Tag Archives: Business

Announcing new AI and mixed reality business applications for Microsoft Dynamics – The Official Microsoft Blog

Today, I had the opportunity to speak to press and analysts in San Francisco about our vision for business applications at Microsoft. In addition, I had the privilege to make two very important announcements: the upcoming availability of new Dynamics 365 AI applications, and our very first mixed reality business applications: Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Dynamics 365 Layout.

Our vision for business applications at Microsoft

We live in a connected world where companies are challenged every day to innovate so they can stay ahead of emerging trends and repivot business models to take advantage of new opportunities to meet growing customer demands.

To innovate, organizations need to reimagine their processes. They need solutions that are modern, enabling new experiences for how they can engage their customers while making their people more productive. They need unified systems that break data silos, so they have a holistic view of their business, customers and employees. They need pervasive intelligence threaded throughout the platform, giving them the ability to reason over data, to predict trends and drive proactive intelligent action. And with adaptable applications, they can be nimble, allowing them to take advantage of the next opportunity that comes their way.

Two years ago, when we introduced Dynamics 365 we started a journey to tear down the traditional silos of customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP). We set out to reimagine business applications as modern, unified, intelligent and adaptable solutions that are integrated with Office 365 and natively built on Microsoft Azure.

With the release of our new AI and mixed reality applications we are taking another step forward on our journey to help empower every organization on the planet to achieve more through the accelerant of business applications. Specifically, today we are making the following announcements:

Dynamics 365 + AI

First, I am happy to announce the coming availability of a new Dynamics 365 AI offering — a new class of AI applications that will deliver out-of-the-box insights by unifying data and infusing it with advanced intelligence to guide decisions and empower organizations to take informed actions. And because these insights are easily extensible through the power of Microsoft Power BI, Azure and the Common Data Service, organizations will be able to address even the most complex scenarios specific to their business.

Dynamics 365 AI for Sales: AI can help salespeople prioritize their time to focus on deals that matter most, provide answers to the most common questions regarding the performance of sales teams, offer a detailed analysis of the sales pipeline, and surface insights that enable smarter coaching of sales teams.

Dynamics 365 AI for Customer Service: With Microsoft’s AI and natural language understanding, customer service data can surface automated insights that help guide employees to take action and can even leverage virtual agents to help lower support costs and enable delightful customer experiences, all without needing in-house AI experts and without writing any code.

Dynamics 365 AI for Market Insights: Helps empower your marketing, social media and market research teams to make better decisions with market insights. Marketers can improve customer relationships with actionable web and social insights to engage in relevant conversations and respond faster to trends.

To help bring this to life, today we released a video with our CEO, Satya Nadella, and Navrina Singh, a member of our Dynamics 365 engineering team, showing examples of ways we’re bringing the power of AI to customer service organizations.

Dynamics 365 + Mixed Reality

Our second announcement of the day centers on the work we are doing to bring mixed reality and business applications together.

Since the release of Microsoft HoloLens over two years ago, the team has learned a lot from customers and partners. The momentum that HoloLens has received within the commercial space has been overwhelmingly positive. This has been supported by increased demand and deployment from some of the world’s most innovative companies.

We recognize that many employees need information in context to apply their knowledge and craft. Not only on a 2-D screen — but information and data in context, at the right place, and at the right time, so employees can produce even greater impact for their organizations. Mixed reality is a technology uniquely suited to do exactly that.

This is a whole new kind of business application. And that’s precisely what we’re introducing today, Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Dynamics 365 Layout.

Today, we also showcased for the first time how Chevron is deploying HoloLens to take advantage of Dynamics 365 mixed reality business applications.

Chevron is already achieving real, measurable results with its global HoloLens deployment. Previously it was required to fly in an inspector from Houston to a facility in Singapore once a month to inspect equipment. Now it has in-time inspection using Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and can identify issues or provide approvals immediately.

In addition, remote collaboration and assistance have helped the company operate more safely in a better work environment, serving as a connection point between firstline workers and remote experts, as well as cutting down on travel and eliminating risks associated with employee travel.

Here is a peek into the work Chevron is doing with mixed reality:

Unlock what’s next with the Dynamics 365 October 2018 release

Next week at Microsoft Ignite and Microsoft Envision we’ll be in Orlando talking with thousands of customers, partners, developers, and IT and business leaders about our October 2018 release for Dynamics 365 and the Power platform that will be generally available Oct. 1. The wave of innovation this represents across the entire product family is significant, with hundreds of new capabilities and features.

