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Top 5 ERP software for small businesses

As ERP software providers have created cloud-based versions of their products, they’ve opened up these capabilities to small businesses.

The per-user, per-month pricing model makes ERP software more accessible to small businesses, and running it in the cloud means that they don’t need to invest in servers or IT staff to deploy, manage and troubleshoot it.

ERP software is ideal for small businesses that have outgrown their spreadsheets, paper-based systems or general small business accounting software. These software systems are now more widely available to businesses that had outgrown spreadsheets or small business accounting software and are looking for something that could better handle accounting, customer relationship management and other business functions.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule as to when small businesses should switch to ERP software. But if they’re struggling with a lot of manual tasks, want to get a better picture of the financial health of their business and take advantage of analytics, it might be time to start evaluating different vendors. Some other indicators that it’s time to look at ERP software include spending too much time trying to integrate other software packages to get a full picture of inventory, supply chain and customers, as well as difficulty meeting customer demands.

Here are the top five ERP software choices for small businesses:

OnCloudERP

Aimed squarely at small businesses in the distribution, wholesale, retail and services sector, OnCloud ERP is a fully cloud-based ERP software product. The OnCloud ERP suite of applications includes the expected accounting modules for real-time information on cash flow, as well as sales, inventory, purchase order and receipt tracking, inventory management and production planning. Add-on modules provide the ability to manage payroll, track and maintain assets, leverage CRM functions like lead tracking and manage projects.

One of the most attractive features for small businesses is that companies can implement OnCloud ERP without an IT department and uses a single platform for all the ERP functions. The software also offers mobile device and remote access capabilities.

OnCloud ERP offers a free trial for 14 days. Pricing starts at $10 per user per month for the “StartUp” plan, with a minimum of five users.

Microsoft Dynamics Business Central

While Microsoft Dynamics 365 is geared toward larger businesses, Microsoft offers a Business Central application for small businesses. This product includes financials, supply chain management, customer service and project management in one product.

The analytics capabilities in Business Central include the ability to connect data across accounting, sales, purchasing, inventory and customer transactions, then run reports in real-time using business intelligence dashboards. The product also enables users to access data modeling and analysis to create financial forecasts.

Because it’s a Microsoft product, users can integrate the product with Excel, Word, Outlook and Azure. Microsoft also offers pre-built add-on products like Continia Document Capture 365 for recognizing documents and approving invoices and Jet Reports to create financial reports inside Excel.

The pricing model is a per-user, per-month fee, based on whether the company chooses a basic or premium version. Microsoft delivers Business Central entirely in the cloud, and the vendor also offers a mobile application for remote access.

Oracle NetSuite

While Oracle markets NetSuite as ideal for businesses of any size, where NetSuite really shines is with smaller businesses. It’s an all-in-one software suite that includes financials, customer service and e-commerce capabilities, so small business owners don’t have to figure out how to use APIs to connect different software packages. NetSuite also packages analytics in with its ERP software to provide insight into how the business is performing, using key performance indicators.

NetSuite is delivered entirely in the cloud, on the NetSuite Cloud Platform. This enables organizations to add other applications and modules — such as SuitePeople, its human capital management system — to the software. The product is billed as good for manufacturing, media and publishing, nonprofit, retail, services, advertising, distribution and wholesale and software industries.

Potential users must contact NetSuite for pricing information.

Sage Intacct

The focus of Sage Intacct is finance and accounting, and Sage bills it as being “built for finance by finance.” Some of the features it offers includes the ability to automate complex processes, analyze data, create structured transactions and approvals, and manage multiple currencies and locations. It also provides the ability to track multiple accounts in real-time.

For companies that want to extend Sage Intacct beyond core financial functions, the software offers modules for fixed assets, inventory management, and time and expense management, among others. It also offers web services in the form of APIs to integrate with other software systems, as well as a built-in Salesforce integration.

Sage Intacct is priced on a quote basis and is cloud-based.

SAP Business One

As SAP’s ERP product for small businesses, SAP Business One is a single suite that includes financial management, sales and customer management, purchasing and inventory control, and analytics and reporting capabilities. It also includes a mobile access module so that users can check inventory, manage sales and service, and complete approvals from iOS or Android devices.

