Info-graphic on Business Intelligence for Manufacturers

A Picture is worth a thousand words” – I would have been lucky if It had struck my mind before drafting a 1000 + words post. But then I realized why not convey it through an info-graphic. As they say an enlightening idea comes after you had put all your efforts, I seem to experience similar fate. Anyways, all’s well that ends well. So, here’s my info-graphic depicting a typical scenario in Manufacturing.

If you are one among those readers who have plans for BI particularly in Manufacturing sector and using Microsoft Stack, this info-graphic can help you make a sound choice.

BI-infographics for Manufacturing Companies

Embed Software Product Testing in your DNA

As software product development is getting complex with the demand for breakthrough features and functionalities, software testing techniques are getting even more complex. The introduction of new features opens the door for many test case scenarios. Besides, there are various combinations of platforms, browsers, and devices that need to be tested for each scenario.

We know software product testing is not a new fad; it has seen its fair share of transition from manual testing to test automation and likewise testing tools have also evolved. However, as the market is abuzz with innovative products and platforms, businesses are constantly slogging to be front runners in efficiency and customer experience. Testing is no longer a ritual but a market readiness strategy for any respectable product or application.

New age start-ups have taken the market by storm, as the demand to release quality products faster has become increasingly important. Delay in launch of a product and you succumb to laggard status, while a minor defect and you invite customers and social media scalpel.

Given the demand and shift towards high-quality standards, a large number of software testing companies in India are investing time and money to improve customer experience and satisfaction. Be it a cloud platform or on-premise platform, Software product testing companies make use of the latest technologies and tools to get insights and feedback about the quality of their product. You can embed product testing either as an extension to your internal team or engage an independent validator whose approach would be structured and unbiased.

Outsourcing software product testing

The best strategy to address software product testing is to engage an offshore independent testing vendor. It would not only provide an independent eye but also reduce investments in terms of resource utilization. Other benefits would include greater return on quality assurance, augmented efficiency, flexibility, and minimized revenue cycle.

Before outsourcing your projects to software performance testing companies, do thorough research to see if the company has the required skills, experience, and expertise. It is important to find the right vendor with the right profiling in the performance testing strategy, as it would help your company optimize products and meet the high-quality standards of today’s demanding customers.

America Does “CARE” – But ACOs have Real Time IT Challenges

Hot on the heels of healthcare revolution in the U.S., the ACO model has been gathering steam lately. Dominantly ignited by factors like under-performing healthcare system and higher care cost, ACO model came as a sort of respite for the U.S. populace. According to a recent study conducted by a management consulting firm, there are about 25 to 31 million Americans who are currently receiving health care services from an Accountable Care Organization (ACO) and more than 40% of Americans live in areas with at least one ACO. The numbers are rising steadily. However, there are still operational bottlenecks that are pervasive and deter caregivers to join the ACO force.

Unlike pay for services’ model, ACOs success largely hinges on optimized coordinated care ensuring 2 critical objectives are met.  #1. Shorten Decision Window for Care Co-ordination. #2. Ensuring Consistent Connection with Patients.

As the success of an ACO model relies on ensuring quality care and reducing care cost, there’s a tighter room for profit, which can only be realized if the above objectives are met. These objectives might seem mutually exclusive at first sight, but the common thread that binds their success is the Real-Time capturing, monitoring and communication of various data. Let’s see how these real-time analytics will play a mission-critical role in complementing the success of ACO model.

1. Shorten Decision Window for Care Co-ordination

Patients come with various chronic conditions. These chronic conditions cannot be standardized as there will be a huge combination of health factor that is unique to a patient. Forming a case for a patient with multiple chronic conditions will require real time coordinated efforts with other dispersed physicians and hospitals across dispersed geography. In order to shorten the decision window, capturing and communicating real-time data with dispersed hospitals like health record keeping, patient’s health indices, prescription status, prognosis alerts, time stamping, etc. are crucial. By providing a platform to communicate real-time and deadline based alerts integrated across workflow with dispersed participants, care quality can be improved upon.

