Driving value, lowering costs, and building your organization’s future with Microsoft’s next great business technology

Lately, I’ve been helping folks understand the Microsoft Power Platform (MPP) by sharing two simple diagrams.

The first one is below and is my stab (others have made theirs) at contextualizing the platform’s various components in relation to one another.

The Common Data Service (CDS) is the real magic, I tell people. No matter which app you are using, the data lives there in that one CDS across your entire environment. (And no, folks outside your organization don’t get to use it.) This means that data available to one of your apps can be re-used and re-purposed by your other apps, no wizardry or custom integration required. I promise, it just works. Think expansively about the power of this in your organization, and you’ll come up with some cockamamie/brilliant ideas about what you can do.

These are the types of data-driving-business-function that geeks like me always dreamed of.

A diagram of Microsoft Power Platform components

Then there’s PowerApps, in purple. Most folks think of this as a low-code/no-code app development tool. It is, but it’s more. Imagine that there are three flavors of PowerApps:

  1. Dynamics 365, which in the end is a set of really big PowerApps developed by Microsoft
  2. COTS apps developed by Microsoft partners (including AIS), available for organizations to license and use
  3. Custom apps you build yourself

Point Microsoft PowerBI at all of this, then mash it up with data from outside of your CDS that you get to via hundreds of out-of-the-box connectors, automate it all together with workflows in Flow…and you’ve got Power Platform in a nutshell.

When I’m presenting this to a group, I turn to my next slide pretty quickly at this point.

A rearranged look at Microsoft Power Platform

Here I’ve essentially re-arranged the pieces to make my broader point: When we think about the Power Platform, the emphasis needs to be on the Platform bit. When your organization invests in this technology, say via working with an implementation partner such as AIS or purchasing PowerApps P1/P2 licenses, you’re not just getting a product or a one-off app solution.

What you’re getting is a platform on which to build your modern business. You’re not just extending Office 365. Instead, you’re creating a future where your organization’s data and business processes are deeply integrated with, driving, and learning intelligently from one another.

The more you leverage the platform, the higher the ROI and the lower the marginal costs of those licenses become. A central goal of any implementing partner ought to be guiding organizations on the journey of migrating legacy systems onto the platform (i.e., retiring legacy licensing + O&M costs) and empowering workers to make the platform even more valuable.

We don’t invest in one-off apps anymore, i.e. a CRM in one corner of your network where you run your sales, something in another where you manage your delivery, clunky Human Resources Management off over there where you take care of your people, etc.. No, what we care about here is the platform where you integrate all of the above — not through monolithic one-size-fits-all ERP — but rather through elegant app experiences across all your users’ devices that tie back to that magical Common Data Service.

This is what I mean when I tell folks sky’s the limit, and thinking about your entire business is what’s called for here. It’s because Power Platform gives us the ability to learn and grow with our customers, constituents, vendors, employees, and other stakeholders like never before.

That’s what has everyone at Microsoft so excited. I am as well.

I want to learn from you. How do you make Power Platform understandable to those who haven’t thought about it too deeply? How does your organization make it valuable as a platform rather than just a product? I love to build beautiful things, so inspire me!

The business intelligence, automation, and enterprise application landscape is changing dramatically.

In the previous incarnation of enterprise technology, line-of-business owners were forced to choose between pre-baked commercial off the shelf (COTS) software, which was difficult to customize and often did not truly meet the business’s unique needs, or custom solutions that (though flexible and often tailor-made to the business needs of the moment) cost more and were far riskier to develop and deploy.

Furthermore, certain classes of applications do not have a COTS answer, nor do they justify the cost of custom software development. In the chasm between the two arose a generation of quasi-apps: the homegrown Excel spreadsheets, Access databases, Google docs, and all manner of other back-of-the-napkin “systems.” End users developed these quasi-apps to fill the gaps between the big software IT provided and what users actually needed to do their jobs.

