Tag Archives: Development

Expert Interview (Part 2): James Kobielus on Reasons for Data Scientist Insomnia including Neural Network Development Challenges

In the first half of our two-part conversation with Wikibon lead analyst James Kobielus (@jameskobielus), he discussed the incredible impact of machine learning in helping organizations make better business decisions and be more productive. In today’s Part 2, he addresses what aspects of machine learning should be keeping data scientists up at night. (Hint: neural networks)

Several Challenges Involved with Developing Neural Networks

Developing these algorithms is not without its challenges, Kobielus says.

The first major challenge is finding data.

Algorithms can’t do magic unless they’ve been “trained.” And in order to train them, the algorithms require fresh data. But acquiring this training data set is a big hurdle for developers.

For eCommerce sites, this is less of a problem – they have their own data in the form of transaction histories, site visits and customer information that can be used to train the model and determine how predictive it is.

blog banner 2018 Big Data Trends eBook Expert Interview (Part 2): James Kobielus on Reasons for Data Scientist Insomnia including Neural Network Development Challenges

But the process of amassing those training data sets when you don’t have data is trickier – developers have to rely upon commercial data sets that they’ve purchased or open source data sets.

After getting the training data, which might come from a dozen different sources, the next challenge is aggregating it so the data can be harmonized with a common set of variables. Another challenge is having the ability to cleanse data to make sure it’s free of contradictions and inconsistencies. All this takes time and resources in the form of databases, storage, processing and data engineers. This process is expensive but essential. (For more on this, read Uniting Data Quality and Data Integration)

Third, organizations need data scientists, who are expensive resources. They need to find enough people to manage the whole process – from building to training to evaluating to governing.

“Finding the right people with the right skills, recruiting the right people is absolutely essential,” Kobielus says.

Before jumping into machine learning, organizations should also make sure it makes sense for your business strategies.

Industries like finance and marketing have made a clear case for themselves in implementing Big Data. In the case of finance, it allows them to do high-level analysis to detect things like fraud. And in marketing, for instance, CMOs, found it useful to develop algorithms that allowed them  to conduct sentiment analysis on social media.

There are a lot of uses for it to be sure, Kobielus says, but there are methods for deriving insights from data that don’t involve neural networks. It’s up to the business to determine whether using neural networks is overkill for their purposes.

“It’s not the only way to skin these cats,” he says.

If you already have the tools in place, then it probably makes sense to keep using them. Or, if you find traditional tools can’t address needs like transcription or facial recognition, then it probably makes sense to go to a newer form of machine learning.

What Should Really Be Keeping Data Scientists Up at Night 

While those in the tech industry might be fretting over whether AI will displace the gainfully employed or that there’s a skills deficit in the field, Kobielus has other worries related to data science.

For one, the algorithms used for machine learning and AI are really complex and they drive so many decisions and processes in our lives.

“What if something goes wrong? What if a self-driving vehicle crashes? What if the algorithm does something nefarious in your bank account? How can society mitigate the risks,” Kobielus asks.

When there’s a negative outcome, the question asked is who’s responsible. The person who wrote the algorithm? The data engineer? The business analyst who defined the features?

These are the questions that should keep data scientists, businesses, and lawyers up at night. And the answers aren’t clear-cut.

In order to start answering some of these questions, there needs to be algorithmic transparency, so that there can be algorithmic accountability.

Ultimately, everyone is responsible for the outcome.

There’s a huge legal gray area when it comes to machine learning because the models used are probabilistic and you can’t predict every single execution path for a given probabilistic application built on ML.

blog kobielus quote3 Expert Interview (Part 2): James Kobielus on Reasons for Data Scientist Insomnia including Neural Network Development Challenges

“There’s a limit beyond which you can anticipate the particular action of a particular algorithm at a particular time,” Kobielus says.

For algorithmic accountability, there need to be audit trails. But an audit log for any given application has the potential to be larger than all the databases on Earth. Not just that, but how would you roll it up into a coherent narrative to hand to a jury?

