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Delivering Mobility Solutions with Microsoft PowerApps

Mobility has been a buzzword in the information technology sector for some time, yet many organisations are finding this challenging. The device side of mobility is well in hand, the technology performs well and connectivity is close to everywhere.

The challenge is how to get these devices to deliver productivity beyond “just using them for email”.

Enter Microsoft PowerApps – a way to build applications that can deliver true mobility to your team.

In a very short space of time, you can build an application to gather information, or present and aggregate information from 200+ data sources and present them in meaningful ways to staff, in or out of, the office.  Examples of support data sources are SharePoint, SQL Server, and Dynamics CRM.

The list of data sources is constantly expanding, and you can even add your own through customised connectors.

Apps can be built to work on tablets or phones, allowing field works to collect, disseminate, and update information, all in real time. This prevent delays in the processing of paperwork and potential errors in transposing that information. It also means that business decisions happen with up-to-date information.

How hard is it to build a PowerApp? Not hard at all – the heavy lifting is done by Microsoft and the cloud. With some guidance, a person with modest skills in an application like Microsoft Excel would be able to build a PowerApp.

The rule of thumb with apps is they are small and modular – you build an app to fulfill a single business function for two reasons:

  1. The development cycle and cost of building an all-singing-all-dancing app is prohibitive to most organisations.
  2. Updating a single function app is more time efficient with a short learning curve, ensuring no loss of productivity.

Get in touch with us now, to discuss where PowerApps could mobilise your business, and see it in action –  then get in touch. Roland will give you a live demo (he reckons he is that good).

BTW… Article writing by Roland Tuck.

How the cloud improves mobility

Give your employees the freedom to work from anywhere at any time

Technology increases mobility. Tablets, laptops and smartphones all offer the possibility of working in places other than the traditional office. But it’s not always obvious how to take advantage of this freedom.

For example, let’s say your employees spend much of their time visiting clients or travelling between appointments. It would be great if they could get some of their work done while sitting on a train or waiting in an airport lounge.

They can, of course: they can answer emails, write or edit draft documents and perhaps update a spreadsheet or two. But that’s not the same as actually being in the office. Once they get back, they’ll have to ‘sync’ their changed files with those on the office file-server, and move draft documents into the right folders.

This wastes time. It would be much better if your roving employees could access everything while on the move. In other words, if they could log into the office server remotely and have instant access to all applications, documents, emails and files.

This has been possible in the past, but only by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which can be complicated to configure and a hassle to maintain for large numbers of employees.

Now things are much easier. If you use cloud services, your employees can log into their work applications and access their work data at any time and from anywhere (where they have internet access). They will have the same level of access as they would if they were sitting at their desks.

This is possible because cloud services are hosted on the cloud company’s servers. Microsoft Azure services, and apps such as Office 365, are hosted remotely on Microsoft’s own secure servers. So you and your employees have the same access to the same files, apps and emails, whether logging in from the office or from an airport lounge halfway around the world.

There’s no need to sync data when back in the office. No need to copy changes from draft documents back to the server. Everything is updated instantly. Whether your staff are working from the office, from home, from a seminar, an airport or a train, it makes no difference. As long as there’s an internet connection, they can work from anywhere.

Naturally this requires strong passwords and preferably two-factor authentication to ensure the security of your business data. But with those in place, it’s a secure method of working.

If you trust your employees (and if you didn’t, you wouldn’t have hired them) you can give them more freedom and greater mobility. For example, if they finish a client meeting at 2pm and it would take them an hour to get back to the office, tell them to go home instead. They can finish their working day remotely, getting just as much done – if not more.

This empowers your employees and improves staff loyalty. Trust is a big factor in employee satisfaction, and cloud mobility helps you demonstrate your trust. Signing up for cloud services with Microsoft Azure lets you increase productivity and employee satisfaction.

How cloud storage can protect your files from ransomware

Keep your data safe from crypto attacks

Ransomware is malicious software (malware) that infects computers and encrypts files, making them impossible to access. It does this quietly until lots of your files are encrypted. Then it pops up a notice saying that you can get your files back… but only by paying a ransom, usually in Bitcoins.

Sometimes ransomware is called ‘crypto’, an abbreviation of ‘encryption’. There are many different types, and more are appearing all the time.

The ransomware attack in May 2017 targeted Windows-based computers. Microsoft had released a security patch earlier in the year, but not everyone had applied it. The WannaCry ransomware virus caused chaos in many countries, but New Zealand had a lucky escape.

The attack happened on a Friday night our time, after the working week. IT providers had time to patch vulnerable systems over the weekend and warn users by email. If it had happened on a Wednesday or Thursday, the outcome might have been very different.

