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Integrate Data Silos with Azure Synapse Analytics

The Roadblock for Digital Transformation

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Source: Harvard Business Review

It is clearly established that Digital Transformation is the key to success and even survival for organizations, even more so with the current global crisis due to COVID-19. 64% of executives believe that they have less than four years to complete digital transformation or they will go out of business. 91% of global executives surveyed by Harvard Business Review feel that effective data and analytics strategies are essential for digital transformation. This data driven culture is critical to spark innovation and drive efficiencies, which is crucial for survival.

But, 80% of the respondents also say that their organizations are struggling to become mature users of data and analytics even though 79% of the employees use data and analytics at least once a week. What gets in the way of organizations effectively using data and analytics for business decisions?

More than half (55%) of the executives say the key roadblock stems from data silos and difficulty managing data coming from multiple systems. Digital transformation leads to a lot of data being captured across various systems which can be extremely valuable. However, less than 20% of this data can ever be analyzed due to the silos. This is mainly because of the disconnect between Big Data analytics, enterprise Data Warehousing, Analytics, and Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning.

Simplifying Analytics

The need of the hour is to simplify analytics in a manner that breaks down these silos and makes the most of the data available for analysis without having to jump through hoops. In an ideal world, streaming operational data should be available for immediate analysis to generate reports and run models on the data. This is not a trivial problem.

Operational data is a mix of structured and unstructured data which is generally stored in a Data Lake, not suitable for analytics. Hence, the operational data needs to be imported into a Data Warehouse. The reporting and analytics services can then run on the Data Warehouse.

This creates three key issues. 

  1. Lag between the operational and analytics data stores due to the ELT pipeline. 
  2. Balancing the operational, ELT, reporting, and analytics workloads in the cloud. 
  3. Efficient and effective model management.

Organizations would really benefit from a framework which effectively addresses these issues and removes the roadblocks to data maturity. Azure Synapse Analytics is a step in the right direction with a big promise – Limitless Analytics Services in the cloud.

Azure Synapse Analytics to the Rescue

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Source: Microsoft

Microsoft has launched Azure Synapse Analytics to fulfill the promise of limitless analytics services. This service creates a single place to collaborate for Data Engineers, Database Administrators, Data Scientists, Business Intelligence Analysts, and Business Users with everyone accessing the same data.

The service offers a distributed query processing engine, versatile form factor for computing (cluster/ serverless), and a single experience for the users to manage the end-to-end process. This provides the much required flexibility in scaling and a great user experience, which promotes collaboration.

Many features of Azure Synapse Analytics are now generally available with many more in the pipeline. We believe that this service will evolve rapidly into the standard for analytics at scale for organizations.

Benefits of Azure Synapse Analytics

Azure Synapse Analytics allows teams to seamlessly work together. However, the benefits go beyond this. Some additional benefits are:

1. Unified Experience

 

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Source: Microsoft

Azure Synapse Analytics allows users to ingest, prepare, manage, serve, visualize, and analyse the data using a unified experience. Users can bring their analytics to where the data is located, rather than switching to a different interface. This gives a big boost to productivity.

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2. Limitless Scale

Azure Synapse Analytics enables limitless scaling for data and analytics in the cloud. Data professionals can derive insights from all the data across data warehouses and big analytics systems at speed. They can query both relational and non-relational data at petabyte-scale using T-SQL language. Furthermore, they can benefit from a versatile form factor of using clusters and serverless computing. Finally, they can run analytics systems along with mission critical workloads with intelligent workload management, workload isolation, and limitless concurrency.

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3. Integrate Business Intelligence and Machine Learning

Azure Synapse Analytics allows users to integrate Power BI and Azure Machine Learning within the Azure Synapse Studio. Then BI professionals and Data Scientists can tap into the available data immediately to create faster insights.

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4. Cloud-Native HTAP Implementation

The announcement of Azure Synapse Link (Preview) brings cloud-native hybrid transactional and analytical processing (HTAP) for Azure Cosmos DB. And with this, plans to expand it to other data stores in the future. It creates a tight seamless integration between Azure Cosmos DB and Azure Synapse Analytics. This enables users to run near real-time analytics over operational data which is stored in Azure Cosmos DB.

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Want to learn more? Click here for a quick and informative video that demonstrates the power of Synapse Analytics Link.

