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Microsoft 365 Business update targets nonprofits

Microsoft is rolling out some updates to its productivity offerings, hoping to capture the business of nonprofits looking for a path to digital transformation.

Digital transformation tools can help organizations improve the security, cost-effectiveness and efficiency of their processes. Small nonprofits often can’t afford these systems. Recognizing this, Microsoft is offering 10 free Microsoft 365 Business licenses for nonprofits, a productivity suite that includes access to Word, Excel, Outlook, OneDrive, Teams, SharePoint and more. Each additional license will cost $5 per month.

These free licenses do not give access to the Dynamics 365 CRM system and its Nonprofit Accelerator, but Microsoft does provide discounts to nonprofits looking to adopt its CRM.

The Microsoft Digital Skills Center for Nonprofits is another digital transformation resource that is already available, launched in partnership with learning platform TechSoup. This service provides free product training for nonprofits on how to use Microsoft 365 Business, among other services.

On Oct. 1, Microsoft plans to launch the Nonprofit Operations Toolkit. Built on Power Platform, this system integrates PowerApps, Flow, cloud storage and Excel to help nonprofits manage projects and awards management systems, such as tracking donor transactions. This system will include extra security features to ensure donor privacy, said Justin Spelhaug, general manager of technology for social impact at Microsoft.

Microsoft 365 has numerous security features, even at the individual level. If an employee accidentally tries to send sensitive information, the system can stop it. And if an employee leaves a mobile device on a bus, the nonprofit can wipe information from the phone.

“Nonprofits have some incredibly important info in IT systems about beneficiaries,” Spelhaug said. “Maintaining trust with donors and with beneficiaries is the lifeblood of organizations, and part of maintaining trust is having appropriate security backstops.”

Combined with Microsoft’s other tools, these systems can form the basis of a digital transformation strategy.

How can companies use these systems?

Meals on Wheels of Greenville County in South Carolina uses Microsoft 365 Business to optimize the delivery of meals to homebound and senior citizens.

One of the best things a nonprofit can do, but often doesn’t do, is to operate like a business.
Catriona CarlisleExecutive director of Meals on Wheels of Greenville

The biggest challenge Meals on Wheels had in crafting its own digital transformation strategy was training volunteers to use new technology, said Catriona Carlisle, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Greenville. The initial 15 courses offered through the Digital Skills Center will help them more easily train volunteers in the future, she said.

“The majority of our volunteers have smartphones,” Carlisle said. “They know tech, so it was a natural transition. But we have some volunteers with us almost 50 years who struggled with the change.”

By removing manual data entry, adding mobile management capabilities and automating volunteer scheduling, the nonprofit was able to expand, Carlisle said. Microsoft 365 Business saved the nonprofit time and money, giving them the chance to initiate a partnership with two local agencies that added 400 to 500 meals a day to their food supply, which had been serving 1,500 meals a day. They were also able to source the food from locals, rather than distant organizations, and began to send extra meals to a local school for children with specials needs and disabilities.

Meals on Wheels looks forward to the new changes, Carlisle said.

“One of the best things a nonprofit can do, but often doesn’t do, is to operate like a business,” she said. “We need to make business decisions to make sure we’re around for the future, looking not only at making investments here and now, but also for the future.”

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Mitel targets enterprises with MiCloud Engage contact center

Mitel has released a contact-center-as-a-service platform that — unlike its other contact center offerings — is detached from its unified communication products. The over-the-top product should appeal to large organizations, which are more likely to buy their contact center and Unified Communications apps separately. 

MiCloud Engage Contact Center, which runs in the multi-tenant public cloud of Amazon Web Services, supports voice, web chat, SMS and email channels, and integrates with Facebook Messenger and customer relationship management (CRM) software.

The MiCloud Engage platform plugs two gaps in the vendor’s cloud contact center portfolio. It scales to over 5,000 agents, significantly more than the 1,000-agent capacity of its flagship cloud platform, MiCloud Flex.

Furthermore, Mitel has traditionally bundled its UC and contact center products, a combination that appeals to the vendor’s historical customer base of small and midsize businesses. MiCloud Engage, in contrast, is available as a stand-alone offering.

Mitel hopes the new platform will help it gain a foothold among enterprises, which are more often customers of Avaya, Cisco or Genesys. It could also appeal to individual divisions or lines of business within a large organization.

Mitel continues cloud pivot ahead of acquisition

The release of MiCloud Engage comes months shy of the publicly traded company’s planned acquisition by the private equity firm Searchlight Capital Partners L.P. The $2 billion deal, announced in April, is expected to close by the year’s end.

