Contact Us

Join Our Conversation

blog-header

Internet Security: Securing your Virtual World

You login to Facebook, expecting to see pictures of your friends’ growing babies, cute things dogs are doing, and maybe a kindergarten picture that has you in it that an old friend just found and posted. Instead, you see a post that says “Please don’t click on links in any e-mails from me, my account was hacked!” The word hack is thrown around left and right when it comes to privacy and security issues. Content is leaked, someone’s identity is stolen, and somehow all of your e-mail contacts receive an e-mail that you didn’t send and potentially more. What many people don’t realize is that these are not frequently the result of a hack.

Internet Security

 Crimes are an element of opportunity

Recent studies have shown that as many as 30% of home burglaries involve a window or door being left unlocked. If you are planning to rob someone’s home, would you rather pick a lock/break a window, or just simply walk right through the front door? The answer is pretty clear… Similarly, if we assume someone does intend to pick a lock, are they going to try and pick the Medeco? Medeco is widely considered to make some of the most secure deadbolts in the world. While nothing is guaranteed, it just isn’t a good use of time for someone to try and break through a Medeco, unless the person is a focused target.

This same concept traverses into the virtual world. The path of least resistance is not for a true hacker to break into Gmail’s servers by finding some technical weak point so that they can steal your digital life, identity or send some spam to your friends, but rather to either phish the information, or socially engineer it. NOTE: While phishing can be categorized as a type of social engineering, I’ve split them up here to illustrate two concepts.

Let’s define both of those terms, talk about how the attacks are executed and, most importantly, how you can protect yourself.

Phishing

The act of defrauding an individual by posing to be a legitimate organization.

This generally entails sending an e-mail to someone, masking the “from” address and creating a fake website to mimic the legitimate organization. Over the years, these have gotten better and more convincing. Here is an example: You receive an e-mail from Bank of America indicating that your account has fraudulent activity, and they need you to login to verify your account and release the hold. Right away, this is preying on the emotion of fear – no one wants to hear this, and will be eager to clear it up. The e-mail probably looks exactly the way a real Bank of America e-mail would look. Kind of ironic, but the people trying to defraud you are using fraud to scare you…

Anyway, so the e-mail tells you to login and provides a link. When you click this link, you are at a web page which, just like the e-mail, looks exactly like Bank of America. You enter your credentials and login – but nothing happens. The most sophisticated of these attacks may even redirect you to the real site, right after they captured your username and password. Let’s analyze the attack:

  • A large list of e-mail addresses was probably aggregated from somewhere. Depending on how much effort was put in, many of the people may not even have Bank of America – but they know many will.
  • Whoever sent this e-mail out grabbed Bank of America’s *.CSS and *.HTML files, which is how they made the e-mails and website look authentic.
  • When you enter your credentials into the fake website, they are transmitted to them in plain text.

Social Engineering

Psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. We are seeing more and more of this today. Let’s look at a few physical-world scenarios:

  • Your grandmother receives a call from someone on a static-filled connection claiming to be her grandson or granddaughter. They don’t even have to know the name of this grandchild. They just start by saying “Grandma, it’s your favorite grandson!” in an enthused but mildly-scared voice. Most people would respond with “Jimmy?” (Assuming that is one of her grandsons’ names of course). This person convinces grandma that they are in some sort of sticky situation such as jail, unusable car, cancelled flights, etc. and immediately ask if you can help them with some cash because they are too nervous to ask their parents. This person is preying on fear, love and an extreme sense of urgency.
  • Two people walk into a large retail establishment in maintenance outfits. They are aware of their surroundings and maybe see some pictures on the wall or business cards indicating the names of managers. They walk up to the front desk and ask “What managers are here today?” and the nice person tells them. Now they can immediately say “Ok, well I spoke to {insert manager’s name here} and heard there was an urgent issue with your {insert utility here} and I was asked to rush right over. I didn’t have time to print the work order or anything.” This may sound like no one would ever go for it, but the people perpetrating this are good. These people will ultimately gain access to the facilities and are likely there to take expensive supplies/equipment.

Similar things happen in the virtual-world. They combine the free and vast amount of information on an individual and use it against them. How easy would it be for someone to convince you that they went to school with you at one point, or crossed paths, based on pictures, life and job history, etc.? Most questions that are supposed to enhance security on an account ask for things like Mother’s maiden name or First elementary school – all easy information to find. The skill and “charm” of the attackers in many cases combined with the amount of information they can find on you, lead to them being able to guess your password, call your bank or an online retailer, pretending to be you and begin to infiltrate your digital life. There are thousands of variations to social engineering attacks, so what can you do to secure your virtual world?

Secure Your Virtual World

Strong Passwords

Start by using strong passwords. Yep, that means your first dog’s name is out. So is the street you grew up on and your child’s middle name. Passwords should be longer than 8 characters and have a mix of letters and numbers. Another good strategy is to type a very long password that you can remember as a phrase. Both of these styles provide at least some levels of protection.