2. Establishing consistent connect with Patients

For ACO model to succeed, consistent connection between patients, hospitals and physician office is paramount. This is especially relevant during an emergency situation where the patient sees out of network specialists in the absence of real-time connect and physical presence thereby increasing the cost of care.  During such a cases, real-time monitoring and prognosis of  patients can come as a savior in order to curtail care costs, managing risks and monitoring clinical data. Even inside the hospital premise collecting data about patient’s presence is critical in order to build a workflow with alerts around patient’s locomotion with respect to his stranded location, equipment availability, waiting time lapse and thereby reducing waiting time for proper care.

Balancing Act

The ACO model walks on a thin rope which requires a balancing act between cost of care and improving quality of care.  Enabling both ends meet requires IT & Business intelligence (BI) diplomacy to bridge the gap by allowing a platform to shorten decision cycles and enable real-time prognosis for better care and improved profit sharing.

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

Did your root canal work for you?

Imagine calling your doctor and getting him immediately online. Or finding out what’s happening at your clinic through Facebook.  Or your dental clinic asking you feedback on your root canal and posting satisfaction surveys online.  Some of these instances may happen, but such interactions are rare.  However, the National eHealth collaborative is promoting a Patient Experience Framework.  Providers will strive to have more meaningful interaction with their patients to improve patient outcomes and reduce costs.  This will happen through Social, Mobile and Cloud Solutions to a large extent.  Not many providers are ready.  Read more about the framework at http://www.nationalehealth.org/patient-engagement-framework .

Trigent provides the high tech edge to solution providers in the healthcare space.  Read a Case Study.

Making Your Presence Felt- At a Meeting

That one person who walks into a room, says a few words and gets everyone’s attention to him. His presence can be felt across all places, everything he does and yet manages to maintain his composure. The charisma and panache this person carries makes everyone of us envy him. Meet Mr. Anand.

Those of us watching from the other side of the table believe Anand has an inborn trait. But the fact is, anyone can cultivate this trait by following some time tested techniques. In my professional life I have come across many such people and have observed some common traits these people carry. In today’s post I would like to share a few secrets that can help you build the charisma and presence that Anand has developed with time and hard work.

Remember the 3Cs – be Calm, Cool and Collected.

Anand never allows you to see him sweating, flustered or scuttled.  How can you replicate his poise (even if you are running from meeting to meeting)? First, before entering a room, always take a quick second to compose yourself—take a deep breath, collect yourself, and slow down. Enter the room, greet everyone and sit down.

Respect your time and others time.

Anand is always on time, gets the best seat in the room and is there to welcome everyone esle.  Be on time for your meetings each time and every time, in addition to giving you confidence, it will give you time to scope out the room and collect your thoughts.

Be Prepared.

Anand always has an appropriate answer to every question.  Spend extra time beforehand to prepare yourself for anything. Think about the questions that your boss or client might have, and prepare a well thought-out response, which will prevent you from going “umm, ahhh, let me get back to you”. Be calm, collected, and the person with all the answers. Speak up and answer question precisely and with relevant facts. Ask questions politely.

See yourself as others see you.

Anand’s every move and action shows confidence.  Clothes make a man is a very apt saying.  Ensure that you are always appropriately dressed in clothes that are clean and pressed. Mind your body language, always sit straight.  Be attentive, interested and engaged. Lean forward when speaking,   maintain eye contact with people you are speaking to, without overdoing it – don’t stare.

Make others feel special.

Everyone loves to speak to and spend time with Anand. As Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Make others feel special, take time to really listen to the people around you, be interested and mindful of their wishes and feeling.  If possible try to do something special and thoughtful towards your co-workers.

When it comes to executive presence, remember that actions speak louder than words. So, take the time to think through everything you do and how those around you may perceive it. Through practice, you’ll master the above skills until one day, you’ll be the person everyone wants to talk and listen to. Pretty soon, people will be saying, “He is just like Anand – he just gets it.”

