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Optimus Information Helps a Leader in Catering and Takeout Remain Number One

MonkeyMedia Software is a Canadian company with tremendous expertise in restaurant systems for the take-out, delivery and catering segment of the food industry. Their business focus is to help multi-unit restaurant owners execute their off-premises operations to serve their on-demand consumers.

Marketing a Better Sandwich

MonkeyMedia Software approaches its business from a strong marketing and foodservice operations background. The company’s CEO, Erle Dardick, was a restaurant owner who dramatically increased sales through takeout, delivery and catering orders to his local community.

As Dardick’s off-premises sales grew, he needed a better internal system at his deli to maintain, control and scale during the rapid growth. As Chris Roy, MonkeyMedia Software’s VP of Technology, says, “A restaurant can do a great job making a single sandwich for you, but if they have to make a hundred sandwiches fast, then the business model of single-order transactions collapses.” Catering is a different business.

That led Erle Dardick to work with a software developer to solve this dilemma in 1996, a time when the internet was focused on “static web pages”. They used the deli as a platform to design a SaaS-based solution for takeout, delivery & catering.

From Food Sales to Software Sales

As a result, Dardick began to license his software-as-a-service to other restaurant owners and foodservice operators, hosting servers at a nearby location on a private cloud. MonkeyMedia Software was a pioneer in the adoption of cloud technology and by 2002 the company became a SaaS product focused on off-premises operations for the on-demand consumer.

Over the years, MonkeyMedia Software has evolved an ecosystem of technology partners including POS, payment, loyalty, delivery, marketplace, analytics and fraud prevention.

This is where MonkeyMedia Software is leveraging the power of Optimus.

Evolving to the Azure Cloud

Optimus’s relationship with MonkeyMedia Software began with something we know and do very well: testing. In this case, it was regression testing, covering hundreds of thousands of different configurations of their platforms, as the company prepared to move them to Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

Chris Roy describes the task as one of scale. “We were doing lots of manual testing at the time, so automation was a natural evolution. But we had to back-fill and make sure that our older code, some of which was ten years old, was still working as well. It was an enterprise-level system that we had built and now had to test.”

The relationship grew from there. Optimus provides MonkeyMedia Software with deep architecture experience in development and testing services. They have come to rely on us to oversee our testing teams in India on their behalf and to supply top Azure architects with specific knowledge that MonkeyMedia Software doesn’t have in-house – and doesn’t need to acquire.

“Moving our key services, like our credit card payment services, to the Azure cloud gives us more security than we can provide. By using Optimus as our Azure partner, we can not only achieve the levels of compliance that we need, we can also make use of their expertise in this area. Along the way, we have developed a deep level of trust with Optimus,” says Chris Roy.

Relying on Optimus

Optimus Information offers all our clients exactly what MonkeyMedia Software is using: the diversity of our skillset. Currently, we are employing automated testing with MonkeyMedia Software to establish secure credit card gateways in Azure that they can ramp up quickly and efficiently.

We continue to do both automated and manual testing with MonkeyMedia Software, becoming an extension of their QA team on a day-to-day basis. One of our Azure architects has helped to design their APIs and provides expertise on how to integrate even more Azure architecture into their platforms.

“We don’t have the in-house talent or knowledge to do it well on the Azure side,” says Chris Roy, “so Optimus is filling a big hole.”

We’re experts in testing and development in the cloud. We can offer solutions that push businesses to do more and earn more. We invite you to call us today to learn more about our specialized services and talented workforce.

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.

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

Azure Architect Wouter van Eck’s Do’s & Don’ts for Azure Cloud Application Development

The Azure Cloud is transforming application development as we know it. Applications that would have been too costly and time-consuming to develop on legacy infrastructure take a fraction of the resources on Azure. Azure also provides the ability to process big data, further expanding an organizations’ options for innovation in application development. However, developing applications in the cloud is not without a learning curve.

Enter Wouter van Eck, Cloud Solution Architect at Microsoft Canada. “Assess, plan and execute,” advises Wouter. “Assign roles. Ensure those roles are staffed by the right people with the right training. And bring in the experts when needed rather than blindly attempting to do something you are not properly prepared for.”

What follows are Wouter van Eck’s Do’s and Don’ts for developing applications in Microsoft Azure.

Do: KISS – Keep it Stupidly Simple

The more complex a solution, the more problems will inevitably crop up. Keeping your application migration to Azure as simple as possible will:

  • Reduce the time to deploy new functionality.
  • Reduce staffing requirements for developing a solution.
  • Reduce costs associated with maintenance and support.

