Appreciating The Role Of QA On Valentine’s Day

It is Valentine’s Day this week. It is that time when we reflect, appreciate, and celebrate the one we love. While Valentine’s Day is often associated with relationships that are romantic in nature, the holiday incorporates other relationships nonplatonic in nature as well. Children give valentines to their teachers and classmates. Many people send gifts and cards of appreciation and love for parents or grandparents. There is even a growing trend for ladies to celebrate “Galentines” Day in which ladies celebrate their friendships with their nearest and dearest gals.

At Xcelacore, we love business-driven technologies, especially software development, DevOps, and quality assurance testing. Our infatuation with these got us thinking about how these technologies depend on the associated relationships with one another. Although these components certainly don’t experience romantic or even platonic love, they do depend on one another. So, we wanted to take a look at the close relationship between DEV, QA, and DevOps in honor of Valentine’s Day.

 

QA Helps Complete Dev and DevOps

In the iconic movie from the 1990s, Jerry Maguire cites the infamous line to Dorothy, “I love you. You complete me.” We all want to feel complete, and software is no different. Without QA, a software application may never come to its completed fruition thanks to bugs. QA completes the development process by eliminating mistakes and bugs, thus improving the quality of the code.

 

QA makes Dev and DevOps better

It is a beautiful thing to fall in love with someone who makes you a better person. QA makes your code better. Better code brings higher value for the business that uses it. That value then touches the lives of multiple stakeholders, improving their lives in little ways along the way.

 

QA and Dev work towards long term goals

Couples are always making dreams together; the dream vacation one day, the house they plan to build, the children they plan to raise. Companies and developers have long term goals, as well. They dream of creating software that will solve problems, generate greater efficiencies, and create recognized value. QA walks side by side with the developer, working towards the goal of seeing their software creation released to the world.

 

QA and DevOps share incremental victories

While successful marriages share common long term goals, it is the shared intricacies of daily life that bring them closer together. They work together to get the kids through school, make date nights, and help one another through sickness and worry. QA plays an integral role in the culture of DevOps. Whether it is creating code for a new application feature or merely modifying a navigation button, QA and DevOps work hand in hand to ensure that every incremental release is the best that it can be.

 

QA helps challenge development

Many people, both women, and men want a partner who will challenge them, for it is when you are challenged, that you grow. You may have the most exceptional team of developers on the planet, but they aren’t perfect. QA serves as that second set of discerning eyes to examine all of their written code for bugs and inefficiencies. This will make your developers better, which leads to better code and better results.

 

The sum is more significant than its parts

A great couple is defined by two people who work cohesively as a team. They both have a role in the relationship, yet they accomplish more united together. QA is the ideal teammate for development and DevOps. They both have a different purpose, yet those two roles merge seamlessly together. In fact, the boundaries of QA and developer can become blurred in a DevOps environment. All parties on the team are dedicated to making the highest quality code possible in the quickest amount of time. In that way, the end product is better because of the collective effort of both parties.

 

The pairing of strengths and weaknesses

A healthy marriage is one in which each partner’s shortcomings are canceled out by the other’s strengths. There are not many programmers out there who enjoy testing code consistently, and that is ok. Your developers don’t have to when they are paired with a QA partner. All QA does is test code, and it is very good at it. This removes the burden of testing off the shoulders of your developers, allowing them to focus on what they do best- create great code.

 

Xcelacore plays Matchmaker

There are many ways to meet your soulmate. Some prefer online dating sites, while others prefer the traditional organic way of finding someone. This Valentine’s Day, think of Xcelacore as a matchmaker. In fact, think of us as Cupid. If your developing efforts require the introduction of that perfect partner, then we have the match. Our automated QA solutions are the ideal fit for your current development team. Xcelacore automated QA solutions can bring increased efficiency, improved accuracy and reliability, faster validation, and greater consistency to your coding projects. Quality assurance may not be the first thing you think of on Valentine’s Day, but providing QA solutions to our clients is something we think about every day of the year.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

Appreciating QA

It is that time of year again in which we look back and reflect upon what we learned from the previous year, and look forward to what awaits us in the coming twelve months.  Whichever direction you choose, it translates into the creation of some type of list, for example, the top ten movies of 2019 or the ten most anticipated movies of 2020. At Xcelacore, we tend to look towards the future rather than dwell on the past, so we took the initiative and listed what we think will be eight technologies that will have the biggest impact on companies in 2020.  

More Emphasis on Edge Computing 

While some people may enjoy living on the edge, the day is coming in which the majority of your data will be created on the edge as well.  While 10 percent of enterprise-generated data was created and processed outside of a traditional centralized data center or cloud, this figure will reach 75 percent by 2022 according to Gartner.  As real-time data will drive more of the decision process, there will be no time to send all data to the cloud by default.  Rather than sending data across the internet to be batch processed at a central store, it will instead make the short hop to servers that reside locally and can analyze it quickly.  This is especially important for distributed IoT systems. Edge computing not only reduces latency but also creates a secure environment that enables greater autonomy at the edge.

5G finally comes to Fruition

The concept of 5G continues to be heralded as the next-generation cellular standard that will totally transform the world and how it stays connected.  We have heard that for a while now, but 2020 may be the year that we finally see it implemented on a scale that truly impacts our lives. What makes 5G so anticipated is the promise of significant boosts in speed, coverage and responsiveness.  5G will bring us next-generation connectivity that will be 10 to 100 times faster than typical cellular connections today, with download/uploads speeds in the milliseconds. As a result, companies will be able to take full advantage of other data-driven technologies and will serve as the backbone for the smart city of tomorrow.  Qualcomm, the largest smartphone chip vendor, expects some 200 million 5G smartphones to be shipped in the coming year. This will accentuate the demand for 5G across the country.