Data Security in Office 365 (SharePoint Online)

The concern on where the data resides goes with all Cloud solutions. The data storage as part of the agreement is at the discretion of the service provider (usually unless particularly called out). The data security requirement differs between regions and there is an array of regulations that apply to the data depending on the location of the subscriber and the industry that they belong to.
Regulations apply to particular type of data (e.g. HIPPA), so the data needs to be understood and segregated to apply required safeguard.

If your primary focus is where the data resides, then Microsoft provides data maps (vague but available) that’s shows the region where the data resides based on your subscription. It’s important that you specify the correct location in your subscription because data store is solely based on that. This also is the biggest drawback of Office 365. In scenarios where users in a single tenancy reside in multiple geography, the data is stored based on the location specified in the Office 365 setting (single location). This can lead to data compliance issues especially if a set of your users reside in EU due to the EU safe harbor clause. To overcome this you can choose a EU location and ensure that the data resides with EU thus complying with the norm but then the performance will be highly degraded for users in other region. This is one of the biggest data related drawback of Office 365

To quote from Microsoft website – Microsoft Office 365 supports the following where applicable and/or possible:

  • ISO 27001 (International Organization for Standardization)
  • FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act)
  • HIPAA, with Business Associate Agreement memorializing implementation of physical, technical and administrative safeguards, and breach notification requirements of ARRA/HITECH
  • EU Safe Harbor
  • EU Model Clauses
  • Data Processing Agreement

You have to ensure that you sign the relevant contracts to ensure your subscription covers a particular compliance. You can get further details at http://office.microsoft.com/en-in/business/office-365-trust-center-cloud-computing-security-FX103030390.aspx

Email data at rest is encrypted by default in Office 365 but other content (e.g.) SharePoint online content is not encrypted. Email encryption is also available with non-federated, enabling ad hoc encryption services with any recipient. For the other content, you can identify and set encryption using the Rights Management Service (RMS) in Office 365. Office 365 is very comprehensive when it comes to data security and compliance.

QA & Testing as a Career Path – Debunking the Myths

“Do you know that “testing” sounds like music when you go along with it for some time? Yeah! It really does!! Give it a chance and you will realize that. I know you love music”. This is what I told my friend, talking on the phone last night about choosing “testing” as a career path.

There are some common myths regarding testing career. Some of these are:

  • Testing is simple and straight forward, just follow the best practices.
  • QA and its related activities are mere cost burden on the organization.
  • Testing is not creative.

These pervasive myths often confuse people while choosing “testing” as a profession. But the reality is quite the opposite. In fact, if we compare testing with development, testing is more challenging than anyone can think of it to be.

Testing is simple and straight forward, just follow the best practices

Testing is not just about verification and validation. Most testers have the mind of an hacker. Testers intentionally attempt to make things go wrong to determine if things happen when they shouldn’t or don’t happen when they should, off course with all intents and purpose to enhance the quality. Testers need to have a thorough understanding of each individual project that they work on… They should go through different testing environments as they have to work on multiple software and hardware. They need to go through exploratory testing for complete understanding of project before they write the test plans, test scenarios, test cases etc.

QA and its related activities are mere cost burden on the organization

Is it a big deal if you save billion dollars by just investing some hundred pennies? I don’t think so! But if someone still has questions in their minds or are confused about why it is so important to have test engineers within an organization or why software testing is so important, the following examples might be helpful in clarifying their misconceptions

  • A new U.S government-run credit card complaint handling system was not working correctly according to August 2011 news reports.
  • Banks were required to respond to complaints routed to them from the system, but due to system bugs the complaints were not consistently being routed to companies as expected. Reportedly the system had not been properly tested.
  • News reports in Asia in July of 2011 reported that software bugs in a national computerized testing and grading system resulted in incorrect test results for tens of thousands of high school students. The national education ministry had to reissue grade reports to nearly 2 million students nationwide.
  • A smartphone online banking application was reported in July 2010 to have a security bug affecting more than 100,000 customers
  • In August of 2008 it was reported that more than 600 U.S. airline flights were significantly delayed due to a software glitch in the U.S. FAA air traffic control system. The problem was claimed to be a ‘packet switch’ that ‘failed due to a database mismatch’, and occurred in the part of the system that handles required flight plans.
  • Software system problems at a large health insurance company in August 2008 were the cause of a privacy breach of personal health information for several hundred thousand customers, according to news reports. It was claimed that the problem was due to software that ‘was not comprehensively tested’.

