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SAP Ariba Discovery now open to all buyers and suppliers

To help mitigate massive disruptions to the global supply chain, SAP is making it easier for buyers and suppliers to connect by providing free access to SAP Ariba Discovery.

The move was announced in conjunction with SAP Ariba Live, an annual conference that was recast as a virtual conference Wednesday due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Chris HaydonChris Haydon

SAP Ariba Discovery is a service that enables buyers and suppliers to connect on the SAP Ariba Network, which currently includes 4 million suppliers. Buyers have always been able to join the network for free, but suppliers must pay fees after they have made connections with buyers on the network. The supplier fees are being waived until at least June 30, 2020, at which point the situation will be reevaluated and the free access may be extended, said Chris Haydon, president of the SAP procurement solutions area.

The move was made to help alleviate global supply chain disruption because of the coronavirus outbreak crisis, Haydon said.

As the COVID-19 outbreak unfolded, SAP saw SAP Ariba Discovery as a useful tool that enables buyers to find supply sources, regardless if they were an existing SAP Ariba customer, Haydon said.

SAP Discovery Server enables buyers and suppliers to connect on the Ariba Network.

“We wanted to remove the barriers by making it free to any supplier for the next 90 days,” he said. “In many ways, it’s a custom-built tool for this dynamic sourcing of demand, and given the times we’re in, we just thought it was the right thing to do.”

The move was a positive step in a time of crisis, said Predrag Jakovljevic, principal industry analyst with Technology Evaluation Centers, a Montreal-based enterprise technology analysis firm.

Given the times we’re in, we just thought it was the right thing to do.
Chris HaydonPresident of procurement solutions area, SAP

“Opening up the [SAP Ariba Discovery] to all suppliers and buyers without any fees charged by Ariba Network is a nice gesture to help companies navigate during these trying times of disruption,” Jakovljevic said. “If your usual suppliers are unable to help you today, there might be some in regions still not — or less — affected by coronavirus, who are also begging for some business.”

Simple, intelligent procurement UI

At the virtual SAP Ariba Live conference, which happened in the form of a series of video presentations, SAP demonstrated the integrated procurement environment that it calls “intelligent spend management.”

SAP Ariba, SAP Fieldglass and S/4HANA operational procurement are now integrated under a single UI that runs on top of the HANA database, and is connected through SAP Cloud Platform.

The idea is to provide a simpler, common user experience, but intelligent spend management goes further than that, Haydon said.

“Intelligent spend management is a forward-looking way to think about procurement. It’s about using technology that focuses its power on the tasks that can and should be automated or eliminated so you can focus on the aspects of business that can and should have human expertise,” he said. “We need to get beyond focusing only on creating simple screens and UIs and, instead, power procurement to succeed amongst today’s known disruptions and the unknown disruptions of tomorrow.”

This integration of procurement applications and embedding of intelligence could make SAP stronger in the areas of direct procurement and sourcing by integrating data from S/4HANA ERP such as bills of materials (BOMs), routing and manufacturing planning into the process, Jakovljevic said.

“One thing to watch about all that integration with S/4HANA is whether [SAP Ariba] is becoming serious about direct procurement and sourcing, which is much more complicated than buying the office staples,” he said. “Ariba has always been strong in the indirect materials space and perhaps is now getting serious about catching up with the likes of Jaggaer or SourceDay.”

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Salesforce adds new features to Trailhead Live and Go mobile app

Salesforce has added two new features to both Trailhead Live and the Trailhead Go mobile app, making it easier to connect with other users and learn on the go.

Trailhead Live, which features training sessions about Salesforce-related topics with instructors in real time, now includes expert-led Q&As during live broadcasts, enabling viewers to ask instructors questions during sessions. Sessions can also now include live chat capabilities, giving viewers the opportunity to speak with one another. Live is no longer only available to desktop users; it is also available on the Trailhead Go mobile app.

“While it’s great to follow a recorded video, the reality is that at some point you want to be able to interact in real time with a trainer,” said Nicole France, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. “Live training sessions — even virtual ones — are the only way to do that.”

Learning on the go

Live was one of the most requested Trailhead features on both the mobile app and desktop site, said Amber Boaz, a Salesforce MVP and Salesforce solution architect at Rapid7.

“Lots of users learn in different ways, and Trailhead Live fills a hole in Trailhead functionality,” Boaz said.