5. Price-Performance

Price-performance is also a critical part of data solutions. According to Microsoft, Azure Synapse Analytics offers better price-performance as compared to Google BigQuery and Amazon Redshift based on field tests done by GigaOm.

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Source: GigaOm Report

The TPC-H and TPC-DS results published by Microsoft show a significant reduction in price of Azure Synapse Analytics as compared to the others in the preceding as well as following graphics.

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Source: Microsoft

Speed

As demonstrated in this video from Ignite 2019, Azure Synapse Analytics can be blazing fast in a petabyte-scale environment combining relational and non-relational data. This can be a game changer for organizations where faster decision making can lead to substantial profit increase.

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Getting Started

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We have multiple offers that make it easy for organizations to get started with Azure Synapse Analytics no matter what stage they are at in the process. 

  1. Just getting started?  We offer a free two-hour lunch and learn workshop to help you understand this service. 
  2. Do you already know about the service but need help figuring out your next step?  We can conduct an assessment, strategy, and roadmap workshop that will provide your organization a plan with how to move forward. 
  3. Do you have a roadmap but need help with implementation? We can get you started with the first pilot which can be completed in 2-4 weeks. Once you have experienced the value from the pilot, we can help you with the implementation as per the roadmap.

 

Contact us at info@optimusinfo.com to get started.

Starting a Data Project

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It’s exciting to hear ‘Data is the new Oil’ or the ‘new Gold’ or the new ‘something valuable’. What I dread, though, is the day we hear ‘Data is the new fad and a complete waste of money’. I hope that day never comes!

A lot will depend on how businesses approach data projects. Right now, it could go either way. There are many organizations throwing money at data projects to ensure they are not left behind. There are many more who are not even getting started fearing the outcome or the futility of it. If you belong to either camp, I will share a simple process to maximize the return on your data projects.

Where Data Projects fail

Data projects are complex and resource intensive and hence have many failure points. Most failure points are like the failure points of any complex project. Data availability, data quality, team quality, team work, communication, and so on. There is one, though, which is unique to data projects and at the root of all failed projects. It’s what I call the ‘rabbit hole question’. If a data project begins with this, it is likely to fail.

The Rabbit Hole Question

This is the question I most often hear from companies wanting to start data projects. It is some variation of – ‘What can I do with my data?’. I agree that it is the most natural question to ask, however, not the question that is going to set you up for success. It is the dream question for the salesperson who can now engage the solution architects. Who will then build an exciting solution. A solution that is likely to cost a lot of money and take a lot of time. Worse, it may not yield any results. Why? because it’s the ‘rabbit hole question’.

This question propels everyone to start thinking about what all to do with the data. Or, where all to apply the algorithm or the tool. There are many possibilities and hence many potential projects. But there is no way to figure out what we will get at the  end of these projects. We will only discover it as we go along. And chances are we may not like what we see in the end, if we see anything at all.

Avoiding the Trap

So, how do we avoid the ‘rabbit hole question’? Where do we start and how do we proceed to maximize our chance of success? The answer is to flip the question – ask “What can my data do for me?”. Better still, use a top down approach of starting with your Business Objectives. The graphic on the right illustrates a more sensible approach to data projects.

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The key is to break down the process into two phases – Planning and Execution. Planning requires little time but a lot of thinking but is crucial for success.

It is important during planning to stop thinking about the data you have and what to do it. Instead, start with what the key objectives for your business. Next is to think about the Actions required to achieve those objectives. That leads us to thinking about the kind of decisions we need to take. Then we can ask the question – “What insights do I need to take these decisions?”. These required insights then lead us to the relevant data and findings.

In this process, we may find that we do not have some of the required data. We can then start collecting those. In the meantime, we can then switch to execution with the data we already have. We can use the data and findings to generate relevant insights. These insights then drive the appropriate decisions. These decisions then guide us with the required actions to achieve our objectives.

Data Strategy Workshop

In our experience, the knowledge required for Planning is available in the organization. It usually sits in different silos though. Also, we find that the key stakeholders are usually not aligned.

Hence, we recommend conducting a Data Strategy workshop. Such a workshop aligns all stakeholders around the business objectives. It then allows the group to connect the objectives all the way to the Data they have.