Testing is not creative

Testers lead the development team to put together a meaningful plan, understand the business needs, and test the logical, optional and failure paths.

On the other hand, the word “creative” might have different meanings for different people In my point of view your job is only as creative as YOU make it. One taxi driver could say that his job is not creative because all he does is drive passengers around all day. Another taxi driver could say that it’s creative because he tries to find the best routes. Another could say it’s creative because he enjoys meeting the people that he drives. It’s the same with testing. It is only as creative as you make it.

Every profession has its own value. It’s only you who can decide whether you want to do this or do that. People can just give you suggestions and can relate some examples or experiences that they have faced within that profession but it’s only YOU that can purely judge your abilities and can make a better decision.

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” (Steve Jobs)

SharePoint 2010 to 2013 Upgrade – Resolving Error during FIM Key Import

During the migration of user profile service application from SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013 I ran into this issue, was unable to import the FIM key and were getting the below errors.

“Unable to Login to the Database”

“The Execute method of job definition Microsoft.Office.Server.UserProfiles.LMTRepopulationJob (ID f58a9431-badf-4fc5-b116-b2dd21440170) threw an exception.
More information is included below.

Object reference not set to an instance of an object.” The Farm account that we used had the required access on the source and destination DB’s of Synch, social and profile DB’s and yet we got an access denied error message. After wasting a day’s time I decided to retake the backups and restore them. It worked like a charm. The problem we faced first time was because the synch DB was backed up by our client using a windows account which had admin access on the farm and SQL. This account was not the service account and was also different from the account that we were using to create the new service apps. So be cautious of what service account you have to use while backing up the databases for SharePoint 2010 to 2013 Upgrade.

Must-have Productive tools in a Developer’s Armoury

As a developer our majority of concentration lay around implementing the functional requirements of the product. But as an Architect, I need to take care of the non-functional requirements like how well the application performs? Can the application scale up?etc. besides ensuring functional requirements are met.

Is there a way for an Architect to find out the performance bottlenecks in the application without getting too much involved into the nitty-gritty of the low level code? Are there any tools which we can use to know the details of the application performance?

Scenario

Let’s take a typical web application as an example and see what we can do to improve the performance without getting too much involved into the code. In our example, there is a page which is taking too much of time to load when a user requests the page.

As a developer I have coded this page & it works perfectly according to the requirements. But it is taking too much of time to show up in the client browser. So what is wrong?

Investigate

So, let’s start our investigation & better understand what’s happening when a user requests the page. But the bigger question is how do we go ahead? How do I know what is going as an HTTP request & what is coming back as an HTTP response without going into the code?

The answer lies in using some of the tools which provide these details. Couple of tools which I use are:

  1. Fiddler from http://www.telerik.com/fiddler
  2. HttpWatch from http://www.httpwatch.com/

These tools are HTTP sniffers / proxy for majority of the browsers & they provide more insights into how your web page is loading & performing. They log all the requests / responses to your web site. Now that I have this tool & I can see the requests / responses logged, the next question is where do we go from here?

Ask Yourself

I use these tools to get answers for some of my questions. Below are the questions:

  1. How many HTTP requests are sent to the server when the user requested that one page? Well, you may say it as one request? But the answer is NO. Although, the user requested a page, but internally browser will make many requests to get all the resources referenced in that page. The resources could be style sheet (CSS) files, images, java script files etc.
  2. Are we leveraging caching of the HTTP requests?
  3. How much of response data sent to the browser?
  4. Is the HTTP response compressed?
  5. How much time the browser waited to get the response back from the server?

