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Jon Stace

Data Software Analysis tool
Unlock the Power In Your Data
Unlock the Power In Your Data 882 606 Jon Stace

Every business is sitting on a pile of valuable data; but few know how to get it.

In this blog we share insight into two of the free tools available to businesses, to help you make better use of your data. The good news is, you don’t need a degree in computer science and it doesn’t need to cost! If you want to know even more, sign up for our latest free webinar taking place on Wednesday 7th August at 4pm.

Let’s start with the obvious one – why should businesses be accessing data?

Data is the lifeblood of any organisation. When gathered, analysed and presented effectively, data can be used to inform and empower business leaders to make decisions based on insights. Data-based decision making avoids business leaders having to rely on ‘hunches’ and can be used to improve your business for both employees and customers.

So, what next?

Think about all of the data your business gathers across all departments. Are the sources integrated and working together? Finally, reflect on what percentage of your data is being used to provide meaningful insight to inform what you do? How do you visualise it in an easy to read format?

There are a number of tools available which offer different capabilities including Excel, Power BI, SQL Server Reporting Services and Python.

Excel: Comes as part of Office 365 and the one you’ve probably already used. The basic capabilities are easy, making it simple to create reports which indicate patterns in data. To make the most of the full range of capabilities some will need some training but the basics are there and just waiting to be utilised with the right guidance.

Power BI: is a free data visualisation application also from Microsoft. Power BI allows you to build interactive dashboards and reports quickly. It enables business users to visualise their own figures and data in an easily-readable format to help you make key decisions. Once you know how to make the data available, you can avoid having to bother accounts, for example, to provide that added level of insight.

SQL Server Reporting Services, Python and other tools can be used for more advanced analytics to help with data integration and for mining larger volumes of data. Probably best left to the experts.

What’s the next step?

It’s obvious but important to state: most businesses have access to large quantities of data. Improving your data analysis and integration can be relatively easy and does not need to be expensive. Data analysis provides business advantage by making it easy to spot correlations and trends which inform decision-making at many levels and across many departments.

And that’s it! Want to know more? Join me for our ‘Data Analysis for All’ our free webinar on Wednesday 7th August at 4pm. If you can’t make that time or date don’t worry. The session is available to all registrants to watch at a time to suit. Sign up here:

Register for the webinar

 

Software Solved has delivered over 1000 successful projects, spanning over 20 years, providing cost-effective custom solutions, built on time and to budget, for the likes of RSA, the National Trust, Save the Children, BBC and many more.  

Contact us for a free consultation on any issue connected with your data or software systems on 01392 453344  

Build v Buy
Build or buy? The data software systems debate.
Build or buy? The data software systems debate. 1024 683 Jon Stace

The decision has been taken to update your software system (never one to be taken lightly). The requirements are done and the spec is written. What next?

Now one of the toughest decisions you face is whether to build or buy your system! This is a contested topic often full of complicated jargon and contradicting claims as everyone battles to sell you their ‘perfect’ solution!

Having been through all, and part, of systems development and implementation with our clients on many occasions, we can help by shedding some light here on the decision-making process and potentially save you some valuable time and a lot of painstaking research.

Build or buy? To help you choose the system that best suits your business needs, we’ve listed some of the pros and cons of each.

Buy:

If there are existing products out there with the functionality to meet your requirements, off-the-shelf software may be the solution for you.

The pros:

  • This route offers a lower entry price and for internal, non-business critical systems an off-the-shelf solution can be very cost-effective.
  • It is generally quicker and easier to implement causing minimal business disruption.
  • Significantly functionality testing has already been carried out by someone else so you don’t have to put in the extra hours.
  • Research and development and bug fixing sits with the software owner, so your business doesn’t have to cough-up the extra.

The cons:

  • The software may fit your business now, but you have no control over the road map of the system going forward.
  • You can’t simply just add another user or add additional modules to the system of pre-existing software as your business activity grows.
  • When fixing glitches, you are totally reliant on the software supplier and can’t take matters within your own hands.
  • Complex licensing agreements can be difficult to control and very costly when they are out of your hands.

