Internet of Things

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on July 18, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

I have written recently about Business Analytics (BA). What is BA? How does it affect your IT strategy and your business in general? I have also observed that there is a relationship between BA and Big Data (BD) – they are related concepts.

To clear up any confusion, I would say that BA is related to taking a set of data, performing a modelling operation, and using the model to predict some kind of future state – what-if calculations. BD is more of a continuous analysis of very large-scale business information.

But the business concept that is driving forward the important of both Business Analytics and Big Data is really The Internet of Things (IoT).

http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikekavis/2014/06/26/the-internet-of-things-will-radically-change-your-big-data-strategy/

Even for a fairly short blog post, this is already starting to fill up with three-letter-acronyms so let’s define what the IoT really is. More and more devices are capable of communication using the existing Internet infrastructure. It used to be computers that we would connect to the Internet, then laptops, then smart phones. Now it is tablets, ebooks, televisions, and every corporate electronic system you can think of – from security systems to electricity meters to photocopiers.

This revolution in making almost every device connect to the Internet is the starting point for the IoT. The classic consumer example is usually the connected fridge that can recommend a dinner based on what is inside, though a more useful example might be your car diagnosing a problem and communicating with the service centre without your own interaction.

In 1999, about 250mb of data per person was created each year. By 2012 ten times this amount of data per person was being generated. Data creation is increasing and the speed of increase is accelerating. Every day people are generating data with their smart phones without doing anything – just by switching it on, connecting to the Internet and allowing applications to work in the background.

This change in both the consumer and corporate environment is driving both the need for continuous Big Data analysis and also the ability to predict what may happen next based on Business Analytic tools.

Forbes: A short history of Big Data

Frontend development tools: HTML 5

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on July 11, 2014

IBA Group
Alexei Zagorsky

Until recently, HTML was used exclusively to code web pages. At the early stages of the mass use of the internet, it was simple and clear that HTML is a markup language, CSS defines the styles of the webpage elements, and JavaScript is used to create specific effects that cannot be achieved with HTML and CSS.

This is of course an idealistic picture. The reality was that the browsers that existed at that time displayed the pages in an unpredictable way and met no standards. On the other hand, the standards did not catch up with the pace of life.

The situation gained momentum after the internet attracted the interest of large-scale businesses. It became quickly clear that with the internet one can dramatically increase sales. No additional software is needed! Just run the internet.

It is a browser that became the client part of a client-server application in the time when the word frontend was not yet used ‘right and left’. The word website became too generic in a way and the time came for web applications to step to the foreground.

The problems with HTML standards were not yet solved but the situation progressed quickly. Technologies improve dramatically, if they are in high demand. Even HTML and JavaScript allowed developers to create masterpieces when in capable hands. Web development was implementing a combination of features provided by different specifications, such as HTML 4.01 and XHTML 1.1, as well as well as widely-used methods, including different ‘workarounds’ to prevent browser errors.

HTML 5 simplified and, which is more important put in good order many things that were available before. It became a unified markup language that combined the capabilities of HTML and XHTML. In addition, it preserved compatibility with the earlier versions.

The main features of HTML 5 are the following:

• Tools for semantic markup of a document. Using relevant tags, one can easily identify the title, content, navigation, and etc. A similar approach can be applied to structure the content

• Multimedia and graphic support at the level of HTML tags. It radically simplifies implementation of audio and video content on a web page. As for the drawing capabilities provided by the canvas tag, they take one’s breath away

• New elements and attributes, and exclusion of the features that are better handled by CSS

• Improvement in web form handling, including new field types, additional attributes, and validation ‘on the fly’

• New JavaScript APIs for complicated web applications, including drag and drop, document editing, 2D drawing, and management of browsing history.

These are just basic innovations. For all HTML 5 features, visit the W3C website at http://www.w3.org/TR/2011/WD-html5-diff-20110405/
The web pages built on HTML 5 look simpler in terms of the code, are quicker to run and friendlier to search robots. Today, HTML 5 is indispensable for a professional website. Thanks to the new capabilities of HTML 5, web applications are actually similar to classic desktop applications in terms of frontend. One more important features of HTML 5 is its compatibility not only with PCs and notebooks but also with mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, as well as with modern TVs that have internet access. Therefore, it is possible to develop a unified interface that looks the same on different devices.

