Many companies are migrating applications to the cloud, hoping to save on both hardware and operating expenses. The effort to migrate can be significant, however, and cloud computing can expose companies to risks, as well. Before deciding to make the move, companies should assess whether cloud computing will offer the benefits they want without costs they can't afford.
Don't make decisions based on assumptions
Make decisions based on metrics. Do the necessary due diligence. Understand your current architecture and what's involved in migrating to the cloud. Get accurate numbers so you know what you're spending now and what you'll be spending after you switch to the cloud. Without this data, there's no way to judge the ROI for your cloud migration.
Take a long-term perspective
Cloud projects that eliminate infrastructure can result in immediate savings. Cloud project that involve moving to software as a service (SaaS) can take longer to produce returns, especially if you've already made an investment in licenses. Keep these timeframes in mind as you weigh your decision.
It's not all about the money
Cloud projects are often sold based on dollars, but there are other impacts on your business that might be more significant. Will shifting responsibilities to the cloud provider free up your staff to work on projects that can contribute more to your business? Can the cloud provider offer a level of responsiveness your internal staff can't achieve? These non-savings effects of cloud computing can have a big impact on your company.
You won't eliminate all your IT spending
Sorry, but even though you offload responsibility to the cloud provider, you'll still have to perform some services internally. Be sure to account for these retained costs when you calculate ROI.
Resource utilization matters
The benefits of cloud computing are very often load-driven. Assess the specific demands of the applications being migrated to get specific ROI.
Realize this is your ROI now, but won't be your ROI in the future
You will have new applications, computing technology will change, and the capabilities of your business will grow. Consider how using the cloud will position your company for the future. Today's number may not be as important as tomorrow's.
Today’s IT professionals have a diverse range of career paths, options, and specialties to choose from. If you’re creative and detail oriented, enjoy working with machinery, and want a well-paying job with plenty of opportunities, you may be a good candidate for a career in automation engineering.
What is an automation engineer?
Automation as a field involves creating and applying technologies that control or monitor production and delivery. There are automation opportunities in both product- and service-oriented industries. Two professional associations, the International Society of Automation and the Automation Federation, are involved in promoting and supporting the field of automation.
The duties of an automation engineer include designing, programming, simulating, and testing automated machinery or processes that are intended to complete precise tasks — for example, robots used in packaging, food processing, or vehicle manufacturing. Automation engineers work with automated machinery from concept to prototype, and are responsible for providing detailed documentation including design specifications that enable the production or application of their products.
Educational requirements for automation engineers
In the United States, there are not many degree programs specifically offered for automation engineering. Most automation engineers start out with a bachelor’s degree in either electrical or mechanical engineering, which may include courses in relevant subjects such as robotics, fluid dynamics, statistics, and databases. Some automation engineers continue to earn master’s degrees before entering the job market. The bulk of relevant automation engineering training is then gained through hands-on career experience.
Licensing and certification for automation engineers
As with most IT fields, licensing or certification can enhance your prospects for landing a career in automation engineering. One of the most popular certifications in this category is the control system engineer license, which demonstrates an understanding of instrumentation and automated controls.
Obtaining status as a certified control systems technician can also qualify you for a wider range of career opportunities, as more than 40 organizations that use automated systems recognize this title. The top level certification for automation engineers is certified automation professional — a title held by only around 400 professionals in the world.
Important skills for automation engineers
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the following qualities are required for automation engineers:
- A firm understanding of software development and computer programming
- Equipment troubleshooting skills
- The ability to perform complex system tests
- Creative thinking and detail oriented
- Excellent manual dexterity
- Strong communication skills to support interactions with other members of the development team
Employment outlook for automation engineering
Manufacturing is moving increasingly toward automation, and the demand for qualified automation engineers is rising as more manufacturers turn to automation for efficiency, cost savings, and increased output. A survey from Automation.com reports that the average annual salary for automation engineers is $103,910.
In the not-too-distant past, work was something you went to five days a week, and left at the office on weekends and holidays. But today’s business world is dominated by always-on technology, and the boundaries between work and personal life are increasingly blurred, if not obliterated.
It may be logical to believe that company expectations for employees to be constantly available are the cause of eroding work-life separation, but even in demanding companies, this isn’t the sole reason. Human nature and societal norms contribute significantly to the disappearing divide between work and home — and as a consequence, we’re focusing on the wrong problems.