Vary Your Passwords

Use different passwords for each site. This one is huge! “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket!” If someone gains access to one password, either via a true technical breach or by coercion, all of your accounts are in jeopardy.

Password Manager

For the ultimate levels of password protection, use a password manager which generates random and secure passwords for you – and logs you in automatically. There are many options for a password manager, some operate locally on your computer, others in the cloud.

Have a Dose of Healthy Skepticism

Force yourself to practice “healthy skepticism”. That doesn’t mean accuse everyone of trying to defraud you, but it does mean stepping back, analyzing a situation, asking questions and being cautious. Try and resist the urge to react emotionally. What is the first thing you are supposed to do in a fire? Don’t panic!

Here is a great example of that:

We had an account with a vendor and the person whose name was on the account is no longer with us. When someone else asked that vendor to reset the password because the original person was no longer with us, that vendor politely insisted on calling our HR department to verify. This is great, and more companies should do this.

Two-Factor Authentication

Use two-factor authentication where available. This is an awesome security feature that many banks, e-mail providers, etc. have implemented. There are three possible ways to authenticate with a system:

  1. Something you know – like a password.
  2. Something you have – like a cell phone.
  3. Something you are – like your fingerprint or a retina scan.

Two factor authentication requires, as you guessed, two of these. Most commonly in the internet world today, that is going to mean A and B. This works by the service requiring you to enter a code, only good for a short period of time, received either by text message or an app into the website after your password.

Don’t worry – you only do this the first time you log on with a new device (save for clearing your browser cookies). This may be a minor inconvenience but it means, for the most part, even if someone has your password, they can’t gain access to your account. One caveat to this is that should you lose your device, you may have some trouble getting into your account. To help with this, many services offer printable backup codes or a backup person – such as a spouse – who can validate you are who you say you are. If you use printable backup codes, don’t leave them taped to your wall! Put them somewhere safe!

At MCFTech, we take security very seriously. We have a comprehensive security and confidentiality policy and training routine which covers many of these topics and more. For more details on how we protect our client data, please contact us.

Project Management, Lessons From the Trenches: The Common Goal

You have your plan, you have a fair idea of what’s ahead and now you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get the project delivered.

 Now the hard part of project management…

Getting all the pieces to work together and get the project completed! Easy right?

No… You need a team!

The Project Team

“The Project Team is the group responsible for planning and executing the project. It consists of a Project Manager and a variable number of Project Team members, who are brought in to deliver their tasks according to the project schedule.” (Read more about Project Roles and Responsibilities here)

So, the Project Manager is more like the public face of the team. You have a problem? You go to the Project Manager. You need something, you go harass the Project Manager. Something is late? You hammer the Project Manager with a dozen emails in one day.

What is the Project Manager doing? Why are they taking longer than 10 minutes to answer the 7 emails I just sent to them in the last 10 minutes? (Ok, ok, slight exaggeration…) They are taking those emails and working with the Project Team to get you the answers you need.

The Project Manager isn’t the architect, the technical lead, the developer, the technical writer, the billing department OR software support. They can’t and won’t be able to answer every question that hits their inbox or ear. BUT, they know who to get those answers from.

When the right team is put together, WOW! Amazing things can happen. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with a number of GREAT Project Teams, I’ve seen them deal with some of the messiest challenges imaginable and turn them around. I’ve watched a group of strangers at the beginning of a project barely know how to talk to each other and yet by the end of the project there’s a COMPLETE turn around, you can’t shut them up!. Why?

 Common Goal

I’ve seen clients at the beginning of a project have no idea what they want and then watch as their concept moves into a reality, where they have become so engaged that they have felt like they are part of the family. Why? Common Goal

Project Management Common Goal

THAT is one of the greatest feel good factors for me as a Project Manager. :-)

Watching a concept go from a seed to a fully blown, fully blooming Apple Tree!

MCFTech can help you with your next business technology project. Contact us today!

Working Across Borders: The Challenges and Benefits

As a native of Medellin, Colombia, I worked in the health industry for about 7 years. Two years ago, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime when I found the MCFTech (www.mcftech.com) post on oDesk (www.odesk.com). With Spanish as my first language, I never thought of working for a US-based company, English as idiom was always something I would like to learn and not something I was planning to use for my work life.

Feria de las Flores

Feria de las Flores

The stress after a knee injury was affecting not just my work but my life. It seemed like my home was the best place to recover. I replied to the post on oDesk and harassed the MCFTech CEO for about one week to get an interview… he is a very busy guy, but I wasn’t about to give up!  :-) Lucky is the word that I will always use to describe the amazing opportunity that it is to work for MCFTech!

Working across borders works for me

The freedom, the great work team, the motivation you get by working from home, the knowledge that you gain, the entire new culture and even the exchange rate are just the tip of the iceberg when talking about benefits. It’s challenging every day, but I still consider this opportunity as a blessing… besides, who doesn’t LOVE a challenge?