We will have a lot more to talk about in the weeks and months ahead. We look forward to sharing more!

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Understand Windows Insider Program for Business options

The Windows Insider Program for Business provides features that help IT plan for and deploy GA builds when they arrive.

The Windows Insider Program, which Microsoft introduced in 2014, lets IT try out new features in the upcoming Windows release before Microsoft makes them generally available. Microsoft added the Windows Insider Program for Business in April 2018 to provide organizations with tools to better prepare for upcoming releases.

Windows Insider Program for Business

Microsoft designed the Windows Insider Program for Business specifically for organizations to deploy preview builds from Windows 10 and Windows Server to participating employees for testing before they are GA.

IT pros can register their domains with the service and control settings centrally rather than registering users or configuring machines individually. Individual users can also join the Windows Insider Program for Business on their own, independently of IT’s corporate-wide review.

Microsoft designed the Windows Insider Program for Business specifically for organizations to deploy preview builds from Windows 10 and Windows Server to participating employees for testing before they are GA.

The preview builds don’t replace the channel releases because IT doesn’t deploy the new builds across its organization. They’re simply earlier Windows 10 builds IT teams can use to prepare their organizations for the updates.

The Windows Insider Program for Business preview build releases make it possible for IT to implement new services and tools more quickly once the GA release is available. The previews also help IT ensure that Microsoft addressed data security and governance issues in advance of the release.

The Windows Insider Program for Business allows administrators, developers, testers and other users to see what effect a new release might have on their devices, applications and infrastructures. Microsoft includes the Feedback Hub for IT pros and users to submit reactions about their experiences, make requests for new features and identify issues such as application compatibility, security and performance problems.

Microsoft also offers the Windows Insider Lab for Enterprise, a test deployment for insiders who Microsoft specially selects to test new, experimental or prerelease enterprise security and privacy features. The lab provides insiders with a virtual test infrastructure that comes complete with typical enterprise technologies such as Windows Information Protection, Windows Defender Application Guard and Microsoft App-V.

Getting started with the insider program

Microsoft recommends organizations sign up for the Windows Insider Program for Business and dedicate at least a few devices to the program. IT pros must register their users with the service and set up the target devices to receive preview builds.

Microsoft also recommends that organizations use Azure Active Directory work accounts when registering with the service, whether an organization registers users individually or as part of a domain account. A domain registration makes it easier for IT to manage the participating devices and track feedback from users across the organization. Users that want to submit feedback on behalf of the organization must have a domain registration, as well.

IT can install and manage preview builds on individual devices or on the infrastructure and deploy the builds across multiple devices in the domain, including virtual machines. Using Group Policies, IT can also enable, disable, defer or pause preview installations and set the branch readiness levels, which determine when the preview builds are installed.

Microsoft’s three preview readiness branches

IT can configure devices so the preview builds install automatically or allow users to choose their own install schedules. With mobile device management tools such as Microsoft Intune, IT can take over the preview readiness branch settings, assigning each user one of three preview deployment branches.

Fast. Devices at the Fast level are the first to receive build and feature updates. This readiness level implies some risk because it is the least stable and some features might not work on certain devices. As a result, IT should only install Fast builds on secondary devices and limit these builds to a select group of users.

Slow. Devices at the Slow level receive updates after Microsoft applies user and organization feedback from the Fast build. These builds are more stable, but users don’t see them as early in the process compared to the Fast builds. The Slow level generally targets a broader set of users.

Release Preview. Devices at the Release Preview level are the last to receive preview builds, but these builds are the most stable. Users still get to see and test features in advance and can provide feedback, but they have a much smaller window between the preview build and the final release.

Is the Windows Insider Program for Business for everyone?

An organization that participates in the Windows Insider Program for Business must be able to commit the necessary resources to effectively take advantage of the program’s features. To meet this standard, organizations must ensure that they can dedicate the necessary hardware and infrastructure resources and choose users who have enough time to properly test the builds.

An organization’s decision to invest in these resources depends on its specific circumstances, but deploying a Windows update is seldom without a few hiccups. With the Windows Insider Program for Business, IT can avoid some of these issues.

Gartner Catalyst 2018: A future without data centers?

SAN DIEGO — Can other organizations do what Netflix has done — run a business without a data center? That’s the question that was posed by Gartner Inc. research vice president Douglas Toombs at the Gartner Catalyst 2018 conference.