What causes work-life imbalance?
There are real business reasons that most employees are unable to separate eight hours a day from the rest of their lives. Email is one — it’s omnipresent, available anywhere there’s a connection, and most employers don’t think twice about expecting their staff to keep up with email at all times. There’s also the globalization of business, and collaboration with co-workers and partners in various time zones that skew the start and close of the “business day.”
In addition to the modern corporate environment, the nature of people encourages a blending of work and life. American employees take pride in hard work and self-sacrifice, and many people thrive on being needed. Furthermore, some work activities — such as opening a new, unread email — influence us chemically, releasing dopamine that makes the action addictive.
Finally, exceptional employees are always working, even outside the office environment and without being required to. For many people, dedication to great job performance means constantly thinking up new ideas and planning ahead. This process naturally works itself into everyday life.
Conquering the work-life balance myth
In order to successfully address the issues surrounding work-life separation, we first need to accept that separating them is impossible for most people. The good news is that blending work and personal life doesn’t have to mean erasing your identity as a person, eliminating all free time, or becoming defined by your job.
What is the best solution for achieving both professional and personal satisfaction? For many, the answer is to embrace the blurred lines, and strive for a work environment that grants more control over personal time with flexible scheduling. The typical nine-to-five workday is practically extinct — and the best way to thrive in the modern business landscape is to get rid of rigid boundaries and time clocks, so the stress of “balancing” personal and work life is eliminated.
Any employer looking to provide work-life balance for their employees should institute a more flexible scheduling process. Despite beliefs to the contrary, studies have repeatedly shown that workers who have more control over their schedules are more productive and motivated, produce higher quality work, and have a greater sense of loyalty to their organization.
There are several reasons why flexible scheduling is so effective. One is that allowing greater control over work schedules allows employees to work at their personal optimal times, rather than conforming to a one-size-fits-all, eight-hour shift. Some people are much more productive first thing in the morning, while others don’t really get into gear until the afternoon.
Another, perhaps more impactful reason this arrangement works is the blending of personal and work time a flexible schedule allows. When employees can take time off in the middle of the work day and make it up when it’s convenient, they’re able to accomplish personal tasks they’d otherwise have to skip with a rigid schedule — like getting school-aged children on and off the bus, banking, attending personal classes, or caring for elderly parents. This allows employees to reduce or eliminate the personal stress that would otherwise affect their performance at work.
It’s in the best interests of any company to care for their employees as a whole person, rather than an eight-hour chunk of labor. By allowing and encouraging overlap between personal and professional lives, your company can bust the work-life balance myth and achieve a truly happy, productive, and loyal workforce.
The idea that the IT staff remains tucked in the back room surrounded by machines, emerging only when some technical problem occurs that no one else understands, is rapidly becoming a myth. Today’s IT shops are moving toward greater collaboration, with the understanding that when users and IT work together, better systems result.
Increased collaboration between IT and customers is best-accomplished through greater integration with the rest of the business. This organizational collaboration can not only improve the technologies being used, but also help IT pros advance their careers through better soft skills and more recognition.
Here are four ways your organization can bridge the gap between IT and its customers, whether they’re business users or company clients.
Partner IT staff with other departments
In an organization with multiple departments, IT typically serves a function for all of them. One of the best ways to bridge tech people with the rest of the company is to assign IT staff to a specific department, allowing them to partner with a business unit and focus on solutions for that unit.
By working directly with another department, IT can solve problems more efficiently. In these types of partnerships, technology may actually be the last solution IT turns to — the partner should first consider whether the issue can be solved by bringing in different people, or implementing new processes. This improves IT efficiency, reduces costs, and diminishes wasted time and resources.
The partner approach can also help IT professionals enhance their careers. Opportunities to work directly with another department allow them to broaden their soft skills and increase problem-solving abilities, while exposing them to different processes within the company.
In larger organizations where IT is responsible for keeping multiple departments up and running, creating centers of innovation can vastly improve processes and efficiency. Build small, specialized IT teams, each focused on working directly with one department, and maintain a core IT department to oversee the individual teams.
This type of structure works best in organizations that rely on innovation and integration, such as medical facilities, corporations, and large-scale or industrial production. A decentralized IT program also encourages tech employees to participate directly in other aspects of the organization, and develop a greater understanding of their focus areas to streamline operations and drive innovation.