The HTML 5 standard is being further modified. The current version is available at http://www.w3.org/TR/html5/. However, one cannot be sure that the existing browsers fully embrace these specifications. Trust but prove :) . We should also bear in mind that the standards developed by W3C are not mandatory and their implementation depends on browser producers. These are the captains of the IT industry like Google and Microsoft.

See also Frontend versus backend. Where to begin?

How is Business Analytics used in the real world?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on July 2, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

As I have mentioned in the last couple of blogs Business Analytics (BA) is about using data and models to make better decisions. This can help governments to improve policymaking and companies to develop better strategies. The aim is to use information to improve the day-to-day performance of the organisation.

But what are the real business decisions being taken with BA tools and how does the data analysis process improve the decisions?

    - In the airline business, employees and aircraft need to be in the right place at the right time to maximise efficiency. This is a complex planning procedure when things are going right, but when a flight is delayed or a key staff member is ill or a plane requires unscheduled maintenance then the knock-on effect can be huge. Analyzing the possible options is a great example of how BA can influence real decisions.
    - Hotels want guests in their rooms as often as possible. Empty rooms in a hotel mean lost profit and a hotel that quickly sells out a particular night may have been able to charge more for the rooms on that evening. Analyzing past customer behaviour, the competition, and other influencing factors such as big sport or music events in the neighbourhood is another classic example of how data can feed into a specific business decision – how much to charge for a room.
    - Banks and finance companies need to make quick decisions about whether to lend money to a particular customer based on limited information – such as the salary. However there are many other factors that could determine whether the individual is good for the loan or not and these can all be quickly factored together to provide a decision.
    - Supermarkets always seem to have full shelves these days. Can you remember Saturday afternoons where many big supermarkets would run out of important products? With the entire history of each product and how it sells in each store it is now far easier for supermarket managers to ensure they are ordering the correct stock levels.

These are just four entirely different industries, but in each one it is clear that Business Analytic tools are changing how managers make decisions in those companies.

Better decision-making leads to increased efficiency, a better use of existing resources, and the opportunity to perform better – to earn more by delivering a better service. For this reason, managers in all industries should be thinking about what Business Analytics can do for them.

Selecting the right business analytics partner

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on June 16, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

IDC is one of the leading global industry analysts, so it’s always interesting to see their own guidance on choosing a supplier. Their recent report ‘IDC MarketScape Excerpt: Worldwide Business Analytics Consulting and Systems Integration Services 2014 Vendor Assessment’ focused exclusively on the questions you need to ask when searching for a Business Analytics partner.

1. Pay attention to domain knowledge. Over the years, some service providers have built deep industry expertise across certain business needs.

2. Create a culture of analytics. It is not enough for you to have access to the right data, you need to create the processes that can make use of this data across your entire organization.

3. Don’t neglect the basics. Companies often find they have data issues once the migration has commenced, which will then delay the entire migration project. Stop and avoid all these roadblocks by taking the data cleansing stage seriously so the migration can run smoothly.

4. Align the strength of your supplier with project success. If you find a good match then ensure that your partner gets stronger as the project succeeds.

Of course, point 5 from IDC was to utilize their own research when selecting a supplier. Most of these points are what any manager with a good experience of outsourcing would be planning anyway, but it cannot be stressed enough that good planning for the migration and creating a culture of data analytics are essential for success.

For more information on IDC research reports, visit their website at http://www.idc.com

Business Analytics and Big Data

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on June 10, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Business Analytics is a topic that is often confused with Big Data. While the analysis of Big Data is related to the continuous analysis of business information through an analytical process, they are related concepts rather than exactly the same thing.

There are various kinds of analytics to start with:

Descriptive Analytics: how to gain insight from historical data, creating reports and scorecards that give a better vision of some existing data.

Predictive analytics: modeling through the use of predictive models and machine learning – allowing the system to learn what might happen next based on the data that is being studied usually in real-time.

Prescriptive analytics: taking a large data-set and attempting to create decisions, choosing possible paths, simulating what might happen if certain decisions are taken.

Decisive analytics: this supports human decision-making with very visual analytic information that helps the user.

So the field of Business Analytics is more related to the process of taking data and either modeling outcomes or predicting what may happen next, rather than just attempting to spot trends in a large data set.

Business Analytics is really a tool that can support executives to make better decisions by supporting their decisions with data, rather than just estimates or guesses. By using actual data from the business and modeling potential outcomes based on decisions that could be taken, the data can help to support the direction a business leader should take.

