Tag Archives: Management

AI, machine learning ahead for Box content management platform

Content management spans enterprise content management, web content management, cloud, on premises and all the combinations thereof. What used to be a well-defined, vendor-versus-vendor competition is now spread across multiple categories, platforms and hosting sites.

Box content management is more of an enterprise than web content tool, competing with Documentum, SharePoint and OpenText more than Drupal and WordPress. It is all cloud, and it has become an API-driven collaboration platform, as well. We caught up with Jeetu Patel, Box’s chief product officer, to discuss his company’s roadmap for competing in this changing market.

How does Box content management and its 57 million users fit into the overall enterprise content management (ECM) market right now?

Jeetu Patel: There’s a convergence of multiple different markets, because what’s happened, unfortunately, in this industry, people have taken a market-centric view, rather than a customer- and user-centric view. When you think about what people want to do, they might start with a piece of content that’s unstructured — like yourself, with this article — and [share and collaborate with people inside and outside of the organization and eventually] publish it to the masses.

Jeetu Patel, chief product officer, BoxJeetu Patel

During that entire lifecycle, it’s pretty important your organization is maintaining intellectual property, governance and security around it. You might even have a custom mobile app, and you might want to make sure how the content is coming from the same content infrastructure. Look at all the people served in this lifecycle; eventually, that content might get archived and disposed. Typically, there’s like 17 different systems that piece of content might go through to have all these things done with it. This seemed like a counterproductive way to work.

Our thinking from the beginning was, ‘Shouldn’t there be a single source of truth where a set of policies can be applied to content, a place where you could collaborate and work on content, but if you have other applications that you’re using, you should still be able to integrate them into the content and share with people inside and outside the organization?’ That’s what we think this market should evolve into … and we call that cloud content management.

Smart search, AI, those things are on other vendors’ product roadmaps. What’s ahead for Box content management?

Patel: The three personas we serve are the end users, like you writing this article; enterprise IT admins and the enterprise security professionals; and the developer who’s building an application, but doesn’t want to rebuild content management infrastructure every time they serve up a piece of content, [but instead use API calls such as Box’s high-fidelity viewer for videos].

When we think about the roadmap, we have to be thinking at scale, for millions of users across hundreds of petabytes of data, and make it frictionless so that people who aren’t computer jockeys — just average people — use our system. One of our key philosophies is identifying megatrends and making them tailwinds for our business.

Looking back 13 years ago when we started, some of the big trends that have happened were cloud and mobile. We used those to propel our business forward. Now, it’s artificial intelligence and machine learning. In the next five years, content management is going to look completely different than it has the last 25.

In the next five years, content management is going to look completely different than it has the last 25.
Jeetu Patelchief product officer at Box

Content’s going to get meaningfully more intelligent. Machine learning algorithms should, for example, detect all the elements in an image, OCR [optical character recognition] the text and automatically populate the metadata without doing any manual data entry. Self-describing. [Sentiment analysis] when you’re recording every single call at a call center. Over time, the ultimate nirvana is that you’ll never have to search for and open up an unstructured piece of content — you just get an answer. We want to make sure we take advantage of all those innovations and bring them to Box.

How does Box content management compete with SharePoint, which is ingrained in many organizations and must be a formidable competitor, considering the always-expanding popularity of SharePoint Online?

Patel: Microsoft is an interesting company. They are one of our biggest competitors, with SharePoint and OneDrive, and one of our biggest partners, with Azure. We partner with them very closely for Azure and the Office 365 side of the house. And we think, [with Box migrations,] there’s an area where there’s an opportunity for customers to [reduce] fragmented [SharePoint] infrastructure and have a single platform to make it easy for user, administrator and developer to work end to end … and modernizing their business processes, as well.

Modernize their business processes?

Patel: Once you migrate the content over to Box, there’s a few things that happen you weren’t able to do in the past. For example, you can now make sure users can access content anywhere on any device, which you couldn’t do in the past without going through a lot of hoops. Try sharing a piece of content with someone outside of your organization that you started in OneDrive and moved over to SharePoint. They actually have a troubleshooting page for it. It’s not just SharePoint; it’s any legacy ECM system that has this problem. We want to make sure we solve that.

Microsoft Project

Choosing to use Microsoft Project as your team’s dedicated project management app makes sense only when a number of stars align. First, you really must have a certified project manager on board to drive the software. Second, time has to be on your side and your certified project manager can’t be rushed to learn to use the tool. Third, your team should already be a Microsoft house, or it should be willing to become one. Fourth, the number of projects your team manages and their level of complexity should be quite high. If your organization meets these criteria, Microsoft Project may prove to be an invaluable tool. If not, you’re better served by another option, and there are many.

Similar Products

If you’ve read this far and realized that Microsoft Project isn’t right for your team, I recommend three other options. For small businesses, Zoho Projects and Teamwork Projects are the PCMag Editors’ Choices. Both are reasonably priced and very easy to learn to use, even if you’re not a project management master yet. The other tool that earns the Editors’ Choice is LiquidPlanner, a high-end tool that’s ideal for larger teams managing not just projects but also people and other resources.