Companies can customize SAP Business One for their industries, including consumer products, manufacturing, retail, wholesale distribution and professional services. The can also customize the software using application extensions from SAP partners, create web applications that run on desktops or mobile devices, and use self-service options within SAP Business One to create additional fields, tables and forms.

Unlike a lot of other small business ERP products, companies can implement SAP Business One on premises. It’s also delivered in a cloud-based model, priced on a per-user, per-month basis. It’s sold exclusively through SAP partners.

ERP selection advice

Before beginning the ERP software evaluation process, small business leaders need to first identify the business problems they’re trying to solve. They will also want to audit their existing processes to see if the ERP system they’re considering has these processes built in or will let them create workflows.

As small businesses begin the evaluation process, it’s important to keep in mind what the company actually needs and what it can support. Most of these systems will let companies add users as needed, as well as extend capabilities using APIs. These top five ERP software for small business have features that go beyond basic accounting and let small businesses compete with larger companies, using tools that previously were not affordable.

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New FalconStor StorSafe uses containers to archive backups

FalconStor Software took a novel approach with its new StorSafe long-term archive product that can containerize backups and let customers move them across on-premises systems and public cloud object storage.

FalconStor uses standard software container technology to separate the data from the underlying storage components and enable users to migrate their StorSafe archives as systems become outdated or cloud vendors offer new options.

Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting, said StorSafe’s container technology would allow customers to move their oldest backups to cheaper storage.

“Data movement is the biggest bugaboo in the data center,” Staimer said. “Usually, once you send something, that’s where it is forever. This makes it easy to move that data from one storage medium to another.”

Tape alternative

Mike Matchett, principal IT industry analyst/principal consultant and technology strategist at Small World Big Data, said organizations could migrate data protection from tape and other backup and archive storage targets to the StorSafe virtual storage containers. They could then distribute and protect the containers across clouds rather than shipping physical tapes offsite, he said.

“Because those virtual storage containers are portable and retained online, they offer significant opportunities to improve backup and disaster recovery processes, accelerate and ensure recovery, and take advantage of cloud-scale utility pricing,” Matchett said.

To reduce the storage footprint, StorSafe would deduplicate and compress data in line as the backup application sends the data stream to a caching engine and then to the product’s single instance repository (SIR). The FalconStor software extracts the backup header, hash tables and unique blocks from the SIR and encrypts the data, letting the customer keep the keys.

Protection through erasure coding

StorSafe uses erasure coding to shard the encrypted data set into six “mini” containers and creates checksums for each one. The customer can store the mini containers across pre-selected on-premises and S3-based public cloud object stores. StorSafe needs four of the mini containers to reconstruct the data set. That means two mini containers or sites can be down or unavailable, and StorSafe could still restore the full data set.

FalconStor StorSafe
FalconStor’s new StorSafe archive uses container and erasure coding technologies to archive backups.

David Morris, vice president of global product strategy and marketing at FalconStor, said the erasure coding removes the need for two full data copies. That reduces the amount of data that customers need to store. He said customers could also lower costs by rebuilding the data set from the cloud storage with the lowest egress fees, or in the case of Wasabi, no egress fees.

StorSafe’s erasure coding also would add a level of resilience against certain types of ransomware, according to Staimer. He said an attack would likely affect only one cloud bucket, not all six of the mini containers. On the down side, the erasure coding could have an impact on performance due to the network latency associated with multiple cloud sites, Staimer cautioned.

StorSafe pricing model

FalconStor released a beta version of StorSafe last week and expects to ship the final product in the second half of 2020. Morris said StorSafe pricing consists of a license fee for the software and a charge for the container, no matter how much data it stores and how many mini containers it uses. Customers need to arrange the storage through on-premises systems or cloud providers.

StorSafe virtual storage containers can hold any type of data and vary in size. Morris said containers exceeded 100 TB in tests and theoretically could contain more than a petabyte of data.

StorSafe supports the same backup software compatibility list as FalconStor’s Virtual Tape Library (VTL) product, including products from vendors such as Commvault, Dell EMC, HPE, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Veeam and Veritas.