In some ways the attack was a blessing in disguise. All the media attention has encouraged people to take IT security seriously. The damage could have been far worse: the virus was only disabled by accident and could still reappear in a more dangerous form.

So how can you protect your files? Obviously it’s important to take sensible precautions such as having up-to-date anti-virus/malware software and not clicking on random email links. But this virus was able to spread without email, so that’s not enough protection.

What really matters is having a good backup strategy. Regular backups into the cloud will help keep your files safe.

How? Imagine you were working on a document called “Marketing Strategy Q3 2017” Over a period of weeks this document was written, edited and rewritten, with additions, comments and amendments from everyone in your organisation.

Then, one day, up pops the dreaded ransomware notice telling you that “Marketing Strategy Q3 2017” has been encrypted. What do you do? Without cloud backups or other offline backups, you’re in trouble. Either pay the ransom and hope you get the file back, or create a new document from scratch.

But with cloud backup things are much simpler. First, ask your IT provider to clean the ransomware off your system. Second, roll back to a clean version of “Marketing Strategy Q3 2017” from your cloud backup and carry on working where you left off.

Cloud backup is no longer a luxury. It’s essential if you want peace of mind that you’re safe from ransomware.

Stream to replace office 365 Videos….

Media management is a challenge for many organisations. In particular, as video resolutions get bigger, so do file sizes – what’s more, there’s often a need to distribute this information within the organisation. Corporate Training videos need to be more than a file you can only watch on a laptop, they need to be “device and bandwidth aware”, so when they play, the video optimizes to the device it’s playing on.

In response to these challenges Microsoft developed Office 365 Video, delivering an internal “Youtube-Lite” video portal experience. You could create channels, upload videos, and link them to stream through SharePoint.

As pointed out above, the experience was “lite”, but pretty good for a version 1.0. Enter version 2.0 – Microsoft Stream, with a whole bunch of new whizz-bang features they really bring the service up to an enterprise level for Office 365 users of all types. Some of these features are:

  • Smart search for text or spoken words within videos, enabling discovery without reliance on manually added metadata.
  • View and share the video in the tools you use most, and increase engagement with likes, shares, and comments.
  • Securely shared across the organization with built-in encryption, compliance, and permissions.

If you want to increase engagement and productivity around video content within your organisation, call one of our Office 365 specialists today to discuss how this can be enabled for you.

Taking your first steps into the cloud

‘The cloud’ sounds like a vast and complicated concept. But actually it’s just the internet – with a little something on top.

You may not be entirely sure what ‘the cloud’ means. If so, don’t worry – you’re not alone. A few years ago, a technology journalist at a cloud company’s press conference put up his hand and said to the serious corporate spokesperson, “When you say ‘the cloud’, you really just mean ‘the internet’ don’t you?”

The reality isn’t quite that simple, but it’s not far off. If you’ve ever shared a document online, or accessed your email through a web browser, you’ve used the cloud. That’s because ‘the cloud’ is a catch-all term to describe the use of the internet to deliver services.

We typically think of the internet as being the huge number of websites that we can access through a browser. But that part – the world-wide web – is only a sub-section of the internet. The internet is really the underlying infrastructure. It’s the vast network of connections that allows data to flow between points almost anywhere around the world.

You can think of the internet as being like a road network. A road can carry cars, but it can also carry buses, trucks and motorbikes. Similarly, the internet can carry web pages, but it can also carry emails, audio/video streams and applications. And it’s the ‘applications’ part that forms the basis of the cloud.

As internet connections and computers have got faster, it’s become possible to run applications and services remotely. This means that the applications that appear to be running on your computer, tablet or phone may actually be hosted hundreds of miles away, on a cloud service provider’s server.

What might those cloud services be? Almost anything you can imagine running on a computer. There are cloud services for just about every possible business eventuality. Microsoft Azure, for example, has more than 550 services at the moment, with more being added all the time. The most widely-used services are for:

  • storage – keeping files and data safe and accessible from anywhere
  • computing – fast access to processing power for a wide range of business tasks
  • backup – maintaining secure archives for recovery purposes
  • SQL – scalable databases for just about any conceivable business use

There are many reasons for choosing cloud-based IT solutions over in-house ones. These can include simplicity, cost savings, flexibility, scalability and reliability.

Ultimately, using the cloud means your business can become more nimble and productive. The cloud allows you to use – and pay for – only those services that you actually need; you can tailor your IT solution specifically to your business needs. It grows as you do – flexibly, rapidly and dynamically.

So, that technology journalist was partially correct. The cloud is the internet. But it’s also a whole lot more, it can give your business a real competitive edge.