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The outcome of the Workshop is an aligned Data & AI Roadmap. We can then jump into execution with the least effort and cost. The initial success then builds confidence in the organization for further projects. It also frees up time of critical resources to contribute to these projects.

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Optimus has already conducted Data & AI workshops for various organizations with fantastic results. If you would like your organization to have a clearly defined, cost effective, Data & AI Roadmap, please contact us at rajeev.roy@optimusinfo.com 

 

 

Digital Collaboration: Superhighway to Innovation and Economic Transformation

Federal and provincial governments in Canada along with the private sector are undertaking a major initiative to establish the nation as a global centre for digital transformation and innovation, generating 50 thousand jobs and boosting GDP by some 15 billion dollars over the next 10 years. 1.4 billion dollars is being committed in a collaboration of large and small companies, working together to generate solutions to some of the world’s most pressing health, productivity and sustainability issues.

Given the media attention being paid to technology and the Internet of Things today, it would be easy to assume that digital transformation throughout the Canadian economy – and elsewhere in the world – was happening quickly. But that’s not always the case.

Much of this digital transformation, of course, is taking place in the private sector, so one reason that the pace of change may be slower than we would assume is because the money to make it happen is coming from the private sector, itself. In other words, if and when corporate funds are available – and they’re not siphoned off to other projects – then investment in digital technologies can occur.

Another fundamental roadblock to speedier adoption of digital technology is a lack of leadership within a company[i]; there is often no single individual clearly in charge of leading such a project. Frequently, this is because corporate management lacks a firm knowledge and grasp of what is at stake.

Maintaining Software Integrity in Mission Critical Application

Optimus has developed rigorous standards for software testing along with a proprietary tool – the Azure Test Harness – which ensures integrity and faster time-to-market for companies rolling out applications.

For one client, a Finnish firm that provides detailed, real-time data on severe weather, like lightning strikes, for the airline industry, the ability to roll-out error-free software on a regular basis is critical.

The company frequently updated its software which meant manual testing to ensure the application remained error-free – a very time-consuming operation especially with airlines needing the latest data, instantly.

Optimus deployed an automated test framework on the Azure Test Harness which now allows the company to reduce its test cycles significantly while expanding its test coverage and maintaining the high integrity of its web-based app.

Azure Test Harness is one example of the innovative thinking Optimus is bringing to market.

It boils down to one simple fact: a failure to realize the powerful business advantages that digital technology brings to the table.

Digital Transformation Won’t Wait

International Data Corporation (IDC), a global research firm that provides marketing intelligence to technology markets, says that in 2018, only 30% of manufacturers investing in digital transformation will be able to maximize their advantages; the rest are held back by outdated business models and technology[ii].

There is one point on which even the late adapters can agree: digital transformation won’t wait.

In its 2017 budget, the federal government of Canada put forward a bold plan to supercharge innovation in the Canadian economy. The government earmarked nearly one billion dollars to be supported by money from the private sector for a combined total of 1.4 billion dollars[iii]. The money is being utilized across five “superclusters”, one of which is the digital technology supercluster.

At the Forefront of Innovation and Made in Canada

This cluster of companies, large and small – even start-ups – hails from healthcare, mining, financial services, telecom and other sectors of the economy. There are more than 270 companies that are part of the supercluster and they’ll collaborate on more than 100 projects, literally sharing talent and ideas. The goal is to generate commercial opportunities and economic prosperity that will keep Canada at the forefront of global innovation.

Optimus Information will be integrally involved, through our longstanding partnership with Microsoft, in assisting independent software vendors that are part of the digital technology supercluster as well as the large enterprise organizations that are participating. Many of the leading companies in these areas are already our clients. Optimus will offer expertise in technologies like blockchain, one of our growing areas of strength, through applications, another Optimus area of expertise.

What is exciting about this digital supercluster project is that the participants are operating at the edge of innovation, exploring and developing what’s never been done before. Optimus intends to leverage powerful AI and data analytics capabilities with which we work on a daily basis.

Optimus has breadth and depth of talent and experience in full stack and mobile development, software testing and business intelligence, data analytics and machine learning for industries from aerospace to transportation.

Contact us today to learn how we can bring value to your company and help you stay on the leading edge of innovation, as well.

