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Proactively Planning Software Solutions
Deciding how best to tackle technology needs within a company can be complex, but with clear communication, strong partnerships and a safety first mentality, it’s all within reach.

by Kristen Dowd

When it comes to business software solutions, it’s far from a one-size-fits-all approach. From one company to the next, each has unique needs and requirements to carefully consider in software creation and management.

What are the primary functions needed? Who will be using the software? What is the budget? The questions can be endless, and the solutions just as varied. But there do appear to be some key aspects in finding a successful software solution for your company: strong leadership at the helm, clear communication across the board, and a helping hand or two (or two hundred) to provide support along the way.

While figuring out what is needed in business software can be a long and winding road, getting there seems to come down to a few options: buying, building in-house or building via a third party.

Of course, there’s also that fourth option of combining all three.

Take, for instance, Virtua Health and its extensive network of hospitals, physician offices and health centers across South Jersey. The nonprofit healthcare system powerhouse has complex, varied and considerable software needs, and it takes expertise from more than one avenue to keep things cruising. Handling its software creation and management, according to senior vice president and chief information officer Tom Gordon, takes “all of the above:” Some things are bought, all things take in-house building to some degree and there are others that can be outsourced to a trusted network of partner organizations.

“Often people say there’s a decision with any technology. Are you going to buy or are you going to build?” Gordon says. “There’s never been any technology we have bought that we didn’t need to build at the same time. It’s a little bit of a misnomer.”

Nick Greif, who serves as Virtua’s director of IT analytics and development, agreed that purchased software always comes with some degree of internal development.

“The software we’re using for the website we’ve been running for 14 years,” Greif says, “and for 14 years we’ve been constantly developing on top of it.”

For organizations not in the health care sector or as expansive as Virtua, software needs may not be as robust or complex. Regardless, finding a software solution that suits a company still comes down to the same question: buy or build?

The not-for-profit New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program (NJMEP) focuses on improving the profitability and competitiveness of manufacturers across the state. This includes operational excellence, innovation and growth, and workforce development. For more than two decades, NJMEP has built an extensive network of resource partners to support New Jersey’s manufacturers, including with technological needs.

As one of those partner resources, Titanium IT works with NJMEP to quickly and cost-effectively help find solutions to a client’s business problems, specializing in ensuring companies are getting the most out of their technology. And two of Titanium IT’s leaders—founder and CEO Chad Chamides and chief strategy officer Eric Salberg—note that software development is a big part of what they do.

“Choosing software is a critical decision for any organization,” Chamides says.

To help make that decision with manufacturers, NJMEP and Titanium IT start with an assessment. This kicks off with a “discovery and design” phase, which is when the two companies work with key stakeholders to evaluate the business’ day-to-day operations.

“We then sit with the same key stakeholders and upper management to align on the overall business plan, available budgetary resources, and determine whether the internal team has the expertise to build or customize software,” Chamides explains. “Using that information, we partner with internal staff and/or engage with partners in the marketplace to evaluate the total cost of ownership and create an action plan to ensure long-term financial sustainability.”

For in-house software development, Chamides says key considerations include having clear objectives, determining end-user needs, defining an efficient development process, considering scalability and flexibility, establishing a clear timeline, using effective testing procedures and including security measures.

Through it all, communication between all parties involved is essential.

“Collaboration and communication between the development team, key stakeholders and end users is crucial throughout the entire process to building any software,” Chamides says.

When it comes to software development, many hands don’t exactly make light work—there’s nothing “light” about computer coding—but collaborating from the start helps things go right along the way.

At Virtua, the organization is especially purposeful in how it encourages different departments to weigh in on software and website design. IT is not a separate entity; there is a synergy across the board to ensure needs are being met.

Greif says the organization’s software development has a six-step process—gathering and analysis; design; implementation; testing; deployment; and maintenance—and while this process is largely centered in the IT department, it’s a partnership across the board.

“Everybody works together. It’s a multifaceted approach. We can listen to the input we get from everyone else,” he says.

