Get Organized and See Results

I’m often criticized for being too organized.  I’ll blame it on my PMP!  Since I get so much grief about it in the office – I thought that I’d share why I feel that organization is important.  Most people get it.  And, most people appreciate having at least one team member that is organized.  Ok – wait a second!  My closet doesn’t look like this…so don’t run away yet!  Although, wouldn’t it be nice if my closet looked like this!

This post is not just about being Type A.  It’s about the productivity that can be gained by being organized – and maybe a few tools that will help you.  These tools can help if you are organized (like me) or trying to become more organized.

As a starting point, here are some quick thoughts about the benefits of organization in every day business:

  • Meeting time is well spent and productive
  • Timeline expectations can be realistically set and negotiated with C-Level executives
  • Team members are held accountable for their responsibilities
  • Communication is improved
  • Metrics can be defined to determine if a project is on track as compared to its original baseline
  • Scope creep can be identified, mitigated, and managed

In this brief post, I found myself wanting to add more to this list.  There are many more benefits to being organized, but the above list is a starting point.

I use a few tools which I thought may be helpful to highlight for others too.  If you haven’t run into Levenger already – I find them an incredibly helpful resource for these types of things.

  1. Levenger Circa Notebook – Neat notebook from Levenger that allows you to add, move, and subtract pages which utilize their circa system.  As your notebook grows, you can buy larger discs so that it holds additional pages.  They even have nifty dividers if you’d like to separate out different projects.
  2. Action Method Sheets – These sheets have changed the way that I take notes in meetings.  They are  great for capturing next steps.
  3. Project Planner Sheets – These sheets are great for when you are initiating a project and brainstorming about the potential project activities and next steps.  As you work with the team, you can jot down your prelim project plan in these sheets before you spend more time on transposing it electronically later.
  4. Microsoft OneNote – If you prefer to work on your computer, Microsoft OneNote is a great tool to capture meeting notes, organize your thoughts, and document action items.  You can setup different pages for different projects or different meetings.  It also integrates with Microsoft Office and has a built-in screen capture tool.  If you are an Outlook user, Microsoft OneNote integrates with Outlook meeting requests.  This can be handy if you want to quickly insert the name of the meeting and the meeting attendees into your notes.  If you are the meeting organizer, this can also help you to quickly take attendance as individuals come into the meeting room.

Of course, these are just a few of many tools that could jump-start your organizational efforts.  What do you use?  Please share!

Taboo? Microsoft in Higher Education

In a recent post, I discussed the changes in the business intelligence landscape as outlined by Gartner in their 2013 Magic Quadrant.  Today, I wanted to focus solely on Microsoft as a vendor in this space.  Yes, I mentioned Microsoft – and I work in Higher Education!

Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence & Analytics - Comparison of 2012 to 2013

In working with a number of higher education institutions over the years, I often hear direct concerns about “Microsoft.”  In the academic world, we are concerned about the most open way of doing things.  We like to share – and you may have noticed by the adoption of Sakai and the Open Source Portfolio (OSP).

The emergence of open-source tools was prevalent over the last few decades.  You now see many organizations running miscellaneous versions of Linux, open source wiki tools, Drupal-type content management systems – and now many have implemented Google (Google Drive, Google Docs, GMail).  If you mention “Microsoft” – you’d better start running.  You’ll have someone from IT chasing after you pretty quickly – and not in a good way!

Ok – you’re not Jack Sparrow, so you can relax a bit!  But, you can imagine the feelings of many of these IT organizations when you start to implement enterprise-level software that holds a significant cost and the source is proprietary.  Think Sungard’s Banner (now Ellucian), or PeopleSoft, and maybe even Workday now in some cases.  Somehow, Oracle has slipped through the cracks as many of these large ERP vendors require Oracle’s database platform.  Oracle was also smart and acquired mySQL – so they have an almost natural support of the open source community.  Oracle is an investment, too.

