Competitive Threats Driving Digital Adaptation

While digital adaptation may evoke visions of continuous improvement and innovation-led initiatives, the real impetus behind digital adaptation is more basic – survival. 70% of B2B companies have digital adaptation projects underway in direct response to competitive threats, according to a recent poll of 300 leading business-to-business companies. Three main sources of competitive threats are looming: those from existing companies, emerging digitally native online competitors, and overseas suppliers offering lower price points. And of these three, the biggest threat is the emerging digitally native company – the totally new player that didn’t exist yesterday. They are the smaller, niche players that can turn on a dime, or venture-backed startup operations, or even students in dorm rooms, all armed with a passion for change and the latest technology. While some of these brand new competitors may be capital-challenged, they have a major competitive advantage over established players by avoiding the expense and upkeep of legacy systems. In fact, executives participating in the research mentioned above pointed to the manpower, expense and operational risk associated with legacy systems as the number one roadblock to their digital success. Internal resistance to change came in number two. It’s not just the shifting competitive landscape that trips up established companies aiming to digitally transform themselves. Competitive threats in the digital age are more complex and more difficult to defend against than traditional types of marketplace assault. Today, competitors can use a laser focus to take down a piece of business they find attractive, compromising profit and market share, one demographic or market slice at a time. For instance, the banking industry, which previously owned the relationship between the financial institution and the customer now sees a deluge of application-based companies shearing off its most lucrative transaction-based offerings. These competitors completely avoided the expensive real estate and extensive human resource requirements of building and maintaining a network of physical locations, which significantly lowered their operational costs. In addition, these digitally-oriented competitors can appear unexpectedly in an industry. Imagine the surprise to the auto industry when they found that consumers were willing to forgo visiting car dealerships to purchase a car online. Several companies emerged encouraging consumers to bypass the vehicle dealership all together. These digital-only companies allow consumers to configure, price and order a new vehicle completely online – from the comfort of their homes or offices – and have the new vehicles delivered to anywhere they choose. While each of these pure-play start-up competitors is disrupting a different sector of a different market, they share a common goal: to put the consumer back in control. B2C companies learned this lesson when, in the early days of digital, the Internet lowered the barriers to entry for new competitors. Retailers were slow to respond to consumers’ online shopping preferences and only took the threat seriously when new online-only players began to take market share from the leaders. This slow response left many market leaders reeling and caused a massive amount of physical stores to close and companies to declare bankruptcy. It’s no longer enough for executives in any market, industry or geography to keep tabs on known sources of competition. On the digital landscape, competition can come from anywhere, which means executives need to be especially vigilant about protecting their market share. To remain successful, companies must digitally adapt to build and maintain an edge over their competitors – the traditional ones they watch regularly, as well as the emerging and digitally native startups, and, even those students in dorm rooms. To learn more about how digital adaptation is changing more than just the way businesses compete, read our white paper, “An Introduction to Digital Adaptation.”