Trailhead is Salesforce’s free customer success learning platform, enabling both users and nonusers to gain skills in the CRM giant’s systems.

Greg Grothaus, a Salesforce administrator at Cloud Pathfinder and a platform app builder, has logged 20 to 30 hours on Trailhead Go since its launch at Dreamforce 2019, and three to five hours with Trailhead Live. For the most part, he finds the app helpful when he doesn’t have access to his laptop or a full web browser and is a way to fill his time when he has a few minutes to spare.

In the old days when we had downtime during a commute, we would listen to audiobooks. Now we can get job skills, for free.
Greg GrothausSalesforce administrator, Cloud Pathfinder

“In the old days when we had downtime during a commute, we would listen to audiobooks,” he said. “Now we can get job skills, for free.”

Grothaus is currently working toward his third Salesforce certification — Sales Cloud consultant. This is the fourth most-sought certification after administrator, platform app builder and platform developer I, according to the Mason Frank Salary Survey 2019/2020. The survey also showed that 94% of survey respondents use the Salesforce training tool.

Boaz also uses the Go app in her spare time, in place of mindlessly scrolling through Twitter or playing Candy Crush.

“Hour for hour though, I do more Trailhead on my laptop than my phone,” she said.

Trailhead Go shortcomings

While the Trailhead Go mobile app makes it convenient for Salesforce users to study for certifications and learn more about the product, it is not a replacement for the desktop site.

Trailhead Go screenshot
This personalized homepage on the Trailhead Go app provides a link to Trailhead Live materials.

Trailhead Go users are able to do the reading portions of training modules from the app, but when they need to do any hands-on work in a sandbox, the app asks users to open a Salesforce training environment, moving them from the app to the full website version of Trailhead.

“To do the work in the sandbox, you really need a mouse and a keyboard,” Grothaus said.

Trailhead Go is currently only available for iOS, while the full site is available on any device.

The reason for an iOS-only mobile app is that a high proportion of the Trailhead audience is likely on some form of iOS device, France said.

“Nevertheless, Salesforce is definitely missing a trick in not making it available to Android users as well,” she said.

Trailhead users who want to take advantage of real-time broadcasts can view the schedule in advance on the Trailhead Live webpage.

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H-1B lottery change may drive increase in visa applicants

The U.S. government’s new electronic H-1B visa registration will make it easier for employers to submit a visa applicant. But there is concern it might encourage more visa petitions and make it harder for employers to win the H-1B lottery.

That’s one of the issues raised by immigration attorneys who apply for visas on behalf of employers. They are also worried about the reliability of the electronic system once it goes live March 1.

The U.S. has put in rules to discourage employers from gaming the new system. Officials also insist that the technology is ready. But there’s still plenty of doubt and questions among users.

Previously, employers mailed a paper application and a check covering fees that could total in the thousands. The U.S. issues 85,000 work H-1B visas each year, but last year received 190,000 applications. An H-1B lottery randomly selects the visa winners.

With the electronic system, employers pay $10 and fill out an online registration to be entered into the H-1B lottery, which is held in April. If a company’s visa candidate wins, the employer then has 90 days to submit a full petition by mail with all the required fees.

Will the system work as advertised?

Immigration attorneys worry about the reliability of the electronic system. Could a flood of registrations on March 1 overwhelm it? The electronic system for H-2B visas for labor and agricultural workers crashed earlier this year.

Because entering the H-1B lottery is cheap and relatively easy, immigration attorneys also wonder if the electronic system will encourage more employers to enter candidates.

“I do think we will see an increase in the number of cases that are entered in the lottery,” said Chad Blocker, immigration attorney and partner at Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP in Los Angeles. The $10 registration fee is “not enough to dissuade any employers from filing,” he said.

“There’s just no real downside to submitting a case,” Blocker said. He wouldn’t be surprised to see a 20% to 30% increase in petitions.

But Blocker does see merit in the electronic system. “What we’ve been doing in the past is terribly inefficient,” he said.

HR managers may coordinate H-1B hiring by working with their in-house legal staff or outside counsel. The electronic registration process is expected to reduce business costs because firms won’t have to pay to submit a completed visa application unless they win the H-1B lottery.

For its part, the U.S. government estimates it will save $1.6 million annually in H-1B processing costs as a result of moving to an electronic registration system. It is spending about $1.5 million to create the electronic system, although this is a one-time cost, not including annual maintenance charges.

