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Author: Judy Nichols

Expanding our team, again!

We are thrilled to welcome Ed McGillis as our VP of Emerging Technologies, whose focus will be on identifying and evaluating technology opportunities, pollinating the best approach for our company, and helping to put together strategic and value added solutions for our customers. Ed brings a strong and diverse background to this effort and his initial undertaking will be to lead us into greater strength in the Business Intelligence and Machine Learning Space – focusing as always on the Microsoft Platforms – within Azure. 

Ed graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Ed then went on to earn his Master’s degree in Computer Science from the College of Engineering at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and he also currently holds the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. 

Ed has spent nearly two decades in Technology, with the last decade spent in the professional services and consulting arenas. He started his career with Olin Corporation / Winchester working both in the office and out in the field creating and deploying technology solutions for office and factory workers.  

Ed eventually moved on to accept a Senior Consultant position at Quilogy (later purchased by Aspect Software). This is where Ed was able to discover his passion for professional services by servicing Customers and delivering truly differentiated and value added solutions. Over the next decade, this passion allowed Ed to hold multiple roles of increasing responsibility at Aspect Software culminating in a role as Director of Professional Services with oversight of Aspect’s worldwide Business Intelligence, CRM, Collaboration, and Self Service practices. 

Reach out to @Ed McGillis, @Greg Petrites, @Jessica Gray, or @Judy Nichols. We’d love to talk to you about what is going on in your organization. We’re committed to driving change across the enterprise by taking advantage of the Breakpoint Pause! #Azure #AI, #MachineLearning


Curses! Foiled Again!

…even the best laid plans need adjustments.

 A few years ago, my husband set to work building a set of garden boxes for me. My requirements were (relatively) simple – tall enough to keep the dogs out and long enough to hold a substantial herb garden and several tomatoes/peppers. After extensive discussion and negotiation, those requirements were translated into actual plans that we both agreed upon. We purchased the supplies and the labor portion of the project began. 

 The results appeared to be just what I asked for, if not exactly what he had originally thought would be a simple easy project, two beautiful 4′ wide by 3′ tall by 10′ long boxes with an additional 4′ square box that was also 3′ tall. Several bags of organic gardening dirt and shovels of humus from my composter later, it was ready for planting. I moved all of my herbs into their new home and planted some beautiful heirloom tomatoes along with cherry tomatoes and bell peppers and sat back to wait for the harvest. 

Over the summer, the heirloom tomatoes grew slowly. The first ones just starting to ripen in late July. We couldn’t wait to eat them! But just as the first tomato was at its peak of ripeness, it was stolen out from under us. Watson, our diabolical Flat Coated Retriever tomato thief, had jumped into the garden box to help himself to the tomato. Apparently, he had also been waiting patiently for it to hit the right moment of perfection. Throughout the summer, despite all of our efforts, he continued to raid the garden and steal tomatoes to the extent that if we did not pick them green and ripen them inside, we had none. A definite requirement fail!

 But this summer, I thought I had him. Time for a project adjustment. When I planted my tomatoes, I put stakes all around the box. I could easily reach in and pick tomatoes but there was no way he could squeeze his 80 pound body past the stakes to get into the box. As tomato season came on, I laughed at him every time I picked ripened tomatoes for our family to eat. I could see him watching closely and trying to figure out how to get to those tomatoes. 

 By mid-August, the tomato plants had really started to branch out and expand beyond the borders of the box. The stakes couldn’t contain them and if I tried to keep them inside there wasn’t enough light for the rest of the plant. As soon as any branches moved beyond the stakes, the tomatoes were no longer mine. Watson claimed them no matter how high he had to jump to pick them. At this point, we were left with a compromise – he claimed the outside tomatoes and we would have the inside tomatoes – because sometimes you have to work with the reality of the situation and not just be tied to the requirements that sounded good on paper.  Plus, how do you not love a dog that works so hard to eat tomatoes?

The WIT bar was set high long ago!

Some amazing women showed us how things should be done.

 Being involved in Women In Technology (WIT) programs, support groups, and special events has meant much to me over the years. Whether it has been as an attendee or an organizer, I’ve always found much value in learning from other women about their progress in a field that can often feel gender lonely. The goal for any of these groups or events is to encourage women in technology fields, to grow their knowledge and skill sets, and to bring awareness and brainstorm solutions to issues that block progress. Many times, we’ve felt as if we were pioneers – often blazing the trail for women everywhere! A recent trip to the movies, followed by a good read, taught me otherwise. That some amazing women did that long ago against much greater barriers than I’ve ever experienced.