Do: Choose SaaS, PaaS or IaaS

When architecting your solution, the more infrastructure you can delegate, the better. Examples include:

  • Software as a Service (Office 365)
  • Software as a Service with Customization Options (DocuSign)
  • Platform as a Service (greenfield, app migration, extension)
  • Infrastructure as a Service (last resort, non-cloud ready, legacy or other off-the-shelf apps or systems)

Do: Establish a Cloud-First Enterprise Architecture Vision

After moving to Azure, ensure that you establish further goals for the future. These might include:

  • Who’s responsible for monitoring cloud usage, billing and subscriptions?
  • Who owns the subscription?
  • How will you procure Azure?
  • How will you monitor consumption?

Do: Establish Best-Practices and Architectural Guidelines for your Cloud Application Environment

Designing for services is different than designing services, and you need a plan to reflect this:

  • Be sure to remain agile.
  • Remember to employ the KISS principle.
  • Choose SaaS first whenever possible, followed by PaaS and IaaS when you need more control.
  • Establish a workflow and chain of responsibility for continuous application deployment and integration.

Don’t: Apply on-premises architecture behaviour to cloud solutions

The old approaches won’t work:

  • Applications don’t become more scalable or stable just because you add new servers to the cluster.
  • Traditional security measures such as firewalls represent unnecessary clutter, as all your data is covered by Network Security Groups (NSG).
  • Unlike your static data center, the cloud is ever-evolving. It’s important to keep up with new trends and technology as they emerge so you can refine your best-practices.

“The best piece of advice I can leave you with is this: don’t do it alone,” explains Wouter. “Assemble the right team to help you get it right. And rely on experts. Microsoft partners, like Optimus, do this every day. Reach out to an expert when you need one to get you to your best possible outcome. You’ll be better for it.”

To hear more from Wouter and learn everything there is to know about developing applications in the cloud with Azure, check out our e-Book, The Do’s and Don’ts of Application Development on Azure.

 

Does Your Data Warehouse Belong in the Azure Cloud? Here are Some Things to Consider

It’s no secret: Microsoft Azure is hot right now. This is demonstrated by their 97% growth in Q2 2017. With more organizations migrating their data infrastructure to the cloud every day, some companies are asking themselves: does my data warehouse belong in Azure? While there’s no simple answer to this question, there are some ways in which you can begin to assess your current data infrastructure’s suitability for an Azure Cloud migration.

The Cost Factor

The team at Optimus has found cost to be one of, if not the top driver for cloud adoption. There are several factors businesses should consider where cost in the cloud is concerned:

  • If your business is cyclical (i.e. retail with high volume throughout the holiday season), the cloud pay-as-you-go model makes strong financial sense. Cyclical companies can burst to the cloud when they need to, saving them from buying new servers that may only be required a few weeks per year. Conversely, it may not be cost effective to move workloads that are required to run at a stable level 24/7/365 to the cloud, especially if they are running on equipment that does not need upgrading in the foreseeable future.
  • At Optimus, we have found that many organizations prefer opex over capex. Opex tends to be easier to manage over the long term, especially for fast-growing businesses where a significant capex could stall growth. The more a business transitions to the Azure pay-as-you-go model, the more they shift their data warehouse costs from a capex to an opex.
  • The apportioning of data costs across departments is significantly simplified in Azure. Pricing for individual workloads is made transparent, and data usage is easily tracked.

When considering leveraging Azure for your data warehouse, it is important to remember that a cloud migration is not an all-or-nothing endeavour. Every business will have certain workloads that make financial sense in the cloud and certain workloads that should remain on-premises. Perform an accurate assessment of your current data infrastructure to determine your cloud suitability.

What are Your Data Governance Requirements?

Meeting data governance and regulatory requirements is at the forefront of the mind of anyone considering an Azure migration, and for good reason. Moving an on-premises legacy data infrastructure to the cloud is a difficult landscape to navigate.

Your industry may determine your suitability for an Azure Cloud data warehouse migration. Certain sectors, such as financial and healthcare, have strict data governance laws to comply with. You need to make sure your – and your client’s – data remains within certain jurisdictions, something that may prove challenging and will influence your choice of what data to move to Azure.

Do you need to retain control over user authentication? If yes, you’ll need to look at the feasibility of this with various applications. Your service provider will be able to assess this with you and make the right recommendations.

