We’re at SharePoint Fest in Chicago this week! We’re Gold sponsors of the conference, and many of the members of our IM team will be in the vendor hall and attending sessions.
Our own Bob German will present two sessions:
“Future-Proof your SharePoint Customizations: Build 2010 Solutions that become 2013 Apps“ at 3:10 pm CT on Tuesday 10/8
“Search-First Migration: Using SharePoint 2013 Search for All Versions of SharePoint” at 11:20 am CT on Wednesday 10/9.
If you’re at the conference, please stop by Booth G10 and say hello to the team!
Yesterday, Massachusetts House lawmakers voted to repeal the “tech tax,” or Sales and Use Tax on Computer and Software Services. We at BlueMetal strongly supported this repeal, and we wanted to share our thoughts on the tax.
The background: on July 24, 2013, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts announced Technical Information Release (TIR) 13-10 which allowed the state to apply sales and use tax to certain services related to computer system design and to modification, integration, enhancement, installation or configuration of standardized or prewritten software. These changes were effective July 31, 2013. This piece of legislature was slated to draw approximately $161 million dollars in revenue from the tech community in state.
The realities of the adoption, in conjunction with the haste at which the tax was imposed, is that it is difficult (if not impossible) to implement this tax law. It required consulting service organizations that were implementing standardized software for clients to segment time tracking down to the hours that were spent on each particular facet of the client experience from discovery, scoping, coding, rollout and training. If consulting were a simple formula then this would be fine, but anyone who is actually involved in a consulting practice knows that adaptations to plan happen as a normal course of doing business. Imposing tax to a portion of a consultant’s time based on the loosely defined parameters of this legislature is nearly impossible to do with any margin of accuracy.
From a direct business perspective, we at BlueMetal were not going to be impacted directly by this tax law for the following reasons:
- We are not in the business of implementing standardized software as it is defined in the existing Computer Industry Products and Services Regulation, 830 CMR 64H.1.3, as follows:
“computer software, including prewritten upgrades, which is not designed and developed by the author or other creator to the specifications of a specific purchaser. The combining of two or more prewritten computer software programs or prewritten portions thereof does not cause the combination to be other than prewritten computer software. Prewritten computer software includes software designed and developed by the author or other creator to the specifications of a specific purchaser when it is sold to a person other than the specific purchaser. Where a person modifies or enhances computer software of which the person is not the author or creator, the person shall be deemed to be the author or creator only of such person’s modifications or enhancements. …”
- Modifications to prewritten software that are subject to tax under the new law are modifications to software which is licensed, sold or otherwise made available to more than one user, where such prewritten software is modified for the use of a specific customer. The modification may be made either by the original seller/licensor of the software or by a third party. For purposes of this tax on modification, integration, enhancement, installation or configuration of standardized (prewritten) software, prewritten software does not include proprietary code owned by the provider (seller) of the modifications if that proprietary code is not separately licensed to customers. Custom application software (including custom software that incorporates such proprietary code) that is designed to run on a prewritten operating system is treated as custom software and not as a modification of the prewritten operating system software.
- There had been speculation regarding taxability of Open Source software and the State came back in August to revise their response as follows: Open Source Software is available free on the Internet. Thus, no tax applies to the transfer of Open Source software where there is no consideration for the transfer.
- Where we were also concerned initially in regards to our IM services particularly with SharePoint migration and upgrades I researched and found that services regarding data conversion and data migration are considered exempt data processing services and remain non-taxable under the new law so long as the charges are separately stated and set in good faith. This includes data conversion and/or data migration of a customer’s data from the customer’s legacy software to the new system. These data services may include, but are not limited to, formatting data, loading of data, data monitoring, data migration, and data conversion. Data conversion is defined as a process of converting computer data from one format to
However, because of the aforementioned practical application flaws, we have been advocating strongly for the repeal of this legislature. Similarly, in response to push back from the tech community the Governor, the Senate President, Speaker of the House and the Commissioner have all released public statements in support of repealing this new sales tax provision. We applaud the swift action to repeal the tax.
Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.
A few weeks ago I attended the Financial Forecasting & Planning Innovation summit at Boston’s Seaport Hotel. The summit advertises as bringing together finance executives in charge of financial planning and analytics to discuss innovation in the field and learn from each other. Industry conference and trade shows I find to be some of the best places to meet professionals and to learn about the current state of the art. This summit in particular was interesting because it had a strong focus on the technology used by finance forecasting professionals and their experiences in implementing it. As a result it also attracted a fairly large number of salesmen.