Expansion of AI

There is nothing new about AI and we certainly witnessed its presence in 2019.  However, we have only just begun to witness the power of AI. Retailers will turn to AI as a primary source of marketing insights that they can use to make decisions concerning just about anything, including inventory capacity, pricing and merchandising.  We will see AI integrated at a massive scale in the form of AI-based chatbots and virtual assistants that will streamline business transactions and enhance customer experiences. Voice-enabled AI will continue to explode as well. Until now, the implementation of voice-enabled AI devices such as Alexa and Google Assistant have been just slightly more than gimmicky.  The next stage, however, will be in 2020 in which voice queries will become a principle way to interact with AI. AI will also move beyond the stage of simply mimicking human abilities and will be directed to help solve meaningful problems that until now have proved elusive to human capabilities.      

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Those of you who read our company blog are familiar with RPA as it is a technology highly promoted by Xcelacore.  RPA is all about automating repetitive tasks traditionally performed by humans. Often this means using the same interface that humans do.   For instance, you may associate an action such as logging onto an authenticated website as something only a human can do, but think again. An RPA software robot can do it too and never type in an incorrect password.  It also never takes a break or sleeps so it can work 24/7. It also costs a fraction of what humans cost. What can they do once they are logged on? Just about anything including copy and paste data, move folders, retrieve log files and scrape browsers.  In other words, they do tedious sorts of things so that your creative human workers can then focus on utilizing the data accessed, created and analyzed by these software robots. RPA is not about replacing human capital; it is about expanding the utilization of human potential.  

Hyper Automation

If you not yet familiar with this technology, you need to.  Gartner identifies Hyper Automation as the #1 technology trend of 2020.  Think of packaged software, AI, machine learning and RPA as all subsets of hyper-automation.   Gartner defines hyper-automation as a combination of these and other automation tools to deliver work.  While no single one of these included technologies can replace human capability by itself, the synergy of all of them working collectively will take automation to the next level.  Eventually, this will mean taking over the complete decision process, involving itself in not only the data collection and analytical processes, but sharing the discovered insights across the organization. Think of this technology as the coming age of human enhancement.

Happy New Year from Xcelacore

We hope that 2020 proves a year of expanded opportunity for you and that we at Xcelacore can help you achieve your objectives for the coming year.  Xcelacore continues to be at the forefront of leading technology solutions and we will always strive to incorporate new technologies that we think can add real value to our clients.    Let us help show you the doorway to endless possibilities in 2020. Happy New Year.

There is a lot of talk about robotic process automation in the news as of late. The vast advancements made in robotics and AI are transforming the process of work today, as we know it. We often associate the idea of robotics with some physical presence. Physical robots are indeed performing all types of repetitive tasks. Robotic order pickers traverse large warehouses filling orders. Industrial floor scrubbers keep retail floors perfectly clean while industry robots perform a perfect weld every time. You can even have a robot grill you the perfect burger or pour a consistent cocktail.

 

What is Robotic Process Automation?

Physical robots are introduced into workspaces to replicate the actions of human workers. Often the tasks they perform are tedious, mundane, and sometimes dangerous. In most cases, physical robots save human workers from the drudgery of performing mind-numbing recurring tasks all day. Monotonous low-value tasks are not limited to the industry sectors. Think of the repetitive task processes workers perform within the traditional office all through the day.

 

  • Opening emails and attachments
  • Filling in forms
  • Copying and pasting
  • Collecting statistical data
  • Extracting structured data from multiple sources
  • Reading and writing to databases
  • Processing payroll or insurance claims

Chances are nearly everyone in your office who performs these types of tasks to some degree today. Is this really what you want to pay your professional staff to do?  

Thanks to Robotic Process Automation (RPA), the 21st-century office is being streamlined and liberated. Like traditional robots, RPA automates the manual steps of human work. In this case, those steps often involve mouse clicks and the parsing of data cells in a spreadsheet. RPA tools enable software bots to interact with software applications by mimicking the actions a human would perform. Activities can include logging in and out of apps, copy and paste routines, and filling out forms. By automating tedious tasks and rule-based business processes, companies can enable their employees to dedicate more time to either serving customers, solving problems, or contributing to innovation that creates far more value for the business. A great example of RPA solution used today is QA Automation, automating the quality assurance process of system testing. Read about the benefits of QA automation in our most recent blog.

 

The Dramatic Growth of RPA

According to Gartner, RPA software revenue grew by 63.1 percent in 2018. At $846 million, RPA is the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market. Gartner expects RPA software revenue to reach $1.3 billion in 2019. Other studies show that the global RPA market size will reach $3.97 billion by 2025. Expenditures on RPA in the global financial services market alone is expected to amount to $955.2 million by 2023.  

 

The Benefits of Robotic Process Automation to Your Business

The implementation of software bots within online customer service environments has proved hugely successful for businesses and customers alike. So much so that customers today prefer bots to humans, while 88 percent of companies report that the realized benefits of these types of bots have met or exceeded their expectations. Similarly, several recognized benefits are stimulating the growth of the RPA market as well.

 

  • Cost Savings: RPA can bring immediate cost savings by reducing expenditures as work can be scaled out. Work is performed 24/7, and significant time savings are captured as bots can perform these traditional human enabled tasks far faster than human workers with no interruptions to the job process.

