EDGEWATER EXPERT’S CORNER: The Pros and Cons of Exposing Data Warehouse Content via Object Models

So you’re the one that’s responsible for your company’s enterprise reporting environment. Over the years, you have succeeded in building out a very stable and yet constantly expanding and diversifying data warehouse, a solid end-user reporting platform, great analytics and flashy corporate dashboards. You’ve done all the “heavy lifting” associated with integrating data from literally dozens of source systems into a single cohesive environment that has become the go-to source for any reporting needs.

Within your EDW, there are mashup entities that exist nowhere else in the corporate domain and now you are informed that some of the warehouse content you have created will be needed as source data for a new customer service site your company is creating.

So what options do you have to accommodate this? The two most common approaches that come to mind are: a) generating extracts to feed to the subscribing application on a scheduled basis; or b) just give the application development team direct access to the EDW tables and views. Both methods have no shortage of pros and cons.

  • Extract Generation – Have the application development team identify the data they want up front and as a post-process to your nightly ETL run cycles, dump the data to the OS and leave consuming it up to the subscribing apps.
Pros Cons
A dedicated extract is a single daily/nightly operation that will not impact other subscribers to the warehouse. You’re uncomfortable publishing secure content to a downstream application environment that may not have the same stringent user-level security measures in place as the EDW has.
Application developers will not be generating ad hoc queries that could negatively impact performance for other subscribing users’ reporting operations and analytics activity. Generating extracts containing large amounts of content may not be the most efficient method for delivering needed information to subscribing applications.
Nightly dumps or extracts will only contain EDW data that was available at the time the extracts were generated and will not contain the near- real-time content that is constantly being fed to the EDW – and that users will likely expect.
  • Direct Access – Give the subscribing application developers access to exposed EDW content directly so they can query tables and views for the content they want as they need it.

 

Pros Cons
It’s up to the application development team to get what they need, how they need it and when they need it. You’re uncomfortable exposing secure content to application developers that may not have the same stringent user-level security measures in place as the EDW has.
More efficient than nightly extracts as the downstream applications will only pull data as needed. Application developers will be generating ad hoc queries that could negatively impact performance for other subscribing users’ reporting operations and analytics activity.
Near-real-time warehouse content will be available for timely consumption by the applications.

 

While both of the above options have merits, they also have a number of inherent limitations – with data security being at the top of the list. Neither of these approaches enforces the database-level security that is already implemented explicitly in the EDW – side-stepping this existing capability will force application developers to either reinvent that wheel or implement some broader, but generally less stringent, application-level security model.

There is another option, though, one we seldom consider as warehouse developers. How about exposing an object model that represents specific EDW content consistently and explicitly to any subscribing applications? You may need to put on your OLTP hat for this one, but hear me out.

The subscribing application development team would be responsible to identify the specific objects (collections) they wish to consume and would access these objects through a secured procedural interface. On the surface, this approach may sound like you and your team will get stuck writing a bunch of very specific custom procedures, but if you take a step back and think it through, the reality is that your team can create an exposed catalog of rather generic procedures, all requiring input parameters, including user tokens – so the EDW security model remains in charge of exactly which data is returned to which users on each retrieval.

The benefits of this approach are numerous, including:

  • Data Security – All requests leverage the existing EDW security model via a user token parameter for every “Get” method.
  • Data Latency – Data being delivered by this interface is as current as it is in the EDW so there are no latency issues as would be expected with extracted data sets.
  • Predefined Get Methods – No ad hoc or application-based SQL being sent to the EDW. Only procedures generated and/or approved by the EDW team will be hitting the database.
  • Content Control – Only the content that is requested is delivered. All Get methods returning non-static data will require input parameter values for any required filtering criteria – all requests can be validated.
  • Data Page Control – Subscribing applications will not only be responsible for identifying what rows they want via input parameters, but also how many rows per page to keep network traffic in check.
  • EDW Transaction Logging – An EDW transaction log can be implemented with autonomous logging that records every incoming request, the accompanying input parameters, the number of rows returned and the duration it took for the transaction to run. This can aid performance tuning for the actual request behaviors from subscribing applications.
  • Object Reuse – Creation of a generic exposed object catalog will allow other applications to leverage the same consistent set of objects providing continuity of data and interface across all subscribing applications.
  • Nested and N Object Retrieval – Creation of single Get methods that can return multiple and/or nested objects in a single database call.
  • Physical Database Objects – All consumable objects are physically instantiated in the database as user-defined types based on native database data types or other user-defined types.
  • Backend Compatibility – Makes no difference what type of shop you are, i.e.; Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, PostgreSQL or some other mainstream RDBMS; conceptually, the approach is the same.
  • Application Compatibility – This approach is compatible with both Java and .NET IDE’s, as well as other application development platforms.
  • Reduced Data Duplication – Because data is directly published to subscribing applications, there is no need for subscribers to store that detail content in their transactional database, just key value references.