Build:

If you are looking for a more personalised experience and don’t want to settle for a part-solution based on what’s available, you can choose to build a tailored software data system instead.

The Pros:

  • Bespoke systems do tend to cost more, however the investment usually offers better ROI due to downstream adaptation and upgrade costs being lower.
  • The data systems are functionally tailored around your business and you control what happens going forward removing the need for additional costly modules that may only then be a part fit.
  • Bespoke systems which are client facing are far better at representing your individual brand and simply by being bespoke, offer you a USP amongst competitors.
  • Work on bespoke systems is often eligible for R&D tax credits which can help to offset a proportion of the cost of the system.

The Cons:

  • Bespoke systems usually cost more than off the shelf solutions.
  • There is often a longer lead time for implementation and before ROI is realised.
  • The R&D behind a bespoke system can be time consuming and costly.
  • Testing has to be carried out at your time and expense to ensure that the software system is perfect for your business needs.

Plenty to think about therefore! We hope your business-brain is a little less clouded and opportunities to improve your software systems are on the horizon.

Software Solved specialises in custom and bespoke development, data visualisation and insurance risk management systems, delivering over 1000 successful IT projects since 1998. We are running a FREE webinar entitled Build v Buy: choosing your next software systems supplier on July 3rd, 2019. To pre-register click the button here.

Register for the webinar

 

If you have any more pressing systems requirements that need  talking through now, contact us on 01392 453344 or  hello@softwaresolved.com. We’re happy to have a chat.

Innovate UK Machine Learning Project Team
Living the dream with Eric Clapton, ice-cream and machine learning…
Living the dream with Eric Clapton, ice-cream and machine learning… 1024 680 Jon Stace

So, what are the best collaborations in history? Eric Clapton lends a mighty ‘slow’ hand to The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield shared a passion for the frozen stuff before going into business together. Today they are worth an estimated $150m, each. And I’m not even going to mention what became of the pairing of the ‘Steves’, as in Jobs and Wozniak.

Machine learning collaboration

At Software Solved we’ve got our very own and very exciting collaboration going on. It’s not music or food related even though we do have plenty of talent in that department. But we’ll save that for a later blog.

We’ve teamed up with some very clever people at Plymouth University and our client RSA UK. Backed by funding from Innovate UK, we have collectively fired the starting gun on an exciting two-year research programme into machine learning and advanced data analytics for the corporate insurance sector.

Data insight

Leveraging data architectures to model relationships and interactions to mitigate risk, the aim is to derive greater value from the large volumes of datasets used in the industry.

Dr Ian Howard and Dr Luciana Dalla Valle of the University of Plymouth are providing research expertise in the areas of machine learning and pattern recognition, data modelling, statistics and predictive analytics, with Aneeq Ur Rehman, Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associate, being based at Software Solved for the project.

RSA UK role

RSA UK are another key partner in the project. We already have a close working relationship with them. Their underwriters use the award-winning RSAred application for a real-time view of risk, along with a secure, mobile-accessible client risk portal for brokers and customers to understand, benchmark and manage property and casualty risk in real time, both created by Software Solved.

With all this in mind, and with RSA UK’s experience as one of the world’s longest standing and most forward-thinking of general insurers, it made perfect sense to invite them to be part of the project. They will be providing the data and working closely with us so they and their clients can benefit from the advantages of automated data integration in risk assessment.

We’ll be updating everyone on the project as it progresses and we will be looking to hold some workshops at key milestones to involve and share with others.

Special thanks to Innovate UK for funding the project and if you’d be interested in joining one of those workshops (in person or online), or if there are other truly great collaborations we clearly should have flagged, then walk this way and tell me! jon.stace@softwaresolved.com

Jon Stace, Principal Technical Consultant and project lead

 

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Turning Developers Into Testers
Turning Developers Into Testers 1024 683 Jon Stace

As you will have seen from last week’s blog article, we recently went to the TechExeter conference. One of the sessions that I attended that really piqued my interest was a talk on replacing testers with developers by Dave Longman.

