Tag Archives: Development

How user feedback influences Microsoft Business Application development

Internally, Microsoft runs every aspect of the company using data. We refer to this as our “Data Culture”. As the leader of business intelligence and analytics for James Phillips, the Corporate Vice President who leads the Business Applications Group, I am often asked why and how we manage user feedback. With this post, I would like to share our practices around collecting and using data to accelerate development of business applications like Power BI, Power Apps, Microsoft Flow and the range of Dynamics 365 products.

The primary metrics for Microsoft products in the Business Applications Group are the MAU (Monthly Active Users) and the NPS (Net Promoter Score). These metrics drive our organizational behavior to ensure that people use our applications and that they are satisfied. We view this combination of metrics as a leading indicator of product success and our progress on the mission of empowering every individual to achieve more.

What is the Net Promoter Score?

NPS is an industry wide customer loyalty metric and an approach to manage user perceived product quality. At Microsoft Business Application Group, we determine NPS by asking two questions: “How likely are you to recommend to a friend or colleague?”, followed up by the free-form question, “Why?”.

Users answer the first question on a scale of 0-10 pts. Those who answer 9 or 10 are called promoters, 7 or 8 answers are the passives, and those scoring between 0 and 6 are called detractors. Then the Net Promoter Score is calculated by subtracting the share of detractors from the share of promoters in your population, and can reach values from -100 to +100. The above calculation makes it a very sensitive and useful metric, since shifting user attitudes are immediately visible through a changing score.

Even with that number, we still get the most useful insights from analyzing the comments provided by users as they explain why they would (or wouldn’t) recommend a product. These comments provide valuable direction for Product Managers on what they need to prioritize to ensure the success of their users.

Every user has a right to share their feedback

In most of our modern SaaS products we try to capture NPS effortlessly, with a dialogue shown to end users. Below is an example of this survey:

257c4e16 6fdb 4fd3 a43d e306deba2e47 How user feedback influences Microsoft Business Application development

We have put a lot of effort into ensuring this dialogue is as optimized as possible. Users have the options of providing numeric feedback in two clicks, sharing a comprehensive opinion if desired, or simply dismissing the dialogue. We schedule such survey to appear not more often than every 90 days, and only to users that have a history of meaningful activity. Thanks to all these considerations, more than 25% of users who see the dialogue provide us with useful feedback. This is a large share, particularly when compared to the low single digit response rates to the email surveys we used previously.

Even though it is rare for any particular user to see an NPS prompt, we capture a lot of useful feedback this way due to our large user base. All feedback is read daily by the respective Product Managers, and it influences decisions on the agile development of our products. Since many of the Microsoft’s business application products are now releasing monthly or even weekly updates, the opinions of users can quickly turn into new or improved features, or optimized performance.

One of Microsoft’s core values as a company is customer obsession, and this influences even how we process anonymous feedback. We intentionally sort through all feedback manually to stay close to our users, instead of automating it with data science.

The user is our ultimate boss

It’s common wisdom in business that “the user is the boss”, but for large products it is often difficult to establish an efficient connection from that “boss” to the product decision-makers. In the Business Applications Group, we ensure that all product leaders are motivated to increase NPS, as it is one of the two top KPIs they are held responsible for, as earlier explained in the post on our executive dashboards. Metrics have the power to orient behaviors of organizations, and hence every product team is motivated to read and immediately act on user comments passed via the NPS feedback dialogue. We have seen this on-going feedback process drive rapid development and product strategy choices, and balance investments between product performance and new features. Our users have, in turn, rewarded us with growing NPS scores.

One of my wise managers taught me that no matter how positive or negative it is, “feedback is a gift” that you should be thankful for. So, I would also like to thank all of you — our users — for sharing your feedback with us and helping us continuously improve Microsoft’s business applications.

Slawomir leads business intelligence, data science and advanced analytics for the Microsoft Business Applications Engineering group. Until 2015 he served as a Director of Consumer Intelligence at Microsoft after 11 years with Procter and Gamble, where among other assignments he was a CIO in Central Europe, spearheaded use of Business Analytics and led all digital marketing and CRM operations in 100+ countries of EMEA. He enjoys speaking and writing about enterprise data transformation, data science and NPS.

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2 Ways User Acceptance Testing Can Lower Microsoft Dynamics 365 Development Costs

CRM Blog 2 Ways User Acceptance Testing Can Lower Microsoft Dynamics 365 Development Costs

Are you ready to kick the tires on Dynamics 365?

When we are working on a Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM) development project we will release it, in intervals, to a staging environment. This allows you as the customer to “kick the tires” and validate that what we have delivered is what you expected.

This is called “user acceptance testing”.  This phase is key to keeping your project on time and on budget.