“Algorithmic accountability should keep people up at night,” he says.

Just as he said concerns about automation are overblown, Kobielus says it’s also unnecessary to worry that there aren’t enough skilled data scientists working today.

Data science is getting easier.

Back in the 80s, developers had to know underlying protocols like HTTP, but today nobody needs to worry about the protocol plumbing anymore. It will be the same for machine learning, Kobielus says. Increasingly, the underlying data is being abstracted away by higher-level tools that are more user friendly.

“More and more, these things can be done by average knowledge workers, and it will be executed by underlying structure,” he says.

Does Kobielus worry about the job security of data scientists then? Not really. He believes data science automation tools will allow data scientists to do less with more and hopefully to allow them to develop their skills in more challenging and creative realms.

For 5 key trends to watch for in the next 12 months, check out our new report: 2018 Big Data Trends: Liberate, Integrate & Trust

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International Women's Development Agency (IWDA) furthers its vision of a gender equal world with NetSuite OneWorld

og image International Women's Development Agency (IWDA) furthers its vision of a gender equal world with NetSuite OneWorld

Australian Non-profit Centralizes Financial Management to Achieve Operational Efficiencies Across the Agency

Sydney—November, 28 2017—Oracle NetSuite, the world’s leading provider of cloud-based financials / ERP, HR, Professional Services Automation (PSA) and omnichannel commerce software suites, announced today that International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA), the leading Australian agency entirely focused on women’s rights and gender equality in Asia Pacific, implemented NetSuite OneWorld to centralise and improve financial management and deliver new operational efficiencies that will help it to strengthen and focus more deeply on its vision of gender equality for all.

Founded in 1985 and headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, IWDA’s mission is to advance and protect the rights of women and girls everywhere by promoting women’s leadership and participation, strengthening women’s safety and security, accelerating women’s economic empowerment and advancing systemic change. IWDA has worked with 194 program partners across 36 countries and territories around the world. Today, it is focused on partnership programs and projects across Asia Pacific as well as research, policy and advocacy through national, regional and global platforms. IWDA conducts gender-sensitive research into topics such as—relationship between money and violence, violence against women with disabilities in Cambodia and the poverty gap between men and women. IWDA staff and partners are constantly on the move, working in urban or rural settings—from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, to the Valleys of Myanmar and Mountains of Timor Leste or the Lagoons of the Solomon Islands. This creates significant challenges across communications, accountability, reporting and management.

The Social Impact arm of NetSuite is committed to mobilising corporate resources for social impact through its signature software donation and pro bono services. As a non-profit, IWDA qualified for NetSuite’s Social Impact software donation.

The organization has experienced strong growth, with revenue increasing from $ 4.5m to $ 10.6m over four years through development grants and community support contributions. As a result, IWDA needed to replace its existing MYOB, Calxa and Excel spreadsheets for financial management and reporting. It implemented NetSuite OneWorld in January this year to free up time for staff to focus more time on programs, resources, partnerships and advocacy, rather than being bogged down in manual processing and reporting.

“The centralized integrated cloud solution provided by NetSuite has brought an important technological leap for our operations and reduces management and duplication of data, creating efficiencies across the agency,” said Joanna Hayter, CEO at IWDA. “We are excited to advance our Agency’s productivity in this way and we believe NetSuite will continue to provide us with scalability for the future.”

NetSuite OneWorld supports 190 currencies, 20 languages, automated tax calculation and reporting in more than 100 countries; customer transactions in more than 200 countries; and enables businesses to streamline their mission-critical business processes.

NetSuite OneWorld has enabled IWDA to adopt a sophisticated financial knowledge management process delivering greater data integrity and minimising data duplication, it’s also bringing greater visibility to activity reporting and lifting IWDA to a new level of accountability and engagement between budget holders. The solution has also helped strengthen audit trails and reduce time spent on month-end reporting by at least three days, with an expectation this will reduce further. IWDA staff and partners can now also remotely access documentation and information anywhere, anytime.

