We just learned that Small Footprint is one of 5 finalists for the North Carolina Technology Association (NCTA) Small Business Award for 2012! This is a state-wide award recognizing innovation. The event will be held on November 8th and will be attended by over 800 technology leaders including Small Footprint’s Patrick Turner, Richard Starets, and Seth Carpien! Stay tuned…
Last Thursday, I was fortunate to be invited to participate on a panel at NCTA’s Emerging Trends and Technologies Series which was held in Winston-Salem for the first time. The event featured a panel discussion on “How Analytics Drive Business Intelligence” in which I discussed relevant issues with two other experts from North Carolina: Miles Romello of Targacept and Lex Raleigh of Sensus. The discussion was ably moderated by Don Bruns of NavigationArts who came all the way from the DC area to join us.
What is Business Intelligence versus Analytics?
Don kicked off the discussion by stating that the terms “Business Intelligence” and “Data Analytics” are often used in context together, one talking about the business side and the other about the IT side. He asked the panel to help differentiate the two. Whenever someone asks me to define something I always prefer to go back to first principles. In this case the Data-to-Wisdom model came to mind. We define Data as facts that are captured and stored. Information can be elicited from data by sorting and collating the data to obtain trends and patterns. Knowledge can be abstracted by inferring decisions on what the information indicates. In turn Wisdom can be gained from knowledge by judging the outcomes of the decisions. Thus Data Analytics refers to the tools that we use to manipulate data so that we can start the journey to wisdom (ostensibly this is the “IT side”). Whereas Business Intelligence refers to what we learn about the data that has been organized to provide information from which we can make business decisions (the “business side”)
I find this comparison of business and IT rather disingenuous though because rarely can we determine the right patterns to analyze without really understanding the business. Nor can we be intelligent about what the data is indicating without understanding its sources. To me, the “IT side” and the “Business side” are two sides of the same coin.
We have found that many organizations deal with the Business / IT divide by collecting user friendly tools and standardizing data storage and retrieval technologies. Rarely has it been the case that success was achieved by lobbing requests for data and tools “over the wall” to those who scramble to prioritize the requests and struggle to deliver them because of the complexity of how and where the data is stored. What ends up happening is that IT captures data that business does not really need on a timeline that is unacceptable to both.
In the panelists experiences though, Miles, Lex, and I have found that the most successful applications of data analytics tools to drive business intelligence have come from skilled individuals formed to work as a single team. In this team, no one is an “IT person” or a “business person.” Each brings their skills as database engineers, marketers, statisticians, product managers, etc. to perform together to generate knowledge about the available data to drive actionable decisions. These collaborative teams tend to more efficiently target the most relevant data without having to “fix everything” and then identify the tools most easily usable by the team. IT and Business are both on the team creating innovation and business value together. This seems to drive outcomes with better business value at a faster pace.
How can business value be ensured?
Deriving business value can be a moving target. Markets change, technologies change, organizations change, minds change, etc. The panel agreed that the best way to ensure business value is to choose the right tools applied by trained individuals and take small steps to build up to what you need.
Today, it seems like the most widely used data analytics tool being used is Excel. There is no wonder in this because the spreadsheet paradigm is so well understood and so many of us know how to get around a spreadsheet. For much of what is done with data for most business intelligence needs, this is a perfectly good tool to put in the hands of someone who understands what the Excel formulae mean. However, more complex analysis requires more sophisticated tools along with the individuals with the mathematical training or experience to use them.
Data comes from so many different sources in an organization it is not only hard to keep track of it but it also is a daunting task to get access to all of the sources. Our experience has been that business value is most effectively achieved by solving smaller, more targeted solutions first then build up to a more comprehensive one. Often there are critical needs for a particular report or dashboard that draws from a small portion of data that the organization collects. Solve that problem based on a technical architecture roadmap that can go grow as you add more data sources. Developing smaller, more business value targeted building blocks is why a few years ago Small Footprint formally adopted the Agile software development framework for all projects we do.