A Few Caveats

Microsoft Project takes a long time to learn to use and even longer to master. I am writing this review from the point of view of someone who has not mastered it (not even close) but who has experimented with it for some weeks and asked questions of Microsoft representatives to learn more. My point of view includes comparison testing with dozens of other project management apps, from lightweight ones designed for small businesses to enterprise-grade options.

Because Microsoft Project is something of a bear, I would recommend complementing my article with user reviews by people who have worked with the tool extensively and can provide different insights into how it holds up in the long term.

Pricing and Plans

There are two ways to buy Microsoft Project. You can add it to an Office 365 subscription or you can buy a standalone version for on-premises deployment. The options get confusing, so let me go through them piece by piece.

Office add-on. When you add Microsoft Project to an Office subscription, you get the cloud-based version of the app. There are three pricing levels for this type of purchase: Project Online Professional, Premium, and Essentials.

Project Online Professional costs $30 per person per month. With this level of service, each person gets to use the Microsoft Project desktop app on up to five computers for project management only, not portfolio management. Even though it’s a desktop app, it still runs in the cloud (i.e., it requires an internet connection to use). Access via web browsers is also included.

Project Online Premium costs $55 per person per month. It offers everything in the Professional account, plus portfolio management tools. It comes with advanced analytics and resource management features that you don’t get in the Professional account.

The third level, Essentials, is not a tier of service so much as a role type you can choose for team members who have fairly limited responsibilities in the app. It costs $7 per person per month. You have to have a Professional or Premium membership first to utilize the Essential option. Essential users can only access Microsoft Project via a web browser or mobile device. They can only update task statuses, work with timesheets, share documents, and communicate with colleagues. They don’t get desktop apps or other functionality.

Standalone on-premises deployment. If you don’t want to use the cloud-hosted version of Microsoft Project, you can host it locally, and there are three options for how to do it.

One is Project Standard, which costs $589.99 charged as a one-time flat fee. With this version, you get one piece of software installed locally on one computer, and only one person can use it. It’s old-school software in the sense that it doesn’t have any collaboration features. You get project management tools, but nothing for resource management.

The next option is Project Professional for $1,159.99. Each license is good for only one computer. It has everything in Project Standard, plus the ability to collaborate via Skype for Business, resource-management tools, timesheets, and the option to sync with Project Online and Project Server.

Project Server, the last option, is a version of Microsoft Project that enterprises can get with SharePoint 2016. I could go into detail about how to get SharePoint 2016 and the three tiers of enterprise service for Office involved, but I’ll assume that if this option is of interest to you, you already have a support person at Microsoft you can ask for more information.

Comparison Prices

If we use the $30 or $55 per person per month price for Project Online Professional as our base for comparison, which are the tiers of service I imagine are in your wheelhouse if you’re reading this article, then Microsoft’s prices are on the high end for small to medium businesses.

TeamGantt is a good place to start for comparison. It offers service ranging from a Free account to an Advanced membership that costs $14.95 per person per month. It’s a web-based tool that includes collaboration and is much easier to learn to use than Project.

A comparable plan with Zoho Projects costs a flat rate of $50 per month, regardless of how many people use it. Teamwork Projects offers a similar flat monthly rate ($69 per month for as many team members as you need), as does Proofhub ($150 per month).

If we turn to more high-end tools, LiquidPlanner starts at $599.40 per year for a small business account of up to five people. That price is based on a rate of $9.99 per person per month, but this particular plan is only sold in a five-seat pack. LiquidPlanner’s most popular plan, Professional, is better for medium to large businesses. It works out to be $45 per person per month, with a ten person minimum. Like Microsoft Project, LiquidPlanner takes time to master in part because it offers so many tools for both project management and resources management.

Other project management platforms that are suitable for larger organizations include Clarizen (from $45 per person per month), Celoxis ($25 per person per month; five-person minimum), and Workfront (about $30, depending on setup).

Getting Started

I can’t stress enough the fact that Microsoft Project is meant to be used by experienced, or more precisely trained, project managers. It’s not designed for learning on the fly. It doesn’t come with clear tutorials for getting started. It assumes familiarity with both big concepts and fine details of project management. If you’re thinking you might use this software but you (or the lead person who will be using the app) don’t know what a burndown report is, I would seriously advise you to consider a different tool.

The app itself looks a lot like Excel. It has the same familiar tabbed ribbon interface seen in other Microsoft Office apps. The spreadsheet portion of the app holds all the data related to tasks or resources. To the right of the cells is a Gantt chart reflecting the schedule as you build it.

Microsoft Project supports all the typical things you’d want to do in a project management app. For every task, you can enter a lot of detail, such as a description, notes, start date, task duration, and so forth. Recurring events are supported, as are dependencies, custom fields, and baselines for tracking actual progress versus planned progress.

The bars in the Gantt chart are interactive, so as you adjust them, the information in the cells updates as well. When a task is in progress, you can indicate the percent that it’s done by sliding a smaller line inside its associated spanner bar toward the right.

In addition to having a Gantt chart view, Microsoft Project offers calendar and diagram views as well. The calendar view is self-explanatory, while the diagram view is similar to the Gantt view, only it contains additional details about the task. If you follow a timeline better when there’s some sense of a narrative behind it, the diagram view could be useful.