 

  • Increased accuracy: Bots are not susceptible to human error. They do not make typos or get distracted. Error-free work translates into greater efficiency and higher quality, which results in greater satisfaction rates and success.

 

  • Better control: In the past, some businesses have chosen to farm these types of tasks out to external parties, which introduces inherent risks. RPA can keep these processes in-house, allowing management to retain complete visibility and control of them.

 

  • Greater adherence to regulatory compliance and standards: Because bots follow a highly defined set of instructions preconfigured to create an audit history that can easily be captured and retraced for review. Bots can work under the strictest of compliance standards

 

  • Employee Empowerment: Don’t think your employees enjoy performing mundane tasks. Migrating these types of work processes to software bots liberates them from the routine, allowing them to contribute ideas and value-added work to the organization

The low technical barriers that are characteristic of RPA tools can be surprising to those introduced to this new liberating approach to work. Robotic process automation does not require high-level programming skills from internal employees. Once RPA tools have been created and customized, non-technical staff personnel can easily add and modify processes, sometimes using drag and drop like menus. Because software bots simply work at the application layer like any human worker, companies do not have to purchase new systems to accommodate these automated processes. This minimizes the investment required to obtain the many benefits that robotic process automation can bring to your business.

 

RPA and Xcelacore

Xcelacore has been helping many companies create and implement robotic process automation solutions for them to help accelerate their digital transformations and liberate their professional office staff. Xcelacore recently debuted a proof-of-concept for a social media marketing firm. Online marketing is driven by data performance metrics such as “# of followers,” shares, clicks, and engagements. Often this requires marketing specialists to perpetually log onto to social media platforms to collect and correlate the performance matrix for each of their clients.

Xcelacore created an RPA software tool to direct a bot to perform these types of tasks. To the casual onlooker walking by, the browser-based application interaction occurring on the assigned desktop would probably appear to be human-induced as applications such as LinkedIn, Sprout Social and were accessed through natural logon processes. Data was appropriately downloaded and stored into spreadsheets each day. AI-driven metrics can then be applied to the obtained data overtime to find quantitative patterns.

There are few businesses if any, that cannot benefit from RPA. These virtual business assistants can work for your business in ways you probably cannot yet imagine. Xcelacore can help you envision it, though, and even better, make it a reality. The future of work is now. Let us help put it in place for you.

 

 

How Software Development has changed in the Past Decade

When we consider the dramatic ways technology has improved over the past decade, our first inclination is to think of hardware or the Internet. However, software development has changed just as dramatically as all other aspects of technology. The fact is that we approach software development much differently than we did a decade ago. That is because the world has dramatically changed since a decade ago.

Software development is a highly complex process and requires a team to build it correctly. A programmer doesn’t just sit down and write code to create an envisioned application. For many years, the creation of a software application was approached, much like the manufacturing of an automobile. The project phases traditionally were planning, design, architecture, development, testing, and release. Once launched, the support and maintenance phases started as application developers then repeated the entire process to create version 2.X and so forth. It was typical for the period between planning and product launch to exceed a year or more. This elongated process is outdated today in a world of digital transformation that demands total agility and responsiveness.

Below we have outlined some of the significant changes witnessed in software development over the past decade. It is essential to realize these changes and understand why the traditional approach to development is no longer applicable today.

 

Faster Deployments through Virtualization and Containers

It is hard to believe that a decade ago, many organizations still relied on physical servers to host applications. Each physical server hosted a single app. Physical servers proved extremely costly due to inefficient resource utilization. Then to compound the problems of a single point of failure, there were expensive hardware redundancy architecture, time-consuming upgrades. As you can tell, let’s just say it was far from an ideal situation.

Then, came virtualization and the software development world suddenly sped up. A single server can now host a multitude of virtual machines, thus maximizing resource utilization. Virtual machines are then members of large server farms that enforce automated redundancy. Virtualization began reducing server deployment from months to minutes. Reducing the implementation time for application host structure reduces software deployment time as well. This lead to the natural transition to containers and microservices. The introduction of containers further isolated applications from their hosted environments. Each container hosts all of the external dependencies required by its contained application. This dramatically increases flexibility as containers can be migrated amongst different hosting platforms and sites. It also simplifies API development for programmers in a platform-neutral environment.

 

The Expansion of Audiences and Platforms 

Fifteen years go, the majority of applications were business or productivity based. In the past decade, we have witnessed the prominent rise of the consumer app. Follow that by the proliferation of mobile devices that launched an insatiable appetite for these new apps. Applications are not just for desktops anymore, and the client-server application model no longer restricted to only PCs. The app is now the communicative epicenter that companies use to interact with their customers. In order to satisfy this need, applications are now released to accommodate a multitude of computing device platforms.

 

The Scalability and Flexibility of the Cloud

The demand for browser-based and mobile apps has skyrocketed in the past decade due to the consumerization of IT. This has stimulated expanded distribution channels in which consumers can access app stores to download apps on-demand in real-time. This scope of scalability is only available in the cloud. The cloud certainly was the gamechanger that launched the app revolution. What’s more, containers and virtual machines can be easily migrated to demand between on-premise and cloud environments. The availability of cloud services has completely changed the way that developers provision, build, and deploy applications and the external dependencies they require.