Lex astutely pointed out that the pace of technology innovation has far outstripped anyone’s ability to predict what will be “technologies of the future.” However, it is apparent that the ability to collect lots of data instantaneously is growing at breakneck pace with so many ways to connect with users electronically. With all that data, our tendency is to figure out what to do with it, thus “Big Data” seems to be today’s “technology of tomorrow.” We cautioned again to use the right tool for the job. Many organizations don’t need to capture or analyze that much data to derive the business intelligence they need. To be sure there are applications like understanding chemical structures or economic trends that really need deep and broad analysis, but most business applications do not. The psychological and sociological science needs to catch up with the data analytics capability we now have, while the modeling tools of today need better alignment with the science.
I think though that we have a more important problem that stands in the way of our really being able use Analytics to drive Business Intelligence. There is a huge gap in the need we have for individuals with the mathematical, scientific, and technological training needed for effectively analyzing data and the individuals who have that background. As a society we need to get better at producing students who are more confident to enroll in STEM programs, and creating educational programs that are more multi-disciplinary. At best, without enough of the skills we need to do complex analyses our ability to take advantage of the tools to drive business value will stagnate. At worst, the business decisions we make from faulty analyses will drive businesses into the ground.
An awesome event
Thanks to Marc Montoro and NCTA for organizing and sponsoring the event, and Targacept for hosting it. I think many in the audience appreciated the diversity of the panel and the range of thought and experiences.the panelists brought to the discussion.
More and more companies today seem to think that the latest “best thing since sliced bread” is adopting Agile software development to create user-friendly enterprise applications. After all, Agile development is supposed to allow software developers to be more responsive to customer needs, deliver products faster, and be more efficient than with the traditional “waterfall” method. But according to some pundits the circumstances for successfully employing Agile development processes, especially the Scrum framework, depends hugely on teams being co-located. This presents a challenge to companies that understand that outsourcing software development can bridge the gap in skills shortages and budget constraints. How can we gain the benefits of Agile and outsourcing when the key ingredient of Agile-Scrum (co-located teams) seems to be the antithesis of outsourcing (individuals who aren’t on-site)?
According to a recent Computerworld article [link] , Gartner’s Sean Kenefick points out “We have seen cases where folks were successful in outsourcing agile development. But they were the exception not the rule.” He and others quoted in the article claim that successful delivery using Agile Scrum development practices requires some trade-offs in the pure implementation of the methodology. I agree. After all, how many of us have successfully implemented any methodology in its textbook form? Every organization has its own practices that make it successful; new methodologies must incorporate the culture or it fails in the organization.
At Small Footprint, we have found that successful Agile-Scrum implementations with outsourced teams depend on a few key factors, which seem to be corroborated in observations reported in the Computerworld article:
1. “Pick a partner that’s really going to be your partner, not someone who’ll just deliver that statement of work for you.” Agile development depends on teamwork, teamwork depends on collaboration, and collaboration comes from the shared values of true partners.
2. “Having an IT leader take responsibility for the project is a key differentiator.” Customers cannot always take day-to-day responsibility for a project, so the outsourcer must have a local, if not on-site, presence who can clearly represent the time, cost, and feature trade-offs of the project.
3. “Agile development is always challenging, even in-house, with everyone at the same location.” Exceptional communication is really the keystone that drives successful practice of agile development. Having teams be co-located or utilizing Skype, online whiteboards, Google Docs, video conferencing, and having an over-lap of hours in the regular working day are important but not key drivers. Successful communication comes from building the rapport and establishing a trusting environment necessary for open communication. That’s why, at Small Footprint, we hire based on English communication skills first with technical skills a close second.
4. “Using an agile methodology runs counter to most outsourcers’ business models.” Agile software development methodology must be part of the outsourcer’s DNA. Being able to either leverage their own agile methodology or to be able to easily adapt to a slightly different one can only be accomplished if the outsourcer knows and understands agile development processes. Projects are less likely to succeed if the outsourcer has to completely change the way they do business to accommodate the project.