As mentioned, the first time you use the app, there isn’t much coaching on how to get started. Some apps provide interactive on-screen tutorials. Others start you out in a sample project. Still others point you early to a channel of help videos for getting started. Microsoft Project has none of that. In fact, the little that Project does provide may merely add to your confusion, such as this little nugget of information that I saw on day one:

“To be clear, Project Online is NOT a web-based version of Project Professional. Project Online is an entirely separate service that offers full portfolio and project management tools on the web. It includes Project Web App, and can, depending on your subscription, also include Project Online Desktop Client, which is a subscription version of Project Professional.”

Even after having gone through all the pricing and plan options in detail, those words still make my head spin.

Features and Details

Microsoft Project is powerful when it comes to the more detailed aspects of project management, such as resource management, reports, and timesheets. Powerful doesn’t mean easy or simple, of course.

In Microsoft Project, with the tiers of service that include resource management, you can manage work (which includes both generic people and specific people, as well as other “work” related resources), materials, and costs. You can do a lot with these elements if you have the time and the inclination.

For example, you can add detail to materials resources, such as a unit of measure, and if you want to get really detailed, you can enter costs for materials. What if the costs of a material changes over time? In Microsoft Project, an additional detail panel allows you to track and account for changes in cost over time.

With work resources, I mentioned you can track specific people or generalized people. Depending on the work you’re tracking, you may need to assign general human resources, such as a “front-end programmer” or “QA tester,” rather than a specific person. It all depends on what you’re managing and how.

Reports are highly customizable, although, like the rest of the app, it takes time to learn how to use them. Some of the more rudimentary features are neat and surprisingly simple to use, however. You can generate a report by navigating to the report section and selecting what data you want to appear in different modules on the page. Using a field selection box on the right, you can make the topmost element the project, and below it you might add a table showing how much of each phase of the project is already complete, and so forth.

All the elements you add to the report are stylized, and they don’t automatically adjust to accommodate one another. For example, if text from one element runs long, it can crash into another. Other minor visual elements often need finessing, too. You can end up wasting a lot of time resizing boxes and nudging elements left and right to make it look decent, which probably isn’t what you’re getting paid to do. That’s a designer’s job, really.

That said, styling the reports in this way has a purpose. Once you finish with all the adjustments, the final product looks ready to export to a presentation directly (in PowerPoint, no doubt), so you can go from generating reports to sharing them without many additional steps.

Within the timesheets section, for those versions of the app that include it, you can have team members fill out weekly time sheets for whatever duration you need, such as weekly or monthly. Team members can report not only time spent on tasks related to projects, but they can also indicate what time of work it was, such as research and development or fulfillment. Another option lets people add time to their time sheets for tasks aren’t specifically related to a project. For example, if Julia drives to meet with a client, the team might want to record that time and bill for it, even though the travel doesn’t appear as a task on a project.

Room for Improvement

I’ve already alluded to the fact that Microsoft Project could offer more assistance in helping people get started with it and learn to use it.

Additionally, Project is weak when it comes to in-app communication. The problem is that Microsoft is a kingdom, and within its realm it already has plenty of tools for communicating. You can fire off an email with Outlook, or schedule a meeting in Calendar, or pop into Microsoft Teams for chat, or Yammer for conversations, or Skype for video calls, and so forth. But sometimes, when you’re working on a project, you just want to @ message someone or ping them in a chat and ask a question without breaking the context of your work by navigating to another app. Seeing as these tools already exist, why duplicate them in Project? (Some might refer to Microsoft as having an “ecosystem” rather than kingdom. An ecosystem can’t help but be what it is, but a kingdom chooses its boundaries.)

Indeed, traveling around the kingdom annoyed me to no end while I was testing Microsoft Project. A desire to share information might result in the app whisking me away to Outlook. A need to update something about a meeting scheduled in my project could leave my computer loading a new tab for Calendar without my consent. Many times, I wanted the ability to adjust all the details related to my project from within the project management app, not somewhere else.

While Microsoft has plenty of its own apps that work with Project, many organizations rely on tools that come from somewhere else, Salesforce being a prime example. Project does not integrate with many other tools. It’s not supported by Zapier either, which is an online tool that can sometimes connect apps and services that don’t natively talk to one another. If you’re hoping to loop your project management application into other online services that your team already uses, whether Slack or Trello or Salesforce, then Microsoft Project is not a good tool to choose.

A Powerful Tool Within Its Realm

While powerful and thorough in many respects, Microsoft Project fits only very specific companies. More and more, this is the case with many Microsoft apps. Your team needs to already be invested in Microsoft products for Project to make sense. It also works best for medium to large organizations, but not small ones. Plus, you need a qualified and experienced project manager on the team to be the person driving the app.

If Microsoft Project isn’t an ideal candidate for your project management needs, I suggest small outfits look into Zoho Projects and Teamwork Projects, whereas larger organizations managing many more projects and resources take a dive into LiquidPlanner. All three earned the PCMag Editors’ Choice.

SAP defends S/4HANA HCM upgrade amid questions

SAP’s new plan to extend on-premises ERP human capital management support from 2025 to 2030 is raising eyebrows. That’s because maintaining on-premises systems means migrating to S/4HANA HCM, which complicates the decision-making for on-premises users.

The upgrade won’t be available until 2023, and the license for the S/4HANA HCM only runs until “at least” 2030. This doesn’t prevent the vendor from extending support, but users, for now, don’t know.

