Software Development Consultants Supplement Knowledge or Skills to Provide Better Solutions

Companies have three choices when gaining desired software for internal or external use. Development solutions can be purchased as an off-the-shelf product, created by an internal staff, or acquired as an outsourced service. Consultants are professionals who assist with varying phases of the software creation process. They provide advice regarding the design, coding, or implementation of a program based upon organizational processes. Software development consultants can be an individual contractor or a complete firm with numerous experienced professionals. The service allows a company to obtain a solid solution designed to meet exact business desires at an optimal cost.

Off-the-shelf applications are rigid and costly products that often require an organization to adjust their processes to utilize the features being offered. Outsourced or internally coded apps provide the flexibility often necessary to generate a workable program to fit organizational processes. Maintaining an internal staff can be costly when a company is not creating consumer based software products. Hiring, payroll, and benefits for technical staff members take away from what could be invested into a productive software solution. Outsourced services offer expanded knowledge in multiple areas at a lower cost than an internal staff and can just as easily support the provided solution.

Application Development Software: Progressive Team Practices Improve Project Outcomes

Application development software practices are not set in stone as they once used to be. Traditional coding followed a set process where all features had to be defined upfront to be part of the design. Several individual programmers and internal teams still follow the traditional programming approach. Outsourced consulting services are beginning to take a different approach involving the same basic steps but at a much faster pace. Requirement coding is completed in short time frames to offer a working copy to a company throughout the development process. An organization can receive a usable version within the first week to two weeks of development and be using it as further features are being added. This approach is increasingly cost effective because only the necessary coding is performed. Traditional practices take several months to complete with the results often being less than desirable to a business.

Application development software professionals have enhanced experience in the vast multitude of functions organizations need an application to address. They also understand how requirements can change as a business better learns what is desired from the application. Consultants use their expertise and knowledge to help a company determine the best solution for meeting a specific function or set of processes. Individual contractors often have experience in certain business areas whereas a firm is familiar with various industries. Consultants are sometimes brought in to assist an in-house staff struggling with a project or can be hired in place of internal employees for a specific coding goal. Business and outsourced professionals work together to determine requirements, time frames, and design factors multiple times during the coding process. Software development consultants are a good choice when a business is lacking necessary knowledge or is uncertain as to what is needed. Outsourced services typically offer decreased costs to companies who need a thorough team working on the project but do not have affordable resources within their immediate area.

How to Identify Whether Your Social Media Consultant Is Right for You

With all the hustle and bustle of social media marketing, we can always do better with the help of a social media consultant. This applies most especially to those who are relatively new in the online marketing business.

It is pretty easy to imagine how confusing, difficult and overwhelming it must be for those who just recently jumped into the competitive waters of online social marketing.While there are some who are eager to get down and dirty with business and do trial and error, others simply do not have the time or patience for the gritty details surrounding the business.

This is where employing the expertise of a social media consultant is greatly needed to jumpstart one’s online business. However, do not let this urgent need fool you into just accepting anybody’s help. There will definitely be some people who will claim to be experts even if they do not know a single thing about the business. These people will waste a whole lot of your time and squander your money for their own gain without giving you an iota of the results you are aiming for.

To protect yourself and your business, here are some factors you should consider before you go ahead and hire a consultant.


The first thing that a consultant should be able to help you with your business is their knowledge of the entire industry; the market that you are involved in and the people who are most likely patronizing your products.

If a person claims to know a whole lot about the industry, you should then ask them about how much they know about you or your business. Does he understand your brand well enough and will he be able to find a way to mould a whole strategy around your company or product? When they give you sufficient answers you can then know that this person is the right man or woman for the job because he or she will be able to make the right and effective decisions for your strategy!

Social Media Connection

One of the best ways to engage and build relevant business relationships is through social media. There are those who are aware of the in-depth strategies needed and then there are those who just log in on Facebook or Twitter and claim to know how to utilize the network with marketing.

The question that you should never fail to ask is, “How is he going to marry your business with social media?” How fast can he understand the trends regarding your social network followers and how can he put two and two together to create a successful campaign? If he cannot do this, then you might as well say adios!

This goes the same when it concerns targeting the right people and getting them to respond to your updates, blogs as well as polls and surveys. If he doesn’t meet your expectations and you feel like you are not engaging new people for quite a while, then the person you are working with might be a fraud.