We’ve all been there: The massive spreadsheet that tracked a decade’s worth of employee travel but was always one accidental click away from oblivion. Or the quirky asset management database living on your officemate’s desktop (and still named after an employee who left the company five years ago); the SharePoint site full of sensitive HR data, or the shared network drive that had long been “shared” a bit too liberally. A generation of do-it-yourself workers grew up living on the edge of catastrophe with their quasi-apps.

Thankfully, three trends have converged to shatter this paradigm in 2019, fundamentally changing the relationship between business users, technologists, and their technology.

Connectivity of Everything

The new generation of business applications is hyper-connected to one another. They allow for connections between business functions previously considered siloed, unrelated, or simply not feasible or practical. This includes travel plans set in motion by human resources decisions, medical procedures scheduled based on a combination of lab results and provider availability, employee recruiting driven by sales and contracts.

Citizens’ Uprising

Business users long settled for spreadsheets and SharePoint, but new “low-code/no-code” tools empower these “citizen creators” with the capability to build professional grade apps on their own. Airport baggage screeners can develop mobile apps that cut down on paperwork, trainers and facilitators put interactive tools in the hands of their students, and analysts and researchers are no longer dependent on developers to “pull data” and create stunning visualizations.

New Ways of Looking at the World (& Your Data)

This isn’t just about business intelligence (BI) and data visualization tools far outpacing anything else that was recently available. It’s not even just about business users’ ability to harness and extend those tools. This is about the ability of tools like Microsoft Power BI to splice together, beautifully visualize, and help users interpret data that their organizations already own — data to which you’ve connected using one of the hundreds of native connectors to third-party services, and data generated every second of every minute of every day from the connected devices that enable the organization’s work.

It’s an exciting time. I’ve explored these trends further, plus how Microsoft’s Power Platform has become the go-to platform for organizations mastering the new landscape in my whitepaper, Microsoft’s Power Platform and the Future of Business Applications. We’re way past CRM. I hope you’ll read it and share your thoughts with me!

We’re fascinated by the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence and the truly transformative opportunities it offers our customers. We’ve been digging deep into machine learning, computer vision and other AI capabilities for quite some time now, and believe they will grow into a significant part of our business. We’re not alone: IDC predicts 75 percent of developer teams will include cognitive and AI functionality in one or more applications this year.

“A lot of the sales process for AI and ML is centered around education…people are not calling asking for either specifically.”
– Vishwas Lele AIS

To assist companies looking to build an AI-focused practice, Microsoft recently released the AI Practice Development Playbook with guidance and resources around developing an AI strategy, gaining the required skills, plus how to market and sell these cutting-edge offerings. AIS is proud to be a contributing expert and co-author of the Playbook, along with our fellow Microsoft partners and other leading AI data scientists.

Get your copy of the AI Playbook right here. We’d love to hear what you think of it!

 

Recently we collaborated with Microsoft and Prospect Silicon Valley (ProspectSV) on a project to assess the viability and value of several Azure services. Specifically, we were asked to demonstrate how the cloud-based platform could be used to retrieve, store, visualize and predict trends based on data from multiple sources. In order to demonstrate these capabilities, we built an ASP.NET MVC application leveraging the following Azure components:

  • Azure App Services
  • Azure Machine Learning
  • Azure Power BI Embedded
  • Azure Storage

Figure 1: ProspectSV Application Architecture depicts how the system uses these four Azure components. This diagram also describes which external data sources are used and where that data is stored.
Read More…

These disciplines can play a significant role in building stable release processes that help ensure project milestones are met.

Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Delivery (DC) are rapidly becoming an integral part of software development. These disciplines can play a significant role in building stable release processes that help ensure project milestones are met. And in addition to simply performing compilation tasks, CI systems can be extended to execute unit testing, functional testing, UI testing, and many other tasks. This walkthrough demonstrates the creation of a simple CI/CD deployment pipeline with an integrated unit test.

There are many ways of implementing CI/CD, but for this blog, I will use Jenkins and GiHub to deploy the simple CI/CD pipeline. A Docker container will be used to host the application.  The GitHub repository hosts the application including a Dockerfile for creating an application node. Jenkins is configured with GitHub and Docker Plugin. Read More…

Microsoft’s Cortana Intelligence Suite provides a seamless transition from raw data to intelligence: Real, meaningful data for real, meaningful business decisions. 

