Archives for category: UDig Brain Dig

This week we profile Dara, a UDig consultant specializing in a variety of languages and specialties, from HTML and CMS to Java and ActionScript and everything in between. He’s currently on site at one of our clients here in Richmond (by the way, we don’t list full names of consultants for competitive reasons, or our clients for privacy issues). However, we do want to share the knowledge we’ve got.

What are the major trends you’re seeing out there in the IT world?
CMS replatforming, at least in my world. It is in high demand because there’s a lot of content out there and you have to manage it in effective ways. Companies are going online and their demands are changing, and the technology needs to catch up to where they can manage it. More customers are demanding greater flexibility, and that means new ways to organize and post content.

Do you have a real world example of something you’ve created that affects everyday consumers?
We made a system for a client where users of the website could submit feedback and give their opinions about the company. We built the management system on the backend where client can manage and respond back to the customer. From this system, our client can take care of general customer service issues in real time, and online.

How do you see the IT changing over the next five or ten years?
We’re going into different channels, and fast. More and more of our work is in the mobile space and in electronic devices besides a typical computer. And we’re not really in a technology bubble mode right now, so IT is still growing. One thing we need is more people who are educated and have more experience in the field.

And your advice to those people?
I’ve been in this field since 1999. Right out of high school, I worked for a company and we built websites and animation and multimedia applications. My skills grew from there. Technology classes in high school gave me a leg up. Get experience. Real world experience. Intern somewhere. Take on your own projects and build your own applications and soak up as much knowledge as you can.

Today we talk with John, a UDig IT consultant whose specialty is data work and business process management. Most of the work is with JBoss and Java, but there’s some .NET in there, too. For past Brain Digs, click the category link at the bottom of this post.

John, our JBoss and Java dev

What database software do you work with for data warehousing, and what trends have you seen with it during the past five to 10 years?
Most of the datawarehousing work I’ve done has been in a SQL Server environment. From the data warehouses and data marts we set up we used Business Objects (Crystal Reports) for reporting.

If someone is trying to get into data, which software would you recommend working with?
Since SQL is mainly about syntax and the knowledge of relational databases, I would familiarize yourself with any database management tool (SQL Server Management Studio, TOAD, DB Explorer) but most importantly for Data Warehousing I would read The Data Warehouse Toolkit by Ralph Kimball. It is an excellent book and will get anyone up to speed!

How are you using Java?
My experience with Java has been for web applications. These days I’m working on the maintenance and enhancement of a large automotive parts retailer’s legacy business to business sales system, which is Java and RichFaces running on the JBoss application server. My previous project was a Java web app to sell insurance products and other benefits to different credit card holders. This was done using Java along with the ATG e-commerce platform on the WebLogic application server.

What are the most common enterprise applications that you end up dealing with?
I would say the top enterprise applications we end up doing are Content Management Systems (CMS) and Retail Applications.

Any other open-source projects you’re involved with voluntarily or participating in?
I had set a goal this past year to involve myself in the JBoss community more, however I just haven’t had the free time. I do like to dabble with nopCommerce shopping cart for .NET/C# when I can, but I am not a contributor to the project.

Do you ever expect Java to be acceptable or more widely used in mobile phones?
I haven’t really followed the mobile phone industry too closely. However, I do know that applications for Android and BlackBerry are written in Java. While Objective C is obviously huge due to the iPhone and iPad, I think Java has a pretty good share on mobile phone applications. The Android userbase is growing quite a bit it seems, and to develop for Android you don’t have to pay what I feel is an outrageous fee for an SDK.

What’s your recommendation for someone trying to break into IT consulting?
Trying to get into IT consulting, I would say one has to keep an open mind. Familiarize yourself with the concepts and ideas and not the small nuances that will exist between different implementations. My work varies between application servers, front-end technologies and even languages. Definitely work on the soft skills as well. We are typically client facing and not heads down coders like many developers are used to.