USCIS rules to prevent abuse

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has established some rules it hopes will keep employers from flooding the registration system. They include prohibiting an employer from submitting more than one registration for the same beneficiary in the same fiscal year. The government also requires registrants to attest their intent that they plan to follow through with the visa petition, should they win the lottery.

Sharvari Dalal-Dheini, director of government affairs for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said it’s hard to predict how the electronic system will impact registration volumes.

There is, however, “general anxiety” among immigration attorneys about “how USCIS will operationalize this and whether it will be rolled out seamlessly,” Dalal-Dheini said.

The U.S. will begin taking H-1B petitions March 1 for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2020. The USCIS planned to launch the electronic registration for this fiscal year, but suspended it “to ensure that the system met requirements,” USCIS spokesman Matthew Bourke said in an email. The government “conducted sufficient stress-testing and evaluation before determining the registration process was ready for implementation,” he said.

Bourke said the pilot testing phase was successful, but added that “USCIS can suspend the registration requirement if it experiences technical challenges with the H-1B registration process and/or the new electronic system that would be used to submit H-1B registrations, or if the system otherwise is inoperable for any reason.”

The electronic registration period will run from March 1 to March 20. The government will lengthen that period if needed or re-open the registration if there are problems, Bourke said.

Worry remains, despite assurances

USCIS assurances aside, there is worry among immigration attorneys about whether the system will work without glitches. They also have questions about how it will work. Will they be notified, for instance, once a registration is accepted and submitted to the H-1B lottery?

Among those with concerns is Amanda Franklin, an immigration attorney at Moore & Van Allen PLLC in Charlotte, N.C.

There’s a lot of concern and a lot of questions about how this is going to work, and if it doesn’t work, then what?
Amanda FranklinImmigration attorney, Moore & Van Allen PLLC

Franklin expects filers to try to register March 1, the day the system opens. “The government’s ability to keep their technology up and running with high volume is notoriously bad,” she said.

“There’s a lot of concern and a lot of questions about how this is going to work, and if it doesn’t work, then what?” Franklin said.

Franklin isn’t sure the registration system itself will encourage more employers to file H-1B visa petitions. If employers want to hire someone, they’re going to do what they need to do, whether it’s a paper-based application or an electronic one, she said.

Punam Rogers, an immigration attorney and partner in the Boston office of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete LLP, said she hopes USCIS “has enough IT support and help desk support to assist attorneys and employers who are going to be filing.”

Rogers, overall, likes the new process. It helps manage resources “so you don’t have to file all your applications all at once, only those that are selected” for the lottery. 

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8×8 Video Meetings replaces outdated offering in X Series

8×8 has replaced its old online meetings product with a new one that offers more features and is easier to use. The platform is available only to businesses subscribed to 8×8’s unified communications suite, but the company said it may make the service available as a stand-alone app in the future.

The old 8X8 video conferencing product — built with a mix of technologies, including some from Vidyo — didn’t cut it for many customers, executives said. The company used the Jitsi open source video conferencing software that it acquired from Atlassian last year to build the new product, called 8×8 Video Meetings.

“The feedback that we heard from our customers, and where we saw the market going, really necessitated that we … swap out our whole meetings product for a new and modern video communications solution,” said Meghan Keough, 8×8’s vice president of marketing.

The new platform lets guests join meetings without having to install a plug-in or download an app. 8×8 follows the lead of Cisco, BlueJeans, Highfive and others in embracing WebRTC, the latest standard for internet-based communications.

8×8 Video Meetings also gives users their own virtual meeting rooms and lets them live-stream meetings to YouTube. Other new features include more detailed analytics and the ability to remotely control a user’s desktop while in a meeting, which could be useful for IT troubleshooting.

“I like what 8×8 has done,” said Wayne Kurtzman, analyst at IDC. “They basically updated the system, made it more usable in more places in an enterprise and are not charging more for it.”

8×8 also rolled out an early access program for software to manage video conferencing hardware in conference rooms. The product offers a way to connect third-party video cameras from vendors like Logitech and Crestron (powered by minicomputers by Mac and Intel) to 8×8’s video services.

In July, Gartner named 8×8 one of four leaders in the unified communications as a service (UCaaS) market, alongside Microsoft, Cisco and RingCentral. But the research firm previously cautioned that 8×8 offered an unintuitive video conferencing platform with a limited set of features.