Reengineering the Digital Experience

Today’s consumers apply the same digital experience standard to both their personal and professional lives. This merging of experiences, which calls for digital adaptation, has changed business forever. Even though each digital experience begins and ends with the customer driving the interaction, taking a customer experience (CX) only view short-changes digital adaptation’s potential to push business forward. Inside the whole of these transactions exists a multitude of opportunities to reengineer business operations from the inside out – in front office and back office, with partners and suppliers, and finally with our most important resource: our own people. Digital adaptation requires us to focus on ALL our stakeholders, especially the internal teams thinking, developing, testing, and provisioning digital capabilities for all the other stakeholders’ use. Taking a broad, sweeping view of digital adaptation enables revolutionary customer experiences, and it also helps us create a forward thinking company culture. This culture not only delights our customers, it can make our digitally adapted companies into destination employers for the talented people we need to succeed. The Back Office Experience The digital adaptation of business does not solely live in the customer experience. While it’s the digitally adapted customer experience that gets all the headlines, digital impacts all parts of the business, not just revenue. While these results are less visible, they are equally important from a competitive standpoint. Digital Adaptation serves two equally important constituencies: internal workforces and external customers. In the digitally adapted business, the term, "customers," refers to everyone involved in the purchase – the people and businesses that buy our products and services as well as the internal workgroups, teams and staff that create, deliver and support those offerings. Empower internal customers and they will look after your customers, as Richard Branson reminds us. That empowerment centers on access to the latest technologies and tools as we reengineer the customer experience. This consumerization of IT has an impactful spillover effect on our technological/digital experiences outside of "the office," which shapes our thinking "inside the office." Potential new hires assess an organization’s technological ambition and its current capabilities. Candidates don't want to work in companies that are technologically inept – refusing to adapt or failing to invest in ways that put them in the best place to succeed. This candidate and employee dilemma becomes a huge issue that sits at the intersection of culture and technology. An organization’s ability to harness the power of technology quickly becomes, from a staff perspective, personally impactful from a career standpoint. Technology moves so quickly that spending two or three years with a technologically backward company can damage an employee’s career – seriously. Not only can this time be “wasted” working on outdated technologies and methodologies, the time is lost in terms of acquiring new, more in-demand skills. In truth, this “double whammy” is more crippling to a career than the lost time itself. Digital adaptation is about more than saving money, improving operational efficiency and satisfying customer demand. It can also attract and retain the talent you need as you build your teams for the future. We do ourselves a disservice and miss out on opportunities if we restrict our thinking around "experience" to relate to the customer at the expense of considering its very real impact on our current and future employees. Thinking more broadly across the organization, from back office through the customer’s journey and back, can create an experience that makes a "destination company" for employees as well as customers. Experience tells us that companies will discover unexpected benefits in unlikely parts of the back office’s digital adaptation. Check out this case study to see how one leading beverage distributor used a single, new application to correct an order processing problem and discover an unexpected staff retention benefit. And, to learn more about digital adaptation, download our white paper.

Workforce Changes of Digital Adaptation

The advent of technology-empowered global workforces fundamentally changed the way employees and employers engaged. Technology connected workers around the globe, dissolving geographical boundaries. Today, fast-moving markets and customers’ ever-changing needs are creating an almost relentless pressure for companies to reinvent themselves and their employee models ─ again and again. How Offshoring Lost its Luster Digital adaptation arose from two significant workforce changes: (1) technology-enabled global labor; and (2) a geographically distributed workforce. These two fundamental shifts created a category of worker known as the “offshored.” As the Internet-connected workers around the globe, companies gained access to an international workforce that performed like local employees. Often, “follow the sun” development teams fast-tracked projects at near warp speed as compared to domestic-only, traditional workforces. At first, offshoring saved a lot of money for US-based companies that were able to move work overseas, take advantage of labor arbitrage, end benefits programs and layoff layers of middle management. For many companies, offshoring was a beautiful thing until one day it wasn’t. What began as a move to more cost-effective, less management-intensive workforces quickly exposed unintended, negative consequences of offshoring on two highly desirable outputs of work: innovation and collaboration. Lack of business context, ineffective communications, and virtually non-existent creativity constrained offshoring. The desired collaboration, communication, and innovation US companies sought from their offshored workforces did not materialize from a raft of geographically separated, workforces. For some, offshoring has become categorized by an untenable disconnect with customer demands. While the sheer economics of maintaining urban offices doesn’t support bringing everyone back in-house, a compromise must be found that balances budgetary constraints against digital adaptation’s need for collaboration. In many cases, employees’ preference for working from their home offices using online collaboration tools is helping companies move closer to this balance. However, a lack of specialized talent continues to plague companies’ looking for experienced assistance. In these instances, the availability of niche talent prompts companies to accept assistance from specialists who are dispersed geographically. While companies pioneering digital adaptation may have to use some distributed workforces, partnership models need to promote vitally important communication, collaboration, and innovative thinking. Digital Adaptation Matches Teams to Projects In the digital age, scalability, the massive availability of skilled workers, gives way to teams comprised of workers with diverse skills and mindsets. These teams will be created to meet the specific requirements of the project at hand, and they will be disbanded at the project’s completion. The constant change characteristic of digital adaptation demands a flexible approach to skills acquisition. The ability to quickly construct, manage and get the team to full productivity will become a key requirement for corporations. Acquiring new skills and a dedication to lifelong learning will become table stakes for employees in every workforce, whether traditional, distributed, outsourced, or contingent. At its heart, digital adaptation requires more management, more communication, and more collaboration –not less. As Daniel Newman pointed out, traditional leaders quickly became stumped as to how to manage these diverse and divergent groups of individuals. That’s why new workforce models, while a good place to start, require new management models as well. Digital Success Depends on Effective Recombining of the Workforce Workforce models and effective management approaches for fluid teaming present two of the most perplexing challenges in digital adaptation. Simply put, the traditional workforce models and proven management approaches don’t work. How effectively you combine and recombine people will determine your success or failure in the digital world. Companies knee-deep in digital adaptation need to get comfortable with constant change and reinvention on the fly. To learn more about how to navigate this complex landscape, download our white paper on digital adaptation or read the blog series on this fundamental sea of change.