1. Multiple Users

The reason that we solicit feedback in stages during the project is because it is much easier, and more cost effective, to make changes during the process rather than after the deployment.

At times, just one person will quickly test the system and tell us it looks fine, just to keep the project moving.  This will usually backfire when other users see the end result and realize that the solution doesn’t work for their specific job requirements.

You need to task multiple people at your company, in various roles, to do extensive testing in different scenarios and provide specific feedback. This will dramatically cut down on the number of expensive change requests that are submitted later.

To avoid delays, this user acceptance testing can be built into the project timeline so you know in advance when specific people will need to be available for this phase.

2. Consolidated Feedback

When we receive multiple emails, and are included on email strings while everyone discusses their feedback, it takes extra time. And details are likely to be lost.

You will save money if you provide us with one master consolidated list of feedback and change requests. Be as detailed as you can, even providing screenshots or hand drawn pictures if that will help to clarify the change you are requesting.

Our goal is to deliver a Dynamics 365 system that exactly fits your needs. The less time we spend doing that, the lower your project costs will be.

By following these tips during the user acceptance testing phase, you will be more satisfied with your Microsoft Dynamics 365 system and you’ll save money too.

If you would like to discuss the steps to a successful Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Microsoft Dynamics CRM) project, contact us at 877-600-2253 or [email protected].

By Ryan Plourde, Crowe Horwath, a Microsoft Dynamics 365/CRM Gold Partner www.CroweCRM.com

Follow us on Twitter: @CroweCRM

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Marketing strategy development: Partners ply social, traditional ways

Many marketing executives at IT service companies will tell you that marketing strategy development is a lot more complicated than it used to be.

As IT service providers make plans to prioritize their marketing efforts in 2017, they are finding that not only has the explosion of social media created more channels to broadcast their message, but some say the variety of platforms being offered has complicated their decision to find the right place to air their message effectively.

The growing use of YouTube, Facebook and other social media marketing outlets, along with the rising importance of blogs, content marketing, case studies and webinars have joined the more traditional marketing approaches such as networking at trade shows, lunch and learns, telemarketing campaigns and direct mail outreach as formidable ways to reach new clients.

“I am seeing the best-of-breed service providers using a combination of everything to get their marketing message across,” said Stuart Crawford, CEO at Ulistic LP, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based marketing firm that represents managed service providers (MSPs). “Companies are using lunch and learns, virtual seminars, trade show and speaking engagements with executives in various vertical sectors, but they are also getting engaged on social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to get their message across.”

stuart crawford Marketing strategy development: Partners ply social, traditional waysStuart Crawford

Crawford’s observations reflect the findings of The CMO Survey’s research which found that spending on social media has more than tripled, from 3.5% to 11.7% of marketing budgets from 2009 to 2016.

One company that has made the decision to use social media marketing platforms as the main delivery mechanism for its communications strategy this year is Foursys Ltd., an IT security services company based in the United Kingdom. Still, Andy Wool, marketing manager at Foursys, told SearchITChannel that his company will continue to invest in traditional activities that have yielded results in previous years, such as events, webinars and outbound marketing.

wool andy Marketing strategy development: Partners ply social, traditional waysAndy Wool

“In 2017 we’ll be spending equal amounts of resources, and more than we have ever invested before, on content marketing, specifically video, search engine optimization and paid content promotion across social platforms,” Wool said. “YouTube is now the second largest search engine in the world and we plan on utilizing that platform in the coming 12 months.”

Tech change affects marketing strategy development

While companies are deciding what tools they’ll use to get their message across, marketing executives also have to contend with the dynamics that come with the introduction of new technology and the trickle-down impact that forces channel companies to offer new products and services to stay competitive. This, in turn, affects how they’ll market themselves for future growth.

Whether they are providing platforms for the internet of things market, offering cybersecurity offerings in the age of ransomware, scouting for potential clients looking for artificial intelligence solutions, hoping to win new customers with cloud computing or exploring blockchain technology, convincing clients that their company is the best IT service provider to do the job can be a tough sell in a crowded market.

The biggest challenge a value-added reseller faces is the breadth of products they have available to market.

Andy Woolmarketing manager, Foursys Ltd.

For many IT providers that offer a variety of technologies, developing a message that clearly states how all the products and services being offered will work to solve a customer’s  business needs adds another layer of complexity to marketing strategy development.

“The biggest challenge a value-added reseller faces is the breadth of products they have available to market,” Wool said. “They could literally send a marketing message a day and that still won’t be enough to cover all areas of service. Devising a VAR marketing strategy that’s most optimal for the goals of the business and minimizes opportunity cost is a challenge even the most experienced channel marketer will struggle with — unless they’re very specialized.”