Connect IT with end users
Even integrated IT staff are often confined to working within the organization, and rarely have the opportunity to interact with the people who use the company’s products or services. By facilitating interaction between IT employees and end users, you can encourage fresh ideas and stronger motivations to perform.
There are several ways to connect IT people with customers. Regular visits to other business units is a good start, but you can also send IT staff out with sales reps or other external-facing employees to shadow their interactions, or even organize business functions where the staff and customers have the chance to mingle. When IT is able to see the impact their work has on real people, they’re more engaged and motivated to deliver the best possible experience for end users.
Come out of the cave
In small to mid-sized companies and more integrated work environments that don’t necessarily have many departments, IT employees should be encouraged to leave the back room and spend time on the shop floor, so to speak. The more interaction IT has with the rest of the employees and the rest of the business, the better their understanding of their own function within the company.
Through direct observation of business processes, IT professionals can often spot issues that no one had been able to pinpoint previously, and make changes that will improve efficiency. Encourage IT staff to ask other employees questions and listen carefully to the responses, so they can develop a sense of the real needs of the business — and come up with more creative ways to meet them.
Regardless of company size, frequent interaction with other employees and end users can help IT professionals further their careers. They’re able to develop skills that are underused in direct IT work, and demonstrate that tech people are people, too — breaking down the stereotypes and perceptions that would otherwise prevent them from advancing.
As the digital landscape becomes increasingly crowded across every channel, and users continue to tune out traditional advertising, it’s more challenging than ever to differentiate online. For this reason, more companies are seeking IT pros who are able to provide exceptional user experiences.
What makes a great user experience? Here are 10 important considerations for making your websites, apps, or programs user-friendly — and more likely to succeed.
The majority of companies still use Windows tools and operating systems for one primary reason: It’s what they’re used to. Familiarity is a key component for a successful user experience. Basically, it means that accomplishing something within the environment should be obvious and not require explanation, such as a back button — a familiar tool that’s used in every Internet browser.
2. Responsive feedback
Websites, programs, and applications often include a number of micro-tasks, such as login screens. These tasks should include validation through feedback whenever possible — such as notifying users when they’ve successfully logged in. Without relevant and responsive feedback, users end up focusing intensely on micro-tasks and become frustrated.
3. Smooth performance
It goes without saying that performance is a crucial issue for user experience. If a website, program, or app suffers from performance issues, the user perceives the product as poorly designed or malfunctioning, and won’t be likely to continue using that product.
This attribute relates to the level or degree to which the use of an application, website, or program is obvious to the user. In addition to an intuitive interface, efficiency in features and functionality can enhance the user experience — particularly if there are more advanced tools that can be used with greater efficiency as the user becomes more familiar with the product.
Products that are actually helpful to users in accomplishing real goals deliver a better user experience. If a program, website, or application solves a business problem but disregards user needs, the experience is diminished for the user.
6. Relevant content delivery
A satisfying user experience should include relevant and valuable content, delivered in a timely manner. Ecommerce giant Amazon has mastered this aspect of the user experience with features like product recommendations, customer reviews, and a powerful and intuitive search function that deliver the right content at the right time.
7. Internal consistency
The user experience is enhanced when an interface or application handles similar tasks in similar ways, making the overall experience more intuitive and shortening the learning curve. In addition to internally consistent functionality, consistence in visual design is vital for presenting a professional and well-organized product.
8. External consistency
This refers to the visual appearance of a program, website, application, or interface aligning with its purpose and matching the expectations of its target audience — such as a polished and professional look for a website offering legal services, versus a fun and colorful theme for a site offering products for children.
9. Contextually appropriate
The interface for the user experience should match the environment in which the product will be used. For example, a product used for military applications should be more compact and rugged than one used in a restaurant, where the environment allows for a larger and more detailed interface.
In many cases, there is an implicit trust when users first work with an application or interface that the product will work as intended. Any issues that impact user engagement, such as error pages or non-working features, can erode that trust and diminish the user experience.
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!
Throughout the digital shift, data breaches have been a serious and ongoing problem. Recent large-scale attacks resulted in malware-infected payments terminals and tens of millions of stolen card numbers from chain stores like Home Depot and Target. Part of the reason for these thefts is that, with the current magnetic stripe system, card information is stored inside payment terminals in an unencrypted form.
But technologies like tokenization and near field communication (NFC) are making secure data possible — and Apple may be leading the way to substantially heightened online security with the launch of their new mobile payment system.