SAP said it has about 14,000 on-premises HCM customers, with about 80% outside of North America.

SAP believes the S/4HANA HCM migration is best for these users, arguing that the upgrade cost will be offset by the benefits of the in-memory system.

But cloud-based SAP SuccessFactors remains the ultimate HCM upgrade path for its users. This means uncertainty about whether on-premises systems will continue.

“The important thing is that the intention for this is to make life easier for our customers so that they can run their business in the best possible way,” said Amy Wilson, an SAP product manager, in an interview. “It’s not something that we’ve concocted for any other purpose other than this is what our customers are asking for. We care about them, and we empathize with them,” she said.

But there are questions. “Simply extending support for the existing R/3 SAP HCM would probably be very difficult, especially as support has already been extended from 2020 to 2025,” said Paul Cooper, chairman of the U.K. and Ireland SAP User Group, in a statement in response to questions from TechTarget.

“At this stage, it is far enough out for SAP to be encouraging users to move to S/4, rather than extending the deadline further,” Cooper said.

User-group surveys “highlighted that many users have concerns regarding the integration of legacy [SAP HR] and new apps [SuccessFactors] with S/4HANA, so the S/4 HCM announcement does begin to help address this to an extent,” Cooper said.

But Cooper said the announcement also raises issues.

“However, without seeing the product and more information on its scope, it is difficult to judge the complexity of the migration,” Cooper said. “Projects of this nature are time-consuming, resource-hungry and, therefore, they can be disruptive to an organization. The question for a lot of organizations will be, are they prepared to buy and license ‘on-premises’ software that only has a potential life of seven years and won’t be available until 2023?”

Wilson said the upgrade to S/4HANA HCM should be “nondisruptive.”

It’s not something that we’ve concocted for any other purpose other than this is what our customers are asking for.
Amy Wilsonproduct manager at SAP

“In the on-premises world, there’s technical upgrades and then there’s functional upgrades. When you’re talking about a technical upgrade, there is some work to do and some testing and that sort of thing, but it’s more similar to a cloud update,” Wilson said.

SAP’s plan has drawn sharp criticism from Jarret Pazahanick, an SAP HCM consultant who is managing partner of EIC Experts, based in Houston. He also has a large following on his Global SAP and SuccessFactors LinkedIn groups.

Pazahanick said he believes SAP should have extended its support beyond 2025 for its HCM customers.

SAP’s action is “not customer-centric,” Pazahanick said in an email responding to TechTarget questions.

“They are asking loyal maintenance paying customers to wait at least five years [2023] to upgrade to a new SAP HCM on-premises ‘sidecar’ offering and take full ownership of the migration cost and risk associated with that,” Pazahanick said.

There is no native HCM in S/4HANA, hence the “sidecar” meaning. SAP HCM for S/4HANA will run on a separate instance, but tightly integrated with S/4HANA. SAP said it has the tools and services to support this approach.

“All SAP had to do was make an announcement of, ‘We will support SAP HCM and customers until 2030 on their current offering,’ which would have been simple, clear and, ultimately, what some portion of their customer base wants,” Pazahanick said.

Intelligent information management the next wave for ECM

The introductions of AI, automation and an abundance of vendors have caused a seismic shift in content management — so much so that, in 2017, Gartner rebranded the space as content services, a term that covers content services applications, platforms and components.

Content management company M-Files hopes its evolution toward intelligent information management is where the content services industry is heading. The thought being that, as information finds itself in more silos, there’s more importance on what the content is, rather than where it resides.

“What M-Files is doing is interesting, as it’s consistent with what I see in the industry now,” said John Mancini, chief evangelist at AIIM, a nonprofit research and education firm in Silver Spring, Md., focusing on information management. “Everyone is trying to figure out how to leverage its existing content and how to push as much as possible in the direction of the user so that content management becomes more user-defined, rather than a top-down approach.”

Focus on content type, not new thinking

The concept of focusing on what content is, rather than where it resides, isn’t unique to 2018. Intelligent information management is gaining in importance, however, as information is scattered across clouds, on-premises systems and mobile devices.

We spent 15 years trying to convince people to care about what repository something is in, but they still don’t.
John Mancinichief evangelist, AIIM

“We spent 15 years trying to convince people to care about what repository something is in, but they still don’t,” Mancini said. “But they do care if it’s a contract or a proposal or an internal document.”

It’s with that in mind that M-Files released M-Files 2018, which connects to market leaders in content storage — ranging from other content management services, like OpenText and Laserfiche, to more classical repositories, like on-premises network folders or SharePoint, and expanding out to systems of record, like Salesforce and Dynamics 365.

“There’s this trend of consumerization — the idea that the way you’ll be most productive is by allowing users to work the way they want to work,” said Greg Milliken, vice president of marketing at M-Files, based in Plano, Texas. “There’s the OpenText or Laserfiche type, where the structure is defined, and this is how we’re going to work. But everyone works a little bit differently.”

Finding content wherever it’s stored

What M-Files is touting is, with its intelligent information management platform, users will be able to natively search for content based on its metadata and locate and view any content no matter where it may be stored.

“It speaks to the trend we’re going toward, which is away from static silos and one-size-fits-all approach to something where content can be anywhere and it comes to you like a service,” Milliken said. “You can look into these repositories with a common lens.”

