Electrify Your Business with Data

Data is a lot like electricity – a little bit at a time, not too much direct contact, and you’re fine. For example, a single nine-volt battery doesn’t provide enough power to light a single residential bulb. In fact, it would take about a dozen nine-volt batteries to light that single bulb, and it would only last about an hour. It’s only when you get massive amounts of electricity flowing in a controlled way that you can see real results, like running electric motors, lighting up highway billboards, heating an oven or powering commuter trains.

iStock_000006412772XSmallIt’s the same with data. The sale of a single blue shirt at a single outlet store is not much data. And it’s still not much even when you combine it with all the sales for that store in a single day. But what about a year’s worth of data, from multiple locations? Massive amounts of data can do amazing things for us as well. We have all seen in today’s data centric business environment what controlled usage of data can do.

Some examples include:

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) can now more accurately predict a hurricane’s path thanks to data that has been collected over time
  • Marketing firms can save money on culled down distribution lists based on customer demographics, shopping habits and preferences.
  • Medical experts can identify and treat conditions and diseases much better based on a patient’s history, life risks and other factors.
  • Big ‘multi-plex’ movie houses can predict more accurately the number of theatres it will need to provision for the latest summer block buster by analyzing Twitter and other social media feeds as related to the movie.

All of this can be done thanks to controlled data analytics.

The key word here is “controlled.” With a background in marine engineering and shore-side power generation, I have seen my share of what can happen when electricity and other sources of energy are not kept ‘controlled.’ Ever see what happens when a handful of welding rods go through a steam turbine spinning at 36,000 RPM and designed for tolerances of thousandths of an inch? It’s not pretty. After as many years in database technologies, data analysis and visualizations, I have also seen the damage resulting from large quantities of uncontrolled data. In his book Signal: Discerning What Matters Most in a World of Noise, author Steven Few shows a somewhat tongue-in-cheek graph that ‘proves’ that the sale of ice cream is a direct cause of violent crime. Or was it the other way around?  It’s an obvious comic hyperbole that serves to illustrate his point that we need to be careful of how we analyze and correlate data.

With the ‘big data’ explosion, proponents will tell you that ‘if a little is good, then more is better.’ It’s an obvious extension, but is it accurate? Is there such a thing as ‘too much data’?

Let’s say you are a clothing retail store in the mall. Having data for all of your sales over the past ten years, broken down by item, store, date, salesperson and any number of other dimensions may be essential. What if we were to also include ALL the sales of ALL competitors’ products, seasonal weather history, demographic changes, foot traffic patterns in the mall and just about anything else that could influence a customer’s decision to buy your product even down to what they had for lunch just before they made the purchase? The result would most likely be UN-controlled data analysis. This tends to lead to erroneous correlations and bad decisions. For instance, you just might discover that customers are four times as likely to make a purchase if they had pizza for lunch, never realizing that there are more pizza restaurants near your stores than any other type of food service!

When it comes to data, stick with what you know is good data. Make sure it’s clean, reliable and most of all, relevant. Most of all, make sure you CONTROL your data. Without control, there may be no stopping the damage that results.

About Todd: Todd Chittenden started his programming and reporting career with industrial maintenance applications in the late 1990’s. When SQL Server 2005 was introduced, he quickly became certified in Microsoft’s latest RDBMS technology and has added certifications over the years. He currently holds an MCSE in Business Intelligence. He has applied his knowledge of relational databases, data warehouses, business intelligence and analytics to a variety of project for Blum Shapiro since 2011.

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Stop Phishing Emails in Their Tracks: Four Tips to Spot Phishing Emails

lockIf you’ve been on the Internet over the past decade you’ve likely been on the receiving end of at least one phishing email. Phishing is when a hacker tries to disguise themselves as a trustworthy source in order to obtain sensitive information from you; be it your social security number, credit card number, usernames, passwords or other personal information. Every day, as hackers become more and more sophisticated, people fall victim to these scams. Here are four tips you can use to spot and avoid a phishing scam.

  1. Check the sender’s email address. If you receive an email from ABC Company, you should expect the sender’s email address to come from the same address as the company’s website. For example, let’s say you receive an email from ABC Company, and you know ABC Company owns www.abccompany.com. If the sender’s email address is abccompany@yahoo.com, it is likely a fake as it is from a Yahoo domain. That said, it is also possible for hackers to spoof an email address to make it look legitimate. If you’ve never had contact with the person emailing you before you should always be cautious. As a general rule, unless an email is digitally signed, it is possible it was spoofed. A digital signature includes a unique signature from the certificate, along with a public key proving to the recipient that you are not an imposter.

    2. Always be suspicious of emails with generic greetings. Hackers send thousands of phishing emails in the hopes they’ll get a few fish to take the bait. They don’t always have the time, or likely the knowledge, to personalize each individual email and often send in large batched with generic greetings. As such, always be cautious with opening any email which starts with a generic greeting like, “Dear Customer” or “Dear Friend”.

    3. Always be suspicious of any email requesting “urgent” personal or financial information from you or your company. If you receive an email with words and phrases like “Urgent” or “Action Required” make sure you are diligent in checking its legitimacy. Be sure to check the sender’s email address if you receive this type of email. If the email is from a government agency (has a .gov email address) such as the IRS it is likely a phishing scam. In our experience, no government agency, especially with their initial contact, will request your personal information via email.