8×8 Video Meetings is part of the vendor’s X Series offering, which combines calling, messaging, meetings and contact center.

The company has attempted to differentiate itself from competitors by its own technology, rather than relying on partners. RingCentral, nearly twice as large as 8×8 by revenue, relies on Zoom for video calling and Nice inContact for contact center.

“8×8 is trying to be a complete one-cloud solution for communication and collaboration,” Kurtzman said.

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Cohesity Agile Dev and Test quickly delivers clean test data

Cohesity wants to make it easier for developers to get copies of data quickly.

Cohesity Agile Dev and Test, released into beta this week, is an add-on to Cohesity DataPlatform.  The feature makes clones of data sets stored by DataPlatform, allowing test/dev teams to access data without going through other teams.

Cohesity Agile Dev and Test allows DevOps teams to provision backup data without having to go through a typical request-fulfill model.

Usually when developers need a copy of the business’s data for testing or development, they would have to request it from the production or backup teams. This data needs to be accurate and up-to-date for ideal test results, but it also has to be scrubbed of personally identifiable information (PII) and otherwise masked to prevent exposing the test/dev teams to compliance issues. The process could take weeks, which is too long for time-sensitive development such as Agile projects and anything to do with machine learning.

Cohesity claims its software performs data masking before it is pulled to ensure test/dev teams have a “clean” copy to work with.

Similar products that use backup copies of data for test/dev purposes already exist, such as Actifio Sky and Cohesity’s own CloudSpin. The difference with Cohesity Agile Dev and Test is the data doesn’t need to be stood up in its own environment — it doesn’t create a separate silo of data. Sky and CloudSpin spin up the data into another environment, such as a physical server or virtual machine.

screenshot of Cohesity Agile Dev and Test
Cohesity Agile Dev and Test creates data clones, which don’t need to be stood up in another environment, rather than data copies.

Old idea, new implementation

Christophe Bertrand, senior analyst at IT research firm Enterprise Strategy Group, said Cohesity Agile Dev and Test doesn’t solve a technology problem so much as a workflow one. Making copies is nothing new, but a streamlined way to get those copies into the hands of test/dev people is.

“We’ve known for a very long time how to replicate data, but the workflow behind it is not really in place,” said Bertrand. “This is just the next step. It’s exactly what they [Cohesity] should be doing.”

Bertrand said his research shows that many enterprises want to make use of copies of data, to transform from simply having backup copies toward a model of intelligent data management. Businesses want interconnectivity across the organization to ensure any IT operation can access and make use of data. Bertrand said the market is headed in that direction as organizations that can develop faster are inherently at an advantage.

The test/dev people want data that is fresh, compliant, secure and not corrupted. They want to be able to access this data quickly and independently, in order to rapidly turn around their projects. It’s a different audience from the backup admin group, said Bertrand, as they’re not worried about things like availability and RTO/RPO.

The DevOps person doesn’t know or care about the intricacies of DR or backup.
Christophe BertrandSenior analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group

“The DevOps person doesn’t know or care about the intricacies of DR or backup,” Bertrand said.

Bertrand said Cohesity Agile Dev and Test’s main value proposition is that it gives test/dev teams the ability to get great data instantly. They don’t need to know everything about that data.

Cohesity Agile Dev and Test is scheduled for release in the Pegasus 6.4.1 update, expected in late 2019. It will be sold as an add-on capability on Cohesity DataPlatform, and customers will be charged on a usage-based pricing model.

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New integration brings Fuze meetings to Slack app

An integration unveiled this week will make it easier for Slack users to launch and join Fuze meetings. Zoom Video Communications Inc. rolled out a similar integration with Slack over the summer.

Slack is increasingly making it clear that it intends to incorporate voice and video capabilities into its team messaging app through integrations and partnerships, rather than by attempting to build the technology on its own.

Fuze Inc.’s announcement also underscores how big a player Slack has become in the business collaboration industry. Fuze, a cloud unified communications (UC) provider, opted to partner with Slack, even though it sells a team messaging app with the same core capabilities.

The integration lets users launch Fuze meetings by clicking on the phone icon in Slack, instead of typing a command. They will also see details about an ongoing meeting, such as how long it’s been going on and who’s participating.