Going private should help Mitel grow its cloud business because it will be able to focus on long-term growth rather than quarterly earnings. Following a series of recent acquisitions, the company also benefits from a relatively large install base and a broad mix of cloud UC offerings.

Mitel’s 2017 acquisition of ShoreTel made it one of the top UC-as-a-service vendors worldwide, along with 8×8 and RingCentral. Still, only 6% of Mitel’s 70 million UC seats were in the cloud at the outset of 2018: 1.1 million in the public cloud and another 3 million hosted in Mitel’s data centers.

Ultimately, MiCloud Engage could serve as a conduit to more enterprises buying Mitel’s UC products, the core of its business. Gartner ranks Mitel among the top four UC vendors, alongside Microsoft, Cisco and Avaya.

“If you can’t win the UC business, then winning the contact center business and creating a backdoor that way is a good strategy,” said Zeus Kerravala, the founder and principal analyst at ZK Research in Westminster, Mass. “Getting your foot in the door is the important piece, and that’s what they’re trying to do with [MiCloud Engage].”

Matt Wood talks AWS’ AI platform, ethical use

NEW YORK — AWS spotlighted its evolving AI offerings at AWS Summit this week, with a variety of features and upgrades.

The company incorporated one emerging technology, Amazon Rekognition, into the event’s registration process as it scanned consenting attendees’ faces and compared them against photos submitted previously during registration.

But despite outlines for customers’ use, the AWS AI platform is not immune to growing concerns over potentially unethical usage of these advanced systems. Civil rights advocacy groups worry that technology providers’ breakneck pace to provide AI capabilities, such as Rekognition, could lead to abuses of power in the public sector and law enforcement, among others.

Matt Wood, AWS general manager of deep learning and AI, discussed advancements to the AWS AI platform, adoption trends, customer demands and ethical concerns in this interview.

AWS has added a batch transform feature to its SageMaker machine learning platform to process data sets for non-real-time inferencing. How does that capability apply to customers trying to process larger data files?

Matt Wood: We support the two major ways you’d want to run predictions. You want to run predictions against fresh data as it arrives in real time; you can do that with SageMaker-hosted endpoints. But there are tons of cases in which you want to be able to apply predictions to large amounts of data, either that just arrives or gets exported from a data warehouse, or that is just too large in terms of the raw data size to process one by one. These two things are highly complementary.

We see a lot of customers that want to run billing reports or forecasting. They want to look at product sales at the end of a quarter or the end of a month [and] predict the demand going forward. Another really good example is [to] build a machine learning model and test it out on a data set you understand really well, which is really common in oil and gas, medicine and medical imaging.

In the keynote, you cited 100 new machine learning features or services [AWS has developed] since re:Invent last year. What feedback do you get from customers for your current slate [of AI services]?

Wood: What we heard very clearly was a couple things. No. 1, customers really value strong encryption and strong network isolation. A lot of that has to do with making sure customers have good encryption integrated with Key Management Service inside SageMaker. We also recently added PrivateLink support, which means you can connect up your notebooks and training environment directly to DynamoDB, Redshift or S3 without that data ever flowing out over the private internet. And you can put your endpoints over PrivateLink as well. [Another] big trend is around customers using multiple frameworks together. You’ll see a lot of focus on improving TensorFlow, improving Apache MXNet, adding Chainer support, adding PyTorch support and making sure ONNX [Open Neural Network Exchange] works really well across those engines so that customers can take models trained in one and run them in a different engine.

Matt Wood, AWS GM of Deep Learning and AIMatt Wood speaks during the AWS Summit keynote address (Source: AWS).

What do you hear from enterprises that are reluctant or slow to adopt AI technologies? And what do you feel that you have to prove to those customers?

Wood: It’s still early for a lot of enterprises, and particularly for regulated workloads, there’s a lot of due diligence to do — around HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act], for example, getting HIPAA compliance in place. The question is: ‘How can I move more quickly?’ That’s what we hear all the time.

There’s two main pathways that we see [enterprises take] today. The first is: They try and look at the academic literature, [which] is very fast-moving, but also very abstract. It’s hard to apply it to real business problems. The other is: You look around on the web, find some tutorials and try to learn it that way. That often gives you something which is up and running that works, but again, it glosses over the fundamentals of how do you collect training data, how do you label that data, how do you build and define a neural network, how do you train that neural network.

To help developers learn, you want a very fast feedback loop. You want to be able to try something out, learn from it, what worked and what didn’t work, then make a change. It’s kick-starting that flywheel, which is very challenging with machine learning.