A critical part of the partnership was NetSuite’s ability to demonstrate similar corporate values in terms of its support for nonprofits through its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and an alignment of values and intent towards equitable fair work and vision. This important measure was the first attribute IWDA assessed when it first selected NetSuite.

“We’re delighted to be working with IWDA by providing the technology foundation to assist the organization in its mission to help women reach true equality,” said Lee Thompson Group Vice President and General Manager, Asia Pacific and Japan (JAPAC), Oracle NetSuite. “With NetSuite OneWorld, IWDA can better use existing information and data to look more strategically into the future and make the best business decisions to further the organization’s vision and meet its socially and economically important business objectives.”

About Oracle NetSuite Social Impact
Oracle NetSuite Social Impact’s mission is to accelerate the social impact of non-profit and social enterprises globally, regardless of ability to pay, with its software donation and pro bono services. For more information, please visit http://www.netsuite.com/socialimpact.

About Oracle NetSuite
Oracle NetSuite pioneered the Cloud Computing revolution in 1998, establishing the world’s first company dedicated to delivering business applications over the internet. Today, it provides a suite of cloud-based financials / Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), HR and omnichannel commerce software that runs the business of companies in more than 100 countries. For more information, please visit http://www.netsuite.com.

Follow Oracle NetSuite Global Business Unit’s Cloud blog, Facebook page and @NetSuite Twitter handle for real-time updates.

About Oracle
The Oracle Cloud offers complete SaaS application suites for ERP, HCM and CX, plus best-in-class database Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) from data centers throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia. For more information about Oracle (NYSE:ORCL), please visit us at oracle.com.

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Oracle and Java are registered trademarks of Oracle and/or its affiliates. Other names may be trademarks of their respective owners.

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The SuiteCloud Development Framework, a Developer's Nirvana

websitelogo The SuiteCloud Development Framework, a Developer's Nirvana

Posted by Gerson Rodriguez, Manager, Product Management – Platform

As developers, one of our chief challenges is releasing new, amazing functionality on time and at the pace demanded of our businesses’ increasingly accelerated development cycles. Our desire to meet these expectations has made our roles among the most stressful jobs in technology – with a CareerCast poll listing the positions of software engineers and computer programmers among the top 10 highest stress roles in the industry.

Does it have to be this way? I don’t think so. Combining our passion for development with a set of tools that eases some of hardest (or simply most tedious) parts of our roles can have us feeling as if we’re sitting cross-legged, floating on a cloud, typing away on our laptops in a state of perpetual Zen. That vision can be achieved when we float our efforts on the SuiteCloud Development Framework.

To ease the process associated with building and deploying new functionality in the cloud, last year, NetSuite introduced the SuiteCloud Development Framework (SDF), a one-stop shop for developers to build, test, deploy and publish applications without ever leaving the code. Developers have the source code of everything in the platform – including object, configuration and logic which allows them to take advantage of any revision control system they choose for version control and team development. And because it’s a decoupled environment, developers can build on SDF and deploy across any environment, complete with built-in validation controls and dependency management.

In turn, partners and customers alike can automate business processes via SuiteScript, build and package customizations via the UI, build and distribute SuiteApps, perform configuration tasks for implementing NetSuite environments, perform audit tasks or manage changes in NetSuite environments.

Since its launch, we’ve made some major improvements to make this platform a “developer’s heaven,” as I like to call it. Here’s some of what I think will be the most helpful improvements.

Direct deployment. Developers can directly deploy applications to development, sandbox or production accounts, greatly simplifying development and deployment practices for ISVs and customers. For instance, customers can deploy customizations en masse from the sandbox to the QA sandbox to obtain QA approval, and then use the exact same SDF project to deploy the same project code and objects to production.

Version control. Customers can check an entire project including custom objects like custom records, custom fields, and saved searches into a Code Repository to be under version control. This eases change management.

Collaborative cloud development. Developers can now collaborate in a separate dedicated development environment that makes it easier to manage customizations and application code, providing more familiarity, more control and more autonomy than ever. Development teams can also easily manage cloud source code with the same process and rigor that they use in other projects, increasing quality, compliance and control.