This subject, once you get past the contentious session title, is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The premise comes down to modern testing practices, such as automated end-to-end testing, needing development skills to implement.

Is it easier to train testers with development skills, or would it be more effective to train developers with tester skills? Dave felt that it was the latter. Developers already test their code when they write it, so let’s get them thinking more like a tester. Let’s review the traits of a good tester:

  • Domain knowledge
  • Analytical and logical thinking
  • A ‘test to break’ approach
  • Great communications skills
  • Awareness of the business impact
  • Taking the customer’s perspective

Surely, developers need all these skills as well! Dave appeared to be suggesting that with all developers acting as QA, we don’t need a separate dedicated QA team and he gave a couple of examples of larger organisations with this structure. In the end, he was looking for no dedicated testers, a controversial point!

Developing and testing go hand-in-hand

Well, the majority of the logic I agree with: to be a truly successful developer, you need all those tester skills. To deliver modern testing practices, you absolutely need the combination of both skills sets. At the basic level, the sooner you fix a bug, the cheaper it is to fix.

If you consider the feedback loop associated with a developer writing code and addressing a bug, if they spot the bug during development, e.g. during unit testing, they are already in the code and it can often be a quick fix. If the developers are also working on integration tests and end-to-end tests, they are still closer to the code than if a release was handed over to a QA team to manage and then issues were raised later.

Quality Assurance is still essential

However, the true value that a dedicated QA team provides is in their independence. Their way of thinking differently to the developers who wrote the software, to seek out more obscure bugs. They are able to take more of a customer’s perspective. This is harder for a developer when they might also have to be battling with low-level issues deep in the codebase. We should get the developers to do all the modern test practices, which frees up the QA team to really focus on delivering business value, not spending all their time dealing with ‘but it worked on my machine’ type issues.

How to perform a cloud readiness assessment
How to perform a cloud readiness assessment 150 150 Jon Stace

Moving to the cloud can feel like a minefield. Especially when there are so many options out there. How do you ensure that your existing applications don’t fail or data is not lost? That’s where a cloud readiness assessment comes in.

What is a cloud readiness assessment?

A Cloud Readiness Assessment recommends the best approach for moving your applications, storage or hosting to the cloud. Typically a provider will examine every part of your existing systems, processes and usage to set out a migration path that is designed specifically for your business.

The five stages of a cloud readiness assessment

A cloud readiness assessment covers five core areas: priorities, applications, data, processing and usage. In this article I’ll briefly cover what is involved at each stage.

1. Understanding your business priorities

Reasons for moving to the cloud vary from business to business. To ensure we meet your expectations we need to know your objectives. What are you hoping to achieve from moving your application/storage/hosting to the cloud? A goal to reduce costs could result in a different cloud strategy to one that is about increasing the flexibility to scale resources.

2. Understanding your existing applications

What technologies are they using and how are they structured? The cloud readiness assessment determines how easily they be modified for the cloud. This will include recommendations for improving the scalability of applications as well as looking at any integration requirements. For example if you are looking to deploy new systems.

3. Understanding your business data

Next we assess the cost effectiveness of moving all of your data to the cloud. This is typically done by documenting how your applications/hosting/storage interacts with existing databases. What volumes of data do you need to migrate? This enables the efficient planning of the data migration part of your move to the cloud, without compromising security or downtime.

4. Understanding your processing requirements

At this stage it is necessary to interrogate the internal working of the system you want to migrate. How do your applications interact with external ones? Including any new cloud-based software you’re looking to adopt. If information needs to flow between them, this stage will drive the testing part of your cloud migration plan.

5. Understanding business usage requirements

A cloud readiness assessment goes beyond understanding your current users and usage volumes. You need to analyse how usage is expected to change in the short, medium and long term. Do you intend for volume/demand to fluctuate? And who will manage your resources? That way your migration plan will set out costs associated with the move to the cloud now as well as ongoing running costs.

Are you cloud ready? Why not get in touch to book your cloud readiness assessment today?

