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Thursday, Dec 25 2014

Everybody Loves DevOps – Almost

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Everybody Loves DevOps Almost

Applications can only work with IT infrastructures behind them, but traditional IT roles have separated the people who work on hardware and software. Developers work on software, and operations teams keep the infrastructure humming. This separation of duties works when application cycles last weeks or months. But with the explosive growth of apps and software-as-a-service, the cycle has shortened to days, or even minutes — and the gap between developers and operations can pose serious problems.

Enter the DevOps movement. Powered by the proven idea that developers and operations are faster and more efficient when they work in tandem, DevOps involves a range of tools, techniques, and methods that bring the two factions together, helping them hit higher speeds across larger infrastructures.

What’s holding DevOps back?

While everyone wants the higher IT harmony, greater agility, and shorter time to market that DevOps can deliver, not everyone has been able to successfully implement this strategy — and it’s not because of the technology. A new Microsoft-sponsored study found that cultural barriers between developers and operations are the largest obstacle to any DevOps program.

The study found that while 54 percent of IT departments and companies are trying DevOps strategies on small projects, and 71 percent have pockets of automation, only 37 percent currently have formal DevOps solutions in place. The primary issue for over half of the survey respondents without formal strategies is “overcoming cultural habits inside my organization/company,” while a further 37 percent said they just don’t understand what DevOps entails.

Using existing tools in consistent ways

Mature tools already exist for implementing DevOps strategies in IT departments and companies of all sizes. Successful products like Puppet, GuardRail, Ansible, and Chef are already paving the way for a harmonious developer-operations environment. What IT teams must consider is the existing mindset and differences in culture, and solutions that will encourage widespread use of these tools across the organization.

Focusing on company-wide buy-in and cooperation is the way forward for DevOps. And while the study puts forth the idea that organizations using the Microsoft platform are better positioned to implement DevOps successfully — naturally, since the survey was sponsored by Microsoft — there is a salient point in that Microsoft tools and systems are built to work together. What’s more, the software giant has recently adopted a more developer-friendly stance, with more room for open source third-party integration.

At the heart of the issue, the study states that a successful DevOps environment will let developers and operations use the tools they want to use, on a more homogenous platform that allows for easier deployment across the board. Companies that focus on collaboration between people first, and technology second, will realize the DevOps dream of speed and efficiency sooner.

Need help implementing – or understanding – DevOps? Contact the IT experts at The Armada Group today and let our experienced staff share their knowledge and know how with you!

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Have Anything Left in Your Yearly Tech Budget Heres How to Spend it

IT budgets can be tricky to handle. Ideally, you’d like to have things perfectly planned, so at the end of the year your budget balance is zero — but that happens rarely, if ever. Often you’ll have a little left over as the year comes to an end. So do you spend it wastefully, or leave it sitting there and risk having your budget cut next year because upper management decides you don’t need as much?

Fortunately, there are options for a middle ground. Here are some quick ideas on using minimal remaining IT budget funds to create maximum impact at the end of the year.

Invest in team mobility

Company-provided mobile devices can increase your team’s productivity, along with their satisfaction and loyalty. They also make a great holiday gift. If you have enough left in your budget, investing in top-of-the-line tablets or smartphones for your IT team is a smart move, helping to reward employees’ hard work while also making them more connected and productive.

Pop up your marketing

If you’re a smaller company or consulting firm, chances are your marketing is the lowest priority on your budget list. But conversely, your business can’t grow if you don’t invest in marketing. When you’re facing a year-end budget surplus, turning those funds into a marketing investment is one of the best gifts you can give your business — with a good chance of netting you an increased budget for next year.

Expand your cloud

Even if you’re not using the cloud much right now, you will be soon. The tech industry as a whole is on a rapid march toward cloud platforms and services, and as support for legacy solutions dwindles, the cloud is becoming a greater necessity.

If you’re already using cloud services on a limited basis, now is the perfect time to expand. Use your budget surplus to increase your cloud storage or bandwidth, or add more features to your existing platforms and services. The more agile your cloud, the better your business will perform in a cloud-based near future.

Invest in open source

One of the main attractions of open source platforms is that they’re free, or at least significantly lower in cost than popular enterprise solutions — so why would you invest money in them? Well, if you’re currently operating with proprietary solutions, it’s going to cost you to migrate to open source. But the benefits of moving to open source platforms are numerous, and the investment will pay for itself in the long run.

Open source has evolved from a complex toy to a major enterprise force, and many open source platforms are more reliable, more secure, and more robust than legacy solutions. Look into the options, and consider investing your surplus budget in an improved and more cost-effective platform.