To mention some challenges, I can say that the language barrier has been really challenging. As I mentioned, my native idiom is Spanish and I learned English on my own. When I started with MCFTech, my vocabulary was pretty limited; now, two years later and thanks to my co-workers, I can say my vocabulary and pronunciation are really good.

Another challenge I faced was to learn how to stay focused when working from home. The freedom is awesome, but very difficult to manage when you have a lot of distractions all around you. I focused my energy on organizing my priorities and schedule… to be honest, I Keep trying, because there are challenges that you can’t overcome that easily! Now, my family, my friends, and even my pets understand that work time, is work time. I also remind myself that my home and family time is not work time. That work/life balance is SO important.

Since the MCFTech team and our clients are located throughout the world, dealing with various time zones has been another challenge I’ve become accustomed to. In Colombia, we don’t have different time zones. In the beginning, managing schedules for people in various time zones, and trying to keep track of where everyone is was pretty difficult. I couldn’t believe that being in the same country didn’t mean having the same time zone and adding the additional time zone on Outlook calendar has been a great help at times! (Outlook Help Topic)

Life is full of challenges and I’m ready to assume all of them as they come. For now my only concern is to give back to MCFTech at least a part of what they already gave to me. Working across borders (remotely) is different, is better and definitely something I want to keep doing for a long time.

Interested in a Career with MCFTech? Check out our Careers page!

Information Through The Ages: Document vs. Data

Business information challenges tend to break down into two main structures, data-driven and document-driven. These are not discrete concepts, but rather represent two ends of a spectrum of managing the creation, movement and retention of information in an organization. Modern business information systems are automating and systematizing work but haven’t fundamentally changed the nature of how we relate to content.

Data vs Document

Not a New Concept

Long before the invention of the PC, Internet and Cloud, organizations had to manage information. Abstracting information management concepts from the modern technology focused environment we can better understand core principles. Content exists in a continuum from loosely organized documents to highly structured records. Consider an ancient example of capturing information on Papyrus. A scribe might document visitors to the Temple by filling in a record of their visit either as an individual sheet of Papyrus for each visitor (form) or as entries on a list of visitors (table). Simultaneously, a scholar may be hunched over a desk writing a history of the day (document).

Times Have Changed … Or Have They?

Technology has fundamentally altered the mechanism by which we create, share, find and store information. Technology has not changed the shape of content. Modern workers continue to enter data on forms or lists and create documents. The vast majority of activity performed by knowledge workers involves working with documents, forms and lists of one type or another.

Different Technical Approaches

As a result of basic differences in how users interact with documents as opposed to forms and lists, most information systems approach user interaction from either a document-centric approach or data-centric approach. The assumptions that make each type of system work well create challenges when those systems attempt to address different types of content. For example, SharePoint was designed as a document focused system and has attempted to evolve into stronger data focused support through the addition of Lists and InfoPath Forms. While these expansions add substantial value, they can’t be seen as an ideal candidate for solving data-driven application needs.

On the flipside, data-driven applications such as Intalio|Create have addressed the need to add elements of document-based interaction through database document records, blob storage and threaded commenting. While this provides for a baseline of critical functions, document management in a database environment will remain a challenge due to the unstructured and highly iterative nature of most documents.

Takeaways

It’s important when making technology systems decisions to understand how different tools support either a document or data-centric approach. A decision for a document-centric approach will reduce the data-centric capability and vice-versa unless an integrated multi-system approach is used or until a technology emerges that elegantly addresses the full spectrum from unstructured document management to highly structured data-driven requirements.

MCFTech can help you determine the best approach according to YOUR business needs! Contact us today!

Expediting LEAN Kaizen Results through Platform Technology

Profitability has been, and will always be, the main driving focus for any business. If a company is not making a profit, the long-term health of that organization may be at jeopardy. In today’s world, many factors have emerged that continue to erode a company’s bottom line: rising fuel prices, inflation on materials, competition, overseas outsourcing, labor costs and many more. In order to combat these variables, companies have invested numerous cost savings programs.

These programs take on a wide array of naming conventions and focus. To name a few, in my relatively brief experience, I have encountered: CIP teams (Continuous Improvement Practices), PMO (Project Management Offices), SIA (Service Improvement Initiative), CQI (Continuous Quality Improvement) and countless others. These teams and philosophies usually have the same foundation and basics. Many of you may know them more as Lean and Six-Sigma programs.

Lean Six-Sigma are methodical practices that help to remove Muda (waste) out of a value stream. These wastes usually fall into 8 categories:

LEAN 6 Sigma Wastes

By examining these wastes, companies have been able to save thousands, if not millions, throughout an annual life cycle and process.

