How Does Work Flow in your Organization?

workflow-illustrationCarrie Rudolph – [Keller Schroeder Certified Nintex Workflow Professional]

How often do you hear individuals in your organization say, “I haven’t been able to work on that ‘important task’ yet, because of all of these other smaller things needing my attention each day.”?  How often do individuals in your organization answer questions on status with “It’s somewhere in the approval process but I don’t know whose desk it’s on.”?  These phrases are all too common.  When work doesn’t flow smoothly and efficiently throughout your organization it causes backlogs, distractions, and frustration, all of which impact your organization’s ability to function, react, and grow.

According to businessdictionary.com, a workflow is defined as a progression of steps (tasks, events, interactions) that comprise a work process, involve two or more persons, and create or add value to the organization’s activities.  Every department in every organization has workflows.  Some are simple and straightforward, others are more complicated with many people, tasks, and events.  Workflows made up of logical and repeatable steps present an opportunity for automation.

When many organizations begin to explore workflow automation, they focus on the larger, more cumbersome workflows thinking that streamlining these complex processes will yield the most savings of time and resources.  Starting with these larger processes however, many times results in failed attempts at automation or lackluster adoption and savings due to the complexity of these processes.  Instead, I challenge organizations to consider the numerous simpler processes that employees perform every day.

These work items are fundamental processes that are crucial to the operation of your organization, such as document approvals, expense reports, leave requests, and service requests. These are workflows that may distract employees from larger issues/tasks, and because they are performed so frequently and viewed as simple, they are prone to more mistakes, which can add up in rework and lost time.  These processes are perfect candidates for automation because they have a great chance for success, are less complex, and train users to think about workflow solutions.

Automating these solutions takes the burden of managing the processes off of your employees and results in more than ROI.  You can get more done with less effort, focus on what matters most, and expand the impact and scope of your organization. Workflow automation also provides a clear picture of current status and participants’ performance, and this additional data can lead to process improvement. The keys to success, when starting to introduce workflow automation in your organization, are to make an immediate impact by getting started quickly, easily reaching all participants, and connecting to content across your organization.

nintex-logoThe Nintex Workflow Platform is a suite that Keller Schroeder recommends to assist organizations with workflow automation.  Nintex enables organizations to create solutions in days and weeks, instead of months, so you quickly see the benefits from reduced steps.  It allows workflow participants to interact with tasks via mobile devices, emails, or Skype for Business.  The Nintex Platform also facilitates links across your work systems, cloud applications, or social channels to facilitate information sharing.

The Nintex Workflow Platform sits on top of Microsoft SharePoint and doesn’t require additional infrastructure.  Nintex workflows, forms, and connectors are designed using the drag, drop, and configure approach instead of coding, so it’s very easy to learn and use.  If work isn’t flowing within your organization, consider workflow automation as a means to ease the backlog and frustrations and allow your team to focus on what’s most important.

Keller Schroeder is a partner with Nintex and has two employee-owners who are certified Nintex Workflow Professionals.  Please contact us if you would like to learn more about workflow automation with the Nintex Workflow Platform.


Evansville’s SQL Server 2016 Discovery Day

Rob Wilson  – [Business Unit Director – Applications Solutions]

PASSRecently, Keller Schroeder hosted the local SQL Server 2016 launch event, coordinated by Ed Rhodes of the local Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS). Ed Rhodes of Walt’s Drive-A-Way leads the local PASS chapter with Pat Minnis of Vectren. The Saturday event consisted of presentations and demos by Ed, followed by video presentations of what is new in SQL Server, and a friendly group competition to “hack” the new SQL Server 2016 features.

Some of the great new features explored at the SQL Server 2016 Discovery Day were:

  • Security updates such as column-level encryption and encryption at rest
  • Data masking
  • Major updates to SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS)
  • Analytics and performance monitoring
  • JSON support

You can learn more about the SQL Server 2016 features here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-ca/server-cloud/products/sql-server/Features.aspx

SQL-Server

 

Without a doubt, this is the most anticipated SQL Server release in recent history. The added features in addition to the performance enhancements make a strong case for organizations to take a look earlier rather than later.