Balancing Cost with Speed and Quality is Key to Digital Adaptation and Transformation

In our last blog post, we broke digital adaptation down into four key areas: Evolving Needs, Workforce Change, The Consumerization of IT and Competitive Threats. This post, which focuses on Evolving Needs, will explain why balancing cost, speed and quality is vital as companies apply technology to solve business problems in the digital age. By definition, digital adaptation is at once disruptive and unpredictable. This fast-moving phenomenon forces companies to adjust on the fly to meet the demands of ever-changing markets, making digital transformation one of the most important movements to affect business in decades. Experts point out that today we operate in the era of “Digital Darwinism." Characterized by rapidly evolving technology and society needs that outpace business’ ability to keep up, companies that plan to survive, and even thrive, will need flexible leaders who take an “evolve or die” approach and can pivot quickly, according to Brian Solis of Altimeter Group. Clearly, there are economic rewards for companies that leverage digital adaptation to remake themselves and their processes from the inside out. Companies deemed to be digitally remade produce more revenue from their physical assets, generate more profit and command higher market evaluations according to CapGemini. However desirable these financial results are, the road to digital transformation is fraught with twists and turns. As technologies advance and capabilities expand, businesses have more options from which to choose and decide where to invest becomes more difficult. With more choices comes more risk, and the time lost to chasing a “wrong” choice can be devastating from a competitive standpoint. When it comes to acquiring the talent needed to succeed in this fluidity, the “multiple guess” influence is clearly seen. Effectively prospering and competing in this era of digital transformation means companies need to wage the war for talent using three distinct and inter-related strategies: Sourcing a wider range of skills and talent. Being able to navigate the nuances of agile. Using innovation to balance cost against speed and quality. Accurately forecasting the portfolio and corresponding volumes of skills and talent combinations needed to develop and deploy software makes up the first challenge companies need to address. While that is a tall order, the current environment of rapid change adds complexity to this mission. For example, the application development teams you have in place will see demand for their talents wane over time ─with some skills fading more rapidly than others and others enjoying heightened demand over time. What can you do today to predict the coming shakeup with confidence and actually plan for it? Once you’ve aligned that cube of possibilities, you’ll notice that the spectrum of skills you require is expanding exponentially. This expansion will most likely outpace your ability to find the talents you need at a reasonable price. This scenario is particularly relevant to companies that discover their needs have grown to encompass data scientists as well as mobile app developers. There is simply not enough money in corporate staffing budgets to afford the wide range of talent that is needed, especially in a hyper-competitive marketplace. Secondly, we know that it's no longer good enough for an organization to be able to leverage “standard” agile. You must "customize" it to fit your needs ─even as they evolve in real-time. To do that, you need to accumulate enough agile expertise to be able to spot the unintended consequences of clumsily applying this proven mindset. For example, the benefits of using a common language, sharing a time-zone, and commanding a familiarity with U.S. business culture are hugely important, particularly when projects move quickly. Sharing common ground eliminates the need to translate idioms, accommodate varying time zones and explain unfamiliar behavior. A shared perspective can enable a faster, more sustainable transition to a customized, thriving agile environment. Third, in this era when customers’ behaviors and expectations are shifting quickly, you need your development and deployment teams closer to your operation ─not geographically dispersed. The current prevalence of distributed workforces complicates the execution of a pivot, even as environmental factors call for acceleration. Creativity and innovation share two negative influences: distance and isolation. These barriers cause particular angst when speed and creativity are at a premium as they are today. Consider following the examples of noted remote work advocates IBM and Yahoo. Both companies have recently required workers to return to physical offices in an effort to regain the interaction and collaboration that accommodates change and fuels innovation. Despite this remote worker homecoming, budget constraints continue to prevent most companies from recruiting every professional they want to a staff position. Evolving needs demand that you apply a balanced model to hiring that balances three key influences at play in the talent landscape: quality, cost, and speed. However daunting this new environment may seem to be, it’s not as if business has been stagnant in the past. Companies have always adjusted their output and operations to evolving needs. Today’s challenges center on the unpredictable pace and unknown direction of those evolving needs. Those two characteristics add a new layer of complexity that makes it difficult for companies to go it alone and reduces the appeal of previously revered software development models. Offshoring development has proven to complicate the process with its “follow the sun” approach that, in the end, often delivered more complexity than the round-the-clock advantage. While it is likely that in-house teams, offshore resources, and staff augmentation will continue to fulfill specific skill needs, these options are not the answer to every phase of software development, especially those affected by the unpredictable disruption common to digital adaptation. Just as digital transformed the marketplace, it has altered the hiring environment as well. Digital adaptation requires flexibility. In these volatile times, companies that want to assure continued success will need to listen carefully to the whistling winds of change and adjust on the fly. To learn more about how to succeed as a Digirati in charge, watch for the next blog and download our digital adaptation white paper.

