Friday, March 27, 2015

Intranet Solutions

Today’s Intranet teams are streamlining processes and are working faster. A trend we saw last year that repeated this year is for teams to go live with iterative changes rather than wait to launch one new, huge intranet design. Agile or Agile-like approaches were used effectively in a development and contributed to the lower average time required to create the Intranet. The operative word here is effectively, as employing Agile is not a silver bullet; if done well, however, it can certainly streamline a project. (If done without proper design integration, Agile coding will create a disjointed, substandard user experience).

The noted trend toward an iterative process has changed the way we’ve been measuring intranet-project completion in the last two years. Prior to that, we only looked at one single release of the “full” intranet. But now, for some designs, we’re looking at iterations of the design, or even at just the functional elements that were most recently changed.

This way of working is potentially more practical for an organization producing an up-to-date and useful design. The development challenges may seem less daunting with an iterative approach, and the ability to see working results sooner may be more gratifying too. As improvements occur incrementally, employees are generally happier too, which can help with employee retention.

A possible setback of an iterative approach, of course, is if the way employees do a task is changed out from under them (as it happens too often),  and leaves them less productive and likely disgruntled. Thus, as designs iterate, it’s important that employees be able to still accomplish tasks without difficulty. No employee should wonder what mystery version of the intranet will appear each day when logging in. Their top tasks, global navigation, and core content sections should be designed early and stay static. This will help provide the concrete foundation that users need.

Feature Trends

As for the user interface, intranets often take a cue from web design, but in some areas intranets lead the way. Strong trends in intranet features this year include:

Responsive Design. Like last year, responsive intranet design is significant again, Organizations overcame the usual concerns around intranet security and offer employees access to expected content in varying ways.

Search Filters. The most common new trend on intranets, this year is faceted search. Search technology and planned content management with descriptive keywords make this feature work for the users.

Hover effects for immediate information about search. Intranet designers today focus on getting employees more information faster with less user effort. Content on pages is more thorough, yet concise. Rather than clutter pages, designs make use of hover effects to display more information before a user makes a commitment to click and follow through. Most commonly, pausing the cursor over a search result displays more information about that result item.

Federated Search. This is just a borderline trend as only a few organizations are doing this, offering search capabilities that effectively query multiple knowledge repositories, thus removing invisible awareness barriers often found on intranets. A word of advice: make the searches in the various areas good before attempting to federate.

Flat Design. Bevels, shadows, and elaborate framing effects seem to have become about as necessary as the human appendix, at least for this year.

Carousels. As in recent years, carousels have a prominent presence on the intranet homepage. In Design Annual fashion, the way these organizations present the navigation and content further progresses carousel design for intranets.

Company Performance on Homepage. To inform and motivate employees,

Megamenus. Also seen in years past, megamenus are helping employees discover layers deep in the hierarchy with a simple waive of the mouse.

Clever Use of Video. Today’s intranet designers recognize the potential and power of video. And they are moving away from the idea of limiting how or when video can be used on intranets.

Fat Footers. Display of large footers at the bottom of intranet pages, giving employees one more chance to find what they need when down there. These oversized footers, separated from the main content area with a different background colour and containing distinctly headed sections, are an expected and obliging anchor on intranets.

Some Intranet Examples from the Middle East:

1.    ARAMEX launches global Intranet
Based on Microsoft platform, intranet forms part of ARAMEX world-wide advanced technology strategy: forms basis for new customer service roll out
Amman, the international express and freight forwarding company specializing in the Middle East and Indian Sub-Continent regions announced it has launched its globally available intranet based on advanced technologies from world leading software company Microsoft Corporation. The global communications system will, in the future, form the basis of the company's extranet, a service that will give ARAMEX customers and suppliers access to the company's globally held information resources.
The new intranet system will operate as the single communications medium that gives ARAMEX staff all over the world immediate access on all of the company's operational, administrative, and customer related information.  It also provides information about the industries and markets that the company services. The development comes about as a

2.    Atlantis the Palm's intranet system
Atlantis The Palm, Dubai launched its intranet system, Aquarius, in February last year to streamline communication across the resort’s various departments, which employ more than 3000 people. With phase one now well and truly under way, the team is concentrating on building and launching phase two, which will feature a more interactive platform that will also foster independence among team members.
Rationale and Objective: The concept of an exclusive Atlantis intranet system was initially introduced to Atlantis team members in 2011. After receiving feedback on the ‘communications’ section of the hotel’s employee engagement index, the management team began working on improving communication within and among departments and diversifying the feedback channels at Atlantis. Comments received as part of the survey also indicated that shared drives were no longer the solution for communication across a large team, which led to the IT and employee marketing teams working together towards building the concept of internal system, Aquarius.
Another goal was to provide up to date content –to make sure that all the information that we’re giving out is current because this is the main concept of the intranet. Then of course, the third was to be Atlantis branded, to create the same look and feel that the main website of Atlantis has, so that people can relate to it.

