The Digital Enterprise: Transform your Employee Engagement

Blog Viewpoint

Background

Enterprises are transforming themselves into the Digital Enterprise.  The drivers behind the move to Digital are enhanced customer experience, operational excellence, new business models, innovations in business processes, and greater employee engagement.  Technologies such as Social, Mobile, Analytics/Big Data, Wearables, and Cloud are the enablers behind going Digital.  The Digital Experience varies for the Customer, Supplier, and Employee.  This blog focuses on that for the employee.

While it is true that enterprises already have digital data due to ERP, CRM and other such systems, there is still an enormous amount of data on paper, especially generated by the mobile worker who till now, has not had ready access to mobile devices and systems while in the Field.  Mobile devices were limited to certain roles like in warehouses or sales.  The proliferation of mobile devices has now created the opportunity to create a true Digital Enterprise.

I have also included some real world customer examples to add context to the discussion.

The “Disconnected” Employee

Today, employees at a company are still struggling to connect with each other and are unable to share information seamlessly, despite all the advances in technology.  Communication is still via emails for the most part, and over phone calls.  Information is not shared with all team members who have a need to know.   Collaboration suffers leading to sub-optimal decision making that can delay a product launch in a CPG company or endanger patient safety in a healthcare setting.  This in turn also leads to a lost opportunity in providing employees with a lifelong learning experience.  The “Disconnected Employee” is thus a Less Productive and less Engaged Employee.  Let us examine below some of the steps one can take to overcome these limitations.

Communication

As the “Consumerization of IT” takes hold, employees expect to be able to use the same tools that they use in their personal lives to use in the workplace.  Email only does not cut it anymore. So, texting including leaving voice notes becomes an important tool to communicate as does the ability to easily make video calls.   Employees expect to receive alerts or notifications not just via emails—they want notifications sent to their mobile devices when an important event occurs or they need to take action.

Chat/Messaging like communication channels are becoming increasingly popular, which will have subscribers based on levels of interest.   Thus, for example, employees at a manufacturing plant could subscribe to an Asset Management Channel where they could share information related to suppliers, parts failing, and  tips for preventive maintenance.

In all cases, communication between employees has to be highly secure.  Data that resides on mobile devices needs to be encrypted, and in some industries like healthcare, communication needs to be HIPAA compliant, and protect patient health information.

Collaboration

Employees are demanding that they be able to collaborate across channels—be it over their desktops, Web, tablets, smartphones, or Wearables like Apple Watch. The Mobile web and mobile applications allow for the exchange of information anytime anywhere.   A Field Service Worker repairing a piece of equipment on an oilfield can make a video call to an expert back at Headquarters, share images of the damage, and seek advice, so as to perform the optimal repairs.   Similarly, a physician in a hospital can share lab results over a HIPAA compliant texting application using their tablets, leading to enhanced patient safety.

Mobile Dashboards are an important element of collaboration.  The ability of executives to access data at their fingertips anytime enables them to make better and real time decisions.  Trending of data, and predicting possible outcomes be it in the areas of Sales or Plant Operations adds immense value and moves enterprises from a reactive to a proactive mode.

Lifelong Learning

Employees add new skills and gain training throughout their careers.  In many industries, they need to pass tests on a regular basis, and keep certificates on record for compliance purposes.  Mobile applications are a great way to ensure lifelong learning.  Employees can access content from their smartphones or tablets anytime anywhere, and are not tied to their desktops.  Data captured about the tasks performed by an employee can be analyzed, and recommendations be made about what training is best suited for that particular employee.  As an example, an electrician performing asset/equipment repairs in a Chemicals plant can be evaluated on the quality of work based on the re-work performed within 30 days.  Also, the data recorded about the procedures performed by a specific worker can be used to dispatch the best workers for a particular job based on their experience.

Benefits of the Digital Experience for Employees

We present below some tangible business benefits reported publicly by two of our customers.

Kaneka: Kaneka is a chemicals manufacturing company based in the Houston, Texas area.  They have deployed the “Digital Plant” incorporating mobile applications on iPads for Equipment Inspections, Work Orders, and Warehouse/Inventory Management.  Below, we list the benefits they have realized in addition to getting rid of paper:

Asset Management/Plant Operations

  • Automated the complete process –standardized process across Kaneka
  • Increased compliance
  • Increased safety
  • Increased Rounds productivity
  • Estimated to Reduce Maintenance costs
  • Increase in Safety and Compliance
  • Time savings/Increase in productivity