Taking the long view: Educational marketing

The ability to convey what an IT provider can offer has given rise to what Crawford describes as educational marketing, which calls for IT service companies to educate the business community on how to cost effectively implement technology, how the technology will align with their business goals and what they can expect the return on investment to be in the months after a technology implementation is completed.

“It’s not a sales approach, it’s an educational approach and that takes longer,” Crawford explained. “Sometimes it takes three to six to eight months for a business to understand how the technology will improve their operations. The immature managed service company will throw in the towel long before they start realizing the true benefit of an effective educational marketing strategy because their patience runs out or they just run out of cash.”

louissaint stanley Marketing strategy development: Partners ply social, traditional waysStanley Louissaint

For Stanley Louissaint, president of Fluid Designs Inc., who is also the sole marketing executive at the IT service provider based in Union, N.J., the top item on the agenda this year is face-to-face networking events and speaking engagements, which will allow him to convey his message to smaller audiences.

But there’s also a social media component to Fluid Designs’ marketing strategy development effort. This year, Louissaint said he’ll continue to use Facebook’s advertising platform, which can locate companies in the vertical markets he wants to reach, identify the names of executives he wants to connect with and geographically locate businesses that are in close proximity to his office.

Facebook will be particularly helpful, Louissaint said, in supporting his plan to target law offices that have between five to 100 employees.  

“With Facebook you can drill down and select the audience you want to target and that gives you the ability to control how your marketing dollars are spent because you are not casting a wide net,” Louissaint said. “Facebook also provides helpful metrics. For example, if somebody views or clicks on my Facebook ad that activity is tracked.”

The MDF challenge

Louissaint added that looking for an easy way to market his company is important and one of the reasons why he hasn’t approached manufacturers for market development funds (MDF). He added that while securing MDF should be helpful in supporting marketing strategy development, the process required to secure these funds take a lot of time and effort and the money is tied to a set of requirements that may not always be beneficial to his company.

“Having to go out there and find marketing development funds takes a lot of work,” Louissaint said. “Another problem is once you find MDF dollars you discover a lot of manufacturers have limitations on what you can do. They don’t necessarily support every marketing idea you have to use those funds.”

Crawford, who once ran an MSP, said scouting for MDF dollars often means that in order to demonstrate that you can sell their technology, vendors want to see that your company’s IT staff possesses the technical skills to understand the applications and services vendors offer.

“That’s a challenge for a lot of smaller MSPs that just don’t have a sales volume,” Crawford said. “Another hurdle is that many vendors want you to be an advocate for them and commit to saying that you won’t sell any other solution but theirs. A lot of vendors have reservations that they are going to distribute marketing funds to solution providers and then they’re going to shift that money to assist with implementing another solution.”

Partner marketing: Strategy development may tap many channels

As IT service providers seek the best way to fund their marketing plans, and drive an effective marketing message, one thing is constant — all the marketing channels are not going away, Crawford said.

“Different people respond to different messages that are presented in different ways,” Crawford said. “Marketing has to be painted with a very broad brush to hit all the senses. Some people like to read, some people like to visualize and some people like to hear your voice. But at the end of the day, no matter what tools you use to convey your message, effective marketing still involves talking to the client about how to achieve their business objectives and business targets and that hasn’t changed.”

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5 software development mistakes that spell failure

20 300x144 5 software development mistakes that spell failureAssumptions, omitted details and misalignment are some of the most common factors contributing to failed software development projects. In this article we look at some of the most common mistakes made during software development projects.

When it comes to software development and implementation, going back to basics, following the rules and sticking to the scope are some of the most important factors to avoid costly mistakes and wasted time. Drawing from 15 years of experience working with software developers, project managers and clients, I have listed the five most common mistakes made during software development projects with tips on how you can avoid them.

1. Lack of Planning and Assumptions

Organisation often underestimate the planning phase of a software development project and don’t delve into enough detail to ensure a holistic overview of the project requirements and phases.

In these situations, the project planning phase is often superficial with the scope underestimated. Often stakeholders might also feel like certain sections of the development phase are “easy enough to understand” or that they have “done it before”. Once they start executing on the development requirements, however, they need to unscope (amend) sections which results in wasted time and increased costs.

To refrain from making this mistake, organisations need to follow a methodology when it comes to software development. Whether following an agile or waterfall methodology, procedures and templates need to be implemented and utilised and processes have to be adhered to.

2. Scope Creep  

Scope creep occurs at multiple levels. Often, as stakeholders are executing on the software development plan, “nice-to-haves” creep up and get added to the work breakdown structure, and all of a sudden 500 hours accumulate to 700. This situation greatly impacts the overall cost of a project as well as the timeline. Therefore, you have to define what the product is that you are aiming for and what the minimum requirements are to enable a viable go-to-market.