While most organizations won’t run 100% of their IT in the cloud, the reality is that many workloads can be moved, Toombs told the audience.

“Your future IT is actually going to be spread across a number of different execution venues, and at each one of these venues you’re trading off control and choice, but you get the benefits of not having to deal with the lower layers,” he said.

Figure out the why, how much and when

When deciding why they are moving to the cloud, the “CEO drive-by strategy” — where the CEO swings in and says, “We need to move a bunch of stuff in the cloud, go make it happen,” — shouldn’t be the starting point, Toombs said.

“In terms of setting out your overall organizational priorities, what we want to do is get away from having just that as the basis and we want to try to think of … the real reasons why,” Toombs said.

Increasing business agility and accessing new technologies should be some of the top reasons why businesses would want to move their applications to the cloud, Toombs said. Once they have a sense of “why,” the next thing is figuring out “how much” of their applications will make the move. For most mainstream enterprises, the sweet spot seems to be somewhere between 40% and 80% of their overall applications, he said.

Businesses then need to figure out the timeframe to make this happen. Those trying to move 50% or 60% of their apps usually give themselves about three years to try and accomplish that goal, he said. If they’re more aggressive — with a target of 80% — they will need a five-year horizon, he said.

Whatever metric you pick, you want to track this very publicly over time within your organization.
Douglas Toombsresearch vice president, Gartner

“We need to get everyone in the organization with a really important job title — could be the top-level titles like CIO, CFO, COO — also in agreement and nodding along with us, and what we suggest for this is actually codifying this into a cloud strategy document,” Toombs told the audience at Gartner Catalyst 2018.

Dissecting application risk

Once organizations have outlined their general strategy, Toombs suggested they incorporate the CIA triad of confidentiality, integrity and availability for risk analysis purposes.

These three core pillars are essential to consider when moving an app to the cloud so the organization can determine potential risk factors.

“You can take these principles and start to think of them in terms of impact levels for an application,” he said. “As we look at an app and consider a potential new execution venue for it, how do we feel about the risk for confidentiality, integrity and availability — is this kind of low, or no risk, or is it really severe?”

Assessing probable execution venues

Organizations need to think very carefully about where their applications go if they exit their data centers, Toombs said. He suggested they assess their applications one-by-one, moving them off into other execution venues when they’re capable and are not going to increase overall risk

“We actually recommend starting with the app tier where you would have to give up the most control and look in the SaaS market,” he said. They can then look at PaaS, and if they have exhausted the PaaS options in the market, they can start to look at IaaS, he said.

However, if they have found an app that probably shouldn’t go to a cloud service but they still want to get to no data centers, organizations could talk to hosting providers that are out there — they’re happy to sell them hardware on a three-year contract and charge monthly for it — or go to a colocation provider. Even if they have put 30% of their apps in a colocation environment, they are not running data center space anymore, he said.

But if for some reason they have found an app that can’t be moved to any one of these execution venues, then they have absolutely justified and documented an app that now needs to stay on premises, he said. “It’s actually very freeing to have a no-go pile and say, ‘You know what, we just don’t think this can go or we just don’t think this is the right time for it, we will come back in three years and look at it again.'”

Kilowatts as a progress metric

While some organizations say they are going to move a certain percentage of their apps to the cloud, others measure in terms of number of racks or number of data centers or square feet of data center, he said.

Toombs suggested using kilowatts of data center processing power as a progress metric. “It is a really interesting metric because it abstracts away the complexities in the technology,” he said.

It also:

  • accounts for other overhead factors such as cooling;
  • easily shows progress with first migration;
  • should be auditable against a utility bill; and
  • works well with kilowatt-denominated colocation contracts.

“But whatever metric you pick, you want to track this very publicly over time within your organization,” he reminded the audience at the Gartner Catalyst 2018 conference. “It is going to give you a bit of a morale boost to go through your 5%, 10%, 15%, and say ‘Hey, we’re getting down the road here.'”

Microsoft Skype for Business update fixes Mac bugs

The latest software patch for on-premises Skype for Business eliminates bugs and adds features for users that run the Microsoft platform on Mac OS, narrowing an already minimal gap between the Mac and Windows clients.

For Mac users, the Skype for Business update lets delegates — users designated to receive someone else’s calls — create and edit a meeting on behalf of a colleague. Also, users can now be made a delegate even if their account isn’t part of an organization’s enterprise voice plan.