 

DevOps and Agile Methodology Impact on Software Development

The culmination of the velocity of deployment, the high demand for new apps, and a seemingly limitless audience and distribution network demanded a new approach to software development. Innovation can no longer wait for the traditional waterfall approach to software development in which each subsequent phase of the development process must wait for its predecessor. Instead, a new holistic approach was necessary to encourage communication, collaboration amongst software operators and developers. A new agile development process was adapted greatly accelerated the development pace to accommodate faster releases and improve the quality of code releases. A new DevOps method was incorporated, in which qualitative assurance was incorporated as automated progressions into the entire development process. Thanks to DevOps and Agile management practices, speed and quality are now amalgamated into a single expectation level.

 

Third-Party Software Developers

In the same way that developers utilize third-party software components to increase the speed and quality of development, companies are turning to third-party development teams for the same reasons. It is challenging to retain the high-level talent required to create multi-platform applications at the velocity required today. Technology drives innovation today. Bringing in third-party developers that have a wide array of technical skills and experience can bring much-needed expertise and innovation. That can not only overcome impending challenges but inject added value as well. Our other recent blog talks about the importance of injecting third-party developers to your team. 

Let Xcelacore show you how we continue to assist companies in adapting and excelling to not only the change witnessed over the previous decade but the impending breakthroughs of tomorrow as well.

 

8 Benefits of Automated QA Testing for your Enterprise

At Xcelacore, we are passionate about software. We find it inspiring as we have witnessed how software innovation can genuinely revolutionize how organizations and customers can interact and conduct business today. We especially like to talk about Automated QA Testing and could give you endless examples of how it is streamlining the software development process. However, we know you don’t have all the time in the world. You have a business to run also. To not overwhelm you, we compiled a consolidated list of eight benefits that software quality assurance automation can bring to your enterprise.

1. Return on Investment (ROI)

The equation is simple. QA automation testing saves you time and time is money. By saving time, you save money, developing a new software application. Recurrent automated qa testing helps maximize the significant investments that are required for custom software development. Automating the QA process also encourages granular testing, which results in higher quality code. This translates better innovation and features, all of which brings value to your target users. Higher value experienced by your end users produces greater loyalty, which means returning customers. All of these advantages contribute to the ROI equation. Need more detailed help calculating ROI, check out our ROI calculator. 

2. Automated QA Reduces Testing Costs

Once again, it is easy to correlate monetary benefits to QA Testing. By automating the testing process, you remove the human element. Qualified code testers do not work for pennies. Eliminating the human cost of regression testing slashes the cost of assessment and quality control. Reducing the associated will promote and stimulate more testing, which contributes to better code.

3. Automated QA Provides Faster Validation

Ideas are never perfect. Even the best idea needs careful validation to determine its value. The last thing you need is to find out at the very end of your project that your creative notion idea didn’t work, or maybe never was going to. By validating the code of each concurrent step in the development process, the stakeholders can incrementally redefine the project when necessary. Automated qa testing stimulates communication that leads to a more coordinated effort amongst team members. Automated regression testing does not require any formal requests or mundane planning because it is available at the touch of a button. By shortening your testing windows, you reduce the length of the project itself.

4. Greater Consistency of the Testing Process

Everyone has a specific style which applies to writers, athletes, salespeople, and yes, code testers. To err is to be human, they say. There is always some small oversight when humans perform the evaluation and review process. Some of the greatest coaches and military leaders at some point in their career fail to recognize some detail that ends up costing them. One’s style or experience do not limit QA testing. It is a complete process that guarantees the same consistent result every time. Software never varies in how it performs its procedures, so your testing procedures shouldn’t either.

5. Scalability

What is one of the primary reasons that companies are migrating resources and assets to the cloud as quickly as possible? Scalability! QA Automation scripts can perform simultaneously test two, twenty or two-hundred machines or instances. Testing can also occur at all hours of the day or night as it does not require a human presence. In the same way, the traditional legacy datacenter cannot effectively compete with the cloud at all levels. A human-initiated testing process cannot match the workload of automated processes.

6. Reusability and Sustainability

In an era in which so many individuals and companies are going green, reusability is a big deal. Automated testing aids in sustainability, as well. Developers and code testers may change over time due to turnover. Automated testing tools such as selenium can always be there to serve you, reliably repeating the same testing procedures.

7. Programmers Love Automated QA

When morale falls, so does the performance. This is true of sports teams, armies, and software developers. Developers do not want to run mind-numbing tests repeatedly throughout a development project. Doing so takes them off the task you pay them to do. People want to do what they do best. For programmers, that is developing code. Negating programmers from the testing process will not only make them happier and more productive, but it may also attract better coders to your team as well.

8. Reduced Time to Market

No one likes to wait. Your customers are hungry for innovation that will bring them value. Your marketing team is impatient for new products they can sell, and management is anxious to see their ideas come to fruition. The ability to contract the period between the moment an application idea is conceived until it is made available in the market creates a clear competitive edge. Companies that can reduce the time-to-market for innovation has the luxury of time over their competitors. Reducing the TTM also reduces costs, which goes back to benefit #1.

At Xcelacore, we are passionate about software development. Completing a technology project for a customer that adds value to their business is what makes us cheer. However, we realize that writing and testing code is not as exciting to most people. This time of year, a lot more people are excited about the start of football season including us. We want to use America’s most popular sport as an analogy as to why your business should consider a third-party development team for your pending software projects.