It is important to differentiate between nice-to-haves and have-to-haves with the latter defined in your work breakdown structure –all of the requirements needed to create a viable product. What is important, is that once that document has been signed off all stakeholders stick to it.

If nice-to-haves do creep up, put those features into a backlog and add them into another phase of development after the product is viable and has gone to market.

3. Communication and Misalignment

From product owner to the shareholder, everyone needs to understand where the project is tracking, what risks have been recognized, and what possible scope changes have been identified with early and constant communication to all stakeholders to ensure alignment.

To avoid miscommunication and alignment between stakeholders an acceptance criterion should be compiled during the planning phase of a project. Following this, wireframes should be designed, and it is crucial for this coupled with the acceptance criterion to be signed off by all stakeholder involved.

As the project moves into the development phase, weekly reports should be sent to all stakeholders and with daily stand ups occurring between team members to ensure that all resources are adequately assigned, allocated and managed in line with the stakeholders’ requirements.

Standups are a quick get-together between all team members that enable them to quickly catch up, ask any crucial questions, and ensure everyone is still aligned. This enables organization to avoid pitfalls and misalignment – an occurrence not to be overlooked in the world of IT.

Misalignment often occurs between developers and clients owing to a technical and non-technical viewpoint and interpretation of the same message, highlighting the need for a process owner that understands both the technical side of the project along with the client’s requirements and is able to align all stakeholders regarding execution and expectations.

4. Rapid changes in technology

Rapid changes in technology should not be underestimated in the project planning phase.   It happens quite often that a project is running smoothly and on-time for deadline when one of the technologies used issues a new upgrade or service pack, rendering the product being developed non-compliant.

These kinds of risks should form part of an organisations’ risk document with additional hours allocated in the project plan for risk items and the resultant impact it could have on the timeline and costs specified.

5. Scaling too big with Cloud

Cloud computing enables businesses to be scalable and flexible and, most importantly, to save costs and utilise an array of features that enable rapid growth and transformation.

While these features are amazing and revolutionary, organisations need to carefully plan how they will utilise the cloud during the planning phase of a software development project to ensure that they match their actual requirements to the available features, suppliers and service plans.

While it might be tempting to access as many features as possible as you aim to make your product as big as possible, this can result in a lot of extra costs for features you may never use. Rather start small and scale as needed – that is the beauty of the cloud!

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New Baoli/Coolpad JV Focused On Dual-screen Phone Development

Coolpad Group announced that the company plans to establish a joint venture with China Baoli Technologies Holdings Limited to develop dual-screen phones with both e-ink and color screens.

Coolpad will own a 49% stake in the joint venture, while China Baoli will own the remaining 51%. The joint venture will have registered capital of CNY200 million, including CNY98 million invested by Coolpad and CNY102 million invested by China Baoli. The joint venture will not be considered an affiliate of Coolpad, but rather a wholly separate venture.

China Baoli already has a seven-year exclusive promotion and sales rights of Russia’s dual-screen phone YotaPhone in mainland China, so this new new joint venture aims to undercut the Russian deal and propel China Baoli towards its goal of manufacturing and selling its own product.

By cooperating with China Baoli, Coolpad will be able to realize diversified product expansion and enter the dual-screen phone market.

Last week Coolpad published its semi-annual performance for the first half of 2016, stating that the company’s operating revenue was HKD5.277 billion, a year-on-year decrease of 39.9% from HKD8.783 billion. Meanwhile, the company reported net losses of HKD2.053 billion, a year-on-year decrease of 173%.

According to Coolpad, its revenue decrease was mainly attributed to its group business unit restructuring and the severe competition of the Chinese mainland smartphone market during the first half of 2016. Its losses were mainly attributed to the sales of several rights and interests of the joint venture within the group.

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Industry responds to artificial intelligence technology development

TTlogo 379x201 Industry responds to artificial intelligence technology development

Responses to a White House request for information about the future of artificial intelligence show a continued divide between those who are ready to embrace intelligent machines and those who worry about a future in which robots run the world.

The responses were made public this month after the White House Office of Science and Technology issued a call for input about how artificial intelligence technology is currently shaping the world, how AI is likely to develop in the future and what role the government should play in either encouraging or regulating development.

The request for information drew responses from large corporations, such as IBM, Google and Microsoft, as well as from academia and private citizens. The responses show there still is little agreement about the future of AI.