 Like many others, I was anxiously awaiting “Hidden Figures” when it hit movie theaters and went to see it in early January. The movie captivated me for many reasons, first because of the compelling storyline of women who achieved so much, and helped our country achieve huge goals, despite living in a segregated world that made everyday life something that had to be much more painful and frustrating than the movie could ever portray. As someone who works in technology, it was so interesting to learn about “human computers” and to get a glimpse of the changeover to the IBM computer at NASA.  But as the movie evolved, it hit me that what we were seeing onscreen were some of the very first WIT meetings! The human computer teams were meeting together to learn new technologies, to share ideas, and to figure out how to support each other as the world around them changed – so that they would be ready for the next set of challenges.

 As I left the theater, I knew that I needed to learn more about this story. So I downloaded the book, because we all know the book is always better than the movie and this one did not disappoint. (Topic of a future post!) I can tell you that this book should be required reading for every technology program. Because the book details a history of women who not only worked hard to improve areas at NASA for human computing, computer science, and women, but also for engineering, for their male colleagues, for management, and for human resources. In some cases, they gave up their own promotions in order to take a position that allowed them to provide better opportunities for others in the organization.  They were also instrumental outside in their communities for girl scouts, for churches, for colleges, for schools, and everywhere they saw a need.  Reading the book makes you realize that the movie is just a small tribute to the magnitude of what these women accomplished in their lifetimes. 

 These women went beyond holding meetings and giving talks to living out and doing what needed to be done. They saw things that required change and they made it happen. They worked extremely hard and remembered that someone else would probably need help getting in the door so they looked outside and held it open. They understood discrimination personally and were willing to help others who didn’t look like them. There is much we can learn from them, if we take the time to hear their story. I’m very thankful that it is no longer hidden. 

Today we pause

All of us at Breakpoint Technology would like to pause for a moment today, to thank our coworker Mike DeSalvo as well as our many family members and friends for their service to our country.  Your selfless choices are appreciated and respected.  We hope someday to live in a world where peace rules all lands. 

Isn’t It Cool?

Not too long ago, the project manager for one of my project sets pinged me with a quick question and at the end of our IM session she commented  “This is so cool!” And it was. Because she was a client, not a member of my organization, and we were using a new tool set (Skype for Business) that allowed us to communicate and collaborate together. One super-efficient ping allowed us both to move forward with answers both organizations needed.

 But even the coolest tool set would have made little difference if we had not already laid the groundwork for a great working relationship. We may not have reported to the same organization, but we truly worked together as one team. Operating under full transparency, holding each other accountable, clearly outlining goals and objectives, and fully understanding what success looked like helped us navigate the many obstacles and opportunities involved in a multi-project relationship. Effective communication and collaboration help you work through problems, develop workable solutions, and build a true partnership based on trust and respect. 

 As I reflect back on the past several years and many, many customers, there are far more that fit into the category of having a strong partner relationship than those in which we maintained a more formal vendor only connection. Certainly every customer in which there was more than one project that we completed together aligns well under this model. Customer projects in which the teams enjoy working together and have a deeper understanding of the business goals often discover even more beneficial ideas for the organization – because they both truly care about the outcome. 

 We’ve found that creating this type of relationship starts with the very first introductory meetings by providing the level of transparency we plan to continue throughout the engagement. Going on to establish the communication paths, demonstrating the ability to discuss difficult topics respectfully, and to follow through on commitments and establish accountability on both sides will generally tell us very quickly if this will be a relationship that lasts. This process has served us well in growing trusted client relationships that have lasted 10 years!

 If you’d like to discuss some business process improvements or ideas with us, or perhaps get an idea of what it is like to build a partner relationship rather than just talk to an IT vendor – reach out to us at judy.nichols@breakpoint.technology. Because finding ways to improve the way you do business is always cool!

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

If only we all had a wise Reverend Mother around to advise us!

 I think it is a safe bet that most of you didn’t just read the title of this article, you had to sing it, even if it was just in your mind. We’re all very familiar with Maria – the good hearted, impulsive, loving, musical, quirky, big screen version of the real life Maria von Trapp – who was just not cut out to be a quiet, demure nun no matter how hard she tried or how strong her faith. In this song, the nuns have quite a good time singing about the trials and tribulations of dealing with Maria while they try very hard to make her follow the strict rules required for life within the Abbey. Luckily for Maria, she had a wise advisor in the Reverend Mother who encouraged her to find her true path rather than trying to force her into a mold that didn’t fit.