At UDig, we like to take you inside the minds of the fantastically smart UDig consultants and engineers who understand the ins and outs of the computer systems that make American businesses run.

This week, we talk to Alex Kaganov, a former UDig consultant who went on to start his own information technology group. With us, he was a Microsoft BizTalk developer, as he still is today.

UDig: Why is your job, as a systems integrator, so in demand right now?
Alex: Jobs like mine have always been in demand because there are so many ways that systems can talk to each other. Companies will always have a need to integrate.

How has integration changed in the past few years?
I’ve been in the industry for 13 years. It’s always demanding and always changing, so in that sense it doesn’t really change overnight because it keeps changing all the time. But the tools that companies come up with, especially from Microsoft, allow developers to do much more than they could have done five years ago. For developers to be successful these days, they must have a much higher level of understanding of software and hardware systems.

What are some tips you would give to someone coming into this industry?
I can’t really recommend people become BizTalk developers. It’s a niche, and a good place to be right now and I hope it’s going to stay like this for a few years, but I doubt its going to be around any longer after that. Microsoft is coming out with a new technology that may absorb BizTalk. Plus, it has a really steep learning curve. First you have to be a really good .NET developer before you can learn BizTalk, and on top of that you need to know how people use technology and how businesses are run. And on top of all that, you have to know your way around the technologies and software systems that you are integrating with.

How has the Internet affected your role in IT?
Internet has changed IT tremendously and while I love using the web, I’m not a fan of web development. BizTalk is a server-side system run in the heart of organizations and is rarely exposed directly. However, communication via the web is allowed by using WCF Services and AS2, and these are integral parts of BizTalk.

Has mobility played a part in shaping some of the projects you do?
Mobility is a part of the user experience, so in that sense BizTalk is not a part of this trend. RFID mobile technology has been a part of BizTalk package for a while but in my opinion it doesn’t really fit. Hopefully Microsoft knows better.

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For more UDig Brain Digs, check out: IT in retail, IT in logistics, IT in insurance, and cloud computing.

This week, we turn to the topic of information technology in the retail industry. What trends is our UDig consultant, Anthony, witnessing as he builds his career as a business systems analyst at a Fortune 500 company?

As a business systems analyst you witness and implement a lot of change in a company. What trends are emerging in the retail industry?

Service-based solutions have become more common for a lot of companies. This includes companies that do not produce software as a product. Many companies struggle with duplicate data and duplicate calculations, and aggregating those processes allows them to more easily manage software solutions that have multiple channels, such as offline support system and online point-of-sale systems.

Why is your job so critical to business operations?

I can communicate with both the business operations and IT teams and assist them with estimating and budgeting and ensure that the proper design is there for both entities. Controlling scope and ensuring that the project was estimated properly is critical, as resourcing issues can delay or derail a project. These estimates assist Project Managers because it allows them to more closely integrate their oversight of the project with actual technical tasks that need to be completed.

And on the business side?
In terms of design, many business users don’t know how to conceptualize an IT solution. Furthermore, many technical resources create designs for software systems that are “functional.” This creates a product that is clunky and more difficult to train business users on.

Look ahead five years. What technologies/hardware/software components will be essential?
Service-based architectures will provide powerful corporate solutions. Also, mobile devices will become more commonplace in corporate solutions.

In what way?
Service-based architecture and mobile devices are creating a smarter and more flexible technical environment. I see a lot of companies eyeballing Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) solutions, but many are just tapping into its potential. A true SOA environment can be powerful because it requires less development overhead to manage and provides some control to the users.

And as for mobile, this trend is only going to grow.

Right. Mobile devices such as the iPad are becoming more desirable solutions that can assist business users – sales reps, marketing personnel, etc. Companies can easily create apps that will be tailored to their businesses for specific functions, which can then be tied into corporate systems, potentially that SOA.

What are some of the minimum technology requirements that a Fortune 500 company of this size must have?
A rapidly growing Fortune 500 company must have scalable systems with a strong service-based architecture. Many Fortune 500 companies start by having a great product and a great business model. This comes first, but the rapid success comes as a quick second. Having systems that can be scaled for more stores or more countries is essential.

