Best of Texas AwardTwo years ago, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) came to AIS with an outdated online budgeting tool called the “Texas Reality Check” for middle and high school students. The application, designed to give students a clear sense of how much their desired future lifestyle will cost and what education and career choices will support it, was plagued by performance and accessibility issues…and its young target demographic was simply tuning it out.

AIS modernized the site for teen sensibilities, streamlined the underlying information architecture for easier use, overhauled the content strategy and user experience, and made it fully compliant with the latest accessibility guidelines.  You can read more about our work on this project here.

The new and improved Texas Reality Check has since gone on to become the most popular application of the Labor Market and Career Information Department (LMCI) of the Texas Workforce Commission. And now it’s been honored with a 2018 “Best of Texas” Award for Best Application Serving the Public. The awards highlight the Texas state government’s top creative tech implementations of the year, for both internal improvements and public-facing services like TRC.

“Governmental and educational leaders in Texas are leveraging technology to improve cybersecurity, enhance citizen service and advance emergency response, among many other things,” said Teri Takai, executive director of the Center for Digital Government. “Congratulations to this year’s Best of Texas winners for the vital role they are playing in advancing information technology in Texas.”

We’re really proud of our work on this project and thrilled that school students all across Texas have responded to the site in such a positive and engaged way. We hope the application continues to inspire them to dream big…while also equipping them with the knowledge and tools they need to achieve their goals.

I am pleased to announce my latest Pluralsight course on PowerApps (Well…such is the nature of change in the cloud that there has already been a name change since I submitted this course for publication, only a few weeks back. The aspect of PowerApps covered in my course is now referred to as Canvas Apps.)

This course is designed for developers (both citizen and professional developers) interested in a low-code approach for building mobile applications.

Here’s some background on PowerApps, if you haven’t had a chance to play with it yet:

PowerApps is a productive low-code development platform. It allows you to very quickly build business applications that can run inside a web browser, on a phone or a tablet. PowerApps includes a web-based IDE (PowerApps Studio, a set of built-in cross-platform controls), an Excel-like expression language that also includes imperative constructs like variables and loops, and over 130 connectors to talk to any number of data sources — including SQL Server, Office 365, Salesforce, Twitter, etc. You can also use custom connectors to talk to your domain-specific data source.

Beyond the controls, language expression and connectors, PowerApps provides ALM support in the form of app versioning, app publication to various app stores, swim-lanes for development environments, authentication and authorization (via Azure AD), RBAC controls, and security polices like data loss prevention (DLP).  All in all, the PowerApps service seeks to significantly lower the bar for building and distributing cross-platform mobile applications within your enterprise.

For a concrete example of our use of PowerApps, please read how we built a cross-platform event app in less than a week. Also please check out a recent episode of DotNetRocks where we talk about PowerApps.

Finally, as part of the latest spring update, PowerApps is combining with Dynamics 365 for Sales, Marketing, and Talent applications to offer an enterprise high-productivity application platform as a service (known as Microsoft Business Applications platform). What this means for PowerApps developers is that:

  1. They can now take advantage of server-side logic
  2. They have access to a data-centric way of building declarative apps, known as model-driven apps (in contrast to canvas apps, which are built by dragging and dropping controls to a canvas).

For more information on the spring update, please refer to this blog post by Frank Weigel.

I hope you will find this course useful. Please reach out to me via this blog or Twitter if you have any questions or comments.

Microsoft PowerApps and Flow have been generally available since late 2016. They’re both tools that allow business users to streamline business processes without the use of code. Microsoft positioned PowerApps as their recommended replacement for InfoPath as the business user’s forms designer, and Flow as their replacement for SharePoint Workflow.

While these are welcomed replacements, both solutions also provide a broader level of support to the Microsoft stack and across a wide array of third-party applications.  I’ve recently been working with PowerApps and Flow to replace some internal applications, as well as to build proof-of-concepts for our existing clients. Here’s what I think of each, both separately and when putting them together… Read More…

For the last few years, I have enjoyed participating in HOUR OF CODE – a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. In 2017, 154,012 Hour Of Code events were registered worldwide.

