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Showing posts from 2010

What is a Solution Accelerator?

We are often asked what is the difference between a software product and a solution accelerator such as Microsoft Stimulus360 or Microsoft Grants360. The distinction is important because confusing solution accelerators (also called templates or solutions) with products leads to unmet expectations.

All of us are familiar with software products such as Word, Excel or Outlook. These products contain features and do certain tasks for us. While they allow for some configuration and personalization of preferences, they essentially work the same way for all users. This is acceptable because word processing and email are largely similar for users in many industries. My Exchange and Outlook setup may be bigger or smaller than an organization, but essentially the user experience is the same.

Products usually come with prescriptions on how they are installed and configured, and this process is made as easy as possible. For some products. it is as simple as clicking a link, downloading …

Microsoft Releases Grants360

On September 20, 2010 Microsoft released Grants360, a solution accelerator for grantee organizations. InfoStrat and its partner TrueTandem developed the solution to provide end-to-end management of the grant process, from soliciting applications to review, award, and post award tracking.

Grants360 (databasheet) is build using Microsoft Dynamics CRM for the management module and Microsoft Azure for the public website. This means that when Dynamics CRM 2011 is available, the entire solution can be hosted in the cloud (by Microsoft), hosted by a third party or run on premise.

Grants360 (demo)complements Stimulus360. Where Stimulus360 was tailored to the unique requirements of federal stimulus (ARRA) grants, Grants360 is more general purpose. It can even be used by non-profits for their grant activities.

We are posting more materials on the solution on GovServer.com. Watch for video demos and tutorials coming soon.

Top Ten New Features of Dynamics CRM 2011

At InfoStrat, we have been eagerly awaiting the newest version of Dynamics CRM and are excited to see it available now to the public. Now is a good time to learn more about the new version.

If you have an hour for a demonstration, check out this video:

http://digitalwpc.com/Videos/AllVideos/Permalink/f9625bd7-7009-4bed-ab7a-c3fbb548d6ac

If you want a shorter summary, here are my top ten enhancements to Dynamics CRM 2011:
Cloud. Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online will have fewer constraints on customization, making it easier to use Microsoft as your hosting provider. To show its commitment to the cloud, Microsoft will make Dynamics CRM 2011 available on the cloud before it distributed for on premise deployment.Integration with SharePoint. You can use SharePoint for document management along with Dynamics CRM. We have done this ourselves for our solutions but now Microsoft is doing it for us. Slickness. The user interface has been updated, replacing tabs with the familiar Office ribbon and gener…

Microsoft Releases Dynamics CRM 2011 Beta

Today Microsoft unleashed the long awaited new version of Dynamics CRM to the public. You will find a dramatically revamped user interface, tighter integration with Microsoft Outlook, and technical parity between the Microsoft-hosted version and running Dynamics CRM on premise.

Go here for a test drive: http://offers.crmchoice.com/CRM2011Beta-Landing

or the download links: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/en/details.aspx?FamilyID=0c7dcc45-9d41-4e2e-8126-895517b4274c&displayLang=en

For InfoStrat, the new version makes it easier for us to offer our solutions in whatever deployment mode our clients need -- on premise, hosted or cloud.

Lessons from Northrop Grumman Failure in Virginia?

This week witnessed one of the most dramatic government information technology failures ever, with an outage that paralyzed twenty six state government services for days in Virginia. The Department of Motor Vehicles was the most visible outage, leaving thousands of frustrated motorists and forcing law enforcement to relax enforcement to allow time for drivers' license renewals.Northrop Grumman holds long term contracts for IT services worth more than $2.5 billion which has generated controversy since it began.Investigators will be sifting through the incident to determine the causes. What lessons will emerge from this crisis? How can similar problems be averted in the future? Are massive outsourcing contracts a mistake? Would state employees have performed better than contractors in resolving the issues or coming up with workarounds?Some press accounts pointed to hardware failure in devices manufactured by EMC which were highly unlikely to fail as they did. Recovery procedures too…

Will the Obama Administration Take on Contractor Corruption?

Now is the perfect time for the Obama administration to tackle the problem of government contractor corruption. Local government agencies are strapped for cash and small businesses are suffering in all sectors, making fraud and waste politically intolerable. Anti-corruption actions would bolster support for the administration among business owners and improve confidence in government among all citizens, even those on the far right such as libertarians and Tea Party members.

An initiative to eliminate programs and contracting approaches that have proven vulnerable to abuse would fit well with the Obama initiatives to reinvent government and to create openness and transparency. Obama's core constituency would be hard pressed to argue against such reform.

To be successful, the initiative would have to target corruption in both large and small companies. The large contractors already seem to be the focus of audits and investigations. They are most likely to play the revolving door game …

Cloud Computing -- How High Should Government Fly?