Untangle your cable nests

Over time, server rooms can start to look like someone held a spaghetti party and forgot to clean up. If you have cabling strewn around the floor, and cracked or dried-out cable housing on some of your older cables, it’s time to upgrade — and a year-end budget surplus is the perfect excuse to handle this task.

Depending on your budget amount, you can either purchase replacement cables and have your team install them as needed, or hire a professional to come in and clean up in one pass.

Back up your backups

Being in IT means you already have a backup solution — but is it enough? Backup redundancy is often a small investment that can result in substantial returns. No backup is failsafe, and data loss can cause catastrophic consequences that often lead to business shutdown.

Investing in extra backup is never a waste of funds. At minimum, you should have both an online and a local backup solution in place, with scalable capabilities that can handle more than expected increases. If you already have this, you might consider a fireproof local backup solution or remote physical backup to guard against theft or natural disasters.

Still need more help coming up with solutions for a surplus end of year budget? Contact the IT pros at The Armada Group for more ideas and help implementing these changes!

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Turn Your Year End Review into Fuel for 2015

Are you dreading your year-end performance review? Many employees would rather have a root canal than sit down with a manager or supervisor and discuss their performance one-on-one. But an annual review doesn’t have to be a traumatic event. Instead, you can use your year-end review to gain critical insight that will catapult your career in 2015.

Here’s how to plan for and carry out an annual performance review that will fuel your next year and bring your career to new heights:

Self-review: Compare your job expectations to your performance

The first step in preparing for a year-end review is to dig out your original job description and go through it line by line, evaluating yourself on how you’ve performed in each area this year. It can help to use a scale of one to five, with one representing areas where you had little or no skill, and five for those in which you excelled beyond co-workers or professionals with similar qualifications.

You don’t have to be overly critical. The main objective with this self-review is to identify your strongest areas of performance, so you can expand on your contributions and successes in the next step and build a case for personal advancement.

Generate performance proof

Regardless of the workplace culture at your company, at the end of the day, a business views its employees as investments — and they expect to see a return. What’s your employee ROI? The ability to spell out exactly what you’ve accomplished for the business will help you navigate your year-end review and come out ahead.

Consider your role in terms of how you’ve saved the company time and/or money. You might have delivered great customer service, which resulted in repeat business (and more money), or implemented a strategic plan that reduced delays (and saved time). Any measureable reduction in time or costs, or increases in profits, that you’ve accomplished are worth noting.

Plan your own reward

Once you’ve made a strong case for your contributions, you can leverage your performance presentation to ask for the type of reward you’d like for your hard work. You may simply want a raise — which is common and often expected for year-end reviews. But if you’re already receiving a competitive salary, more money might not motivate you or help you advance your career.

For example, you may be more interested in a promotion. If there is no higher position currently available in your company, you could request a change of duties to align more with the position you want to move into, or additional responsibilities that would help prepare you for moving up. Or you may want to advance your career through training, and request to be enrolled in courses or sent to workshops, trade shows, or industry events. Another commonly sought-after benefit is flexible scheduling or part-time telecommuting.

Ask for a review sooner instead of later

For those who dread year-end performance reviews, this strategy might seem counterintuitive — you may want to put it off as long as possible. But keep in mind that employee reviews are just as exhausting for management and HR. Whoever is responsible for the review process will be fresher and more open to discussion during earlier reviews, but as the process drags on, they’ll just want to get it over with.

Requesting an early review also demonstrates your motivation and willingness to improve. Managers will see this as a positive quality, and may be more enthusiastic about helping you advance your career.

Don’t forget to follow up

One you’ve gotten through your performance review successfully, make notes about what you’ve discussed and detail your understanding of the review session’s outcome. Include both the actions you’ll take to correct and improve performance, and the rewards that were promised for your performance to date. Send your quick recap to your manager or supervisor the same day of the review, so any miscommunication can be addressed before the results are documented.

Handled properly, the year-end review is your opportunity to move your career forward and accomplish your goals for the upcoming year. Contact The Armada Group to learn how to better be prepared and positive, and don’t miss your chance to elevate your career in 2015.

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Start Using Your IT Talent to Its Full Potential

More companies may be moving away from IT cost reduction, but the responsibilities of IT departments continue to expand. In addition to standard operational and tactical activities, IT is often expected to drive innovation, foster business agility, and increase its own value to the organization — with the same limited resources.

For many IT departments, the best response to this challenge is to get more from their existing resource pool, particularly IT talent. The trick is ensuring that your team must stay motivated to be more efficient and productive, without burning out.

Here are three strategies you can use to unlock the potential of your talent, generating heightened productivity and innovation:

Encourage time management with “zones”

Improved time management leads to greater efficiency, but your team may not know how to get started. There are so many time management strategies to choose from that simply deciding on a method to implement can be challenging. As an IT manager, you can help by encouraging everyone on your team to learn and use the same strategy.