Although StorSafe currently works only with backup products, FalconStor plans to support operational data in the future. Morris said the second StorSafe phase would take data from FalconStar’s Network Storage Server (NSS) and Continuous Data Protection (CDP) products, and the third phase would facilitate streaming any source into a container.

Based on their roadmap, there is potential to solve some significant data center problems.
Marc StaimerPresident, Dragon Slayer Consulting

“Based on their roadmap, there is potential to solve some significant data center problems,” Staimer said. “They become data management in the sense that they can put it wherever you want it and move it whenever you need it. And it’ll lower the cost of where you put it, with their dedupe, et cetera.”

Founded in 2000, FalconStor claims to have more than 800 customers in more than 50 countries. StorSafe is a key piece of the vendor’s strategy to rebound from steady revenue declines since 2009. FalconStor revenue dropped to $16.5 million in 2019 from $17.8 million in 2018 and $89.5 million in 2009. FalconStor has had five CEOs in the last decade, with Todd Brooks holding the job since August 2017.

Morris said the new StorSafe product will target verticals such as oil and gas, media and entertainment and second-tier or concierge cloud providers with large data sets. He said StorSafe could also be useful for companies that need to archive financial records from an Oracle backup or keep data subject to regulatory, compliance, electronic discovery and GDPR retention requirements. Morris noted that StorSafe could do validation checks and journal the health of the container over its lifetime.

StorSafe’s competitors include Dell EMC’s Data Domain and Quantum’s DXi. Staimer said StorSafe would have edges in flexibility with the container technology, resiliency from the erasure coding and potentially deduplication with FalconStor’s claimed 26-to-1 ratio.

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Microsoft misconfiguration exposed 250M customer service records

Microsoft became the latest organization to accidentally expose private data on the web.

The software giant Wednesday admitted it had exposed 250 million customer support records on five Elasticsearch servers, which were inadvertently made publicly accessible on the web for nearly a month.

According to Comparitech, which discovered the exposure, most personally identifiable information (PII) such as payment information was redacted. However, exposed information included customer email addresses, IP addresses, locations, descriptions of customer service and support claims and cases, Microsoft support agent emails, case numbers, resolutions, remarks, and internal notes marked as confidential.

“I was immediately stunned by the size and by the structure of data there, and even when I saw that most of the data there was automatically redacted, still there were some records with personal data in plain text,” Bob Diachenko, leader of Comparitech’s security research team, told SearchSecurity.

Microsoft, which corrected the misconfiguration last month, issued a statement that said it found no malicious use of the exposed data. The company said its investigation found that misconfigured Azure security rules were applied to the databases in early December.

On Dec. 28, according to Comparitech, the databases were first indexed by BinaryEdge, a search engine. One day later, Diachenko discovered the exposed databases and immediately contacted Microsoft. Within two days, the servers and data were secured.

“They acted really quickly and professionally,” Diachenko said. “In general, Microsoft’s response was exemplary. I wish every company would have such a brilliant internet response protocol in place.”

“We have solutions to help prevent this kind of mistake, but unfortunately, they were not enabled for this database,” Microsoft said in its statement. It is unknown what these solutions are and why they weren’t in place; when SearchSecurity contacted Microsoft, the company declined to comment beyond the public statement.

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EG Enterprise v7 focuses on usability, user experience monitoring

Software vendor EG Innovations will release version 7 of its EG Enterprise software, its end-user experience monitoring tool, on Jan. 31.

New features and updates have been added to the IT monitoring software with the goal of making it more user-friendly. The software focuses primarily on monitoring end-user activities and responses.

“Many times, vendor tools monitor their own software stack but do not go end to end,” said Srinivas Ramanathan, CEO of EG Innovations. “Cross-tier, multi-vendor visibility is critical when it comes to monitoring and diagnosing user experience issues. After all, users care about the entire service, which cuts across vendor stacks.”

Ramanathan said IT issues are not as simple as they used to be.

“What you will see in 2020 is now that there is an ability to provide more intelligence to user experience, how do you put that into use?” said Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. “EG has a challenge of when to engage with a customer. IT’s a value to them if they engage with the customer sooner in an end-user kind of monitoring scenario. In many cases, they get brought in to solve a problem when it’s already happened, and it would be better for them to shift.”

