system audits

Project Management
5 Steps to Successful Software Project Management
5 Steps to Successful Software Project Management 1024 683 Josie Walledge

Embedding good project management practice at the very heart of the software development process is one of the secrets behind our success at Software Solved.  We have our own tried and tested process for ensuring timely and budgeted delivery which sits at the core of everything we do. But underpinning that are some sound principles that any successful project manager should follow for optimum success.

1       Manage expectations

Clients don’t like surprises! The ability to set and manage expectations, particularly in relation to time, budget and scope is key. Set out a strategy for formal and informal communication – be it weekly calls, face to face meetings, written reports or daily stand-ups and you’ll be able to pre-empt and manage the element of surprise.

2       Plan and monitor the project

You’d be surprised how often proper project planning is neglected, resulting in failure. Planning doesn’t just mean preparing a schedule: it means ensuring you have an understanding of who needs to do what, when and why; the governance model and methodology you will be following; how you will communicate internally and externally; what your key milestones and deliverables are; how you will demonstrate project success; risks; quality; financials; managing change; etc.

Planning should be a collaborative process with input from multiple sources. Start by agreeing a Project Initiation Document and baseline Schedule with the client. Monitor and update plans regularly, adapting to changes in scope, resource availability, business and organisational needs and project risks and issues.

3       Deliver the right solution first time

Too often in software development the delivered solution does not meet client expectations. In this industry, the later a defect is detected, the more expensive it is to resolve.

Our Business Analysts have developed a rock-solid process for capturing, documenting and validating user and business requirements and for ensuring they are managed and tracked throughout the project lifecycle. The key is in helping clients to understand their business drivers and user needs, and working with stakeholders to define a clear, unambiguous statement of work supported by a robust business case.

Test project deliverables regularly against those requirements so that delivered product and client expectation are aligned. Use document walkthroughs, UI design mock-ups, show & tell sessions with developers, sharing of system test results, and user acceptance testing against defined acceptance criteria. At every step, give clients the opportunity to verify that their expectations are being met so that no surprises await in the later stages.

4       Manage scope

One of the project manager’s responsibilities is to ensure that only the required work will be performed and that each of the deliverables can be completed in the allotted time and within budget. Another reason projects fail is a lack of control of the scope resulting in spiralling costs and missed deadlines. Clients may request additional features, analysts may over-spec the requirements, developers may seek to ‘gold-plate’ a feature and testers identify ‘defects’ that are really new features. The PM must be constantly vigilant for such changes and ensure that any deviation from the requirements baseline is managed with the client. Embedding a culture of awareness to change can lead to opportunities for new business.

5       Learn from your mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes! What differentiates a successful project team is the ability to understand and learn from them. Many of the most successful IT companies in the world actively celebrate failure and see it as part of the continuous improvement cycle, driving positive change in the organisation.

Like us, maintain a ‘Lessons Learned’ log from inception through to client acceptance. Encourage team members to recognise where things have gone wrong, think about the impact of their mistakes and identify ways to prevent them happening in the future.

Do you have a software project that you could use some help with or do you simply want a chat about an upcoming idea? You can call us on 01392 453344 or email us at hello@softwaresolved.com

 

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How System Audits Help Charities Improve Efficiency
How System Audits Help Charities Improve Efficiency 1024 682 Simon Hollingworth

All businesses face pressure to make the most from tight budgets. It is charities and non-profits, however, who experience this pressure more than most.

Improving Efficiency and Productivity

With complex governance and shoestring budgets, the third sector needs to make every penny count. System audits offer an effective way of maximising an organisation’s efficiency. In fact, they could be one of the most profitable projects you undertake.

A system audit may not seem like the most effective use of time or resource, but they can be. System audits make every penny spent on IT and systems work far harder. Whilst they may not represent a direct return on investment, they improve efficiency and productivity of the entire organisation.

Preventing a System Crisis or Breakdown

Regular system maintenance is far more cost effective than an entire disaster recovery. If a system were to malfunction, the unexpected cost of repair can be crippling. When it comes to your IT and systems, prevention is far better than the cure.

