Efficient Skype Communication in the Age of COVID-19

Globally distributed teams use Skype as a primary communication platform – to conduct scrum meetings, 1-on-1 or group conversations, for screen sharing, and video conferences. During this COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are forced to work remotely, from home. We need to spend more time on Skype and similar tools than before. Here are some tips to increase productivity and efficiency (for all participants) while using Skype or similar tools.

Are you really available?

Skype allows you to set the status to indicate your availability. Make it a practice to use it to show your non-availability – during meetings, presentations, or when you are focused on a task and do not want to be disturbed. On the other hand, just because someone’s status indicates that they are Active, do not assume or expect them to respond to your IM messages immediately. Be respectful of their time schedules, work habits, and deadlines.

Some people use Skype on both laptops and mobile devices. If you use Skype on the phone, your status is always active, and you may want to log out or change status outside office hours.

You also may want to set “Read Receipts” to On, under Settings/Messaging. This will help people to know if you have got the message or not.

Choose wisely

Decide if this conversation can be delayed to a scheduled meeting at a later time, instead of now. Maybe you can send an email instead of interrupting someone with an IM. If you expect a long conversation, you should request a voice call instead of a series of IM exchanges.

Sharpen your ax

If you are going to use Skype a lot, invest in a good headset/microphone device to reduce/eliminate ambient noises, and increase audio quality. Ensure your devices and software work well, all the time. Make sure you have a reliable connection and high bandwidth – especially if you are using the Skype app on a mobile device. You do not want to be having one of those ‘Can you hear me now?‘ conversations.

Keep it short and be direct

Keep your conversations brief, precise, and on-topic. Being short does not imply being rude – so don’t be offended of someone’s short conversation. It is not easy to change our behavior if we are on a voice call or if we are in IM exchanges – since we are using the same platform. If you are using IM, think of that as texting (SMS) someone. Don’t send an IM with just “Hello.” For example, ask directly what you need to know: “In the Acme project – credit card transaction module, what is the transaction sequence for credit card charge reversal?”

Context switching has high overheads and can kill productivity. You may already be interrupting their flow of work. Make it easy on them. They pay a high cost to your “quick” questions.

Keep your conversation professional. Sarcasm, humor, and tone do not translate well in IM. Be clear and direct in your conversation.

End your conversation explicitly, like TTYL, BFN, or something short. Do not leave the other person waiting for you to continue your conversation. If you are going to take time to respond to a message, indicate that with a BRB.

No confidential information

If something cannot be said in an email, do not say it in IM! Avoid sharing sensitive and confidential information in IM.

Ask Permission

Always ask your contacts if it would be OK to use a video call or to share your screen before you initiate the call. It helps to get themselves set up correctly and pay attention to the shared screen, instead of just talking to you with the Skype window minimized.

Summary

Skype and similar IM platforms allow us to work efficiently and collaboratively in a multi-geographic, multi-time-zone environment. Follow these simple suggestions to save time and increase productivity. Always ask yourself if your interactions can be less interruptive and more efficient.

What do Brown M&Ms Have to do with Outsourcing?

It is a folklore that has been proven true. In the 80s, Van Halen had strict conditions to remove brown M&Ms from their dressing room at the tour venues, or the show promoter will forfeit their money. The 53 pages typewritten rider contained the condition that along with a wide selection of beverages and food, M&Ms must be provided, but absolutely no brown ones. Years later, David Lee Roth charmingly explains the truth behind this clause in his video – that it was not a silly rockstar misdemeanor excess, but an intelligent safety check measure. Simply put, if the band found brown M&Ms in the dressing room, they will assume the promoters have not taken care of all the electrical and mechanical safety conditions in the rider. Then the band would spend time checking everything with a fine-tooth comb to ensure a safe and flawless show.

In other words, it is a simple assumption that if someone has taken care of the small stuff, they certainly can be trusted to take care of the big things. Just like Van Halen, check if your outsourcing partner has done the small things right. If they did, you could rest assured that they will take care of the big things.

Access to everyone on the team

Did the outsourcing company set up a meeting early to introduce everyone on the team? Such meetings are impactful when done with video. You should have all the details to reach everyone on the team – their emails, phone, skype, etc. Easy access increases communication among the teams. Highly collaborative companies set up Slack channels to communicate instantly with team members. Do you have easy access to the provider’s senior management? The provider’s leadership must check in with you periodically. When needed, you also should be able to get their senior management’s attention.