New features in EG Enterprise v7 include:

  • Synthetic and real user experience monitoring: Users can create simulations and scripts of different applications that can be replayed to further help diagnose a problem and notifies IT operations teams of impending problems.
  • Layered monitoring: Enables users to monitor every tier of an application stack via a central console.
  • Automated diagnosis: Lets users use machine learning and automation to find root causes to issues.
  • Optimization plan: Users can customize optimization plans through capacity and application overview reports.

“Most people look at user experience as just response time for accessing any application. We see user experience as being broader than this,” Ramanthan said. “If problems are not diagnosed correctly and they reoccur again and again, it will hurt user experience. If the time to resolve a problem is high, users will be unhappy.”

Pricing for EG Enterprise v7 begins at $2 per user per month in a digital workspace. Licensing for other workloads depends on how many operating systems are being monitored. The new version includes support for Citrix and VMWare Horizon.

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How Genesys is personalizing the customer experience with Engage, Azure and AI | Transform

Microsoft and Genesys, a global provider of contact center software, recently announced a partnership to enable enterprises to run Genesys’ omnichannel customer experience solution, Genesys Engage, on Microsoft Azure. According to the two companies, this combination will provide a secure cloud environment to help companies more easily leverage AI to address customer needs on any channel.

Headquartered in Daly City, California, Genesys has more than 5,000 employees in nearly 60 offices worldwide. Every year, the company supports more than 70 billion customer experiences for organizations like Coca-Cola Business Services North America, eBay, Heineken, Lenovo, PayPal, BOSCH, Quicken and more.

Transform spoke with Barry O’Sullivan, executive vice president and general manager of Multicloud Solutions for Genesys, to explore how technology is reinventing the customer service experience.

TRANSFORM: How are technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and cloud transforming the customer service sector?

O’SULLIVAN: It’s broader than customer service. It’s the entire customer experience, which encompasses any point at which businesses engage with consumers, whether it’s in a marketing, sales or service context. What cloud, AI and machine learning enable is the ability to make every experience unique to each individual. Every consumer wants to feel like they’re the only customer that matters during each interaction with a brand. These technologies allow organizations to understand what customers are doing, predict what they will need next and then deliver it in real time.

Traditionally, companies haven’t been able to do that well, because it’s hard to get a fix on a consumer as they move between channels. Maybe they come to a physical store one day, then call the next day or engage via web chat. These technologies allow brands to stitch together every customer interaction, and then use the resulting data to personalize the experience.

TRANSFORM: Can you talk a little bit more about that customer journey and what customers will experience going forward?

O’SULLIVAN: Let’s use contacting the cable company to get internet service as an example. You check out their website, but maybe you get stuck and use web chat to interact with a customer service representative. Today’s technologies allow businesses to connect the dots to better understand the customer.

Before these technologies were available, interactions were disconnected, and important customer details and context didn’t move from one department or agent to the next. We all know what that’s like – just think about a customer service experience when you had to repeat your name and birthdate every time you were passed to a new agent.

Today’s technology can tie together a customer’s details, like their favored communication channel, past purchases, prior service requests and more, so the business really knows them. Then, using AI, it can match that customer with the contact center agent who has the best chance of successfully resolving the issue and achieving a specific business outcome, such as making a related sale.

TRANSFORM: All of those kinds of experiences seem to be present in some form today. Is there a change coming that’s going to take the consumer experience to the next level?

O’SULLIVAN: Personalized service is not a new concept, but very few businesses get it right. Today, it’s about so much more than targeting personas or market segments.

It’s really about enabling organizations to link together their customers’ and employees’ experiences to deliver truly memorable, one-of-a-kind interactions. When it’s done right, organizations already know who the customer is, what he or she wants and the best way to deliver it.

That means understanding customers so well that businesses know the best times to contact them, on which channel and even the best days for an appointment. It’s no longer one-size-fits-all service – it’s tailor-made customer care for each consumer.

TRANSFORM: Are your own customers ready to adopt the technologies to enable this kind of new experience?