3.    Saudi Food and Drug Authority
“Bawabaty” ( بوابتي ) which means my portal in Arabic, is highly customizable; giving employees powerful tools they need to do their work, and the freedom to do it in their own way.

Friday, March 20, 2015

HUB Intranet Product

Intranets of the previous era faced challenges such as being static, offering a non-intuitive user experience, a painful search experience and were a set of disintegrated systems.  IT departments in various organizations faced challenges such as inability to scale or allow a geographically distributed workforce to collaborate in real time.  Various departments in organizations functioned as silos in terms of collaboration, knowledge sharing and engaging with each other to improve productivity.
Whilst Content is still the key, trends such as Social Mobility Analytics and Cloud (SMAC) have changed the Intranet paradigm to move to a dynamic and responsive Intranet that institutionalizes sustained user adoption to usher in a cultural change and produce an engaged workforce with the ability to collaborate in real time even separated by geo physical distances.
The advent of social media has triggered the advent of various social channels even within companies that could be leveraged to become a productivity driver.  Mobile devices have made user access to Intranet possible anywhere anytime on any device.  Cloud computing has ensured that organizations are able to scale their applications elastically and not worry about on premise infrastructure and associated maintenance costs.  Analytics has provided the power to users to dynamically analyze any business problem in terms of the dimensions and drivers.
iLink's Next Generation HUB Intranet Product creates a seamless, engaging and personalized experience that makes users feel welcome, encourages them to contribute freely, enables them find / access what they need and allows them to stay informed, regardless of where or how they do it.
iLink’s HUB Intranet Product is a next-generation employee engagement platform available on the cloud and on premise.  It helps customers replace the conventional intranet with a state of the art,  fully configurable & social intranet – a platform where your employees can innovate, network, collaborate, converse and engage.
iLink's HUB Intranet Product is an extensible, feature rich, modern UI based product that can facilitate collaboration across a mobile and flexible workforce, can provide a dynamic space for content and employee interaction, is easy to use and inexpensive to maintain. 
HUB Intranet Product has been envisioned with a larger goal of not only improving productivity and making employees efficient but cutting through organizational barriers and strategically supporting new ways of working.
HUB Intranet Product leverages social engagement by integrating with Yammer, Confluence, Blogs and Social Feeds.  HUB is built on Office 365 / SP 2013 and provides an engaging and responsive User Experience.  HUB leverages predictive analytics for analyzing various business problems.
HUB Intranet Product  has a planned roadmap that continuously augments the product with latest technology and business trends.
For more information on HUB, browse the URL

Exchange Migration

iLink follows the Microsoft recommended Exchange Migration steps to plan and implement the Exchange Migration in an organized manner.
iLink analyzes the specific requirements of customers and recommends the appropriate Exchange Online migration and coexistence option:
  • For non-Exchange systems, an IMAP-based tool to move email directly into the service.
  • For organizations running Exchange on-premises, a more sophisticated tool can migrate the entire contents of Exchange mailboxes, including appointments, meeting requests, personal contacts, and tasks.
  • Set up a simple coexistence that allows a staged migration with minimal impact to your on-premises infrastructure
  • Set up rich Exchange coexistence – designed to support gradual migration to the cloud, or a period of long-term coexistence between Exchange Online and Exchange Server on-premises.  This coexistence approach provides advanced capabilities like sharing of free-busy data between on-premises and cloud users.
Microsoft Active Directory synchronization tool synchronizes the On-premise Active directory with Microsoft Online Directory Service to sync various services such as Exchange Online, Lync Online and SharePoint Online.  This results in the following customer benefits:
  • Eliminates the need to manage users and groups in two places
  • Powers unified global address list
  • Simplifies user provisioning
  • Enables rich coexistence scenarios
This means that when you add a new employee, delete a terminated employee, or change contact information, these changes are automatically propagated to the cloud, so you don’t have to do it manually.  These items become read-only in the cloud, and you continue to manage them with familiar tools in AD, the same way you do today.
The directory sync tool synchronizes changes every 3 hours.  To protect your security, it does not sync sensitive information, such as domain passwords.
Directory sync also keeps distribution groups and the global address list up-to-date automatically, and plays an important role when you run in coexistence mode between your local Exchange Server and Exchange Online.
Exchange Online provides a quick, low-impact option for moving from Exchange 2003 / 2007 to the cloud. This migration method is designed for customers who want to migrate their on-premise or 3rd party hosted Exchange 2003 and 2007 mailboxes into Exchange Online and who do not have complex requirements like coexistence, federation, off-boarding, etc.  Companies who have deployed Small Business Server 2003 or 2008 will also be beneficiaries of this feature.
iLink prepares an Exchange Migration strategy and a road map customized for specific organizations based on the following decision drivers:
  • The number of mailboxes
  • Current on-premises Exchange environment
  • Would you like to implement Single Sign On?
  • Mail Routing through on Premise Organization?
  • User Management from On premise organization or Cloud?
iLink’s Hybrid Delivery Model, ability to implement Hybrid Migration and cost effective migration helps customers achieve faster turn around time with respect to Exchange Migration whilst continuing to retain their secure processes and augment them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Cloud Computing in Oil & Gas Industry