Think Big: How Design Plus Data Will Change Your Business

Is design thinking catching your attention? It should. Data insights not available before now can transform your business models and allow you to lead in your industry when you incorporate elements such as predictive, mobile dashboards and machine learning. This wave of change is forcing data architects to re-think and re-design how programs and applications must be built. To truly innovate, design teams need to push the design thinking envelope on almost every project.

“You can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data.”
– Daniel Keys Moran, computer programmer and science fiction writer.

Since the invention of the first computer, the world has been on a digital light-speed journey – one that has seen massive change in how we interact with our world and with each other. Today, there are more than 2.5 billion[i] smart phones carried in people’s pockets – each more powerful than the ones used to run the spacecraft that landed the first men on the Moon.[ii] In particular, how we interact with and gain insight from data has gone through an incredible transformation. We have evolved from relying on simple historical reporting – from the days of simple reporting to now, where tanker.

The Way It Was

Reporting has always been a critical element for a business to thrive and we have been accustomed to seeing our reports – our data – in fairly standard and historic terms. Let’s take a straightforward quarterly sales report at a consumer retail company, for example. Simple data, like units sold, prices received, cost of goods, volume of shipments and so forth, would be gathered and stored over a three-month period and then used to generate a few charts and graphs. Conclusions would be drawn from this static data and the company would shift strategy based on the conclusions.

Perhaps the conclusions were accurate and maybe they weren’t. Regardless, that’s how it’s been done for a long time: based on the data available.

The Way It Is

Today, the capability exists to break down data into far greater detail, do it in real-time and through disciplines like machine learning and artificial intelligence, draw highly focused and accurate conclusions not at the end of a business quarter but at the end of each day, and, in many cases, as it happens.

IoT Changes Shipping Industry – Reduces Risk and Cost

A client that operates a fleet of tankers equipped with IoT sensors wanted to move beyond its basic data reports and drill deeper into the technical data gathered aboard its vessels. Optimus utilized elements from Microsoft’s IoT Suite, including Azure Data Factory, to create visually appealing reports and dashboards that contained information gathered from thousands of sensors throughout the fleet.

The results meant a far more in-depth data analysis than the company had been getting, delivering more accurate insight for more accurate business decisions. When it comes to tankers, a simple mistake can cost millions in terms of lost time, environmental disasters, financial penalties, missed deadlines and more.

Optimus solved the client’s existing problem while building a platform for continuous improvement with data analysis using Microsoft Azure tools. Because the data can be aggregated in the cloud, the client can analyze greater amounts of data over an extended period of time, thus further enhancing their shipboard operational analysis and implementing global cost saving efforts as a result.

Now, a business can make highly informed decisions immediately and adjust accordingly. Of course, it’s not simply analyzing a few traditional data points, like sales; it’s analyzing where those sales took place, in which store locations, even in which aisles or departments, at what time of day, from which shelf the customer chose a purchase, what the customer’s likely income level is– in other words, the more highly specialized the data, the more highly specialized and precise the conclusions that can be drawn.

Because it’s possible to generate highly detailed data and analyze it from so many different perspectives, every sector of the economy is making use of data analysis.

In the manufacturing sector, factory operations are being revolutionized[iii] by both big data and analytics. Sensors generate endless streams of data on the health of production line equipment, data that’s being examined by the minute for the slightest indication of a potential problem or defect. Conclusions are drawn and actions implemented immediately to avoid any breakdown and disruption in the production process. There’s a positive ripple effect to this: customers don’t experience delays and the company doesn’t experience a loss of revenue.

The virtually unlimited storage capacity in the cloud, coupled to highly sophisticated computer algorithms that can perform serious analysis in, literally, seconds, is placing tremendous demands on data architects. Programs and applications must be agile enough to allow for updates, added features and improvements without delay. This has meant developing new architecture that can not only run a program at lightning speed but can be altered or updated in the areas where it needs improvement, much like making incremental improvements to a car model but without re-designing the whole car every time.

Gone are the days of a monolithic software structure where data warehouses needed a year or more to be designed and several more months for data to be inputted. If missing data was discovered, it would mean an entire rebuilding of the program.

