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The Enduring Appeal of Low Code Software Development

  As we bid farewell to 2020, we can look back on the tech trends that shaped the world response to the COVID crisis.  The shock of COVID and resulting lockdowns accelerated existing trends such as digital transformation, remote work, and even software development methodologies and tools.  For decades, organizations could only choose between off-the-shelf products and custom software development.  Over the last 30 years another option -- low code software development -- has risen.  This trend began with fourth generation programming languages (4GL) and computer-aided software engineering (CASE) tools in the 1980s.  Desktop database products like DataEase, Paradox, Clipper and Microsoft Access were early examples of the low code approach.  Today, there are  many types of low code software platforms.  Some are business platforms such as Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce, and ServiceNow. Another group are  business process management (BPM) products such as Appian and Pega, the heirs of CAS

My Debt to SharePoint

Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jeff Teper announced last week that SharePoint is now reaching 200 million cloud users worldwide. This is an impressive milestone by any standard, even the high adoption normal for Microsoft.  This announcement made me realize that I owe a professional debt to SharePoint.  Back in 1999, my company InfoStrat was one of the first Microsoft Gold Partners to embrace SharePoint development when the product was code-named "Tahoe."  Along with two of my InfoStrat colleagues, I wrote a book on SharePoint and related Microsoft server products called Building Portals, Intranets, and Corporate Web Sites Using Microsoft Servers - a title only a search engine would love.  SharePoint was many things rolled into one, from document management to a Lotus Notes groupware competitor to a platform for departmental apps (although the term "app" had not been coined).  We helped companies and government agencies roll out SharePoint, and built SharePoint

6 Reasons to Choose Microsoft for your Low Code Application Platform

  Low code software development has been in the news in 2020.  The COVID crisis has disrupted many businesses, and they have been forced to transform themselves rapidly.  We have never seen so much digital transformation since that term was coined in 2012.  Low code development platforms have been chosen for many of these efforts because they can bring software solutions to fruition more quickly than traditional development methods. Businesses and other organizations are choosing which low code platform they need, and these products are maturing quickly.  This post highlights six reasons why organizations choose Microsoft for low code application development. Microsoft has the most complete platform . No software vendor comes close to offering as a wide a set of capabilities as Microsoft.  These include database (Dataverse), business intelligence (Power BI), reporting tools, integrated document management (SharePoint), email (Outlook), spreadsheet (Excel) and even artificial intelligen

Governing the Dataverse: Peaceful Living with Microsoft Power Apps

Microsoft has created a business software platform which not only includes complete commercial products such as accounting and CRM, but also development tools which may be used by professional software developers and power users.  Microsoft is enpowering power users, sometimes called citizen developers, with tools that require less coding and more configuration through templates and wizards. All these apps are connected through a shared data model called Dataverse (formerly Common Data Service).  Some apps such as Dynamics 365 Sales store their data in Dataverse.  Security is managed via Office 365 hosted in the Microsoft cloud.  With Power Apps, you can build standalone apps that tap the power of Dataverse.   Dataverse and Power Apps are not the first tools to target citizen developers.  Microsoft Access, for instance, was a product that allowed end users to create database applications and connect to SQL Server which was often the enterprise data repository for an organization.  Sha

Understanding Microsoft Unified Support

Microsoft has recently added a new support option for its enterprise customers: Microsoft Unified Support .  This offering is in addition to the Microsoft Premier service offering which may be familiar to large organizations that rely on Microsoft software. Microsoft Unified Support is designed to reduce downtime through on demand risk assessments, improve productivity through enhanced user training, and streamline access to technical support through a customer organization.  According to a commissioned study by Forrester Research , Unified Support can produce a return on investment of 130 percent, and reduce downtime by 65 percent. Unified Support is priced based on the Microsoft software owned and Microsoft cloud services consumed by a customer.  Contact your Microsoft sales rep to learn more or get a quotation for Unified Support.  

Microsoft Power Apps for Nonprofits and the Dynamics 365 Nonprofit Accelerator

Microsoft Power Apps and Dynamics 365 provide prebuilt apps and a framework for building custom apps for a wide range of the software needs of nonprofits. Dynamics 365 is a family of products  which include accounting, enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management software. Power Apps was derived from Dynamics 365 and offers a framework for building standalone web apps (canvas apps) or integrated apps built on a shared common data model .  Building on the foundation of Microsoft Dynamics 365 avoids many of the common pitfalls of custom application development.  It gives users a starting point for functional requirements, contains a rich data model, handles many common low-level programming tasks, and provides advanced functionality such as mobile apps and is hosted in the Microsoft cloud.   Microsoft Dynamics 365 is integrated with other elements of the Microsoft platform such as Office 365, Power BI and SharePoint and readily integrated to other products from other

