How to Select the Right Consulting Firm for Your Project

November 17th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Uncategorized - (Comments Off on How to Select the Right Consulting Firm for Your Project)

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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Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 4: Mind Your Partners!

November 17th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs - (Comments Off on Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 4: Mind Your Partners!)

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 four: protecting data when it is passed on to others in your value chain.


Here is the Fourth of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships, based on Dialog’s recent research.

While the last post discussed getting your own house in order around protecting customer data, equally important is protection of that data when it is passed on to others in your value chain.

Consumers regularly agree to share data with a particular organization for immediately known purposes – a purchase transaction, registering for a site or service, downloading an app. There is an abstract understanding that their data is shared. But the specifics of with whom, how and for what are vague to all but the most attentive, usually those who work in a marketing capacity. I recently heard a statistic that a data broker will have about 1500 pieces of information on an average individual! I didn’t know there could be 1500 things about me to be tracked. Who knew I was so interesting?

This vague concept of ‘they have all of my data’ is unsettling, leaving people feeling powerless and hoping that nothing harmful will befall as a result. It is perhaps the greatest area of concern for our study respondents. Legal requirements are normally that the data owner has bottom line responsibility (read that the one who could be sued in a breach), so it behooves you as a data collector to integrate strict data management terms into your third party contracts.

But beyond that, it’s how the data is used and monetized – and we all know this is the holy grail of marketing – that respondents find troubling. One respondent noted that “3rd party access to my search history is completely inappropriate.” Another noted that “if you got my data from somewhere else, tell me where you got it from.” Some of the other concerns expressed included not allowing an individual’s identity or data given for one perceived purpose to be used by entities that have control over other parts of their lives – insurance, credit, employers, housing, civil litigation, healthcare providers, surveillance or profiling, divorce court, political parties, or the news media, except as allowed by law. Data collectors should therefore carefully consider legal requests vs. legal requirements.

One suggestion was to have and observe universal standards on collection and distribution of sensitive and potentially harmful medical and financial information. There are already laws about these domains, but data analytics can get pretty accurate at some of these situations using other non-regulated data.

But some respondents also took a Buyer Beware stance, saying that data voluntarily given and captured through public means is there for the taker, and consumers can always choose not to participate in a transaction. Better to educate people about what is being harvested about them and how it is used. Perhaps improving privacy policies would be a good start. But it can be challenging to get that message across when data is handed off to anonymous 3rd parties whose very existence or purposes are unknown to average people.

With the Internet of Things, this situation will grow exponentially, creating further issues of securing data at the points of collection, transfer and curation x 1000 – and the implications for Big Data crunching that will come from it. Bottom line – mind your partners. Privacy protections need to be contractually obligated with third parties, but prudence dictates you avoid sharing with those who perpetrate the creep factor, especially when contributions can be traced back to you.

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Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 3: Do Everything You Can to Protect Customer Data

November 10th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs - (Comments Off on Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 3: Do Everything You Can to Protect Customer Data)

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 three: protect your customer data.


Here is the third of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships, based on Dialog’s recent research.

There are few hotter topics these days than cybersecurity. Sadly, the state of affairs will probably not significantly improve in the foreseeable future. Estimates are that two new malwares proliferate every second. Even the best intrusion protection software cannot keep up with that. The reality is that no organizations are infallible, and despite your best efforts, you can and probably will get hacked.

Still, organizations must proactively do everything they possibly can to protect customer data. With new breaches in the news (and notifications in our mailboxes) so frequently, people are rightly very concerned about the security of their data. Organizations who are thought to not have taken adequate security measures become the target of lawsuits. For example, Anthem is facing multiple suits after admitting a massive breach last February.

While setting up digital protections is the realm of IT, there are many other sources of risk to customer data – such as employee negligence, being careless with physical documents, not securing file cabinets, not destroying data that is no longer needed, leaving unsecured computers accessible, malicious insiders and just plain old mistakes. An organizational culture of mindfulness about practices that may seem innocuous can go a long way toward keeping data secure. It’s everyone’s responsibility.

Our study respondents had many other data protection concerns as well: Hide my identity; don’t track (or reveal) my location – this is a particular concern for women who may face stalking threats; don’t use facial recognition to identify me in crowd scenes; don’t harm me or enable harm to me by sharing my data with others who discriminate or apply bias; don’t track health-related data and search queries; don’t share sensitive medical and financial information. Unfortunately technologies are rapidly proliferating to do all of these things, and faster.