Being repository-agnostic requires some form of AI, and M-Files hopes its partnership with ABBYY will prove fruitful in building out its intelligent information management software.

“The way I think about it sometimes is upside-down content management,” Mancini said, referring to the repository-agnostic approach — and not a reference to Stranger Things. “Content management used to be a very top-down, orchestrated process. That colored how we all thought about the tools that individual knowledge workers used. And in that process, we tended to overcomplicate that from an end-user perspective.”

A list of the various vendors to which M-Files 2018 is connected includes other content management players, on-premises share folders and CRM systems. The connectors vary in price, according to M-Files.
A list of the various vendors to which M-Files 2018 is connected includes other content management players, on-premises share folders and CRM systems. The connectors vary in price, according to M-Files.

Partnership adds AI to content management

Last year’s partnership between M-Files and ABBYY brought AI functionality to the vendor, which M-Files hopes benefits its users by automatically classifying and tagging documents and other content with the correct metadata, saving users time and minimizing human error.

“Where you put something comes down to the company or even the individual,” Milliken said. “Someone might put a document in a customer folder; someone else might put it in a specific project folder — now, it’s derived automatically. The idea of applying AI to a meta-driven approach is what we’ve been striving for.”

Mancini sees a metadata-driven, repository-agnostic approach as a potential transition for the content management market.

“What’s happened in the last couple of years and in surveys we’ve done, people and companies with long-term ECM [enterprise content management], the primary challenge they come back to us with is usability,” Mancini said. “The metadata-centric approach of M-Files is an attempt to do this through the prism of a knowledge worker and to see if that redefines content management.”

M-Files 2018, currently available for download, is a platform upgrade for existing customers. The AI metadata layer is an additional cost for new and existing customers, starting at $10,000 per year and varies depending on the size and scope of the company. The connectors to various repositories are also an additional cost, depending on the connector.

Baramundi Management Suite

The Baramundi Management Suite (which begins at $25.90 per device) is a relative newcomer to our mobile device management (MDM) review roundup. It’s also notable for the fact that the software comes in the form of a virtual machine (VM) intended for either local installation on a server in your data center or for use in the cloud as a server instance in either Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure. While it might be a solid enough MDM competitor for many small to midsize businesses (SMBs), the Baramundi Management Suite suffers from some unneeded complexity as well as a dependence on Microsoft back-office platforms for full functionality. It’s these issues that keep it behind our Editors’ Choice winner VMware AirWatch for now.

Similar Products

On the plus side, the MDM function is just one part of the bigger picture in the Baramundi Management Suite. Similar to Microsoft Intune, the Baramundi Management Suite also handles some desktop management chores for Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X-based desktops, up to the installation of a new operating system (OS). The downside here is that full functionality requires integration with an external Microsoft Active Directory (AD) domain and a Microsoft Exchange Server for sending email notifications. The first is something we encounter often, but the second has become something of a limitation now that many SMBs are going with hosted email services such as Google G Suite instead of an in-house email server. Our trial system didn’t have access to either of these platforms so we were unable to test all of the features, including the sending of email messages for device enrollment. Additionally, on the MDM side, Windows-based devices also required AD support, which means that shops without AD and Microsoft Exchange will only be able to manage Android and Apple devices with the Baramundi Management Suite.

Installation and Device Enrollment

Installing the Baramundi Management Suite consists of provisioning a VM, which was accomplished by the company for our test instance in the Microsoft Azure public cloud. The same could be accomplished in AWS should you choose to go that route. Connecting to the system uses a remote desktop session to connect you into a Windows Server environment. The one advantage to a VM approach is the consistency of deployment for the management infrastructure across multiple cloud services and on-premises, which means you’ve got easy access to redundancy and scalability should you need it.

To enroll either an Android or iOS device, you simply download the Baramundi Mobile Agent application from the appropriate store and follow the in-app instructions. Baramundi provides a Quick Response Code (QR code) that contains the server and account information so you don’t have to type this in. The agent includes a QR scanning capability, which removes the need for any additional apps. On iOS, the app installs the appropriate certificates to get you securely connected to the server.

We were able to register an iOS phone, a Samsung Galaxy S8+ smartphone, and a Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 device. The Baramundi Management Suite does support the Samsung Knox platform and the ability to block (black list) or allow (white list) specific apps. Only those apps which have been white-listed will be allowed should a user choose to install them. We did find some limitations to this capability depending on the version of Knox you’re using but it shouldn’t be an issue with updated phones.

Management Interface

Opening the Baramundi Management Suite console presents a dashboard that shows the status of Windows devices. The dashboard for mobile devices shows compliance status and rules violations. The Compliance Overview block includes clickable links to take you to another section of the management interface with more detailed information. The graphics displayed are static, meaning you can’t click an image and drill down for further details like you can in other products like VMware AirWatch and SOTI MobiControl. You also can’t modify the dashboard screens.

Like most of the other products in this roundup, the Baramundi Management Suite uses the concept of device profiles to configure specific settings. One difference from products such as and SOTI MobiControl is that the Baramundi Management Suite uses the concept of a universal profile to apply the same basic settings to all platforms. Creating a profile consists of settings collected into groupings they call “building blocks.” For example, one building block addresses restrictions on hardware such as the camera. Other building blocks include settings for Wi-Fi access points and virtual private network (VPN) credentials.