This type of process has existed for a long time, but it has been the creation of vast pools of business data – the move towards a Big Data environment – that has really stimulated the need for improved Business Analytics. The increased amount of data has provided more information that can be analysed and yet has also made it more difficult to reach a conclusion on the right decisions – without better analysis.

Frontend versus backend. Where to begin?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on June 4, 2014

IBA Group
Alexei Zagorsky

This article opens a series of discussions devoted to frontend development. Until recently, this part of the development job was not treated properly. By this series, I intend to present my view of the modern trends in the development of user interface, as well as technologies that are used in web development.

It common knowledge that the internet is built on a client-server architecture. A server is a powerful remote computer or a group of computers called ‘cluster’ or ‘cloud’. Server software installed on a server serves customers. This software is also called ‘server’. With regard to WWW, it is a web server (Apache, IIS, nginx and other), i.e. a software complex that receives HTTP requests from customers and returns HTTP responses, typically with the requested data.

Operations related to processing of server data are called backend development. The following server programming languages are designed for backend development: PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby, ASP.NET, and Java. An important part of the operation of server programming languages is interaction with the database management server (BDMS). DBMS keeps well-organized information that is accessible at any time. The most popular DBMSs for WWW are MySQL, IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, PostgreSQL, FireBird, and MongoDB.

A client is generally speaking any device that enables the user to access the internet, including desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone. From a technical perspective, a client is a web browser that transmits to a web server HTTP requests for the resources specified in URL, as well as displays server responses in the form of HTML pages, files, media streams or other data.
Any user application needs a convenient and functional interface.

It is especially relevant for a web application because it is used by people who have different qualification and knowledge levels, as well as work in different professions. It is also essential that web interface work well from all modern browsers, including those on mobile devices. Thus we come to the frontend concept.

Frontend development is creation of the client part of a web application. Until recently, this application part was treated without due respect. Most efforts were focused on the server part of a project, such as business logic, data, and security. A frontend developer was perceived as ‘the guy who makes the project look more attractive’. It is quite clear that it is a misperception.
A modern frontend developer is ‘a Jack of all trades’, an expert in his or her domain and in many adjacent domains. A frontend developer writes code for a website, creates user interface, deals with usability, web design, and has an idea of the theory of colors. A frontend developer must have an excellent knowledge of HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, and Ajax. Experience in such popular JavaScript frameworks as jQuery, Google Web Toolkit, Prototype, TwitterBootstrap, and many others are also of use.
Frontend developers deal not only with specific concepts and tasks, but also with abstract thinking. They belong to those few who are able to make a bridge between mathematics and art. As they are able to unify these two disciplines and apply user experience to logic processes, they are very valuable employees for any IT business.

Therefore, the current trend is to pay more attention to frontend development. In the following article, I would like to discuss the technologies that give a website a modern look and feel, and contribute to its powerful functionality.

Reshoring

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on May 27, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

The calls for companies to explore reshoring keep getting louder, led largely by a new sense of nationalism in Europe that was on show during the recent European elections. Many voters are rejecting internationalism in favour of wanting to see more business done close to home.
There has also been a change in the cost of doing business in Europe. In fact, the FT reports that the UK is now the cheapest manufacturing location in all of Western Europe.

But in all the reports about reshoring becoming something of a trend, the focus is always on manufacturing, not the IT or IT service market. Intellectual services appear to be purchased from the best possible location and the talk of reshoring this year has not changed this.
The way IT services are purchased is certainly changing. The concept of an app store being taken from the consumer market and applied to enterprise systems is becoming a reality and cloud-based computing power on demand is becoming normal.

These differences in the way that IT projects are planned and delivered will ensure that customers continue buying from the best global location for their own needs. With most technology projects today the emphasis is on the required skills – if you can’t find them nearby then it’s only natural to look overseas and hi-tech services operate on a global platform.

So it is true that Panasonic is thinking about moving manufacturing back to Japan, and Otis moved their elevator production from Mexico back to the USA, but in IT development it looks like the future will remain global – bits and bytes can be delivered online unlike cars, DVD players, or elevators.

UK manufacturers pull ahead of EU rivals

See also Is reshoring the future?

Mobile applications as you do not know them

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on May 19, 2014

Vitězslav Košina
IBA Group

Mobile devices, mobile technology and mobile applications are widely different. Every now and then, we see Android smartphones of various designs and sizes that are extensively used mainly for communication, entertainment, and sharing in social networks. In business, we come across legendary iPhones and iPads with advanced applications often tailored to the needs of a particular company. Windows Phones are gradually creating their segment in the mobile market. The spectrum of mobile platforms is even wider and a variety of using mobile devices is broad as well.