5. “By going to some of the lowest cost countries, you can get a very competitive programmer … but that’s not necessarily going to help your project succeed.” Individual programmers become exceptional agile developers because they are experienced with the agile processes that are consistently leveraged by the whole project management process. The value of the project is measured by the speed and quality of deliverables not by each programmer’s rate.
Can Agile work with an outsourcer? Small Footprint has been successful at it, so even if we are the exception rather than the rule, the answer has to be an emphatic “YES!”
Winston-Salem , NC (April 11, 2012) - Today Small Footprint and Scene in Winston-Salem announced the launch of Treks in the City app, version 2.0, which features iPad functionality, new Winston-Salem city treks, and advanced mapping. Version 2.0 will be introduced at the 2012 Scene in Winston-Salem Scavenger Hunt on April 14, 2012, 5:00pm at Ziggy’s.
Although it has only been one year since its launch, Treks in the City, a guided city tour app for your smart phone device, has made great progress in its development and marketing on both the local and national levels. “The app’s end users have really driven demand for its new features and platforms, especially the iPad version” stated Patrick Turner, Small Footprint Chief Technology Officer. “We are excited about taking Treks in the City to new towns across the country and showcasing Scene in Winston-Salem’s marketing of Treks in in the City as an example of how to best launch this app successfully in any city.”
Key features of Treks in the City Version 2.0 include:
• Newly optimized for the iPad
• Better Social Network integration including Pinterest and Facebook comments
• New “Add All to My Treks” functionality which adds all locations from a trek to “My Treks”
• New Treks to discover including NC wine and NC Craft Beer
• Improved Mapping Experience includes easier selection of walking or driving directions
• QR Scanner Integration directs you straight to a location’s page
• Improved Storyline Integration
• Bulk editing of My Trek to easily delete locations added to My Trek
• Optimized functionality to reduce Android & iOS crashes
• Improved Android back button experience
• Various other bug fixes
Scene in Winston-Salem , who co-founded Treks in the City and handles the marketing and operations of Treks in the City: W-S, stated, “ We are so lucky to have found such a great company in Small Footprint to bring Treks in the City to life for our community. It is an added bonus that it has uncovered an effective way to give back to Winston-Salem while also expanding the Treks in the City brand to other cities.”
About Scene in Winston-Salem
Scene in Winston-Salem was started in the spring of 2008 by a group of volunteers wishing to educate visitors and locals on the history, culture and community of Winston-Salem in a fun and interactive way. Scene in Winston-Salem won a 2011 Downtown Excellence award for its work with non-profit groups to raise money and awareness of local businesses and organizations.
About Small Footprint, Inc.
Small Footprint is a rapidly growing international software development services company providing custom software, technology and outsourcing for organizations across several industries. Headquartered in Winston-Salem, Small Footprint addresses the challenges outsourcing poses with communication, control, and maintaining overall effectiveness by employing highly skilled technology professionals locally. The company operates a wholly owned offshore Development Center in Cluj, Romania, a city recently identified by KPMG as a top global IT outsourcing location. The company’s experience, expertise and combination of local and offshore professionals enables Small Footprint to deliver solutions to their customers faster, better and more cost-effectively than both traditional software consultancy firms and in-house resources.
Check out the Video the Downtown Winston-Salem Partnership produced for our Downtown Excellence Award!
Small Footprint sponsored an exciting NCTA Thought Leadership Series event this morning featuring Gary Shapiro, author of The New York Times Best Seller, “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore The American Dream”. There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the American Dream being in trouble given the economic challenges we face. It was comforting to hear him proclaim America’s leadership position in industries such as healthcare, the Internet and entertainment. But we all sense that America cannot rest on its laurels. Gary started off by boldly stating, “Growth only comes from innovation.”