The group competition at the event was won by a team of DBA’s who scripted solutions around the new security enhancements. This team (made up of Terri Smith and Evans Owusu of SpringLeaf, Todd Greenwell and Shawn Repphan of Old National, and Kael Dowdy of Keller Schroeder) won $50 gift cards provided by Microsoft and the national PASS organization. It was a great day of camaraderie and round table discussions. We thank everyone who joined us, and thank Ed for his leadership and coordination of the event.

IMG_4119

 

For more information on our local technology groups, please visit www.evansvilletech.com. Our user groups are a great local resource for IT professionals to receive free training and collaborate with other professionals over a long lunch break (meal provided). For more information on how Keller Schroeder can assist you with your SQL Server 2016 migration, please contact your account manager.

 


Microsoft Goes Cross Platform?

Microsoft LogoEric Maurer  – [Consultant – Applications Solutions Group]

Things have been changing recently within the Microsoft ecosystem.  You no longer have to decide to be a Microsoft shop or embrace anything but Microsoft. They are fulfilling their original promise for .NET to be a platform that can be written anywhere and run anywhere. Microsoft has now embraced open source, blurring the lines between the two camps.  At a recent user group meeting, I talked to users who were running Linux Bash on Windows 10, installing Microsoft SQL server on Linux, and developing iOS and Android applications using C#.  You can also now run Linux on Azure, and since the .NET Core has been open sourced, you can now run ASP.NET on Linux or Mac as well.

Being a mobile developer, I was ecstatic to learn of their newest acquisition and open source release: Xamarin.

What is Xamarin?xamarin-logo

No, Xamarin is not the latest drug being pushed on late night commercials. It is a software company that allows you to deliver native iOS, Android, and Windows apps using your existing .NET skills, teams, and code. Xamarin was founded over four years ago with a mission to make native mobile development fast and easy. They wanted to allow C# developers to share their code across platforms to reach billions of devices. Those four years have been highly successful for them, as they boast having over 1.3 million developers and 15,000 companies using their software to develop apps across the Apple, Google, and Microsoft ecosystems.

Rumors have been circulating for years about a Microsoft acquisition of Xamarin. First, they worked together to create tight integration with Visual Studio, and Microsoft undoubtedly helped develop the Mono framework now maintained by Xamarin, if only unofficially.  Next, they worked together to offer a limited Start Edition free with Visual Studio and discounts and training through Xamarin University for MSDN subscribers.  Yet they stayed two separate companies until February 24, 2016, when Microsoft announced it had signed an agreement to acquire Xamarin.

NATIVE, EVERYWHERE, and now OPEN SOURCE

xamarin-joins-microsoft

Why Xamarin?

Keller Schroeder has been using Xamarin for over three years and has employed it to develop apps for iOS, Android, and Window Phone. Xamarin enables us to take advantage of the productivity and power of .NET and to use C# to write to the full set of native APIs and mobile capabilities provided by each device platform. Depending on how you architect your solution, you can realistically obtain 80% or more code reuse between apps. Having one code base reduces the chance for errors and makes same day deployments much more feasible. It also allows for a faster ramp up for new developers and makes maintenance much easier, as changes often only need to be made in one place. Xamarin is also dedicated to providing same day updates with new iOS and Android releases so new features are available at the same time as they are to native developers.