Microsoft has enabled video-based screen sharing for Mac users, the result of a next-generation screen-sharing protocol that the vendor added to Skype for Business earlier this year. The new system is faster and more reliable than the traditional method and works better in low-bandwidth conditions.

The Skype for Business update, available for download now, also fixes several bugs on the Mac client, including a flaw that prevented users from joining a meeting hosted by someone outside their organization.

Microsoft seems to announce updates to the Mac client more quickly than it does for other changes to the Skype for Business platform, and describes Mac upgrades in more detail, said Jim Gaynor, a vice president of the consulting group Directions on Microsoft, based in Kirkland, Wash.

“There are still a few gaps between SfB Mac and Windows clients, most around some of the advanced call control features, file upload/sharing, and the ability to upload PowerPoint decks for online presentations,” Gaynor said. “But they’re fairly minimal.”

Skype for Business 2015 server nears its end of life

The improvements to the Mac client were among roughly 40 enhancements released as part of Microsoft’s biannual update to the Skype for Business 2015 server.

This summer’s Skype for Business update introduces location-based routing for Skype for Business mobile clients. The feature gives businesses more control when steering calls between VoIP and PSTN endpoints based on geography.

Microsoft is expected to stop releasing feature updates and bug fixes for the 2015 server in fall 2020, the end of the typical five-year lifespan for the product.

The vendor recently published a preview of the 2019 server, which is due out by year’s end. That server will extend support for on-premises Skype for Business for at least another five years, primarily to serve large organizations that are not ready to migrate to Skype’s cloud-based successor, Microsoft Teams.

The 2019 server will encourage businesses to host some telephony and messaging features in the cloud. Meanwhile, Microsoft Teams, a team collaboration app similar to Slack, will soon replace Skype for Business Online within the cloud-based Office 365 suite.

BP Logix BPM tool packs AI features in latest release

Low-code BPM development tools today already help developers simplify and speed up business process application development. The next step is to make those apps smarter.

To that end, BP Logix, a business process management (BPM) company in Vista, Calif., recently introduced version 5.0 of its Process Director that adds AI features to enable predictive analysis, enhanced UIs and journals for configurable collaboration.

Rather than present complex AI features, Process Director 5.0 offers a set of basic machine learning tools that the average app developer can use, such as a point-and-click graphical interfaces that guide configuration processes and display results of analytics, with no coding required.

Embedding intelligence into business applications requires specialized knowledge and teams of data scientists, said Charles Araujo, principal analyst for Intellyx, a consulting firm in Glens Falls, N.Y. Process Director 5.0’s blend of AI and low-code features brings predictive application processes to nontechnical users.

“The value Process Director 5.0 delivers is less about features, per se, and more about accessibility,” Araujo said.

AI inside

The AI tools inside Process Director 5.0 enable machine learning, sentiment analysis, capture and expression of dissimilar events and conditions in a single state and configurable collaboration. The company also added UI features for iterative list search, calendar views, and inline HTML and text editing.

“AI and machine learning create prediction models that have been missing from BPM,” said Neil Ward-Dutton, research director for MWD Advisors, a U.K.-based IT consulting firm. With AI, the application learns from past history, identifies trends and makes recommendations for decisions.

As an example, Ward-Dutton pointed to how AI capabilities can help with a loan request by identifying factors that make the applicant and the loan’s purpose a low or high risk. Combined data mining and machine learning tools aggregate information about previous loan applications and current market conditions to help the loan officer make a decision.

AI and machine learning create prediction models that have been missing from BPM platforms.
Neil Ward-Duttonresearch director, MWD Advisors

Araujo said he sees businesses with reliable data on actions and outcomes adopt AI-enabled, predictive-type applications quickly and with good results. Developers can use that legacy data to build models that predict behavior of application users who meet certain criteria and perform specific actions. With these functions, the tool recommends a best action and prioritizes options that are presented to the user, so the application feels more intuitive or takes actions automatically.

Applying AI for nontechnical users, even with accessible tools, requires a change in traditional BPM project approaches. Araujo said project teams will have to think like a data scientist.

“Applying intelligence to applications requires imagination,” he said. “Developers need to think about application usage patterns and imagine ways to use predictive capabilities to meet users’ needs.”

“That’s not the way we’ve historically approached applications, particularly business-process-based ones,” Araujo added.

