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integration and implementation of technology-focused business solutions

Integrating data to avoid silos

December 18th, 2018

Data silos are a significant challenge for many businesses. You might have time tracking software in one system, payroll in another, invoices in another, production numbers in another, and so on. It can get pretty messy pretty fast with that many different systems in play.

In some ways, cloud computing has made this even worse. There are lots of different cloud vendors to meet the needs of companies in any of these areas. Some will say they can do it all, while others specialize in one specific area. But even among those who say they can do it all, can they really?

When companies are evaluating systems and tools, it’s important to really think about how things go together. If you’re evaluating time tracking software, will it integrate with your payroll software for hourly employees? If it doesn’t, how much time will it take you to manually transfer data between two systems?

While there may not be one single system that fits everything you need, it’s important to realize if you’re headed down the path of multiple data silos. If you don’t want to head down that path, then expect to invest a little more money in a tool that can help prevent those frustrations.

With small businesses, there’s typically a price point issue with some of the higher-level systems as well. You might not need the full functionality of that tool, and it’s not exactly in your budget. But there isn’t a mid-range tool that has what you need within budget, so you end up with a handful of different tools.

In just about every software tool out there, there’s some way to get data in or data out. That’s often where we come in. While we’re a software development company, we’re also a systems integration company. We can help companies pull the data from different systems into one place so it becomes actionable data. We can also help them evaluate new data systems they might be adding to the mix.

If you find yourself dreading the routine of maintaining, downloading, and importing to keep data in sync, there’s a better way. That could mean a more comprehensive system that does multiple things in one place or a custom data integration so that different systems share data automatically.

Data is powerful for companies, but you can’t unlock that power if your data exists in silos. You need the ability to view your data across systems, which is why data integration matters.

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Are your software tools slowing you down?

December 4th, 2018

When it comes to businesses of any size, a lot of us are trapped in a never-ending state of using the wrong tools to accomplish a task. Maybe we think it’s working okay, or maybe we’re comfortable because it’s the software system we know best. And maybe there are workaround procedures in place to help it work as it should.

But there’s a better way with better software tools.

In some companies, the software systems are so old it’s like the treasured stuffed animal that’s been passed down in three generations of a family. It’s pretty dirty and maybe a bit threadbare. But everyone loves it, so when the next hole appears, someone patches it so the stuffing somehow manages to stay inside.

I’ve seen many software systems that looked much the same. Holes, patches, and workarounds to keep it limping along. But software isn’t a stuffed animal that comes with three generations of memories. It’s a tool meant to help you work more efficiently. And if it’s not doing that, it’s definitely time to move on.

Many times, companies are trying to use Microsoft Excel for far more than it was intended to do. There are multiple copies of a spreadsheet floating around, and nobody quite knows which one is the most recent version. Or maybe there’s one copy on a shared drive, but it gets corrupted when three people try to access it at once.

The other issue is when spreadsheets are accessed by multiple people and somebody changes a calculation along the way. There could be hundreds of calculations, and maybe there are some macros in place too. If even one of those gets accidentally changed, you could be looking at completely inaccurate numbers. There’s a better way!

The same is true for companies using Microsoft Access for far more than it was intended to do. While it’s a little bit better in terms of avoiding multiple versions of a spreadsheet, it’s still not the most robust system available.

A lot of times, people are simply working with the tools they have available or the tools they know. They might not realize what other options exist, or they might not have support from their internal IT team to put something new in place.

This is something we help a lot of small businesses with. It’s pretty easy and affordable to transition to better systems, and it can save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run. Upgrading to a better system can also put the data at your fingertips, whether that’s on your phone or from any other device wherever you are.

The data in enterprise data systems also has a better chance of being backed up regularly than individual spreadsheets on an employee’s desktop. And when it comes to data of any kind, regular backups are critical.

There are certainly still some tasks where a basic spreadsheet is sufficient. But as businesses grow, it’s helpful to step back and ask if the systems you’re using are really the most efficient and effective systems or if it’s time to upgrade.

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Three hurdles in software testing

November 20th, 2018

We work with a variety of clients on software development projects-some that are relatively simple and some that are more complex. In all of those projects, there are multiple phases with the final phase being testing by our team and by the users.