There are also a few Cons that also need to be weighed when considering this path:

  • EDW Table Locks – the warehouse ETL needs to be constructed so that tables that are publishing to the object model are not exclusively locked during load operations. This eliminates brown-out situations for subscribing applications.
  • Persistent Surrogate Keys – EDW tables that are publishing data to subscribing applications via the object model will need to have persistent surrogate primary keys so that subscribing applications can locally store key values obtained from the publisher and leverage the same key values in future operations.
  • Application Connection/Session Pooling – Each application connection (session) to the EDW will need to be established based on an EDW user for security to persist to the object model, so no pooling of open connections.
  • Reduced Data Duplication – This is a double-edged sword in this context because subscribing applications will not be storing all EDW content locally. As a result, there may be limitations to the reporting operations of subscribing applications. However, the subscribing applications can also be downstream publishers of data to the same EDW and can report from there. Additionally, at the risk of convoluting this particular point, I would also point out that “set” methods can also be created which would allow the subscribing application(s) to publish relevant content directly back to the EDW, thus eliminating the need for batch loading back to the EDW from subscribing application(s). Probably a topic for another day, but I wanted to put it out there.

 

So, does that sound like something that you may just want to explore? For more information on this or any of our offerings, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at makewaves@edgewater.com. Thanks!

Our IASA 2017 Key Takeaways

We’d like to offer a big thank you to IASA for a great event. More than 1,000 attendees came together in Orlando for four days of interactive meetings and presentations focused on the transformation taking place in the Insurance industry.

The 2017 IASA Conference lived up to the hype as the most talked about and most attended insurance conference of the year. As I walked around the show floor, attendees and exhibitors were engaging in discussions that centered on the challenges that the insurance industry is facing today. Topics ranged from the industry being at a critical tipping point and the need for transformation, to heightened customer expectations and the concept of defining your customer personas to understand who they are rather than try to give them what the industry feels is right, to the disruption that InsurTech is driving.

 

Beyond Technology, Becoming Customer Obsessed

I had the pleasure of speaking to many business professionals throughout the event. We discussed a variety of topics, but the common thread across all our conversations was the evolution that is taking place in insurance and the steps required to transform your business to survive. While fear of change today is tough, irrelevance tomorrow…is worse.

Many of my conversations centered on how to start building a transformation strategy. Most companies make the mistake in focusing more on the digital than the transformational. This makes the strategy focused on technology rather than being business driven. Digital transformation is a business initiative where technology plays an enabling role. We recommend using technology to support, not guide your strategy.

The challenge is how to redefine the customer journey using technology as an enabler of change. It’s a continuous process – strategy and execution combined. Too often one comes without the other. Too often we think about the technology first, then figure out how to make it work. So, which steps should you take first for the biggest impact?

At Edgewater, we recommend you start by putting consumer engagement at the center of your transformation strategy – your customer personas. Then, you’ll know the right questions to ask: “How will we personalize our products and services for the consumer? How can we unify all of our touchpoints to create a better experience? How should we extract insights from the data we are collecting to deliver future value?” Finally, you’ll see that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Every day we are helping insurers become customer obsessed by building a strategy that focuses on what their customers want – a strategy beyond technology.

A few insights from this year’s event

First, we loved hearing from leading insurers about their own goals for digital business transformation and the role we at Edgewater can play in being a strategic partner to help them accelerate their journey. We have a deep understanding of the business and technology trends impacting the industry as well as the all-important consumer trends that are driving the need for change.