You’re probably asking – what’s your point?  My point is that Microsoft isn’t bad.  It’s actually very, very GOOD!  Besides the educational licensing, and the obvious love for Microsoft Office (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, et al) – let’s look at some of the benefits of Microsoft’s SQL Server platform.  Let’s start with a basic point that is often overlooked.  It is a suite of tools, not simply a database platform.   I have listed a basic table below, but you can read more on Microsoft’s website.

Server components Description
SQL Server Database Engine  SQL Server Database Engine includes the Database Engine, the core service for storing, processing, and securing data, replication, full-text search, tools for managing relational and XML data, and the Data Quality Services (DQS) server.
Analysis Services (SSAS) Analysis Services includes the tools for creating and managing online analytical processing (OLAP) and data mining applications.
Reporting Services (SSRS) Reporting Services includes server and client components for creating, managing, and deploying tabular, matrix, graphical, and free-form reports. Reporting Services is also an extensible platform that you can use to develop report applications.
Integration Services (SSIS) Integration Services is a set of graphical tools and programmable objects for moving, copying, and transforming data. It also includes the Data Quality Services (DQS) component for Integration Services.
Master Data Services Master Data Services (MDS) is the SQL Server solution for master data management. MDS can be configured to manage any domain (products, customers, accounts) and includes hierarchies, granular security, transactions, data versioning, and business rules, as well as an Add-in for Excel that can be used to manage data.

The great part of purchasing Microsoft SQL Server is that these tools come out of the box – and are included with the license for the database platform.  There are several different editions which provide more or less horsepower as your project requires, but this is an added bonus that Microsoft bundles these tools.

Here are a few thoughts from my experience and why I enjoy working with Microsoft BI tools:

Technical Benefits:

  • Relatively easy to deploy and installation is wizard-based
  • Learning curve to adopt SSRS and SSIS is reasonable in comparison with other tools
  • Direct integration with Windows operating system and Active Directory (this is great if you have a nice active directory structure already in place; not so helpful if you do not).
  • Direct integration with Team Foundation Server (TFS) for version control
  • Platform is sophisticated enough to handle complex tasks (i.e. stored procedures, SSRS data driven subscriptions)

Functional Benefits:

  • All-in-one solution (combine with SharePoint for full functionality)
  • End-user tools are intuitive and within a familiar Microsoft interface
  • SharePoint can be used to pull information together in a one-stop-shop
  • Office integration (i.e. Excel, PowerPivot)

Cost Benefits:

  • Educational and non-profit discounts are a nice way for Microsoft to give back.
  • License costs, on average, are lower than combining multiple tools from multiple vendors (this always depends on your situation and the license agreements that you have in place).
  • Total cost of ownership (TCO) tends to be lower.  This is due to the license fees and also the availability of technical resources that are familiar with the Microsoft platform.  Again, this is completely dependent on your situation, but this is what I have seen with other clients.  It may also be indirect, but by having all of these tools with one vendor, you spend less time managing 4 or 5 invoices for maintenance and renewals as well.  And, if you need to renegotiate anything – it is again done with a single vendor not 4 or 5.

My Favorite Features:

  1. SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) – it seems silly, but this a great tool and I enjoy testing my queries within SSMS prior to loading them into SSRS.  It has some really nice features built-in for ETL developers as well (i.e. the ability to script the creation/deletion of a table with a mouse click)
  2. SSIS Package Variables – I use them frequently to make dynamic filenames in my SSIS routines.  They are flexible and allow SSIS routines to handle a number of complexities that would otherwise be very difficult to address.
  3. Data-driven subscriptions – this is a great way to deliver tailored content to your user base.  Same report…different content.  In a previous consulting organization, I used data-driven subscriptions to improve internal processes and implementation times for external projects.
  4. PowerPivot – Let’s be honest.  It’s just cool!  In-memory BI is a hot topic.  We also like tools like Tableau and Qlikview.