Just one example – at a conference last week, I heard the Chief Privacy Officer for Acxiom say that their data analytics capabilities are advanced to where they can identify by name a large percentage of the U.S. male population who were likely to have a certain health condition that, let’s say, most would not want revealed. She had to call foul and was able to stop the general availability of these lists for purchase.

Clearly there are many facets to data concerns and data protection. Get your own house in order. Ingrain this into the culture. And be as transparent and reassuring as you can with your customers about how seriously your organization takes this. But then there’s beyond your organization, which will be addressed in my next post.

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The Benefits and Risks of Outsourcing Your IT Department

November 10th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs | Uncategorized - (Comments Off on The Benefits and Risks of Outsourcing Your IT Department)

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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Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 2: Be Clear and Accountable

November 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs - (Comments Off on Brand Reputation in the Era of Data – Principle 2: Be Clear and Accountable)

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 two: be clear and accountable.


Here is the second of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships, based on Dialog’s recent research.

For starters, how many times have you actually read the whole privacy notice of a vendor, financial institution, or app you put on a mobile device? Ever? The reality is that almost no one reads them. They’re generally long, filled with legal jargon, and published in tiny, hard to read font. They all vary according to applicable law. They can be hard to find on web sites. The ‘opt out’ link is even harder to find.

Not reading them is no excuse for consumers who willingly enter a business relationship to claim ignorance or victimhood – or is it? When you accept a service, you are bound by the terms. But it is widely understood that privacy notices are very challenging for average people. There is a legal concept of responsible use of personal data that at least one legal expert I’ve heard speak says the U.S. Congress knows is going to need to be legislated. But who knows when that will be?

It is safe to say that for now that privacy notices are generally not working as they should. One respondent in Dialog’s recent study (a polished professional in a responsible job) reacted passionately with ‘privacy policies stink!’ as his gut opinion on this issue. So how can they be made better? And why should marketers even care?

The privacy notice presented to your customers is a legal covenant made with them. It establishes a bond that is integral to your brand reputation. But that doesn’t mean it has to read like a dry legal brief. Done right, it should reflect your organization’s values, its attitude toward customers and its interest in helping them understand terms of the business relationship – simply, clearly and transparently.

While privacy notices (also called statements and policies) must be developed and approved by those with legal and privacy expertise, Marketing has the communication expertise to simplify the language, put a customer advocate hat on, and collaborate with the legal team to make this customer-facing document as clear and friendly as it can be. Put it in words that read like how people talk. Make the mutual responsibilities clear and transparent. Spell out ‘what this means for us’, ‘what this means for you’, and what actionable options people have to empower control.

Make the notice readily accessible. Some of Dialog’s study respondents even suggested reminding them of the covenant every time they interact with a site or an app. Right up front. Plainly. And if a policy changes, what has changed should be immediately pointed out, allowing customers to opt out of the new terms on the spot. (By the way, changes should never be made retroactive, but that’s for another discussion).

Then consumers – read them! As a few of Dialog’s respondents willingly owned, users have responsibility in this game. You get something for what you give up – money or information. But it’s a choice. You can always choose not to use an app or a service. Last year, when Facebook spun off Messenger, I went to add it on my smartphone to see a pending message. But then I read the notice of what I would be agreeing to in doing so – giving Facebook access to all of my non-Messenger text messages! (Why do they need that? How many of you saw that?) Messenger did not get added to my phone, and I still manage to communicate with my loved ones anyway.

Beyond your external notice, make sure you have clear internal privacy policies. Then make sure everyone in your business is trained on them. Remind employees often to act with responsibility and accountability. And apply those policies consistently. Breaking the established customer bond is a quick way to kill trust and damage your brand. Clarity and accountability will strengthen it.

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The Evolving Role of Database Administrators

November 2nd, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs | Uncategorized - (Comments Off on The Evolving Role of Database Administrators)

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 on Find the Top Programmers for the Job)

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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Brand Reputation in the Era of Data: 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships

October 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs - (Comments Off on Brand Reputation in the Era of Data: 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships)

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


An Introduction.