Managing Grants through Microsoft Power Apps Portals

Microsoft has overhauled the portal capabilities of the Dynamics Portal product which was formerly available as an add-on component for Dynamics 365 apps such Sales and Customer Service,  now making these capabilities available as Power Apps portal .  Power Apps portals allows you to build websites with static pages and content as well as, more importantly, forms and views to display data from the Common Data Service. InfoStrat's Grants Manager Plus uses Power Apps portal capabilities to enable grant applicants, grant reviewers, vendors and the public to interact with grant data.  Because Power Apps portal is a website, users do not have to learn a new user interface, and you have control over the look of the site such as branding consistent with the graphic standards used by your organization.  Here are some of the portal pages typically used for grant portals: Authentication . Login and related functions such as forgot password or change password.  These are provided out of the b

Microsoft Power Apps and Power Platform: Build Apps without Limits

 Microsoft is not only a leader in packaged software products for business productivity, operating systems and accounting, but also in providing the development platforms for creating custom solutions.   The Microsoft Power Platform is a family of products that are seeing rapid growth.  The Power Platform includes Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI and Power Virtual agents.  It features capabilities for non-coders to create solutions as well as support for developers.  Many organizations, especially small business and non-profits, do not have developers on staff yet they need to automate their processes to respond to rapidly changing requirements.   Last month, the Power Platform was prominently featured at the virtual Microsoft Ignite 2020 conference.  Microsoft announced Power Automate Desktop , a desktop-based robotic process automation (RPA) authoring solution for coders and non-coders to automate processes across desktop and web applications using a visual workflow editor:  The

Constant Change: The Hidden Cost of Cloud Computing

The benefits of cloud computing are widely known, and most organizations have moved or are planning to move from their on premises data centers to cloud facilities hosted by Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Google or other providers.  One of the cloud computing benefits is that the cloud provider is responsible for continuously improving the environment that hosts, and that these updates and fixes do not usually require work by the customer.  There is a downside to this benefit, however, especially as you move from cloud infrastructure to cloud solutions. The downside is that you must deal with the consequences of constant change and innovation. Organizations have always had to handle upgrades of hardware and software, but when the computing was inside their data center they had full control of the timing of changes.  They could more quickly with inexpensive changes and patches, and choose their timing for major changes.   Today the cloud providers largely choose the timing to introduce

Azure Stream Analytics for Real-Time Fraud Detection

 The following is a guest blog post by Dmitri Riz from the InfoStrat Tech Blog .  Microsoft Azure Logic Apps is a service that allows you to design and build scalable solutions for app integration, data integration, system integration, enterprise application integration (EAI), and business-to-business (B2B) communication, whether in the cloud, on premises, or both. One of the features I wanted to explore in more detail is the support for real-time fraud detection for transactions originating from Dynamics 365 or, speaking more broadly, the ability to detect and flag irregularities in incoming data streams in real time. The tool to support this is Azure Stream Analytics. It is a fully managed, real-time analytics service designed to help you analyze and process fast moving streams of data that can be used to get insights, build reports or trigger alerts and actions. Set up an Azure Event Hub receiving real-time Dynamics 365 transaction data and a Stream Analytics job scanning this Event

Solicitations for Cloud Computing Need to Reflect Cloud Reality

  For several years the information technology industry has been migrating from traditional on premises deployment of software in the data center to cloud computing hosted by industry leaders such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.  Solicitations for new software often fail to reflect the reality of cloud computing. Here are some of the ways that solicitations (also called tenders and requests for proposals) miss the mark: Asking for hardware requirements.   Cloud solutions do not require server hardware, but often the solicitation includes hardware questions and specifications.  Unrealistic availability goals . Availability of servers is usually stated in terms of the percentage of uptime. Some solicitations call for 99.999% uptime.  This amounts to a bit over 5 minutes downtime in a year.  The total availability of a system is calculated as the product of all the availability service level agreements (SLAs) of its constituent elements.  AWS and Microsoft offer different SLAs

Personalize Your Sales Process with CRM

Sales force automation is one of the most popular apps of customer relationship management (CRM).  Whether you choose Microsoft Dynamics 365, Salesforce, or another CRM product, sales is likely near the top of your priorities. What makes a sales organization successful, however, varies significantly from one company to another based on the targeted sales segments and the position of the company within its industry.  Companies that sell direct to consumers online may receive a large number of leads through search ads or email marketing campaigns, and deals may be closed without labor-extensive interactions such as phone calls or meetings which may be appropriate for large-ticket items such as finding commercial real estate or purchasing expensive information technology solutions.   Large companies with dominant positions in their industry may take a different sales approach than startups trying to break into a new market.  The differences in sales processes mean that optimizing your CRM