How Apple Pay works
The latest phones from Apple, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, are equipped with a mobile payment system that lets users pay for purchases in stores quickly and conveniently, right from their phones.
This payment system uses multiple security features to protect payment information. The first is Touch ID, Apple’s biometric identification system already used in previous iPhones that identifies users by thumbprint. The second is NFC communication, which eliminates the magnetic stripe interface that is one of the leading reasons for security breaches.
But the most important security feature for Apple Pay is tokenization. The technology stores a 16-digit proxy number on a security chip inside the phone, rather than your actual payment card number. This “token” number is given to the retailer at the point of sale, and the retailer sends the token to the card issuer. Then, a trusted third party converts the token to the payment card number and sends it to the issuer — meaning the retailer never receives the actual card number.
The tokens also incorporate unique, transaction- and user-specific data, which prevents them from being reused even if they’re stolen.
Simplifying the user experience could lead to widespread adoption
In a recent keynote speech, Apple CEO Tim Cook demonstrated how easy it is to pay with this solution: Users simply hold their thumb on the Touch ID sensor and tap the phone against a payment terminal. The entire transaction takes only seconds, and is substantially more secure than magnetic stripe transactions — or even other mobile payment solutions.
Apple has always excelled at ease of use for its technologies, and the company’s entry into the mobile payment market could prompt the competition to step up their games. The more mobile payment providers offering easy-to-use solutions, the more retailers will adopt systems that accept these types of highly secure payments. In the time since Apple Pay was launched, competitor Google Wallet has already seen significant growth in usage and adoption from both customers and retailers.
Contactless NFC payment systems could provide the level of security required to make data breaches a thing of the past, especially if other providers adopt tokenization technologies to enhance security. Consumer data will be safer online, and the cumbersome and risky magnetic stripe system may be headed for obsolescence.
With Apple leading the way, widespread adoption of mobile payment solutions has a real chance of occurring — and the competition is sure to follow suit. If you want to know more about the future of personal data security or how it applies to your company, contact the IT experts at The Armada Group.
Honest and constructive feedback is a valuable tool for any manager. But while you may have no trouble offering feedback to your IT employees, receiving honest feedback can be challenging. There are many reasons your employees could be reluctant about being honest — but overcoming those roadblocks and encouraging feedback can benefit your team in a big way.
Why employees avoid giving feedback
Even if it’s solicited, a lot of IT employees are worried about offering feedback. One of the most common reasons is concern that their opinions will be used against them, resulting in a more difficult working environment or negative consequences for their career. If this concern exists, employees will typically either give falsely positive feedback, or not speak up at all.
Another popular reason employees refrain from giving feedback is the belief that their thoughts and suggestions won’t be taken seriously, or even considered at all. If they feel, rightly or wrongly, that you’re just asking for feedback to humor them or because it’s expected, they won’t waste their time offering it.
How to encourage honest feedback
Whether your employees are afraid of recrimination or feel they won’t be taken seriously, you can overcome these issues by clearly communicating what will and will not happen when feedback is offered, how you’ll use the feedback you receive, and how your employees can help.
Trust is essential to giving and getting honest feedback. In order to find out what your IT employees really think, you need to create a company culture of open, authentic communication that encourages honesty. To do this:
- Start with yourself. If you can’t be honest with yourself, you can’t expect to do better with your employees. Genuine feedback can be a powerful tool to help you identify opportunities for improvement and change your company for the better — but only If you really want to hear it. If you’re just going through the motions, your efforts could have negative consequences.
- Show your commitment. Simply asking for honesty isn’t enough to get real feedback. Demonstrate that you’re offering more than talk by acting on the feedback you receive and making changes that address employee concerns. When you show that you’re serious, you’ll find your employees far more open and willing to participate in feedback.
- Enlist your people. It’s far too common for leaders and managers to solicit feedback from employees, and then vanish while they “fix” everything themselves. This not only places more pressure on you, but also keeps employees from seeing the efforts you’re making to incorporate feedback. Make sure your processes are designed to engage everyone in making changes.
- Check your reactions. If you’re known for reacting poorly to bad news or things you don’t want to hear, don’t be surprised when your employees fail to offer honest feedback. Taking note of and tempering your reactions will go a long way toward an open and secure workplace environment.