Cloud Computing in Oil & Gas Industry

The oil and gas industry has a rich tradition of embracing new computing models. The industry has responded to, and in many cases driven, every major IT trend of the past 30 years. New platforms, from mainframe computers and super-computers to workstations and distributed systems, were adopted rapidly by oil and gas companies. More recently, high-performance computing, virtualization, advanced visualization and GPU processing are being driven, and adopted, by the upstream sector. The clear benefits of the virtually unlimited computing and storage capacities; ease of deployment; and small, upfront capital costs that public Clouds offer; are too compelling for a processing-hungry, data-rich industry to ignore. Cloud infrastructure, for example, takes the storage processing load off the shoulders of operators, who must manage vast amounts of data—from seismic acquisition, SCADA systems, well logs, surface and subsurface sensors, production meters, contracts, etc.—to derive value. In addition, Cloud technology is a natural fit for an industry that has a globally dispersed workforce, and where joint ventures by multiple companies are a common business model.

In the same way as the personal computer displaced the mainframe, putting computing power in the hands of those with a desktop, so cloud computing is displacing the notion of limited computing power, and indeed the desktop itself, placing ‘infinite computing power’ into the hands of anyone - on demand, in real time, as needed, anywhere, anyhow, and from any device.

As Oil & Gas projects are becoming larger and more complex, so are the business and design challenges. Preventing cost and schedule blowouts of capital projects by improving the Front End Loading process and improving return on capital by finding ways to drive out waste across the asset lifecycle through better design are just two of the ways this power could deliver dividends for the industry. Cloud-enabled, on-demand, real-time access to intelligent 3D models is transforming analysis and simulation.
Organizations adopt cloud for various reasons:
  • Cost reduction by leveraging the economies of scale beyond the four walls of the data centre
  • Reduce capital expenditures and provision IT resources (license, storage, computing, bandwidth) on a per need basis
  • IT agility to respond faster to changing business needs
  • 100 per cent resource utilization
There are various deployment models that can be used for cloud technology. Organizations can choose to go with different deployment models for different types of applications and data depending on their business requirements and other considerations. The most important things to consider when evaluating cloud technology and finalizing what type of cloud technology to use for different applications and data are described below:
  1. Organizations need to evaluate the current situation of their IT and analyse how cloud technology can impact organizational dynamics. Overall, organizations should make sure their contracts with cloud providers are sound, and they understand what they are paying for.
  2. Asset ownership versus asset control will also bring about some challenges. Organizations will need different skillsets from their IT staff to be able to successfully manage the cloud environment.
  3. Organizations need to answer questions about cost effectiveness, security, data privacy and compliance, system availability and performance.
  4. Organizations need to evaluate their business requirements before making a decision about moving to the cloud.
  5. Organizations need to understand the players in the cloud market.        
Cloud technology is maturing to overcome organizations’ security and privacy concerns and will stabilize further in the next couple of years. Gartner research shows that big data will reach the (Hype Cycle) plateau of productivity within the next five to ten years; and cloud security frameworks are on the rise. Similar to investing in security solutions for legacy infrastructure, organizations need to make investments to secure their data in the cloud. Organizations will need new technologies and solutions to monitor and manage cloud services. These security solutions for the cloud are not overly expensive as they benefit from the scale of cloud operations. Organizations should research the security policies and standards offered by cloud providers and ensure that the standards meet the needs of the organization, have the ability to have audit trails, and be compliant with local and federal regulations and policies. As mentioned earlier, organizations can also stand-up cloud technology in-house which can store their IP data, to ensure more control and visibility into this data and the infrastructure hosting this data. Irrespective of the type of cloud solution, it is wise to invest in security solutions to manage these services.