Warehouse/Inventory Management

  • Reduced time and effort in Physical Inventory counting
  • Reduced data admin costs due to On demand stock information and easy and accurate material movements
  • Reduced time and effort in Physical Inventory counting
  • Material Issues and Returns more accurate leading to savings in time

 

WEL Networks: WEL is an electric utility based in New Zealand, and they provided a digital experience for their employees by deploying mobile apps for Windows 8 tablets to perform Field Service on their equipment located across the country.  Benefits reported by WEL in addition to getting rid of paper are as follows:

  • Efficiency gain in inspections : more inspections done
  • Lower administrative effort : more time for other tasks
  • Field technicians doing the job employed for : staff retention
  • Timely data capture : better information available sooner

 

Conclusion

Actual customer feedback points to the fact that the Digital Experience for the Employee increases communication, collaboration, and automation of business processes. This reduces costs and increases employee retention.  Employees feel more empowered, and happier employees stay longer. In many cases, it also enhances the Digital Experience for the Customer.  For example, a paper-less office that may be viewed as a Digital Experience for Employees initiative can equally impact the Customer Service process.  The digital data captured and analyzed can lead to tailor made learning opportunities for an employee over their lifetime. Employees can make better and real time decisions that bestow a competitive advantage to their employers.

Note: This post is also on LinkedIn

Unvired is on Google Compute Engine!

Blog Technology

At Unvired we have always prided ourselves on providing choices to our customers.  We were the first to offer Unvired Mobile Platform (UMP) as both an on-premise and cloud platform for mobile application development a few years ago. Taking that journey ahead in cloud neutrality, we are delighted to announce that UMP now runs natively on The Google Compute Engine aka Google Cloud.

GCE instances can be leveraged to run multi-node, horizontally scaling UMP instances.  For database you can create an instance of the Cloud SQL engine and link it to the UMP compute engine nodes conveniently via the Google Cloud Console.

For storage we leverage the Google Cloud Storage and store data in the buckets that are created there.  This provides for both stateless access from any of the UMP nodes and redundancy in terms of storage / backup etc.

 

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UMP can now run seamlessly within your datacenter, AWS or on Google Cloud.  More innovations are underway to support other cloud providers in the next weeks.

If you are interested in taking UMP for a spin, submit a trial request now and we would be delighted to spin a couple of instances for you.

Is the IAAS cloud really low cost?

Blog Technology Viewpoint

Host on the cloud, get a dedicated server or build your own? This is a common question that most entrepreneurs who are launching a service ask themselves. Seeking answers via the web probably leaves more questions than answers.

The reasons are simple, there are a plethora of articles that sing the praises (for many right reasons) of Infrastructure As A Service (IAAS) such as AWS, Google and other similar services. The ease with which you can launch servers on these clouds make it even more appealing. The fact that Netflix and other companies are using it gives the added assurance. Now head over to the wonderful calculator that all these services provide and crunch some numbers. You may either buy into it so completely that you are ready to launch your service or taken aback by actually how much it can cost. Lets face it, its not as cheap as its made out to be.

To better understand this problem, lets crunch some numbers with an example server. Suppose the server we need is equivalent to 4 Cores (or more), 32 GB RAM and about 200 GB hard disk space (Note that in most cases RAM is the overarching choice and CPU cores are not really configurable, notable new exception is Google). For simplicity I’am also not considering prepayment as no startup probaly wants to commit for more than a few months.

Cloud Servers (Instances):

AWS – Consider the m4.2xlarge at 32GB RAM and 8 cores. Linux instance is at $0.504 per hour or ~375$ per month. Add charges for storage and data transfer and approximate it to 400$ per month.
Google – Consider the n1-standard-8 at 30GB RAM and 8 cores. Linux instance is at $0.280 per hour lowest price with 100% usage or ~208$. Add charges for storage and data transfer and approximate to 230$ per month.

As you can notice there is already a significant difference between the two services. If you check other providers the price range will be similar.

Dedicated Servers:

Typically dedicated servers have always set you back by a significant sum and hence may not have been a choice. But a host of new providers has meant that hybrid offerings are available which has already reduced prices. Significantly Managed dedicated servers are way more expensive than unmanaged servers. The significant difference being in unmanged only the hardware is supported by the provider, every other responsibility us yours (software, backup etc).

Rackspace – A 24GB prepackaged dedicated server with 6 cores will set you back by ~ 674$ per month. This is backed by Rackspace Fanatical Support of course.

Packet.net – Packet offers dedicated baremetal hardware in a cloud like fashion. Type 1 server with 4 Cores and 32GB RAM (with 2x120GB SSD drives) is at $0.4 per hour or 297.6$ per month. There are no other charges as everything is included in this.

