what happens with that data beyond the original intent (a la “I know I bought a thing from you but not them”) is unclear and uncomfortable. Some respondents want access to their data to see what’s been collected. Some feel that they should be paid for the use of it. Most want the option to decide whether or not their data gets shared, with whom, for what purpose and in what circumstance. This is far from today’s practices.

The letter of the law may permit sharing or selling of data to 3rd parties. Long, complex privacy policies in 3 point font may direct customers to some limited opt-out actions. Those policies are seldom read and even less seldom understood. But perception is what really matters. When customers feel loss of control over how their data is used and abused, offending brands will pay the price. One respondent told me she could tell exactly which nonprofit entity had been repeatedly selling her data by the volumes of spam received; she stopped supporting that nonprofit all together.

Control over the digital experience is another concern. If the internet is about freedom, then people should be free to direct their online experience, and not have a search engine or a business decide what they see. People passionately hate pop-ups, and don’t form favorable opinions of the unwanted brands that pop up. Turning them off imposes a burden on the user, and blocking all pop-ups may interfere with desired experiences on other sites. Much preferable would be inviting users to allow some dynamic messaging when they are open to receiving it.

In that same vein, customers want to choose the frequency of interaction. A positive purchase experience can easily sour by excessive promotional emailing. One respondent told me she regularly unsubscribes from chosen brands who spam her, and those brands fall off her consideration list. I myself have done this. Another respondent expressed anger over being “tricked” by a brand who slipped in a subtle clause on an e-commerce site that then obligated her to buy something she didn’t realize and didn’t want. In her words, this should have been opt-in, not opt-out. But she also told me she really appreciated that when receiving promotional material from a company she had not previously bought from, it clearly stated that she was receiving it because she had purchased from XYZ. That transparency was enough to make her feel positive about the old and the new brands.

The marketing practices mentioned here are common. Industries are built on them. But as more data is collected from more connected ‘stuff’, these issues stand to exponentially multiply. It’s not about what’s legally allowed; it’s about customer perception and experience. The more an organization empowers a customer to truly have choice and control in the data relationship, stronger loyalty and brand reputation will be the reward.

Please share your thoughts and perspectives!

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5 Effective Platforms for Managing Your Project

October 6th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs | Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

This week on NVTC’s Blog, member company Providge Consulting’s Jenny Couch introduces five project management platforms that make managing your team and tasks easier for any project.


You’ve just been assigned as the lead for a new project. It’s a great opportunity for your career. You finally have a chance to demonstrate your ability to manage a team. But first, you have to figure out how you’re going to, well, manage a team and their tasks.

But fear not, there are a wide range of project management platforms that make managing your team and tasks easier for any project.

The list below is just a handful of the platforms available. I selected the five below for a few reasons: I have personally used them to manage a project; they represent the wide range of options available on the market; and all 5 – AsanaBasecampMicrosoft ProjectEvernoteInsightly – improve project transparency and collaboration. Make sure to research your options as one of these other platforms might be a better fit for you.

 

ASANA

Best For: Teams that want a straight forward way to track project tasks, and monitor progress. You’re the type of person that doesn’t want all the fancy ‘bells and whistles.’ You want to know what’s due when, and who is involved. You also likely love making to-do lists as the interface feels akin to an old-school, paper-based to-do list.

Snip20150810_8

 

Key Features: I personally enjoy Asana’s interface, and focus on a few core features. It prevents you from feeling overwhelmed. Or, like your platform isn’t helping you to do the one thing you want it to do – manage a project – because it’s too complicated to use. It does take a little time to get used to some of the options – like commenting on tasks, etc. but once you have the hang of it, it’s easy to use. The activity feed bears a similarity to Facebook (unsurprising as it was created by a Facebook co-founder), which makes it easy to start using. Project permissions are also a great feature, allowing you to limit who has access to each project.

Pricing: Free for the basic package. If you want to upgrade to premium, prices start at $21 per month for 5 users, up $750 per month for 100 users.

Integrations: Dropbox, HipChat, Slack, Harvest, WordPress, GitHub, GoogleDrive

 

BASECAMP

Best For: Are you looking for a simple, aesthetically pleasing tool, that still offers a solid range of features without overwhelming you? Then Basecamp is a great choice. It’s important to note though that Basecamp, while providing some excellent features, doesn’t provide everything you might need to effectively manage your project. A wide-range of separate services exist that integrate with Basecamp, but it will get expensive quickly.