The Four Components of Digital Adaptation

As digital forces business to shift how they view themselves in a new world, it drives the need for new and adaptive approaches. It’s now about rethinking the concept of digital transformation as more of a continual adaptation to a constantly changing environment. In order to embrace this adaptation idea it is helpful to bucket the areas into the following four areas: managing the constantly evolving needs of customers, partners and employees; the willingness to consider original combinations of workforce models; meeting higher expectations of customers, prospects and employees; and the ability to leverage incumbent (legacy) assets into new revenue streams and competitive advantage. 1. Evolving Needs Today, success and survival results from being able to thrive among volatility and uncertainty, meaning that it's difficult to predict what your future needs will be other than that they will evolve... quickly. One challenge in digital adaptation is how to balance the cost of technical expertise with the standard of its output. Another is to possess and manage the variety of workforce models that enable you to match the best-suited development team, with the needs of the business providing speed, contextual understanding, innovation, and communication. 2.  Workforce Change As technologies evolve, companies are uncertain what exact skills they'll need and frankly, it changes daily requiring them to have an open mind to original workforce ideas beyond offshoring or staff augmentation. It’s a confusing time. Many companies are now declaring that they want to bring people back in-house, or at least closer to the business. Companies must appreciate that they have been sending mixed signals when it comes to talent management. In this era of technology skills shortages, they will have to be flexible and innovative. The people, and the models used to manage those people, are as important as the technology itself. To maximize the value of the technology being provisioned for the business, companies must simultaneously adapt their workforce thinking. 3. The Experience The consumerization of IT means that customers compare their digital experience with you against all their other digital experiences, not just those of your competitors. These expectations cross the borders that used to separate our work and private lives. These boundaries have melted away raising the expectations of customers. While it is essential, high-quality experiences should not be reserved exclusively for customers. Companies must enable their staff to deliver these great digital experiences. To succeed you should be putting your workforce in the best position to achieve this by providing progressive technologies, as well as, agile and DevOps methodologies which ultimately will enable them to deliver great experiences for your customers. 4. Competitive Threat Traditional barriers to market entry are extinct. Companies can no longer rely on the advantages they used to enjoy from being the industry dominant elephant because competitors are springing up overnight threatening the core of established organizations. And while these incumbent companies have assets at their disposal such as a proven business revenue streams, customer relationships and brand presence, they are not enough. The competition is coming from unlikely sources as vertical markets boundaries become blurred. For example, online retailers morph into insurance carriers and health care providers, as retailers and insurance companies merge to fight unforeseen rivals. All enabled by cheap, fast technology, vast processing powers, petabytes of data and AI’s relentless pursuit of pattern recognition. Digital has and continues to change the rules of business, and life. There’s no going back. Companies are seeing their foundations shaken by digital, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, etc. A series of company “re-orgs” won’t solve the problem, it’s a constant re-org. Consistent adaptation. Learn more in our next blog or download our digital adaptation white paper.