 

The right players and developers can get you across the goal line

Like just about anything, the game of football has transformed itself over the years.  While the offense still consists of 11 players on the field, multiple players rotate those positions depending on the circumstances of the game.  Football team rosters consist of specialized roles today on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Some defensive backs only enter the field on running plays, others for passing situations or third-down situations.  The offensive players utilized on one’s own 20-yard line may be different from the ones you bring in when in the red zone. When a team is first and goal on the 4-yard line, the coach sends in a designated running back supported by the right lineman that can together punch the ball across the goal line for the touchdown.

Software development has become specialized too.  Your company or business unit has a great idea, but how do you execute on the idea and see it to its competition?  Does your development team have the experience and foresight to make the idea a reality? One advantage of using a third-party development team is the wide variety of projects they have worked on.  Such projects involve different industries, customer bases, application types, and programming languages. Just as veteran football players with experience serving on multiple teams can make the less experienced players better, the injection of developers with a broad spectrum of experience can bring new insight to your application development project.

 

Lost opportunities can lose the game or your competitiveness

Scoring a field goal after being first and goal is not a victory.  It is a lost opportunity. Any coach knows that constantly settling for field goals will come back to haunt you later in the game.  It takes touchdowns to win consistently. Similarly, unexecuted ideas are lost opportunities as well. It may be that your internal developers are already committed to another project.  But what if your new idea holds greater potential value than the one already committed to? You have three options:

 

  • Abandon your new idea
  • Hire more developers within your company
  • Hire a third-party development team

A football team only gets so many opportunities in the game to score.  In today’s hyper-competitive market place, the windows of opportunity are brief for value-driven ideas.  Outsourcing your developing to accommodate dynamic workloads can bring greater agility and flexibility to your business, allowing it to take advantage of ideas that can generate value or competitive advantages.  The addition of third-party developers brings greater capacity when needed.

 

Football teams and businesses constantly need new talent

Professional football teams spend millions on scouting.  College teams spend huge amounts of money on recruiting. That’s because the most talented team on the field usually wins in the long run.  The same is true in the age of digital transformation. The company with the best development talent will be better able to serve its customers, thus winning market share and larger revenues.  But while both professional and college football teams have the entire offseason to find new talent, companies don’t. That is because there is no offseason in the business world. Hiring takes time.  It requires energy and resources that can instead be directed towards executing value-driven ideas. Another irony is that while growing economies create the most opportunities for your business, the same is true for developer talent.

When times are good, they are in demand, which makes traditional hiring challenging. Contracting with a third-party development firm can give you faster access to top talent and give you a competitive edge over your competitors.

 

The game is won by a few key plays

The teams are so evenly matched in professional football that games are won by a few key plays.  Those teams that can execute when the game is on the line usually win. The same is true in software development.  All companies have similar applications. Customers choose software based on a few select features that create value for them.  Having access to developers bring creativity and experience into play in order to produce innovative features and add-ons can be that extra something that wins the game.

 

Bringing in unbiased coaches or developers is necessary sometimes

A football team may have the best talent on the field, but if they do not play as a team, they will not go all the way.  Sometimes a team needs a new set of coaches to discern its talent or create better game plans that accommodates the roster at hand.  Similarly, businesses sometimes need unbiased code reviews or security audits of their applications in production. Once again, acquiring outside talent that has experience in a great variety of projects and situations can better discern what is needed to get the application at hand to the production level.

 

A winning team

At Xcelacore, we have a team that is highly experienced and competitive.  Our team doesn’t score touchdowns. Instead, we help businesses implement technology that drives innovation down the field to score wins for both them and their customers.  We specialize in cloud development, web , and mobile application development and quality assurance (QA) testing and automation. All of this may not be as exciting as throwing the winning touchdown pass, but it is the expertise that helps our clients maximize their technology and innovation.

 

Team Work

Let’s start out by saying that it’s good to have a choice because many companies are strictly limited to purchasing third party software.  You’re in a prodigious position if you’re weighing whether to finance a customized software solution or purchase one off-the-shelf. There are advantages and drawbacks to either approach.  Oftentimes the debate involves determining the right balance between control versus cost and immediate needs versus long-term opportunities. 

Easy Considerations

If you fall into one of the following scenarios, then the choice is already made for you.

  • The software you need doesn’t yet exist

Its perfectly feasible that the particular solution you need is not yet available on the market.  If this is the case, then you need to build it.

  • You need the software ASAP

If you need a software solution implemented in less than thirty days, then you can stop reading and find a vendor that produces something close to what you need.

  • Your industry or organization is in a highly regulated field

Industries such as financial services are required to use software solutions that have been rigorously tested and vetted in order to meet compliance regulations.  Unless you are a large corporation, chances are you will be better off purchasing.

With that out of the way, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of buying an existing solution. 

Advantages of Buying Software

The primary advantage of purchasing Commercial-off-the-Shelf (COTS) software is that it is a known factor.  Whether it’s a fixed or variable cost, the initial price is known or can be calculated up front.  Implementation and deployment is much faster than building.  In addition to the software, your purchase usually entitles you to product guidance, expertise and support from the vendor as well.  This is an important consideration particularly when things go wrong or you need access to a knowledge base for advice.  Finally, bugs are discovered early and often because the software is continually being tested by the other customers.  Bugs are found before they affect your own organization. 

Disadvantages of Buying Software

Innovation

It may sound like an oxymoron, but one big disadvantage to buying software off-the-shelf is the uncertainty of the future.  While the purchased software may satisfy your requirements today, your needs will undoubtedly change in the future.  As a result, you may outgrow your software.  There are also some important questions to ponder. How certain are you that this particular software vendor will be around in five years?  How reliable is the company that you are purchasing from? Will the company continue to innovate and upgrade the software with new technology and features or will they go out of business?  After all, 96 percent of businesses fail within 10 years.  These are key questions to ask because switching between software solutions is an expensive proposition. 