Latency: Still a Consideration?

The short answer is yes. In particular instances where the speed of data transaction is mission-critical, an internal data warehouse may be required. This is common in the financial industry, where trading companies are under increasing pressure to host their servers physically close to a stock exchange’s computers. In an industry where transactions are conducted in microseconds, speed is priority number one.

While Azure has made significant improvements to latency times, the fact remains that the closer two computers are to each other, the faster they can communicate. At Optimus, we have seen companies with these types of operational concerns benefit from leaving some of their data on-premises. However, because the amount of data required to perform at a high level is typically small, leveraging the public cloud is still a viable option for most organizations.

There are many factors to keep in mind when considering a data warehouse migration to Azure. To learn more, check out our e-Book, Building a Modern Data Warehouse on Azure.

Infographic – The Modern Data Warehouse Framework

Check our latest infographic, The Modern Data Warehouse Framework!

As organizations are collecting and processing increasing amounts of data from a growing number data sources, data systems must evolve to keep up. In order to make the best data-driven decision possible, you need to reimagine the way you look at data warehousing.

We took a look at how to transition your data warehouse to the cloud and put together our top 8 recommendations for building a modern data warehouse on Azure.

 

Download the PDF here

 

The-Modern-Data-Warehouse-Framework Infographic - The Modern Data Warehouse Framework

Infographic – The Modern Data Warehouse Framework

 

 

 

Three Trends Influencing the Rise of Application Development on Microsoft Azure

In today’s always-on, data driven world, organizations will either disrupt, or be disrupted. For those that choose the former, a fast application development cycle is critical for success.

This is why companies are turning to Azure for application development. Azure can help cut costs and reduce development wait and integration time. Additionally, the flexibility of the Azure Cloud architecture enables quick access to resources and a streamlined development process that gets projects off the ground quicker.

Below are three trends that are influencing the rise of application development in Azure.

1. Managed Infrastructure Means More Developer Cycles

The rise of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) have been one of the dominant trends helping to facilitate  application development in the Azure Cloud.

IaaS is where Azure manages virtualization, servers, storage, networking and data centers. It leaves users with the most flexibility, coupled with the most responsibility.

PaaS takes things a step further than IaaS. In a PaaS model, Azure manages everything in the IaaS level in addition to security, databases and operating systems. While less flexible than IaaS, it provides developers with the ability to customize applications without the headache of infrastructure management. Without having to worry about infrastructure maintenance, IT teams are free to focus on innovation and development. As a general rule, we’re seeing that PaaS is the preferred model for application development

2. Faster Development with Azure Services and Open-Source Capabilities

Cloud infrastructure is enabling developers to spend more time on innovation, making their apps unique, and less time on infrastructure and plumbing.

One of the Azure services we like is Azure App Service. It’s a PaaS solution that enables developers to create applications at a significantly faster rate than would have been possible with traditional legacy solutions. Aside from the benefits of a managed PaaS model, the team at Optimus finds there are a number of advantages with Azure App Service:

  • Optimized for DevOps: Apps can be managed using Azure PowerShell, or the cross-platform command-line interface (CLI). This enables continuous integration and deployment with GitHub, Visual Studio Team Services or BitBucket.
  • Highly scalable: You can spin up or shut down VMs instantly. Apps can be hosted anywhere in the Microsoft global datacenter infrastructure. For one of our clients – they were able to expand from North America to APAC in only a few days. This instant scalability helped them grow revenues rapidly without having to worry about cost or risk.
  • Visual Studio integration: At Optimus, we’re seeing more and more developers taking advantage of Visual Studio. The ease with which it lets users create applications for any operating system, coupled with the ability to manage and deploy those applications on your preferred platform and device, significantly simplifies application development in Azure.
  • Support for multiple languages and frameworks: ASP.NET, Node.js, Java, Python and PHP are all supported by Azure App Service. This lets developers work with the tools they’re most comfortable with. It also means they don’t have to spend time rewriting legacy applications that they want to integrate into their cloud environment.

What we’ve found is that application development teams who have moved to Azure have actually decreased their development times because of Azure’s support  of third-party services. For example, Azure supports stacks such as MongoDB, Cassandra and Hadoop, alongside Microsoft MySQL. Azure App Services also offers an extensive array of templates that let devs use a wizard to install open-source software such as Drupal, Joomla and WordPress.

However, most of our clients are working in hybrid environements. This means a need to integrate with legacy, on-premises infrastructure. This is a strength of Azure and means that developers aren’t wasting time trying to get things to work together.