It’s been a few years since I have dealt with financial forecasting. Last I left the field it was a sysiphean task of crunching numbers that were obsolete before the results were even ready and meaningful guiding analytics were a vague dream beyond the horizon.
Some things have remained the same – 85% of companies are still spending the majority of their time organizing and collecting financial data and only 15% are using it to steer managerial and executive decisions. CFOs are still being fired for unsuccessful CPM/ERP implementations and financial forecasting consultants are still trying to consume budgets instead of providing value (which drives fear into the financial execs facing new implementations). There is still a dearth of quality software out there.
Here is what I’ve learned about the challenges of the attendees when dealing with their financial software solutions:
1. Most of the work week is spent on organizing data instead of analyzing it. This is the big one. As long as the flow of financial information is not smooth and integrated, the financial professionals will always be serving data, instead of having information serve them.
2. Turning data into information and gaining visibility into the drivers of business processes. Once your organization spends less time on collecting and organizing data, it hits the next wall of trying to convert it into information. This includes establishing key financial metrics for business units and drivers of business processes. The challenge here becomes less technical, instead it appears that most organizations are hesitant to invest large amounts of business analysis time to properly create processes that extract information from the gathered data.
3. Getting buy-in from business owners. This challenge is more political, but the first two challenges may be caused by non-cooperative business owners who shirk their responsibilities to provide visibility into their business units.
4. Owning the financial systems by the finance department instead of relying on external (consultants) or internal (IT) owners. This includes training to be conducted by finance professionals. Finance departments that have previously been hit with scope creep and runaway budgets are now taking the radical step of directly assuming control over the FP&A systems instead of having them managed by the internal IT departments or having a support contract from a consulting company. This underscores the issue of inefficiency of implementations.
5. Fixed price, low cost, quick to implement. Financial software is complex and fallible to all of the standard project management issues such as scope creep, cost and time over-runs. Due to the level of complexity and the critical nature of the software, this can play a bigger role than other internal IT solutions.
While these are ongoing challenges for finance professionals, there are also new opportunities that are opening up for vendors and modern solution creators in this area. One of the larger themes of the conference are the greater expectations of finance professionals from their vendors and their software solutions. I would also like to highlight new opportunities that are not yet matched by quality vendors:
1. It is still difficult to create a financial system that adds values instead of connecting a graphics package to a database. I think the greatest opportunity still remains the lack of investment of business analysis in FP&A software, which leads to the customers spending more time on manual labour. Someday a company will appear that will invest the necessary time to create properly automated FP&A packages.
2. Dealing with different planning strategies. Most FP&A aren’t geared toward different strategy scenarios. What if I want to concentrate on increasing the efficiency over the next 12 months instead of growing the top line? What if we’re interested in contracting by winding down operations instead of growing? How do I plan for that and what financial impact will those scenarios have? I would like that in 3 keystrokes or mouse clicks, please.
3. Dealing with macroeconomic uncertainty and market-level issues. Currently forecasting large macroeconomic events is done mostly by spreadsheets. Tracking the current state of the economy at large and the specific market of a company relative to the financial situation of a company automatically still remains a dream. At some points FP&A systems have to evolve to start including macroeconomic events.
4. Forecasting based on P&L vs balance sheet management. Some businesses require strict covenant and cash planning, either due to the nature of a capital-intensive business or a restructuring plan. Other businesses are in full growth mode and are focusing primarily on their P&L. These two firms require very different methods of planning and similar to scenario planning, the FP&A software has to be able to account for that.
5. Forecasting for Lean methodology. For companies implementing Lean methodology, there currently no convenient to do value stream forecasting to monitor changes in future value addition of different business processes. A quality product in this space would make it a lot easier to manage forecasting for a Lean organization.
6. Integration with product lifecycle management. Most products offered by customers follow the traditional model of product lifecycle management with growth, plateau and decay. Currently it is a struggle to get a financial forecasting package to recognize different stages of a product’s life to plan accordingly.
9. Financial tools for the financially illiterate. Last but not least is the powerful idea that some financial tools should be purposefully designed for the financially illiterate. A lot of business stakeholders do not fully understand basic accounting principles and will not engage with an FP&A effort simply because they are dealing with unfamiliar, complex concepts. There exists a great opportunity in creating simplified products that could be understood by someone without a background in finance.
I hope that these insights were helpful towards understanding the existing challenges and opportunities in the FP&A market. Please don’t forget to comment below if you would like to share your opinion on this blog post.
The team from BlueMetal Architects will be at SharePoint Saturday New Hampshire on 9/21/13.
Derek Cash-Peterson will present “Introduction to IA and Branding for SP 2013.”