An Introduction to Digital Adaptation

The quest to embrace digital or "transform" has progressed from being an abstract concept to becoming a mandatory strategy. Some companies are moving quicker and more successfully than others. New businesses that are born "digital" may not have the luxury of an existing revenue stream, but they also do not suffer from commercial, cultural, and technical baggage. Established companies on the other hand are having to adapt existing processes and practices to defend or advance their existing revenue streams. According to Gartner, “two-thirds of all business leaders believe that their companies must pick up the pace of digitalization to remain competitive.” Essentially these lagging companies must move beyond the concept of digital transformation to the practice of continuous adaptation. Legacy businesses have legacy practices and systems that present different challenges than those faced by start-ups companies. It is with these businesses where adaptation is critical. Customers are more demanding, their experiences both good and bad are broadcast to the world, and competition appears from unexpected places. Entire industries are living in a constant state of change and the skilled resources to help sherpa companies through the process are scarce, meaning adaptation must become a way of life and that innovative behavior is now table stakes. So what exactly is digital adaptation? We define it as the ability to predict, or perceive, quickly evolving business needs, and adjust through new combinations of technology, process and workforce management. As digital reconfigures the business, it drives the need for new and adaptive approaches. It requires the use of new technologies; a willingness to adopt less familiar methods and the utilization of innovative workforce models. The goal is to create faster, more flexible solutions that simultaneously exceed user and consumer expectations while keeping competitors on their heels. So, how does the technology leadership achieve the speed required in software development to satisfy the evolving needs of the business? How do you adapt to the new dynamics of the labor market, appreciating the value of talent, while balancing “keeping the lights on” and innovation budgets? And, how do you couple the traditional style of workforce management with innovative labor engagements that reflect the desires of the new labor force and the dynamics of the digital world? These questions must be addressed with an open and adaptive mindset and an understanding of the four components that make up digital adaptation. Learn more in our next blog or download our digital adaptation white paper.

Why You Should Consider Human-Computer Interaction

A program that a human can easily and intuitively use is considered to have a strong human-computer interaction, and will ultimately attract more users. This is usually described as being user-friendly but to do this is not as easy as it may sound. Understanding the intended audience during the software development life cycle (SDLC) can help business analysts determine desired functionality, developers create a robust program, and testers establish valuable testing scenarios. So how do you go about creating and maintaining a strong human-computer interaction? One way is by creating a pleasant user experience, which can be challenging. Popular sites such as Google.com, usually contain good examples that consciously or even unconsciously draw you to their website. Google's main page utilizes many human-computer interaction guidelines, such as: White space that delivers a minimalistic, but simplistic layout, while organizing all of its key elements. An empty box in the center of the page that clearly displays its purpose and easily allows the user to search. A strong input-output response that assures the user that it is working as intended. Google Doodle which displays the Google logo in various designs to celebrate holidays or significant days. This not only draws visitors to the site to see if there is a doodle for the day but also engages them to learn about a topic that they may not have known about or even considered. With all of these design elements, it’s clear that this website knows how they want to appeal to their audience and has designed it to continually and successfully attract more users. The idea of improving the human-computer interaction factor of programs has been a growing standard for years. Along with the various courses and media available, there are also several conventions hosted around the world dedicated to discussing and sharing different breakthroughs in the field. Conventions such as the HCI International have plenty of presentations led by top researchers in the field discussing their findings. Even the International Organization of Standards have established ISO 9241, which explains internationally accepted standards when it comes to the ergonomics of human-computer interaction. Is this something you have been doing without realizing? Or is this something you never actually thought about? If anything, perhaps this is something to consider.

