Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Microsoft Ends Support for Windows XP

The day has finally come.  You have been hearing about it for a long time.

Windows XP served me longer than any other software product.  Sure, I've had all the others, but you have to admit it was there when you needed it.

Anyone who finds it hard to let go may enjoy this:


So turn off the wireless and shut down Windows XP.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Epic Fail -- Maryland Health Insurance Exchange

Maryland may have earned an unwanted distinction for its failed Health Insurance Exchange website -- one of the costliest and highest profile failed information technology projects in state government.  The health exchanges were challenging from the beginning, and many states , including Maryland, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Oregon apparently chose teams that were not capable of overcoming the tight deadlines and high performance requirements, prompting a Congressional hearing last week. 

The Washington Post reported that Maryland decided in March 2014 to scrap its work (at a cost of $125 million) and restart with the software used by Connecticut.  Fewer than 50,000 (out of the goal of 150,000) had signed up for coverage on the Maryland site, and most had ended up enrolling through manual processes such as on the phone.

The prime contractor that failed on the Maryland Health Insurance Exchange was Noridian Healthcare Solutions of Fargo, ND, whose contract was valued at $193 million.  They have been replaced with Optum/QSSI of Columbia, MD.

Noridian had hired Fort Lauderdale, FL based EngagePoint for $250,000 per month and EngagePoint in turn hired subcontractors.  EngagePoint moved its headquarters to Maryland following the contract award.

Noridian fired EngagePoint after the failed launch of the site in October 2013, prompting a lawsuit, in part over efforts by Noridian to hire EngagePoint employees. 

Now Maryland politicians are trying to distance themselves from this epic fail. 

Are there lessons from this failure?  EngagePoint accused Noridian of using the traditional waterfall methodology which finishes each step before starting the next.  Could the methodology have been at fault?  Was the team qualified to build the system?  Did the failed exchanges make the wrong hardware or software choices?



Friday, March 28, 2014

Using SharePoint Wikis for Sales Analysis

A wiki -- software that gives you an editable information source similar to Wikipedia -- is a great resource for capturing unstructured information used in pursuing sales opportunities.  Microsoft SharePoint includes wikis, and the latest version is easier to use than ever.

We use our SharePoint wiki to gather up the fruits of web searches, such as the profile and history of the client, information on likely competitors, news stories, and other documentation. 



We use Dynamics CRM to store the structured information on a sales opportunity, but a wiki really is a better place to store unstructured data.  It is so easy to use that people can jump in and contribute with little or no training. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Stuff Passing as Requirements (SPAR)

Quality software depends on the quality of requirements.  It's not easy to separate real software requirements from other stuff passing as requirements (what I will call SPAR). 

If you were to transcribe a requirements interview and analyze all the documents which are used to inform requirements, you would find the majority of words spoken or written do not translate into actionable requirements.

Here are some common examples of SPAR which you can easily find in software solicitations:

Meaningless bromides
  • User friendly
  • Intuitive
  • Seamless integration
  • Leading edge of technology
Dangerous ambiguities
  • Including, but not limited to...
  • Integration with multiple [unspecified] systems
  • Compatible with mobile devices to be identified later
Impossible constraints
  • Easily accommodate changes without programming
  • Compatible with [unspecified] future products and technologies
  • Meet all privacy laws enacted by federal, state or local governments
  • All updates are accomplished in real time
A skilled analyst or architect knows how to distinguish the signal from the noise because he or she has a mental model of the completed solution based on prior experiences.  A solid understanding of the technology which will be used for the solution is essential for this mental model, because the technology drives the solution paradigm and the user experience.

Agile approaches can contribute to reaching a solution by allowing faster iterations.   The essence of the Agile Manifesto provides for the team to ignore distractions and dead ends and push to deliver software that works. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

When to Hire a Software Boutique

My company InfoStrat is a software boutique.  We're a small company that specializes in several related areas, especially on developing line of business solutions on the Microsoft platform.  I'm often asked why organizations should hire our company rather than a large systems integrator or a staffing company.

A boutique usually consists of permanent, fulltime employees who are organized in teams to tackle a project.  This is different from a staffing company that focuses on gathering resumes of qualified individuals and adding them to a team in another organization.  The team has worked together and knows each person's strengths and weaknesses.

Specialization allows boutiques to stay up to date with the latest technological advances in their area, and they often have more experience in their specialties than generalists. The advantage of a large systems integrator is that their staff covers a much wider set of skills and technologies than any boutique.

Boutiques often have higher hourly rates than staffing companies or global system integrators.  If you are looking for the lowest rate and do not need a team to conduct a project, offshore developers and staffing companies are usually the cheapest.  Global integrators have a wide range of rates, and tend to apply a larger number of hours and people to a task than would a boutique.

Staffing companies do not assume the risk for a project.  They provide people and you are responsible for rejecting them based on their performance.  Boutiques rely on referrals for new business, so they are the most zealous in making projects succeed. 

Here is a table that compares these options:


 
Global Systems Integrator
Staffing Company
Offshore Development
Boutique
Hourly rate
High
Medium
Low
High
Geographic reach
High
High
N/A
Low
Accountability
High
Low
Low
High
Deep pockets
Yes
Maybe
No
No
Specialized
No
No
No
Yes
Mature project processes
Yes
No
No
Yes
Invests in people
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Strong communication skills
Yes
Maybe
No
Yes

In many cases, the best solution is a team of companies that consists of large integrators and boutiques.  Some of our most successful collaborations have been with global systems integrators such as HP, SAIC, and Lockheed Martin.  The large integrators have broad skills that complement our specializations and their geographic reach is vital for large projects with multiple locations.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Benefits of Customer Relationship Management for Government Contractors

Dynamics CRM for Government Contractors is designed to help government contractors track their sales and marketing activities, leading to great productivity for business development. 

Here are some of the goals that our clients are achieving with this solution:
  • Making the sales pipeline visible to managers
  • Creating reminders for sales activities
  • Defining which opportunities to discuss at sales meetings
  • Helping people learn from account activity
  • Providing background information for bid/no bid meetings
  • Managing proposal writing processes
  • Managing proposal review processes
  • Streamlining reporting
  • Offering one centralized source for accurate information
  • Running marketing campaigns
Our clients have chosen Microsoft Dynamics CRM because:
  • Integration with Outlook, SharePoint and Microsoft Office
  • May be deployed on premise, hosted or in the cloud
  • Less expensive the competitive CRM software
  • Wide support
    • Over 27,000 customers from small to enterprise     
    • Over 1,700,000 users in more than 80 countries
    • Multi-language support with 25 languages
    •  Full CRM suite of marketing, sales and services
    •  Native Office experience for rapid adoption
    •  Advanced Web services/SOA platform and architecture
    • Large developer base

McGladrey Uses Scribe for Dynamics CRM Integration at Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities

This week Microsoft announced its Customer Excellence Award winners at its Convergence conference in Atlanta.  One of the awards went to the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities for its initiative to improve care for disabled individuals served by the DODD.

Using Scribe allowed Microsoft partner McGladrey LLC to connect to seven different environments much more quickly than could be achieved with custom coding. 

Scribe is the integration and migration tool for Dynamics CRM which is preferred by most Dynamics CRM partners, including InfoStrat.  About half the customer excellence awards this year went to customers using Scribe.