Zone-based time management is an effective method that works well in an IT environment. This strategy, developed by Eric Bloom of Manager Mechanics, is based on the idea of being “in the zone” — a time of peak productivity when a person is focused, motivated, and knows what needs to be done. In zone-based prioritization, IT pros tackle complex tasks like software development and business case writing while they’re in the zone, and perform less demanding activities at other times, according to their alertness levels. Here’s a look at the breakdown:

  • In the zone: High-level tasks (development, project planning, business writing)
  • Alert but not creative: Structured tasks (status report writing, project plan vs. actual tracking)
  • Functional but not up for a challenge: Routine tasks (returning emails, expense reports, reviewing spam folders)
  • Basically not sleeping: Low-level or busywork tasks (cleaning their office, deleting old email, filing things)

Develop talent diversity with cross-training

It’s a well-known fact that training existing employees is cheaper and less time-consuming than hiring new employees, yet many IT departments avoid this approach — whether it’s because they’re too focused on the idea that “hot new talent” must be acquired, or they believe multi-disciplined IT pros are less effective because their skills are spread out further. However, cross-training is a smarter, faster, and longer-lasting solution not only for getting more out of your existing talent resources, but also for increasing employee loyalty, satisfaction, and motivation levels.

The majority of IT professionals appreciate the opportunity to learn new skills, especially if they’re provided training on the company dime. Cross-training boosts employee retention, while equipping your organization with the right tools to handle constantly shifting business requirements. When everyone on your IT team is able to tackle multiple disciplines, any given project will be smoother and more efficient.

You’ll also have happier developers and engineers who are motivated to stretch their skills, try new things, and drive innovation and success for the company.

Schedule personal creative time for your talent

For top IT talent, technology is often more than a job — it’s a way of life. Many IT pros have a side project or three going on, in addition to what they’re doing at work. And if you allow your talent on-the-clock time for pursuing their own creative ideas, those side projects could ultimately benefit your organization.

The best way to let your team tinker with personal projects during the workday is to actually schedule creative time, building it right into your company’s planning process. Set a percentage of time — anywhere from 5-to-10 percent works well — for employees to indulge their personal creativity, and work out the best way to provide that time. It might be several hours on a certain day of the week, or a few hours set aside on two or three days.

When implemented consistently, this freedom to develop creatively will increase motivation and productivity for your talent, and lead to potential spinoff products that add to your organization’s bottom line. If you want to know more about driving motivation and productivity, talk to the pros at The Armada Group today.

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What You Need to Know Before Reorganizing Your IT Department

IT reorganization is one of the biggest projects you may ever undertake as an IT manager. No matter how you approach a reorg, it’s going to cost you time, resources, and productivity. This means it’s essential to have a sound, business-oriented strategy in place before the decision to reorganize is made.

Here are the most important considerations for launching and implementing an effective IT reorganization for your company:

Know why you’re considering a reorganization

The best way to avoid potentially complex and costly mistakes is to understand the actual problems that prompted you to consider an IT reorg, and decide whether there’s another way to address those problems.

Ask yourself what you hope to accomplish with a reorganization. If your goals can be met through alternative fixes, try implementing the less disruptive solutions first.

If alternatives fail, or if reorganization is the clear answer, then it’s time to talk strategy.

Decide where to start

IT reorganization is a measure that’s intended to solve problems with the organization’s tech department. This means you need a thorough understanding of not just the problems themselves, but the issues they’re causing throughout the organization.

The first step in building a reorg strategy is to communicate — with your IT team, with key stakeholders, and with C-level management. Your approach may vary depending on the parties involved, but the goal is to same: to open conversations and gather input on pain points affecting various parts of the company, and IT areas that could stand improvement.

Gauge your reasons for reorganizing

There are several legitimate reasons to undertake IT reorganization. Here are some of the most common:

  • Your technology is an island: In today’s highly connected business environment, insular IT departments simply won’t survive. Bryan Kirschner, director of the Apogee Institute, indicates three must-have qualities for successful IT: outside-in, cloud-first, and mobile-centric. If your organization lacks these qualities, a reorganization may be the right solution.
  • IT is failing to deliver results: This is one of the most obvious reasons to consider a reorganization, but it’s also one that requires the most caution. If your IT department regularly misses deadlines and exceeds budgets, a reorg may be called for — but only if there’s no other way to fix these problems.
  • You’re new at the helm: If you’re a newly appointed IT leader, whether you’ve been promoted or arrived from another company, you may be itching to make sweeping changes. Depending on the actual situation, this may be a good idea — just be sure it’s the right one. Reorganizing simply because “it’s been a while since the last one” is never a good strategy.
  • The company mission refocuses on new technology: Every business in every industry today needs technology to thrive. If your organization is facing major changes to the way technology impacts your daily operations — such as migrating from single-channel to omni-channel customer experiences — reorganization is almost certainly the right choice.