Process Director 5.0 is generally available, with versions for both cloud and on premises. In addition to AI and low-code/no-code development tools, the platform includes traditional BPM capabilities for compliance automation, process modeling, multifactor authentication and other standard BPM features.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 updates add AI features to CRM

When incorporated into business applications, AI can provide insights into how best to engage potential customers, predict customer needs, answer questions and, ultimately, sell products. Microsoft hopes to enable all that in its latest Dynamics 365 updates for marketing, sales and customer service.

At the Microsoft Business Applications Summit 2018, James Phillips, corporate vice president of the vendor’s business applications group, said in a keynote that the Dynamics 365 updates change the platform from something that feels like “a surveillance system” to a business intelligence (BI) tool incorporating AI-driven analytics.

CRM “is not a category of software that people are deeply in love with,” Phillips said. “A salesperson sits down and enters their leads and opportunities. It’s for someone else, so they can track the forecast, understand the pipeline [and] whether you’re doing your job or not.”

The granularity of the AI tools Microsoft added with the Dynamics 365 updates will likely be useful for the average end user, said Kate Leggett, analyst at Forrester Research.

“What Microsoft is really excelling at is infusing AI into all their applications to help the business user — whether it is a marketing or salesperson or customer service agent — make the right decisions for that particular interaction,” Leggett said.

Business-user AI: Microsoft’s strength

On the stage at the July 2018 conference, Tammy Mihailidis, vice president of digital customer engagement at Polaris, a maker of power sport vehicles based in Medina, Minn., spoke about how Polaris uses Dynamics 365’s marketing, sales and service platforms to give its customers a more personalized shopping experience.

Phillips said Dynamics 365 and its Power BI tools help organizations analyze traffic patterns of email and other communications and marry that information with LinkedIn to help understand where they should focus sales efforts.

Microsoft is trying to break down the artificial division between the front office and the back office by making the CRM assets available to all users.
Kate Leggettanalyst, Forrester Research

“As a salesperson, I have got a tool now that helps me focus my attention, helps guide me to success and isn’t simply about keeping track of what I am doing,” Phillips said.

Using Polaris as an example, Ryan Darby Martin, a senior product marketing manager at Microsoft, demonstrated how this process would look to both the customer — in this case, a fictional municipality — and to the Polaris agents, from within Dynamics 365.

The process with the Dynamics 365 updates includes a chatbot answering questions from a potential customer, predictive lead scoring recommending that sales staff focus on this particular lead, making the sale and welcoming the customer.

“We are actually able to track all of those interactions and calculate the health score of this particular lead,” Martin said. “We could see the time that was spent by us, but also the time that was spent by them. For example, I can actually see if they opened [an] email, if they clicked on the attachment, if they viewed the link [and] how many times they were responding to us.”

Getting AI into end users’ hands the end goal

The integration of the marketing, sales and service platform is an example of what Leggett said makes CRM features more accessible to end users.

“Microsoft is trying to break down the artificial division between the front office and the back office by making the CRM assets available to all users with its integration into Skype and the Office products,” she said. “They are making it very easy to consume. It’s probably one of the most inexpensive enterprise solutions available.”

In addition being a venue for unveiling the Dynamics 365 updates, the conference was an opportunity for Microsoft to announce it would be releasing updates to its suite of products twice a year. Each release will be preceded by release notes that will help IT professionals prepare for the software updates months in advance, according to Microsoft.

“Companies have to be continually innovating,” Leggett said. “You are getting new releases twice a year, and when that happens, you need to have change management processes in place to be able to understand the changes, communicate them to the end users and then roll out these new releases to you CRM users.”

Centra embraces transformation, improves patient care with Microsoft 365 intelligent business tools – Microsoft 365 Blog

Today’s post was written by Joseph (Jody) Hobbs, managing director of business applications and information security officer at Centra.

Profile picture of Jody Hobbs.Centra is proud to count itself among the early adopters of cloud technology in the healthcare field. Back in 2014, we saw cloud computing as a way to keep up with the rapid growth we were experiencing across the enterprise—and the challenge of adapting to industry changes under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Five years later, we’re still using Microsoft Cloud services to remain on the leading edge of business productivity software so that we can provide exceptional patient care.