Once a profile has been created, it must be deployed by using a job. Jobs perform a number of different actions, including installing or uninstalling an app or profile; locking, unlocking, or wiping a device; and compiling a hardware or software inventory. Performing an action such as a device lock or wipe requires several steps, including creating a job to accomplish the task and then deploying it to a specific device. This seems more cumbersome for mobile devices than simply right-clicking and choosing “Lock Device” as in other systems such as SOTI MobiControl.

Viewing individual devices lets you see pertinent information about the device and perform specific tasks such as assign a job or edit the owner details. A Device Actions menu item on the page only let you deactivate the device. To do anything else requires creating a job. Creating a new job happens under the Jobs section. The Baramundi Management Suite includes a number of standard jobs to do things such as take a hardware and software inventory or distribute an app. Initiating a device wipe requires a number of steps to first create the job and then assign it to a specific device. This amount of effort would become quite tedious for most administrators after the first few device wipe requests.

Reporting was one strong area for the Baramundi Management Suite. A long list of pre-defined reports gives you access to most of the pertinent information. Creating new reports requires a full version of Crystal Reports which is an additional cost but does offer a robust report building tool. On the downside, the Baramundi Management Suite interface was not as intuitive as other products, like and SOTI MobiControl. It’s also missing features such as geofencing, geolocation, or mobile expense management (MEM). The geolocation feature is a significant one when an employee loses his or her device.

Pricing

The base price for a single Baramundi Management Suite device is $25.90 plus a yearly maintenance cost between $3.50 and $5.50 depending on contract length. While that sounds like a lot, it actually puts the Baramundi Management Suite among the cheapest of all the products we tested, along with AppTec360 Enterprise Mobility Management.

Overall, we liked the Baramundi Management Suite, though we did find that it offers only the basic functionality that we’d expect out of an MDM product. However, it does manage that at a very low cost. Still, it doesn’t fully compare with the capabilities found in the other products in this roundup, notably our Editors’ Choice winner VMware AirWatch. Simple administrative functions, such as wiping a device, require far too many steps when compared to all of the other products in our roundup. Plus, its reliance on Microsoft for full functionality makes life hard on companies that have opted for different cloud-based back-office platforms.

Announcing the Reddit Solution Template | Microsoft Power BI Blog | Microsoft Power BI

Today, we are excited to announce a new suite of Power BI solution templates for brand management and targeting on Reddit through a thrid-party API relationship with SocialGist. These templates complement existing brand-oriented solution templates available for Twitter, Facebook, and Bing News.

The Reddit solution template suite combines AI with interactive visual analytics to reveal how different brands are performing across the Reddit platform, from companies and CEOs down to individual products. Behind the scenes, it uses Azure services and technologies from Microsoft AI and Research to support rich exploration by sentiment levels, key words, and author communities. All you need to get started are the list of brands you want to track and an Azure subscription – the solution template will automate and take care of everything else.

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Actionable Insights

With Reddit solution templates, you can easily track mentions of your brand, identify communities that talk about your products, and discover key influencers within those communities. You can also do the same for your competitors and their products!

The templates provide direct answers to the questions about who is talking about which brands, what are they saying in terms of text, sentiment, and keywords, and where on Reddit are they saying it. The templates also reveal new opportunities to drive customer engagement, whether through the identification of new community segments, top posts worthy of promotion, or trends in post volume or sentiment that require a timely response.

“With more than 330 million monthly users posting, commenting and voting across 138,000 active communities each day, Reddit is home to the most diverse and authentic conversations on the internet; and as such, an increasingly valuable source of brand and consumer insights,” says Alex Riccomini, director of business development and media partnerships at Reddit. “We’re excited to partner with Microsoft to bring Reddit’s vast data to Power BI, making it easier and more flexible than ever to customize, collect, and consume business-impacting insights from the Reddit community.

Together, the Power BI solution templates for Reddit offer unique brand insight and customer targeting opportunities powered by the highly-engaged and rapidly-growing Reddit community.

Multiple Workbook Experiences

1. Overview – This workbook shows the big picture for selected brands and the key influencers and communities talking about them.

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Analyzing sentiment over time

2. Targeting and Activation – This workbook reveals how communities relate to brands across the Reddit platform and highlights key influencers.

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Lookalike community analysis

3. Advanced Analytics – This workbook enables deep analytic exploration of Reddit posts, comments, and user activity relating to selected brands.

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Deep dive analysis with free-text search

Try it out & let us know

Go ahead and check out the Reddit solution template. You can try out an interactive sample report, watch a demo video or just go ahead and set things up! The team is always interested in any thoughts or feedback – you can reach us through our alias (pbisolntemplates@microsoft.com) or by leaving a comment on the Power BI Solution Template Community page.

Veeam Availability Suite 9.5 targets complete management

Seeking to broaden its appeal to enterprises, Veeam Software improved management of virtual, physical and cloud data in the latest version of its flagship data protection product.

Veeam Availability Suite 9.5 Update 3 includes a central console to manage backup and recovery across virtual, physical and cloud workloads, said Peter McKay, CEO and president at Veeam, based in Baar, Switzerland.

“That’s a key piece to the enterprise puzzle,” McKay said of Veeam’s expanded support.