Remember, your business is important and the people who should be working with and for you, like social media consultants, should be an asset and not a roadblock. That is why you should always keep in mind to ask the right questions and not jump in with your eyes closed.

Statistical Consultation for PhD Dissertation

Dissertations require extensive work and in depth knowledge in many areas including statistics, so for PhD candidates statistical consulting services are a life savior. They can be life-saving, indeed, as the life of a doctoral candidate revolves mostly around his or her dissertation.

The best advice for a PhD candidate

Work smart, not hard! You have to put a lot of effort into your dissertation, so you should take every chance to make things easier. It is important to realize from the start that extensive hard work in the wrong direction will never help you achieve your goal. It is the combination of hard work with smart work that will take you ahead of your competition. The single most important factor that will make the difference in your dissertation journey is expert help, so do not hesitate to take that in the right moment.

It may be your first dissertation but there are experts available who have exclusive experience in dissertation work. They can grasp the core problem of your study and take you along in the process of writing a successful dissertation which is your ultimate goal. It is important to concentrate and be methodological until the final sentence of the final draft. The most difficult part will be the thesis data analysis and writing up thedissertation results, so keep an eye on the issue and start looking for statistical consulting services early in the process.

Setting the stage for dissertation writing

First of all, you need some quiet time in order to plan your writing. So why not take a cup of coffee and find a calm place where you can think about your dissertation, make a mind map and write it down. It is normal to have random thoughts at the beginning but eventually your ideas will get more organized. Do some research on the topics which came into your mind and consult your supervisor. He will be able to give you direction and orientation on what questions to ask in your study.

Dissertation writing when doing your PhD is very different from other research projects which you might have done at master’s level. It is far more professional, detailed, and demands high levels of accuracy. Be ready to go through numerous research papers while organizing the literature review and setting the foundation of your dissertation. It is useful to keep a diary of your work plans and to set achievable deadlines. Start your work early and be consistent so that you are not stressed towards the end.

Getting things right!

Getting things right in the beginning of the process is essential as this will smooth up the process. Correcting mistakes at later stage is cumbersome and at times impossible. The first and foremost question you should face is the statistical basis of your research paper. The reason for that is quite simple: mistakes in the statistical aspects of the paper will bring more difficulty, distress, disappointment and failure later on. It is the most essential issue you should be focusing on.

While doing the literature review, writing the study proposal, introduction, background and the rest of the dissertation, you will have to include statistical analysis of the data. It is always the statistical significance of the paper that matters. Most importantly, dissertation writing is not a one man show. Professional dissertation writing involves other disciplines as well, and the assistance that would be the most beneficial for you is that of the statisticians. The involvement of a statistical consultancy company with expert statisticians at the right phase of your dissertation writing will make things easy and help you avoid future worries. Statistical consultancy services offer exclusive statistics consulting and statistics help for doctoral candidates.

What is the bottom line?

Conserve your energy and get the work done by the best. PhD dissertation writing is not the time for experimentation. You cannot afford failure at this point, so what you need is to ask for assistance from the experts of the field at the right time. Statistics is a highly specialized field and it can have a tremendous impact on the success of your dissertation. Think about incorporate statistician services in all the stages: from the study protocol, designing, and sampling to thesis data analysis and write up.

Retirement Plan Consultants

Ted’s are not created equal. Too often, they are comprised of proprietary funds that restrict fiduciary oversight, and proposed DOLE regulations will add transparency, but won’t affect a plan’s underlying strategy. Retirement plan consultants should review their investment options, analyze the “glide paths” of the funds and ensure that the strategy chosen best suits the needs and demographics of plan participants.

Bear markets make for greater scrutiny in the financial markets and, more specifically, financial products. However, just as many regulations seem to come after the damage is done (i.e., the legislation that followed the Enron crisis), the same fate may await target-date funds.

Since the early part of the decade, Ted’s have seen their assets swell at parabolic rates. The competition has been fierce among mutual-fund companies to gather sticky assets in the lucrative 401(k) market. Unfortunately, in the face of stiff competition, many of those companies increased more risky asset classes in exchange for more attractive performance records during the bull markets of 2003 to 2007.

And many investors and retirement plan consultants evaluated these investments the way the fund companies anticipated they would — based on performance.

Let’s face it, who in their right mind would buy a 2030 fund that was under-performing a competitor’s 2030 fund?