With Microsoft 365, we are better able to adapt to industry-wide changes introduced by ACA, such as the transition from a fee-for-service model to a quality-based model. This change made capturing data and analytics very important, because now reimbursement is based on quality of care, not quantity of services. We use Power BI, the data analytics tool from Microsoft Office 365 E5, to meet new healthcare reporting requirements and provide a wealth of data to our clinicians. They use this data to measure their performance against quality benchmarks to improve patient experiences and health outcomes.

We also turned to Microsoft 365 to help address Centra data security and privacy policies. Microsoft accommodated our requirement for data to remain in the continental United States, which helps us comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations that are standard in the healthcare industry. We also found a great solution for emailing sensitive information by combining a Microsoft two-factor authentication solution with our existing encryption appliance. Microsoft invests an incredible amount in its security posture, more than we ever could, and this, along with the knowledge that our data is not intermingled with others’ data in the tenant, gives us peace of mind. And we use Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection, which gives us great insight into malicious activities aimed at our employees’ inboxes.

Keeping our Firstline Workers flexible and mobile is another major priority. We plan to get all our clinical workers online with Office 365 to actualize our vision for a more productive, mobile workforce. We have almost 4,000 employees taking advantage of Office 365 ProPlus and downloading up to five instances of Office 365 on a range of devices. This makes it seamless for them to work from home or the office using the same powerful, cloud-based productivity apps.

As Centra continues to grow from a network of hospitals to an assortment of health-related enterprises, adding everything from a college of nursing to our own insurance business, we see a cloud-based workplace solution as key to staying agile and making the most of our momentum. In Microsoft 365, we have found a solution that marries the strict security requirements of our industry with the needs of a workforce that demands anytime, anywhere access to colleagues and information. For Centra, change isn’t just a matter of increasing productivity or mobility—at the end of the day, our ability to stay up to date with the latest technology innovations means we are providing the best care possible.

Read the case study to learn more about how Centra uses Microsoft 365 to improve quality-based healthcare practices and establish mobile, highly secure work environments to expedite patient care.

ChannelCon 2018: MSPs face operational growing pains

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A time comes in a service provider’s life when the early adrenaline-rush of business growth begins to fade and a harsh reality settles in: To continue to grow, and grow profitably, an organization must take deliberate steps to boost operational efficiency.

“It’s not the sexiest topic, but it is so important,” said Carolyn April, senior director of industry analysis at CompTIA. April chaired a panel discussion on operational efficiency improvement at ChannelCon 2018, CompTIA’s annual channel partner event. At last year’s ChannelCon, the benefits of diversity were an important focus, while previous meetings highlighted such topics as compliance controls.

A recent CompTIA survey of managed service providers (MSPs) and other channel partners revealed the key operational pain points. Half of the 450 organizations polled cited pricing pressure from customers or competitors as the top operations issue hurting profitability in the last year. Inefficient service delivery and inefficient sales process followed, with 28% of the respondents identifying the former and 27% of the respondents citing the latter.

April said even MSPs raking in sales could be “leaking margin left and right” due to inefficiency.

Carolyn April, senior director of industry analysis at CompTIACarolyn April

Operational efficiency improvement calls for a proactive approach that ensures a service provider has processes in place to run the business well — versus a reactive approach that hinges on extinguishing fires, April noted.

“The respondents having the hardest time and experiencing the most problems in their businesses are the ones that are reactive and not proactive,” she said.

Cultural focus

For Paul Cronin, operational efficiency is built on a cultural foundation. Cronin, facilitator of excellence at Cronin Corp., an MSP, participated in the ChannelCon 2018 panel discussion.

“I believe that operational efficiency begins with a culture of discipline,” he said.

A culture of discipline is one aspect of great companies, as defined in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t. The book studied companies that made the jump to superior financial performance and were able to sustain that edge for at least 15 years.

I believe that operational efficiency begins with a culture of discipline.
Paul Croninfacilitator of excellence, Cronin Corp.

Cronin said he taught a monthly leadership workshop on Good to Great while he was an executive at Atrion, a systems integrator acquired by Carousel Industries in 2017. He is now beginning to shape the culture at his new venture.

Another component of Cronin’s operational efficiency approach is Lean methodology and, in particular, the framework’s focus on small, incremental changes as a mechanism for process improvement.

“We are very focused on Lean,” he said, noting the aim of empowering people to make small changes happen.

Vince Tinnirello, CEO at Anchor Network Solutions, an MSP in the Denver area, said he uses the TruMethods framework, which provides metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to help MSPs determine when to hire and expand or contract. “Find a framework and stick to it,” he advised the ChannelCon 2018 audience.