Transparency in daily activities

You should know what your outsourced team does every day. Though they maybe thousands of miles away and separated by timezones, you should get brief but crisp updates each day – on Slack or via email. Your daily stand up may include them to provide the updates. The remote teams should be check-in code into your repository every day. Weekly timesheets with a judicious amount of details will provide better insight into the time spent on various activities throughout the week.

Empowered Client Partner/Project Manager

Your project manager must your trust to make decisions on their end – as well as demand changes on your side – to ensure mutual success. While you have access to all of your team – who are hyper-focused on coding, testing, etc., you need a client partner who has your perspective to make everyday tactical decisions. They do not lose sight of the forest for the trees. The project manager should make specific, concise, and realistic communication about what they need and expect from each other. Do they take the liberty to suggest process changes? To put is crude, while you may have many backs to pat, you need one throat to choke.

The flexibility of the engagement

Good partners make the engagement flexible for both. Does your outsourcer lock you down with long term commitments and penalties? An outsourcing provider should be agile in terms of process, contracts, and other demands. How easy is it for you to scale your team up or down with relatively short notice, say weeks and not months.

How well do they treat their employees

“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” — Simon Sinek

Companies that treat their employees well, certainly will treat their clients well and value them. When employees are valued with trust, respect, and dignity, they perform at their best. High performing teams will produce results that matter to you. See if your outsourcing vendor provides their employees a good work/life balance, continued carrier training, rewards, and recognition.

In summary, little things make big things happen. See if your outsourcer takes care of some of these small things. If they do, then you can trust that they take care of more complex and critical things too.

Poorly Tested App Crashes the Iowa Caucus

We may not know who won the Iowa caucus – but we certainly know that a poorly tested smartphone app lost.

This Monday, the Iowa caucus has nearly been rendered meaningless due to the Democratic party’s inability to reliably report and tally the results. While there have been reports that the overall caucus process and the management were deficient, the smartphone app that was used for reporting the results failed miserably.

Here is my review of this incident only from a software testing perspective. There is a lot of valuable lessons to be learned from this.

Do not introduce new technology at a critical time.  With the entire nation watching this first voting towards the Presidential election of 2020, it is a wrong decision to use a new app. Also, not sure how much effort and time by software maker or the democratic party put in to train all the users. It is prudent and practical to try new technologies in a smaller and limited environment to ensure both the quality of the application and user adaption.

Installation Failures. It is reported that many caucus chairs were trying to install the app on the same day or the previous night. Software teams should ensure that the users were able to successfully install the apps on their devices, well before the time of usage. And, this can be done by timely email reminders, with detailed instructions and usage analytics collected back from the app itself. A proper app installation testing will ensure that the app can be successfully installed across a verity of devices, models, carriers, and operating systems. Also, test both clean installs as well as reinstall or updates.

Too much security is as bad as too little security. I can understand the need to make app attack resistant, especially with the history of external influences. But we cannot build apps with too many layers of security that will frustrate the users from abandoning the apps.

In this case, many caucus chairs were frustrated and think that the series of PIN numbers and layers of security absolutely mucked it up. Unable to use the app, they all ended up calling the hotline. A good QA team performing usability tests can often find such issues and work to increase the ease of use.

Whitebox, unit, and integration testing are essential. The CEO of the company that made the app said that “problem was caused by a bug in the code that transmits results data.”  QA teams should focus their attention on the interactions between the boundaries of the systems. Usually, this is done by robust integration testing and proper unit testing. Systems should also be tested for typical end-of-the-day operations, such as this transmission of results.

Test for extreme conditions. QA teams should test mobile apps for extreme conditions such as low bandwidth, congested network traffic, intermittent connectivity, and high user loads. Teams often use tools to emulate low bandwidth and high latency to test the applications.

In summary, using an experienced and skilled QA team to validate your applications on real devices under real-life conditions are very essential. Trigent offers a full suite of testing services that cover both mobile and cloud applications. We provide testing services that match the speed of innovation.