One thing that all Oil & Gas companies seem to have in common is that with regards to their IT requirements, much of what they need tends to end with the words “as a service.” These include areas like infrastructure as a service, database as a service, and monitoring/alerting as a service. The “as a service” approach to using cloud-based resources permeates the industry and IT teams at energy companies are always looking for ways to make everything more self-service accessible, more efficient, more standardized, and ultimately more compliant. This is, after all, an extremely competitive industry where even small improvements can have an enormous financial impact. This focus on compliance is intense throughout the industry, and it is equally prevalent in the evaluation of any new technology before it is adopted, as well as during the decision making processes about how that technology will be used.

One recent example of this process took place with a large Oil & Gas Services Provider based in Texas that supports oilfields and equipment with over 50,000 employees spread across the globe. This organization had outsourced most of their datacentre services and had infrastructure spread across a series of owned and leased regional facilities. The key complaint from the IT team was this: “The outsourcing has only solved the ‘who does the work’ problem, but it has failed to make deploying anything happen more efficiently or faster.” After some initial discussions, it was found that they were experiencing deployment times for a single server of 6-8 weeks, even though the environment was already heavily virtualized on VMware. Also, each datacentre location had its own processes and unique steps for making server requests or other basic functions.

They adopted a solution based on Microsoft System Centre and Windows Server that would leverage the strengths of their on-premise resources, and virtualize the most common and time-consuming workloads. In a two week timeframe, the organization was able to build the notification, approval, and provisioning process, and templates were created for deploying virtual machines to Hyper-V using System Centre. The result was the ability to provision Virtual Machines in 1-2 hours and keep better records of provisioning steps, approvals, and configuration data – all of which is vital in such a heavily regulated industry. Building on the success of the initial project, this solution was expanded and deployed to eight datacentres and now handles all provisioning requests.

The success of this system has shown the value of scenarios that draw upon even more Hybrid Cloud functions. This organization has already started a project to enable Database as a Service functionality, as well as Infrastructure as a Service with Windows Azure that allows their users to request VM’s and databases hosted either on-premises or in Windows Azure. This service-based approach has been enthusiastically received because it gives the IT department (and the entire company) better control over their infrastructure and faster results – whereas outsourcing had previously solved only the labour requirements. A Hybrid environment is not only a viable solution for a large, geographically dispersed organization. In highly regulated industry like Oil & Gas, the size of the organization doesn’t matter – all the same procedures and processes still need to be followed.

The Oil and Gas industry has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. With Geo political forces creating a highly volatile, rapidly fluctuating crude oil and gas market, the competition for depleting resources continues to grow. Main business drivers include lowering operating costs and increase finding and recovery rates. The shareholders are pressuring companies for a return on their investments that is commensurate with other long-term investment strategies. Advanced and innovative technology can help in reducing uncertainty and increasing success of exploration and production. There is often too much complex information to assimilate and understanding the time needed to make quick and accurate decision. Process efficiency and real time information is key for decision making and to automatically monitor wells and fields, with preventative measures to avoid production downtime.       
In conclusion, it is important to understand that cloud technology necessitates a paradigm shift in organizations and the way they operate daily. Moving to the cloud can take significant time and effort. Organizations therefore need to develop a Cloud Strategy before investing in the technology. Gartner research shows that the most benefits of the cloud are achieved when organizations focus on a very specific strategy and look to cloud based technologies to accelerate their performance.

Oil & Gas Industry can definitely benefit from the Cloud Technologies especially with their requirement of ever growing infrastructure. From our point of view, what would benefit them most would be a mixture of private and public clouds. With home-grown applications deployed in a private cloud, additional processing power can be achieved by utilizing/adding a public cloud for computing purposes alone. With this mechanism, security can be thoroughly defined since applications are accessible only through the private cloud. To make the cloud infrastructure cost effective, it can utilize the Linux-based cloud systems which can be added to supporting public. Managers and employees are given a venue to communicate regularly; even those who are in faraway remote sites or oil rig stations. Cloud computing allows them to access the company database wherever they are, preventing any possible communication breakdown.