Obtain buy-in at the C-level and within your team

If you don’t have key personnel on board, your chances of successfully reorganizing will plummet. As with any business initiative, C-level buy-in can make or break an IT reorganization — so make sure to involve them from the start, and maintain transparency by sharing your objectives throughout the process.

You’ll also need to involve your IT team, in order to keep morale elevated and maintain productivity during the often difficult and lengthy reorganization. Keeping your team involved and informed not only helps to decrease the stress that always comes with change, but also helps them feel they have a stake in the success of the reorg.

With thorough planning and communication, you can roll out an IT reorganization smoothly and effectively, and enjoy the benefits of a streamlined IT department for the entire organization. If you need help with this, or any, IT procedure, contact the experts at The Armada Group.

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Thursday, Nov 13 2014

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

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Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

Being a great leader — whether you’re already in an executive position or looking to be promoted to one — requires strong emotional intelligence. And an important part of emotional intelligence is the ability to keep negativity out of your communication and interaction with other people. Negative thinking and emotion prevents you from getting results both for yourself and with others. What’s more, negativity can spread stress like it’s contagious — studies have shown that negative thoughts transmit stress-producing hormones that affect those around you.

Even if you have high emotional intelligence, you may be putting out negative vibes without realizing it. Here are five subtle but common ways you might not know you’re being negative, and what to do if you spot yourself engaging in them.

Not accepting compliments

For many people, responding to compliments with a demurral is an instinctive reaction. If you’re told you did a good job, your instinct may be to downplay the sentiment by crediting someone else, insisting it wasn’t that hard, or even saying you were just lucky. You may think you’re being humble — but this type of reaction actually undermines your confidence and makes it harder for other people to trust your skills or abilities.

Instead of demurring, learn to accept compliments with grace (and a dash of humility). Own your positive actions or accomplishments, even if your response is a simple “thank you” with no further discussion on the subject of the compliment.

Negating a positive

Negative inferences happen when you make a positive statement, and then follow it up with something negative that undermines the effect. For example, you might say, “My last performance review was fantastic, but I’m still not making the salary I should.”

The first part of this statement is positive and worth both consideration and discussion. But when it’s followed immediately with negativity, the positive value goes out the window — and suddenly you’re one of those people who always sees the glass as half empty. Negative inferences crush enthusiasm and prevent others from taking your side.

Instead, keep your positive statements positive and focused on your options. For example, you might say, “My last performance review was fantastic, so now I’m going to work on presenting my accomplishments better so I can negotiate a higher salary.”

Reacting too quickly

When something goes wrong, people have a tendency to react — and in the heat of the moment, your reaction might be less than emotionally intelligent. For instance, if a team member says something unfortunate during a meeting, you might approach them after the meeting with a comment along the lines of, “That was a stupid thing to say!” This type of reaction is not constructive, and can quickly break down relationships.

A better way to handle moments like these is to focus on responding, instead of reacting. When you respond to a problem, issue, or negative situation, you give yourself time to consider what really happened and why it might have happened — and then formulate a thoughtful reply that is constructive and considerate.

“Yeah, but…” mode

Everyone’s said it from time to time. Someone makes a suggestion, and you want to agree, but you immediately calculate the problems with the idea and your response sentence starts with “Yeah, but…”

This opening is a blocker. The word “but” dismisses anything positive that came before it, and makes collaboration with other people difficult. If you find yourself saying “Yeah, but” frequently, people will lose interest in listening to you.

Instead of agreeing, and then immediately disagreeing, focus on validating ideas that you believe are worthy, and offering possible changes or alternatives for those that don’t quite seem there yet. Keep the “but” out of your responses.

Bringing others down to raise yourself up

Emotionally intelligent people understand that the path to success is not forged by blatantly stepping on others along the way. However, you could be engaging in a more subtle form of diminishing other people, through statements that contain gossip or put-downs — even if they seem innocuous.

Besides the risk of having these negative comments get back to the people you’ve made them about, the person you’re talking to may wonder what you’re saying about them to others. If you’re tempted to put someone else down in order to feel better, ask yourself what your real motivation is for making these damaging statements. It might be insecurity about your own performance, jealousy of someone else’s abilities, or simply just a bad habit of engaging in gossip.

This type of negativity can be the most difficult to overcome — but it’s also the most rewarding. When you have genuine respect and kindness for others, they’ll reciprocate, and you’ll be better positioned for leadership.

Want to learn more about being an emotionally intelligent leader? Contact the staffing and recruiting experts at The Armada Group. We can help you find – and retain – the best in IT management and professionalism

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