How is the cloud impacting retail?
Cloud computing is impacting anyone who has enterprise systems and complex processing. It opens more doors for design. Many companies are learning that they don’t have to be the best at everything, because they can use the Internet to interface with someone who does specialize in some of those areas. Cloud computing is a new concept for many companies, and I don’t see a lot of it in practice yet. However, it is considered and discussed more commonly today than it was last year. I suspect it will be growing phenomenon in the trade, and the more companies that adopt it, the more other companies will feel comfortable with it.

Seems like where credit card payments over the Internet were a few years ago.
Correct. The more commonplace a technology is, the more accessible and accepted it becomes.

What types of skills do you recommend candidates have before going into retail IT?
Be detailed-oriented and understand more about IT and the business than what’s in the job description. You can only be so good if you don’t understand a company’s budget or if you’ve never even looked at code. Being a Business Analyst allows you to make sure that the right IT decisions and the right business decisions are being made. Many times the good choices require you to understand and dig down into the details of both sides. Without this diverse understanding, you will feel less comfortable when approaching a new company or project.

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To read our past UDig Brain Digs, check out Adam and Matt, both of whom work in the insurance IT industry. You can also read our post from David, who works in IT for the logistics industry (Note: we do not list our consultants’ full names for competitive reasons, and we do not release the names of clients, which are private. However, these are all actual interviews conducted by our marketing department with consultants in the field.)

So much information in our heads, so many people who want it. Welcome to the third UDig Brain Dig, where we interview our consultants in the field about the day-to-day work in the various industries they serve. This week, we talk to David, UNIX/Linux Systems Administrator at a local shipping company. To read our other Brain Digs, check out Adam and Matt, both of whom work in the insurance IT industry.

When you consider IT and the logistics industry, what trends are you seeing?
In logistics, IT is purely about integration and speed: Ensuring that every piece works seamlessly with one another, in a quick and efficient way. Coupled with that, there is always a push to provide the customer with methods of interaction that better suit their needs.

And of course, if things move faster and easier, costs go down.
Right. Companies are trying to do much more with much less in an attempt to keep the impact on the bottom line down. This means that IT workers need to be as versatile as possible, as there is little room left for someone who’s an expert in one specific technology but has little practical experience outside of that. While there may still be a need for an individual like that, it’s in a limited capacity for short-term projects and contracts rather than any sort of long-term position.

Why is open source software so instrumental to business operations in today’s economy?
Open source is much more versatile, and in many cases more cost-effective than proprietary software. When a company has the resources and time, they can take an open source application that comes close to meeting their needs and really tailor that solution to their particular environment. This brings them much closer to that “perfect solution” than they would often find in the proprietary world.

Is cloud computing impacting the logistics industry yet, and if so, how?
Cloud isn’t really impacting my job or logistics at the moment, but you can see it coming down the road. An organization can continue to shrink their data center footprint with virtualization, and even more so by implementing cloud computing on demand. Logistics companies won’t have to maintain so many systems over a long period of time that get limited usage.

What types of skills do you recommend candidates have before going into your field?
The biggest skill isn’t really a skill at all, but more a personality trait. You need to be curious. Be willing to learn and solve puzzles. Without that, your skills will often stagnate and you might find yourself obsolete or redundant. Outside of that, I would recommend that you try and diversify your experiences as much as possible while maintaining a focus on one general area. This will both make you more marketable to employers, but better at doing your job because you’ll understand the associated technologies involved with your day to day operations.

How do you stay up-to-speed on the latest technologies out there?
Read, read, read. Be curious about the technology and where it’s going. Keep abreast of the direction of the technologies you use and always be mindful of how it would fit in your environment or how you would leverage it in a way that may be outside of the scope of the project. Linux specifically lends itself to this type of curiosity and ability to constantly innovate.

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