As a leader, your actions and attitudes set the tone for your IT team. Encouraging and gathering honest feedback — whether you use simple surveys, focus groups, interviews, team meetings, or informal hallway chats — can benefit you significantly and help you build a successful, productive, and focused workplace that gets results. If you want to find out how to better solicit honest employee feedback, contact The Armada Group today. They are industry experts who know exactly the types of feedback you should be seeking from employees, and how to get it.
Especially after a very strong interview, most candidates impatiently await the news from a recruiter. However, it’s a professional faux pas to call a few hours after interviewing to see if the interviewer has made a determination. This causes frustration and – chances are – there’s other candidates who have yet to interview. Here are a few keys regarding recruiter etiquette and proper follow up contact:
- Be patient. There are usually between three and five final candidates for a single slot, and some companies require interviewing them all prior to making a determination. Most recruiters have a massive workload, so it’s nothing personal – there’s just a lot going on behind the scenes.
- Send a follow up email first. This is the best and quickest means to professionally tell the interviewer and recruiter “Thanks for your time and the opportunity.” It’s generally accepted best practice to send this email the day after. The only exception is if your interview is early in the morning; in this case, sending an email that afternoon is acceptable.
- If you don’t hear back from your recruiter after a few days, don’t fret. The worst mistake a candidate can make is to not follow up. The second worst is to call the recruiter repeatedly.
- After three days or so, it’s within the expectation to call the recruiter. If he or she doesn’t answer, leave a voicemail. Most professional companies will call you and tell you either way, but after a few days, a reminder is warranted.
- If, after following up, you don’t hear from the recruiter for a few days – try again. Try different methods every few days, and vary calling times. However, it is not customary to call or email more than twice a week. Any more than that is unprofessional. However, after a two week period – it’s probably time to send a final email thanking them again, and request that they hold on to your resume for future career opportunities.
- Asking for the position subtly is great – especially in person – but on a follow-up call, do not ask “Did I get the job?” Instead, try “I wanted to follow up and see if you and/or the manager have made a determination?”
Finding a new job can be stressful, but it’s worth it once you get the best offer from the right job. There’s a lot of time that goes into it on the recruiter’s end, and it’s not usually an overnight process. Follow these tips for professional etiquette in following up.
At The Armada Group, we take the stress out of the process. We work directly with candidates to ascertain their skill set and company view, and pair them together with the best fit. This helps long-term job satisfaction, and increases overall success. We work with elite talent from some of the largest and fastest growing tech companies in the world. Contact us today to see how we can help you
As the microevolution of IT continues, positions and occupational roles change functions. A helpdesk specialist, for example, has entirely different focus now than even a decade ago – and for that matter, requires a different skillset. With the rapid changes over the last few years, here are some of the professions facing the greatest change.
1. Business Intelligence Analyst. This position has seen a drastic shift recently, in part brought on by big data and cloud solutions. The collection, accumulation and assimilation of big data into actionable intelligence has become the primary purpose for many business analysts and business intelligence professionals, and it’s rapidly becoming an important role to fill as more companies are searching out aggregated data for their own purposes.
2. Application Developer. Speaking of big data, there are different needs for the data. A Business Intelligence Analyst will need a means to access and analyze data. Because there are so many different types of data and databases – and purposes behind them – having an application developer to create the method is a pivotal role and changing the face of IT.
3. Programmers. Similar to the circumstances of the app developers, programmers need to know multiple languages – unlike a few years ago when one could learn Java and be gainfully employed, or land a job based exclusively from C++ expertise. Having a comprehension of a half dozen languages is common practice, even if you only use one or two frequently.
4. Mobile. Mobile browser optimization, mobile app developers, and localized SEOs have all fuelled the mobile arena. WAP browsers have gone by the wayside, and Mobile Chrome, Safari, Yelp, Poynt and Google Maps have replaced them. One report estimated as many as 60% of product inquiries are performed via mobile, and companies have caught on to this trend.
IT has always been a very rapidly evolving field, and the last few years have held no exception – except, if anything, to evolve faster. The face of IT will continue to evolve as business needs arise, and will be shaped and reshaped over the coming years.
At The Armada Group, we stay at the forefront of that curve. We recruit for some of the most innovative companies in the world, and we retain elite IT talent. Based in the heart of IT growth in Silicon Valley, we want to help your business grow both locally and around the world. If you are looking for technical employment in the Bay Area, contact our team today.