What are some usage patterns or trends you’ve seen from SageMaker adopters that are particularly interesting?

Wood: A really big one is sports analytics. Major League Baseball selected SageMaker and the AWS AI platform to power their production stats that they use in their broadcasts and on [their] app. They’ve got some amazing ideas about how to build more predictive and more engaging visuals and analytics for their users. [It’s the] same thing with Formula 1 [F1]. They’re taking 65 years’ worth of performance data from the cars — they have terabytes of the stuff — to model different performance of different cars but also to look at race prediction and build an entirely new category of visuals for F1 fans. The NFL [is] doing everything from computer vision to using player telemetry, using their position on the field to do route prediction and things like that. Sports analytics drives such an improvement in the experience for fans, and it’s a big area of investment for us.

Another is healthcare and medical imaging. We see a lot of medical use cases — things like disease prediction, such as how likely are you to have congestive heart failure in the next 12 months, do outpatient prediction, readmittance prediction, those sorts of things. We can actually look inside an X-ray and identify very early-stage lung cancer before the patient even knows that they’re sick. [And] you can run that test so cheaply. You can basically run it against any chest X-ray.

You partnered with Microsoft on Gluon, the deep learning library. What’s the status of that project? What other areas might you collaborate with Microsoft or another major vendor on an AI project?

Wood: Gluon is off to a great start. Celgene, a biotech that’s doing drug toxicity prediction, is trying to speed up clinical trials to get drugs to market more quickly. All of that runs in SageMaker, and they use Gluon to build models. That’s one example; we have more.

Other areas of collaboration we see is around other engines. For example, we were a launch partner for PyTorch 1.0 [a Python-based machine learning library, at Facebook’s F8 conference]. PyTorch has a ton of interest from research scientists, particularly in academia, [and we] bring that up to SageMaker and work with Facebook on the development.

Microsoft President Bradford Smith recently called on Congress to consider federal regulation for facial recognition services. What is Amazon’s stance on AI regulation? How much should customers determine ethical use of AI, facial recognition or other cloud services, and what is AWS’ responsibility?

Wood: Our approach is that Rekognition, like all of our services, falls under our Acceptable Use Policy, [which] is very clear with what it allows and what it does not allow. One of the things that it does not allow is anything unconstitutional; mass surveillance, for example, is ruled out. We’re very clear that customers need to take that responsibility, and if they fall outside our Acceptable Use [Policy}, just like anyone else on AWS, they will lose access to those services, because we won’t support them. They need to be responsible with how they test, validate and communicate their use of these technologies because they can be hugely impactful.

AWS Summit Rekognition kiosksAmazon Rekognition kiosks scan the faces of attendees and print identification badges (Source: David Carty).

The American Civil Liberties Union, among others, has asked AWS to stop selling Rekognition to law enforcement agencies. Will you comply with that request? If not, under what circumstances might that decision change?

Wood: Again, that’s covered under our Acceptable Use Policy. If any customer in any domain is using any of our services in a way which falls outside of acceptable use, then they will lose access to that service.

Certainly, the Acceptable Use Policy covers lawful use, but do you think that also covers ethical use? That’s a thornier question.

Wood: It is a thornier question. I think it’s part of a broader dialogue that we need to have, just as we’ve had with motor cars and any large-scale technology which provides a lot of opportunity, but which also needs a public and open discussion.

Azure PaaS strategy hones in on hybrid cloud, containers

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Weigh the pros and cons of technologies, products and projects you are considering.

Microsoft’s PaaS offerings might have a leg-up in terms of support for hybrid deployments, but the vendor still faces tough competition in a quickly evolving app-dev market.


The Azure PaaS portfolio continues to offer a compelling story for companies that need a development environment…

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where legacy applications can move freely between on premises and the cloud. But even as the vendor increasingly embraces hybrid cloud, open source and emerging technologies, such as containers and IoT, it still faces tough competition from the likes of Google and AWS.

Strong foundation

Azure App Service is Microsoft’s flagship PaaS offering, enabling developers to build and deploy web and mobile applications in a variety of programming languages — without having to manage the underlying infrastructure.

But App Service represents just one of many services that Microsoft has rolled out over the years to help developers create, test, debug and extend application code. The company’s Visual Studio line, for example, now includes four product families: Visual Studio Integrated Development Environment, Visual Studio Team Services, Visual Studio Code and Visual Studio App Center, which includes connections to GitHub, Bitbucket and VSTS repositories to support continuous integration.