Not only do system audits help keep your system network healthy, they identify problems before they become critical. Often, breakdowns arise from simple oversights that a system audit would catch.

Maximising the Return on Investment of a System

There are few better ways to improve organisational efficiency than a system audit. By assessing how stakeholders use systems, they often highlight knowledge and skills gaps that you may not be aware of. This ensures that systems meet their full potential, whilst also identifying new opportunities. If you need to improve or modernise a system, an audit will highlight it.

System audits also reveal new opportunities for innovation and integration. By better integrating disparate systems, you can streamline processes and avoid duplicating work. This helps free up resources for more beneficial tasks and improves efficiency.

The data that system audits provide about operations is invaluable when considering investment. It will help prioritise particular systems and identify what needs to be maintained, modernised or replaced. This helps build a clear picture of your system network and the true value of an update.

Supporting Digital Innovation for Charities

Organisations process more data than ever before, with data security becoming increasingly important. One of the more technical benefits of a system audit is that it provides more control of sensitive data. This is even more crucial for charities, who often need to optimise pathways through complex and regulated processes. If you’re thinking GDPR at this point you’re on the right track.

Charities and non-profits are already acknowledging the need to embrace new technology. This will have a drastic impact on how charities operate, internally and externally.

In this way, regular system audits have never been more valuable for charities. Each new innovation presents a new set of questions; ones that system audits can help answer. Only through regular health checks can an organisation be confident in the long-term viability of their systems.

Otherwise, you could find yourself throwing good money after bad – something that charities can ill afford to do.

If you are a charity or non-profit who need support with an external system audit, talk to us today or call us on 0203 281 7342.

System Audits in the Insurance Industry
System Audits in the Insurance Industry 1024 658 Simon Hollingworth

The insurance industry is frequently accused of being slow to adapt. We often hear about the burden of legacy systems and how they cause problems for the industry.

It’s no surprise when you consider the scope, disruption and cost of updating a legacy system. Yet, with so much money left on the table and businesses at risk from more agile competitors, insurance firms must face up to modernisation.

So, when is the right time to maintain, modernise or completely replace a legacy system? This is a difficult question to answer, but regular system audits can help solve this problem.

Adapting legacy systems

As the insurance industry grew and developed, systems had to adapt to meet the demand. This meant patches and updates beyond a system’s original scope, which complicated them.

Many of the legacy systems used in the insurance industry will be decades old. Countless updates will have transformed them, adapting to each new regulation or requirement.

Modernising or replacing a system can be a big risk for an organisation. Nobody wants to disrupt business critical systems. What if the new system doesn’t work as intended? Or your clients and customers don’t like the changes?

If a system stopped working one day, the decision to invest in something new would be much simpler. But it won’t. It will keep plugging along. A new process here; a rushed update there.

That’s the problem. Legacy systems still ‘work’. But how well?

When should you update a legacy system?

A system audit looks at how your organisation uses all your systems. It gives you precise usage data and identifies priorities for modernisation or replacement.

This is often invaluable when trying to build a business case for investing in new software. Without this information, it’s almost impossible to assess the true value of an update.

In short, system audits help answer the question of whether you should maintain, modernise or replace a legacy system.

New technologies in the insurance industry

So, why has the insurance industry been slow to update ageing legacy systems? According to a survey by Willis Towers Watson, 42% of senior level executives believe that complex regulations slow digital adoption and innovation.

It would be easy to dismiss new technology as another regulatory hurdle to overcome. In reality, the insurance industry stands to gain more from developments such as the Internet of Things or data visualisation than most. More data points and machine learning assist with risk profiling, as well as the accurate and timely provision of data.

Of course, firms shouldn’t adopt these technologies in isolation. You should consider them in relation to the impact they will have on the performance and security of existing systems.

Again, a regular system audit helps ease the adoption of new technologies. It considers your entire system network, identifying appropriate solutions for the wider business.

Systems audits and business agility

We know that global insurance firms are being disrupted by more nimble competitors. Today, more than ever, business agility is imperative to remaining competitive. Firms must adapt to new models and ways of operating quicker than ever before.

For example, the market is currently experiencing a trend towards self-service and customer experience. Whilst this is most prominent in consumer insurance, we know from our own experience that corporate and commercial insurance isn’t that far behind.