The problem is no two Ted’s are created equal. For example, in a bull market, a “go-go” 2030 fund, comprised of 70 percent stock, should outperform its counterpart at another firm with a 50 percent stock exposure.

However, the converse will hold true in a market decline and will be more profound as the declines steeper.

The variations in returns illustrate the radical differences in allocations to stocks in the same target-date category with equity exposure ranging drastically from 65 percent to 25 percent. Take, for example, the market turmoil of 2008, when investment losses for funds with a target date of 2010 were as great as -41 percent and as small as -9 percent, with an average loss of -23 percent, according to Morning-star.

The Devil’s in the Details

The legislative guidance in the Pension Protection Act of 2006 made target-date funds a qualified default investment alternative (ADDIA), providing safe-harbor protection for plan fiduciaries. They have quickly become staples in the retirement-plan marketplace.

However, just as in the case of plan sponsors and independent investment advisers who monitor funds and, when necessary, remove certain funds from a plan’s investment options, similar oversight is required for target-date funds — but it is often mismanaged.

According to industry leading ERINA attorney Fred Relish, with Relish & Richer, his firm “finds general and vague language describing the selection and monitoring of target-date funds.”

The majority of plan sponsors take great pride in the fund-review process as outlined in their investment policy statement, but they tend to fall short in this area when it comes to target-date funds. The reason is simple. Most target-date funds are comprised entirely of proprietary funds of the underlying fund family and/or its affiliates.

So, by design, the sponsors have limited oversight capabilities pertaining to the holdings — at no fault of the plan sponsors.

However, according to Relish: “A plan sponsor must also be aware whether the management of the target-date fund is limited in its ability to select the underlying investments and/or has embedded conflicts of interest. (For example, is the manager of the target-date fund required, either as a practical matter or a written restriction, to select only the mutual funds of the affiliated manager?)”

It is unlikely for one independent investment advisers to have the best-in-class offering across the entire range of asset classes. Most would agree the premier retirement-plan investment menu is comprised of a multifamily, best-in-class investment lineup. The target-date strategy should not be any different.

Unfortunately, most plan sponsors include a single-family target-date line-up that invests completely in proprietary funds. For example, the three largest fund families invest completely in their own proprietary funds as underlying assets.

With estimates of 50 percent to 60 percent of asset flows going into target-date funds and plan sponsors lacking monitoring and removal capabilities of the underlying investments, it’s even more egregious for recommending proprietary target-date funds as the default investment.

Criteria and Standards

We reviewed 401(k) plan investments for a large institution with assets in excess of $330 million. It offered 16 investment choices including eight proprietary funds, of which seven are target-date funds. The proprietary Ted’s attracted more than 40 percent of plan assets, or nearly $140 million.

The funds were then analyzed and scored using 10 criteria and standards from five different categories including fund characteristics (track record), performance, risk adjusted return, volatility and expenses. A fund is required to pass a minimum of seven of the 10 criteria to be considered passing.

A study of the underlying funds revealed all of the 20 underlying investments were, in fact, proprietary funds of the fund family. What’s worse is of those 20, eleven — or 55 percent — of the funds fail to meet fiduciary standards and are unsuitable investment options.

Unfortunately, none of this information was ever disclosed or reviewed by the plan-oversight committee — until now. It’s a compromising situation that needs to be resolved.

I believe it is the duty and responsibility of fiduciaries to the plan participants to know this data and, more importantly, act on it. Anything less is, in my opinion, a breach of fiduciary obligation.

Glide Path

Just as deciding if your plan-investment philosophy is to have funds go down less in a down market (more conservative) or go up more in an up market (more aggressive), plan sponsors should first decide if they want their target-date funds to get their employees “to” or “through” retirement. The formula for this is the fund’s glide path.

The glide path is a predetermined allocation based on stocks, bonds and cash; the younger a participant, the more exposure to stock. As the participant nears retirement, the allocation automatically reduces the concentration in stock and shifts to more conservative bond and cash investments. In contrast to target-date mutual funds, these glide paths can be customized to meet the needs and the demographics of the plan participants.

This is a comparison of two sample glide paths (“to” and “through”) illustrating the change in stock exposure over time.

The concept underlying the “through” approach is that investors will need to have their assets grow throughout retirement. Conversely, the “to” strategy provides less risk for retirement-aged investors who do not have the tolerance for riskier allocations to stock.