At what may be the dawn of a radical new era of technologically-driven marketing capability, I have been wondering – is enough ever going to be enough for the people being marketed to? People love their apps. They love online shopping. They love free stuff. They love connecting digitally to their friends and family 24-7. Even the growing stream of data breaches doesn’t seem to have much of a behavior-changing effect.

But the game is accelerating. Predictive intent, always the brass ring of marketing, is becoming ever-more precise, thanks to unprecedented analytics capabilities, Big Data, and soon-to-be connected everything. We may be heading toward something like on-demand lizard-brain manipulation — with marketing suggesting what people are going to want to buy before they are consciously aware of it themselves — with greater and greater accuracy on the timing of when a desire will manifest. That’s a future vision I don’t think many people understand.

So I thought I’d pose a simple question. Dialog recently conducted a study in which respondents were asked how they’d like marketers to behave in a predictive analytics world, mining data from the places the respondents digitally engage – willingly or not, knowingly or not. Respondents ranged in age from 30 to late 60s. They were male and female. They were all Americans, except for one subject of Her Majesty. Most have a college degree, a few have a Master’s, and a few work (or worked) in marketing-related jobs. They all willingly and regularly participate in the digital economy. And they all sense a lack of control over data about themselves.

One of the things that most struck me was that people have a general, vague awareness that ‘they’ are tracking everything about us. But less clear is who ‘they’ are or what’s being done with the data. Although I asked for gut reactions, what I got instead from the great majority were thoughtful, detailed and impassioned responses. Clearly this topic pushes a button. There is a growing undercurrent of discomfort. A general discomfort will get quickly channeled to any particular brand that pushes too far. Several respondents expressed (unprompted) anger at particular brands they felt disrespect their relationship. Given the huge investment required to build positive brand reputation, active customer anger should be every marketer’s (and CEO’s) nightmare.

The patterns that emerged from all of the respondents’ feedback were clear. It’s time to change behaviors. A lot of them. In the interest of something actionable, Dialog will offer NVTC members over the next few weeks a series of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship to help guide behavioral change that will preserve customer good will and trust. I request and welcome thoughts and feedback to further this important discussion.

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Quick Tips for Selecting the Right ERP System for Your Company

October 13th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs - (Comments Off on Quick Tips for Selecting the Right ERP System for Your Company)

This week on NVTC’s Blog, Business Development, Marketing & Sales Vice Chair Jenny Couch of member company Providge Consulting gives advice on investing in an ERP platform, one of the most critical decisions your business will make.


Investing in an ERP platform is one of the most critical decisions your business will make. Implementations can take years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete. Critical business functions will likely be supported by this platform for many years to come. You’ll need to train, or hire resources who can support the platform. So it’s critical that you select a system that best fits your business’s needs. But, with so many options available on the market today, it can be challenging to narrow down the field and select the right ERP solution for your business.

By considering some of the factors below during your evaluation, you will increase the likelihood that you and your team will select the right ERP platform for your company.

  • Cloud or internal architecture ERP. The cloud is hot right now, but it may not be the right solution for you. Consider factors such as control, down-time, access, and customization needs when determining whether to select a cloud or internal architecture ERP system.
  • Company size. Some ERP applications are better suited to large companies, and some are a better fit for small to mid-sized companies. If available, review the companies currently using the platforms you are considering. Are those companies a similar size, or drastically larger or smaller? Look for platforms with companies that are a similar size to increase the likelihood that you’ll select a platform designed for your business.
  • In-house ERP skill sets. Review the ERP skill sets you already have on your team. Is the majority of your staff familiar with PeopleSoft, but never heard of Workday? Then you may want to consider the time and cost that can be saved in training by selecting a platform with which your team is already familiar.
  • Criticality of the back-office function. For some companies, any hiccup, no matter how small, within the back-office system is disastrous. If the ERP system will be a critical component of your business that cannot have downtime, then you may not want to rely on vendors to provide support when you experience issues or downtime. Look for platforms where your team has full control and maintains responsibility for resolving issues.
  • Number of system users. The higher the number of users requiring access to your ERP platform, the more important it is to have a user-friendly interface. Such a requirement can often increase costs, either by limiting the pool of available COTS products, or by increasing the need for ongoing changes to the platform to meet your users’ needs.
  • Customization and interface needs. Certain industries, such as higher education, or government/military users, often have unique requirements that “standard” companies lack. COTS systems are designed to meet the greatest number of companies’ needs, so if you have highly complex, or unique back-office processes, you will need to select an ERP platform that can support a large number of customizations. For companies, or agencies needing a large number of customizations, cloud-based ERP solutions may not suit those needs. Similarly, if you have a large number of external systems that will need to interface with the ERP platform, make sure to account for this need in your evaluation criteria as not all ERP platforms are structured to support a significant number of interfaces.
  • Exit Plans. While you may feel certain that you’ll stay on your chosen ERP platform for years, it’s important to have an exit strategy. Surprises happen all the time, and they aren’t always of the confetti-throwing, present-giving variety. A software vendor could go out of business. An implementation could turn disastrous. Unforeseen issues can be uncovered with the platform. It’s important to prepare for the unexpected by developing an exit strategy. If you chose a cloud-based ERP, how easily and quickly can move off of that product. What will happen to all of your data, including any archived data? Is there an option to have your data stored for a certain time frame after you’ve moved off the platform? What data extraction and migration tools are available?  Can your data easily be moved to another platform?
  • Data privacy rules and regulations. While not a concern for many companies, for companies operating globally, this could be a critical consideration. Certain countries require that all employee data be hosted locally within that particular country. While some vendors, including cloud-based ones, have developed a solution to address this issue, some vendors are still playing catch-up.