Testing is a really important step, but unfortunately it’s one that a lot of clients want to skim over quickly. Sometimes they’re anxious to have their new software up and running and other times they have a lot of other things going on and struggle to find time to do the necessary testing. But regardless of the reasons, user testing isn’t a step that you should ever skip.

Here are three hurdles we often encounter with user testing of software development projects.

Not wanting to wait until it’s finished

If we’re doing software development for a client, it’s usually because they have some problem that the software we’re developing will solve. That problem might be causing them some overall headaches, which means they’re anxious to get the new software in place and start using it. That’s when clients want to rush through the testing phase (or skip it entirely) and start using the software before it’s really finished.

The problem with that? The software might not do what you actually want it to do because it hasn’t been tested. That could mean it creates even more problems than it solves, and that’s not good.

Struggling to think outside the box

Sometimes we run into the problem of users not being sure how to test the software. Maybe there’s some bad data that got imported so one of the numbers doesn’t look quite right for an order total or something like that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still test what happens if you input a new order. Did a new purchase add to the total? Did it add the right amount?

There’s a lot you can do to test a software even if the data’s not perfectly accurate yet. Bad data doesn’t typically break the software. If bad data should break it, then that’s part of what you’re testing.

Getting bogged down by little things

This somewhat relates to the outside the box thinking mentioned above, but we’ve seen a lot of scenarios where users get distracted by little things and forget to look at the big things. Maybe they’re thrown off by a field label or some of the colors used, and then they can’t see past that to really evaluate whether the software works.

Yes, the field label needs to be correct and the colors should make sense, but it’s important to recognize minor issues versus major issues in the testing phase. One of the big questions to ask during user testing is, “If the software went live today, what’s happening that would stop you from using it?”

Testing is a necessity in software development. There’s no avoiding it. If you skip testing before go live, you’re going to pay for it later in software fixes. But if you see testing as an opportunity, it can help you get the tool you need to solve a problem rather than create one.

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Three keys to managing flexible work schedules

November 6th, 2018

At LSG Solutions, we have long embraced flexible schedules and remote work for our employees. Laptops, cell phones, and other technology makes it possible for employees to work from just about anywhere as long as they have wifi access. And more and more employees are expecting flexibility in their work hours and the option of working remotely when needed.

Here are a few things we’ve learned through the years about successfully managing flexible work schedules and remote work.

Hire people you trust

When I tell people that our employees work remotely sometimes, people often ask if we’ve run into any problems with that. And we really haven’t except for one specific situation where there were some other issues going on as well.

We hire people we trust to get the job done, whether they’re in the office or not when working. If an issue does arise with an employee not getting the job done, we address that just as we would any other issue by discussing it, giving them an opportunity to improve, and then taking action if needed.

Set expectations

Most of our team has a pretty regular schedule in the office, so we know when people will be coming and going. But things come up, of course. Maybe a kid is sick or there’s some other personal issue going on that means an employee needs to be home one day instead of in the office. When that sort of thing happens, our employees know to alert us to their change in schedule. We’ve set the expectations around communicating about schedules, and our employees follow that.

Recognize the need for face-to-face communication

While our employees do sometimes work remotely, we don’t have any employees who are full-time remote. Everyone is in the office for scheduled hours every week. Yes, technology allows for a lot of communication, but face-to-face communication is still critical.

We can’t sit behind computers and communicate solely via instant messenger all day and be effective. At some point, conversations need to be had in person. We work more effectively as a team when we’re able to talk and collaborate in the office, so we make sure there’s an emphasis on that while still balancing the flexibility our employees need.

Offering a flexible schedule has been extremely successful for our company through the years. It’s not about the five o’clock whistle for our team-it’s about getting the job done. Everyone’s putting in the time and effort needed to accomplish our goals even if they’re sometimes working different hours.

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Be genuine to develop trust with customers

October 16th, 2018

LSG Solutions has been helping customers with their information technology needs for many years, and we have a lot of clients who’ve been with us for many years as well. We’re intentional about our relationships with our clients, and we’re proud of the longevity of our client base.

It’s a good reminder that it’s easier to sustain a business with engaged customers than it is to have high turnover rates and a complicated sales process to get new clients. It might surprise some people to learn that we don’t have a sales team at LSG Solutions. There have been times that we did have a sales team, but we haven’t in recent history.

