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Embracing Technology to Reduce Redundancy and Increase Efficiency

By Jason Kephart, CIO, Terracon


Jason Kephart, CIO, Terracon

Microsoft Applications Supporting Engineering Operations

Terracon has developed and deployed Microsoft technologies like ASP.NET, VB.NET, SharePoint, Lync, and SQL Server, which layer all the information contained within our e-business suite to provide critical business information to our employees, and to ultimately include in deliverables to our clients. We have a line of business applications to support engineering operations and have internal staff that specializes in the development of .NETtechnologies. Our Information Technology group delivers technology solutions which support both the Operational and Strategic Plans for the company, providing technology to our employees to meet the changing needs of the business. Strategically developing on the Microsoft platform has allowed us to streamline the data entry process, reduce the entry of redundant information, and build efficiencies in each of our line of business applications.

Licensing and Cloud Solutions–A Concern

For any enterprise, I believe it is necessary to regularly sit down and discuss products and licensing for any Microsoft systems your organization is currently using, or may use in the future,to understand how they’re applicable to an organization. Microsoft’s licensing frequently changes and is not well understood by most parties. I often had to get Microsoft’s licensing and legal team involved to better understand their licensing and how it applies to our organization. You need to understand both the technology and the business case for the software use to make an effective licensing decision.

In my opinion, Microsoft is moving more towards a services company, and are trying to move their customers into a subscription-based model in the cloud, like Office 365. If you already have on-premise Microsoft technology deployed, or have internal staff capable of implementing and maintaining Microsoft technologies, you need to really understand how you’re utilizing any of the products and then understand what the Microsoft offering is in the cloud before moving to it. In some cases, you may lose functionality or pay for functionality that you are not using when you move to the cloud platform.

.Net and Microsoft Communication are More Responsive

Terracon has developed an entire suite of .NETapplications where we automate the creation of client deliverables for our business line practice. The functionality of the applications vary from portals, Business Intelligence dashboards, to Terracon’s SharePoint based Intranet, to total project lifecycle and digital delivery of reports to our clients. The integration of Microsoft products from the back office to the front office and field allow our employees to be more responsive to our clients.

“Strategically developing on the Microsoft platform has allowed us to streamline the data entry process, and reduce the entry of redundant information”

Along the lines of responsiveness, Terracon also utilizes Microsoft’s platform for Unified Communications, Lync, which has greatly enhanced the abilities of our employees to collaborate and get connected with the right individuals through presence, instant messaging, desktop sharing, video conferencing, email, and voice communication.  The Unified Communications platform improves the speed and efficiency within the organization, and provides employees multiple ways to get in touch with the right people and share information faster than ever before. Because of the interoperability between Microsoft products, Terracon has been able to inject the capabilities of Lync into many of our line of business applications as well, further improving the responsiveness of our employees.

Leveraging Information for Increase in Productivity

Microsoft understands enterprises well, as they’ve been in this space a long time. The integration of their products is of great value to an organization, specifically at the employee productivity level. The integration of Microsoft technologies like Excel and Word, as well as Microsoft Outlook, Lync, and SharePoint, make it easy for employees to use these tools as the information transitions between the products. This makes the adoption of the technology easier for employees and increases productivity.

 Continuous Innovation in Microsoft

Most of the engineering products our employees use are run on the Microsoft Windows platform, and in many cases they integrate very tightly with Microsoft Office. Looking forward, it is hard to envision a time when that will not be the case.  As long as we understand Microsoft’s roadmap for their products, and are able to utilize our internal capabilities on the .NET development platform, we are doing more of an evolution of change rather than a revolution of change. This reduces the learning curve for our employees and makes them more effective in their roles.

Understanding Microsoft’s Licensing Implications

If your organization utilizes Microsoft technologies, and has a volume licensing agreement in place with Microsoft, like an Enterprise Agreement, Server and Cloud Infrastructure Agreement, or a Select Agreement, you should have people on staff that have a deep understanding of Microsoft licensing. My background initially was in Application Development and Consulting, after which I spent several years on the Infrastructure side, designing, implementing, and supporting many of Microsoft’s back office products and server products. After more than 20 years of being in IT, I’ve been exposed to most of Microsoft’s products and platforms, and have a reasonable understanding of their product use rights and licensing models for them. If you have a member of your staff, or a trusted consultant or advisor for your organization who understands what your technology needs are, it levels the playing field with Microsoft when sitting down to discuss licensing. I know I have mentioned this before, but it is important to only pay for what you need and only license the products or services that improve the current technology offering your IT group provides to the organization.

Advice to Fellow CIOs

Find a trusted consultant–a Microsoft partner that has a broad range of services. Plan for this to be a long-term relationship, not a tactical engagement when your organization is looking to invest in new or different products or services. The consultant should understand the goals of your organization, your current technology infrastructure and services, as well as your internal capabilities.

An additional recommendation is to get connected with local groups; Kansas City has a couple of CIO groups where we openly discuss our initiatives, challenges, and successes. Additionally, we discuss technology options, vendor capabilities, and technology partners we have used to assist in the delivery of technology solutions. For me personally, it’s been critical to use these groups either as a sounding board or to learn about new products or opportunities that companies, like Microsoft, are providing.

In the end, the more information you have access to and the broader your network of trusted peers, the better armed you are as a CIO to make the critical business decisions to move your technology group and organization forward. Microsoft technologies can be used to move the needle on employee productivity, but you need to be smart about what you are putting in place. As a CIO, you have to be strategic in the implementation of the technology, make sure you are paying for only what you need, and have a clear understanding of when you are able to implement the functionality you are including in the agreements you sign.

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