In addition, some of our senior developers will be attending sessions and roaming the vendor area.
Registration is free! We hope to see you there!
According to Gartner, video content within the average organization is growing between 50% and 200% annually. Content Management Systems such as SharePoint offer a solution for text-based content, but gaps still exist when it comes to video. Like documents, videos are valuable if they can be easily stored, organized, and found, but the video format has unique challenges which complicate this.
This year, BlueMetal Architects partnered with RAMP to bridge these gaps and deliver video content management solutions to enterprises with large volumes of video content for corporate communications, training, sales enablement and marketing.
On August 28, at 1 pm ET, BlueMetal and RAMP will review the trends in video usage in the enterprise and the ways organizations can make that video more valuable. Specifically, we will explore how SharePoint 2013 natively supports video and add-ons that provide additional capabilities to make video a first-class citizen in the enterprise.
The team from BlueMetal Architects will be at SQL Saturday NYC this Saturday, 8/17/13.
We are sponsors of the event, where SQL MVP Ted Krueger will present “Upgrading to SQL Server 2012 with Limited Downtime” at 9 am.
In addition, some of our senior developers will be attending sessions and roaming the vendor hall. We hope to see you there!
The Information Management team from BlueMetal Architects is out and about at SPTechCon Boston this week.
On Tuesday night, 8/13/13, Sadie Van Buren will be a panelist at the Boston Area SharePoint Users Group, which takes place within SPTechCon.
On Wednesday, we’ll present the following technical sessions:
8:30 am – Empowering Business with Hybrid Code/No-Code Solutions – Bob German
2:00 pm – What’s your Social IQ? Succeeding with SharePoint Social – Sadie Van Buren and Chris McNulty
3:45 pm – Future-Proof Your SharePoint Customizations: Build 2010 Solutions That Become 2013 Apps – Bob German. Note: This talk will include a real-world demo developed by BlueMetal’s Julie Turner, and is related to the recent blog post on Microsoft’s Third App Model.
In addition, some of our senior developers are attending sessions and roaming the expo floor at various times in the week. We hope to see you there!
In the first of our three part series, we will be talking about Brand, understanding how it works, and how to secure its consistency for the future.
So you and a friend are in a heated debate about whether Apple is better than Microsoft or if Google is the frontrunner that will beat them all in a race to take over the world. Suddenly someone pipes up that they still believe Lotus Notes was a good idea and you all have a good laugh at his expense.
Why do conversations like this so often become personal? Why does your blood boil when someone thinks your expensive smartphone is lame?
One word – brand.
Brands aren’t just logos (though a logo is important) – a brand, well done, is the feeling you get when you think of a company, as if that company was a friend or relative, which is why you defend it so vigorously. (“No one talks about my family like that!”)
How do good brands get created? By looking at two things – the common characteristics of your employees, and the common characteristics of the products or services you offer. Looking for common characteristics helps your business grow because when you develop a new product, it can be designed based on the characteristics of your brand. A great example of this is Google, who has gone through a major brand initiative – though you may not have noticed its impact until now, with Google Glass. Here is their story:
In 2009 designer Douglas Bowman resigned from Google and published an article on his experiences and frustrations trying to bring design to the then extremely data-focused Google. Because of this article, Google gained a reputation for stifling creativity through data, which is not what any company priding itself on innovation wants to be known for. If anything, Google was TOO innovative, producing hundreds of apps that were inconsistent, both in look and behavior, giving the overall impression that Google wasn’t on top of things. Google was becoming a product company and in order to grow and maintain market share, it would have to start laying foundations for the tenets that make a ‘Google product’.
This initiative was attempted in 2007 but failed because there were too many tenets. So Google wrote a manifesto of what they believed in to help guide the creative and user experience teams. These product teams retried successfully in 2011 by focusing purely on unifying successful products under this philosophy– Drive, Gmail, Hangout – to create a consistent and usable experience across the entire suite. You’ll note that Google now offers a consistent experience across all products, and this creates a sense of brand.
A common philosophy also means that when designing a completely new product such as Google Glass, it becomes easier to have ‘controlled innovation’ – invention with that unique secret sauce that makes it a Google invention. Think of Google Glass and read the manifesto– you’ll note how it makes perfect sense for Google and how this could never have been an Apple product because Apple believes in different values.
So how do you create a strong, well-defined brand across your own organization? The first thing is to define your philosophy. Write it down: what do you and your fellow employees believe in? Value? A survey can help collect the answers objectively. Solicit your customers’ point of view as well, so as not to limit yourself. Look at characteristics of what you’ve done previously and look for the commonalities (e.g. you may have done everything from a large CRM database to a mobile app but if the methods you did had common elements such as high quality, or speed, then those should become part of your philosophy).