O’SULLIVAN: When it comes to cloud, it’s not a question of if, but when and how. And that’s one of the reasons the announcement between Genesys and Microsoft is so exciting. We have a lot of customers, especially large enterprises, who love Genesys and love Azure and really want to see that combination come together. So, giving them that option and that choice is really going to accelerate the migration to cloud.

In terms of adopting AI and machine learning, many companies are in the early phases, but recognize the enormous potential of the technology. What makes AI truly compelling in the customer experience market is its ability to unlock data. Increasingly, businesses use digital channels, like web chat and text, to communicate with consumers, which combined with traditional voice interactions has resulted in copious amounts of data being produced daily. The key for organizations is figuring out how to harness and leverage it to more fully understand customers, their experiences and behaviors, as well as the needs of human agents. That’s where Genesys comes in.

TRANSFORM: How would you describe your experience working with Microsoft?

O’SULLIVAN: It’s a great partnership because we’ve got a common view of the customer and a very aligned vision on cloud. It’s all about delivering agility and innovation quickly and reliably to our joint customers. So, it really helps when we’re both all in on the cloud, all in on customer experience.

Our customers are really excited about this combination of Genesys and Azure. They can simplify their maintenance, reduce costs and streamline the buying process. We believe in the advantages of moving to cloud, and obviously Azure is a leader there.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Veeam acquisition puts heat on rivals

Although at least one analyst warned that the Veeam Software acquisition by Insight Partners should have its competitors wary, two of Veeam’s closest backup rivals said they will benefit from the deal.

After disclosing the deal last week, Veeam and private equity firm Insight executives said the backup vendor will shift its strategy toward hybrid cloud data protection and expanding its U.S. presence.

Christophe Bertrand, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said Veeam’s competitors should be wary of a competitive shakeup. Unlike the scenario where a larger tech player buys up Veeam to bolster its product offerings, Insight has stepped in solely to expand Veeam’s reach to generate a return on investment. Bertrand said Veeam now has the financial backing to acquire and accelerate on its expansion strategy.

“Clearly they have a sponsor here who is very focused on growth. It’s a private equity firm; they want a good return out of it,” Bertrand said.

However, cloud-based backup vendor Druva and data protection and management software vendor Commvault painted the Veeam acquisition in a positive light for them. Executives from those rivals said Veeam’s acquisition validates the importance of backup — and proves their technology and business strategies are on the right track.

Druva CTO Stephen Manley said his company is already established at cloud-based backup, which is part of Veeam’s new focus.

“We’ve got a head start in this market. They have a lot of work to get to where we are,” Manley said.

Druva launched its Druva Phoenix platform in 2014, enabling server backup to the cloud, built on AWS. The company acquired Cloud Ranger in 2018 for its AWS backup and disaster recovery features and received a $130 million funding round in June 2019, led by Viking Global Investors.

Manley said the Veeam acquisition will help Druva by drawing attention to cloud-based backup. When large, established vendors make a move into this industry, it generates buzz that customers will inevitably follow. Manley said this leads to customers eventually finding Druva, as well.

Ranga Rajagopalan, vice president of product management at Commvault, said the Veeam acquisition underscores the importance of the backup market. Since June 2018, investors have poured more than $1 billion into cloud data protection vendors Cohesity, Rubrik, Actifio, Druva and Clumio. Insight Partners also poured $500 million into Veeam in January 2019, a year before buying out the entire company.

Rajagopalan said backup is a way to gather all the data. While protecting it remains important, Rajagopalan said that investors and industry experts envision using that data to accelerate application development, analytics and other non-backup purposes.

“It’s more than just backup — it’s data management. There’s so much more customers can do with their data if they can manage it better,” Rajagopalan said.

Commvault’s strategy has shifted toward broadening beyond backup, according to Tom Broderick, vice president of strategy and chief of staff at Commvault. He said customers wanting to do more with their backup data has been a growing trend, and the Veeam acquisition shows it’s a trend investors are keen on riding and getting a return on.

“We see it as validation for backup and the broader data management scope,” Broderick said. “It’s very much an encouraging sign.”