Depending on the answers I get for these questions from the tool, below are some of the performance tuning we can do to improve the response time of the page:

  1. If there are many HTTP requests executed internally by the browser then use “minify” to combine many requests to CSS & JS files into single downloads. This will reduce the bandwidth required to get these files.
  2. It’s best to cache images as they may not change regularly. Implement caching filters to cache different types of images the web site may have.
  3. Look at the response data sent from the server and see whether the data is compressed. Most of the browsers supports gzip compression. So the browser can automatically un-zip the contents sent by the server. Gzip can be enabled at the web server level without writing any piece of code. Most of the web servers supports this. In Jboss it can be configured in the server.xml. Refer your web server manual for more details.
  4. If your server is taking more time to send back the response then comes the need to look at the application code. But wait. Before I get into the code, I need to know the time taken by the application to get the data from the database. How do I get the timings of the database calls?

Tools

I use tools like:

  1. log4jdbc from https://code.google.com/p/log4jdbc/
  2. P6Spy from https://github.com/p6spy/p6spy

These tools enable database calls to be intercepted and logged without any change in the application code.  I use these tools to get answers for some of my questions. Below are the questions:

How many database calls are executed to render our example page?

  1. Which calls taking more time?
  2. Are there any duplicate calls to fetch the same set of data?

Depending on the answers I get for these questions from the tool, below are some of the performance tuning we do to improve the response time of the page:

  1. Analyze the query which is taking more time. Check with database administrator to tune this query in terms of creating new indexes or new table space etc.
  2. If there are duplicate calls then check with the developer why duplicate calls required in the same transaction? Can we get data once and use it in multiple places instead of making same calls again.
  3. Out of the database calls made for the page, see whether any data that can be cached instead of loading from the database always. If so, implement a caching strategy.

These tools enables me to do some amount of performance tuning without getting too much involved at the code level. Of course in some cases it will be imperative to get to the lower levels but not without implementing the first level of performance optimization as mentioned above.

SharePoint 2013 Search Feature Updates from Cem Aykan (Senior Product Manager, Enterprise Search at Microsoft)

Webinar Recap: Roadmap for SharePoint 2013 Search and why Metadata matters?

Enterprise search is one of the non-quantifiable benefits that come with many inherit deficiencies. This is because of the human element attached to it and our tendencies to perceive and allocate things differently on our mental nodes. It is more than running queries into the search box and getting results based on keywords and metadata, but it is more of discovering contents that we did not know we were necessarily looking for.
Probably, this is the reason some of the experts term it as both art and science. While enterprise search is a broad subject in itself, the interesting elements are the advancements product companies are making to provide connected search experiences and managing information governance. In this piece, I am going to share some interesting developments.

Last year, my article “Fast Search Drives Enterprise Productivity” focused on SharePoint 2013 Fast search features and benefits. This year I would like to share some valuable takeaways from a recent webinar conducted by Microsoft and Concept Searching. The webinar was themed around “Why Metadata Matters in SharePoint 2013 and information governance” and hosted by Cem Aykan (Senior Product Manager of enterprise search at Microsoft) and Don Miller (V.P commercial accounts at Concept searching).

Roadmap for SharePoint 2013 Search

Cem Aykan, Senior product manager of enterprise search Microsoft took us to a tour of the enhanced search features in SharePoint 2013 bringing forth some contextual developments in search landscape. Here are the highlights:

Autocomplete predictions assist contextual searching

Providing similar experience as in Google, the auto complete predictions would assist users with relevant suggests. Unlike universal search engines, the new suggestions are categorized to fit well with user’s queries based on their likings and preferences. This is a great leap towards creating a connected search experience apart from saving time and allowing repeat search in an easier way as possible.