OVH – A major European provider with a NA presence in Canada and data center. A 32GB / 4 Core dedicated server (unmanaged) costs 79$ a month (no setup fee)

Hetzner.de – German data center, 32GB 4 Cores is priced at 39 Euros or ~43$ per month with a 79 Euro / ~87$ setup fee (one time)

As can be seen the range is again wide not considering a huge number of smaller providers. Depending on whether some of the administrative tasks can be managed in house or not, choice of provider can be made. Point to note though is that dedicated servers can actually be cheaper than cloud.

Conclusion:
So before deciding, its important to decide based on these (There could be many more significant ones I’am missing, add to the comments)

1. Elastic Scaling – Are your users going to grow that dramatically that you need elastic capabiloty of that nature? Less than 1% of all web apps need this kind of scaling, rest are happy with more deterministic scaling. (Cloud v/s dedicated)
2. Redundancy – Sometimes cost of 2 dedicated servers is still cheaper than 1 cloud instance. So even HA is not an issue with dedicated, but multi region availability etc can also determine the choice.
3. Time – The longer you are willing to commit the cheaper some of the cloud services will be.
4. Legal or Security related – If customers dont prefer shared multi tenant instances, then you may have to go dedicated.

Net-net: Cloud services such as AWS are not the only choice. Even dedicated servers can be bought month on month with significant cost and performance gain. You actually have more choice than what is sometimes made out to be!

Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIN: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/iaas-cloud-really-low-cost-srinivasan-subramanian

The UMP 3.2 travelogue

Blog Technology Viewpoint

The Unvired Mobile Platform (UMP) 3.2 includes a number of innovations that enable faster digitization and mobility.  Whether your company wants to mobilize enterprise backends like SAP or databases or legacy systems, UMP has made that easy, fast and cost effective with a plethora of adapters that enable out of the box integrations.  UMP 3.2 now includes a powerful REST API that allows you to leverage the same functionality to also develop web apps.  So whether you want to go digital via web or mobile or both, UMP is your platform of choice.

In a series of blog posts starting today I will explore the new features and the transformations in the platform.  This post will focus on the high level features and some under the hood changes that have been made to UMP to make it faster and better.

Features of note in UMP 3.2:

  1. Single infrastructure that runs within your datacenter or on cloud IAAS like Amazon Web Services (AWS).  Absolutely identical, even the binaries are the same!  This gives you enormous flexibility to go on premise and switch to cloud later or vice versa
  2. Fully load balanced, High Availability setup supported both within your datacenter and on cloud infrastructures
  3. Improved performance and scalability (see under the hood section below for more details)
  4. Enhanced REST API to easily build applications for web and mobile, supports both XML and JSON
  5. New enterprise adapters for OData and SAP HANA.  SharePoint, REST and all other adapters have been further enhanced
  6. Enhanced push notifications for APNS and GCM (including follow up actions), support for browser push to notify web applications
  7. Error console to help administrators process data errors, backend submission errors etc.  Your users will never need to see errors any more, just save and forget!
  8. Conflict management on submission, handle concurrent submissions, and multi-channel updates without breaking a sweat
  9. Enterprise App Store to distribute your enterprise applications, applications can also auto update without admin intervention
  10. A brand new dashboard that helps administrators know the pulse of the mobile deployments
  11. Isolate your deployments and administration control for subsidiaries, locations, departments with a single central instance
  12. Transport configurations and code across Development, Quality and Production landscapes of UMP.  No more manual administration tasks
  13. Time zone (user or company) based distributed scheduler to periodically refresh mobile data, no need to run battery hogging threads on devices checking for updates
  14. And …

Under the hood: UMP 3.2 core has undergone significant reengineering.  The new UMP is now based on Spring backed by Level 2 distributed caching of data.  This allows lightning fast reads and writes. UMP uses async servlets for maximum scalability with  configurable thread pools to optimize resource needs based on your individual needs.

UMP supports deployment on any enterprise operating system such as Unix, Linux, Windows etc. with a MySQL, Oracle or MS SQL Server backend.  For test and demo purpose,UMP can also be run with a H2 embedded database.

The UI has been spruced up with keyboard shortcuts to simplify administration and management.  For those Unix/Linux administrators who love the command line, a command window allows you to quickly enter commands.  The new UMP runs on JBoss 7.2 EAP and open source editions and deploys in seconds.  UMP is also certified by SAP for NetWeaver deployment and is deployable on SAP NetWeaver 7.x all the way up to 7.4.

UMP 3.2 is also supported on Docker containers and the official images will be available on the Docker Hub shortly.