Entertainment and business are only two out of many aspects of mobility. Mobile devices are also of considerable practical importance. They are able to meet specific user requirements at the right time and place. Thus, mobile applications become the right hand in finance (smart banking) and insurance.
Think, for instance, of the mobile application Pojišťovna for an insurance company. It is a case of value added insurance services, a new channel to customers, an interactive communication tool, and a useful helper in crisis situations such as traffic accidents. The hybrid extension of the Pojišťovna application allows for the search of contracted services. The developers applied an innovative approach focusing on user-friendliness while minimizing the need of additional adjustments and costs associated with future updates. This part of the application for a Czech insurance company is developed by the IBA CZ team.

Usable application may be of help to everyone
Application Pojišťovna (Insurance Company) is available not only for the clients of Česká Pojišťovna. Anyone interested in practical assistance in crisis situations is able to download it. The number of downloads is the best evidence that it makes good sense to have the application and that it brings real benefits to its users. Currently, more than a hundred thousand users run the application on their mobile phones. And the download continues, as well as the app’s gradual improvement and its enhancement with new features.

Certainly, the application is available for download from the App Store and Google Play. It is possible to get the app for Android, iOS, and Windows.

Relevant help, no need to click to another application
Mobile application Pojišťovna provides much more than just a quick and easy access to information about products and services of Česká pojišťovna. As a bonus for current and future clients, the application offers assistance when in a car accident, when looking for contractual services or places of interest (including contacts and opening hours). Technical solution involves a combination of generally known mobile applications and a website built on the Liferay technology. The result is a hybrid application that is used as an easy-to-manage web application. The user does not need to visit the website because all the functions are controlled directly from the mobile application.

To view a website through the mobile application, the so-called Webview components are used. All standard operating systems are nowadays equipped with them. The benefit of this solution for the application owner is a significant reduction of time-to-market when deploying new or editing existing content in the mobile application and thus potential cost savings. In fact, the deployment is not subject to a regular release cycle of mobile applications (up to several days for iOS), yet it is subject to a regular web publication activity. In extreme cases, it can take a couple of minutes. At the same time, the website owner doesn’t have to maintain and publish several versions of the app (iOS, Android, Windows Mobile) when making changes in the content.

This technological approach may not be suitable for all mobile scenarios. However, for a selected set of scenarios it can significantly save costs and time of publishing new content in mobile applications.

Mobile web: advantages in many situations
Depending on the position context, a mobile application can provide relevant information associated with the situation. In case of Pojišťovna, it will specify the closest branch offices or available points of service. In case of the Bene+ loyalty program, it is the list of current rewards and discounts offered by GE Money Bank to its loyal customers.

Bene+ is a GE credit card loyalty program and is another example of using mobile web to increase customer comfort. In addition to general information about the loyalty program, the participants of Bene+ immediately get the list of places where their discounts and bonuses can be used and see their locations on the active Google maps.

Unlike the Pojišťovna application, Bene+ is not a genuine mobile application, it is a full responsive website. It is available for mobiles and desktops, although technically it is a different solution. The thing they have in common is that both the part of mentioned Pojišťovna application and Bene+ website are created by the IBA CZ development team and are built on Liferay technologies.

See the original article on the IBA CZ blog (Czech only)
https://www.ibacz.eu/blog/-/blogs/mobilni-aplikace-jak-je-neznate

See also earlier publications on mobile technologies:
Development and testing of mobile sites and applications
Mobile applications: HTML 5 versus native solution

Development and testing of mobile sites and applications

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on May 12, 2014

Jana Albrechtová
Vítězslav Košina
IBA CZ

In the first part of the series on mobile applications, we mentioned a record growth of the mobile market. It is currently developing at a dizzying pace not only in terms of the number of users or mobile devices, but also from the perspective of technology development.

Mobile technologies bring new possibilities of interactivity, including the context of time and place. They offer new channels and forms of engagement, new ways of communication, and new opportunities for trade, including data collection and processing, and remote operation.

In the previous article, we spoke of the need to be mobile simply because your readers, website visitors, customers, business partners, and suppliers are mobile. In this article, we look into how to become mobile.