WordPress Plugins – The Starter Pack

WordPress is one of the most powerful content management systems for building websites. It’s intuitive dashboard and ability to add themes and templates are all strong features. But one thing that makes WordPress rise above the competition is the extensive library of plugins. I have yet to come to a point where I can’t find a plugin that does what I need. Whether you need responsive tabs, an impressive slider, social media feeds, or pop-up banners, there’s a plugin for almost any feature. When beginning a build, consider obtaining a “starter pack.” These are the three plugins that I’ve used the most often and have been the most helpful when starting to build a website.  1. Jetpack Cost: Free! The Jetpack plugin contains several features within itself, so I’ll just highlight my three personal favorites. The first feature I always activate is “Stats." This feature allows you to see how many people are visiting your site each day and how they ended up there. My next activation is “Subscriptions" which allows users to subscribe to your blog. The third feature is “Publicize” which allows you to automatically update your social feeds when new content is posted to your blog. 2. Custom Facebook Feed Cost: Free! The custom Facebook feed plugin does pretty much what it sounds like. It allows you to display a live Facebook feed on your website. There are paid features you can unlock, but with the free version you can control how many posts are shown in the feed, how often the plugin will check for updates, the size of the feed, and the placement of the page “Like” button. 3. Revolution Slider Cost: $19 The Revolution Slider plugin isn’t free, but it’s worth the $19 if you want a slider on your website. With Revolution Slider, you can easily control all animations, text placement, add videos, and most importantly, it makes sure your slider is responsive for every screen size. There are thousands and thousands of WordPress plugins, but these few can help you get a good start on your website build!

Slick Modular Web Components with Polymer

As a primarily back-end focused developer, I admit that sometimes I find user interface work pretty tedious, especially when I can’t get something to look or behave the way I feel it should. On large projects, stylesheets can get cluttered and I have a bad habit of throwing everything into a single “site.css” file that gets loaded into every page. I wind up with dozens of CSS classes and identifiers to make sure that each component of my website has its own specialized styling and doesn’t accidentally inherit the styles of something else. Usually, the look and feel of my site is at the mercy of whatever CSS library I’m using. Fortunately, I’ve discovered a relatively new framework that takes a lot of headache out of front-end design. The framework is called Polymer: a JavaScript framework from Google that takes Web Components to a new level. Here are three features of Polymer that make it great: 1. Hundreds of plug-and-play elements The Polymer Element Catalog has many useful open source elements that can be directly included in your source code once the Polymer framework has been installed, ranging from responsive and animated text fields and buttons, to elements which help you manage AJAX requests. The elements have declarative syntax, meaning that once you’ve included them in your project, they can be inserted directly into your HTML files just as easily as any of the native HTML elements. You can combine these elements with data bindings to pass values between components and validate forms without writing any JavaScript. 2. Custom elements If you can’t find the right element to suit your needs, Polymer gives you the tools to build your own elements. Elements have encapsulated style, form and function, meaning you can detail specifically how an element is to look and behave. Polymer elements contain methods and properties that can be called from other elements in the DOM. This makes your components feel more like extensible objects, rather than simple UI elements. 3. Class-like inheritance If you have a shared functionality or style among a number of elements, you definitely don’t want to repeat that code. Fortunately, Polymer allows you to inherit multiple styles and behaviors into elements. Instead of re-writing a particular function for each of your elements, you can instead write that function as a behavior, and have each element extend it. Similarly, if you wish for a family of custom elements to use the same CSS properties, you can import one or many custom style elements. These elements enable easy theming, allowing you to change the appearance of your application simply by swapping style elements. For more information on Polymer, check out their Polycasts on YouTube as well as their Polymer Starter Kit.

What In The World Is All This Talk About Hacking?