Also, when the first two phases are tackled correctly, “that will steer the rest of the ship,” according to Greif.

“If we can get those first two steps right, it gives us direction for the rest of the development,” he explains.

Virtua also has an IT liaison program of about 100 clinicians and doctors who work for the IT department once a month for eight hours, checking in with their colleagues to ensure technology is being used correctly and efficiently.

“These are folks obviously interested in the betterment of Virtua and the technology used in serving the community,” Gordon says. “It’s a pretty neat program.”

Ensuring an entire organization is properly using that software not only is a smart move from a productivity standpoint but also benefits the company’s safety, too.

Safety and security need to be at the top of the list when building a successful business. This holds true in the physical world, and are no less important in the cyber realm, where an attack originating from anywhere around the globe can cripple even the most sophisticated software system without the proper safety checks and balances in place.

“Cybersecurity cannot be viewed as a ‘check-box’ activity,” David Visalli says, “but rather as a living and evolving necessity in every organization’s culture.”

Visalli is the senior account manager and cybersecurity sales lead at NJMEP, where proper cybersecurity hygiene is not only important during IT infrastructure upgrades, but also as an everyday priority for all businesses, regardless of size or industry.

“One of the MEP Network’s primary missions is to facilitate operational efficiency for manufacturers, and any disruption to business due to a cyber breach or IT-related issue can result in problems ranging from production downtime to the loss of critical information and/or possession of confidential information falling into the hands of threat actors for purposes of ransom or other nefarious purposes,” Visalli says.

Much like MEP is a network of resources focused on supporting manufacturers, Visalli explains, there is also a “network” of individuals focused on doing harm to companies.

“While all businesses need to actively understand their IT environment and cybersecurity risk, those who deal in the life sciences and U.S. Department of Defense sectors are prime targets for attacks based on the proprietary and classified nature of much of the information they handle,” Visalli says.

The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, or CMMC, is a compliance certification standard the DOD implemented to mandate a specific level of cybersecurity protocol be in place.

“It is this ‘maturity’ aspect that speaks to the need for ongoing assessment and remediation, as necessary, to try to stay ahead of the threats,” Visalli says.

Companies must also remember that, regardless of how safe and locked-down things may seem, there is always a chance of a security breach.

“There is never a 100%-protection guarantee, making it all the more necessary for all businesses to have a detailed plan of actions and milestones and system security plan as part of their operational plan,” Visalli says.

Circling back to the six steps to software development, Greif explains that the final step—maintenance—never really ends. Feedback is always coming in, and tweaks and changes are often necessary to ensure all programming is doing what it needs to do in the best possible way.

Sometimes, software overhauls are needed, but that’s not an exact process, either.

“It’s a little bit of an art and a science,” Gordon admits. “Some things are easy: hardware and software upgrades, end of life, new functionality, new platform being added, security gaps in the software or the hardware technology piece. Let’s put a plan together to upgrade or replace this technology.”

Other times, more strategy is involved, especially with something like the Virtua website.

“We had a major brand changing,” Gordon says, “and there’s been tons of new functionality the last couple of years since COVID. People want to book online. They want telemedicine. They want one-click access.”

It’s a near-constant assessment of tracking what the community wants and if the Virtua platform can handle it—“If not, let’s make a plan and build to that new platform,” Gordon says.

In working with clients, NJMEP and Titanium IT guide software overhauls based on a few factors, including outdated technology, changing business requirements, security vulnerabilities and feedback from users.

“Our level 3 engineers have the tools to regularly monitor the performance, security and relevance of software and websites to help in identifying when an overhaul is necessary,” he says. “It's essential to stay agile and responsive to technological advancements and business changes.”

The main message? Software development is complex in both deciding and doing, and it’s a process that never truly sees a break.

“Our internal joke is as soon as we can catch our breath it usually means there’s a large rebound coming,” Greif says with a smile. “We’re constantly on an evolutionary path.”

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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 14, Issue 2 (February 2024).

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