To show how much fun (and useful) coding is, I wanted the kids to build something real,  vs. simply making their favorite character walk left or right.  I decided to use the MIT App Inventor tool for my Hour of Code sessions. App Inventor is a browser-based tool that allows you to build your own apps.  We built a simple Android app to help parents reduce distractions while driving. Even though the app is super simple, the results are cool enough for kids to proudly show the app to their parents.

Here is a 10-minute video of the steps we followed to build and test the app: Read More…

 

AIS recently completed work on a complete revamp of the Texas Workforce Commission’s “Texas Reality Check” website. Texas Reality Check is an Internet-available, fully accessible, responsive, mobile-first and browser-agnostic design. This website was tested for accessibility, performance, vulnerability scans, and usability.

Background

Texas Reality Check (TRC) is targeted at students on a statewide basis, ranging from middle school to high school (with some colleges and universities making use of the tool for “life skills” classes). The goal is to inspire students to think about occupations, and prepare for educational requirements so they can achieve the income level that meets their lifestyle expectations.

This tool walks students through different areas of life, on a step-by step-basis, identifying budgets associated with living essentials such as housing, transportation, food, clothing, etc. Students make selections and then calculate a corresponding monthly income that would afford the selections they make. From here, the students are directed to another page and connected to a database on careers and associated salaries.

However, the existing site was dated and in need of improvements in three core areas: UX, Accessibility, and overall performance. Here’s how AIS delivered:

Read More…

Microsoft announced a significant and dramatic convergence of its Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 platforms during the Build 2014 conference.  Approximately 90% of the WinRT APIs are now converged between the two platforms. Microsoft Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 includes features that enable developers to take advantage of this platform convergence. The Universal Apps project template is one of those features.  Read More…
Answers.com needed a Microsoft partner that could upgrade their Windows 8 application to maximize the use of a variety of new 8.1 features. Expediency was of the utmost importance in this instance and based on our prior experience with Microsoft, they knew we were the best partner for the job. AIS upgraded the Answers.com Windows 8.0 Store application to 8.1, meeting Answers.com goal of getting it done as quickly as possible. Our team also validated the application through the Microsoft DPE Windows 8 Partner Program to ensure adherence to all Windows 8.1 criterion. Read more…
At AIS, our Account Teams work with our clients every day to produce IT solutions that solve business problems. We work closely with our CTO organization to ensure that we are researching the latest technology and services in a manner that is applicable to our clients and prospective clients.

We recently applied this to a business problem that required an organization to quickly — and with no notice — stand up a website to collect hundreds, or potentially millions, of submissions from the general public.  Our use case focused on law enforcement and the sorts of emergency response situations we’ve seen all too often in the news, such as the Boston Marathon bombing.  When local, state or federal authorities respond to criminal acts, they seek to quickly collect vast amounts of input from the public.  This input can be in the form of tips, photos, videos or any untold number of observations.  Agencies need the capability to surge their IT tools and applications to collect the data, store it, and run analysis tools against the collected content to harvest information. Read More…

Mobile devices are rapidly becoming the go-to choice for internet access for consumers.  Reading takes place on a wide range of devices, from a small smartphone to a large computer monitor. A design that works well on one screen size may not be readable on another. The user’s experience with your mobile app is paramount, and should be the outcome of significant thought, design, investment, testing, and refinement. It’s easy to discuss the need for an interface to be simple, usable, and concise. It’s surprisingly difficult to create an interface that fulfills those needs.

As designers, developers, and UX practitioners who strive to achieve business success through designing mobile experiences, we face many design challenges.

  • What is the right interface solution for my project (responsive design, adaptive design, native app, etc.)?
  • How do I choose the right navigation?
  • What is the right layout approach for maximizing the use of the screen real estate?
  • When and how should I use the various patterns/ screen elements available across mobile operating systems?
  • What are the interaction and visual design considerations across device types?
  • What are the best methods for prototyping and usability testing a mobile project?

Creating mobile user experiences that engages user’s forces us to rethink a lot of what we have taken for granted so far with desktop design. It is complicated in part by mobile-specific considerations that go hand in hand with small screens, wide variations in device features, constraints in usage and connectivity, and the hard-to-identify-but-ever-changing mobile context. Read More…