Signing up for an MSP peer group can also help a company along the efficiency track.

“Join a peer group because it is business-changing,” he said.

All aboard?

In addition to management frameworks, service providers can deploy automated systems to boost efficiency. Remote monitoring and management (RMM) and professional services automation (PSA) software are among the automation options an MSP may select.

April said PSA and RMM tools are important, but suggested the human dimension may prove the bigger challenge for service providers. Indeed, operational efficiency panelists and audience members noted that companies sometimes struggle to get employees to follow the processes and procedures designed to improve efficiency.

An engineer, for example, may prefer to “just get the job done” and ignore KPIs, processes and procedures along the way, one audience member said. In addition, employees hired at a more senior level may think they are smarter than the “dumb” processes the company wants them to adopt, another audience member noted.

Tinnirello agreed that getting every employee to do things the same way has proved to be a difficult task — even with checklists and policies and procedures. A tool such as an RMM system can help standardize service delivery, but Tinnirello noted that an RMM can’t automate every customer request. He said his company now aims to “automate where we can and make processes that people actually follow where you can’t automate.”

Operational efficiency improvement: Keeping score

MJ Shoer, director of client engagement and virtual CIO at Onepath, an MSP and professional services firm, said the company drills employees in its processes from the time of onboarding. Onepath’s approach, he said, is to hire Level One employees and move them up to more advanced positions, rather than bring on employees at a higher level.

The approach, Shoer explained, lets the company “maintain the structure we want,” while also providing the appropriate flexibility to adapt to market changes.

MJ Shoer, director of client engagement and vCIO at OnepathMJ Shoer

Onepath, meanwhile, uses performance scorecards to maintain a focus on KPIs. The scorecards track KPIs at the individual level and roll up to department-level and companywide KPIs.

But as MSPs enforce KPIs that support corporate goals, they should limit the number of goals to management amount. Cronin suggested the pursuit of too many goals is the mark of an inefficient company.

“We never had more than three company goals for the year,” he said. That’s not to say the company didn’t focus on other actions to move it forward, but the three main goals cascaded down through the organization, he added.

Cronin cited three top metrics: net promotor score, top-line revenue growth and EBITDA.

“Start small,” Cronin told ChannelCon 2018 attendees. “Don’t boil the ocean.”

Innovation leaders must learn to ‘co-create’ the future

Conventional ideas about leadership no longer hold when business success depends on continual innovation, said Linda Hill, the Wallace Brett Donham professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School and co-author of the book Collective Genius: The Art and Practice of Leading Innovation.

She cited as an example how her mentors, John Potter and Warren Bennis, scholars who helped pioneer the contemporary field of leadership studies, defined leadership. For them, leadership is largely about the ability to come up with a vision, communicate that vision and then get people to fulfill that vision. While that sort of top-down approach is effective for leading change, leading innovation is different, argued Hill, who has spent the last decade studying leaders of innovation around the globe.

“Innovation leaders see their primary role not as the visionary, but as the creator of a context in which others are willing and able to innovate,” said Hill during a keynote session at the recent LiveWorx event in Boston in which she offered up advice to IT professionals on leading innovation.

In other words, as a leader of innovation, you’re not necessarily the person who’s out in front telling everybody “this is where we’re going,” Hill said. Instead, you’re the “stage setter” — giving the players a shared purpose and letting them go from there.

“If you want to innovate and if you want to get at something new, you have to unleash the talents and the passions of individuals,” Hill said.

However, if innovation leaders want those individual sparks of innovation to be useful, they have to figure out how to harness all the diverse ideas, talents and passions of their teams to do something that actually meets the needs of the collective good. That’s one of the many tests leaders face: whether they can unleash and harness, Hill said.

Give them space

When it comes to unleashing innovation, a gentle push in the right direction is better than a forceful shove, according to Hill.

You cannot tell people to innovate. Formal authority has nothing to do with whether they’ll innovate.
Linda Hillprofessor of business administration, Harvard Business School

“You cannot tell people to innovate,” Hill said. “Formal authority has nothing to do with whether they’ll innovate. You have to get people to volunteer and want to do what is really emotionally and intellectually taxing work.”

A piece of that puzzle is understanding that these people “don’t want to follow you to the future, they want to co-create that future with you,” Hill said. Innovation leaders need to create the space where that co-creation can happen — where a leader’s vision serves as a starting point rather than an ending point.