Key Features: Although we didn’t have to use, the support from Basecamp is supposed to be excellent. You can easily customize your project view (list, snapshot, snapshot w/summary); and you have the ability to display projects in all sorts of formats: calendar view, open tasks, project progress. It’s also easy to view everything currently assigned to you in one place – just click the “Me” button in the header. The view “Everything” option is helpful too, as you can view things like “Browse Every Discussion” or “Read All Text Documents” with one click.

BaseCamp Everything

Pricing: 60 days of unlimited use for free. Prices range from $20 per month for 10 active projects, with 3GB, and unlimited users, to their Unlimited package which costs $3,000 per year.

Integrations: Harvest, Cyfe, cloudHQ, LucidMeetings, and many others.

 

MICROSOFT PROJECT

Best For: Projects with strict timelines, loads of dependencies and buckets of cross functional interaction. You should also have experience using Microsoft Project previously. It’s a wonderfully robust tool, that can do amazing things, but it’s very easy to start abusing the tool’s features if you don’t have experience using the platform.

Snip20150811_22

Key Features: Where to even start? The Gantt charts, which visualizes your project timeline, can help you determine at what points your team members are over-extended. The ability to create dashboards on project progress is extraordinarily helpful if you will frequently be presenting to project status updates to leadership or executive teams. The templates Microsoft Project offers may decrease the time you might otherwise spend building out the structure of your project.

Pricing: The pricing for Microsoft Project varies wildly depending on how you want to access it and how robust you want the features to be. It ranges from $7 per user per month, to a one-time $1,159 bill.

Integrations: Skype and Sharepoint depending on the package you select.

 

EVERNOTE:

Best For: Projects without hard deadlines, and lots of dependencies. It’s a great platform for creative-driven projects where you might be constantly snapping photos of concepts or potential ideas to review later. It’s also a great platform if you frequently need to brain-dump as it’s search capabilities are marvelously powerful (search by tags, notes, notebooks, keywords, etc.). But if you need to stick to hard deadlines, and have a rigid task process, Evernote is not going to cut it.

Key Features: Evernote doesn’t immediately come to mind when considering potential project management platforms, but that’s only because we’ve underestimated just how powerful Evernote can be for the right type of project. You can share notebooks with your teammates, use Evernote’s chat feature, set reminders, and tag your notes to make searching easy. If you’re constantly on the go make sure to take advantage of Evernote’s new auto-capture feature for all sorts of documents (whiteboards, post-it notes, pages, etc.), and its voice capabilities. And they recently launched their new web clipper tool, allowing you to easily save anything you find interesting on the web.

Snip20150810_15

(source Mac Update)

Pricing: Free for the basic package. The Premium package is $49.99 a year, but features a number of worthwhile features such as offline access, the ability to annotate PDF attachments, and unlimited uploads.

Integrations: So. Many. Options. RedBooth and SmartSheet (two other project management platforms not covered in this post). Expensify (save and manage your expense reports – amazing!), CollabSpot, EasilyDo, Pocket and so many others.

 

INSIGHTLY

Best For: Smaller teams and projects with a limited number of dependencies. Also, fans of Google Apps. Insightly plays well with the entire Google Suite. You will likely need to invest some time up front in customizing Insightly to suit your project needs – I wouldn’t recommend using this platform, unless you plan to also use the CRM platform (see the note on pricing), so this platform may be best suited to marketing or sales teams.

Key Features: The ability to customize the project form with your own fields to meet your needs. Similarly, you can create project pipelines and stages which is useful for projects that have similar steps. The linking feature is another helpful component, allowing you to link any project to a contact, company, or opportunity.

Insightly New Project

Pricing: You can’t access the Project function as a stand-alone, as it’s part of Insightly’s larger CRM platform. That said, the pricing for the entire platform is very reasonable. Insightly offers multiple packages, from the Basic package which is free, to an Enterprise level offering running $99 per user, per month.

Integrations: MailChimp, Quickbooks, Google Apps, Dropbox, Box, EverNote and many others.


Jenny Couch

This post was written by Jenny Couch. Couch is a project management consultant, and Providge’s Business Development Manager. She loves efficiency, to-do lists, and delivering projects on-time and on-budget

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