Veeam also added support for Microsoft Windows and Linux servers, VMware Cloud on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and snapshot integration for IBM and Lenovo storage, as well as improved analytics and monitoring. With this release, Veeam added its Universal Storage API, an interface to help support additional integrations.

Veeam Availability Suite 9.5 now includes built-in management for Veeam Agent for Microsoft Windows 2.1 and Veeam Agent for Linux v2. Single management of multiple agents alongside virtual machines simplifies the backup of physical systems and cloud workloads.

‘Physical will be here’

Veeam Agent for Microsoft Windows 2.1 includes protection for mission-critical Microsoft Windows Server failover clusters. Veeam Agent for Linux v2 adds backup to a Veeam Cloud Connect repository, support for scale-out backup repositories as backup targets and source-side encryption.

Improving management of physical protection may seem like it’s targeting a dying breed, especially for a vendor that launched in 2006 dedicated to protecting virtual machines. But McKay said physical devices are not going away completely anytime soon, particularly among Veeam’s enterprise customers.

“Physical will be here,” McKay said. “We need to treat physical as we treat virtual and the cloud.”

And with that strategy, Veeam can “go after pretty much every enterprise customer in the market,” he said.

Veeam in November made another physical push directed at enterprises. Through an OEM deal with Cristie Software, the Veeam Availability Platform added support for IBM AIX and Oracle Solaris, which provides protection of physical workloads in Unix environments.

Veeam continues to ask itself where it can innovate or expand for a fully comprehensive platform, said Jason Buffington, principal analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. Support for agents running on high-availability systems is a mature perspective, he said.

Veeam's Availability Suite 9.5
Veeam Availability Suite 9.5 Update 3 offers centralized agent deployment and management to reduce complexity and improve usability.

Onward and upward with the cloud and more

The support for VMware Cloud on AWS allows enterprises to deploy Veeam across VMware-based public, private and hybrid cloud environments.

We need to be the best in the world in cloud backup and recovery.
Peter McKayCEO and president, Veeam

“We need to be the best in the world in cloud backup and recovery,” McKay said.

The vendor claims 16,700 Veeam Cloud and Service Providers.

The update includes IBM Spectrum Virtualize integration, which extends Veeam’s storage snapshot capabilities to IBM Storwize and SAN Volume Controller-based storage arrays. In addition, Veeam Availability Suite 9.5 now offers storage snapshot integration for the Lenovo Storage V Series.

Veeam also added agent monitoring and reporting and Data Sovereignty Compliance Reporting to its Veeam ONE management component. The new features are designed to help customers meet protection compliance requirements.

What to expect from Veeam

Veeam has made a change in its game plan for launching updates. Instead of a yearly basis, the company is shifting to a schedule of releasing a new batch of features every four to six months, McKay said.

“From the customer side, this is better because you get updates far faster,” he said.

To help support the frequent updates, Veeam plans to add more than 200 employees in research and development by the third quarter of 2018, McKay said.

Customers should expect at least one more update to Veeam Availability Suite 9.5. The concept of version 10 of the product, previewed at the VeeamON user conference in May, is not what it once was, McKay said. Some features previously destined for version 10 are already out, and the vendor is content with continuing to update Veeam Availability Suite 9.5.

As Veeam keeps targeting the enterprise, Buffington said the vendor will need to show it is constantly innovating.

“They continue to work on scaling up and scaling out,” Buffington said. “Veeam has really been growing up in the last two years.”

To improve its high availability, Buffington said Veeam will have to add even more automation and orchestration, lessening the dependency on people pushing a button.

Veeam claims more than 267,000 customers. In October, the vendor reported 84% year-over-year growth in new enterprise bookings for the third quarter. Recently formed alliances with major vendors — including Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Cisco — are helping to increase Veeam enterprise revenue.

Software Reviews | Computer Software Review

MSRP: $7.00



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Bottom Line: Human resources (HR) software and management system BambooHR is not the cheapest option but you get what you pay for, namely, well-organized, visually appealing tools that are simple to set up and run. An open API allows the software to be integrated with a company’s existing HR tech vendors, and the performance review function fits with the way more companies are working.

Read Full Review

Blockchain identity management simplifies personal security

Identity management is a pain point for many companies and individuals, but blockchain could help solve some of the challenges.

When banking, traveling, providing proof of age or accessing corporate data, individuals must prove their identity. But it can be difficult for users to keep track of all the different pieces of identification they must present to do so. ShoCard, a software provider in Cupertino, Calif., aims to eliminate the need for multiple forms of identification, usernames and passwords, and give users more control through the use of its blockchain identity management tool.

“Since it is your data, really, you have the right to hold it, to operate it as you wish,” said Alexander Novoselov, the head of innovation at Creditinfo Group, a ShoCard customer headquartered in Iceland.

How blockchain identity management works

ShoCard offers an identity management tool that uses a blockchain-based digital verification and authentication process. Blockchain is a type of database that is secured using cryptography and encryption key techniques. A user’s identity information is stored on the blockchain to a hashed version of what’s called the public key. Each user also has a private key, which allows them to safeguard their personal data and prove to those with whom they share the data that it belongs only to the person sharing it.