 Many times when we get called in to work with a client, we find that they have their own version of a Maria. They have taken a great tool or application, when used for its actual purpose, and tried to force it into being the solution for a business problem that is either far beyond its capabilities or for which it was never originally designed. Then, when the solution fails to meet expectations they are frustrated at the continued problems, expense, and lost productivity. Once again, a Maria is forced into a situation in which she can never be successful. 

 Often, we will find that a product was purchased for the sole purpose of providing a solution to a problem. Yet, only 10% of its features and functionality apply to that solution and have been explored, leaving the remainder of it virtually useless and unused. The next problem that comes up, another product will be purchased, again with only 10-15% being used, with no connection to the first product. Perhaps the unused functionality could offer significantly more to the enterprise? Maybe a different product, more specialized to the need would have been more appropriate? Two Marias left to never achieve their full potential, at great cost to the organization.  

 So how do you avoid creating your own Maria situation? Taking the time to fully understand the business problem is always the first step. It is not enough to simply say, “We need better reports.” Why? What are you trying to accomplish? What is it that you want to drive within your business? Who is accessing them? What do they do with the information? What information do they really need? This is often the part of the process that gets the least amount of funding and attention. Yet time and again the data shows us that poor planning leads to poor projects. Following that, putting in place the right checks and balances throughout your project so that you are ensuring that you are developing a solution that makes sense for your organization fiscally, technically, and from a people perspective is key. Give it the Reverend Mother test – are you rushing to throw something in place? Or are you testing out your plan and looking for the open doors and windows?

 Having the right team to help you through this process can be a huge help. At Breakpoint Technology our focus is on the long term result rather than the short term quick win. We have years of experience helping customers learn how to hit the right notes with their applications and we’d love to help you Climb Every Mountain to success! Reach out to us on LinkedInhttp://breakpoint.technology, or email/SfB at judy.nichols@breakpoint.technology.

Leveraging the breakpoint to take full advantage of that pause!

In software development, a breakpoint is an intentional stopping or pausing point in a program, put in place for debugging purposes. It is also sometimes simply referred to as a pause.  

So many times when we are working with a client, we will find that we get called in because they have reached the point where disaster has happened.  Systems are failing, critical information can no longer be found, reports can’t be run, deadlines aren’t being met, and often our client’s customers are extremely unhappy.  Or perhaps, they are finding that the daily processes they previously developed, that once seemed to make so much sense, have become so complicated and burdensome that it just isn’t possible to maintain them with the current workloads.  These clients need a pause to determine the best course of action to move forward and solve their problems.

Of course, that pause sometimes occurs intentionally before the crisis.  A client recognizes that growth is occurring and wants to define more effective and efficient processes to enable and encourage that growth.  Using the pause to evaluate existing processes against expected growth and to design for the future allows the client to proactively make the changes needed to stay at the top of their game.

Our commitment to our clients in the situations highlighted above is first and foremost in our minds as we launch Breakpoint Technology today.  The concept behind a breakpoint, as an intentional stopping or pausing point that is used to debug – or find the problem – and then determine the resolution, is a cornerstone for what we bring to our customers.  Breakpoint Technology leverages this concept in our approach as we:

  • Assess the current situation
  • Understand the business problem before proposing a technical solution
  • Define a problem’s boundaries and focus on real issues before taking actions
  • Identify the source of problem and the root causes
  • Determine the possible along with the necessary changes
  • Learn before acting
  • Refactor (the business process) for efficiencies and long term supportability
  • Modularize to reduce unnecessary dependencies
  • Lean toward Incremental changes over the cool big bang

 Just as the breakpoint is used in software development to step through problems and improve the overall performance of the program, Breakpoint Technology’s goal is to work hand in hand with our customers as they step through their business processes and improve the performance within their enterprise.  This is never a short term, one stop solution, but a long term partnership built on an expectation of a trusted relationship.  We’re excited to be kicking off today with some of those partners we’ve worked with for several years.  If you’d like to discuss the pause needed in your business today ping me on Skype for Business or via email at judy.nichols@breakpoint.technology .