Some comments reflected unease with a future in which machines make many of our decisions:

Mark Finlayson, assistant professor, School of Computing and Information Sciences at Florida International University

“The danger is not machines run amok, as suggested by some, like [Elon] Musk or [Stephen] Hawking (who know nothing about AI). The danger is, like nuclear weapons, what AI will allow us to do to ourselves. And it is not a remote possibility, but already happening: Uber, for example, is proposing a fleet of driverless cars. What happens when the profits associated with whole industries are not distributed across the whole world, but flow into the coffers of a single company or person?”

Lisa Hayes, vice president of programs and strategy at the Center for Democracy & Technology

“The Center for Democracy & Technology is optimistic about the future of artificial intelligence, and confident the technology will have widespread positive impacts. However, the rapidly developing technology will have significant effects on jobs, education and policy, as well as ethical and regulatory implications for the federal government. It takes time for processes to change, standards to emerge and people to learn new skills. In the case of AI, the government must act quickly to prepare for these changes, as the technology will diffuse rapidly.”

Mary Wareham, advocacy director for the arms division at Human Rights Watch

“Artificial intelligence and robotic autonomy have already had a major impact on our lives, from simple processes like vacuuming to complex ones like self-driving cars and Google’s DeepMind project. However, no field of artificial intelligence raises urgent and serious human-rights concerns more than the research and development of fully autonomous weapons. While none currently exist, these weapons raise serious moral and legal concerns, because they would possess the ability to select and engage their targets without meaningful human control.”

David Heiner, vice president and deputy general counsel of regulatory affairs at Microsoft

“We are enthusiastic about the development of usable tools, languages, components and platforms that empower people to harness the best technologies available. However, we understand that there are many who are concerned about the economic disruptions that may come with the fast-paced automation and the displacement of different kinds of jobs. Such disruptions could initially most impact those who are struggling to survive. We also understand and share concerns that AI technologies could amplify and entrench biases that already exist in society, or may create new biases, based on the use of biased data sets and algorithms.”

Other commenters pointed out that the world is already reaping the benefits from artificial intelligence technology and suggested there is no reason to fear further development.

Sean Legassick, policy adviser at DeepMind Technologies Ltd.

“We envisage machine learning systems being designed as tools that complement and empower the smart and highly motivated experts working in such fields by enabling efficient analysis of large volumes of data, extracting insights and providing humans with recommendations to take action. This could be in areas ranging from early diagnosis of disease, discovery of new medicines, advances in materials science or optimizing use of energy and resources.”

James Hairston, manager of public policy at Facebook

“People are beginning to reap the benefits of AI — from healthcare and astronomy to the tasks we do every day. Machine learning is helping us map new objects in space and detect diseases with new accuracy that will save lives. AI-powered tools, like digital assistants and instant language translation, are engendering more commerce and communication, making people more productive in the process.”

Many commenters were most interested in the potential benefits that artificial intelligence technology could deliver in the future. They see concerns about the dangers of the technology as overblown and see it as the only way to advance society.

Tim Day, senior vice president of the Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

“For AI to reach its full potential, there must be an open environment to allow for continuing research. Creating responsible AI that is programmed to work from strong data is one of the open challenges. There have been numerous reports on cases of discrimination in connection with machine learning. This demonstrates how biased data begets discriminatory results with machine learning algorithms. To avoid these failures, there is a need to address data gaps. Going forward, the federal government can contribute to enhancing this technology by releasing quality, robust data sets used in publicly deployed systems and lead efforts to determine how to solve these data gaps.”

Henry Lieberman, research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

“Recent dire warnings by well-known figures, such as Elon Musk and Steven Hawking, of the ‘dangers of runaway AI’ are overblown. While research into AI safety makes sense, government should not view AI as an existential threat, in the same category as things like climate change.”

Andrew Kim, public policy and government affairs at Google

“Many discussions about the potential benefits and consequences of machine learning remain speculative and focused on potential long-term implications and theoretical edge cases. Many research questions need to be addressed before society comes to confront these hypothetical questions.”

Guru Banavar, vice president of cognitive computing at IBM Research

“AI systems are augmenting human intelligence and will ultimately transform our personal and professional lives. Its benefits far outweigh its risks. And with the right policies and support, those benefits can be realized sooner.”

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Your Chance To Meet the Analytic SQL Development Team at OpenWorld

cw48v2 support services oow16 v2 3106043 Your Chance To Meet the Analytic SQL Development Team at OpenWorld

Wow, it’s only just under two weeks to go until this year’s OpenWorld kicks off on September 18th at Moscone Center in San Francisco. The analytic SQL development team will be available on the demo booth (id ref 1635) in the database area, Moscone South, to help with any technical questions and provide general guidance and using analytic features of 12c Release 2. Obviously we would love to meet you all and we will keep you up-to-date with the latest data warehouse news coming out of #oow16 by posting updates during week on our social media sites. such as @BigRedDW on twitter.