Trigent is Clutch.co’s 2019 #1 AngularJS Developer

With almost 25 years or experience, Trigent has touched the lives of hundreds of companies through digital transformation. We have been able to set an industry standard by keeping ahead of emerging technologies and understanding how to utilize a range of IT services. Specifically, our knowledge in AngularJS has caught the attention of Clutch.co, as we were recently ranked #1 in their 2019 leading developers report and in their Leaders Matrix for AngularJS developers.

Headquartered in Washington D.C., Clutch is a B2B site that rates and reviews agencies in various industries. Their goal is to unite businesses with the ideal firm to resolve a precise need. They rank hundreds of agencies based on a unique methodology that evaluates expertise, portfolio of work, and ability to deliver top-notch products for their clients. Their analysts spoke directly with our clients to assess these areas. Based on their research, we were ranked #1 in both their annual listing and Leaders Matrix out of over 1,700 firms.

Beyond holding this highly coveted spot, our success is also shared on Clutch’s sister-sites: The Manifest and Visual Objects. The Manifest publishes state-of-tech news and how-to guides for businesses, assisting them in simplifying their hut for solutions providers. You can find us listed here among other ECM Companies and Java Developers. Likewise, Visual Objects is a platform that displays portfolios from custom software developers to creative agencies alike so firms can envision what a future project might look like.

Without our clients, we wouldn’t have been ranked #1 by Clutch! We’d like to thank them, as well as Clutch, for taking the time to review our company. Our team looks forward to enabling even more businesses in overcoming limits and becoming future-ready.

5 Ways to Business Intelligence (BI) in SharePoint 2013

SharePoint 2013 provides numerous ways to get Business Intelligence done. They vary from simple Excel based data presentation to PerformancePoint to Visio Services. Here is a simple overview of what is available.

Conditional formatting and charts in Excel services

Excel Services: If the data is relatively small, and you have traditionally used Excel to organize, filter and present data, then this is the easiest way to a centralized BI. Instead of distributing your Excel documents via email or central file share, publish the Excel document with appropriate security controls to a SharePoint document library. Users can easily view and interact with the workbooks and data in ways that suit their needs. These SharePoint hosted Excel documents retain live data connections and the viewer is presented with the up-to-date data. Workbooks may contain data model that combines data from Access, SQL Server, XML, etc. With Excel web access web part, you can control the view of the Excel document to a single PivotChart or a range of cells – bringing the attention of the user to a specific content within Excel. With Office Web App – either on-premises or on cloud, users can visualize and interact with the data from within the web browser.  See a brief video that shows how you can interact with data, charts, and graphs right in the browser.

As questions of data in natural language

Power BI: If you are using SharePoint Online as part of Office 365, then Power BI enables you to gather data, visualize data, and share information with people in your organization across multiple devices. You can easily collect and organize the data in an Excel workbook through Power Query and Data Model. You can use a number of visualization mechanisms (charts, KPIs in Power Pivot, Power View, Power Map, etc.) to present the data to users. Power BI for Office 365 can support large Excel workbooks (250MB). Users can use Power BI app (from the Windows store) to interact with the Excel workbooks on Surface tablets. Using Power BI Q&A, users can query data using natural languages.

SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS): Many organizations have made considerable investment in building reports in SSRS. Using the Report Builder or Report Designer, IT teams, programmers and skilled users have created and used a variety of preformatted, structured reports. These investments can be leveraged by hosting these reports and distributing them in a controlled environment through SharePoint sites, and with better user experience.

Interactive filters in PerformancePoint

PerformancePoint:  PerformancePoint for SharePoint continues to be the Cadillac of BI in Microsoft world.   The deep integrations with the data warehouse and analysis cubes in SQL Server, powerful visualization and data interaction tools such as decomposition trees, KPI indicators, weightings, scorecards help users make informed decisions that are aligned with organizational goals. PerformancePoint allows users and developers to build reusable items that can be used across a number dashboards and pages.  SharePoint 2013 has a number of improvements for PerformancePoint, most important of which is the improved look and feel of BI Center and the consistent look of BI dashboards, following the theme of the SharePoint site.