Why Microsoft and Xamarin is Even Better

“Everything you need to run Xamarin apps on any OS, any device, is now open source,” Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of the Cloud and Enterprise Group at Microsoft, declared at the Build conference. What does that mean to us?  Let’s start with the obvious reason: it is now free with Visual Studio!  Though it doesn’t take long to recoup your money, Xamarin wasn’t cheap and licensing was sometimes confusing. What I think is really more important is that Microsoft has already taken steps to tighten Xamarin integration with Visual Studio and Azure. Their goal is to allow Visual Studio to easily connect to your Mac and for your app to communicate seamlessly with Azure. They are also unveiling new Xamarin.Forms enhancements to allow for a shared UI and adding a Test Recorder in Visual Studio to make creating unit tests easier as well. Having Microsoft fully behind Xamarin is going to solidify its position as the best option for cross platform native apps well into the future.


“Are You Azure It’s a-Ready?

KS Spaghetti

Rob Wilson[Business Unit Director – Application Solutions]

Hint: You have to say it with an Italian accent, like “That’s one spicy a-meatball!”

In our neck of the woods, folks tend to watch with a curious skepticism as the bleeding-edge early adopters go through the pains of “beta testing” newer technologies. Some call it “reluctant to change” and others call it “conservative”. We level-headed, hard-working mid-westerners simply call it “prudent”. While we have all likely seen an uptick in cloud adoption, many of our clients are still being…prudent…and that’s understandable. Hopefully by now, you know our philosophy that all solutions do not belong in the cloud, and you should choose what is best for your business case. However, some solutions do make the most sense to run in the cloud, and Hybrid Cloud (cloud technologies working in conjunction with on-premises technologies) is what we believe will be the norm.

As a MicrKS Azure Logoosoft Gold Certified Partner, one of our go-to cloud platforms is Microsoft Azure. We have been prudent as well regarding Azure. Even as we adopted Office 365 for Email (Exchange Online) and collaboration (SharePoint Online), we took a more conservative approach with Azure. Our chief concerns were about the stability of the platform and the rapid pace at which the services and administration tools seemed to change. We stayed in close contact with Microsoft and other partners, and the message that seemed to resonate was: “Azure services are mostly being adopted for development and testing environments, but there has not been a significant increase in production adoptions.” Microsoft was working hard to address concerns, and we continued to grow our experience through application development in our lab environments.

Fast forward many months, and now the scale is starting to tip. Microsoft Azure has continued to evolve at a rapid pace, claiming a decent amount of market share and adding to its customer list. We have watched prices drop, services added, and more consistent user experiences. We have used Azure in production environments and it has proven to be a cost-effective, reliable alternative – at least for the use cases where we have employed it. We have used Azure Virtual Machines for several internal and client use cases – including public web sites, web services, extranet applications, and reporting dashboards – and Microsoft has remained true to the up-time promised in their Service Level Agreement. This approach has helped some of our clients avoid incurring the cost of additional hardware and even reduce the project timeline. As one of my clients put it (paraphrased): “I’m in the manufacturing industry, not IT. Put the solution where it is cost-effective, easy to manage, quick to deploy, and reliable. I’ll stick to making what I make.”

Currently, we are working on projects that utilize the SQL Database services and App Services, just two of the many services now offered on Azure. We have clients and partners exploring other services as well. If you are interested in knowing what we have tried and what we have not, please reach out to us and start the conversation. You can “rest Azured” (that was bad) we will be transparent.

 


Spotlight On…

Employee-Owner: Kevin DykmanKS Kevin Dykman

 

Kevin has over 34 years of experience in the Information Technology field. His extensive experience includes working in the manufacturing and distribution industries, serving in both technical and management roles. Kevin started with Keller Schroeder in 1997, and has since worked for a large variety of clients including textiles, pharmaceutical, automotive, and plastics manufacturing. He specializes in EDI and ERP integration and customization using RPG. Prior to joining Keller Schroeder, Kevin was the IT manager for a pork processing company for 13 years. Before that position, he taught at a business college. Kevin is a Business Unit Director in Keller Schroeder’s Core Services Group.

Kevin is a huge baseball fan, and has been the commissioner of a fantasy baseball league since 1995. He also enjoys spending time with his two pugs – Boogie and Ivy.

