Archive for December 12, 2016

A Digital Transformation – From the Printing Press to Modern Data Reporting

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Imagine producing, marketing and selling a product that has only a four-hour shelf life! After four hours, your product is no longer of much value or relevance to your primary consumer. After eight hours, you would be lucky to sell any of the day’s remaining stock. Within 24 hours, nobody is going to buy it; you have to start fresh the next morning. There is such a product line being produced, sold and consumed to millions of people around the world every day. And it’s probably more common than you think.

It’s the daily newspaper.

With such a tight production schedule, news printers have always been under the gun to be able to take the latest news stories and turn them into a finished printed product quickly. Mechanization and automation have pretty much made the production of the modern daily paper a non-event, but it has not always been that way.

150 years ago, the typesetter (someone who set your words, or ‘type’, into a printing press) was the key to getting your printed paper mass produced. With typesetters working faster than your competitors, you could get your product, your story, out to your consumers faster, gaining market share. However, it was still very much a manual process. In the late 1800s the stage was set for a faster method of setting type. One such machine, the Paige Compositor, was as big as a mini-van and had about 15,000 moving parts. (Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the failed invention, leading to his financial ruin.) On a more personal scale and at the modern end of the spectrum, we think nothing of sending our finished work, perhaps the big annual report, off to the color printer or ‘office machine’, or upload it to a local printing vendor who will print, collate and bind the whole job for us in a fraction of the time it would take a typesetter to layout even the first page!

So why am I telling you all this? It’s certainly not for a history lesson. The point is that the printed news industry went through a transformation from nothing (monks with quill pens), to ‘mechanization’ (Gutenberg’s printing press), to ‘automation and finally to ‘digitalization.’ And, they had to do so as the news consumer evolved from wanting their printed subscription on a monthly basis, down to the weekly, to the daily and even to the ‘morning’ and ‘evening’ editions. Remember, after four hours, the product is going stale and just about useless. (We could debate whether the faster technologies was what drove news consumers to want information faster, or if the needs of the consumer inspired the advancements in technology, but we won’t.)

Data and reporting has followed the same phases of transformation, albeit not along a much accelerated time span. The modern data consumer is no longer satisfied with having to request a green-bar, tractor fed report from the mainframe, then wait overnight for the ‘job’ to get scheduled and run. They’re not even satisfied with receiving a morning email report with yesterday’s data, or even being able to get the latest analytics report from the server farm on demand. No, they want it now, they want it in hand (smart phones), and they want it concise and relevant. To satisfy this market, products are popping up that fill this need in today’s data reporting market. Products like Microsoft’s Power BI can deliver data quickly and efficiently and in the mobile format demanded due to the industry’s transformation to digital processing. Technologies in Microsoft’s Azure cloud services such as Stream Analytics, coupled with Big Data processing, Machine Learning and Event Hubs have the capabilities to push data in real time to Power BI. I’ll never forget the feeling of elation I had upon completing a simple real-time Azure solution that streamed data every few seconds from a portable temperature sensor in my hand to a Power BI Dashboard. It must have been something like Johannes Gutenberg felt after that first page rolled off his printing press.

Gutenberg and Clemens would be amazed at the printing technology available today to the everyday consumer, yet we seem to take it for granted. Having gone through some of the transformation phases with regard to information delivery myself (yes, I do in fact recall 11×17 green-bar tractor-fed reports) I tend to be amazed at what technologies are being developed these days. Eighteen months ago (an eon in technology life) the Apple watch and Power BI teamed up to deliver KPI’s right on the watch! What will we have in another eighteen months? I can’t wait to find out.

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 projects for BlumShapiro since 2011. 

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What is Workflow Automation? And Why Should I care?

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Time. Workflows save time by automating processes.

Time is the only resource that you can’t create, buy, acquire, borrow or steal. That, makes time incredibly valuable, which has been recognized by great thinkers throughout the years.

  • “You may delay, but time will not.” Benjamin Franklin
  • “The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.” C. S. Lewis
  • “My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” Steve Jobs
  • “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” Theophrastus
  • “We must use time as a tool, not as a couch.” John F. Kennedy

And for the more practical, less philosophically minded, “Time is money.” Benjamin Franklin

Workflows create time for people by automating routine processes by machine. It’s that simple.

For any division, organization or line of business that has a routine process that is used regularly, it is worth investing in the development of an automated workflow.

Workflows for Human Resources:

Need to onboard a new hire? There’s a workflow for that.

Need to manage a review process? There’s a workflow for that.

Workflows for Procurement:

Need to send out an RFQ? There’s a workflow for that.

Need to evaluate a vendor? There’s a workflow for that.

Workflows for Finance:

Need to close out year end? There’s a workflow for that.

Need to publish an annual report? There’s a workflow for that.

Workflow for Marketing:

Need to put together a launch campaign? There’s a workflow for that.

Need to manage your social media? There’s a workflow for that.

Here’s how it works, in a simple example. Using an “off the shelf” tool you can have your phone check the weather and remind you to dress appropriately.

IF it’s likely to rain today THEN text me a message to bring my umbrella.

Have trouble maintaining your inbox and afraid you’re going to miss an important message from your manager?

IF <manager> sends me an email, THEN text <number>.

These are both super easy to set up with drag and drop workflow automation tools like “If this then that” and Microsoft Flow.

Workflows not only save time, they can relieve workers of a monotonous routine function enabling them to focus on more important work.

Workflows can capture institutional knowledge—reducing reliance on an individual by putting process into a system that can be shared and used by the entire organization. When a process is independent of an individual, that process can be decentralized, meaning that the knowledge of that process can be shared at scale.  Decentralized processes create speed, efficiency and transparency, critical factors in digital transformation.

In short, workflows save time through basic automation.  What’s amazing about workflows is how easily they scale, saving a little time for many which adds up to a whole lot for the organization.

About Noah:

240-Ullman,-NoahNoah is the Director of Business Development for BlumShapiro’s Technology Consulting Group. He brings over 25 years of business experience from entrepreneurial start ups, to over a decade of working at Microsoft in various sales, marketing and business development roles. Noah has launched Windows XP, Office XP, Tablet PC, Media Center PC, MSN Direct Smartwatches (an early IoTattempt), several videogames, a glove controller, and a wine import company/brand. Noah spent three years living overseas building out Microsoft’s Server and Tools business in Eastern Europe working with the IT Pro and developer communities. He considers himself a futurist, likes science fiction and loves applying what was recently science fiction to real world problems and opportunities. 

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