Furthermore, Slack’s Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar apps will let users join scheduled Fuze meetings with one click. Slack previously announced support for that capability with Zoom, Cisco Webex and Skype for Business.

No formal partnership

Slack gave Fuze special access to the set of APIs that made the latest integrations possible, said Eric Hanson, Fuze’s vice president of marketing intelligence. But the companies later clarified there was no formal partnership between them.

The vendors apparently miscommunicated about how to frame this week’s announcement. Within hours on Tuesday, Fuze updated a blog post to remove references to a “partnership” with Slack, instead labeling it as an “integration.”

In contrast, Slack and Zoom signed a contract to align product roadmaps and marketing strategies earlier this year.

In the future, Fuze hopes to give users the ability to initiate phone calls through Slack. Previously, Slack said it would enable such a feature with Zoom Phone, the video conferencing provider’s new cloud calling service.

Slack declined to comment on any plans to expand the Fuze integration.

“There are still some things that Slack hasn’t made available through this set of APIs yet,” Hanson said. “They have a roadmap in terms of where they want to take this.”

Making it easier for users to pick and choose

The voice and video capabilities natively supported in Slack are far less advanced than those available from main rival Microsoft Teams, an all-in-one suite for calling, messaging and meetings. But users want to be able to easily switch between messaging with someone and talking to them in real time.

By integrating with cloud communications vendors like Fuze and Zoom, Slack can focus on what it does best — team-based collaboration — while still connecting to the real-time communications services that customers need, said Mike Fasciani, analyst at Gartner.

“One of Slack’s advantages over Microsoft Teams is its ability and willingness to integrate with many business and communications applications,” Fasciani said.

Fuze also competes with Microsoft Teams. Integrations with Slack should help cloud UC providers sell to the vendor’s rapidly expanding customer base. Slack now has more than 100,000 paid customers, including 720 enterprises that each contribute more than $100,000 per year in revenue.

“Even though Fuze has its own [messaging] app, it doesn’t have anywhere near the market share of Slack,” said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research. “I think this shows Slack’s continued view that they don’t want to compete directly with the voice/meeting vendors.”

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Data ethics issues create minefields for analytics teams

GRANTS PASS, Ore. — AI technologies and other advanced analytics tools make it easier for data analysts to uncover potentially valuable information on customers, patients and other people. But, too often, consultant Donald Farmer said, organizations don’t ask themselves a basic ethical question before launching an analytics project: Should we?

In the age of GDPR and like-minded privacy laws, though, ignoring data ethics isn’t a good business practice for companies, Farmer warned in a roundtable discussion he led at the 2019 Pacific Northwest BI & Analytics Summit. IT and analytics teams need to be guided by a framework of ethics rules and motivated by management to put those rules into practice, he said.

Otherwise, a company runs the risk of crossing the line in mining and using personal data — and, typically, not as the result of a nefarious plan to do so, according to Farmer, principal of analytics consultancy TreeHive Strategy in Woodinville, Wash. “It’s not that most people are devious — they’re just led blindly into things,” he said, adding that analytics applications often have “unforeseen consequences.”

For example, he noted that smart TVs connected to home networks can monitor whether people watch the ads in shows they’ve recorded and then go to an advertiser’s website. But acting on that information for marketing purposes might strike some prospective customers as creepy, he said.

Shawn Rogers, senior director of analytic strategy and communications-related functions at vendor Tibco Software Inc., pointed to a trial program that retailer Nordstrom launched in 2012 to track the movements of shoppers in its stores via the Wi-Fi signals from their cell phones. Customers complained about the practice after Nordstrom disclosed what it was doing, and the company stopped the tracking in 2013.

“I think transparency, permission and context are important in this area,” Rogers said during the session on data ethics at the summit, an annual event that brings together a small group of consultants and vendor executives to discuss BI, analytics and data management trends.

AI algorithms add new ethical questions

Being transparent about the use of analytics data is further complicated now by the growing adoption of AI tools and machine learning algorithms, Farmer and other participants said. Increasingly, companies are augmenting — or replacing — human involvement in the analytics process with “algorithmic engagement,” as Farmer put it. But automated algorithms are often a black box to users.

Mike Ferguson, managing director of U.K.-based consulting firm Intelligent Business Strategies Ltd., said the legal department at a financial services company he works with killed a project aimed at automating the loan approval process because the data scientists who developed the deep learning models to do the analytics couldn’t fully explain how the models worked.