Contact your Keller Schroeder Sr. Account Manager to learn more about Kevin and how you can leverage his experience and skills to benefit your organization.


New Year’s Resolutions for Application Owners & Managers

Rob Wilson[Business Unit Director – Application Solutions]

2016 Goals

Just in case you were having a hard time coming up with your goals and objectives for 2016, we wanted to pitch in and help. We asked some of our application developers, architects, and owners to contribute New Year’s resolutions for software application professionals. If you are responsible for owning or supporting an application at your organization, this list is for you.

Check your logs

Make it a goal to monitor your application logs proactively. It could be that errors are occurring behind the scenes that do not surface on the display. Proactively monitoring your application logs may help you identify smaller issues before they become large ones.

Upgrade your solution

Are you at the current release in your packaged software? Do you have a custom written app that was developed for an older version of .NET, Java, or another platform? If so, you may be missing out on some of the latest features or making yourself vulnerable to security risks that have been addressed in future releases. Make it a goal to get your packages and platforms up to date.

Archive and purge old data

If you have data that is old and irrelevant to your existing applications, it may be taking up needed space and causing performance degradation on your servers. Resolve to archive and purge that data in 2016 and maybe you will get a performance boost in your data intensive applications.

Give some needed attention to your mission critical applications

Have you developed mission critical applications in Access, Excel, or another platform that they have outgrown? Bite the bullet in 2016 and rewrite those applications on a more robust, multiuser platform such as .NET, Java, or SharePoint. The advantages will be immediately recognizable.

Make your web site mobile friendly

If you did not get the message in 2015 that Google will not include non-mobile sites in its mobile index, then you need to get motivated right away. Mobile devices are prominent. Google has said that more searches are performed now from mobile devices than from desktops in some regions. If the Google threat alone does not motivate you, focus on the improved user experience you will be providing to your employees, customers, and prospects.

Get a handle on your source code

Is the latest source code for all of your custom applications checked in to a central repository? Is it backed up regularly? If one-off applications do not make it into the repository, or if developers do not check in their latest revisions at the appropriate times, then you may put yourself in a precarious situation if those developers are unavailable or their workstations are compromised. Make 2016 the year you get a handle on the source code situation.

Have a security assessment performed

Do you have sensitive information in a database? Do you integrate with Active Directory or another directory service every place that you should? For every high profile data breach that hit the news in 2015, there were more data breaches that went unreported and possibly undetected.  Learn from the mistakes of others and have a security assessment performed by an experienced, quality partner.

Learn something new

There are plenty of free online resources that you can use to keep your skills relevant and up to date.  Try GitHub (https://github.com/vhf/free-programming-books), YouTube (https://www.youtube.com), or the free Pluralsight (https://www.pluralsight.com) subscription that comes with a MSDN license.  Spend a few hours to make sure your next project takes advantage of the latest software tools and runs as efficiently as possible.

If you need assistance accomplishing any of your Applications New Year’s Resolutions, contact your Keller Schroeder Account Team. We are here to help!

 


The Results are In

quality survey form with red pencil showing marketing concept

As a Microsoft Gold Competency Partner, Keller Schroeder annually participates in a customer satisfaction survey to gain valuable feedback regarding our services.

For the past 6 years, our clients have been asked to rate these services based on several key performance indicators. As in previous years, Keller Schroeder significantly outpaced partner averages in categories such as the quality of our products, customer satisfaction, and the technical competency of our staff. Our customers would also highly recommend Keller Schroeder, feel they receive great value from the services they receive from us, and are confident in our ability to meet their needs.

2015 Survey Results

AI-Gold-Black

Does your company need assistance with Microsoft? Contact your Account Manager at Keller Schroeder for more information regarding our Microsoft skills and how they might benefit your organization.