We focus on growing our business by developing long-term relationships and trust with the people we meet. Being genuine goes a long way in today’s business world, and we’ve always been genuine. Many of our clients are making decisions about IT products and strategies that involve a significant investment, and it’s critical that they trust us to guide them in the right direction.

In the IT world, people don’t trust you if you’re doing it wrong. We work hard for our clients and deliver IT solutions that work for their needs, and they trust us because we consistently deliver. We have a culture of continual learning because the IT world is constantly changing. We have to keep up with what’s going on in order to advise our clients on the best solutions for them.

The entire team at LSG Solutions is committed to delivering the best IT solutions we can for every single customer. They’re passionate about information technology, and they understand the purpose of what we’re trying to do. And that translates into what they do for the customer.

I like to say that we have a virtual salesperson named trust. Because that’s really how we sell our services. Our clients trust us, and they refer us to people who trust them to give a good recommendation.

If you’re looking for an IT consultant you can trust, let’s chat.

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Using compartments in Oracle Cloud

October 2nd, 2018

Cloud computing has come a long way in recent years, but we still sometimes run into issues where different clients have different versions of the same cloud software. And different versions mean different features. It’s like going to a grocery store chain in Oklahoma City and then talking to friends in Denver who shop at the same chain. For some reason, they have a wider selection of products than we do. And the same thing sometimes applies to cloud-based software.

Regardless of what versions or what features they have, though, we’re helping a lot of clients who are moving to cloud-based software and database systems. And there are a lot of benefits to software in the cloud.

But as with any other software, it’s important to know where you’re going before you begin so you set things up correctly from the start. And when new features get released, it’s important to integrate them into your setup if they can add value for you.

One such features is compartments in Oracle Cloud. In the early versions of Oracle Cloud, there wasn’t a good way to separate different teams and what they had access to on the admin level. You still had user access and admin access of course, but not a lot of control to segregate things at the admin level. It was pretty wide open! And it was weird.

Now you have the option of compartments, which allows you to set different levels of access for what different administrators or users see. Some of our clients use compartments to show different views to specific departments or divisions in the company, and others use it to secure certain resources for limited access.

Compartments are a good example of thinking about where you’re going before you begin. Even if your initial setup with Oracle Cloud only includes one division and one system, you need a plan for what happens when you start to grow and need to add a division. If you have a compartment strategy from the beginning, it’s much easier to adapt that system as you grow!

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When something goes wrong in IT

September 18th, 2018

It’s important to talk about the risk of a project up front. Many clients we meet with don’t like that part of the conversation. They think nothing could ever go wrong, but that’s not the reality of the situation.

Any number of things can change the scope of a project unexpectedly. In some cases, a part the customer thought was done by another vendor may be way more complicated than anyone ever imagined. Or even worse, it could be completely missing.

There are times when something doesn’t work like anyone thought it did work or should work, and you basically have to pull out all the wires and rewire it.

So how do you handle it when something does go wrong? When you run into that situation you talked about at the beginning with a client?

Not long ago, we ran into a situation like that. We picked up a project originally developed by another vendor. Once we got in there and started the work, we discovered it was a mess.

Some of the people we were working with in the organization weren’t surprised. Not because of the original vendor specifically, but because it’s part of the nature of any IT project.

However, when we sat down to talk with the client, they let us know we still couldn’t go over the budgeted amount.

Of course, we were willing to work within that. But when there are budget constraints, the scope of the project has to change. We weren’t approaching it trying to sell them on extending our services. We just needed to have a conversation about how to finish the project when that unexpected thing comes up.

When the unexpected happens, be open to talking through possible solutions. You may have to increase the budget to get what you originally wanted, but you may also be able to eliminate or delay certain features or functionality.

The point is, you have to make adjustments and have open communication. Talk through what moving forward on the project is actually going to look like. Because if you don’t have the conversation when the issue is first uncovered, it will be even more of a mess once you get to the end of the project or budget.

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Continual rollout of self-driving databases from Oracle

September 4th, 2018

Oracle continues to roll out features to its cloud-only product, Oracle Autonomous Database Cloud. Their patch process will roll out features on an ongoing basis to ensure the database is on self-driving mode.