The current economic landscape of today is one where companies are no longer merely competing against each other by whoever has the best widget or service. It is a competition of supply chains. These supply chains extend all the way back to the supplier and manufacturer. In other words, the company that can streamline the entire process from beginning to end the best, will be more efficient, easily adaptable and ready for the ever-changing consumer needs and habits – thus becoming more profitable.

As we dive deeper, let’s examine each cost savings event or Kaizen. Teams are often faced with the challenge of implementing rapid solutions so that the results and forthcoming cost savings dollars can be achieved with quicker and greater efficiency. For example, if we were to hold a Kaizen event at a manufacturing plant, one may suggest that we re-arrange some work cell layouts, reposition inventory, eliminate unnecessary tools etc. These improvements are usually pretty quick to implement and you can witness the results first hand.

However, when the Lean Kaizen team begins to examine ‘process’ related improvements, the solutions tend to converge on system related enhancements. For example, if we were to examine a Return Material Authorization (RMA) process some process steps may be:

  1. Product created by manufacturing
  2. Product stored in warehouse
  3. Customer orders product
  4. Product ships to customer
  5. Customer receives product and determines defect
  6. Customer sends product back and is shipped new
  7. Defect product is examined by quality team
  8. Defects are stored, analyzed and tracked
  9. Product scrapped

Any suggestions to examine issues and implement change in this area may involve IT support, as a lot of these processes tend to interact with core IT systems. As we discussed above, LEAN and continuous improvement are meant to be quick Action Workouts (AWOs) that show cost savings results quickly. Changing any core IT system may take months if not years to alter, implement and begin seeing cost savings results.

So how can Platform Technologies such as QuickBase, Intalio|Create and Microsoft Business Solutions help the typical LEAN Six-Sigma Engineer?

Platform Technology systems offer a robust solution that is easy to customize, integrate and implement within any environment. A manual process such as writing down a defect on a piece of paper or even logging the event in Excel may not drive the desired Quality Improvements that is needed to improve an RMA process and more importantly the customer experience. By implementing a Platform solution, one can implement a solution in a matter of weeks that includes:

  • Automatic emails to desired departments
  • Safety alerts to Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) Managers
  • Quality Metric Dashboards
  • Executive Dashboards
  • Root Cause Corrective Action tracking
  • Pareto analysis of top defects
  • Project tracking for major quality improvements
  • Frequent Defect Databases
  • Customer notifications
  • Multi-site/location data compiling
  • And so much more…

Through Platform solutions, LEAN Six-Sigma Engineers and all continuous improvement managers can implement robust IT solutions at a fraction of the time/cost and with all the bells and whistles to make a typical Lean Kaizen event into one that will be sustained and remembered for a long time.

Ready to reduce waste in your processes? Our Client Solutions team can help you do just that! Reach out to us today by completing our Contact form.

Visit our QuickBase partner site: quickbase.intuit.com/partners/mcf-technology-solutions

Not a QuickBase customer? Get your 30-Day free trial!

Learn what Intalio|Create can do for you: www.intalio.com/products/create/intaliocreate/

For more information on Lean Six Sigma visit: www.goleansixsigma.com

Managing Channel Partner Relationships

Working for a technology company that provides development, integration, and various other services to our clients requires an intimate knowledge of not only the strengths and weaknesses of the various platforms we support (Intuit QuickBase, Microsoft Business Solutions and Intalio|Create), but also a deep understanding of business processes and which available technology offerings will suit our clients’ needs the best. Selling custom technology solutions differs drastically from selling widgets, as we are often selling ourselves, as much as the services we offer.

While it is important for us to demonstrate our capabilities to our clients, the story of how we begin to work together sometimes actually starts with our Channel Partners including Intuit QuickBase, Intalio, and Microsoft. Members of our Client Solutions Team work closely with sales teams at our various partners to identify potential clients, understand their business requirements, and propose potential solutions that will deliver strong value to our now mutual clients. Working closely with our Channel Partners requires a mutual trust and a solid relationship, both of which are built in a variety of ways outlined below.

Channel Partner Relationship

Establishing the Channel Partner Relationship

As we continue to grow and add more and more great people to the MCFTech Client Solutions Team, it is important to establish relationships with the various sales representatives we will be working closely with. Typically, this is done with a brief phone call to introduce ourselves and begin to establish a solid foundation for the relationship. It is best to keep this initial phone call brief, we are always sure to touch on some of the following:

  • Basic personal introduction including what our role will be, career experience, etc.
  • Preferred contact method for both parties
  • Establishment of a communication plan which could be anything from weekly meetings to casual communication as the need presents itself

It is important for our Channel Partner sales representatives to see us as the main liaison to our company early on, which will help keep communication streamlined, and also begin to help cultivate the relationship.