How do you know when to adopt these new practices and technologies? A system audit builds a picture of how your business uses its systems so that you can prioritise accordingly. In other words, it helps a business stay agile.

By understanding your current systems, it is easier to assess the value of new technology. You become better informed and can be quicker to adapt when it is necessary.

Instead of reacting to changes, firms who use system audits can proactively plan for them. It creates a forward thinking culture, rather than one that is always fighting fires with patches and updates.

Which, if we’re being honest, is something that the insurance industry needs to be better prepared for.

If your business needs support with an external system audit.

The Business Case for Regular System Audits
The Business Case for Regular System Audits 1024 682 Simon Hollingworth

We call them ‘healthchecks’. You might call them ‘system reviews’. But, whatever name they go by, system audits are rarely an easy sell with the director or the board. They can take a long time to complete, the associated costs may not have been budgeted for and they might divert resources from the delivery of other business projects.

Whilst that may sound pretty damning, the truth is that they actually provide value and competitive advantage, if you know how to leverage them. So, if you’re struggling to get sign-off, we’ve prepared the business case for regular system audits…

System audits improve cost efficiencies and return on investment

One of the major benefits of a system audit is that it can help you assess how those systems are performing. Whether it’s shelfware or a bespoke system, you need to ensure that you’re getting a return from your investment and the system is performing as it should be.

Whilst this could mean examining the underlying code, a system audit also takes how the system is being used into consideration, identifying solutions to improve efficiency and performance.

Many organisations will have business critical systems, yet fail to properly utilise them. In the case of legacy systems, many of your most senior employees may not know how a system functions, which can cause significant inefficiencies and is, in essence, a wasted investment and use of budget.

It’s important to remember that the person or team performing the audit need to be impartial, which is why businesses often engage a third party or external supplier. This ensures that there is no vested interest in the review, so you don’t end up with the developer of a system trying to gloss over it’s flaws and inefficiencies.

System audits can be required for valuable system accreditations

As data and information security becomes more important to clients and consumers, demonstrating the security capabilities through an accreditation or industry standard will become even more valuable for businesses.

Often, accredited certifications and regulatory frameworks will require evidence of regular and robust system audits. If your business wants to achieve or maintain ISO 27001 standards, you’ll need to have a system audit in place.

Not only will a system audit help you demonstrate that your business meets the necessary standards, it will also identify any problems and resolve them if there are gaps in your system security.

System audits ensure legal compliance with licensing agreements

A robust system audit will consider the terms of your software licensing and any compliance issues that you may not be aware of. It may not sound exciting but it could save your business tens of thousands of pounds.

If you’re a large business or enterprise using shelfware, eventually the publisher will come calling with a software audit request to ensure that you’re fulfilling the terms of your contract. They want to see if you’re using more software than you should be, which they are legally entitled to do.

The number of software audit requests are only going to increase as well, as publishers like Microsoft, IBM and Adobe respond to rising cloud integration, which makes the issue of licensing significantly more complex.

As software is moved to a cloud environment in your own data centre, you open yourself up to a number of licensing issues. For all of the benefits, it also makes it very easy for users to take on more services than they need and violate license agreements. In fact, because it is harder to track, simply moving to the cloud may alert a publisher that it’s high time for a software audit.

A system audit, however, catches this early and rectifies it by identifying if you are overbuying or underbuying, which is well worth doing, because…

System audits protect your business from penalties and outstanding fees

If you are found to be using more than your agreement indicates, you could be liable for penalties, retroactive charges and outstanding licence fees. By this point, it will be too late to revise your licence and someone will be in hot water for not having identified the problem sooner.

Of course, regular system audits can prevent this from ever happening, ensuring that you’re fully compliant with your licensing and terms of service. Not only that, they also minimise any business disruption software audit requests can have, by providing readily available usage data.

So, it’s pretty plain to see that in this case, the prevention (a regular system audit) is much, much better than the cure (paying a lot of money in penalties).

If your business needs support with an external system audit, or to discuss your business software needs, talk to us today, or call us on 0203 281 7342.