Let’s look at some high points about these self-driving databases.

Updates

You’re going to get new features, improvements, and fixes much faster in the database world than you ever would in a car. Oracle has already announced that security patches will automatically be applied each quarter, which is much faster than most manually operated Oracle databases.

And when it comes time to upgrade or patch, the Autonomous Database can apply the real production workload on a test database to be sure there are no unexpected side effects.

Guarantee

Traditionally, Oracle has not been known to give guarantees. But with this product, they’re actually giving two of them.

First, they’re guaranteeing downtime is limited to 30 minutes a year, including maintenance. Second, they’re guaranteeing that they'll beat Amazon's price for AWS by 50%.

Need for DBA

Of course, just like a self-driving car still needs a driver, the Oracle Autonomous Database Cloud still needs a database administrator. However, the overall hours needed to perform routine DBA tasks will be greatly reduced.

Let’s say, for example, that you had ten database systems running in the cloud already. You would probably no longer need two database administrators for that, so one of those individuals could take on a new role or additional duties.

And if you have just one database administrator, this will free up their time to work on other projects. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I couldn’t work on a project because a third of my time was taken up with basic database administration tasks.

Routine tasks around performance, storage, and uptime will continue to be automated, which will eliminate many of those from a database administrator’s to-do list.

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Celebrating long-standing client relationships

August 21st, 2018

One of our clients recently canceled their contract with us. While we’re sad to see them go, we recognize that their business has changed in the time we’ve been working with them-more than a decade, actually.

This particular company was focused on IT services for public school systems and providing a way to keep everything running smoothly without the school system requiring an on-site IT staff. Schools have a lot of data. In the old days, all of the technology to store and process that data was on-premise in the building and had to be maintained by either a team of staff members or an outsourced company.

This client of ours launched a new service in the early 2000s that took all of that data and moved it off-site. Basically, it was a cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) long before we had labels for either of those things. They were frontrunners in that regard. And it was a multi-tenant database before that was normal, too. Each school only saw their own data, but it was all in the same system.

Our company was involved pretty early on in helping them design the database, then there was a short period where another company supported their database before we returned to providing that service. In the almost 20-year history of the company, there were only three database administrators that worked on that project.

That makes a big difference in consistency of a product. It also made it pretty seamless at the end of each school year when things needed to be closed out.

Today, there are a lot of competing systems out there, so this client decided to stop investing in that particular product and move on to other areas of innovation for them. As fast as technology is growing, even the greatest new idea doesn’t stay new for very long. Software as a service is an incredibly competitive field, and that’s a good thing really.

So while we’re always sad to lose a client, we’re also celebrating their long-running success in their industry and their recognition that it’s time to move on to other things.

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When moving to the cloud just makes sense

August 7th, 2018

One of our clients, the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS), needed to buy some new hardware and do a hardware migration. Some changes in licensing requirements and the need to be in full compliance were motivating the switch. Their internal team priced out options for the hardware migration but also priced out options for moving to the cloud.

They got some pretty impressive pricing for moving the system to the cloud and felt like it was too good to refuse. They hadn’t really explored moving to the cloud before, so they didn’t know what it would cost until they priced it out.

They brought us in as an advisor to verify that the cloud-based resources they were looking at would be adequate. Before spending the money and taking the time to make the switch, they wanted to be sure we didn’t see any issues. And we didn’t.

This situation is a little bit like when you have to take an old car to the shop multiple times for expensive repairs and start to wonder if you should just buy a new car. And then you find out that new car is much cheaper than you ever imagined, plus it’s going to do everything you need it to do. Seems like an easy decision, right?

OPERS switched to what’s called IAAS and DAAS-infrastructure as a service and database as a service. They set up their web server infrastructure and initially thought they would have to pay for new database licenses, but then they learned they could simply transfer their existing licensing. It’s nice when initial perceptions of the cost of a project are way off once you’re really looking at the numbers. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s nice when it does.

Do you have an area where you’re hanging on to the old way because you assume the new way will be too expensive? Try pricing it out, and you might be surprised at how affordable some of the cloud-based options are. But like OPERS, be sure to consult an IT professional to ensure it’s the right move for your business.

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