Security

Security is another major consideration as third and fourth-party data breaches have dominated the headlines over the years.  Third-party data breaches over a 12-month period increased from 34 percent to 45 percent in 2018 according to a report by The Ponemon Institute.

Feature Mismatch

While buying is nearly always cheaper up front, you will undoubtedly be paying for features that are not relevant to your particular industry or company.  Similarly, the software is likely to be lacking in capabilities that you wish you had.

Now let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of creating your own customized software solution.

Advantages of Building Custom Software

Feature Match

The primary advantage of building your own software is that it ensures that you get what you want because you are in charge.  Think of the difference between having your next home custom built from the ground up vs. buying a resale.  The development team creating your software will do so based upon your specific requirements. This ensures your software solution delivers all of the features you want and need

Innovation

What’s more, the innovation process never has to end when you’re building.  Custom software can be modified in real-time, and new features and capabilities can be introduced as needed. As your business changes, so too can the software. You won’t have to wait for a vendor to develop specific feature sets to suit your business requirements – you can develop and implement them as you go. 

Scale

Another advantage to building custom software is that it can grow alongside the growth of your organization and at your own pace.

Competitive Advantage

Custom software can also offer a competitive advantage over your competitors by leveraging the technology that is better suited for your company and your customers. This advantage is even more pronounced if your competitors are operating canned off-the-shelf software. 

Disadvantages of Building Custom Software

Time

The primary disadvantages are time and cost.  Obviously, implementation takes much longer and unanticipated delays can prolong the process even further.  

Cost

While some organizations may have an internal development staff, chances are you will have to hire an outside development team to partner with.  Knowing an exact upfront price for a custom software build project is highly difficult.  The only thing to be certain of is that it will most likely cost more than purchasing COTS software.  While the initial cost may be greater however, custom software can prove less costly in the long run due to the negated risk of switching software solutions as well as the appreciated gains of greater productivity and efficiency. 

The Final Choice is Up to You

There is no clear right or wrong answer when it comes to the question of buy versus build. It depends on your business, your requirements and your resources. Your best option is to choose based upon your particular situation and needs.  A simple equation to remember is that more control equates to greater cost; and lower upfront costs will garner you less control. No matter which path you decide upon, be sure to do your research in order to find a vendor or development team that can provide the solution that best fits with your organization’s requirements.   

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It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it is a question many companies are asking today.  It’s a question that is particularly relevant to organizations that are currently mapping out their digital transformation as they attempt to both maximize their existing technology frameworks and monetize their technology investments.  The question applies especially to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).  ERP is the lifeline for many businesses today.  As such, it is the collective depository of shared databases that support multiple functions that are used by business units across the organization.  It provides the backend magic that powers so many business processes such as orders processing, pricing, billing, inventory and reporting. 

The Pros and Cons for Coupling the Two

The Advantages of Joining ERP & Web Platforms

The primary advantage of coupling your ERP and web platforms together is the apparent simplicity of consolidating them into one package.  That means one purchase decision, one implementation and one vendor to support it all.  Sounds nice, right? This approach has been popular since the early years of IT as IT centers focus on building large monolithic systems.  In fact, the practice of consolidating different component types is in vogue today as large networks are reducing their datacenter footprint and turning to hyper-converged infrastructure solutions.  HCI (Human Computer Interaction) consolidates the compute, storage and networking components of the datacenter into a single box, allowing admins to manage all components through a single pane of glass.  This manner of coupling different technologies is highly popular today as companies strive to simplify their network architectures. But coupling ERP and web platforms isn’t all rainbows and roses.

The Disadvantages of Joining ERP & Web Platforms

Consolidation has definite disadvantages. If you are old enough to remember the single-console entertainment systems of the early 90’s (the ones which combined TV, DVD and VCR) or the all-in-one boom boxes – it is easy to see the primary shortcoming of consolidation. No individual component can be upgraded without purchasing an entirely new console.  While coupling platforms through HCI has great benefits, it’s able to do so by commoditizing the technology of each component. 

ERP, however, is not commoditized.  It is a highly complex business process management system with proprietary elements and intricate dependencies.  Coupling it with a web platform simply adds to this complexity, greatly restricting the ability to scale out.  Changing web technologies and upgrading the ERP platform can also pose issues that negatively impact web and mobile applications.  Because of this, new release frequencies are reduced which in turn limits new functionality innovation.  This doesn’t bode well at a time when agility and nimbleness create huge competitive advantages.

The Pros and Cons for Decoupling the Two

The Advantages of Decoupling ERP & Web Platforms

The speed of innovation today far outpaces the upgrade processes and traditional software development practices of yesterday.  That is why so many organizations use the new approach of DevOps in order to increase an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services. Under DevOps, developers can work in unison to create and upgrade separate features which speed the velocity of development and deployment.  By decoupling your ERP and web platforms, developers can work independently and in parallel.  This modular approach allows for subtle differences to be made without worrying about dependencies or corresponding changes to the other end.  This can greatly increase a company’s operational efficiency and agility, giving it the ability to respond to changing needs in quick fashion.  Decoupling also increases resiliency as down time on one platform does not affect the other. 