Energize your Intranet with Microsoft Power Apps and Customer Voice

This is a followup to my earlier post "Replacing Microsoft InfoPath with Power Apps" which discussed the discontinuation of the InfoPath form tool which was previously used in conjunction with SharePoint for many internal corporate applications typical on an intranet. Since then,  Microsoft renamed the Forms Pro product Dynamics 365 Customer Voice . This is not to be confused with Microsoft's Voice of the Customer product which was  deprecated in July 2020  to be replaced by Forms Pro.  Power Apps is the platform on which Microsoft Dynamics 365 apps, at least those apps derived from what was formerly called Dynamics CRM, are built.  You can use Power Apps to create two types of apps -- canvas apps which are designed in a drag-and-drop fashion for relatively simple standalone needs and model-driven apps which are based on the Dynamics 365 Unified Interface and which can support sophisticated workflows in the same way that they are handled by Dynamics 365.  I feel that int

InfoStrat Wins SAVIN Contract with State of Iowa

InfoStrat, a division of Serenic Software,   is pleased to announce that it has entered into a contract with the State of Iowa Department of Justice, specifically its Crime Victim Assistance Division ("Iowa"), to implement and fully support its SAVIN 360 victim notification solution. The contract lasts through June 2024, and may be extended for up to two additional three-year terms at Iowa's option. Information Strategies Inc. ("InfoStrat"), which Sylogist acquired in April 2020, has developed the SAVIN 360 solution as a modern and extensible system for victim services, to help correction agencies manage contacts and alerts when offenders are to be transferred or released. SAVIN is built on the proven Microsoft Dynamics 365 and SharePoint platforms, which provide flexibility, scalability, integration capabilities, and powerful workflow features. Jim Wilson, President and CEO of Sylogist commented, "This is a significant achievement for Sylogist. Our SAVIN s

Grant Management Implications of New Accounting Requirements for GAAP - ASU No. 2018-08

While grant management may seem like a simple, mature process to the outsider, it is constantly changing to meet new regulatory requirements. Nonprofit organizations are implementing changes to Generally Acceptable Accounting Practices (GAAP) for gifts and donations which were originally released in June 2018 by the Financial Accounting Standards Board  as Accounting Standards Update (ASU) 2018-08 .  The central topic of this update is to provide guidance on recognizing contributions made and contributions received.  Implementing the standard may require organizations that receive grants to track information they may not have tracked in the past, and to be clear about any contributions which carry conditions.  These conditions affect when the revenue is recognized, delaying recognition until conditions are met rather than recognizing immediately as would be the case with an unconditional gift. The standards apply to private organizations including non-profits that receive and make cont

Microsoft Introduces Project Oakdale to improve the Microsoft Power Platform integration with Microsoft Teams

Yesterday at the Inspire event Microsoft announced a new product called Dataflex , subsequently renamed  Project Oakdale which is build on the Power Apps Common Data Service.   Project Oakdalesimplifies building and deploying apps and intelligent chatbots in Teams with Microsoft Power Apps and Microsoft Power Virtual Agents.   The rapid expansion of remote working during the COVID-19 crisis has fueled adoption of Microsoft Teams.  Project Oakdale adds features to make Teams more competitive to products such as Slack.  The new functionality of Project Oakdale allows apps and bots to be created from inside Microsoft Teams. This means that organizations can access more data without leaving Teams for other apps.  Watch video Adoption of Teams strengthens the appeal of Office 356.  Some companies that rarely used Teams or even maintained subscriptions to online meeting products such as Zoom, GoToMeeting and Webex have come to appreciate Teams for internal and external collaboration.  The en

Data and Documents for Grant Management

Managing government and non-profit grants usually requires a combination of structured data along with documents to track all the information required for applications, review, award and post-award reporting.  One of the more important design decisions you can make in implementing grant management software is to determine the proper place for structured data and documents, that is which information is stored where. By a structured database, I mean data that is divided into fields and records which is typically stored in a database.  Structured data lends itself to validation, such as restricting entry to defined data types, making fields required, or checking the data entered against a rule such as minimum and maximum values. Documents are sometimes needed to capture less structured narrative such as a project description, or to print a well formatted paper document for a signature.  Online documents can have some validation rules themselves, and even some logic such as fields that are

Understanding Microsoft Dynamics Products

One of Microsoft's growth engines is the Dynamics family of products .  These are business software applications that include enterprise resource planning (ERP), accounting, finance, operations, human resources, customer relationship management (CRM) and even mixed reality and artificial intelligence. In contrast to operating systems and general purpose applications such as Office 365, Word, PowerPoint, and Teams, Dynamics 365 products are for businesses rather than personal use.  In fact, the Dynamics group was formerly called Microsoft Business Systems. Every week I get questions from customers about Dynamics 365, so I thought some background in a post like this might be helpful for those who are considering Dynamics products.   Here is Microsoft's list of application categories for Dynamics: As the figure above illustrates, there are many product categories and Dynamics products, and Microsoft is adding new ones each year. The Dynamics 365 products have evolved as three gro