From The Matrix to Tron, the idea of hacking can bring up a bit of a stir. The thought of someone secretly accessing a computer system in order to get information and wreaking havoc has given “hacking” a bad rap. Sometime in the late 1990s a new idea was born-“Hackathon”. The word “hackathon” is a combination of “hack” and “marathon”. This playful alternative gets computer technologists together to collaborate intensively on software projects. As the idea to collaborate for good spread, the events changed as well. Beginning as all-night code collaborations, hackathons evolved into competitions done to create something good, solve a problem, code for a cause, recruiting opportunities for companies, and networking events for professionals to meet, teach and learn from others. Just like everything, there are variations on hackathons as well. Some hackathons are set during daylight hours for a specified amount of time; others are all night or multiple day events. Typically, the hackathon kicks off by a presenter of some sort, the suggestion of a topic or idea and then the fun begins! There is usually a plethora of energy drinks, snacks and pizza to keep the buzz going. At the end of the set time, a series of demonstrations from each group are presented to the panel of judges. Then, of course there are prizes! Rural Sourcing, Inc. is no stranger to this hacking craze. Having put on two previous hackathon, we are preparing this year by hosting not ONE, but TWO hackathons! This year, our Galaga inspired invasion is set to be the best one yet! We will once again host our 3rd Annual RSI Westobou Hackathon during the Westobou Festival on October 3rd in Augusta, GA. This year, the Augusta office is partnering up with the The Clubhou.se, a local incubator that offers a network for entrepreneurs in the community. The Clubhou.se team has volunteered to help with the judging and mentoring, giving the students even more opportunity to network with computer technology professionals. While the Augusta, GA community is getting the hang of hackathons and what to expect from these events, the City of Jonesboro, AR is in for a real treat. The inaugural RSI Jonesboro BBQ Fest Hackathon will happen at The Brickhouse Grill in downtown Jonesboro, AR on September 26th. It is sure to be an event that is OUT OF THIS WORLD! At both events, we are reaching out to the area computer technology students and inviting them to attend, participate and compete for a chance to earn a paid internship at RSI! If you are reading this, consider yourself officially invited to attend these events! If you can’t participate you are welcome to come and watch! Here are some of the millions of reasons you need to be there: It’s a party- Music, Prizes; it’ll be a great time! Who doesn’t love pizza and red bull? You get to make something super cool for your community! No lecture learning- no one will be lecturing you or telling you what to create. This is your game! You can meet and hang out with some really smart people who might teach you something! You can earn an INTERNSHIP and meet the people who hire RSI employees!

The Visual Web

In this blog, I will be examining the concept known as the Visual Web. Take moment and look around you – the web is changing, now more than ever. More and more, websites and even mobile applications are joining what is being called the Visual Web. This begs the question: What is the Visual Web, where does it come from, and what does it mean to you? First, let’s take a brief look back to the design origins of the web. When websites were first created, they were designed to mimic documents; web pages were essentially sheets of paper in the giant filing cabinet of the internet. Even up until the mid-2000s, almost every web-page was devoted to a singular purpose: relaying text. Then something subtle occurred. People received ever-increasing access to smart devices and high-quality media. With a camera in every pocket, it was no longer necessary to share these long, in-depth recollections of current events. YouTube had a big red ‘Upload’ button right on the home page. People didn’t have to host their own site just to upload some pictures onto a webpage. As media became more prevalent, the web began to reshape itself into the internet we know today. At the time of this writing, Cisco cited The Internet of Things, A Study in Hype, Reality, Disruption, and Growth report by Raymond James that over 12.5 billion devices connected to the internet. That is a lot of devices, each with different form factors, resolutions, input devices, software and hardware. How are you supposed to show your Instagram selfie on 12 billion devices?! Luckily, this new ‘Visual Web’ thing accounts for this using something called responsive design. This means that the flow of the website can change based on the screen it’s on so you always get the best version. On top of that, many sites are designed mobile-first, meaning that the site is built to look good on a phone and then scaled to a larger screen to avoid compromise. Another huge aspect is iconography. By representing well-known actions or ideas with images, a site can convey a great deal of information in a single element. Of course, people have been making icons for years – you have the floppy disk, the printer, clipboard, scissors, etc., but until recently websites could only display glossy images which were large, didn’t scale well and had a plethora of download issues. The icons used today are simply fonts; they’re rendered exactly the same as the letters you’re reading now, perfect on any screen. Lastly, Visual Web sites are fast. Using content delivery networks, front-end code can be held on a central repository. This is so that if you browse to a site that uses a library you’ve already encountered, your browser can recognize the repository and load the library from cache. This is much faster, and saves a lot of data in the long-run. Many of these websites also use a one-page design so that most or all of the site is hosted on a single page; this prevents the browser from reloading everything when you click a button or link, and also means the site can respond to you in real-time. So what does it all mean? Faster, cleaner browsing wherever you go and more access to the content you enjoy without the clutter. Plus accessible information in the form that fits you most. The truth is, it’s hard to say for sure what the limits are. People are finding new ways to use and improve the Visual Web every day, and it’ll soon evolve into yet another discernable version of the internet. Just be sure to pay attention; things are about to get really cool.