Microsoft Build 2016: fun for developers and good news for business
Microsoft Build 2016: fun for developers and good news for business 150 150 Jon Stace

San Francisco played host to Microsoft’s Build Conference last week. It was with excitement and anticipation (plus a little envy) that I caught up with the keynotes and presentations online. And I wasn’t disappointed – Microsoft has certainly made some clever moves to bring even better services to the development community with businesses likely to reap huge benefits.

Four top news announcements from Microsoft Build 2016

If you didn’t have the time to either fly to San Francisco or watch the conference online, here are my key take outs that are likely to impact our clients in the near future:

1. Microsoft makes Xamarin cross platform development available for free

Microsoft has successfully removed the two major barriers to building apps for all mobile devices: cost and complexity. In February this year Microsoft announced the acquisition of Xamarin. For anyone who hasn’t come across Xamarin, it’s the leading provider for cross platform mobile development. Through Xamarin, developers can target multiple platforms with a common codebase.

However the price of using Xamarin was quite cost prohibitive for many developers with a model based on price per developer, per platform, per year (if you want updates, which you would). And if you didn’t use a platform such as Xamarin or PhoneGap, developers would need to write code separately for iOS and Android, compounding the cost issue even further.

So for Microsoft to make Xamarin freely available, marks a major turning point for cross platform app development. Now anyone with a PC (and a Mac for iOS development) can in theory develop mobile apps that deliver the same native mobile experience to all major devices.

For those techies among you this means the ability to build mobile apps using Visual Studio and C#, bringing all the power of .NET to mobile app development. C# enables developers to write native APIs for each platform to easily share code and deliver better results.

2. Microsoft HoloLens for business applications

Yes that’s right, HoloLens isn’t just about gaming! At the conference Microsoft demonstrated a range of useful and innovative business applications for the emerging technology. HoloLens is helping to bring ideas and products to life across a range of industries.

In engineering and manufacturing HoloLens enables you to design new components of a product without having to physically build them. In the fields of medicine and education, HoloLens is providing incredible potential for simulated training from every angle. And even Nasa is on board using the power of HoloLens to explore Mars from the comfort of the Earth.

Not only is Microsoft making virtual reality a reality for businesses, the development has been made easier too with the ability to now write universal Windows apps that can run across all devices including HoloLens and Xbox and PCs. This provides fantastic potential for businesses to work better using HoloLens but also integrate information and data derived from it quickly and securely.

3. Microsoft makes Linux available on Windows

Developers spoke and Microsoft listened. You can now use Microsoft tools to build apps, sites and services on Linux. Specifically the Microsoft is bringing the full set of Ubuntu tools and applications to Window including the sopen source tool Bash.

Linux is often favoured by businesses for its cost effectiveness when running your own hosted applications or servers. Unlike Windows, you don’t face the high licensing costs associated with each client licence regardless of actual usage (although this isn’t an issue in the cloud).

For developers this latest move by Microsoft means the ability to use Linux-based development tools within their Windows apps. The new functionality will be enabled as part of Microsoft’s anniversary update to Windows 10 this summer.

4. Microsoft AI bots powered by machine learning

Although Microsoft’s Azure machine learning services have been around for a while, at Build 2016 we learned that AI bots (intelligent APIs that recognise voice and language) are the future. Building on the existing machine learning marketplace of datasets, logic and analytics, businesses can now plug into an increasing framework of Microsoft bots to do everything from booking hotels to ordering lunch without having to ever manually enter any data. And it’s quite simple too. With some relatively straightforward coding, the technology is open to anyone.

So how does it work? Using the wealth of data available from Cortana and Bing, Microsoft has shaped these bots to recognise natural language, images and even translation. Developers can create their own bots to integrate with services such as Skype to enable users to perform tasks with voice recognition alone. A great example was a demonstration within Skype of a user requesting a hotel for a conference. There was no need to insert any dates or times anywhere, the bot simply returned a selection of hotels in the right location and at the right time.

The future of the AI bot framework lies in continuously improving machine learning. Microsoft can keep refining these services based on real-time user information to make them even more effective.

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