The next was the buzz around the shift to digital. Digital channels, devices and experiences are now disrupting the insurance industry. While technology leaders tend to be more familiar with the changes that are taking place, increasingly, business leaders are eager to understand how they can capitalize on these emerging trends to provide a competitive advantage. Customers are demanding new ways to engage with insurers, expecting a more personalized experience. We work with executives every day to create and implement their digital transformation strategies providing innovative ways for companies to interact and provide value added services to their customers.

And finally, at the event we received positive feedback on our recently published Insurers Guide for Digital Transformation. The guide is a starting point for how leaders should help their companies create a customer engagement strategy. Many of you, whether leaders in business or technology are eager for more information on how to get started with building your transformation strategy. We look forward to working with you as you start or continue your transformation.

If you missed us at the show, you can visit our website to see how we are helping companies begin their transformation.

Empowering digital transformation together at IASA 2017

Our Edgewater Insurance team is packing their bags and is excited to participate in IASA 2017, June 4-7 in Orlando, Florida. We’re proud to, once again, participate in a forum that brings together so many varied professionals in the insurance industry who are passionate about being prepared for the unprecedented change that is sweeping the industry. We look forward to meeting you there to show how our deep expertise, delivering solutions built on trusted technologies, can help you transform your business to become more competitive in a digital world.

Come and see how our experienced team of consultants can help your organization drive change

In industry, technology has often served as a catalyst for modernization, but within insurance we need to do more to understand the consumer to drive change. More than any other opportunity today, CEOs are focused on how to leverage digital technologies within their companies. But there’s still a lot of noise about what digital transformation even means. At Edgewater, we have a unique perspective based on our 25 years of working with insurance carriers. Our consulting team has spent many years working in the industry all the way from producers to adjusters, and in vendor management. We have a deep understanding of the business and technology trends impacting the industry as well as the all-important consumer trends. We know that transformation in any company can start big or of course, it can start small. From creating entirely new business models to remaking just one small business process in a way that delights your customer, changes their engagement model, or improves your speed to market.

We work with executives every day to create and implement their digital transformation strategies. At this event, we will be discussing how digital transformation needs to be at the top of each insurance carrier’s business strategy as the enabler that will bring together consumer, producer, and carrier. Attendees can come and experience first-hand how technology innovations are sweeping the industry, and how insurance carriers are progressing in their efforts to digitize through our interactive solution showcase. You will be able to explore solutions across many functional areas, including creating a unified experience for the consumer, enabling the producer to engage and add value, and how to learn and act on new insights by analyzing the data of transactions and behavior to create more personalized products and services.

But wait, you don’t have to wait

Get a sneak peek at the strategies we’ll be sharing at the event by downloading our Digital Transformation Quick Start Guide for Insurance Carriers at http://info.edgewater-consulting.com/insuranceguide. The guide is a starting point for how leaders should help their companies create and execute a customer engagement strategy. The Quick Start Guide will help you understand

  • What Digital Transformation is and what it is not
  • How producers should be using technology to connect with customers
  • How updating your web presence can improve how you engage with customers

See you there!

If you are planning to be at the event, visit our booth #1110 to meet our team and learn more about Edgewater’s solutions and consulting services for the Insurance industry. We’re excited to help you get started on your digital transformation journey.

Digital Transformation Starts with….Exploring the Possibilities. Here’s how

You can learn a lot about what digital transformation is, by first understanding what it is not. Digital transformation is not about taking an existing business process and simply making it digital – going paperless, as an example. Remaking manual processes reduces cost and increases productivity – no question – but the impact of these changes is not exactly transformative. At some point, you’ve squeezed as much efficiency as you can out of your current methods to the point where additional change has limited incremental value.

Digital transformation starts with the idea that you are going to fundamentally change an existing business model. This concept can seem large and ill-defined. Many executives struggle with where to even start. Half of the top six major barriers to digital transformation, according to CIO Insight, are directly related to a hazy vision for success: 1) no sense of urgency, 2) no vision for future uses, and 3) fuzzy business case.

 

It isn’t a big leap to imagine how Disney might be using the geolocation and transaction data from these bracelets to learn more about our preferences and activities in the park so they could better personalize our experience.

This MagicBand, as an example, immediately generates new expectations from customers that laggards in the industry have a hard time matching quickly.