The idea with blockchain identity management is to store and encrypt data on users’ mobile devices, rather than in a central database. Since credentials are stored on the device, an attacker would have to hack phone by phone and wouldn’t be able to compromise many identities at once.

Although the mass appeal of blockchain identity management remains to be seen, there is potential in very strict compliance-oriented fields, said Eric Klein, director of mobile software at VDC Research in Natick, Mass.

“They are definitely unique in the market for doing something that hadn’t occurred to me as a means of enhancing your security,” Klein said.

Customers can use ShoCard software development kits to integrate the technology into their mobile applications and servers. The client app then prompts users to take pictures of their valid government IDs, and ShoCard extracts the personal information. The user then sets up a passcode or fingerprint verification as an added security measure. When a user decides to share the data with a third party, the information is placed in an encrypted container on the blockchain, which no one — including ShoCard — can access, except the party with whom the user is sharing it.

Blockchain pays off

Creditinfo adopted ShoCard for a few of its customers. It needed to allow customers to not only have control over their own credit data, but also be able to securely transfer data between different countries, Novoselov said.

For example, if a person from India goes to a U.S. bank and tries to get a credit card, it brings complications. Creditinfo cannot share data from India in the U.S. because of a difference in privacy laws between the two countries. Creditinfo needed a tool to allow people to bring their credit histories with them anywhere.

This is a new way of bringing confidence that the data is in safe hands.
Alexander Novoselovhead of innovation at Creditinfo

Customers can now download the Creditinfo app, which incorporates ShoCard technology via the vendor’s software development kit, and securely access and share their credit score data on their mobile devices.

“This is a new way of bringing confidence that the data is in safe hands,” Novoselov said.

Based on this same blockchain identity management technology, ShoCard also offers ShoBadge, an app that allows employees to hold their encrypted ID information on their mobile devices. Unlike with ShoCard, customers don’t have to write any code; instead, they just use the app directly.

ShoBadge allows employees to access all of their corporate apps by authenticating through the app, rather than requiring different logins to different applications or devices. It also allows them to securely share their identities at the workplace — with human resources, for example. There is no longer a central database at the company where all the users’ sensitive personal information is stored. Thus, employees bring their own identity, and there is no username and password management in the hands of a third party.

The identity management market remains fragmented, with some existing vendors who have the benefit of being in the game for a long time, Klein said. But this does not mean that all customers have decided on which technology to adopt, which is why a new company like ShoCard has been attracting some pretty serious venture funding, he said.

“There are people betting on other technologies maybe surpassing what we have today,” he added. “Integrating sophisticated blockchain capabilities as a path certainly has potential.”

VirtualWisdom brings visibility to the cloud

Expanding beyond storage, Virtual Instruments has integrated the analytics and performance management technology from its Xangati acquisition into its VirtualWisdom platform.

VirtualWisdom 5.4 includes tools that give administrators deeper visibility between the application and infrastructure for performance management. The product now includes a new NetFlow Probe tool that discovers and maps LAN traffic flow among the applications, hosts, virtual machines, NAS controllers and software-defined-storage (SDS) nodes.

VirtualWisdom now supports additional protocols such Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) within its SAN Switch Probe and SMB within its NAS Performance Probe, which previously only monitored the NFS protocol. Virtual Instruments also added monitoring of VMware vSAN, Dell EMC ScaleIO and Nutanix hyper-converged appliances  for application-centric performance management.

“For us, these are different sources to evaluate the health of the infrastructure,” said Len Rosenthal, chief marketing officer at Virtual Instruments. “We are collecting more sources of data to analyze the infrastructure so you can understand the infrastructure that the application is running on. Previously, we were 100% storage-based.”

The new capabilities come from virtualization infrastructure performance monitoring vendor Xangati, which Virtual Instruments acquired in November 2016.

Steve Brasen, research director of systems and storage management at Enterprise Management Associates, said the cloud has reduced visibility between applications and the infrastructure for administrators. That makes Virtual Instruments’ application performance management a valuable tool, he said.

“If you have a performance problem, all you see is that it has something to do with the cloud,” Brasen said. “VirtualWisdom can see through the virtualization, cloud and grid layers. It provides visibility from the application through the virtualization layer to the infrastructure.

“The product can map down to the storage, network and server levels,” he said. “And it can move applications to a location where it works better. It can dynamically place workloads. Virtual Instruments has the broadest visibility into the infrastructure.”

Virtual Instruments initially did performance monitoring of SANs with its SAN Performance Probe appliances for Fibre Channel (FC) storage but expanded to include network attached storage (NAS) with a NAS probe after merging with Load Dynamix.

VirtualWisdom has an analytics layer with tools that target performance optimization. A storage port balancer analytics tool performs workload and capacity optimization at the array level while the collaboration investigation runbooks helps debug problems that are hindering performance.

“In the past in was a manual process for customers to debug problems, such as which array do I use and what sequence of events do I implement to solve problems,” Rosenthal said. “What we have done is taken all our knowledge and we built a runbook or workflow that sets the sequence to solve a problem. Now it’s all automated.”

VirtualWisdom’s storage port analyzer helps fine-tune performance at the array level.

“This means you can look at the storage port utilization on the arrays,” Rosenthal said. “And look at the traffic patterns across those ports. We had this for the virtual servers for a number of years, but we did not have it on the arrays.”