3. Pay for Usage, not Hardware

As most know, traditional on-premises application development involves a significant hardware capital expenditure (CapEx). In contrast, the Azure Cloud does not require any up-front investment, instead offering a pay-as-you-go model. This converts CapEx into an operational expense (OpEx). The result is twofold:

  1. Devs can spin up a VM and begin testing new applications within minutes, as opposed to the days, weeks or months it would take to acquire new hardware.
  2. Applications that previously would have been too risky to justify the purchase of expensive hardware can now be developed.

The ability to transform application development from a CapEx to an OpEx not only allows developers to work faster; it enables them to innovate in ways that were previously unfeasible.

For more information on application development in the cloud, check out our e-Book, The Do’s & Don’ts of Application Development on Azure.

 

 

Data Analytics in the Cloud: Where to Start?

An enterprise-wide data analytics system pulling data from multiple sources, correlating and presenting results in relevant, insightful visualizations to enable prompt, informed decisions is the dream of many organizations. Those in the lead already reap the benefits of faster, high-accuracy, proactive decisions that data analytics provides.

Getting to that point requires exquisite planning and execution by stakeholders from top to bottom and across departments in order to achieve an implementation that is useful, maintainable and flexible enough to handle ever-improving data analytics technology and an increasingly competitive business environment.

Don’t Go Too Big Too Fast

Data analytics systems are most valuable when shared across the organization. Therefore, cross-departmental input and commitments are vital as well as a high degree of project transparency. Collecting requirements and then creating an all-at-once solution months or quarters later is courting disaster. That sometimes works for limited software development projects, but data analytics initiatives necessarily demand a much larger scope in both time and space.

Adopt an incremental mindset from the start by applying a less risky phased and flexible tack to your data initiative’s development. The project should produce regular and continuous adjustments to functionality, features and metrics without unnecessary thrash. This paradigm is most likely to produce a quality product with high acceptance across the business.

Gain Executive Stakeholder Buy-In

With the correct attitude regarding initiative progression, gain C-Suite buy-in via detailed assessment and quantification of business needs to which data analytics capabilities can add measurable value. These come from conversations with department heads, people managers, project managers and line workers involved in operational activities that probably benefit from insights provided through readily accessible business analytics.

Collect Technical Requirements

After executive endorsement, pinpoint technical needs, features and functions required to create a system meeting the project’s strategic goals. These requirements are derived from various operational aspects:

  • Existing data analytics-related processes, e.g. CRM, and their supporting software and infrastructure
  • Identifying existing data sources and creating a baseline of the what, when and how of data storage and processing
  • Where applicable, data sharing patterns, especially where data transformation steps are required
  • The current collection of in-house, open source or cloud-based tools and services utilized

Turn Technical Requirements into KPIs

Concurrently with technical requirements acquisition, work closely with stakeholders to develop meaningful metrics and KPIs. Examples include metrics around analytics data acquisition, storage and cleaning. Marketing metrics might measure campaign response. High-interest sales metrics centre on conversions and ROI, whereas support metrics include customer satisfaction and retention. Be open to innovative metrics that a new data analytics system could enable.

Ask for Resource Commitments

While collaborating on KPIs, initiate frank discussions with regard to workers and material that stakeholder departments or teams are willing to provide to the project. The benefits of such commitments should already have been incorporated into specific KPIs that benefit them.

Choosing a Software Model

Inconsistent use of software models, such as open source, in-house or cloud-based SaaS is common in companies. This often results from an organic acquisition of tools and projects over time. Your data analytics implementation will not correct old problems, but its choice of software model should be based on technology availability, costs and the ability to scale and adapt as your company expands.

For instance, even with a strong in-house IT development capability, the benefits of basing your data analytics implementation on cloud-based SaaS are compelling.

First of all, removing the constraint of higher capital needs and their approval alone makes a forcible argument for choosing pay-as-you-go cloud SaaS. Furthermore, this complements your phased approach as infrastructure and services are easily scaled and maintenance is automatic. Finally, today’s cloud SaaS from the best providers is fully customizable, which enables rapid functionality development and ease of modification during ongoing development.