Neither is right nor wrong, but it is the duty of the plan committee and/or investment consultant to decide which strategy best suits the needs and demographics of plan participants. Not sure you are up for the task? Well, if you have a TDD in your investment line-up, you’ve already made the decision — formally or by happenstance.

I am not sure how many of us can say we consciously decided on which style (to or though) was best for the plan when the TDD strategy was chosen, especially if they were chosen more than three years ago.
One reason is because there weren’t many tools available to do so — until now.

I believe we should be judged on the decisions we make based on the prevailing circumstances at the time the decisions were made, so not having the tools available then makes the actions understandable.

However, as times have changed, so, too, have the circumstances. Plan sponsors can’t continue the old course of action as though they are still best practices today. With new procedures available, plan sponors need to revisit the evaluation and choices of TDD strategies.

Quadrant and Glide-Path Analysis

Such prudent and documented selection processes should include:

1. Asset-allocation analysis;
2. Glide-path analysis;
3. Needs, ages and participants’ behaviors; and
4. Evaluation and monitoring of fees.

Each target date has a unique glide path and falls into one of four equity-exposure quadrants. It is incumbent upon plan sponsors and consultants to know and document the decisions they’ve made regarding both.

These tools and reports are designed to provide a framework for identifying and evaluating target-date funds that align more closely to a plan’s overall goals and its participants’ needs. The goal of the tools is to help plan sponsors assess their retirement plans’ desired level of equity exposure for participants at or near retirement and asset-class diversification — two important characteristics of Ted’s.

The framework also encourages plan sponsors to understand and consider the characteristics and behaviors of their workforce as part of the target-date-selection process — factors the Department of Labor has also stated fiduciaries should take into account when designing the investment menu for a defined-contribution plan.

On Nov. 30, 2010, the DOLE proposed new regulations requiring plan fiduciaries to provide enhanced disclosures about target-date funds to retirement-plan participants. The proposal would also amplify the investment information that must be disclosed about a plan’s qualified default investment alternative, even if it is not a target-date fund.

This transparency is intended to help participants make more informed decisions about their investments. However, the majority of participants investing in Ted’s do so because they do not have the time, knowledge or inclination to analyze and manage their investment portfolio on a regular basis.

Only time will tell if providing participants with more information on a subject they rely on others to handle will create the results the DOLE anticipated.

The proposed regulations do not encourage a revision of the target-date strategies, but do create additional transparency and oversight. In other words, plan participants will still be offered the same strategies creating the same investment outcome as before, but with government-mandated disclosures.

Rethinking TDD Strategy

The solution is to change the strategy and/or the process that produces it — and not endorse the current product with greater government regulation.

In the multilateral target-date-fund structure, the underlying mutual funds are chosen from a broad universe of investment managers. Taking it a step further, custom target-date models are used to create the target-date funds with investments that are already in the menu of options being monitored by the plan committee (and, if applicable, an independent investment consultant).

This gives greater fiduciary oversight and control to the plan sponsor, thus helping them fulfill their fiduciary obligations and making them better stewards for the participants.

Once the appropriate target-date glide-path philosophy has been established, the plan committee or investment consultant will, in a fiduciary capacity, create the target-date funds using the underlying plan-menu options.

The same monitoring standards given to the underlying funds will, by design, be given to the Ted’s. If a fund is removed from the general fund line-up and replaced, it will automatically be removed and replaced within the target-date funds. This should be an automated process requiring no additional steps.

This transparency and uniformity provides an extra layer of fiduciary protection and overall prudence. Because investing in securities involves certain risks, projected guarantees cannot be made regarding the account values at the anticipated retirement age of the participant (the target date).

Moreover, many platforms allow for the inclusion of “satellite” strategies not typically offered in most retirement plans to build the custom target dates from areas such as commodities or emerging markets. They provide for an additional layer of diversification but are typically not recommended for a core investment menu.

When it comes to investment monitoring, fiduciary duties can be shared but cannot be transferred completely to another entity. So, the buck ultimately stops with the plan committee.

Since the committee approves the glide path and underlying investment options, custom Ted’s give the plan sponsor greater control, customization and transparency. They also add an additional layer of fiduciary process and prudence.

However, creating the target date from a core line-up is not enough. The employer is still obligated to have a documented and prudent strategy for monitoring and replacing the underlying funds. If they don’t adhere to a structured process, then they will be following the same flawed target-date-fund strategy plaguing our industry.