My Top 5 SharePoint 2016 Features

Matt Mulherin – Applications Consultant

Sharepoint Roll-over

 

SharePoint 2016 is scheduled to be released in the second quarter of 2016 with many new features for both cloud and on-premises (on-prem) deployments.  Of the 26 new SharePoint 2016 features listed on Microsoft’s TechNet site, I will highlight my favorite five.  The big focus with SharePoint 2016 seems to be helping organizations to bridge the gap between their on-prem SharePoint data with their Office 365 data, which Microsoft refers to as Hybrid.  Many organizations still choose to use the on-prem SharePoint product and do not want to fully commit to the cloud (SharePoint Online via Office 365).  Some organizations may choose to invest in some of the Office 365 offerings such as email, Office web applications, and OneDrive.  I understand the hesitation of some organizations to fully commit to the cloud, and based on the SharePoint 2016 features, it appears Microsoft also understands this.

Here are my five favorite features:

  1. New Hybrid in SharePoint 2016
  2. Sharing Improvements
  3. File Size and Name Limits Improved
  4. Mobile Touch Friendly Interface
  5. Protect the Organization’s Sensitive Data

 

New Hybrid Support

Is there confusion around your organization’s strategy regarding where to store documents?  Some organizations have two OneDrive deployments, one on-prem and one in Office 365.  If so, SharePoint 2016 can remedy this by redirecting the on-prem OneDrive to the Office 365 OneDrive.

Does your organization have sites on-prem and in Office 365?  If so, you can help your users by allowing them to “pin” a site, which will add the site to a combined list of sites that can reside on-prem and in Office 365.

Do your users complain they can’t find information because some of it is on-prem and some in the cloud?  One of the most highly anticipated hybrid features allows users to search both on-prem and Office 365 content in one place.

 

Sharing Improvements

Collaboration and the sharing of information between your employees is key to the success of any company.  SharePoint 2016 boasts some new and improved sharing features.  Users will be able to do the following:

  • Create and share folders
  • View sharing hints
  • Quickly see who the folder is shared with currently
  • Share with other members
  • Take advantage of improved invitation email
  • Approve or deny a request for access with one click

 

File Size and Name Limits Improved

SharePoint has historically blocked files larger than 2GB and files with certain characters in the name.  In SharePoint 2016 users can upload files up to 10GB in size and the names of the files can contain special characters like &, ~, {}, leading dots, and the name can be longer than 128 characters.

 

Mobile Touch Friendly Interface

People are increasingly accessing the internet through mobile devices.  With SharePoint 2016, users can utilize their mobile devices to interact with SharePoint using a newly designed touch enabled interface.  Here is a screen shot of what it looks like in the Preview version of SharePoint 2016.

sharepoint-2016-collaboration-experience

 

 

Protect the Organization’s Sensitive Data

Responsible organizations today use a variety of controls and policies to keep their data safe and secure.  Sometimes users will unknowingly upload documents into SharePoint with private information in them (e.g. Social Security Numbers, Credit Card Numbers, etc…).  SharePoint 2016 has a way to help find this sensitive data and assist in the process of removing it.  SharePoint Administrators can run reports that find sensitive data residing in SharePoint and OneDrive documents.  The exportable reports identify offending documents so the document owners can properly protect this sensitive data.

 

More to Come

As we think about the next version of SharePoint, it appears Microsoft is focused on delivering value to customers as part of their on-prem deployments, while at the same time making it easier to take advantage of cloud innovation thru hybrid deployments of SharePoint.  New features are being developed and we know they be will categorized as improved user experiences, cloud-inspired infrastructure, and compliance and reporting.  Keller Schroeder is committed to our clients utilizing SharePoint and we plan to publish more insights about the exciting new features of SharePoint 2016 in the future.  Stay tuned!