Additional Tips

  • Expect dirty data, especially from social media, and deal with it at the source where possible. Employ tools such as import.io, diffbot and ScraperWiki in this battle. Especially during testing, consider importing customized, on-demand data sets. 
  • Be sure data analytics dashboards and reports are highly customizable but easy to learn. This area is the face of your initiative for the majority of users. Also, ensure dashboard functionality works for your mobile users.
  • Build in extensibility. This means anticipating new data sources and leaving room for the latest in predictive analysis technology.
  • If you are using a phased, results-oriented approach, you will have plenty of opportunities to celebrate small victories. Relish and share these milestones.

Conclusion

Data analytics have a proven track record of providing enterprises with streamlined and on-target decision-making improvements based on “right-time” data flows from inside and outside the company. Implementing the best system for your company requires intense and thorough planning followed by step-wise development and deployment.

Realize that even as your project begins achieving its end goals that ongoing business needs and changing markets call for continued growth of your data analytics capability. If you already chose cloud-based SaaS as your software core, then the next growth and adjustment phase will be much easier than the first, especially if you stick to your iterative development paradigm.

If you have questions about how to get started working in the cloud, let us know. We’re happy to share our knowledge and set you on the right path.

 

 

BI: Cloud vs On-premise

The model for how companies acquire and field software for business intelligence purposes has changed dramatically in the last five years. One major factor driving this change has been the emergence of cloud-based computing options and software as a service. Modern operations are increasingly comfortable having large amounts of their data, processing capacities and even actual software hosted remotely. One of the biggest challenges in the BI sector today is figuring out just how much of your infrastructure you want to have off- or on-premise. We’ll take a look at the pros and cons of both approaches and how a mixed environment may also be beneficial.

Security

Comparing cloud to on-premise options in terms of security can be a bit tricky. Cloud-based solutions benefit immensely from regular updates by the vendors supplying them. Poorly updated software is one of the leading security risks in almost every sector of the business world. On the other hand, large farms of remotely hosted systems are very attractive targets to hackers by virtue of their size alone. SaaS providers see themselves in a perpetual battle against interlopers, but they also put significant resources to work on a daily basis because their reputations are on the line. The awareness of the risks in the cloud sector goes a long way to alleviate concerns about security. In fact, all the major recent data breaches reviewed by Bankrate occurred at on-site data centers rather than in cloud-based systems.

Cost

When companies start thinking about moving to off-premise solutions, the first thing that crosses their minds is often pricing. On-site solutions often carry very steep upfront costs, while cloud-based systems are typically billed on a recurring basis. It’s also important to appreciate that every piece of software that’s run on-premise has to be hosted on a piece of hardware. Installing, maintaining and replacing those systems are costs that accumulate rapidly. When a server dies at a SaaS provider, that’s a vendor problem, and it’s usually handled quickly and with no interruptions of service.

Costs also can vary dramatically among vendors. For example, Microsoft’s Power BI is integrated seamlessly with its Office 360 products, and it’s available to small businesses in a free version. The paid version starts at $9.99 per month, per user. Other vendors, such as SAP, sell products with pricing options that are opaque and require negotiation.

Setup

Getting up and running with BI systems for the first time is challenging regardless of whether you elect to use a cloud-based or on-premise solution. The big difference is that on-site systems require significantly more hardware setup. They may also demand multiple visits from the vendor to verify that everything is running as expected.

For companies that are looking for a fire-and-forget solution, SaaS wins hands down. The dashboards built for the cloud-based systems are typically designed to offer cross-platform compatibility. That means you can have folks in the office using Windows desktops and sharing information with individuals in the field who might be working on mobile platforms based on iOS or Android.

Flexibility

For all the setup headaches that on-premise systems can entail, they tend to offer much better customization. Cloud vendors, however, shouldn’t be discounted. There’s a good chance that you won’t require an on-site, customized setup unless your company is heavily into building its own solutions.

One of the main drivers of the adoption of cloud computing is the need for increased cooperation within companies. By moving services and data to the cloud, many businesses have dramatically increased the availability of information throughout their operations. For companies that have interests spread across the country or globe, this can reduce friction.

Speed

Every computing system encounters bottlenecks. SaaS solutions are often bottlenecked by network capacity and speed. On-site solutions are frequently limited by the available hardware. Cloud services providers offer solutions that allow clients to throw more resources at big problems when they require speed and power. This sort of instant scalability is hard to replicate at your own location without building your own supercomputing cluster.

Mixed Solutions

Few companies have wholly embraced the cloud-based ecosystems, and almost all operations are likely to end up using some mixture of both solutions. Many offerings take this fact into account. For example, Tableau mixes cloud storage and computing options with a desktop application that blurs the line between on- and off-site solutions. It also is designed to allow users to important local files and connect to remotely served data. SaaS providers are increasingly accommodating toward the needs of firms that have ingrained desktop computing cultures.