Microservices and Teams

Today, Optimus Information designs architecture so that updates, changes or improvements can be made to one area of a program or application without having to open up the whole program. By using microservices in our software development, Optimus has created functional teams whose responsibility is to just one area of a program. A team focuses only on its specific area and generates improvements without impacting other teams or resulting in an overhaul of an entire software product. Tremendous amounts of time are saved for our clients and the cost of updates or re-designs is driven down dramatically.

Optimus applies the same method to data gathering. By means of advanced tooling, our clients can store raw data, without pre-aggregating it, run a query on that raw data and have the answers they need in a matter of seconds. Previously, it would take weeks to get a result because the data would have to be assessed and compartmentalized as it was gathered and placed into structured environments before a query could be run. This is what we call modern data warehousing. The focus is on agility and speed.

Down the Road from Microsoft by Design

Optimus specializes in working with IT departments of companies that don’t or can’t spend the time and money to develop the cloud-based software architecture needed today. Optimus uses a suite of leading edge services, on the Microsoft Azure platform, that allow us to select exactly the right components to solve a client’s problem. We are physically located close to Microsoft’s Vancouver and Redmond development centres

Optimus is a Microsoft Gold Partner and, in that role, we work very closely with Microsoft on new product previews and trials that are in development, giving feedback that improves our customer’s end product. Optimus employees have often already kicked the tires on new Azure features before they are released. This keeps us at the forefront of rapidly changing technology but let’s us give feedback as enhancements are designed.

If you want to enhance and sharpen the results of your data analysis, we invite you to contact us. We are happy to explore some “what-if” scenarios with you to help propel your data insights – and your business – forward exponentially. Reach out and schedule a virtual coffee anytime.

How Cloud is Cooking Up Change in the Restaurant Industry

As more and more restaurant owners look for ways to cut costs, improve customer service and drive loyalty initiatives, application modernization including cloud applications, mobile apps and predictive data modelling are featuring at the top of their personal “must do” menus. Software companies and ISVs that serve the restaurant and hospitality industry are in a race to offer more, by migrating older legacy apps to the cloud and taking advantage of real-time data analysis tools to offer more features and functions to their customers – all while ensuring security and data privacy are still the “special of the day”.

Patrick Albrecht owns and operates four restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia. At one point, he says, he had tens of thousands of receipts, invoices, health department documents and payroll data stuffed into the various offices in his restaurants.

Born in the Cloud is Disrupting the Restaurant Industry

New “born in the cloud” restaurant applications are coming into the market. That is great news for restauranteurs. They will have a choice of vendors to select from – vendors who can offer new capabilities and new functionality that restaurant customers demand.

If you are a team supporting restaurant clients on an existing legacy application, you might need external help if you want to accelerate your own application modernization efforts in order to take on these new competitors.

Legacy restaurant applications, without an achievable plan in place to modernize quickly, are at risk of customer erosion.

By subscribing to [i] a cloud-based mobile app that could organize his overwhelming mountain of paperwork, he figures he’s now saving 2% each month in overhead costs from his four food operations. He can find any document in a matter of seconds and he can compare vendor delivery prices to determine who is giving him the best deal.

Albrecht is one of a growing number of smart restaurant owners who have embraced and employed some of the new cloud-based technologies to make operations more efficient and cost-effective.

Threats Abound

Restaurant chains and food companies that own various restaurant brands know how tough the business is. Competition is fierce, customer loyalty is fickle and profit margins are skinny. The difference between red and black on the bottom line is often as thin as the edge of a knife. Having the right information at the right time from POS, loyalty, vendor management and surveying systems is critical for owners who need to make decisions that can mean the difference between remaining in business and shutting the doors.

Social, Mobile and Data Drive Transformation in the Restaurant Industry

Cloud technology and third-platform innovation accelerators[ii] like social, mobile and big data are changing the landscape for the restaurant industry. Large chain firms and independent operators have experienced how mobile apps can boost business simply by making it convenient for customers to order, pay and review their experience, all with a smartphone.

For many restaurants, they have either directed their internal software developers to modify existing applications or they are looking to their existing POS vendor to do it for them.

There’s just one problem: many of these existing applications were designed long before cloud, social and mobile were part of the landscape. Moving a legacy application into the cloud while taking advantage of new functionality AND ensuring that security and data privacy are paramount is tough to do.

It requires specific skills and knowledge. Few companies can say they are masters of all the aspects needed to modernize.