Once your values and your philosophy are written down, everything else flows from them. The tagline, which can change over time, is really a boiled-down version of your philosophy into a crisp phrase. Your processes, the way you do things, should be aligned to your philosophy. Finally your logo, printed materials, and digital materials should be the visual expression of your philosophy. This is often challenging for companies because they don’t understand how a graphic can express a philosophy, so I’ll give a few examples:
Google – two things make up the logo here, the word which is a derivation of googol (10 to power of 100), suggesting many, and the visual version of that – the use of multiple colors to suggest a wide ranging database, the serif font suggesting inclusiveness, friendliness (compare this to IBM’s logo which has a more powerful feeling)
Apple – The apple suggests invention, discovery. The design of the logo is about simplicity, saying the most with the least elements. Premium. High quality. These are an expression of their philosophy which is about innovative premium products, well designed. (Note the change in time for the logo to reflect this current philosophy.)
IBM – powerful, technological. The logo conveys solidity and permanence while being lightened by the horizontal stripes, and is timeless enough to have lasted 40 years without a revision.
So, in summary, here are the steps to creating a good brand:
- Research – research yourself, and research companies you’d liketo emulate, and check if they are similar to your vision. Include your employees and customers in this research.
- Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make your brand like a brand you really admire but which frankly has nothing to do with your business. For example, if you are a consulting company, look at brands like Deloitte and Accenture. Don’t choose Apple or Microsoft because those are product companies that have entirely different needs in expressing their brand.
- Look for commonalities in your people and your products/services and describe them using words like ”beautiful”, ”authentic”, ”dedicated” etc. It is also fine to use words to describe your aspirations, as long as they are extenstions of what you currently are (e.g. “creative” is not an appropriate extension if your core words are “intelligent,” “diligent,” “detail oriented”). Be aspirational, and be positive.
- Design your mission statement, tagline, logo and visual brand and benchmark against these commonalities (ask “Does this logo communicate a feeling of authenticity? If not, what does it describe? Is it too flashy, too cold, etc?”)
- Once all aspects of your brand are defined, standardize them to ensure consistency. Producing a style guide that explains the brand but also how to use the logo/fonts etc. is a vital manual for your brand to succeed. It’s important to nominate someone internally to ensure the brand follows the style guide rules.
- Finally, communicate the change internally to your company. By making them part of the research you are setting up the expectation of change, and by taking the time to explain how their input resulted in a great brand, you are enabling them to be advocates and ambassadors when they communicate the company value proposition to others.
The brand, once defined, must be safeguarded to ensure a consistency globally. Assigning someone to ‘gatekeep’ the brand is an important step in ensuring its growth and correct application.
In our next post we’ll talk about translating your brand to digital experiences and maintaining that standard.
BlueMetal Architects announces the promotion of Derek Cash-Peterson to Practice Director, Information Management, for the company’s Boston practice.
Derek is passionate about building visually appealing and intuitive applications. He has over 13 years of industry experience building customized intranets, extranets, and ‘www’ sites based on the Microsoft content management stack. He specializes in SharePoint branding and user experience, which includes designing and building SharePoint solutions for his clients, creating strong site designs, and developing exceptional user experiences, often assuming the role of translator between the design team, internal IT staff, and end users. In addition to his client work, Derek blogs about Web Content Management and Information Management at http://spdcp.com/, and is an active participant in the SharePoint community as a speaker at conferences, events and user groups.
This month, at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference, BlueMetal Architects was named “U.S. Windows Accelerate MAAP Execution Excellence Partner of the Year for 2013.”
The Microsoft Application Acceleration Program (MAAP) supports Microsoft’s customers who are interested in building custom line-of-business or business-to-consumer Windows 8 applications. The program provides funding assistance to help customers be among the first to develop Windows 8 applications, positioning themselves as industry leaders on this platform.
“BlueMetal Architects has shown commitment to successful execution with customers and our program management team. This dedication to execution excellence has been apparent in the great growth in pipeline BlueMetal has experienced this year,” said Jane Boulware, Vice President for U.S. Windows Client. “We’re excited to work with BlueMetal in 2014 to help companies invest in the future and re-imagine their mobile experience.”
Over the past year, BlueMetal has created Windows 8 applications through the program for clients in each of the company’s three locations. The applications range from line of business solutions to consumer-facing apps in variety of industries, including Financial Services, Health Care, Manufacturing, and Distribution.