Seattle BI Meetup: Data Mining Meets Engineering

Our Data & Analytics Director Wendy Parker is co-teaching a Data Mining course at the University of Washington. She recently invited Lucas Parker of Visible Technologies to speak to the class regarding how they use data mining.  In data mining, the focus is often on how models are created rather than how they are used in the real world.  We greatly appreciated Lucas’ discussion of his experience putting models to use and some of the interesting findings he made along the way. Continue reading “Seattle BI Meetup: Data Mining Meets Engineering”

The Consulting Architect as a Management Consultant

The Consulting Architect

So you’ve engaged a Solutions Architect to help build an e-commerce application for your company.  When you decided to look outside the company for help, you considered what you wanted in the individual that you would eventually select.  For instance, you wanted him or her to have experiences building e-commerce-type applications and possibly other types of applications as well.  You wanted someone current on the state of various IT technologies and architectures.  You wanted someone able to assess and understand your company’s business needs as they relate to e-commerce.  As importantly, you wanted someone who can tell you what you need to know about building and managing an e-commerce application.  (Feel free to substitute “e-commerce” with any LOB application.)  Net, you wanted someone to transfer their expertise to you and your company.

top seattle management consultants provide services at their firm in Seattle, WAWhat you may not have considered is that a good Solutions Architect is as much a Management Consultant as they are a technical consultant.  By definition, a Solutions Architect has cross-domain, cross-functional, and cross-industry expertise.  In accruing this expertise, they’ve seen and performed assessments of many different businesses, applications, and organizations.  As importantly, they’ve observed and often experienced what works and what doesn’t, not only in terms of technical solutions but also in terms of business processes and organizational structures.  These experiences position them to be able to help businesses improve their performance on a number dimensions.

Further, while the Solution Architect drives solution designs and implementations from the current business needs and IT landscape, good ones also look to their clients’ business and technology roadmaps in order to anticipate and incorporate future needs.  They can help you build a solution that will provide the best value, both in the near- and long-term.  If their client doesn’t have roadmaps, the Solutions Architect can help them think about where they want their business to be in two years, five years or even further out.

The combination of experiences in both the business and technical realms makes the Solutions Architect more of an asset than you may have suspected.  In a nutshell, they fit the definition of a Management Consultant.

How to Leverage a Solutions Architect as a Management Consultant

First, keep this new perspective in mind when thinking about what you want in a Solutions Architect.  Consider adjusting your criteria for finding and interviewing candidates to include past Management Consulting-like experiences.  During the interview, present some scenario problems and ask candidates how they would approach solving them.  Ask them about their previous experiences and why they were more or less successful.  Ask them about how they worked with past clients to move those businesses forward.  Look for both technical and business aspects in their answers.

Second, when defining the Solutions Architect’s activities and deliverables in the context of the engagement, consider including specific business performance-related expectations such as an assessment of specific business processes, team organizational structure, or team skills, i.e., what business performance improvements you, the hiring manager, want to get out of the engagement.  Socialize these activities and deliverables to interested and affected parties within the organization so that, when the Solutions Architect schedules meetings with them, they won’t be surprised.

While this article has focused on Solutions Architects, the notion of ‘Consulting Architect as Management Consultant’ can also apply to System Architects, Business Intelligence Architects and other types of technical architects as well.  When the need to engage a technical architect arises, be sure to wring the most possible value, both business and technical, out of your investment.

Plaster Group is a Management Consulting company located in Seattle. Our consulting Architects can help you design and build custom applications, or install packaged applications, in a holistic, integrative way.  We’ll help you move your business forward, now and for the long term.  

May 22 TDWI Event: Big Data Panel

Plaster Group is looking forward to sponsoring and attending  another TDWI Northwest event next weekThe Database Warehousing Institute’s Seattle Chapter aims to enable those in BI and DW-related fields to gather together, grow a strong network of peers, and share best practice and technical advice.

The Big Data Panel consists of  experts from Puget Sound companies T-Mobile, eBay, Expedia, Big Fish Games, and Concur Technologies who are excited to share their experiences adapting and using Big Data to meet their business needs. This event will take place Thursday, March 15 from 5pm to 9pm at the T-Mobile Headquarters located in Bellevue. This is a great opportunity to meet other Seattle BI professionals, share ideas and career advice, and exchange business cards while enjoying a quality presentation and discussion. There will also be food, beverages, and a raffle drawing!

To read more about this event, and to register to attend, click here! Want to do some reading up on Big Data before attending? Read an article on what constitutes Big Data and the challenges it poses here.

Centralized Contract Tracking Brings it all Together


A Seattle-based non-profit organization had a contracts management system with insufficient and inconsistent data tracking abilities and the expectation that the system would continue to be in use for a few more years before replacement. Multiple groups within the organization use the same system, but this contracts system didn’t have the necessary level of tracking analysts needed to perform all of their duties.

Consequently, each of the organization’s groups developed different processes and tools with unique data requirements that had only some coincidental overlap. Simple contracts required the same high level of management as very complex contracts and the resulting inefficient workflow was costing them money.

Plaster Group’s Enterprise Content Management consultants were tasked with developing a standardized process for the tracking of contracts across the organization and crafting a centralized technological solution to support it.


Plaster Group met with each of five groups individually to define their unique tracking needs. Business Solutions Consultants collected data regarding term and field usage across the organization and worked with leadership to develop a strategy for the blending of disparate processes. This consensus among teams was critical in developing the scope and features of a technological solution before building it and developing its accompanying business processes.


Plaster Group Content Management consultants designed and implemented a customized SharePoint list, which tracks commonalities as well as unique program data points across the organization, providing central information in multiple views that address a variety of program area needs. The new solution is capable of grouping data in numerous ways and so can be tailored to the needs of individual programs while being common to the organization as a whole. Key features include:

  • Centralized tracking of all contracts
  • Common data columns applying to all groups
  • Unique group data columns
  • Customized views group specific filters and conditions for a variety of program needs including SLA review
  • Workflows behind the list capture date/time stamp for contract status change management


Our client went from using multiple tracking systems, with inconsistent and confusing data requirements, to utilizing a unified contract tracker providing insight into all contracts across common data points. As such, report quality has been significantly improved, and our client is capable of making impactful decisions with greater confidence. In addition, simple contracts can now be pushed to secondary teams for faster processing with less supervision, allowing better resource management for complex contracts. The flexibility of the new contract tracker allows for development of new views by our client’s administrators as needed by individual programs.