Personalized search is all about discovery

Significant development in SharePoint 2013 powered by Fast search features would now allow users with more personalized and contextual search results. This personalization would allow better room for discovery, which is one of the crucial components of today’s enterprise search. Searchers do not often get what they search. There could be plenty of reasons such as one’s cognitive ability to perceive certain things differently. The search term and search results would thus vary because of diversity of, perceptions and unstructured query terms used by the searcher.  To tackle this, the new search results would now extract significant cues fromsearcher’s profile, inferring more about their preferences, likings and patterns, thereby showing results that are contextually personalized.

Finding experts who are on it

Finding relevant experts for a topic becomes difficult in SharePoint, as people do not update their profile in SharePoint more often as they do in other professional social media sites. Hence,  information workers find it increasingly difficult to get relevant experts on a particular topic. Thanks to the latest changes that extract crucial attributes about experts. This is done by following them throughout their conversations, activities, groups and so forth to glean as much insights as possible to have a tacit profiling of experts. This profiling helps in correlating and mapping searchers’ query terms, thus providing the right subject experts to their seekers i.e information workers.

One search center for all

Since the integration of Fast search, people often wonder whether to use SharePoint’s 2013 native search capabilities, Search server express or the Fast search features. The good news is that the now the fast search feature combines capabilities of all the three and provides a single source of search.

Forward looking..

Cem Aykan, also gave a preview of coming updates that would enable search drive connected experience. Here is the roadmap for the future:

  • Gleaning insights from social interactions
  • Visually Engaging and actionable results
  • Flexible on premise, cloud and hybrid
  • Consuming diverse content and signals
  • Advanced querying options

While these modifications prophesies to make SharePoint search more powerful in terms of providing connected experience, what’s more interesting is how product company like Concept Search is taking it to a higher conceptual plane by enhancing SharePoint search features.

Don Miller, (V.P commercial accounts at Concept searching) highlighted some of the remarkable features of their products that enhanced enterprise search features and provided greater information governance and control. The most interesting aspects of it was leveraging of taxonomy and mapping structure to encapsulate content information using advanced statistical concepts rather than using manual interpretation of metadata tags.

The Path Forward

The human element of enterprise search makes it more complex and manual creation of taxonomies, categories and structures requires balanced perspectives. The automated approach bets on agreed upon Taxonomy and Mapping structure. Thus, it exposes uncertain scenarios like managing tags and ensuring better discovery in a geographically distributed team set up, with different language settings or encapsulating latest content addition. Lastly, quantified benefits of enterprise search.

SharePoint 2013 + Yammer Flashback: Why need a Social Strategy?

“Social is catching on fast with enterprises” –  has been the proverbial  phrase for the last couple of years. However, it was Yammer’s acquisition by Microsoft for a whopping $1.2Billion way back on 2012 that gave enterprise social  a new angle and much was written off about Yammer and its integration with on-premise SharePoint and office 365 to date. Jared Saptaro mentioned in his post “I want a tool that will allow me to start a conversation in a news-feed, ping one of the participants on IM, escalate to voice and video, follow-up over email, and circle back to the original conversation with an update”.
That was the vision with Yammer, but did it deliver on its promise or not is yet to be seen. However, Yammer made some considerable headway with registered user base reaching up to 8million; Paid networks reaching more than 200% and yes, there is a dedicated team sitting in Redmond.

Let us scroll down the memory lane for a while and analyze important milestone achieved by Yammer and the impact of social strategies in transforming workplace experience.

Yammer – A Social Serendipity!

What started as an internal productivity tool to enable a startup team (Geni.com) of merely 30 people stay connected, spun out and outsmarted the start-up itself by raising $142 Million against a mere $16.7million by Geni.com in funding. As Yammer evolved, its integration with BOX ( a cloud storage service provider) were gaining grounds. Yammer was climbing up the popularity ladder and incessantly building on its expertise, which propelled Microsoft to acquire it for a whopping $1.2 billion to leverage Yammer’s freemium model, tap into the existing user base and probably to curb the growing competition from BOX. End users, evangelists and consultants were quick to notice Yammer’s overlapping social features with SharePoint 2013 like newsfeeds, likes and share etc. After a year and a half, has the Yammer and SharePoint story ended or is it the beginning of the new marriage with office 365? How would social impact collaboration platforms? What are the competitive forces that would drive platform providers to offer advanced social experience? To answer these, let us have a quick recap on both Yammer and SharePoint’s social features and see how social strategies will decide the fate of social collaboration.