On the demo grounds we are trying something a little different this year. To give you the best experience of all the new features that we have added to Database 12c Release 2 we are going to showcase different features during the morning and afternoon sessions. Here is the schedule:

Date Morning Topic Afternoon Topic
Monday 10:15am – 1:00pm Analytic Views 1:00pm – 5:30pm Analytic SQL
Tuesday 10:15am – 1:00pm Analytic Views 1:00pm – 5:15pm Analytic SQL
Wednesday 10:15am – 1:00pm Analytic Views 1:00pm – 4:15pm Analytic SQL

This split will allow you to ask our brilliant developers about all the key new SQL features they’ve added and the enhancements they’ve made for 12c Release 2. I’ll be at the booth during both morning and afternoon sessions during the week. Here are the key sessions linked to our demo booths:

Also, check out the panel session Optimizing SQL for Performance and Maintainability which is on Thursday 22nd, 1:15pm – 2:00 pm in Moscone South—103. I will be hosting this will be a great session which will include our AskTom and SQL developer advocates team of Chris and Connor, Mr Optimizer (Nigel Bayliss, John Clarke from the Real World Performance team, Christian Antognini (Senior Principal Consultant, Trivadis AG) and Timothy Hall (DBA, Developer, Author, Trainer, Haygrays Limited). This will be an exciting and lively session so  don’t miss it!

Don’t forget that my fellow data warehousing product managers (Hermann Baer, Yasin Baskan, Nigel Bayliss, George Lumpkin, Jean-Pierre Dijcks) will also be presenting a bunch of sessions so check them out in the full searchable OOW catalog. If you search using keywords like partitioning, warehousing, warehouse, parallel, optimizer and big data you’ll find them!

Alternatively download my Complete Guide to Data Warehousing and Big Data at OpenWorldwhich is available in both Apple iBooks and PDF formats. The PDF format will work on any smartphone, tablet and/or computer. The iBooks format will open on iPads, iPhones and Mac computers via the relevant iBooks App. Please refer to the Apple Apps Store for more information.

Look forward to seeing you all in the beautiful city of San Francisco.

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Ready-to-use machine learning algorithms ease chatbot development

TTlogo 379x201 Ready to use machine learning algorithms ease chatbot development

Some of the tech industry’s heavy hitters promise to give businesses access to high-powered, speech-based machine learning algorithms. The releases are another sign of fierce competition in a market that seems to heat up every week.

The upshot for enterprises could be decreased time to development of advanced machine learning applications with speech and text analytics capabilities. That maps with growing interest in natural language processing and analysis. Twenty-three percent of 614 survey respondents said their organizations are using text analytics tools, with an additional 30% saying they’re either piloting projects or planning them in the near future, according to TechTarget’s 2016 BI and Big Data Analytics Market Landscape Study.

First, IBM released Watson Conversation, a cloud-based tool that enables enterprises to train chatbots using the Watson cognitive computing engine. The service is delivered through the IBM Bluemix cloud platform.

Developers don’t need to be experts in developing machine learning algorithms. The service works by having the developer specify examples of end-user queries and appropriate responses. Watson then uses these examples to train its machine learning models and develop a bot capable of responding using natural language to a variety of queries. Bots can be deployed on web, social media and mobile platforms for a variety of customer service and engagement tasks.

Next up, Google delivered its Cloud Natural Language API. This service lets users analyze the content of text or speech files for sentiment, content and syntax. Users can specify speech to be analyzed through an API call to Google’s cloud-based service. Machine learning algorithms can analyze and parse something as short as a sentence or as long as a news feed.

Together, the two technologies continue the trend of cloud-based, managed machine learning services. Experts often tout the potential of advanced machine learning, and some leading companies have scored big wins using it. For example, Amazon has driven large sales volumes thanks in part to its recommendation engines built around machine learning algorithms. However, these models can be technically complicated and difficult to deploy. They demand a high level of expertise.

This has created an opportunity for the big tech companies to push managed versions of speech-based machine learning applications, and competition in the space is heating up rapidly.

Scale has advantages for the software vendors. Machine learning models get better and better the more data they have to train on. In the case of the two services from IBM and Google, one model underlies each service. As more customers bring their data to the service, it represents new opportunities to train and improve the models. This is one reason why competition is so fierce right now among vendors, as they vie to amass the largest user base.

In addition to IBM and Google, Facebook launched a service this year enabling businesses to build customer service chatbots in its Messenger app backed by its natural language processing algorithms. And Microsoft has made the development of chatbots a centerpiece of its strategy going forward.