Related tools: A brand new Unvired Modeler works hand in glove with the UMP infrastructure to enable development of applications easily.  The modeler is installed as an Eclipse plugin with auto discovery of UMP development landscapes.  Model, Design, Develop, Debug and Deploy from a single place.

There is much more to talk about the new UMP.  Watch this space for a series of blog posts that will expand on each of the features and how exactly you can benefit from it.

Enterprise Asset Management: Mobility Readiness Checklist

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Stuart Baker is the head of maintenance of a large manufacturing company. Stuart is attending his monthly meeting with his maintenance leads and his operations assistant Shelley Hudson.

Shelley has spent the last week compiling the data required for this monthly meeting. Shelley dreads the last week of the month when she has to compile these reports from various data points in the SAP system – top 10 spends, cumulative vs. planned costs, top 10 visits, labour vs. material costs, backlog job orders, etc.

Stuart asks his maintenance leads about the repeated same locations visits, huge backlog of job orders and cost overruns.

The maintenance leads complain about the inefficiency in the system – technicians having to drive across plants to collect their job orders, time taken to fill their PM audit documents, lack of work breakdown by technician, delay in status reporting from technicians and may others.

Shelley complains about the amount of time she has to spend compiling all this information for a week every month.

Stuart has heard these complaints before. He wants to bring in efficiency in the system and change the way his department works. He has heard about mobile apps and starts thinking if he can get all his maintenance data – orders, notifications, warehouse material movements and reports on mobile devices on demand anywhere any time.

Stuart approaches his IT head Andrew Hughes. He explains his problems and proposes mobile apps. Andrew knows about mobility but wonders if their company is ready for mobility. They have not done mobile projects before. So he asks for a week’s time to do his research before giving an answer to Stuart.

Andrew’s research leads him to lots of mobile apps, mobile devices, MDM, etc. in the mobile heap. He finds lots of mobile apps for EAM. He reads about the business challenges these apps solve and the benefits. But this does not satisfy him as he is thinking of a sustainable mobility strategy, holistic solutions and the approach to mobility.

Does this sound like a familiar problem you have faced while embarking on mobility for Enterprise Asset Management? This is a common challenge that many organizations have faced.

We would like to solve this puzzle for you. So we have prepared a comprehensive check list that helps you with your mobility readiness check for Enterprise Asset Management. Unvired mobility check list for Enterprise Asset Management is a compilation from experience in implementing Mobile EAM for more than a decade across the globe.

Click here to download the Enterprise Asset Management – Mobility Readiness Checklist.

Unvired Mobile Platform 3.2 Release

Blog Technology

UMP_Use_Cases

Unvired Mobile Platform (UMP) 3.2 is here! This is our latest and greatest version. Unvired understands that customers would like to minimize the number of platforms that are run in their enterprises. Our customers have demanded a single platform that can meet all their digital, mobility and integration needs. We are proud to announce that we have achieved all these in UMP 3.2. Now UMP is all of the below:

  • Mobile Application Development Platform
  • Mobile Backend As A Service (MBaaS)
  • Offline and Conflict Resolution Framework
  • Internet of Things Platform
  • Digital Platform

Click here to download the whitepaper on UMP. We will follow up with a series of blogs describing the use cases and features of UMP separately. Watch Unvired blogs for a deep dive on UMP.

Unvired Workflow for SAP on Apple Watch

Unvired Workflow for SAP on Apple Watch

Application Blog Technology

Want to announce something exciting, the Unvired WorkFlow application for SAP is now also available with Apple Watch integration.  The new iOS 8 Interactive Notifications are also leveraged for this (https://www.apple.com/in/ios/whats-new/design/). What this means is, for a typical decision maker app like Unvired WF, you can take decisions without having to open the app. In the Unvired Workflow application the users can take decisions on workflow documents like Travel Approval, Purchase Order Approval etc. directly from the notification.

Further, if you are wearing an Apple Watch, then things become super easy. You can take these decisions directly from your Apple Watch as well.

Plus, you get a confirmation of your action from the backend system such as SAP right on your Apple Watch or iPhone, so you can be absolutely sure that the workflow was in-fact successfully executed.

Let’s cut to the chase and see how this works:

Whenever a new Workflow Document is created in the backend SAP system, your iPhone or iPad is notified by a push notification which typically looks like this.

iPad Notification

iPad Notification

If you have holstered you phone and wearing an Apple Watch, the notification directly gets delivered and shows up like this.