SharePoint and Yammer’s Social Features Comparison

Both SharePoint 2013 and Yammer have different approaches to social about end user usage. However, there are overlapping features like newsfeeds that still confuses end users accustomed to SharePoint newsfeeds. The social features of SharePoint 2013 revolve much around the processoriented, context-based collaboration, where governance and compliance are well taken care of. The Yammer model is more of an asynchronous, activity streams that allow flexible collaboration with certain dark spots in the cloud environment.

SharePoint 2013 social features like News-feed, Following, MyStuff, Sharing, tagging, Conversation etc. allow better document management, search and file sharing capabilities. on the other hand, Yammer’s similar social features allow threaded group conversation that can be leveraged for better knowledge management and instant collaboration like scheduling an adhoc meetings, quick reviews etc. For instance, if you need some information from a subject matter expert, you can post it on a group and have experts answer them in a threaded conversation. You can also glean diverse perspective from experts within your organization. In case a high-priority task pops up, one can easily assign a task to the concerned person and notify them via feeds or email alerts depending upon where the person is.  Yammer gives you a similar experience of Facebook and lets you voice your opinion across organization, and to an extent facilitates real-time collaboration. Yammer freemium model exposes governance and security threats related to intellectual property of a company. All you need is to sign up with your company account and join your company network. For a stricter governance control, one might have to choose a paid model that provides a secure environment to curb governance issues.

In a nutshell, collaboration in SharePoint 2013 is part of long-term and broader goals of businesses while Yammer can be leveraged at a tactical level to meet real time needs. However, Microsoft is constantly coming out with series of updates to bring Yammer and SharePoint via Office 365. Some noteworthy updates were message translation in a threaded conversation that would allow people from different geography to participate in a conversation using their native language. Similarly, a Yammer app enables users to embed Yammer feeds into on premise SharePoint Server 2013 sites, providing a more social and engaging platform. Other updates included improvements to the Inbox and cross-platform mobile development on Windows, iOS and Android. Which brings us to the question, how many inboxes do we need? Where do end users spend most of their time? Probably, that is the place where social collaboration starts.

While a comprehensive use case analysis of SharePoint 2013 and Yammer’s socialfeatures would be a separate topic altogether, it is important to understand social collaboration at a workplace. After all that is where the fate of “social” hangs. In addition, it is the strategies and end user approval and not the platforms or tools, that will decide the fate of enterprise social collaboration. Therefore, it is important to understand workplace experience, stakeholders and why social strategies are needed for the success of enterprise social tools.

Defining Workplace Experience and understanding stakeholders

Workplace experience (WX), call it WX, that is where collaboration strategies evolve and all trending tools reach a tipping point. Workplace experience is the key component of collaboration, which is largely influenced by people, process and culture. Even the finest collaboration platform or tools will fail if it does not align people, process and culture to meet desired business objectives. Understanding the key stakeholders and their involvement, engagement and platform usage patterns help in exploring adoption and building collaboration strategies. Understanding how tools would fit into the process to optimize operation help in providing a seamless collaboration. Understanding workplace demography and behavioral patterns help in defining collaboration strategies. Thus, a clear understanding of stakeholders helps create a defining workplace experience.