BI using data graphics in Visio diagram

Visio Services: If you are in need of presenting data that is better represented in a diagram, Visio Services can help. As an example, you can easily plot the network throughput and the available bandwidth on a corporate wide-area network diagram. Visio provides number of shapes, data graphics, icons that can be added to data connected diagrams to visualize the data. The diagrams rendered are of high resolution, full fidelity and the users can view and interact with them across devices without a need for a local Visio installed. As before, data can be from multiple external sources, and can easily be configured using Data Linking Wizard on the Visio client. Visio diagrams maybe further extended using web parts connections and JavaScript on the site pages to create a compelling user experience.

In summary, there is more than one way to reach your business intelligence goals using SharePoint 2013. Here is a poster that shows all the Business Intelligence capability in Office and SharePoint

Create Awesome Extranet Portals using SharePoint 2013

One of the areas that most of our clients have hugely benefited from SharePoint 2013 is the capability to build extranet portals that allow them to closely and collaboratively work with external entities. These range from a customer portal for an investment consulting firm to a vendor portal for a tool management company in the auto industry to a partner portal for a captive, specialty insurance company providing medical professional and general liability coverage.

A portal is not just a SharePoint site or repository of enterprise content. A good SharePoint based portal provides deep integration between diverse group of users, resources and content with rich user experience. Portals employ visually rich dashboards that present enterprise information that help users with their priority tasks.

The top SharePoint functionalities leveraged for portals are:

  • Personalized & targeted content delivery – using publishing and document libraries
  • Collaboration among internal and external users with workflows
  • Social community using Newsfeeds, Yammer and Profiles
  • Dashboards that bring content from diverse enterprise sources using Business Connectivity Services (BCS)

A SharePoint 2013 based portal with actionable live tiles

Personalized Content Delivery: Our client, an investment consulting firm uses a well-designed publishing mechanism to publish valuable research content to their clients. Outdated content are automatically removed from the portal. Clients get up-to-date contact information of all their client servicing teams.

Collaboration with Workflows: A specialty insurance firm uses workflows and task assignments to enable a number of people to efficiently work on medical malpractice insurance claims. The workflows along with secure documents associated with each step, speeds up the process and makes needed information readily available. Each user is presented with the tasks that they are assigned to and may act based on priority.

Social Community / Communication: Most businesses strongly agree that use of social tools within internal users and partners stimulate innovations. Community sites allow open exchange of thoughts and ideas with network of users – leading to transformation and increased business values. SharePoint social tools promote 2-way communications such as ask-an-expert within a peer community and 1-way communication such as corporate news and targeted announcements. Yammer brings the best in class social service to users in SharePoint 2013.

Dashboards: Rich dashboards can be presented using simple Power BI tools or with deep integration with LOB applications. Real-time dashboards help present metrics that requires immediate attention and action.

SharePoint Saturday, Boston, 4/12/14

This year’s SharePoint Saturday, Boston was on 4/12/14 at Microsoft’s office at One Cambridge Center.   The event was packed  with over 30 different sessions by great speakers.

See the event site for a summary of the sessions.

Here are the pointers to the presentations from these sessions.