Rajagopalan said Commvault has an advantage in the enterprise market because its software can be used across all environments. Veeam would have to get a similar breadth of coverage in order to land enterprise deals. Just protecting VMware environments nowadays is no longer sufficient, as enterprise customers use other hypervisors, as well. Rajagopalan also added that merely protecting the data is similarly insufficient.

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Startup Uplevel targets software engineering efficiency

Featuring a business plan that aims to increase software engineering efficiency and armed with $7.5 million in venture capital funding, Uplevel emerged from stealth Wednesday.

Based in Seattle and founded in 2018, Uplevel uses machine learning and organizational science to compile data about the daily activity of engineers in order to ultimately help them become more effective.

One of the main issues engineers face is a lack of time to do their job. They may be assigned a handful of tasks to carry out, but instead of being allowed to focus their attention on those tasks they’re instead being bombarded by messages, or mired in an overabundance of meetings.

Uplevel aims to improve software engineering efficiency by monitoring messaging platforms such as Slack, collaboration software like Jira, calendar tools, and code repository software such as GitHub. It then compiles the data and is able to show how engineers are truly spending their time — whether they’re being allowed to do their jobs or instead being prevented from it by no fault of their own.

“I kept seeing pain around engineering effectiveness,” said Joe Levy, co-founder and CEO of Uplevel. “Engineers are often seen as artists, but what they’re trying to manage from a business perspective can be tough. If we can help engineers be more effective, organizations can be more effective without having to throw more bodies at the problem.”

Beyond arming the engineers themselves with data to show how they can be more effective, Uplevel attempts to provide the leaders of engineering teams the kind of information they previously lacked.

If we can help engineers be more effective, organizations can be more effective without having to throw more bodies at the problem.
Joe LevyCEO and co-founder, Uplevel

While sales and marketing teams have reams of data to drive the decision-making process — and present when asked for reports — engineering teams haven’t had the same kind of solid information.

“Sales, marketing, they have super detailed data that leads to understanding, but the head of engineering doesn’t have that same level of data,” Levy said. “There are no metrics of the same caliber [for engineers], but they’re still asked to produce the same kind of detailed projections.”

As Uplevel emerges from stealth, as with all startups one of its challenges will be to demonstrate how it’s providing something different than what’s already on the market.

Without differentiation, its likelihood of success is diminished.

But according to Vanessa Larco, a partner at venture capital investment firm New Enterprise Associates with an extensive background in computer science, what Uplevel provides is something that indeed is unique.

“This is really interesting,” she said. “I haven’t seen anything doing this exact thing. The value proposition of Uplevel is compelling if it helps quantify some of the challenges faced by R&D teams to enable them to restructure their workload and processes to better enable them to reach their goals. I haven’t seen or used the product, but I can understand the need they are fulfilling.”

Similarly, Mike Leone, analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, believes Uplevel is on to something new.

“There are numerous time-based tracking solutions for software engineering teams available today, but they lack a comprehensive view of the entire engineering ecosystem, including messaging apps, collaboration tools, code repository tools and calendars,” he said. “The level of intelligence Uplevel can provide based on analyzing all of the collected data will serve as a major differentiator for them.”

Uplevel developed from a combination of research done by organizational psychologist David Youssefnia and a winning hackathon concept from Dave Matthews, who previously worked at Microsoft and Hulu. The two began collaborating at Madrona Venture Labs in Seattle to hone their idea of how to improve software engineering efficiency before Levy, also formerly of Microsoft, and Ravs Kaur, whose previous experience includes time at Tableau and Microsoft, joined to help Uplevel go to market.

Youssefnia serves as chief strategy officer, Matthews as director product management, and Kaur as CTO.

Startup vendor Uplevel aims to improve the efficiency of software engineers by offering a look into how many distractions engineers face as they work.
A sample chart from Uplevel displays the distractions faced by an organization’s software engineering team.

Uplevel officially formed in June 2018, attracted its first round of funding in September of that year and its second in April 2019. Leading investors include Norwest Venture Partners, Madrona Venture Group and Voyager Capital.