Steve Jobs understood that innovation comes from collective genius, not solo genius,” Hill said. “Innovation is a team sport. [Successful innovation leaders like Jobs] really think you need to be a part of a community if you’re going to be able to innovate.”

Hill also relayed some interesting advice from her friend and study subject Bill Coughran, former senior vice president of engineering at Google. Coughran’s advice to innovation leaders when people come to them looking for guidance: “Keep it fuzzy.”

“They’re going to get nervous, depressed and frustrated and they’re going to come to you and want you to tell them what to do,” Hill said. “But the first time you tell them, that’s it. They’ll rely on you too much, they’ll delegate back to you and they won’t do the collaborative work that needs to be done.”

Hill said it’s the innovation leader’s job to coach everyone in the organization, no matter their position, how to be not only a “value creator,” but also a “game-changer.” A value creator is someone who knows how to identify and close the performance gap — the gap between where the organization is now and where it should be. A game-changer is someone who knows how to identify and close the “opportunity gap” — a gap between where the organization is now and where it could be.

In fact, if innovation leaders want to hold onto talent, they need to give the talent the chance to work on opportunity gaps, Hill said. That usually means letting the talent work on cutting-edge projects. If innovation leaders don’t do that, the talent is more likely to defect because they’re not going learn the expertise required to make new things happen and therefore they’re not going to be as marketable.

Innovation leaders, it seems, can’t be without vision themselves. To create an environment where new things happen — and where the talent is excited to innovate — leaders need to have a clear “point of view” on technology and innovation, as Hill put it. “If you don’t have a point of view, they don’t want to play with you,” she said.

Taking stock of Windows Server management tools

The right Windows server management tools keep the business running with minimal interruptions. But administrators should be open to change as the company’s needs evolve.

Many organizations run on mix of new and old technologies that complicate the maintenance workload of the IT staff. Administrators need to take stock of their systems and get a complete rundown of all the variables associated with the server operating systems under their purview. While it might not be possible to use one utility to run the entire data center, administrators must assess which tool offers the most value by weighing the capabilities of each.

For these everyday tasks, administrators have a choice of several Windows server management tools that come at no extra cost. Some have been around for years, while others recently emerged from development. The following guide helps IT workers understand why certain tools work well in particular scenarios.

Choose a GUI or CLI tool?

Windows server management tools come in two flavors: graphical user interface (GUI) and command-line interface (CLI).

Many administrators will admit it’s easier to work with a GUI tool because the interface offers point-and-click management without a need to memorize commands. A disadvantage to a GUI tool is the amount of time it takes to execute a command, especially if there are a large number of servers to manage.

Administrators can use both PowerShell versions side by side, which might be necessary for some shops.

Learning how to use and implement a CLI tool can be a slow process because it takes significant effort to learn the language. One other downside is many of these CLI tools were not designed to work together; the administrator must learn how to pipe output from one CLI tool to the next to develop a workflow.

A GUI tool is ideal when there are not many servers to manage, or for one-time or infrequent tasks. A CLI tool is more effective for performing a series of actions on multiple servers.

This tip offers more specifics about the two interfaces used with server management tools.

Windows Admin Center: A new management contender

Windows Admin Center, formerly Project Honolulu, is a GUI tool that combines local and remote server management tools in a single console for a consolidated administrative experience.

Windows Admin Center is one of Microsoft’s newer Windows server management tools that makes it easier to work with nondomain machines, particularly those running Server Core.

Windows Admin Center can only manage Windows systems and lacks the functionality IT workers have come to expect with the Remote Server Administration Tools application.

Administrators interested in using Windows Admin Center as one of their primary Windows server management tools should be aware of potential security issues before implementing it in their data center.

This article provides additional details about the features of this tool.

A venerable offering expands to new platforms

Now more than 10 years old, PowerShell is one of the key Windows server management tools due to its potent ability to manage multiple machines through scripting. No longer just a Windows product, Microsoft converted the automation and configuration management tool into an open source project. Microsoft initially called this new offering PowerShell Core, but now refers to it as just PowerShell. The open source version of PowerShell runs on Linux and macOS platforms. Microsoft supports Windows PowerShell but does not plan to add more features to it.

Administrators can use both PowerShell versions side by side, which might be necessary for some shops. At the moment, Windows PowerShell provides more functionality because certain features have yet to be ported to PowerShell Core.

This link offers more information about the differences between the two versions that administrators need to know.