About 18 months ago, Jeffrey Palermo, CEO of Clear Measure—an Austin, Texas-based IT services firm specializing in custom software engineering services—was faced with a challenge. He didn’t know exactly how much time his employees were spending with clients and, as a result, was losing out on billable hours.
“We had an operational system, but the reports weren’t helpful and the system had no way to define custom reports,” says Palermo, who is also an eight-time Microsoft MVP.
What the operational system did have, however, were Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and this gave Palermo the edge he needed to find a clever solution to his problem. The answer was to implement a SQL Server Database and custom application running in Windows Azure that pulled data from the APIs, and to create an On-Line Analytical Processing (OLAP) schema reporting database in SQL Server.
In commercial products or older custom systems, it’s common for the only database available to be a normalized relational database schema, which provides a collection of data organized as a set of tables. With an OLAP schema, on the other hand, Clear Measure's management team can easily and selectively extract and view data from different points of view. This provides a much clearer picture of employee productivity and helps identify which tasks employees are prioritizing.
Palermo believes the idea of reaching in, getting data and putting it into a schema reporting database tailored to specific metrics can be helpful for almost any industry; from determining how much time is spent in a car wash to assessing restaurant table turnover. This unique way of leveraging Microsoft platforms certainly gave Palermo the reports he was after, as well as new visibility into where all his employees’ time was going.
“We found that some of the engineering staff’s time was not going to clients and we then had the ability to ask the question: Where is this time going?” Palermo explains. “We discovered that too much time was going toward hiring people and excessive group interviews, so we made an adjustment.”
That adjustment was to hire someone specifically for recruiting and this allowed the engineering staff to bring its focus back to engineering, which was their strength. “The billable time increase more than covered the salary of the new role that we hired for, and it gave us more clarity into the productivity of the entire staff,” he says.
Palermo’s clever solution had benefits for other parts of Clear Measure as well. Since it is hosted in Windows Azure, the data is accessible from anywhere, runs 24-7 and has no problems with backups. Furthermore, the company’s business operations manager and vice president of engineering can query to get operational metrics at their fingertips. At most, the data is two hours old and this allows managers to develop visualizations for data metrics trending week over week or month over month.
Managers can also pull a specific amount of data from a given month based on how many days were actually in that month, rather than a predetermined number of days. “Anyone experienced with business intelligence techniques knows that using a common number of days for aggregating metrics creates a usable trend, whereas relying on months that are different in size does not,” Palermo says.
Since Clear Measure’s new system is a custom solution, Palermo also has the ability to add features when additional needs arise or different parameters present themselves. For example, he can compare how much time is going to clients versus internal meetings or all-hands company meetings. By identifying trends in his team, Palermo says he can now reinforce the positive ones and stop the negative ones.
In two years under Palermo's leadership, Clear Measure has grown from two to more than 40 employees and continues to hire aggressively in the region. Palermo believes the SQL Server Database and custom application played a significant role in helping the company reach this milestone.
Renee Morad is a freelance writer and editor based in New Jersey. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Discovery News, Business Insider, Ozy.com, NPR, MainStreet.com, and other outlets. If you have a story you would like profiled, contact her at [email protected].
The IT Innovators series of articles is underwritten by Microsoft, and is editorially independent.