Session Speaker Materials
Achieving End-User Utopia Mike Dixon PPT
Another attempt to demystify SharePoint governance Ilia Sotnikov SlideShare
Build Custom RESTful Services for SharePoint Apps with WebAPI Scot Hillier CodePlex
Build Secure Cloud-Hosted Apps for SharePoint 2013 Danny Jessee PPT Solution ZIP
Content Search Web Part – Get it all in one place and style it! Benjamin Niaulin SlideShare
Developing Mobile for SharePoint with Windows Phone Jim Wilcox OneDrive
Fun with SharePoint, jQuery, and “jWhatever” Mary Harvey PPT
How to Build a Yammer App Naomi Moneypenny
How to Talk to Your CFO About SharePoint Mike Gilronan OneDrive
Intro to Client Side Solutions in SharePoint 2013 Jay Landrum
Introduction to Cloud-Hosted Apps Bob German
Introduction to PowerShell for the anxious ITPro Jason Himmelstein
Leveraging My Sites and User Profiles in SharePoint 2010 and 2013 Beatrice Baciu & Derek Cash-Peterson
Making The Leap – When to choose on-premises, Cloud or Hybrid for SharePoint Seb Matthews
Making the Most of Your Content Gary Lapointe
Managing SharePoint Online (O365) with PowerShell + CSOM Amit Vasu SlideShare
No Social? No Business! David Pileggi SlideShare
Optimizing SQL Server for SharePoint 2013 Brian Alderman
PowerBI – PowerPivot, PowerQuery, PowerMap, o365 Power BI Sites Dave Feldman
Reporting and Data Integration Methodologies and Mechanics for SharePoint and SQL Server Nicholas Bisciotti Blog
Responsive Design D’arce Hess
Saving Time by Building a Records Search System Tatiana Baquero
Search Topology and Optimization Mike Maadarani SlideShare
SharePoint as an Organizational Learning Tool Theresa Eller SlideShare
SharePoint Online Management and Control Chris Bortlik PPT
SharePoint Permissions Worst Practices Bobby Chang SlideShare
SPC Highlights Jason Himmelstein
SQL Server and Windows Performance Tuning George Walters PPT
The Collaborative SharePoint Community Maggie Swearingen SlideShare 
Tips and Tricks for the Yammer Power User Christian Buckley SlideShare
Tools to Expedite SharePoint Development Dimitri Ayrapetov Blog
Understanding O365 Identities and Single Signon to build modern cloud app using Azure AD Senthil Panchatcharam PDF
Up Up Up! Upgrade to SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 Chris McNulty PPT
Workflow Manager Tips Mai Omar Desouki SlideShare
Workflow Nirvana in SharePoint 2013 Patrick Keating

SharePoint 2013 Customizations – Solutions or Apps?

Previous versions of SharePoint has promoted solution model for many customization’s. But with the new SharePoint 2013, Microsoft has introduced a new app model. This new app model allows developers to build applications in multiple languages, using standard web technologies, and hosted on cloud or SharePoint. The new app model comes with a new unified API “_api” that is OAuth enabled, fully remote, with over 2,000 classes and 6,000 members.

All these make a very compelling case for building custom solutions in the new app model. But wait…, what happened to the old “solutions” model – including the less popular sand-boxed solutions for SharePoint online? Should we completely abandon the solution model? Can we migrate our existing “solutions” to apps? What is the Microsoft prescribed way for partners to manage SharePoint deployments and customization?

A newly announced Microsoft webinar may answer these questions. Microsoft says:
“Join Senior Product Marketing Manager, Keenan Newton, and special guest Partner Director of Apps Program Management, Robert Lefferts, as we kick off our new site centered around migrating SharePoint solutions to apps. We will discuss the history of SharePoint customization and where the SharePoint development platform is going. We will also highlight the benefits of the cloud app model and answer any questions that you may have.”
The event is on Monday, May 20, 2013 9:00 AM Pacific.

Register at: Microsoft

Also Read an Interesting article on The “Napa” Office 365 Development tool and SharePoint 2013 App Development

SharePoint 2013 – drag & drop file upload limitations

Drag and drop of files from your desktop to SharePoint document library in the browser window is a cool feature that is very much appreciated by many our clients. Unfortunately, this feature utilizes HTML5 and very much browser dependent.

Based on our tests, IE8 and IE9 does not support the drag and drop. However FF and Chrome seem to support this easily.

Drag & Drop

Simple Excel based BI in SharePoint 2013

Excel is here to stay. IT professionals may hate the proliferation of Excel documents containing important information, floating around the corporate file servers. Users love them – the familiar interface and ease of doing simple calculations and filtering has made Excel tremendously popular with people who work with numbers.

With SharePoint 2013 and Office Web App, it is so easy to turn some of the powerful features of Excel to do simple “BI” – that is, Business Intelligence in lower case. We recently helped one of our clients to share some vital information to their partners via SharePoint based extranet. We used Excel 2013’s PowerView feature to create great looking visualizations with ability to filter and drill through the data. This Excel is uploaded periodically to the extranet document library. And with Office Web App, the extranet user is able to view and interact with these powerful charts right in their browser.

This was one of the biggest attractions of our client’s extranet. This and other improved implementation of the extranet tremendously increased their partner participation compared to their previous extranet implementation.

The cool thing about Office Web App is that to view the files, there is no need for any licenses – it is free.


Summary:
Use Excel 2013 with its new features, many in the BI area. Learn more about Excel 2013.
Use SharePoint 2013 with Office Web App. Learn more here.