Innovation is a topic very close to my heart. As an entrepreneur, I know that while having an innovative idea is important, it’s the ability to execute on that idea that leads to success. Gary made a strong case that America is still the world leader in technology, but to compete going forward in the global marketplace American economic policy needs to be centered on innovation. For me, that also means policies that ensure our citizens and corporations can execute on those innovative ideas.
Innovation is in our blood mainly because we are a country of immigrants, Gary argues. We are a people who question and push against the status quo, and this is essential behavior for innovation to take hold. Innovation requires us to experiment, take risks and to be able to change. I’m an American and was born and raised in the United States, but after college I traveled to Eastern Europe where I lived for fifteen years. In that time I met many brilliant people with amazing ideas: engineers, doctors, and scientists. But these people were not always finding the support they needed be successful in their home countries. I noticed that people – even those same brilliant people – envied America and its support of new ideas and appetite for taking risks. They looked up to Americans for their assuredness of themselves and of success, and their ability to execute. It was during this time that I realized what a unique and valuable asset this is in the global marketplace.
At Small Footprint, we make innovation happen by enabling our clients to take full advantage of modern web and mobile technologies. In a world where technology changes rapidly, we help our clients get to market faster with innovative software products and online services. We give them access to world-class talent and we enjoy leveraging our international savvy to help them succeed both at home and across the globe.
In sum, I’m thankful for my international experience and the perspective it has given me. I feel it’s important that America keeps its doors open for those talented people and new ideas, wherever they may come from. But ideas and talent alone aren’t enough. We also need economic policies that ensure that America remains the most fertile soil for people and organizations to plant and raise their innovative ideas.
I’m looking forward to reading my signed copy of Gary’s book!
More information about the event at: http://www.nctechnology.org/events/overview/thought_leaders_series/march_thought_leaders.aspx
Out and About in Downtown Winston-Salem…
On Wednesday, October 5th, The Downtown Winston Salem Partnership held their Fall 500 Strong event at the new Ziggy’s, located off Martin Luther King Drive and Trade Street. The event was to celebrate the launch of Treks in the City, a geo-location mobile application for iPhone® and Android® phones. This application has been designed to create a customizable way to tour downtown W-S and learn more about destinations that best meet users’ specific interests. Pre-set treks have been created that focus on history, art, entertainment, etc.., as well as treks to revisit past Scene in W-S Scavenger Hunt destinations. Treks in the City was designed for W-S locals and visitors – providing the community with an innovative and convenient way to learn about the great places in and around downtown W-S.
Treks in the City is the pet project of Susan Morris and Debra Chiarello, founders of Scene in Winston-Salem, a community organization focused on developing events and technology that educates locals and visitors about the wonderful basics of Winston-Salem. Treks in the City: W-S was developed by Small Footprint, a Winston-Salem based software development firm, who is using W-S as a test site as they sell the application to other cities worldwide.
Winston-Salem, NC (September 1, 2011) — A new mobile app designed for anyone concerned about their personal image helps users easily track when they wore various outfits and accessories. With “What I Wore™,” a free app now available from iTunes, users snap pictures of their outfits that are then organized into a weekly photo list to quickly and easily view what they wore on previous occasions.
“This app is for anyone who wants to be sure they always present their best image,” said Patrick Turner, CTO of Small Footprint, Inc., the company that developed the app with computer scientist Josh Tan. “That might be a busy executive who wants to avoid wearing the same outfit twice with an important customer or someone who wants to repeat an outfit that prompted compliments and wants to be sure to remember the shoes and accessories that worked well.”
With just a few clicks, users can capture a picture, or select one from their camera roll, and mark the date they wore the outfit. When opening the app, they can view the pictures and swipe back in time to see what they wore on any given date.
The free version allows for 30 days of pictures to be saved and includes a daily reminder to capture their photos. A 99 cent upgrade enables unlimited photo storage, a self-timer, and removes ads. The self-timer allows the iPhone® and iPad® to be placed on a desk or counter top for easy self-portraits.
Download What I Wore in the iTunes App Store at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/what-i-wore/id445551577?mt=8.