Conclusion

SaaS systems are growing in popularity, and many companies are trying to move as much of their BI infrastructure into the cloud as possible. As vendors continue to prove themselves capable of handling concerns about security and availability, this trend is likely to continue over the next five years. Increased competition in the sector should also encourage cheaper and more options, and that’s a win for nearly everyone looking to improve their BI resources.

Setting up a solution can be challenging, especially if you don’t have the right specialists on your team. Optimus information has worked on implementation of both SaaS cloud BI platforms and on-premise solutions, and we have the right BI technical experts to move you forwards without incurring the financial burden of a full time BI staff.

If you have questions about whether a cloud or on-premise BI solution is right for you, contact us today. We’re always happy to help.

Cloud-Based Test Automation Tools and Benefits

Acquiring and maintaining in-house testing platforms for even small-market software applications is expensive and time-consuming. If your software products include mobile applications that support thousands or millions of users, then the sheer scale of testing can overwhelm even well-stocked IT departments. Fortunately, with the availability of a multitude of cloud-based testing environments, there is a better way to meet your testing platform requirements that will cost less and improve efficiency.

Multi-Faceted Cost Savings

To start with, renting cloud-based testing environments means your company avoids huge capital equipment expenditures for servers, networking equipment, OS licenses and so on. Additionally, hardware and software maintenance costs plus the cost of personnel to manage such resources is borne by the cloud service. These are meaningful advantages for any company, especially for cash-strapped startups.

Furthermore, you avoid depreciation costs on test platforms regardless of whether they are in-use or not. That advantage, along with knowing that test platform backups, upgrades, provisioning and configurations are taken care of automatically, brings a strong measure of stability to ongoing cost projections.

On-Demand Testing Expedites Planning

Multiple surveys have indicated that, due to the periodic nature of testing, most companies that maintain in-house testing infrastructure achieve less than 50 percent utilization of that infrastructure. Most cloud-based testing services enable scaling test infrastructure up and down at will, so you only pay for what you actually use at any given time.

Instant scalability of hard testing resources provides an enormous benefit from a planning perspective. It eliminates the scenario where test platforms are acquired or re-commissioned in preparation for large-scale performance and load testing only to have them sit idle after development is delayed.

Additionally, many cloud-based mobile-app testing services provide virtual access to large arrays of released or soon-to-be released mobile devices and various OS versions. When it comes time for full-scale compatibility testing, few companies are equipped with the necessary resources to duplicate such a large and diverse testing environment at almost a moment’s notice.

Reducing False Defects Due to Inconsistent Configurations

A large percentage of software defects can be traced to incorrect test environment configuration. For example, provisioning a platform with a specific OS version plus service packs, databases and third-party middleware or applications on which your software depends is an error-prone process to say the least. Cloud-based testing services excel at providing consistent test platform preparation backed by service level agreements, so that you can avoid wasting time and resources tracking down phantom bugs.

Reducing In-House Test Applications

Besides the advantages inherent in renting versus buying your test platform infrastructure, the best cloud-based testing services also offer world-class testing frameworks with which you can create, run and manage your test suites. This avoids the costs of licensing in-house testing tools plus the costs to install and maintain in-house tools.

Increased Collaboration Improves Time-to-Market

Furthermore, most cloud-based tools make a point of being user-friendly and only require access via a browser. Thus, greater accessibility to the tools, test suites and reports is achieved across development, test and business units. Access can be granted outside the company as well to provide transparency to clients.

Most importantly, because testing resources and tools are virtualized, collaboration between developers and testers increases regardless of their physical locations and the time zones within which they perform their work. Testers can share results instantly via screen sharing with developers, which reduces communication failures and delays immeasurably.

As software products become more complex, more distributed and release cycles are increasingly shorter, maintenance of internal testing infrastructure is increasingly impractical in terms of cost, quality and time-to-market. Although virtualization of such resources via cloud-based testing services will never completely replace internal testing, an emphasis on its use brings immense benefits. The reduction of capital expenditures, ongoing cost reductions, test platform scalability, planning flexibility and enhanced collaboration are advantages too great to ignore.

A final key advantage to cloud-based testing services is that they can be sampled without incurring a large commitment by enterprises who desire hands-on experience of cloud-based testing relative to their particular situation. An experienced partner can save time and provide enlightening insights in this regard.