 

 

At Edgewater, we worked with Spartan Chemical to create an innovative mobile application to drive customer loyalty. Spartan manufactures chemicals for cleaning and custodial services. They set themselves apart by working with us to build a mobile app that allows their customers to inspect, report on, and take pictures of the offices and warehouses they cleaned so that Spartan could easily identify and help the customer order the correct cleaning products.

Once you’ve defined your vision and decided where you will start, you should assess your landscape and determine the personas you will target with this new capability, product, or service.

At Edgewater, we help you create a digital transformation roadmap to define and implement strategy based on best practices in your industry.

To learn more:

The Seven Core Principles of Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation has become a hot buzzword recently, being adopted by Microsoft as the overarching theme for their cloud based business apps and the subject of many studies from McKinsey and company, Gartner and other research firms.

I wanted to share some of our approach and lessons learned working with companies in different industries such as Insurance and Manufacturing on their digital transformation initiatives.

A transformation does not happen overnight. It is a long and sometimes painful process that to be honest, never really ends. The rate of innovation and change is increasing and new business and customer needs will constantly emerge.

Therefore, our approach is very much grounded in the concepts of agility. The right foundation built with change in mind. In such an approach, it is not always beneficial to try and document every future requirement to see how to accommodate it but to have a very strong foundation and an agile, open framework that can be easily adapted.

A good way to judge your current agility level is to perform a Digital Agility Gap test. For small, medium size and large changes business has requested in the last year, what is the gap between when the business would like to see the change made to when your organization was able to deploy? The larger the gap, the more acute the need is for a comprehensive digital transformation.

agility-gap

The following 7 core principles should drive every digital transformation initiative, large or small:

  • Business Driven. This may sound obvious but all digital initiatives need to have a business reasoning and business sponsor. Technology can be a game changer but very often, the digital channel needs to be part of an omni-channel approach. eCommerce can augment retails stores or distribution channels but will not replace them for a long while. Digital must be part of the overall business and market strategy. The new role of Chief Digital Officer is a great example for how organizations integrate the digital as a business channel with broad responsibilities and a chair at the executive table. The Digital aspect needs to be part of every major organizational strategy, not a separate one. For example: you are launching a new product, how will you design it, support the manufacturing/supply chain, market, sale and support the product using Digital means?
  • Data is King. Having enterprise information available in digital format with a single source for the truth is the absolute foundation of a digital transformation. Without “Good data” the effect of garbage in, garbage out will produce inconsistent results and systems people can’t trust. This is usually the hardest part for many companies as organizational data may be residing in many legacy systems and too intimately tied to old business applications. It also is hard work. Hard to understand and hard to put a direct ROI on. It is not glamorous and will not be visible to most people. In lieu of complete data re-architecture, most organizations start with master data management and data warehouse / operational datamarts to get around the limitations of the various systems where data is actually stored. The imperative is to know what the single source of the truth is and abstract the details through data access layer and services. The emerging area of Big Data allows capturing and processing ever larger amounts of data, especially related to customer interactions. Data flows, validation and storage needs to be looked at again with new vision into what and how data is captured, stored, processed and managed.
  • Actionable Analytics. Many organizations invested heavily in Business Intelligence and use decision support systems to run analysis and produce reports. The expanding scope of data capture and processing now allows analytics to serve as actionable triggers for real time decisions and other systems. For example, your website’s ability to make customer specific product recommendation can be a result of real time process that conducts a customer analysis and what similar customers have bought and can execute an RFM analysis to assign a tier to the customer and derive relevant offers. Marketing campaigns can target prospects based on predictive analytics etc. Closed loop analysis is critical for understanding the impact of decisions or campaigns. The ability to see the connection between an offer or search campaign and the revenue it generated is the foundation of future investment decisions.
  • Customer Centricity. One of the main drivers and benefits of the digital transformation is the ability to meet the new world of customer expectations and needs. Customers want access to information and ability to take action and interact anytime, anyplace, from any device. The new Digital Experience maps to the customer lifecycle, journey or buying flow and data is collected at every point of interaction to feed personalization, targeting and marketing. When done correctly, an intelligent user experience will improve engagement, loyalty and conversion. In designing new digital user experience, we usually recommend mapping the user interactions across all touch points and focusing on finding common needs rather than a “Persona” driven approach. Those in our experience are too generic and lead to oversimplification of the model.
  • Agility in Technology and Process. Agility is at the heart of our approach and without it you would go through a transformation every few years. It is broader than just IT and impacts many business and operational processes. Few key concepts of planning for agility:
    • De-coupling. A large part of what makes changes hard, is the intertwined nature of most IT environments. Proprietary databases, older applications without outside interfaces, hard coded database calls in code, heavily customized but dated applications, etc. The solution is to de-couple the elements and create a modular, service oriented architecture. Data should be separated from logic, services, and user interaction allowing each tier to grow and evolve without requiring complete system re-write. For example, the biggest driver of transformation in the last few years has been the user experience and the need to support users in various mobile devices. A de-coupled architecture would allow UX overhaul using the same services and backend.
    • Agile / Rapid application development. Application development needs to be able to create prototypes and test ideas on a regular basis. For that to happen, the process of definition, design, implementation and testing software has to be more responsive to business needs. Whether following Agile Methodology principles or just a more iterative version of traditional models, application development has to be able to quickly show business users what they would get, and adopt a minimal viable product approach to releasing software. An emerging model of continuous delivery allows faster, automated deployment of software when it is ready.
    • Cloud and Infrastructure agility. The emergence of cloud services is making agile environments so much easier to implement. From an infrastructure perspective, you no longer need to invest in hardware resources for your worst-case load scenario. The ability to get just as much computing resources as needed on demand and scale as needed in matter of minutes makes platforms like AWS and Azure very appealing. Many applications now offer only cloud based versions and even the large players like Microsoft and Oracle are now pressuring all customers to get on the cloud versions of their applications. The ability easily to plug a cloud application into the environment is the ideal of agility. With a common security and authentication layer, the modern corporate application landscape is comprised of many different cloud applications being available to each user based on their role and integrated to a degree that makes the user experience as seamless as possible.
    • In addition to the environment, software and infrastructure, organizational processes have to be more flexible too. Change management needs to become a process that enables change, not one the stops it.
  • Process Automation: with the new landscape comprised of so many different and independent application, process automation and leverages the open interfaces of application is becoming critical. Traditional Business Process Management application are now morphing into cloud orchestration and an ability to allow processes to be created across multiple applications and managed / updated by business users without IT involvement.
  • Security. Last but not least, the open, flexible nature of the future landscape we were describing here, requires new levels of security that should be an integral part of all facets of the environment. Data security and encryption. Services security, security in application design, all layers and components have to consider the rising threat of hacking, stealing data and denial of service that are more prevalent than ever. We see this as the primary concern for companies looking to adopt a more digital and agile environment and a large emphasis on risk management, security standards and audits should be a primary component of any digital transformation initiative.

Thoughts on the Future of SharePoint

In a recent event, Microsoft outlined their plans for the future of SharePoint, mostly as part of the office 365 family. It was exciting to see SharePoint coming back to the forefront. After a few years in which Microsoft plans for the product were not very clear (No on-prem future. Oh, sorry, Yes on-prem future but with Hybrid focus. Let’s call it Sites, let’s stop supporting external sites, etc.) the fog is starting to clear.

SharePoint is now being smartly positioned as the place where your office 365 experience should start. It was long positioned as such for company Intranets and users default homepage. It is a portal platform after all. It has a new responsive look and the content highlights sites you’ve recently visited or interacted with, benefits of the office Graph.

SharePoint16NewHomePage

Speaking of the Office Graph, love it or hate being tracked, it is the foundation over which all new office 365 applications are built and new API’s will allow developers to take advantage of it in building applications and should extend in the future into Dynamics 365 as well.

The new homepage is also responsive and using a new overall look and an underlying technology called the SharePoint framework. I’ll touch on all these later but let me just say it about time. Nothing made SharePoint look older and out of pace than the clunky experience on mobile. Now all spiffed up, it will offer a modern and mobile first approach throughout.

The full 2 hour presentation + demos

New Features to get excited about:

As I’ve said, it looks like all of a sudden, the flood gates are opening and after a relatively long time of minor updates, we are to expect a deluge of new things in the next few months. Here are the ones we are eagerly awaiting:

First class mobile experience + apps: some of it, like the new SharePoint homepage and iOS app, are already available. Apps for Android and Windows Mobile are coming soon.