The Disadvantages of Decoupling ERP & Web Platforms

Decoupling does introduce some drawbacks, however.  When you decouple your web platform, it often means that more vendors are involved, increasing the complexity of communication and responsibility.  Also, implementation and initial costs can be higher as more players are involved.  Higher costs are seen on the front end and are offset by a lower cost of ownership because of the increase in flexibility and increase in the rate of innovation.  Organizations that choose to decouple should also plan on an influx of personnel with the web development skills required to build and maintain the platform. 

Sorting Through Your Organization’s Individual ERP Situation

The truth is that there is no right or wrong answer to the question at hand; only an answer that is best for your particular situation.  It depends on what your business’s processes and goals are, and how each path lines up with your organization’s particular requirements. 

Have questions? Please feel free to reach out to us. We stand ready to listen to your business and technology challenges and help you find the right solution for your business.


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Which of the Big 3 Cloud Service Providers is Best for Me and Why Choose One Over the Other?

To say that the cloud has played a transformational role in redesigning enterprise architecture today would be a vast understatement.  While early pioneers of cloud computing primarily used it for testing environments, companies with fluctuating workload demands soon began incorporating it for cloud bursting where the cloud served as a natural extension of the datacenter.  Today, companies of all sizes and industries are realizing the flexibility, scalability and redundant nature of the cloud and the vast majority of enterprises utilize the cloud to some degree.

The Big 3

Just like the American auto industry, there is a big three in the cloud computing industry as well.  Those players are AWS (owned by Amazon), Azure (owned by Microsoft) and Google Cloud.  All of them offer Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) cloud models as well as additional offerings such as backup, disaster recovery and active directory federation services.   For those considering cloud computing from one of the three giants, the obvious question arises, which one is better?  In some ways that is like debating Ford vs. Chevy or LeBron James and Michael Jordon.  There isn’t a clear winner.  That doesn’t mean however that one of these cloud providers isn’t a better fit for your particular organization.  Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each of these big name cloud providers.

AWS

Think of AWS (Amazon Web Services) as the grandfather of cloud service providers, even though it has only been around since 2006.  It was the first, and its head start has helped ensure that it remains the biggest, at least for now.  Not only does AWS have a substantial lead in market share over its competitors, AWS offers a more mature feature-rich environment as well.  It also has more data centers, giving it greater reach across the globe.  All of this together supports increased scalability and resiliency. 

One can’t discuss AWS without recognizing the elephant in the room.  Amazon is a conglomeration of so many businesses across multiple industries and many companies in need of cloud services compete with them.  One could argue that by contracting with AWS as your cloud provider, you are in fact indirectly funding your competition.  Along the same line, many independent pizza chains switched from Pepsi to Coke back in the 80’s and 90’s to stop funding their chief competitor, Pizza Hut who at the time was owned by Pepsi. Many companies, especially those in the retail industry, are starting to question the wisdom of turning toward AWS.

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft has a history of being late to the game, but once they sit down to play, they go all-in and catch up quickly, oftentimes leaving their original competitors in the dust.  Azure is the runner up in cloud computing and Microsoft is pouring resources into the platform.  Consequently, its growth rate is outpacing that of AWS.   While AWS does offer Windows platforms, Azure does it better.  Azure can serve as a direct extension of your datacenter, allowing you to migrate to the cloud a little at a time instead of all at once.  It also makes backups and disaster recovery far simpler.  Microsoft will also allow you to transfer some of your existing on-prem licenses when you move to Azure.

As hybrid architectures have become highly popular, many companies are implementing Azure Stack, a turn-key solution that creates a single complete ecosystem for both your public and private clouds.  The advantage? You can easily manage resources within both environments through a single interface. This unified approach greatly simplifies software deployment as developers can deploy new applications to either public or on-premise as both programming platforms are identical.  A unified platform means your developers do not have to learn a new platform to create and modify code for cloud applications. Azure simply utilizes the same Visual Studio and .Net environments developers are already accustomed to working with. Applications can also be bounced back and forth between testing and production environments.

Google Cloud

Boasting the dominant internet search engine in the world has not provided Google with any inherent advantage for its cloud hosting services.  Google Cloud ranks a distant #3 in market share and has a long way to catch up.  One of its primary benefits is its lower price structure compared to its competitors. If you’re willing to commit long-term, you can expect better pricing and discounts.  Another advantage that differentiates Google Cloud is its openness for customization of compute instances.  On the downside, Google Cloud is criticized for its lack of support for native party backup services.  So who’s using Google Cloud? Currently it’s very popular among schools and other types of organizations that use Chrome devices. 

Other Cloud Considerations

When researching the big 3 cloud service providers, consider the size of your organization, application platforms and budgets:

  • AWS and Google Cloud are highly popular among smaller organizations, but Azure has a far stronger presence when it comes to enterprise customers.  Why? Microsoft has been serving the enterprise business community for most of its existence so they are very familiar with enterprise workloads and architectures. 
  • While AWS and Google Cloud had a clear advantage serving organizations that utilize open-source technologies, Microsoft now fully supports Linux, Java and PHP application platforms and provides complete open-source ecospheres for developers to test Linux and other open source components.  
  • Of course cost is always a big consideration, but an apples-to-apples cost comparison is difficult to determine since each company utilizes different pricing models and formulas.  AWS used to charge for computing by the hour while Azure charged by the minute, making Azure’s pricing more precise.  And AWS recently announced a change in its pricing to per-second billing. The cloud services landscape is ever-evolving.

Summarizing the Cloud

All three cloud service providers have their individual strengths and offer a solid product.  While there is no clear winner, Azure has some inherent advantages for many organizations that are hard to beat. 