Cultivating the Relationship

Once we have established a relationship with our Channel Partners, it is important to begin building that relationship in the hopes of providing our mutual clients with the best solutions to fit their needs. Sales representatives we work closely with must not only have faith in us personally, but also in our ability to deliver world-class solutions to potential or existing clients. Utilizing the communication plan established above, it is vital to provide our representatives with updates on a variety of different things including:

  • New solutions or projects we have completed that fulfill a common use-case or business-case
  • New publicly available case studies to assist in their sales process which can help position the technology as the best possible solution to the client
  • Updates on the progression of projects

One of the best ways to build relationships with our Channel Partners is the demonstrated ability to deliver successful projects to our clients. Working together to deliver world-class solutions requires quite a bit of collaboration; the more experience we have in working with various sales reps allows us to collaborate more efficiently and effectively to provide these solutions.

Maintaining the Relationship

Once we have established a strong relationship with our various Channel Partners utilizing the above mentioned strategies, the relationship often turns to growing and expanding existing accounts. While we work with companies ranging in size from Enterprise to SMB, to startups and non-profits, one of the most common scenarios we encounter are clients who want to utilize similar solutions in other aspects of their business. Often times the future “big-picture” vision for technology is discussed early on, or sometimes it is uncovered once a solution is live and end-user feedback is positive. Regardless of when another need is established, it is crucial to maintain relationships with our Channel Partners for a variety of reasons.

  • The client may have product feedback that may be used to improve the technology offering
  • The client would like to utilize the technology in other aspects of their business and require additional user licenses or other assistance from the Channel Partner
  • The client would like an overall product or solution demonstration for other team members which requires the collaboration of both MCFTech and our Channel Partners

Continuing to work closely with our various Channel Partners allows us to evolve our offerings to meet the ever-changing technology needs of the modern business world. Our success is dependent not only on how well we work with and listen to our clients, but also on how well we work with and listen to our Channel Partners.

Want to discover first-hand how our Client Solutions Team works? Contact us today!

Not a QuickBase customer? Get your FREE TRIAL today!

Play Acting for Process Innovation

Bill Gates once made the comment that applying a technical solution to a broken process just makes it worse; while applying technology to working processes makes them more efficient. After hundreds of technical solutions implementations I can say with certainty that these are true words of wisdom. Our most challenging projects (the ones that have often gone poorly) can generally be identified by an attempt to implement a technical system where the human work process is not yet clearly defined. On the flip side our best projects have come from improving an existing business process by automating already decently defined human activity.

As our business has evolved we’ve added processes to better flesh out process before we design a technical solution, such as business process modeling (BPM). While we’ve seen improvements as a result, many challenges still exist. I believe the reason for this is that business system end users have a very difficult time imagining how they work so any attempt to invent process through visual or written description will end up playing out differently than expected when actually put to practice.

The Pizza Game

While still in the corporate world I participated in a training exercise sponsored by our division VP that I still reflect on often today. The basic idea is that two teams are formed to operate a pizza production system with what seem like impossible requirements for speed and accuracy at first. After a few iterations though, not only are the requirements met but even more stringent and complex needs can be met. I often find myself asking why we can’t do the same thing with our own business or the clients we serve on a regular basis … usually the rationale is that our process is much more complex or that we can abstract it to something like making paper pizzas.

Pizza Game process

Real World Games

Several months back we identified that the top challenge preventing operational growth for our company boiled down to operations scheduling. So… as a tech company we decided that we needed the right tool. Since we develop technical tools it was clear the answer was to develop our own tool. After several design iterations of possible technical solutions we realized we needed more process definition in order to build the tool, so we initiated a BPM process which went through a few more iterations until it looked great on paper. The immediate and obvious outcome was that we had simply uncovered more questions than answers and had designed something we all knew would not work well.

Rather than build the solution we decided to try another approach… we allocated a resource to “try” the process manually using limited technical tools such as emails, phone, chat and spreadsheets but to try to follow the process. Immediately, it became clear that the BPM served well as a guide but needed refinement to work in reality. We also found that much of the process could be supported with existing systems and tools without requiring a lot of technical work. We also found that as some of the basic requirements were achieved through a low cost implementation, the need for a bigger and more sophisticated process emerged that would not have been visible without operating the more granular activities.

Takeaways

Automating business process is a great way to scale a business and support growth but automation needs to be focused on already well-defined processes to succeed. Invention of new processes or automation of broken processes needs to begin with simple exercises to define and test execution in low cost, low overhead ways before investment in technical solutions should commence. Some ideas for how this can be achieved are:

  • Create simplified BPM flows using a tool like Intalio|Create (www.intalio.com) and test them with human handoffs before automating them.
  • Walk through possible workflows as a story to see if they hold up (i.e. first I do x, then you do y).
  • Consider strategies to simulate or play act process to see the results and try different approaches.
  • Identify the lowest cost method to get to an initial working process, even if it’s not a good long term solution and then refine based on the experiential outcomes.
  • Use a task based BPM tool and simulate all process steps as human activities and then gradually introduce automation.

Want to see what a BPMN workflow looks like? Check out Meghan’s Bairat’s blog on BPMN here.