We’ve gone from a bottom-up approach of everybody grabbing data and doing something with it to more of a top-down approach.
Mike FergusonManaging director, Intelligent Business Strategies Ltd.

And that isn’t an isolated incident in Ferguson’s experience. “There’s a loggerheads battle going on now in organizations between the legal and data science teams,” he said, adding that the specter of hefty fines for GDPR violations is spurring corporate lawyers to vet analytics applications more closely. As a result, data scientists are focusing more on explainable AI to try to justify the use of algorithms, he said.

The increased vetting is driven more by legal concerns than data ethics issues per se, Ferguson said in an interview after the session. But he thinks that the two are intertwined and that the ability of analytics teams to get unfettered access to data sets is increasingly in question for both legal and ethical reasons.

“It’s pretty clear that legal is throwing their weight around on data governance,” he said. “We’ve gone from a bottom-up approach of everybody grabbing data and doing something with it to more of a top-down approach.”

Jill Dyché, an independent consultant who’s based in Los Angeles, said she expects explainable AI to become “less of an option and more of a mandate” in organizations over the next 12 months.

Code of ethics not enough on data analytics

Staying on the right side of the data ethics line takes more than publishing a corporate code of ethics for employees to follow, Farmer said. He cited Enron’s 64-page ethics code, which didn’t stop the energy company from engaging in the infamous accounting fraud scheme that led to bankruptcy and the sale of its assets. Similarly, he sees such codes having little effect in preventing ethical missteps on analytics.

“Just having a code of ethics does absolutely nothing,” Farmer said. “It might even get in the way of good ethical practices, because people just point to it [and say], ‘We’ve got that covered.'”

Instead, he recommended that IT and analytics managers take a rules-based approach to data ethics that can be applied to all three phases of analytics projects: the upfront research process, design and development of analytics applications, and deployment and use of the applications.

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End users will make or break an Office 365 migration

An Office 365 migration can improve an end user’s experience by making it easier to work in a mobile environment while also keeping Office 365 features up to date. But if the migration is done without the end users in mind, it can lead to headaches for IT admins.

At a Virtual Technology User Group (VTUG) event in Westbrook, Maine, about 30 attendees piled into a Westbrook Middle School classroom to hear tips on how to transition to Office 365 smoothly.

Office 365 is Microsoft’s subscription-based line of Office applications, such as Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams and Excel. Rather than downloaded onto a PC, Office 365 apps are run in the cloud, enabling users to access their files wherever they are.

“As IT admins, we need to make the digital transformation technology seem easy,” said Jay Gilchrist, business development manager for Presidio Inc., a cloud, security and digital infrastructure vendor in New York and a managed service provider for Microsoft. Gilchrist and his Presidio colleague, enterprise software delivery architect Michael Cessna, led the session, outlining lessons they’ve learned from previous Office 365 migrations.

Importance of communication and training

Their first lessons included communicating with end users, keeping a tight migration schedule and the importance of training.

“You want to make it clear that you’re not just making a change for change’s sake,” Gilchrist said. “Communicate these changes as early as possible and identify users who may need a little more training.”

One practical tip he offered is to reserve the organization’s name in Office 365 early to ensure it’s available.

You want to make it clear that you’re not just making a change for change’s sake.
Jay GilchristBusiness development manager, Presidio

Conducting presentations, crafting targeted emails and working to keep the migration transparent can help IT admins keep end users up to date and enthused about the transition.

“End users are not information professionals,” Cessna said. “They don’t understand what we understand and these changes are a big deal to them.”

Cessna and Gilchrist said that if IT admins want end users to adopt apps in Office 365, they’ll need to provide the right level of training. IT admins can do that by providing internal training sessions, using external resources such as SharePoint Training Sites, as well as letting users work with the apps in a sandbox environment. Training will help end users get used to how the apps work and address questions end users may have in real time, thereby reducing helpdesk tickets once the Office 365 migration is completed. 

Governance and deployment

Before an Office 365 migration, IT admins need to have a governance of applications and deployment plan in place.

“Governance built within Microsoft isn’t really there,” Cessna said. “You can have 2,000 users and still have 4,500 Team sessions and now you have to manage all that data. It’s good to take care of governance at the beginning.”