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As online retailing continues to grow exponentially, retailers find themselves facing new sets of problems that weren’t indicative of the in-store shopping experience of yesterday.   Two weeks ago, Nike cited industry research that shows that roughly 60 percent of consumers are wearing the wrong shoe size.  This is a significant problem for the athletic shoe giant because many online shoppers overcome the challenge of finding a proper-fitting shoe by purchasing multiple sizes of their desired shoe online and then returning the ones that didn’t fit.  Trying on multiple pairs of shoes in the comfort of your home is definitely a great way to find the perfect fit, but it is also a very cumbersome and expensive solution. 

For one, it’s inconvenient for the customer to order and pay for multiple pairs of shoes and then go through the process of returning the ones that they don’t want. For retailers like Nike, it increases their cost since they have to process a much higher number of returns and credit customer accounts.

Technological Innovation Helps Better Serve Customers (and Improve the Bottom Line)

In order to save costs and better serve its customers, Nike introduced a smartphone app that uses augmented reality (AR) to perform a highly accurate scan of one’s foot utilizing a smartphone camera.  By mapping out a morphology of both feet, the customer is assured that the size ordered is the only one necessary.  This innovative technology builds the level of trust that shoe buyers have in Nike which helps solidify brand loyalty. 

What’s more, Nike saves the foot map results in the customer’s profile for later use.  This insight into the customer’s foot physiology has a number of business benefits for Nike including building personal relationships that retailers are striving to create with each customer in order to better succeed in a hyper-competitive retail environment.  Nike’s undertaking is part of a massive trend in the retail sector as 100 million consumers will shop in AR online and in-store by 2020 according to Gartner, Inc.

AI Helps You Learn About Your Customer

The first commandment of retail is “Know thy Customer.”  To better understand your customer, you need information and a way to process and interpret that information.  This is where AI and cloud service providers such as Azure come into play.  According to a McKinsey study, AI could potentially generate $4 billion to $8 billion in annual revenue for the global retail economy as well as $2 to $5 billion in consumer goods.  A greater insight into shoppers means a greater ability to convert them into regular customers.  That is the power of AI.  AI and the data gleaned can:

  • Increase promotion efficiency
  • Cultivate personal relationships with your customers
  • Innovate and develop new products
  • Increase sales transactions
  • Reduce customer complaints
  • Build brand loyalty

Chatbots and Azure

Chatbots are also growing more prevalent every day in the retail industry. Retailers are using Azure’s Bot Service and Framework to service customers more effectively and efficiently.  Modern bot software today relies on a growing stack of technology and tools in order to deliver increasingly complex experiences that users now demand. 

Gartner has stated that 25 percent of customer service and support operations will integrate chatbot technology by 2020, up from just 2 percent in 2017.  They also believe that within a few years, chatbots will power 85 percent of all customer service interactions.  In fact, by then, they predict that the average consumer will have more conversations with chatbots than with their spouse! Juniper Research estimates that by 2023, 75 percent of all chatbot interactions will be retail-based.  Why? Because the retail sector is one of the most promising sectors for automated agents with huge upside revenue potential. What’s better? Implementing this technology costs less in the retail sector. 

Many online shoppers have experienced chatbots first-hand; but chatbots aren’t limited to online commerce alone.  Large box retailers and shopping malls are integrating them in order to help customers locate and direct them to products on the shelf.   One example is the Mall of America that services 400 million people a year.  The mall’s chatbot is accessible through a number of alternative mediums and helps customers locate retail and restaurant establishments in real-time.  It can even makes suggestions or connect the shopper with a mall associate for additional information.  The integration of online AI-driven tools within the brick-and-mortar environment creates an omni-channel retail experience for the shopper in which they can experience consistent service throughout all of their shopping interactions.  This omni-channel strategy allows consumers to purchase wherever they are, whenever they want – and stay in constant communication.

Sentiment Analysis and Gesture Recognition

The ability to determine what your customers may want before they are even fully certain would be a huge competitive advantage for any retailer.  This requires the ability to understand the opinions or sentiment of shoppers.  The good news is that consumers today express their sentiments everyday through social channels, text messages, chatbots, tweets, online reviews, etc.  One of the ways that Microsoft Azure offers this capability is through text analysis. By analyzing these sentiments, retailers can fine-tune their suggestive marketing strategies when they come in contact with customers. 

Retailers are also integrating apps and kiosks into their stores in order to serve customers more efficiently.  Taco Bell was able to increase their average order transaction by 20 percent by encouraging customers to use its app rather than human cashiers.  Cinemark Theater’s use of self-service kiosks increased concession spending per person for 32 straight quarters.  Kiosks are even more effective when AI technology is integrated with facial and/or gesture recognition.  With facial recognition, frequent customers are instantly identified as they approach a kiosk or storefront. The technology then offers suggestions based upon known shopping history.  And gesture recognition enables shoppers to find their preferred products with a simple wave of the hand using a touchless device.

Moving Forward in Retail

No facet of retail has been untouched by the technological disruption in recent years.  AI helps give the insight you need to create seamless and effortless experiences with customers.  By better understanding your customers you help build customer relationships with your brand. Ultimately this brand loyalty reduces the likelihood that your customers shop elsewhere.  What’s more, the efficiencies that AI brings to your operations helps reduce costs that will add to your business’ profitability.  The digital transformation of the retail sector has already begun.  Now it’s time to fully embrace it. 


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