“Their fundamental philosophy was different from what we’d heard,” said Jonathan Parramore, senior data scientist at Avalara, a provider of automated tax compliance software and an Uplevel customer for about a year. “Engineering efficiency is difficult to measure, and they took a behavioral approach and looked holistically at multiple sources of data, then had the data science to meld it together. I’d say that everything they promised they would do, they have delivered.”

Still, Avalara would eventually like to see more capabilities as Uplevel matures.

“They have amazing reports they generate by looking at the data they have access to, but we’d like them to be able to create reports that are more in real time,” said Danny Fields, Avalara’s CTO and executive vice president of engineering. “That’s coming.”

Moving forward, while Uplevel doesn’t plan to branch out and offer a wide array of products, it is aiming to become an essential platform for all organizations looking to improve software engineering efficiency.

As it builds up its own cache of information about improving software engineering efficiency it will be able to share that data — masking the identity of individual organizations — with customers so that they can compare the efficiency of their engineers versus those of other organizations.

“The goal we’re focused on is to be the de facto platform that is helping engineers do their job,” Levy said. “We want to be a platform they can’t live without, that every big organization is reliant on.”

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ZF Becomes a Provider of Soft

“In the future, software will have one of the largest impacts on automotive system development and will be one of the key differentiating factors when it comes to realizing higher levels of automated driving functions. We want to help drive this trend forward. The collaboration with Microsoft will enable us to accelerate software integration and delivery significantly. This is important for our customers who appreciate agile collaboration and need short delivery cadences for software updates. Moreover, software will need to be developed when hardware is not yet available,” explained Dr Dirk Walliser, responsible for corporate research and development at ZF. ZF will then combine its enormous know-how as a system developer for the automotive industry with the added advantage of significantly higher speeds for software development.

“Digital capabilities will be key for automotive companies to grow and differentiate from their competition. DevOps empowers development and operations teams to optimize cross-team collaboration across automation, testing, monitoring and continuous delivery using agile methods. Microsoft is providing DevOps capabilities and sharing our experiences with ZF to help them become a software-driven mobility services provider”, said Sanjay Ravi, General Manager, Automotive Industry at Microsoft.

“cubiX”: Chassis of the Future from Code

At CES 2020, ZF will showcase its vision of software development with “cubiX”: It is a software component that gathers sensor information from the entire vehicle and prepares it for an optimized control of active systems in the chassis, steering, brakes and propulsion. Following a vendor-agnostic approach, “cubiX” will support components from ZF as well as third-party components. “cubiX creates networked chassis functions thanks to software: By connecting multiple vehicle systems such as electric power steering, active rear axle steering, the sMOTION active damping system, driveline control and integrated brake control, ‘cubiX’ can optimize the behavior of the car from one central source. This enables a new level of vehicle control and thus can increase safety – for example in unfavorable road conditions or in emergency situations,” said Dr Dirk Walliser. ZF plans to start projects with first customers in 2020 and will offer “cubiX” from 2023 either as part of an overall system or as an individual software component.

ZF at CES 2020

In addition, ZF will present its comprehensive systems for automated and autonomous driving at CES. They comprise sensors, computing power, software and actuators.

For passenger cars, Level 2+ systems pave the way for a safer and more comfortable means of private transportation. New mobility solutions like robo-taxis are designed to safely operate with ZF’s Level 4/5 systems. Additionally, ZF’s innovative integrated safety systems will be on display, like the Safe Human Interaction Cockpit. Innovative software utilizing artificial intelligence to provide new features and further-developed mobility offerings will also be highlighted.

Join ZF in Las Vegas

Press Conference: Monday, January 6, 2020, 8 AM (PST): Mandalay Bay, Lagoon E & F. Alternatively, you can watch the livestream at www.zf.com/CESlive

ZF Booth: LVCC, North Hall, booth 3931

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Manual mainframe testing persists in the age of automation

A recent study indicates that although most IT organizations recognize software test automation benefits their app development lifecycle, the majority of mainframe testing is done manually, which creates bottlenecks in the implementation of modern digital services.

The bottom line is that mainframe shops that want to add new, modern apps need to adopt test automation and they need to do it quickly or get left behind in a world of potential backlogs and buggy code.