    4. Avoid clicking on any links in the email. Hackers may include links in the email taking you to fake websites to try and get information from you. The fake website may look like a real business website, or a website for a legitimate company, but the URL will be slightly different. For example, paypal.com is a real site, but www.paypal.somebusiness.com may be a phishing site Hackers tend to also mix in links to real websites along with links to fake phishing sites for a more sophisticated attack. As such, it is best to manually type in the URL or use a search engine to try and find the real link.

Hackers are getting more and more sophisticated each day. Always keep your guard up when opening strange emails and going to new websites. Be sure to keep these tips in mind when you open your inbox to avoid being reeled in to a phishing scam.

About Matt:

As a senior in BlumShapiro’s Technology Consulting Group, Matt has over 7 years of experience with Microsoft .NET software application development, including solutions for web, client/server and mobile platforms.

Matt’s past experience includes freelance web development, and running his own business in web application design and development. Matt joined BlumShapiro in 2012 as a staff consultant, and won the Rookie of the Year award his first year at BlumShapiro.

 

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Testing: The Key to a Successful Mobile Application

Can you believe it has been over 10 years since the smartphone revolution came into full effect? Along with the devices themselves, we have seen an increase in the number of applications created, now reaching over two million apps and spanning a wide range of categories. These apps not only address a multitude of user needs—but are able to be used with ease on a variety of devices and operating systems. So, how do they do it? How can these mobile applications operate across different platforms and still perform brilliantly for the end user? Well, there is really no secret to it—it is all about testing. If you are developing an app which will likely be used by millions across varying platforms, then you must have a solid testing solution to ensure a positive user experience—no matter what the device or platform is. How do you test your new application? Well, there’s an app for that!

Here are my top 3 cloud-based application testing platforms and tools to help your app be as successful as possible:

Xamarin Test Cloud

My first recommendation is Xamarin Test Cloud. Xamarin provides access to over 2,000 real mobile devices in the cloud. This testing platform provides remote capabilities to the devices in the cloud, allowing you to deal with issues in real time. In Xamarin, your mobile app is tested using scripts that you create. These test scripts are built using a framework called Calabash, which runs on both iOS and Android. Upon completion of your test, results and performance analysis are displayed in dashboards and even include a recording of the test. What sets Xamarin Test Cloud apart from other testing platforms comes from the thoroughness of the program:

  • Number of cloud devices available
  • Native integration of automation capabilities to perform user interactions
  • Ability to capture performance
  • Ability to integrate with other testing tools (TFS, Jenkins, TeamCity, etc.)

If your team uses automation scripts and targets a large set of mobile devices, then Xamarin will be the best testing platform to meet your needs.

Xamarin

SauceLabs

SauceLabs provides native, hybrid and web testing combinations of emulators and simulators for the most popular devices. These capabilities are provided instantly, no waiting! SauceLabs also provides access to the device using a remote desktop session for debugging and analysis. Some of the key features of SauceLabs is that it can integrate with most CI platforms and that test scripts can be written in multiple of languages (Ruby, Python, Node.js, or C# using Appium automation framework). The key differentiator between SauceLabs and Xamarin revolves around the pricing structure. Using SauceLabs, packages start as low as $19 a month for manual testing, including the use of the Appium framework, the leading mobile testing framework out there.

 

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Perfecto

My final recommendation for mobile app testing is Perfecto. What sets Perfecto apart from the above testing platforms is that they provide a private cloud to build your mobile app. This enhances the security and allows you to test against a wide range of conditions. This feature makes Perfecto a strong fit for dedicated enterprise apps, banks and financial service applications.

Perfecto

 

When it comes to mobile app testing, there are plenty of resources available. The three listed above are just a few of my favorites, but there are certainly plenty of options to suit all of your needs. It is now time for you to go out and start building and testing your own mobile application!

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Office 365 Groups – Making Life Easier

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Projects and group work happen all the time at the office. With the digital revolution it’s all about getting this work done in less time. While being more efficient is great, it can be challenging at times to keep up with the pace in ever-changing work environments. Moving your technology infrastructure to the cloud can be a great way to keep up with the evolving technology landscape by staying up to date with the latest innovations. As an Office 365 coach, I enjoy teaching and sharing the latest features of Office 365 with our clients, including my new favorite, Office 365 Groups.

If you have ever worked on a group project, I am sure you know there are usually a few things that you need to have your IT department setup for you to help track group progress, communicate etc. For example, you may want a distribution list created for emailing team members, a shared calendar created to track events and meetings or a shared folder on a network drive for storing documents related to the group. While it is possible to set up and configure a mailbox, network drives, assign permissions and so forth, this can take valuable time away from being productive. Even after everything is configured, you may find yourself with technology that is not user friendly. For instance, you may have created a distribution list for email and then set up a Dropbox folder or a network share folder for storing documents. Using different apps and having to shift back and forth between them can slow down the progress of your project, which is where Office 365 Groups comes in to play.

Office 365 Groups solves the issue by providing all of the collaboration services you would need in a focused work area within Office 365—eliminating the issues caused by using disparate systems and apps. Each group in Office 365 contains the following:

  • Inbox – Group emails
  • Calendar – Group meetings/events
  • Document Library – Storing files and folders
  • OneNote Notebook – Taking meeting/project notes
  • Planner – Manage project tasks
  • Connectors – Connect your favorite apps to the group

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All of these features can be created in less than 10 seconds without any IT involvement. This can be a huge timesaver for groups in the business world thanks to the power of the cloud. Getting work done faster and more efficiently is a win for the employee and a win for the business. Office 365 Groups is just one of the many examples of how the cloud is making everyone’s lives a little bit easier.

To learn more about Office 365 Groups and how your company can use them, contact our BlumPOWER team at info@imagineblum.com.

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