SharePointMobileApp

As part of the new mobile first user experience overhaul, a more modern and responsive look is coming to SharePoint sites, list and libraries

Teamsite

To enable these new interfaces (which until not, required using an external JS framework like Bootstrap) Microsoft is introducing a new SharePoint framework. Built in JS and HTML5, it will support responsive design and allow for the creation of richer user experience and apps that run in the browser. Details are yet to be full released but expect it to be the MS version of the popular Angular.JS framework.

SPFramework

Office 365 Groups will be extended into SharePoint. It has long been a source of confusion as to the different types of groups and where they appear. Microsoft is working to extend the office 365 groups into Yammer and now into SharePoint, so that an office 365 group will have a team site and vice versa. IMO, it is a much better solution for storing files and collaboration than doing it though OneDrive as it is currently done. For more on groups: https://sway.com/G_yV0w-GadIB1aA2

Intelligence and analytics. A new analytics dashboard is available in central admin with much broader and visually appealing interface. Now if only this can be available to every site owner..

SPnewanalytics

https://blogs.office.com/2016/03/15/new-reporting-portal-in-the-office-365-admin-center/

Feature-packs: for on-prem customers, Microsoft will be issuing regular feature packs that will add functionality previously released for office 365.

One more thing we are excited about is the upcoming release of Dynamics 365 and the promised common data model and services across all 365 environments. That will allow new levels of integration and automation of processes across the o365 platform from end to end.

Can’t wait!

Digital Insurance – The Myth of the Online Buyer

The insurance industry is currently dealing with digital disruption, and by disruption I’m talking about the change in the consumer and the consumer habits, what I call The New Face of Insurance.

The myth that the insurance consumer is not ready for the digital world must be dispelled. According to The surprising facts about who shops online and on mobile (Business Insider 2015):

  • One in four shoppers is actually over the age of 55
  • Millennials make up the largest portion of online shoppers in terms of dollars spent and yet they earn the least

According to Gartner, 43% of our industry revenue will come directly from digital markets by 2020. Now think about that in our current captive and broker world.

LIMRA says that:

  • 74% of insurance customers want to do research online, educate themselves before they even think about talking to an agent
  • 25% of those people will even buy online, right there and then
  • Sadly, that’s really not available in our industry

We went from captive agents to independent agents and now we’re moving to more of a I-want-to-be-my-own-agent.

An example of this would be a UK company by the name of Beagle Street. They’re attacking the old ways that we do things, attacking the old financial advisers. And what they’re saying is “come and buy online.” So how do we go with this?

Digital Strategy and Digital Footprint website redesign. It’s way more than that. It’s about continually evolving to make it easier for consumers to do business with you. You need to go where your consumers are – you can no longer expect your consumers to come to you.

It’s looking at multi-channel distribution; embracing your agents, embracing online, and embracing the education that people are looking for. Just think about the customer service improvements t by being able to reach out to them through social media when there is a catastrophe.

We’ve been invited to speak on this topic at insurance conferences a lot recently, and we’ve done a short video as well. If you’d like to learn more, contact us.

What’s new in SharePoint 2016

SharePoint 2016 is finally here and we wanted to share some of the highlights. There are a few major improvements over SharePoint 2013, and some caveats to watch out for.

General Direction:

Microsoft has good reason to want everyone to get on the Office365 cloud bandwagon:

  • No more upgrade cycle
  • Ongoing fixes and improvements
  • Integration with other Microsoft tools
  • And of course, per user monthly subscription revenue

In reality, we see two hurdles for a large number of companies waiting to get onto the cloud version – the ability to control your environment, and having your data  at someone else’s mercy – not everyone is comfortable with either of these.

SharePoint 2016 is aimed at exactly this audience and provides 3 major areas of improvement:

  1. Catch-up with many platform improvements released to the cloud in the last 3 years
  2. Improvements in hybrid environment support, allowing companies that have some cloud footprint and legacy on-prem farm a way to provide a more seamless user experience
  3. Mobile friendly user interface
  4. Improved encryption standards

The full list of new features from Microsoft

Key features worth highlighting:

Hybrid environment support:

hybrid

While the Hybrid option does officially exist in SP2013 it has quite a few limitations that made it difficult to use. SharePoint 2016 adds the ability to follow SharePoint Server and SharePoint Online sites, and see them consolidated in a single list. Users will now have a single profile in Office 365, where all of their profile information is stored (although it is not a 2 way sync).