However, while it’s true that mainframe shops have been slow to implement automated testing, it’s mostly been because they haven’t really had to; most mainframe shops are in maintenance mode, said Thomas Murphy, an analyst at Gartner.

“There is a need to clean up crusty old code, but that is less automated ‘testing’ and more automated analysis like CAST,” he said. “In an API/service world, I think there is a decent footprint for service virtualization and API testing and services around this. There are a lot of boutique consulting firms that also do various pieces of test automation.”

Yet, Detroit-based mainframe software maker Compuware, which commissioned the study conducted by Vanson Bourne, a market research firm, found that as many as 86% of respondents to its survey said they find it difficult to automate the testing of mainframe code. Only 7% of respondents said they automate the execution of test cases on mainframe code and 75% of respondents said they do not have automated processes that test code at every stage of development.

The survey polled 400 senior IT leaders responsible for application development in organizations with a mainframe and more than 1,000 employees.

Overall, mainframe app developers — as opposed to those working in distributed environments — have been slow to automate mainframe testing of code, but demand for new, more complex applications continues to grow to the point where 92% of respondents said their organization’s mainframe teams spend much more time testing code than was required in the past. On average, mainframe app development teams spend 51% of their time on testing new mainframe applications, features or functionality, according to the survey.

Shift left

To remedy this, mainframe shops need to “shift left” and bring automated testing, particularly automated unit testing, into the application lifecycle earlier to avoid security risks and improve the quality of their software. But only 24% of organizations reported that they perform both unit and functional mainframe testing on code before it is released into production. Moreover, automation and the shift to Agile and DevOps practices are “crucial” to the effort to both cut the time required to build and improve the quality of mainframe software, said Chris O’Malley, CEO of Compuware.

Yet, 53% of mainframe application development managers said the time required to conduct thorough testing is the biggest barrier to integrating the mainframe into Agile and DevOps.

IBM system z 13 mainframe
Mainframes continue to be viewed as the gold standard for data privacy, security and resiliency, though IT pros say there is not enough automated software testing for systems like the IBM system z, pictured here.

Eighty-five percent of respondents said they feel pressure to cut corners in testing that could result in compromised code quality and bugs in production code. Fifty percent said they fear cutting corners could lead to potential security flaws, 38% said they are concerned about disrupting operations and 28% said they are most concerned about the potential negative impact on revenue.

In addition, 82% of respondents said that the paucity of automated test cases could lead to poor customer experiences, and 90% said that automating more test cases could be the single most important factor in their success, with 87% noting that it will help organizations overcome the shortage of skilled mainframe app developers.

Automated mainframe testing tools in short supply

Truth be told, there are fewer tools available to automate the testing of mainframe software and there is not much to be found in the open source market.

And though IBM — and its financial results after every new mainframe introduction — might beg to differ, many industry observers, like Gartner’s Murphy, view the mainframe as dead.

The mainframe isn’t where our headspace is at. We use that new mainframe — the cloud — now.
Thomas MurphyAnalyst, Gartner

“The mainframe isn’t where our headspace is at,” Murphy said. “We use that new mainframe — the cloud — now. There isn’t sufficient business pressure or mandate. If there were a bunch of recurring issues, if the mainframe was holding us back, then people would address the problem. Probably by shooting the mainframe and moving elsewhere.”

Outside of the mainframe industry, companies such as Parasoft, SmartBear and others regularly innovate and deliver new automated testing functionality for developers in distributed, web and mobile environments. For instance, Parasoft earlier this fall introduced Selenic, its AI-powered automated testing tool for Selenium. Selenium is an automated testing suite for web apps that has become a de facto standard for testing user interfaces. Parasoft’s Selenic integrates into existing CI/CD pipelines to ease the way for organizations that employ DevOps practices. Selenic’s AI capabilities provide recommendations that automate the “self-healing” of any broken Selenium scripts and provide deep code analysis to users.

For its part, Gartner named SmartBear, another prominent test automation provider, as a leader in the 2019 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Software Test Automation. Among the highlights of what the company has done for developers in 2019, the company expanded into CI/CD pipeline integration for native mobile test automation with the acquisition of Bitbar, added new tools for behavior-driven development and introduced testing support for GraphQL.

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