With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), the need for real-time processing and data analytics has become paramount. As a part of the Cortana Intelligence Suite, Microsoft offers Azure Stream Analytics (ASA) as a fully-managed cloud service for analyzing complex event and data streams at near real time. Read More…

Business leaders are constantly looking at how they can use the underwriting process to improve profits.

What if insurance underwriters or the underwriting processes could look into the past at a more detailed level and predict exactly how a risk would perform in the future? What If underwriters were provided with a solution that would provide meaningful insight into customers’ risk characteristics? Data analytics, data mining and predictive modeling can provide this ability to enhance business processes and improve profits for Insurance companies.

Our experienced technical team recently pulled together a white paper on this topic.  These guys have worked with one of the largest personal property insurers in the country for several years, and have loads of experience in implementing cost-saving solutions for this industry. In this paper, they discuss auto and property/casualty insurance underwriting, how big data analytics can influence an increase in sales and revenues for companies and introduce a high level Microsoft based solution implementation that can solve this business problem.

Download your copy today and share with you team!

standardized test“Greg, Marcia, Peter, Jan, Bobby and Cindy go to a movie and sit next to each other in six adjacent seats. If Marcia and Jan will not sit next to each other, in how many different arrangements can the six people sit?” – GMAT Sample Question

Thankfully my standardized test-taking days are far behind me, but this kind of problem is typical of what one might find on an advanced level standardized test math section. It also so happens to be representative of what mathematicians refer to as a constraint problem.

Constraint problems (also commonly known as constraint satisfaction problems or CSPs) refer to a family of mathematical optimization problems. Wikipedia defines constraint satisfaction as follows: “…the process of finding a solution to a set of constraints that impose conditions that the variables must satisfy. A solution is therefore a set of values for the variables that satisfies all constraints.

chocolate-factory-pictureWith that aside, I’d like to continue with a simple illustration that might help put some understanding behind these abstract definitions. For a moment, just imagine that you are the owner of a chocolate factory…

As a chocolate factory, your company is the sole supplier of three types of chocolate to a retailer whom we shall call “Bradburys.”  The three types of candy are Darkness, Heaven, and Therapy (these don’t actually exist as far as I know but can help with your imagination, YMMV). Now as CEO of your chocolate factory, your task is to maximize profit by keeping production costs low and output high. Seems straightforward, right? However with chocolate production, as in life, things are a little bit more complex.

Your factory has three machines – each producing only one type of candy. This limits the overall production for each type of candy to the capacity of the machine that can produce it. You also have a limited budget, and since chocolate doesn’t grow on trees (OK, technically cocoa does, but you know what I mean), you have to make financial decisions about what quantity of the different chocolates you are willing to produce. And just to make it even more complicated, some chocolate candies can be sold more profitably to Bradbury’s than others. Hmm, some tough decisions to make… Read More…

Custom application development is one of AIS’ many strong suits, and we’re constantly expanding our repertoire. Recently we successfully delivered a custom-designed scorecard and dashboard, as well as a SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) data cube, which provided self-service Business Intelligence for one of the nation’s leading pain medication monitoring organizations. Ameritox’ senior management required a user-friendly solution that was consumable on a variety of mobile devices like Apple iPads and other tablets. Our experience in Microsoft BI, .NET development and mobile solutions enabled us to deliver a solution that allows the organization to effectively track their specimens on a daily basis.

Click here to find out exactly what we did to ensure success on this project!

After watching demos on Power View I was excited to begin using the tool, as we recently configured SQL 2012 SSRS and PowerPivot with SharePoint 2010 for an internationally-focused client. But after playing around with my PowerPivot model in Power View, I realized the Map chart type that I had been so looking forward to using…was not available.

Turns out we had installed SQL 2012 but not SQL 2012 SP1. Power View gets a number of important upgrades in SP1, including much-needed filtering that’s missing from the earlier version, as well as my eagerly anticipated Map chart type. Read More…