An organization’s culture largely affects social networking. The pervasive fear of bringing in an entirely new culture that could disrupt the established order constantly looms. One common concern that incurs conflict of interest between HR department,and other cross-functional departments are an instance of inappropriate content being posted in a public forum.  They fear that such instances can disrupt the workplace dynamics as the grapevine spreads like a wildfire.  Other assumptions revolve around security, regulatory and compliance, company’s internal brand positioning and most importantly social networking is a productivity killer. While these assumptions stem from valid concerns, it is too early to decide whether the social tools are a complete failure or works as a passive enabler in leveraging knowledge workers in organization. At the least, it needs a push by formulating social strategies and then exploring appropriate choices available.

Why Social Strategy?

The competition keeps organizations on their toes and propels them to try out all trending options before them. Similarly, implementing tools to meet strategic goals require investment that expects ROI over a period. However, when it is time to measure the success (aka ROI) yet another version pops up, and enterprises run around hunting for partners for upgrade services- meaning incremental investments.  Then we have an endless keynote sessions, events and seminars to justify these investments. We have seen these trends over the past few years and CIOs, tech-pundits, consultants and evangelists have racked up their brains to quantify “productivity Gains” with collaboration suites like SharePoint, Office 365. However, the bright spot is SharePoint remains a preferred choice forenterprises’ collaboration when it comes to document/record management, file sharing, search, workflow intranet portal and so on and so forth. What made this collaboration landscape more interesting was the advent or integration of “Social” that opened the floodgates of opportunities demanding a shift from a multi-pronged Intranet model to a more vivid, interoperable, responsive, interactive, engaging and intuitive- “The Social model”.

For social model to succeed, it is imperative to have a social strategy at place. Unless there is a perceived benefit for stakeholders, there is no point of embracing social tools.  Organizations which have succeeded in social adoption as part of their collaboration ballgame, are the ones who have invested time and effort building a strategy on the contrary, to the ones who are still stuck in justifying their moves.

Internet of Things: The Era of Mobile Application Development

From a mosquito repellent app that produces a sonic sound to scare mosquitoes away or Smarthings’ smart home apps connecting your rooms, doors, kettle, refrigerators to Nike’s wearable sports gear, tightly integrated with your fitness routine or Google’s driver glasses — the flurry of killer apps are reshaping our daily habits. It is interesting to see how Smartphone apps are becoming control points for the “Internet of things” applications.

According to Gartner, the Internet of Things installed base will grow to 26 billion units by 2020. McKinsey found that the Internet of things has the potential to create economic impact of up to $6.2 trillion annually by 2025.
The numbers give us a glimpse of future and how mobile application development will become integral aspect of “IoT”. At Factory level IoT-based smart and innovative apps are being used to monitor remote site assets, manage Machine-to-Machine (M2M) and device connectivity across healthcare, manufacturing or supply chain domains. McKinsey estimates by 2025, 80 percent to 100 percent of all manufacturing could be using IoT applications to improve productivity, leading to a potential economic impact of up to $2.3 trillion.

Read our full report on cmswire http://www.cmswire.com/cms/internet-of-things/jumping-on-the-internet-of-things-bandwagon-023787.php

BDC Issues Resolution: Rare Active Directory Issues in SharePoint

One fine day(or rather not a fine one) we got stuck all of a sudden. We were not able to  perform any activities in SharePoint related to BCS external lists. Every time we tried to browse the lists in central admin we got the following error.

Error: Cannot establish connection to data source. An unexpected internal error occurred in the business data connectivity shared service: the specified user or domain group was not found.

When we browsed through the external list, we found an error “The specified user or domain group was not found”. We did some analysis and came to know that we are unable to view the external content types at all. Finally we found that an active directory account (user account) got deleted which was while creating this external content type. This account was used along with two other service accounts under set object permissions. We got this information when we browsed through the table “AR_MetadatObjectSecurity” in the BDC database. We recreated the user account (used the exact user name) and then were able to view the external lists and the set object permissions popup. We then cleaned  the user name from the list of users under object permissions and finally deleted the user from AD.

So the next time you are trying to delete a user who may have been involved in SharePoint administration activities, specifically in setting up BDC you may wanna make sure that his credentials are removed from SharePoint before deleting him from AD.

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