The ability to handle dependencies. Say, for instance, you install a bundle that referenced a field that already existed in your production instance and ended up with a new redundant custom field. With SuiteCloud Development Framework, you can reference an existing field or object without having it be duplicated.

Same if your project contains an object that requires the existence of another object, SDF can detected before the project or customization is deployed which bring a great degree of certainty to the deployment process.

With the right foundation, software development can drive business value, without driving the joy out of our work. Check out more information on the SuiteCloud Developer Network here and consider joining our LinkedIn group to connect with other NetSuite developers.

Posted on Mon, October 30, 2017
by NetSuite filed under

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Enhancements to the SuiteCloud Platform Bring Faster Throughput, a Reimagined Development Framework and Printing for Custom Transactions

websitelogo Enhancements to the SuiteCloud Platform Bring Faster Throughput, a Reimagined Development Framework and Printing for Custom Transactions

Posted by Paul Farrell, Vice President of Product Marketing

For developers working with the SuiteCloud development platform, things are about to get easier, faster and more collaborative.

NetSuite has recently made some key enhancements to the platform including the release of new SuiteCloud processors which should be welcome news for customers and partners alike. Traditionally, developers and end users have been frustrated with project queues, putting high priority processing jobs behind unimportant, menial jobs, which ultimately creates delays. Meanwhile, unbalanced queues force customers and partners to manually balance loads or write complicated programs to give priority to more important jobs like month end close for customers or force partners to worry about what other jobs are running alongside their apps. With the SuiteCloud development platform’s new Asynchronous SuiteCloud Processors, loads are automatically balanced and developers can assign priority to specific workloads. The processors have shown significant improvements in lab testing, resulting in 17 percent better utilization and 98 percent decreases in average and max wait times.

The New SuiteCloud Processors capabilities include:

  • Maximize throughput in every account
  • Minimize wait times for jobs
  • No manual balancing needed
  • Defined priorities for specific jobs
  • Improved control to tune throughput

SuiteCloud Development Framework Generally Available

As importantly, the SuiteCloud Development Framework, announced last year, is now generally available. Developers often confront challenges collaborating as a team across geographies, time zones and more. The SuiteCloud Development Framework (SDF) is a next-generation integrated development environment and a major advancement included in the NetSuite SuiteCloud Development Platform. SDF supports the complete software development lifecycle including source code control, peer code reviews, team development and integrated debugging, coupled with sophisticated SuiteCloud deployment technologies.

With it, teams can collaborate seamlessly in a developer experience unrivaled in the cloud. NetSuite customer and partner development teams gain greater flexibility, control and efficiency when building mission-critical applications and integrations.

The key features and benefits of SuiteCloud Development Framework include:

  • Collaborative cloud development. Developers can now collaborate in a separate dedicated development environment that makes it easier to manage customizations and application code, providing more familiarity, more control and more autonomy than ever.
  • Direct deployment. Developers can directly deploy applications to development, sandbox or production accounts, greatly simplifying development and deployment practices for ISVs and customers.
  • Software development lifecycle support. Development teams can now easily manage cloud source code with the same process and rigor that they use in other projects, increasing quality, compliance and control.

Enhanced Printing Simplifies Custom Transactions

Finally, the latest enhancements to the cloud-based development platform tackles the sometimes frustrating world of printing. While most business transactions require printing, custom transactions and journal entries that are required for special accounting rules or business logic have traditionally required workarounds for printing jobs. The new enhanced printing in NetSuite supports more than simple invoices or sales orders to any custom transaction. Customers and partners can now change printed forms with drag-and-drop features. For example, partner apps like asset depreciation/disposal can now be accounted for in printing. The same is true for customer created accounting accruals like doubtful debts.

Learn more about the latest NetSuite release, 17.2.

Posted on Tue, October 24, 2017
by NetSuite filed under

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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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CRM Software Blog | Dynamics 365

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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