Beginning a mobile project

Development of a mobile application should be preceded by a thorough analysis. The target market, end users, their behavior, and the devices that are in use should be identified. It is the alpha and omega of every project. Budget estimation and assessment of the expected benefits play a prominent role, too.

The mobile market is characterized by high diversity, a variety of different types of mobile devices, and a wide range of used platforms. In addition to several basic browsers that are in wide use, some specific browsers are installed on a limited number of devices. Different browsers in combination with different operating systems, platforms, and mobile devices bring about hundreds of possible combinations. This increases possibilities of regression errors. Testing of mobile applications is therefore a much more complicated task than testing of PC applications. We know this from our experience in real projects.

Android versus iOS and more…

The most popular mobile platform is Android, covering about 70% of the market. It is followed by Windows and iOS used on iPods and iPads by Apple. These hold about a 12-percent market share. Some users apply specific platforms that vary greatly in behavior and requirements. For example, iOS users form a small group, but they spend more on mobile applications. As a result, they generate the largest portion of revenues.

Creating mobile applications for iPhone can therefore be commercially advantageous despite the numerical superiority of Android in the Czech market. Developing for iPhone is also simpler because iPhones are available only in two dimensional variations. Also, iPhones go through a rigorous approval process by Apple.

“When customizing applications on Android, one should expect a high probability of regression errors. An application tuned for functioning on one device, may cause errors when functioning on another device”, explains Tomáš Běloch, tester at IBA CZ.

Testing in practice

Testing of mobile applications is comparatively simple.

First of all, it is worth identifying the device on which the application will be mostly used. The device should cover the market in terms of its diversity and cover most of the users of the target groups. Then one needs to define the types of devices on which the application will function (smart phones, tablets, etc.), operating systems (Android, iOS, Windows), particular versions of the operating systems, and the size of the screen and its resolution.

When it comes to a mobile web application, one needs to identify the most widely used browser.

Virtualization tools may be helpful when testing applications on various platforms.

Web is the basis

If mobile applications should be commercially successful, in many cases it is useful to create a mobile web. Even when designing a website, it is preferable to start with its mobile version (the principle “mobile goes first”). One needs to make emphasis on key services and simplify communication with the clients.

Just as HTML is the foundation of any website, it is also the foundation of any mobile solution. While the user experience and sophisticated interactive features are the domain of native applications, HTML 5 is usually the easiest and fastest option for creating mobile applications. Such application can later be converted into a hybrid form when the user’s view seems to be native.

Hybrid applications are developed as a web application that ensures versatility and a possibility to use on many different types of devices. If HTML 5 is unable to cover all the requirements, native programming is applied. Web applications in a hybrid form combine a simple user interface typical for a web application and the functionality specific for a native application.

See also Mobile applications: HTML 5 versus native solution

Is reshoring the future?

by Irina for IBA Group
Posted on May 5, 2014

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech that highlighted reshoring as a key objective of his government. In his speech Cameron said:

“In recent years there has been a practice of offshoring where companies move production facilities to low cost countries. We’ve all seen it. We all know it’s true. And it will continue.

But there is now an opportunity for the reverse: there is now an opportunity for some of those jobs to come back.”

Cameron focused mainly on the manufacturing sector. He cited examples such as the Horby model company bring production back from India to the UK and Raspberry Pi computers moving production to Wales.

What he said makes sense for these companies. By reducing the complexity in a manufacturing supply chain there is the opportunity for these companies to react faster to the market than if their products needed to be ordered many months before delivery.

Cameron went on to acknowledge that this is not a simple argument. He is not describing an ‘us’ v ‘them’ world:

“…I’m not saying there is a finite number of jobs in the world and that our success depends on some kind of tug of war to win them back at the expense of the East.”

But Cameron’s concept of reshoring is very focused on companies and processes that require a physical product delivery. He talked about call centre jobs moving closer to home, but the change in call centre strategy over the past decade has been well documented – people prefer to have their calls answered closer to home.

For many other professional services there is effectively now a global market. Graphic designers, advertising, accounting, and IT professionals are now operating within a global community of expertise and with instant delivery of products via the Internet there is no supply chain difficulty.

So it doesn’t seem like the UK government focus on reshoring will affect those companies or individuals supplying technology expertise. These services are usually sold based on the expertise required, not simply on a low price alone – allowing a global search for the best possible skills wherever they may be found.

Click here to read the full text of the speech by David Cameron at the WEF 2014 in Davos:

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/world-economic-forum-davos-2014-speech-by-david-cameron–2