Apple Watch

Now, you can do one of two things.
1. Tap on one of the decision buttons and thats it. The decision is made and sent to backend server for processing. Real simple.
2. Want to have a closer, more detailed look at the workflow, just tap on the notification. The app starts automatically on your iPhone or iPad with the corresponding workflow document and you can take decision after reviewing the document.
Key take away is the speed of decision making which is very critical for any successful enterprise.

Unvired Workflow for SAP with Android Wear

Unvired Workflow for SAP with Android Wear

Application Blog Technology

The Unvired WorkFlow application for SAP is now also available with Android Wear integration. 

Unvired Workflow for SAP allows you to receive workflow documents like Purchase Orders,
Purchase Requisitions, Leave Requests, Travel Requests, Travel Expenses etc. on the mobile/wear device for user action.

Life is about doing, not just viewing right? The Android Wear Watch integration allows you to take actions on SAP right from your Watch.  And you get a confirmation of your action from SAP right on your Watch, so you can rest assured that the purchase order that you just approved was successful.

Let’s see how this works:

Whenever a new Workflow Document is created in the SAP system, your Android phone/tablet is notified by a push notification which typically looks like this.

TR_Device

And it would show up like this on your Watch. Sweet right?

wear

Now, you can do any of the following:
1. Tap on one of the decision buttons to either approve or to ask for it to be corrected. That’s it, the decision is made and sent to SAP for processing. Real simple.
2. Not convinced, need to look at the workflow details? Just tap on the notification and the Android app starts with the corresponding workflow document and you can take a decision after reviewing the document.

What are you waiting for?   Download the Unvired Workflow App from Google Play and give it a spin today.

UI Toolkit on the wall, who is the prettiest of them all?

Blog Technology Viewpoint

Today most enterprises want to build and deploy awesome mobile apps on multiple devices for their employees and customers. But when it comes to UI technology most are stumped. If I were to pick the most common question that we encounter in discussions with customers it would be, How do I build apps for all devices? (this is typically iOS and Android). Follow ups to that are: What UI should I choose? How can I build once and run anywhere? What skills should we ramp up on? The list is endless.

First up the UI choice needs to lend itself to your need and not the other way round. At Unvired our normal approach is to find out what that need is and then recommend the technology solution.

I want to deploy native apps with fantastic user experience, fast performance, hardware integration and so on.

If your need falls in this category you are typically looking to build native applications using the vendor’s prescribed technology. These are:

  • iOS – Objective C (more recently Swift) using the XCode IDE from Apple
  • Android – Java using the Eclipse IDE or the Android Studio
  • Windows – C#/.Net using the Visual Studio IDE

All platforms come with their own set of challenges based on the OS version to support. This is more under control with Apple where you are usaully covered if you support the latest version and the one lower (for e.g. iOS 8.x and 7.x). Its more complicated with Android given the disparate devices and OS distribution and you should opt for the OS version with the most installed base for e.g Kitkat or 4.4. You are also well served if you use the standard APIs and do not depend on any vendor/device dependent APIs from Samsung, Sony etc.

I want to build apps once and deploy them on multiple devices. 

This is the trickier questions as there are a few choices. This usually needs further qualification on what skills the company has or alternatively what they would prefer in addition to the end application’s requirements.

Web technology, hybrid apps that do not require any major hardware integration etc.

The most obvious choice in this case is to build hybrid HTML5/JavaScript apps using the Apache Cordova/Phonegap (http://cordova.apache.org/) plugin. This allows to build, host and deploy hybrid (native like) apps that render the UI in a webview with standard HTML5 look and feel. The advantage is that the technologies used are typical web technologies like HTML5, JavaScript and CSS and web developers will be able to code them. Some understanding of the mobile paradigm is definitely necessary. The plethora of CSS/JavaScript frameworks can be utilized to build some real cool apps. However performance can be an issue with lag on some devices, transitions not being smooth, low touch sensitivity etc. This technology is evolving and will only improve further.

Native apps that can be deployed on any device

Xamarin (http://xamarin.com) is your best choice here (at least for now, more on that later). Mobile applications can be developed in C#/.Net and deployed on iOS, Android and Windows tablets. The code compiles into native applications and hence offer a native user experience. The User interface can be developed once for multiple devices using Xamarin Forms or alternatively separate UI for Android and iOS devices can be developed with common business logic.

A new kid on the block here is Telerik NativeScript (http://www.telerik.com/nativescript) with an imminent release in April/May 2015. Telerik is positioning NativeScript as a JavaScript framework that can be used to develop mobile applications that are finally packaged as native applications. So these applications will not render in a webview on the device but will render as native applications. This is new technology under development and needs validation / adoption.

So now that you know them all, what’s your choice?