The clock is ticking: Are you ready for Microsoft’s Volume Licensing transformation?

Microsoft licensing changesWith only two months left in Microsoft’s Fiscal Year ending June 30, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing a blog post now on Microsoft’s Volume Licensing (VL) transformation. Change is constant in Microsoft licensing, so a firm understanding of Microsoft’s plans to transform its VL models and platforms will be integral to your current and future decision-making process on the acquisition and consumption of software and services.

Let’s dissect the three changes that will have an immediate impact on how commercial organizations acquire Microsoft products moving forward. (more…)

Are you falling prey to these 2 mobile myths?

Mobile app development Whether it stems from the dream of an app that doubles consumer engagement with your brand or a sales force in need of a new tool, organizations see the opportunity a mobile application holds, and they sprint toward it. More often than not, however, they trip up and follow the wrong, dark path that leads to cost overruns, lost productivity, or mobile apps that simply don’t meet user needs.

Why is that?

Often, it comes down to two major misconceptions many organizations — including many Fortune 1000 companies — have about mobile app development:

  1. The “check box” mentality
  2. The belief that organizations can attack new problems with old strengths

By breaking down these two fallacies, we can figure out how organizations can reinvent their line of thinking to develop apps that people actually want to use, and that positively impact their top and bottom lines.

Misconception #1: Organizations just need to check items off a list: When defining digital strategy, companies often start with a list of what they want — which typically includes a mobile app. These organizations then assemble working groups to discuss the potential of a new app, eventually making another list with assumptions on what that app will need (a login screen, a beautiful user interface, etc.) From there, they believe that all they must do to succeed is to check each box.

However, these organizations often come up short because their big dreams and checklists miss what’s most important: the hard details and data on what users want. As a result, the app they develop is neither great nor terrible because it’s an app thought up in board rooms and not tested in a real-life setting. To avoid this pitfall, you must start by researching, understanding, and designing for your end users, getting their feedback and input throughout every stage of the process.

Misconception #2: Organizations can attack new problems with old strengths: The old adage is generals fight old wars, and organizations are no different. When organizations decide to start app development, they think logically, and assign employees with web-development skills to a new mobile taskforce charged with creating an app across all platforms.

But you shouldn’t try to create a one-size-fits-all application. When you create a web app, you develop on one platform and maintain one project, but you don’t provide the experience users expect because it doesn’t work great on any one device. A web app is a shack; it may appear to be a good investment, because the upfront cost is cheaper, but users won’t like it and won’t use it. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook’s biggest mistake was building a web-based app and not developing a native app sooner.

The problem is that these web apps are built by web experts, not mobile engineers, and the all-in-one app is usually a buffet of tools with features that are just OK. Think of it this way: None of the world’s great restaurants are buffets. App development for iOS requires a certain set of skills, and Android requires another, and they’re both different from Blackberry and Windows.

The market says the answer is a native app — castles that are specifically designed for a unique platform. These native apps are built by experts specializing in a particular ecosystem, and always perform better than one-size-fits-all web apps. When you create castles, you take the time and energy to develop native apps on each device, maintaining several projects but ultimately providing your users with the experience they expect and enjoy.

The lessons of science class will help

Organizations that believe these two misconceptions succeed in simplifying the value chain, but they also alienate users; those consumers want an app that works and is designed well, and they don’t care what’s easiest for you. Many organizations avoid overspending on app development, only to create apps that aren’t used and are ultimately a waste of time and money.

Instead of falling into those traps, readjust your thinking twofold: through experimentation and focusing on building skills and teams. When organizations take action to capitalize on opportunities (a business strength) and remedy gaps (hiring specialized mobile app developers) they can develop truly useful mobile apps.

Fix #1: Experiment to see what works: Don’t wait until your app is complete to see if you guessed right on what will make your app successful. Start experimenting now, during your planning and design cycle. It’s the only way to determine what users will like. Increasing time spent in the design phase will save you time and money in the long run, because you’ll have the information you need to avoid costly mistakes later.

To better understand your users, invest in bringing a user experience researcher onto your team or hiring a UX researcher consultant. Let the user research guide your design, and continue to get feedback throughout the design phase with user testing. This is a fantastic time to conduct numerous small experiments over a short period and build an app based on your proven or failed hypotheses. These mini science projects could be just a few weeks long and focus on one part of an app. This process creates an agile environment that allows your designers to pivot as you can gain new information about user preferences and learn how to better serve your customers.

Fix #2: Diversify your app development: A single development team won’t cut it. You need experts in iOS, Android, Windows, and any other ecosystem your audience plays in. That might sound like a tall order, but you can achieve this by building up teams and skills within your organization.