Microsoft has also created a vast independent software vendor and developer community, and has tightly integrated many of its development tools, according to Jeffrey Kaplan, managing director at THINKstrategies, Inc. Visual Studio and SQL Server, for example, support common design points and feature high levels of integration with App Service.

Microsoft’s Azure PaaS strategy is also unique in its focus on hybrid cloud deployments. Through its Hybrid Connections feature, for example, developers can build and manage cloud applications that access on-premises resources. What’s more, Azure App Service is also available for Azure Stack — Microsoft’s integrated hardware and software platform designed to bring Azure public cloud services to enterprises’ local data centers and simplify the deployment and management of hybrid cloud applications.

Missing pieces

But despite its broad portfolio and hybrid focus, Azure PaaS is not a panacea. While many traditional IT departments have embraced the offering, it hasn’t been as popular in business units, which now drive development initiatives in many organizations, according to Larry Carvalho, research director for IDC’s PaaS practice.

What’s more, organizations that don’t have a large footprint of legacy systems often prefer open source development tools, rather than tools like Visual Studio. Traditionally, Microsoft hasn’t offered support for open source technology as quickly as other cloud market leaders, such as AWS, according to Carvalho. This is likely because competitors like AWS are not weighed down by support for legacy products.

But while, historically, Microsoft’s business model has been antithetical to the open source approach, that’s started to change. The company has made an effort to embrace more open source technologies and recently purchased GitHub, a version control platform founded on the open source code management system Git.

The evolving face of PaaS

The PaaS landscape is evolving rapidly. Rather than traditional VMs, developers increasingly focus on containers, and interest in DevOps continues to rise. In an attempt to align with these trends, Microsoft now offers a managed Kubernetes service on its public cloud and recently added Azure Container Instances to enable developers to spin up new container workloads without having to manage the underlying server infrastructure.

Additionally, enterprises have a growing interest in application development for AI, machine learning and IoT platforms. And while Azure PaaS tools offer support for these technologies, Microsoft still needs to compete against fellow market leaders, AWS and Google — the latter of which has garnered a lot of attention for its development of TensorFlow, an open source machine learning framework.

Dig Deeper on Platform as a Service and cloud computing

Wanted – Decent 2.0 / 2.1 desktop speakers

I’m after set of speakers a step up from the usual Creative offerings, something like…….

Bose companion 3
Kef Egg
Bose Companion 20
Focal XS Book
Audioengine A2
Cambridge Audio Minx M5

Open to offers & suggestions

Thanks

Location: Leicester

______________________________________________________
This message is automatically inserted in all classifieds forum threads.
By replying to this thread you agree to abide by the trading rules detailed here.
Please be advised, all buyers and sellers should satisfy themselves that the other party is genuine by providing the following via private conversation to each other after negotiations are complete and prior to dispatching goods and making payment:

  • Landline telephone number. Make a call to check out the area code and number are correct, too
  • Name and address including postcode
  • Valid e-mail address

DO NOT proceed with a deal until you are completely satisfied with all details being correct. It’s in your best interest to check out these details yourself.

Wanted – Decent 2.0 / 2.1 desktop speakers

I’m after set of speakers a step up from the usual Creative offerings, something like…….

Bose companion 3
Kef Egg
Bose Companion 20
Focal XS Book
Audioengine A2
Cambridge Audio Minx M5

Open to offers & suggestions

Thanks

Location: Leicester

______________________________________________________
This message is automatically inserted in all classifieds forum threads.
By replying to this thread you agree to abide by the trading rules detailed here.
Please be advised, all buyers and sellers should satisfy themselves that the other party is genuine by providing the following via private conversation to each other after negotiations are complete and prior to dispatching goods and making payment:

  • Landline telephone number. Make a call to check out the area code and number are correct, too
  • Name and address including postcode
  • Valid e-mail address

DO NOT proceed with a deal until you are completely satisfied with all details being correct. It’s in your best interest to check out these details yourself.

Salesforce Lightning Bolt strikes Appirio as vertical plan

Appirio, a cloud services provider, rolled out prebuilt offerings on Salesforce Lightning at Dreamforce 2017, which wrapped up this week in San Francisco.

The Wipro company’s prebuilt wares, referred to as Salesforce Lightning Bolt solutions in the SaaS vendor’s terminology, target the retail and healthcare vertical markets and employee engagement as a horizontal market.

Salesforce Lightning, the vendor’s platform-wide upgrade, debuted two years ago, and customer migration to the environment was a key theme at Dreamforce 2017. The Salesforce Lightning Bolt approach, which the company unveiled in 2016, lets Salesforce partners create new communities, portals or websites that integrate with Salesforce customer relationship management. Salesforce intends for the Lightning Bolts to be reusable, industry-specific offerings.