Tech Highs and Lows of a Middle-Aged Man: Surface Pro 3

My Surface Pro 3 experience

So I am one of those guys who is considered pretty smart, technical even in my social circles and typically a fairly early adopter of new tech, IF it’s good. I am in fact a senior member of a technology based company, MCFTech (www.mcftech.com), so most of the technology I use is within a business user context. However, I am a “middle aged” man, with a full time career, have 4 kids with my amazing wife Wendy, a dog, a guinea pig, two lizards, a fish tank, frogs…. well you get the picture. In short, I am a really busy person, and I just do not have a lot of “extra” time to research things deeply. So, if it is going to work for me, and the millions like me, things need to work well, pretty quickly, or the frustration level rises in a hurry.

I realize that I am not alone, that there are others like me, who don’t have the luxury of being able to just “figure it out” like we used to. Back in the day, we could geek out for hours at night on something interesting, instead of eating a meal. Well, nachos aren’t really THAT bad for you, are they? I have decided to start sharing my experiences with the technology that is supposed to make our lives better. For my first installment I have a doozie: The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet. Yes, the one that they are spending millions on to convince us that this baby can replace our laptops; for real this time.

Technology Highs and Lows

The Business End

There are really two basic aspects of the Surface Pro 3; the hardware and the software. As I have been using the Surface now for 3-4 weeks, I think I will simply follow my own journey and see where it takes me. My intent is to make this interesting, but to hopefully help others, like me, figure these things out more quickly. I have also included at the end a summary of TIPS, so you can skip right to that if you want.

The Sell

The larger screen size, the fact that it came with some good Intel processors like the i5 and the i7 (which I waited for from Best Buy), the new digital pen which is very cool, and a decent Solid State Drive (SSD) are the reasons I decided to take the leap. I also travel a lot and my awesome Lenovo laptop was just getting too heavy and too big to use in coach. So after picking up my jaw at the total cost of my shopping cart, I dove in and purchased the top of the line Surface Pro 3 with the i7-4650U CPU and about a 500GB SSD and 8 Gigs of RAM.

Here I hit my first Con. I still needed to buy a lot more, even though I just plunked down a healthy chunk of change that would have purchased a nice Gaming laptop for high performance fans. So I bought the cover/keyboard. I went ahead and paid extra for the one with real keys vs the membrane type, I need that feedback and feel. Then, I bought an extra micro SD card to add 64 GB of memory. First Pro: this was awesome, even though on the Surface Pro 3, I have a nice SSD, just being able to use the SD card, and write to the card from my tablet (Apple iPad fans cannot do this, and Apple should be ashamed to have never supported that for photos, music, etc.). I also bought an inexpensive softie case to protect my shiny new tablet, and a special adapter for the mini-display port to run my other monitor, and lastly I spent even more for the docking station, as I really want to replace my laptop, which I use at my desk almost every day. Whew… with my wallet dry, I was ready to convert.

The First Date

Ok, that first date was rocky at best and I was pretty disappointed after only a short time. Sure she was beautiful with that big sexy screen and the heavy aluminum back, it felt really good as we sat down at my favorite restaurant (our kitchen table) for that first blind date. But then I started hitting nasty little speed bumps and potholes that quickly took away the giddy excitement of opening the box.

It has Windows 8.1, of course, and in typical Windows fashion, you really needed the second release to have a decently solid experience. So, after about 24 updates and reloads, I was ready to roll and BAM! It got worse. OK, I get the concept of 8.1, the very ambitious and cool idea of unifying all of our devices into a common OS experience. Heck, I drank that Kool-Aid right away, but my mobile phone was an Android and I loved my Windows 7 at work, so switching everything over was just not practical, much less something I really needed.

Now, to qualify things before I start getting too negative, I had used Windows 8 on my home PC for a while (to my entire family’s frustration and disdain). The Metro apps were soooooo confusing and I really didn’t use that PC very often. It didn’t have touchscreen so I never did learn any of the new Gesture interface tricks, but I had figured out a few things; like where they moved the control panel, the search, the power off and shutdown, etc. So back to the Surface Pro 3. I quickly learned that she had a very different interface in 8.1 that assumed an IQ of 1000, and that touchscreen gesturing would just magically come to me… Did I miss something? They just had to move EVERYTHING?!

The Second Date

So after my frustrating first date, I determined that I would lick this thing. After all, I had spent a ton of money on it, and my partner was a few weeks ahead of me and seemed to have figured it out, so it was time to get serious.

Frustration #1 – You can’t close an app, and all the menus, etc. are just not obvious or even there!