The information technology industry has fallen head over heels when it comes to cloud computing. Many analysts have weighed in on the inevitability of shutting down your outdated server room and shifting to services that are hosted on the Internet at a remote data center.

It's hard to argue against the cloud computing trend, especially since most of us who are active in IT are using cloud services ourselves, whether it may be email, cloud storage, online collaboration, and many more.

Government agencies are also enraptured with cloud computing, as it conjures up visions of faster projects not to mention the perennial prospect of giant cost savings. The Obama administration is promoting cloud computing and agencies are embarking on an unprecedented push from government owned and controlled computing to using commercial capabilities. So far, no major missteps or tragedies have marred the cloud love affair.

But not so fast. Government needs are different than either our individual consu…

Be Careful What You Ask For

Software projects are inherently risky, and the ways to run astray begin even before the project begins. The quality of a procurement solicitation governs the results of a project, laying a solid foundation for success or creating unnecessary problems that doom a project.

Since the negative examples are often more illustrative, here are a few pitfalls to avoid:

1. There is no such thing as etcetera in a specification. Over the past few weeks I have reviewed requests for proposals that list open-ended requirements for integration, mentioning one or two specifics and then the dreaded "etc." rears its head. The result is that vendors either decide not to bid or pad the price to cover the risk of the unnamed integration.

2. Fixed price requires fixed specifications. If you choose a fixed price contract, vendors cannot determine a price without complete and detailed specifications. Fixed price combined with vagueness can result in a game of change orders where bidders pr…

Why Information Technology is Like Exercise

I must confess that I don't like to exercise, especially when it's purely for health reasons. I haven't run far and long enough to become addicted to the runner's high. I feel better after I run for the rest of the day, but it still takes effort to get up early and get out there. For me, exercise is best in retrospect.

On the other hand, I am a huge gearhead. I like researching the latest camping equipment, golf clubs, fishing lures, backpacks and even running shoes and socks. It feels great to gear up to be ready for fitness. Sports Authority can testify to my optimism for fitness.

At the end of the day, though, the gear doesn't make you fit. You have to get out there and run, bike, swim, hike, or hit that ball or puck to stay in shape.

Information technology is similar, in that it takes more than gear and software to improve business processes. The most important ingredient is the will to change and openness to assess the way an organization works and…

Software Development Methodology v Reality

Last week my company held its operations summit to review how we deliver solutions to our customers. We presented best practices and discuss tools, models, and approaches to understanding, designing and implementing software solutions.

This discussion made me think back on how the ideals of methodology differ from the reality on the ground. Everyone can agree on the value of having complete, ironclad requirements before development begins, but we all know that this is unrealistic. Among the many ways that requirements fall short is that they are incomplete and inaccurate. Some requirements ultimately are thrown overboard because the cost of implementing them is higher than the business value, and others because they lead to a business process that is too complicated or otherwise unworkable.

More recent methodologies such as Agile and SCRUM are more explicit about dealing with uncertainty. Perhaps we need to be more direct in dealing with inadequate requirements, setting a lo…

Lotus Notes Migration to Dynamics CRM

I can't explain why, but over the past few weeks my company InfoStrat has seen increased interest in Dynamics CRM as a tool to help migrate from Lotus Notes to the Microsoft platform. It turns out that many Notes shops have custom Notes apps that don't map easily to SharePoint, and Dynamics CRM fills the gap by allowing rapid development of solutions that rely on structured data.

We provided training along with Microsoft to a group of Federal customers who were looking for ways to migrate to the Microsoft platform and also find a tool with which former Notes developers can be productive. Many Notes developers who are not interested in becoming Java or .Net programmers can quickly become proficient with Dynamics CRM because it offers quite a bit of power and flexibility without writing code.

Watch for a forthcoming whitepaper on Notes migration on www.infostrat.com as well as a video on this topic.

Stimulus360 One Year Later

It's hard to believe that a year has passed since we created the Stimulus360 solution for Microsoft. When the American Recovery and Revitalization Act (ARRA) passed last year, few could forecast the impact on state and local government. The program was unprecedented in scope and pace, and required state, county, city and federal governments to quickly design and implement systems to track the funding and make information on grants available to citizens.

As it turns out, probably no solution was more widely adopted for ARRA tracking than Microsoft Stimulus360. In its first year, Microsoft Stimulus360 was adopted by over twenty governments across the country, including six states (AZ, CA, IL, MO, MS, WI), cities including DC, San Francisco, and Seattle, and large counties such as Harris County (TX), Los Angeles County (CA), and Cook County (IL). All together, governments using Stimulus360 account for over 100 million of the U.S. population and 2,000 grants worth billions of dollar…