Whichever company is able to obtain the most users is likely to develop the best services and win the machine learning platforms war. IBM has jumped out to an early lead with Watson, and the release of Watson Conversations solidifies its position. Google’s new API will help it stay at the top of mind of potential customers. But look for the other players to remain active. This is one area of analytics that isn’t likely to cool off anytime soon.   

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Microsoft PowerApps: The next big thing in application development

Over the years, SharePoint has helped organizations centralize much of their enterprise data and has become one…

of the most popular intranet content management systems. Whether organizations use it to store and retrieve documents or to take advantage of InfoPath forms to capture specific business data, the platform has undergone tremendous adoption.

But since the end of InfoPath product development was announced, SharePoint administrators have been puzzled as to why Microsoft would end its Form Builder tool that has helped many fill the gap in capturing relevant and specific business data. But with the release of Microsoft PowerApps, there are indications that the feature may offer capability that renders InfoPath largely irrelevant.

Announced in April 2016, Microsoft PowerApps provides the ability to build interactive forms that can capture data, offering the flexibility to go on any device regardless of size or platform and without a single line of code.

PowerApps enables any user without development experience to design and manage a custom, mobile-friendly business app. These apps can connect to business data from multiple sources. The service allows business users to build different screens and functions without technical development training. Let’s look at some of its capabilities from a technical and non-technical standpoint.

Building apps without code

With a lightweight designer, users can design new apps within minutes. Users can exploit the designer application by starting from existing app templates, such as asset tracking, service requests apps, and home inspection apps. In addition, the application allows end users to choose from various data sources where the business data lives and also where the captured new data will reside via existing connectors to software-as-a-service-based solutions or other commonly used data storage destinations.

Out-of-the-box integrations

Integrating multiple platforms and applications has always been challenging, and some projects stall because of a lack of integration capability or the high costs associated with building the interface for the systems used by the company. Microsoft recognized that, for enterprise users to adopt PowerApps, it would have to address the integration piece. As a result, Microsoft PowerApps ships with existing integration adaptors, from Office 365 to Dropbox to Twitter, SQL, Salesforce, MailChimp, SharePoint, Slack, CRM online and Azure Service Bus. Figure 1 showcases all of the currently available connections offered under PowerApps.

sContentManagement Figure1 072516 mobile Microsoft PowerApps: The next big thing in application development Various connections offered under PowerApps.

Build it once and deliver it to multiple platforms

With the understanding that there is a significant mix of platforms in the mobile space, Microsoft has ensured that PowerApps can be published and used from Android, iOS and Windows devices. This flexibility guarantees that companies needn’t hitch their wagon to a particular platform. Figure 2 displays the options a user can choose from to build their app for their desired platform.

sContentManagement Figure2 072516 mobile Microsoft PowerApps: The next big thing in application development Different options for users to select.

A much faster get-to-the-user strategy

Historically, developing apps required developers (to do the technical architecture planning and coding) and business users (to articulate the need). On many occasions, there was a significant amount of back and forth happening to ensure that all the requirements were collected and that the team could agree on what to deliver. This can cause delays and additional costs. But it looks like PowerApps’ ease of use and code-free designer will enable business users to wear the app creator hat.

The real hidden gem of Microsoft PowerApps

As many SharePoint users are aware, InfoPath leveraged the workflow capabilities that SharePoint has. Despite the limitations of what workflows can do out of the box, it was still a popular feature. But with PowerApps using Microsoft Flow (the latest cloud-based workflow), organizations can access true business automation and integration at its best and most fully integrated with the apps created through PowerApps. With some useful out-of-the-box and customizable workflows within Flow, business users can automate processes as never before; examples include capturing an order from a custom PowerApps app and then seamlessly pushing that data directly to Microsoft CRM or sending email notifications. Another example is detecting specific items from social media services such as Twitter and then sending an email or uploading a file.

sContentManagement Figure3 072516 mobile Microsoft PowerApps: The next big thing in application development Commonly used templates within Flow to help automate a business process.

Go beyond the keyboard with your apps

If InfoPath created form fields to capture data, PowerApps shows off a much nicer upgrade. The platform enables end users to build desired web and tablet apps that take full advantage of capabilities that are based in the hardware on which the app runs. GPS, pen control and camera can all be natively accessed from the app with very little effort that still does not require development.

As a result of how work is being done today, in multiple devices and platforms and with the common gap between business applications’ capabilities and the needs of businesses, Microsoft PowerApps could alleviate some of these issues. Today, the PowerApps platform is available as a free service throughout the preview period. While Microsoft plans to offer a paid version, pricing hasn’t been released yet, but based on capabilities being offered within the platform, it is likely that many business users and developers will evaluate the platform and plan to take advantage of it. 