Most importantly, search can now include both on-prem and Office 365 sites.

Microsoft’s view is still assuming Office 365 is your primary environment and the on-prem is legacy that has to be supported for now, but these new features make a hybrid solution much better for users.

Mobile user interface:

mobile

A new and improved mobile interface is a very welcome upgrade. While it is not a completely responsive experience, the OOTB use is much better and can be more easily customized using Bootstrap to be responsive.

Improved Security

SharePoint 2016 now supports TLS 1.2 by default. SP13 required TLS1.0 to work properly and we have many customers who wanted to turn that off but could not. https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/mt346121(v=office.16).aspx#encrypted

 Deprecated features

A few important notes about deprecated features:

  • There is no longer a free version. The WSS/Foundation free version has been around for a very long time and enabled small companies or teams to use SharePoint for free. There will not be an equivalent for SP16 so companies that currently use SP Foundation will need to migrate either to a Standard version of SP16 or to office 365.
  • Some 3rd party integrations will no longer be available. The SAP module (Duet) will not be supported. SalesForce also has shared with us that they have no intention of upgrading their SP2013 integration. They clearly see the direction Microsoft is taking in moving everyone to the cloud and do not see a future in supporting future on-prem installs.
  • Excel services will require an online office server in order to work.
  • Lastly, the seldom used Notes and Tags are formally gone.

Final thoughts

Microsoft is very clear about SP16 being a transitional product in the path towards cloud. It will support customers who are not yet ready to make the leap but will emphasize the hybrid options. More and more capabilities will start to depend on the cloud (like Excel services) and 3rd parties will stop supporting the on-prem installation. The future is clearly in the cloud so if you are on an older on-prem version and thinking about an upgrade, check the cloud version first and only if it is not a viable option for your organization consider the on-prem/hybrid options.

You can rescue a failing IT project

If you work in the IT world, you’ve probably seen projects that have come off the rails and require a major course correction to get back on track. In this blog post, I will highlight the warning signs of a failing project from a recent client, along with the process we follow to get critical initiatives back on track.

Danger ahead!

This client was replacing an important legacy system as part of a long-term modernization program. The project had been in danger from the start:

  • High IT team turnover rate led to new hires that didn’t know the business
  • No strong project management on the team
  • Selected this project to initiate an Agile development approach
  • No Product Owner to represent the needs of the business

After two years only one major module had been delivered and the updated project timeline was three times longer than the original schedule. The alarming and unexpected extension of the timeline was the motivation our client needed to contact Edgewater for help.

Project Assessment

Our first step was to conduct an assessment of the project to better understand:

  • Major risks
  • Staffing and capabilities
  • The estimation approach
  • User involvement
  • Agile adoption

In this case, the findings clearly indicated a project at a high risk of failure.

Recommendations

Given the determination of “high risk”, Edgewater recommended some bold changes:

  • Establishing a realistic project schedule with achievable milestones
  • Hiring a full-time Product Owner to lead the requirements effort and build the backlog
  • Doubling the size of the IT development team to increase productivity and reduce the timeline
  • Using a blended team of full-time resources and consultants
  • Adding a full-time Project Manager/Scrum Master to lead the Agile development team, keep the project on schedule, and provide reporting to senior management

Initial results

After the first six months, the results are very promising:Productivity-for-PR

  • The project timeline has been cut in half
  • The development team has increased productivity by over 50% and has delivered modules on schedule
  • The requirements backlog has doubled
  • The client IT team is learning best practices so they will be able to support and enhance the system on their own
  • The Project Manager is mentoring the team on Agile roles and responsibilities, and managing the development team

Our client is extremely happy with the productivity improvements, and the users are excited to work on this project.  There’s still a long way to go, but the project rescue has been a success.

To learn more, watch our video then contact kparks@edgewater.com.