Benefits of Social Collaboration = Productivity

How do you build a sense of “team” within an organization?  It seems like such a simple concept, but politically and organizationally it can be a very difficult thing to accomplish.  Many start-ups have an immediate sense of team.   Employees are engaged and always extremely busy.  Over time, workers start to work remotely and the culture lessens.  Then, many get acquired.  The acquiring companies often “forget” about the old company culture and suddenly begin transformation efforts to bring the start-up into the corporate fold.  The irony in many of these situations is that the corporate culture is less than that of the start-up.  But, they just wanted the customers anyway, right?

Even if you are not a start-up, how does your organization build, and more importantly, maintain a sense of team?  Does social media play a part?

How can you get your team that looks like this:

Credit: InformationWeek

Image via InformationWeek

To look more like this?

I have worked for several organizations and I have seen corporate social media tools work fantastically.  I have a preference toward a tool called Yammer (which is now owned by Microsoft).  However, there is a proliferation of good social media tools that may be able to perform a similar function.  A relatively new Charleston, SC-based company, Sparc, has a product called Sparcet.  Unlike Yammer, they focus almost solely on recognition and employee engagement.  Intuit, a company known for Quickbooks, has a neat product, Quickbase,  to spawn DIY custom apps which promote productivity as well.

Here is a quick look at these tools:

Image representing Yammer as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Regardless of the tool that you use, evaluate to see if this makes sense for your organization.  It may even lead to the formation of a Social Media Team.

Recently, Georgetown University’s CIO, Lisa Davis, announced a key development from University Information Services on our Facebook page.  Socially, we visited students waiting in line for the Georgetown shuttle across D.C.  The development that was announced was the ability to check the next GUTS (Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle) via our mobile application.  Interactively, our mobile app will show the shuttle en route so that you are aware of the location and how long to wait for the next one.  This was a big success and helped to celebrate our accomplishment internally.  In addition to the fun photos, it engaged the community and brought more attention to the hard work of our department.  More attention = more adoption.  More adoption = better success.

So, don’t take my word for it.  Here are a few benefits that others have stated about the use of social media as a team collaboration tool.

Many of these are taken from Yammer’s website under “Customer Success”:

  • Strengthened employee collaboration. From executives in headquarters to stylists on the floor, personnel use Yammer to share experiences, questions, and answers.
  • Nearly real-time process improvements. Westfield has used insight gleaned from Yammer feed to improve everything from computer training to gift-card programs.
  • Savvy leveraging of mobile devices. Employees can access the network when they’re away from their desks, posting real-time updates on happenings at shopping centers.
  • More satisfied customers. As more employees and retailers tap into Westfield’s network, they’re influencing events and policies to improve the shopping experience.
  • Better information sharing. Staff use Yammer as their forum for sharing business content, including articles from publications such as The Harvard Business Review and Forbes.
  • Comprehensive collaboration. The network unites response agents in the field with claims processors at headquarters, who can tap in on any device.
  • A more effective social intranet. Yammer integrates with Nationwide’s key applications, including SharePoint.
  • Improved productivity. Better information sharing and the crowdsourcing of ideas means faster responses to business and customer demands.
  • A stronger corporate culture. The network helped transform a widespread employee base into a more tightly knit workforce focused on customer satisfaction.


Technology Crowdsourcing: What do you think?

I’ve recently found a few good product comparison sites and have written a few posts/reviews for them.  This type of crowdsourcing  will become the future of the initial phases of procurement, but it will not replace the expertise of organizations like Gartner and Forrester.  Not only are these sites a brilliant idea, but it keeps the vendors honest.  Think of your personal life.  Do you use YelpAngies ListTripAdvisor?  I do – and I can only imagine that technology crowdsourcing sites will continue to grow.  What do you think?

Here are a few that I’ve recently discovered.  I hope that you find them as helpful as I did!



The History of Programming Languages

I just saw this infographic on by Neostrategos.

It immediately caught my attention with Ada Lovelace.  My first programming language was Ada 83, then Ada 95.  This graphic does a nice job providing a outlay of some of the key programming language in use today – and the companies that have adopted them.

Also, if you are a programmer, you’re probably already familiar with the OWASP Top 10.  Great resource!  Thanks, Neostrategos – great post!

The History of Programming Languages


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