There are no familiar little controls in the upper right to size and close apps…and pretty much every menu on my most used apps had been moved, deprecated, changed…. hmmm. So before I just tossed this thing and went out to get a Mac, I decided to use my “phone a friend” and learned three key things:

  1. The apps that come with Windows 8.1 are not the normal desktop apps, so friends like Outlook, Skype and OneNote (which I love BTW, future entry for sure) did not look, smell, feel like themselves, as they are kind of “mobile” tablet versions of the app. If I really wanted all the features, menus and controls I was already good at, especially to use with a mouse, I had to go get them. Fortunately for me, I had a Microsoft Office 365 E3 license and only had to find, download, and install them. Finding was nowhere near as easy as it should have been, but I got there eventually. I instantly started to fall back in love, and could feel the frustration level melt down a bit.
  2. You can close a Windows 8.1 “metro” app by swiping quickly from the very top of the screen to the very bottom. WOW! That works well but is in no way easier than clicking an X. so again, she was complicated but I don’t like boring dates, so this date was looking up.
  3. OH, this is true for all my Office apps too…. so I went out and downloaded the desktop versions of Excel, Word, OneNote, PowerPoint, etc. The Online versions of those apps are OK but are still not 100% yet…again that will be another blog entry in the future.

Frustration #2 – The keyboard

OK, like I said before, I did buy the expensive one, and the keys, while a bit tighter than my full sized laptop, they ain’t too shabby. I really do like that they are backlit, worth the extra money right there. BUT, then there is the trackpad. I wish I knew how to make an Angry Face emoticon. It’s just way too sensitive, and like all the modern trackpads there are no extra left and right click buttons, in other words you have to click the pad. It does provide a feedback “CLICK” feel so it’s doable, but it also allows the tap and double tap functions without actually depressing the pad and that is where it goes wrong IMHO. As I tried to type emails or documents, it constantly jumped around as my palm brushed the trackpad. Often, it will select a big chunk of text and as I keep typing it replaces it… ARGH! The worst is when you accidentally do some menu shortcut and it takes you somewhere you just don’t want to be. Again, I am no quitter, so I diligently looked for somewhere to lower the sensitivity. I could not find it intuitively anywhere, not in control panel, PC setup… crap… so I just turned the darn thing off for now. Problem solved, and with a touchscreen interface I really don’t need the trackpad anyway. When using it at my desk as a laptop, I use a mouse too, so I have not really missed the trackpad. Although, one day last week it mysteriously turned itself on again, seems like certain software still activates it or something, but today back in MS Word on a flight to Los Angeles it is not on, which is just fine by me.

Frustration #3 – Why did they do away with the start menu on the desktop?

Ok I get the new interface with Windows 8.1 and the live tiles are kind of fun once you figure out how to use them well. Just hold them down to rearrange things and size them, pretty intuitive so not much problem there. One of the tiles takes you to your Desktop, which feels good with its familiar Windows 7 like feel… BUT they left off the start menu, which gives you nice compact access to so many things, what the heck? Luckily I asked the Audience of other users and heard overwhelming response… use Classic Shell. It’s free and awesome. A quick Google search away and there it was as a free download, installed and voila! I was back in business with my start menu. YEAH! (I think I actually cheered out loud in my office and people might be thinking I have mental issues, but man this relationship was looking up!)

Some Good News

There are a couple of key bright spots, to be fair.

  1. The new “pen” stylus by the way, is a serious bright spot in this adventure. It is especially awesome in OneNote and I look forward to using its advanced features and seeing more software developed to take advantage of its capabilities.
  2. The High Resolution screen is also awesome, although I have had some issues with Web conferencing solutions like GoTo, Webex, and Fuze, where it will not render correctly on a screen share, the bleeding edge strikes again. I found that as long as I used another monitor (after making another purchase for the adaptor cable) and show that monitor in the correct resolution, I can get a decent screen share, but sometimes with older lower resolution secondary monitors, it shows a small slice of the tablet screen on the web conference as well, which is weird and annoying.

TIP Summary

As promised here are the tips in a quick reference form:

  • Get the good keyboard
  • Turn off the trackpad until you can adjust the sensitivity
  • If you want the normal Windows apps, you have to go download them, then either uninstall or remove the new “metro” apps from the home screen, the good old ones have different tiles.
  • Download and install “Classic Shell” to get your nice desktop start menu back http://www.classicshell.net/
  • Get the mini-display port adaptor and connect your second, larger screen for ease of viewing and to help display correctly on web conferencing.

Why Use BPMN over Flowcharts

Workflow in Business Analysis

Often while designing business solutions for a client application, one needs to represent the workflow and count on it over the lifecycle of the project. Business decisions, Roles and Technical aspects of the project are laid out in this workflow. Thus, it is vital that the workflow is prepared using an accurate approach.

Out of the numerous methods, most of the time it comes down to using either Flowchart or a BPMN. Flowcharts are a graphical representation of different characteristics of a system and evolved out of a notation system developed in the 1920’s without strict standards. BPMN stands for Business Process Modelling Notation and is currently in version 2.0. It is a standards based approach to graphical representation for specifying business processes along with illustration of other tiers of the system.