Deployment of Office 365 is another aspect that IT admins need to tackle at the start of an Office 365 migration. They need to determine what versions are compatible with the organization’s OS and how the organization will use the product.

“It’s important to assess the digital environment, the OSes, what versions of Office are out there and ensure the right number of licenses,” Cessna said.

Securing and backing up enterprise data

One existing concern for organizations migrating from on-premises to an Office 365 cloud environment is security.

Microsoft provides tools that can help detect threats and secure an organization’s data. Microsoft offers Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), a cloud-based email filtering service that helps protect against malware, Windows Defender ATP, an enterprise-grade tool to detect and respond to security threats, and Azure ATP, which accesses the on-premises Active Directory to identify threats.

Microsoft has also added emerging security capabilities such as passwordless log in, single-sign-on and multi-factor authentication to ensure data or files don’t get compromised or stolen during an Office 365 migration.

Regulated organizations such as financial institutions that need to retain data for up to seven years will need to back up Office 365 data, as Microsoft provides limited data storage capabilities, according to Cessna.

Microsoft backs up data within Office 365 for up to two years in some cases, and only for one month in other cases, leaving the majority of data backup to IT.

“[Microsoft] doesn’t give a damn about your data,” he said. “Microsoft takes care of the service, but you own the data.”

Picking the right license

Once the organization is ready for the migration, it’s important to choose the right Office 365 license, according to Gilchrist.

There are several ways for an organization to license an Office 365 subscription. Gilchrist said choosing the right one depends on the size of the organization and the sophistication of the organization’s IT department.

The subscription choices for Office 365.
When deciding on which Office 365 subscription to license, it’s important to examine the size and scope of your organization and decide which offering works best for you.

Smaller businesses can choose an option of licenses for 300 or less users, as well as options for add-ons like a desktop version of Office and advanced security features. The cost for enterprise licenses differs depending on the scope of the licenses and number of licenses needed, and educational and non-profit discounts on licenses are offered as well.

Other licensing options include Microsoft 365 bundles, which combine Office 365 with a Windows 10 deployment, or organizations could use Microsoft as a Cloud Solution Provider and have the company handle the heavy lifting of the Office 365 migration.

“There are different ways to do it. You just have to be aware of the best way to license for your business,” Gilchrist said.

Measuring success and adoption

Once completed, IT still has one more objective, and that’s to prove the worth of an Office 365 migration.

“This is critical and these migrations aren’t cheap,” Cessna said. “You want to show back to the business the ROI and what this new world looks like.”

To do that, IT admins will have to circle back to their end users. They can use tools such as Microsoft’s Standard Office 365 Usage Reports, Power BI Adoption reports or other application measurement software to pin down end user adoption and usage rates. They can provide additional training, if necessary.

“Projects fail because the end users aren’t happy,” Cessna said. “We don’t take them into account enough. Our end users are our customers and we need to make sure they’re happy.”

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Netflix launches tool for monitoring AWS credentials

LAS VEGAS — A new open source tool looks to make monitoring AWS credentials easier and more effective for large organizations.

The tool, dubbed Trailblazer, was introduced during a session at Black Hat USA 2018 on Wednesday by William Bengtson, senior security engineer at Netflix, based in Los Gatos, Calif. During his session, Bengtson discussed how his security team took a different approach to reviewing AWS data in order to find signs of potentially compromised credentials.

Bengtson said Netflix’s methodology for monitoring AWS credentials was fairly simple and relied heavily on AWS’ own CloudTrail log monitoring tool. However, Netflix couldn’t rely solely on CloudTrail to effectively monitor credential activity; Bengtson said a different approach was required because of the sheer size of Netflix’s cloud environment, which is 100% AWS.

“At Netflix, we have hundreds of thousands of servers. They change constantly, and there are 4,000 or so deployments every day,” Bengtson told the audience. “I really wanted to know when a credential was being used outside of Netflix, not just AWS.”

That was crucial, Bengtson explained, because an unauthorized user could set up infrastructure within AWS, obtain a user’s AWS credentials and then log in using those credentials in order to “fly under the radar.”

However, monitoring credentials for usage outside of a specific corporate environment is difficult, he explained, because of the sheer volume of data regarding API calls. An organization with a cloud environment the size of Netflix’s could run into challenges with pagination for the data, as well as rate limiting for API calls — which AWS has put in place to prevent denial-of-service attacks.