Telerik Reporting and UI

Telerik offers many very impressive additions to any .Net developer’s tool set. Two of these additional development components are Telerik Reporting and UI. To begin, I will discuss Telerik UI and the advantages it has over the standard .Net library. Probably the most popular tool provided is Telerik’s RadGrid control. It is an extremely fast grid control that has cross-browser support. RadGrid also allows the developer to enable AJAX, Scrolling, and Grouping within the grid. It also allows has a built-in filter control. ASP.NET GridView currently does not supply these features. There are several other features such as the ability to bind to sub objects and nullable objects. Along with this, RadGrid even allows for the exporting of data to a PDF, Excel, or Word file. These are just a few areas in which RadGrid excels in comparison to the standard ASP.Net GridView. There are several other tools within the Telerik UI Toolkit that can be helpful in development. One of these tools, RadAjax, is used to simplify UpdatePanel management and configuration. Another is the RadScriptManager, which is a superset of the default Microsoft ScriptManager and will help to optimize ASP.NET AJAX applications. The Toolkit also supports the theming of Telerik controls. There are 20 built-in themes which include a pioneering mobile skin. Another arena where Telerik shines is in its reporting software. Telerik Reporting is a very lightweight solution for .NET projects that require a reporting component. Reports can be generated in various formats which include: Microsoft Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDF documents. Reporting layouts can be created and manipulated using the tools that Telerik provides. These tools can be integrated into Visual Studio for ease of use by developers. Telerik Reporting’s greatest strength is in its flexibility. The developer can pass raw and unformatted data into the reporting controls. This data can be massaged and displayed in the appropriated arrangement based on the pre-set rules specified by the developer. This becomes very convenient when dealing with massive amounts of data being processed and exported to a document. In these cases, there will likely be tens, if not hundreds, of pages to the document. Telerik Reporting can accomplish this quickly and efficiently. Tables within the Telerik Report Designer can be manipulated much like a spreadsheet within Microsoft Excel. The above screenshot gives some insight into how the designer looks and functions. Data can be passed into Telerik Reporting controls and manipulated based on rules specified within the table cells. This offloads some of the code that would have been placed in the backend by sending data directly to Reporting. This can greatly improve code readability. A great example of how these reporting tools could be used is within an agriculture application that determines how much fertilizer product should be placed on each part of a field. When a farmer runs many fields, there can be numerous reports that are very similar except for certain aspects. The developer can create one template that can be used effortlessly to construct all these differing reports. Images distinct to each individual field could also be added to the report without incident. This becomes useful when visually displaying a field’s lab, product application, and product expense figures. In today’s fast paced world, most clients don’t have the time to search through thousands of lines of records for a single set of item specifications. Telerik provides a solution that will allow those clients to keep personalized reports of exactly what they need. In the example discussed above, it could also allow farmers to print or save PDF documents of a field’s fluctuating lab samples and product application figures for historical records. On the development side, Telerik Reporting’s table functionality will most likely be second nature to anyone who has ever used Microsoft Excel. This reporting solution is likely going to be an essential component for any project featuring a well-documented and designed reporting aspect. In conclusion, Telerik UI and Reporting is an excellent option for when the client needs to be able to manipulate data within a Gridview, create reports on the fly, or have themed controls on their webpage.