Lean Manufacturing in Practice – Bittercube

bittercube-productsIn this blog series, I’m showcasing products manufactured in my home state of Wisconsin. In addition to sharing some fun facts about the various companies and their products, I’ll be highlighting the Lean Manufacturing Principles that are best exhibited at each respective organization. These principles are derived from the Japanese manufacturing industry and center on making obvious what adds value while reducing waste muda. The six Lean Manufacturing Principles are: 1) Workplace safety, order, and cleanliness 2) Just in Time (JIT) production 3) Six Sigma quality 4) Empowered Teams 5) Visual Management 6) Pursuit of Perfection.

A cocktail renaissance has swept across the country, inspiring a new fascination with the ingredients, techniques, and traditions that make the American cocktail so special. The use of bitters, liquor that is flavored with the pungent taste of plant extracts, has been gaining popularity over the past decade. Originally developed for medicinal and digestive purposes, bitters now serve mainly as cocktail flavorings. The alcohol functions as a solvent for botanical extracts as well as a preservative.

Milwaukee has contributed to this cocktail renaissance with the help of Bittercube. Founded by Nicholas Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz in 2009, Bittercube handcrafts eight varieties of artisanal bitters, using only naturally sourced ingredients. By happenstance, the operations are run from the location that Foamation once occupied. Milwaukee was perceived as an untapped market with room to grow. Also, the low cost of operating expenses allow for maximum revenue generation.

Henry Ford created the first all-inclusive manufacturing strategy. However, it was Eiji Toyoda, a Japanese engineer, who after analyzing Ford’s methods, improved upon them by keeping an eye out for waste. Waste (or muda in Japanese) refers to any kind of wasted motion, effort or materials in the manufacturing process. Toyoda popularized the concept of Reducing Waste, which has become a basic tenet of Lean Manufacturing and falls under the principle of Pursuit of Perfection.

The objective of Lean is that every step must add value and be waste-free. A non-value added, or wasteful activity is one that neither adds value to the customer nor provides a competitive advantage to the organization.  Some non-value added activities include waiting and inappropriate processing. Waste can also take a tangible form, such as idle raw material or defects. Although transportation is an important aspect of the manufacturing process, it is a non-value added activity, as it adds to cost but not to value. It should be noted that some non-value adding activities like accounting and regulations are important and cannot be avoided.

Lean-manufacturing-bwThe continuous Pursuit of Perfection encompasses the idea that one must always strive to eliminate waste in the organization, while constantly making improvements, even if those improvements are small and incremental.  Improving processes results in reducing or eliminating variation, and improving the process flow or speed. Learning and consistent measures for improvement should be part of all processes if an organization intends on growing.

Bittercube has reduced waste by improving on their processes. In the past, they used a generic, high-density plastic container to process the bitters. There was no way to remove the botanical material after the batch was processed, other than to climb into the container and physically remove it by hand. Although this left the person who cleaned the container smelling of cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla, it wasted time and did not add value to the process. They have since updated to a custom-built processing/cooking tank with a bottom compartment where botanical material can easily be removed and cleaned.

Bittercube previously used generic boxes that weren’t cost efficient to ship. They have since opted for custom-made boxes with dimensions that maximize the number of bottles in each box, thus reducing wasted space and shipping costs.

Lean supports the notion that nothing should be wasted and a use must be found for everything. Bittercube has also reduced tangible/physical waste by reusing and recycling the processed materials. Instead of discarding the used botanicals, Bittercute has begun composting these materials. The finer botanical sediment will be reused in other products, such as an ingredient for Purple Door Ice Cream.

Autumn is upon us! Try this seasonal Maple Old Fashioned recipe!

2 oz. Johnny Drum Private Stock Bourbon, Fat .25oz. Maple Syrup, a dash of Jamaican #2 Bitters, a dash of Bittercube Bolivar Bitters, Garnish: Fat orange peel

To view other recipes and product offerings, visit Bittercube.

To read more about bitters, visit The History of Bitters

For more information on Lean Manufacturing see: Lean Waste Stream by Marc Jensen, Lean Enterprise: A Synergistic Approach to Minimizing Waste by William A. Levinson and Raymond A. Rerick, and Learning to See: Value Stream Mapping to Create Value and Eliminate MUDA by Mike Rother and John Shook