What to Expect with Application Modernization

Data Available on Any Device

Restaurant owners Matt and Dianne Kraft can now check restaurant sales on their mobile phone while sitting beside a camp fire on a family vacation. “We rarely used to take vacation,” Dianne admitted. “We needed to be at the restaurant to stay on top of everything. But now we can see exactly what is happening in real time; we can even monitor problems as they happen. For example, issues that used to be buried – like a high number of orders being returned – are flagged. We can simply make a quick call to determine if it is a kitchen problem or a server problem, and by working with our manager, get it resolved quickly before customer satisfaction is impacted.

The ability to use cloud to amass multiple points and sources of data is making an enormous difference in the restaurant industry today. Cloud enables data pools to drive data analysis, unavailable before now. Restaurants can profile their customers in fine detail and then design promotions targeted specifically at them. Many legacy apps can’t achieve this sophisticated level of analytics because they weren’t written with current analytic models in mind.

Roughly 60% of consumers are making a restaurant selection – and a reservation – based on what they find on apps like Yelp and OpenTable. Because these apps are using cloud technology, the data these restaurants collect can determine booking patterns, eating tastes, the age of their customers and even their income levels. That’s valuable information for restaurant owners, who can harness this data and use it to drive promotions, communications, messages and offers.

Some cloud-based apps alert a restaurant when a customer is in the area by using what’s called geo-fencing. This creates an opportunity to immediately transmit a mobile ad to that customer.

A POS Cloud Facelift Cuts Costs, Boosts Sales

POS systems are another instance of cloud technology reducing costs.

Application Modernization – Legacy Moves to the Cloud

A large software vendor designing legacy POS applications for more than 30 years turned to Optimus when they needed to modernize their legacy POS. With more than 40,000 global customers to support, their internal IT team not only did not have the time to do the migration themselves, they also did not have the specialized expertise that this migration and design effort demanded. The results? By partnering with Optimus, this client has:

  • Reduced time-to-market and hosting costs
  • Capability to scale on demand to respond to peaks and seasonal fluctuations
  • Rolled out their new cloud app without disrupting existing customers
  • A future-proof roadmap with proximity to PaaS for machine learning, IoT frameworks, Blockchain technology and more.

According to Restaurant Insider[iii], cloud-based POS works for any size of restaurant. Updated sales, inventory, customer feedback and other real-time data can be accessed from the cloud via a mobile device, anywhere. In other words, there is no need for costly on-premises servers, holding valuable and often confidential data.

But moving your legacy application to the cloud is not as simple as a “lift and shift”. You need to assess the code base, making changes to it to take advantage of cloud services while also optimizing the application so that it runs more efficiently in the cloud.

The right upfront efforts mean greater agility and cost savings while taking advantage of trends such as machine learning and blockchain.

Mobile Ready Everywhere

mPOS is a payment system which allows customers to pay by using a mobile wallet –  simply a smartphone that contains encrypted credit or debit card information. Such a system appeals strongly to tech-smart millennials, who control more than 30% of gross income today [iv] and who eat out frequently.

When a food company fails to keep up with the capabilities that modern technology can offer, they are at risk of losing clients and profits very quickly. These restaurants will look for software vendors who can help them.

Software application companies that have legacy applications and cannot quickly make the shift to the cloud will fall behind the technology curve. Their clients will either fall behind as well or abandon them for another vendor.

Plan for Success

Because modernization technologies for the restaurant industry offer so many opportunities that you can take advantage of, it is vital to talk with a company that works in this space every day, delivering custom-tailored solutions and driving cost savings for clients.

Optimus Information delivers cloud-supported application development for the restaurant and hospitality industry. Optimus works on the leading edge and provides your company with full software development and testing, mobile development on any platform, and business intelligence designed to suit your needs and wishes.

Contact us today for more information and let us show you how we can employ our skill with cloud technology to drive your business forward.

 

[i] https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/223562

[ii] https://www.idc.com/promo/thirdplatform/innovationaccelerators

[iii] https://upserve.com/restaurant-insider/benefits-cloud-based-restaurant-pos/

[iv] https://www.michaelhartzell.com/restaurant-blog/how-restaurants-can-use-mobile-payment-technology-to-increase-profits

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