BPMN Sample Workflow

 Practical Example of a BPMN workflow

In this example support system workflow, our objects are  Cases, Case Managers, Technicians, response time process and client communication (feedback process).

BPMN provides a standard set of shapes & symbols, that with some study, will be well understood by all viewers. In our example, flow objects like message start events, user tasks, and events are especially useful when compared to just using process (rectangular), manual input (quadrilateral) or conditional (hexagonal) shapes in a flowchart.

BPMN has evolved the simple concept of a flowchart decision block into different types of gateways (shapes). These have been used in the support system example for the response time & communication process. For instance, if there is no response on a case for 10 minutes after it is created then an email is triggered  to the Case manager.

 Why BPMN?

Since BPMN is a standard, it can be used by companies to plot their business process in a visual language that can be understood by all parties without misinterpretation.

BPMN helps you:

      • To visualize your business process
      • To document a process
      • To do analysis on your business processes
      • Discuss process using a common language

Conclusion

Initially, BPMN may have a steeper learning curve but once an organization adopts the standard the learning accelerates as users gain a common language to visually express how work gets done.

If you are struggling with ad hoc Flowchart-based diagrams to answer these types of questions, try BMPN instead.

  1. Who triggers a process
  2. Who does a proposal
  3. Who makes  decisions
  4. What happens if someone forgets to perform a task
  5. Map multi-level approval workflow

The amount of detailing in a process is always directly proportional to the level of the difficulty needed to build it. BPMN provides more details than a flowchart when it comes to defining processes.

Do you need help with your business processes? The MCFTech team is here for you!

Contact Client Solutions today for more information:
440-201-6050
sales@mcftech.com
or complete our Contact Form and we will get back to you right away.

To Yammer or Not To Yammer

As a heavy user of Office 365 Sharepoint and a Microsoft Business Solutions developer our leadership team at MCFTech (www.mcftech.com) could not avoid an important and current question,”To Yammer or not to Yammer?

For those familiar with Yammer and Office 365 Sharepoint this question may be a familiar one. For those currently using one or the other or considering adopting them, it’s important to understand that this is an important question when considering implementation of social collaboration for the Enterprise.

Yammer in a Nutshell

YammerYammer provides a social network for the Enterprise. Best put, it feels like a bit of a merging of the traditional forum concept (groups) with hints of Twitter and LinkedIn (posts, feeds, likes). It’s a great way to get people talking inside the company about both business and social matters in a monitored way, without a lot of overhead trying to curate content.

Why this matters to Office 365 Sharepoint Administrators

Office 365 Sharepoint (Sharepoint 2013 Online) sought to jump forward on the social collaboration front with a number of features including Communities, Newsfeeds, content sharing and Following. For the most part the features work but require a fair amount of study, configuration, and maintenance to operate well. Yammer provides many of the same features in an easier to manage model, but not without some sacrifices in controlling content (Yammer tends to encourage a lot of unstructured content and collaboration).

Microsoft has provided indications that the future of social collaboration in Sharepoint will be closely intertwined with the future of Yammer and has begun a phased integration of Yammer into Office 365.

Our Story

About 18 months ago we began implementation of Office 365 Sharepoint and were faced with a decision of whether to adopt Yammer as well. We ended up purchasing Yammer for the company and rolled it out primarily for ad hoc use. As our implementation of Sharepoint grew we began to bump into areas where we wondered whether Yammer or Sharepoint features would be the best approach (i.e. handling of technical knowledgebases). Our initial pilot focused on using a Sharepoint Community site which had the benefit of a strongly defined structure (Categories) and integration into Sharepoint search. However, we found a lack of enthusiasm for participation and identified that the level of effort to properly set up Newsfeeds and other features would be substantial. We decided to take a step back and evaluate our options.

The Yammer Question

Unfortunately, the question of whether to use Yammer for Sharepoint social collaboration is not an easy one. One thing was clear, that it’s important to decide one way or another and focus efforts in the right place. Adopting Yammer and using Sharepoint collaboration for things that could be done in Yammer will confuse users with where to find content and where to socialize one type of information or another. In the end, we realized that we had to make a strong statement one way or another and either go all in for Yammer or abandon it for the time being.

Why Yes

  • Users love the convenience and social nature of Yammer
  • It’s visually attractive and modern/fun
  • It does a pretty good job of replacing email for group conversations

Why No

  • It’s a little bit chaotic and unstructured since people can create ad hoc groups and tags
  • The integration with Office 365 is still very limited (single sign-on is a little clunky, document collaboration is by group and not specific to the document, etc.)
  • Content search is not integrated with Sharepoint, so users have to search twice

In the end we decided to quickly form a Yammer group and vote.

The MCFTech team can help you optimize your Sharepoint.

Contact Client Solutions today for more information:
440-201-6050
sales@mcftech.com
or complete our Contact Form and we will get back to you right away.