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The “New” Development Secret Driving Delivery of Mainframe Data to Big Data Environments

There’s a simple, effective way to target strategic software development.  Drum roll please…..LISTEN TO YOUR CUSTOMERS!

While other answers like “Dream Big” and “be a visionary” are not without merit, regularly asking customers what their biggest challenges are, then building solutions for them to test in a timely fashion, is the secret sauce to success.  That’s true whether you are a technology vendor, an organization building solutions for internal users and customers, or a business looking for new revenue streams via applications they can market to other firms in their industries.  The year/years-long process has evolved.

I have seen great examples with our customers.   Guardian Life, for instance,  has launched projects to improve management of member, product, policy, premium and claims data.  They are doing this by centralizing the transformation of the data so they can consistently baseline and supply enriched data to downstream processes.  This allows them to support many new use cases, including data distribution, reporting, visualization, and predictive analytics.

Another example is Medical Mutual of Ohio.  It is using the Splunk® Enterprise platform to correlate all enterprise-wide security data, including z/OS log data from the mainframe, to gain maximum visibility into user-authentication data and access attempts to help protect customer information stored in DB2 from unauthorized access. Similarly, our customers in Insurance, Financial Institutions, and Healthcare are now improving customer service and better protecting digital information assets with new capabilities.

Listen to Your Customer Blog1 7 21 16 The “New” Development Secret Driving Delivery of Mainframe Data to Big Data Environments

At the core of targeted application development is a continual process of listening to our customers.

I have seen management and developers at Syncsort follow this lead in the development of several “Big Iron to Big Data” solutions.  These solutions leverage Syncsort’s nearly 50 years of mainframe leadership, ongoing contributions to the open source community and deep relationships with strategic partners in the Big Iron and Big Data ecosystem.

By listening to our customers, including but not limited to our customer advisory board, these enhancements and new solutions address the complex set of requirements that large enterprises increasingly must meet for delivering critical operational data on the mainframe to next-gen Big Data environments such as Apache Hadoop, Spark, and Splunk.

Successfully charting a path from Big Iron to Big Data is critical for many of our customers to help them gain competitive advantage. They tell us how their need for analytics on new and unique data sets is increasingly important, together with their need to correlate it with data from enterprise data warehouses, distributed systems, and data lakes.  Those are priorities.

With this in mind, we’ve have been working for several years now, leveraging both organically developed and acquired technology to continually build and deliver products that meet these specific needs.

Listen to Your Customers Blog2 7 21 16 The “New” Development Secret Driving Delivery of Mainframe Data to Big Data Environments

Syncsort’s customer-driven Big Iron to Big Data products bridge the gap between the Big Data and Security users, and the mainframe data that is critical to make sense of enterprise-wide Big Data for business intelligence.

Listening to our customers and incrementally building new technology to meet their needs is yielding results in three important ways:

  1. We are seeing steadily increasing interest and purchases from customers, and engagement from key partners. For instance, Hortonworks just chose Syncsort DMX-h as their solution of choice for optimized ETL onboarding to Hadoop. Splunk partnered with us on Ironstream®, our unique-in-market solution for making mainframe machine data, including key log and security data available in real time to the Splunk® Enterprise platform.  We have partnerships with Databricks and Confluent because of Syncsort’s work to enhance integration of data between Spark and Kafka with enterprise-wide data sources.

  2. We are getting strong positive feedback from influential industry analysts and media who see the importance of the intersection of Big Iron and Big Data. In fact, we are receiving awards recognition on our recent innovations from industry publications. In June alone, we received multiple accolades including two IT World Awards — our mainframe connector for Apache Sparkgarnering the Gold winner –  the highest accolade in “Innovations in IT”  category. Syncsort Ironstream® was among the top five solutions for “Most Innovative IT Software, and Syncsort was once again named by Database Trends and Applications to its DBTA 100 list of companies that matter most in data. Additionally, DMX-h, the company’s industry-leading Big Data integration software, was recently nominated for the 2016 DBTA Reader’s Choice Awards for the “Best Data Integration” and “Best Hadoop Solution” categories.

It’s fair to say that our customers and Syncsort are looking to work together to bridge the gap between mainframe and emerging Big Data platforms and analytics, each pointing their top guns at this Big Data challenge. It’s working.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the most pressing Big Iron to Big Data challenges, including, “What mainframe data do you need in your data lake?  In what format?  How fast/often do you need it?”  Please use the comments section on this blog or email me at mkornspan@syncsort.com to let us know.  For more information on Syncsort’s Big Iron to Big Data products, visit Syncsort’s product pages for Big Data and Mainframe.

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