The ability to develop custom, repeatable Salesforce Lightning Bolt solutions appeals to channel partners.

“That is why [Salesforce Lightning Bolt] resonates with us and other systems integrators,” said Yoni Barkan, director of solutions and innovation at Appirio, based in Indianapolis. “These are solutions that we feel show our industry expertise in a particular area and allow us to leverage that.”

These are solutions that we feel show our industry expertise in a particular area and allow us to leverage that.
Yoni Barkandirector of solutions and innovation at Appirio

Appirio’s Bolt lineup includes a retail and franchise offering that aims to facilitate collaboration among franchisors and franchisees, home offices and retail partners. Barkan said the Lightning Bolt lets participants view their own branding — a franchisee’s or home office’s branding, for example — while participating in the Salesforce-based community.

Also in the retail and franchise space, Appirio’s promotion management Lightning Bolt provides a collaboration platform for managing new promotions and brand updates. Barkan said the promotion use case stems from work the company has undertaken with a global franchise company.

A medical device ordering and sales Lightning Bolt, meanwhile, seeks to bolster communication and collaboration among manufacturers, distributors and suppliers. And an employee community and social intranet Salesforce Lightning Bolt targets employee engagement. For that Bolt, Appirio is partnering with vendors such as Stantive Technologies Group, which provides the OrchestraCMS content management system.

Green House Data, Ingram in acquisition mode

Green House Data, a cloud hosting and managed services company based in Cheyenne, Wyo., has acquired Ajubeo, an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider based in Boulder, Colo.

The purchase provides Green House Data a presence in the Rocky Mountain region, adding to its geographic expansion. The company in April 2017 purchased IaaS provider Cirracore, which has operations in Atlanta and Dallas.

“We’ve largely based acquisition and expansion strategies around a combination of customer demand, geodiversity and, of course, market opportunity,” said Shawn Mills, president and CEO at Green House Data. “For example, we acquired into Atlanta earlier this year because 75% of Fortune 1000 companies have some kind of presence in this market, so it is advantageous to both our clients and to organic growth.”

From the cloud services point of view, Green House Data’s Ajubeo purchase was also driven by the latter company’s private cloud practice, Mills noted.

Cloud services companies are acquiring other firms to shore up skills in an increasingly multi-cloud environment. Mills said multi-cloud customer engagements are “more and more the norm than an anomaly.”

Ingram Micro Inc., meanwhile, acquired The Phoenix Group, a distributor of point-of-sale (POS) technology for the U.S. and Canadian electronic payments markets. According to Ingram Micro, The Phoenix Group’s management and associates will operate as a division of Ingram Micro.

Other news

  • Big Switch Networks, a data center networking vendor, launched a channel program the company said provides partner incentives, training, certification and enablement programs, along with professional services opportunities. The company’s channel partner program is based on two tiers: The Big Switch Authorized Partner tier is open to partners who are authorized networking resellers of Dell EMC or Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Channel partners can also qualify for that tier by signing a Big Switch VAR agreement for selling Edgecore and Big Switch offerings. The Big Switch Premier Partner tier is open to partner that meet the Authorized Partner requirements and also fulfill additional Premier Partner tier requirements that include maintaining a defined number of certified sales and engineering employees.
  • Datical, a provider of database release automation offerings, unveiled a partner program with the objective of connecting DevOps vendors and systems integrators. Program features include an online marketplace, access to training and joint marketing opportunities with Datical.
  • Pivot3, a hyper-converged infrastructure vendor, said the company witnessed a 178% increase in new deal registrations from channel partners from the first quarter to the third quarter of 2017. In addition, the company said 77 partners have joined the company’s channel roster in Q3.
  • Kryon Systems, a robotic process automation solutions provider, is partnering with MFX, an IT services provider for property and casualty insurance carriers, reinsurers and agents.
  • Ingenico Group, a POS and e-payment company, has selected Masergy, a hybrid networking and managed security provider, for its managed SD-WAN Pro offering.
  • World Wide Technology, an IT solution provider, opened a new global headquarters in the Maryland Heights, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. The facility is 208,000 square feet, and it includes a 300-seat auditorium equipped with an LED screen that’s 51 feet by 12 feet.
  • BCS ProSoft, a business software and technology consulting firm, has appointed Sally Craig as its vice president of sales and marketing. Craig was previously a channel executive at ERP vendor Epicor.