Not sure how to select an ERP system that will meet your organization’s needs? Contact us and we’ll help narrow the overwhelming field of options, and select a system that best fits your business’s needs.

 


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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Virtual Collaboration — How to Make Sure You’re Doing It Right

September 29th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs | Uncategorized - (Comments Off on Virtual Collaboration — How to Make Sure You’re Doing It Right)

This week on NVTC’s blog, Marlise Streitmatter, an LMI Human Capital senior consultant, suggests looking beyond cost cutting to make sure that virtual collaboration is being utilized correctly.


lmiOrganizations are increasingly deploying virtual collaboration tools, but are they doing it effectively? To gain the most from these investments, it’s essential to look beyond cost cutting and develop strategies that maximize virtual collaboration’s many benefits.

Efficiency

As people across the organization gain instant access to each other, regardless of geography or job title, collaborating virtually reduces the amount of time and effort needed to perform tasks and answer questions. Research shows that when Alcoa made compliance oversight virtual, it reduced time spent on that function by 61 percent.

In another example, a Ford executive developing a new social media tool used an internal collaborative platform to seek input. His request reached the entire company, and an ambitious employee at a remote site developed a solution over the weekend. No time or money was wasted with procurement, contracting, or longer-paced development.

Accelerated Learning

Virtual collaboration reduces barriers to learning, allowing organizations to become self-teaching. Often, organizational learning is top down. Virtual collaboration facilitates a democratization of learning as employees share knowledge and information across silos. At Ford, employees on the production line use virtual collaboration to share processes and best practices, allowing employees at other plants to learn new skills on the spot without having to travel.

Productivity

Research reveals connected employees are engaged employees. Collaborating virtually facilitates relationship building by overcoming geographic and organizational boundaries, ultimately driving engagement and productivity. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) engages more than 500 senior executives across the country on agency-wide initiatives through virtual executive summits. Leaders connect, pose questions, share ideas, and interact with senior leadership, saving the agency $750,000 in travel costs.

Reduced Costs

Probably the best understood benefit of working virtually is cost reduction. Well-executed virtual collaboration correlates with reduced travel and facilities costs, as noted in the NASA example above. Research shows organizations lower costs by an average of 15 to 20 percent as collaboration matures.

But it’s not only organizations that benefit, employees save money too. Commuting costs, lunch expenses, clothing, and cleaning expenditures all lower for employees working in virtual environments. There’s also a reduction in social costs—the chance of accident and illness are lower. Employee health improves, stress levels drop, and the workforce is happier.

Many organizations use virtual collaboration simply to cut costs. Before choosing specific virtual solutions, it is wise to explore not only how virtual collaboration will help you slim down your budget, but also how working virtually increases your organization’s efficiency, learning, and productivity.


Marlise Streitmatter works in the Organizational and Human Capital Solutions Group at LMI. Previously, Streitmatter was the deputy chief of staff at the U.S Department of Transportation. She has a bachelors in international policy and administration from the University of Illinois Springfield.

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