 

SharePoint-Server-2016-Update-1

 

Courtesy of the Microsoft SharePoint Team

Reporting Solutions with SQL Server

Brett Romershausen – Applications Consultant

Are you looking for a great reporting solution and are not quite sure where to start?  You may already have one and simply not realize it.  If you have Microsoft SQL Express Advanced, SQL Server Standard Edition or greater, then you have SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) available at no extra charge. ssrsWith Reporting Services, you get a lot of great ways to present the data to the user.  The package allows for a mixture of tables, lists, charts, gauges, and maps.  A created report can be used stand-alone, as a sub-report within another SSRS report, or as a linked report.  Think of all the possibilities!  Besides traditional reports, now you can create dashboard style reports that combine charts and/or reports, chart trends, reports with a table of contents, and reports that allow you to drill down into the details. You can also design your own presentations in SSRS, such as a calendar view we created for a healthcare organization that displays data in monthly or biweekly calendar formats. Reporting Services has some neat features and visualizations built-in.  Some include:

  • Drop down lists and calendar controls for choosing selection criteria
  • Column sorting and grouping
  • Expand/collapse toggling
  • Use expressions to condition column visibility, table values, text and column formatting, building links to other reports or URLs, etc.
  • Link to reports from charts
  • Create report templates

SSRS ExampleSSRS reports can be presented directly to the user with desktop apps, web apps, or SharePoint.  Another built-in feature is exporting a report to PDF, Word, CSV, XML, and MHMTL.  In addition to viewing and printing a report via the provided viewer, you can choose to schedule and email a report in any of these formats. Here are a few other things to consider:

  • Choose which product to use to design reports — SQL Server Data Tools or Microsoft Visual Studio. At Keller Schroeder, we typically use Visual Studio, but the Data Tools product is available to you at no cost if you do not own Visual Studio.
  • Before the reports can be utilized by the users, they must be published to the SQL Report Server (included with SQL Server) or a SharePoint site.
  • If you have complex queries that are better suited for views or stored procedures in SQL Server, this is possible in SSRS.
  • In addition to reporting against SQL Server, SSRS can be used to develop reports against Oracle, MySQL, most ODBC compliant databases, and even SharePoint lists.

An important feature of SSRS is the ability to allow users to filter report data based on selection criteria or parameters. You can insert a dropdown parameter list tied to a SQL table.   You can configure optional selection criteria, required criteria, and criteria that allow you to select one or many values.  These features are based on a few simple settings when defining the parameters, and then you just need to account for them in your query statement.

There are links to some of my favorite free info for Reporting Services:

Wise Owl SSRS Tutorial Series

Wise Owl SQL Procedures and Programming Tutorial Series

Reporting Services Concepts

How to Locate and Start Reporting Services Tools

Conditional Formatting in SSRS

If you need help getting started or would like to hear how SQL Server Reporting Services can benefit your organization, please contact us at Keller Schroeder.


Microsoft to Increase CALs – Effective 8/1/15

Increased-Cost

Keller Schroeder was recently informed that Microsoft is planning to increase the cost of their Client Access Licenses (CAL). On-premise user CAL pricing will increase by approximately 13% effective on August 1st, 2015. The list price for Device CALs will not change.

 

 

Which CALs are affected?

The following User CALs will be affected:

  • Core CAL Suite
  • Enterprise CAL Suite
  • Exchange Server Standard & Enterprise CALs
  • Lync Server Standard, Enterprise, & Plus CALs
  • Project Server CAL
  • SharePoint Standard & Enterprise CAL
  • System Center Configuration Manager
  • System Center Endpoint Protection
  • System Center Client Management Suite
  • Visual Studio Team Foundation Server CAL
  • Windows Server CAL
  • Windows RDS & RMS CAL
  • Windows Multipoint CAL

As a reminder, Device CALs will not be impacted by this price change, nor will CALs for any product not listed above (SQL, Dynamics AX/CRM, etc.).

If your company is looking to upgrade your Microsoft products, contact the Keller Schroeder Account Team soon to make those changes BEFORE the increase on August 1st. We will gladly answer any questions you might have and look forward to assisting you.