“It can take up to an hour to describe a production environment due to our size,” he said.

To get around those obstacles, Bengtson and his team crafted a new methodology that didn’t require machine learning or any complex technology, but rather a “strong but reasonable assumption” about a crucial piece of data.

“The first call wins,” he explained, referring to when a temporary AWS credential makes an API call and grabs the first IP address that’s used. “As we see the first use of that temporary [session] credential, we’re going to grab that IP address and log it.”

The methodology, which is built into the Trailblazer tool, collects the first API call IP address and other related AWS data, such as the instance ID and assumed role records. The tool, which doesn’t require prior knowledge of an organization’s IP allocation in AWS, can quickly determine whether the calls for those AWS credentials are coming from outside the organization’s environment.

“[Trailblazer] will enumerate all of your API calls in your environment and associate that log with what is actually logged in CloudTrail,” Bengtson said. “Not only are you seeing that it’s logged, you’re seeing what it’s logged as.”

Bengtson said the only requirement for using Trailblazer is a high level of familiarity with AWS — specifically how AssumeRole calls are logged. The tool is currently available on GitHub.

Vendors race to adopt Google Contact Center AI

Google has released a development platform that will make it easier for businesses to deploy virtual agents and other AI technologies in the contact center. The tech giant launched the product in partnership with several leading contact center vendors, including Cisco and Genesys. 

The Google Contact Center AI platform includes three main features: virtual agents, AI-powered assistance for human agents and contact center analytics. Google first released a toolkit for building conversational AI bots in November and updated the platform this week, with additional tools for contact centers.

The virtual agents can help resolve common customer inquiries using Google’s natural language processing platform, which recognizes voice and textual inputs. Genesys, for example, demonstrated how the chatbot could help a customer return ill-fitting shoes before passing the phone call to a human agent, who could help the customer order a new pair.

Google’s agent assistance system scans a company’s knowledge bases, such as FAQs and internal documents, to help agents answer customer questions faster. The analytics tool reviews chats and call recordings to identify customer trends, assisting in the training of live agents and the development of virtual agents.

Vendors rush to adopt Google Contact Center AI

Numerous contact center vendors that directly compete with one another sent out strikingly similar press releases on Tuesday about their adoption of Google Contact Center AI. The Google platform is available through partners Cisco, Genesys, Mitel, Five9, RingCentral, Vonage, Twilio, Appian and Upwire.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a launch like this, where almost every player — except Avaya — is announcing something with the same company,” said Jon Arnold, principal analyst of Toronto-based research and analysis firm J Arnold & Associates.

Avaya was noticeably absent from the list of partners. The company spent most of 2017 in bankruptcy court and was previously faulted by critics for failing to pivot to the cloud quickly enough. The company said at a conference earlier this year it was developing AI capabilities internally, said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

An Avaya spokesperson said its platforms integrated with a range of AI technologies from vendors, including Google, IBM, Amazon and Nuance. “Avaya does have a strong relationship with Google, and we continue to pursue opportunities for integration on top of what already exists today,” the spokesperson said.

Google made headlines last month with the release of Google Duplex, a conversational AI bot targeting the consumer market. The company demonstrated how the platform could pass as human during short phone conversations with a hair salon and restaurant. Google’s Contact Center AI was built on some of the same infrastructure, but it’s a separate platform, the company said.

“Google has been pretty quiet. They are not a contact center player. But as AI keeps moving along the curve, everyone is trying to figure out what to do with it. And Google is clearly one of the strongest players in AI, as is Amazon,” Arnold said.

Because it relies overwhelmingly on advertising revenue, Google doesn’t need its Contact Center AI to make a profit. Google will be able to use the data that flows through contact centers to improve its AI capabilities. That should help it compete against Amazon, which entered the contact center market last year with the release of Amazon Connect.

The contact center vendors now partnering with Google had already been racing to develop or acquire AI technologies on their own, and some highlighted how their own AI capabilities would complement Google’s offering. Genesys, for example, said its Blended AI platform — which combines chatbots, machine learning and analytics — would use predictive routing to transfer calls between Google-powered chatbots and live agents.  

“My sense with AI is that it will be difficult for vendors to develop capabilities on their own, given that few can match the computing power required for advanced AI that vendors like Amazon, Google and Microsoft can bring to the table,” Lazar said.