For example, create a three-person team for the iOS app: two experts in iOS app development, and another programmer learning iOS development. By creating small teams like this, organizations can develop an app faster while also expanding their skills and mobile capabilities.

Use a slingshot to get app development moving

So where do organizations begin? One option is using a third party to act as a slingshot to move past the check box syndrome and encourage them to begin experimenting and building their mobile teams. This third-party company works with IT and other business leaders to spur development by accelerating the user research, decision-making, and early prepping process, and by filling in skills gaps while the company recruits and trains new hires. In other words, these outside parties enable business leaders to act fast and encourage learning through testing and failing earlier rather than later. Once this catalyst is put in place, the organization can focus its energy on continued iterative testing and app development.

When organizations strip away these misconceptions and get serious with an environment of skill building and testing different hypotheses, they can leverage mobile technology in ways that aren’t possible with web-based tools, creating delightful customer interactions and entirely transformative employee workflows.

What challenges are holding back your mobile strategy? Leave us a comment below.

About the author

Michael Sikorsky of Robots and PencilsMichael Sikorsky (@mjsikorsky) is the CEO and co-founder of Robots and Pencils, a mobile strategy and app development company. Launched in 2009, Robots and Pencils has since created more than 250 apps used by 77 million people worldwide and was named the 34th fastest growing technology company in North America by Deloitte.

5 ways to strengthen your Office 365 security

Office 365 securityOffice 365 (O365) ups the ante of productivity, giving users the power to work from anywhere. Whether with Word, Exchange, SharePoint, or Skype for Business, Microsoft’s O365 suite allows users to access sensitive data remotely without a VPN. In the era of Bring Your Own Device and vanishing perimeters, that flexibility and ease of use is a big boost to productivity.

But that “always on” mentality can be problematic for IT, as sensitive data can be exposed if IT or users don’t follow the right protocols. Convenience shouldn’t come at the cost of security for your organization.

Luckily, there are some easy steps IT can take to tighten up O365 security without limiting productivity. Here are five ways you can improve your organization’s security posture while giving users the O365 functionality they need.

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Answering the 7 most common questions about Windows 10 deployment

7 frequently asked questions about Windows 10 deploymentWindows 10 is marching toward global adoption. Microsoft announced in January that more than 200 million devices around the world were on Windows 10. And just a few weeks ago, the Department of Defense announced it will transition 4 million machines across all defense agencies to Windows 10 by January 2017.

But a Windows 10 deployment doesn’t always come free of challenges or decisions. In fact, we’re hearing a lot of the same questions from organizations in the middle of a deployment. These organizations are all wondering if they’re in the same boat – are others concerned about Skylake? What’s the best way to wrestle unmanaged devices?

So here are the answers to the seven most common questions we’re being asked about Windows 10 deployments. (more…)

Adobe VIP subscription and tier licensing changes: Here’s everything you need to know

changes-aheadOn March 5, Adobe issued changes to the VIP subscription and tier licensing of Creative Cloud and Acrobat DC products for commercial and government customers (including the GSA). Generally speaking, customers are likely to see a shift of their VIP Tier stacking, which will likely result in better pricing for most Adobe customers. That’s because organizations will likely be releveled to a higher discount tier; however, some customers in Tier 1 may see a slight uptick in pricing.

This story has a few different layers, and in this post, we’ll peel them back, explaining the changes customers will experience, and detailing purchasing options for annual or extended subscriptions. (more…)

The important date Windows 7 and 8.1 users should know

whats newWindows 7 and 8.1 users, mark your calendars: A critical support date approaches on July 17, 2017.

After then, only critical security support will be available for devices running Windows 7 or 8.1 on new processor devices (such as Intel’s 6th Gen Skylake), according to a Jan. 15 Microsoft announcement. Microsoft recommends upgrading to Windows 10 in advance of that date in order to protect your organization from security, reliability, and compliance shortfalls. Extended support for hardware with legacy processors will end on Jan. 14, 2020 for Windows 7 and Jan. 10, 2023 for Windows 8.1. (more…)

What you need to know about Microsoft’s changes to its Enterprise Agreement program

UpdateMicrosoft will change one of its biggest licensing programs – and your organization might have a decision to make.

Microsoft is raising the minimum desktop commitment on Enterprise and Enterprise Subscription Enrollments from 250 to 500 devices/users on July 1, 2016. The adjustment aligns with Microsoft’s ongoing transformation of how organizations acquire, license, and deploy software and services in their IT environment.

Let’s look at how the change will impact organizations moving forward. (more…)

Technology in the classroom, part 3: Making your new initiatives work

digtal learningThe best teacher you ever had didn’t simply read the textbook better than the teacher in the next classroom. Great educators use out-of-the-box methods and subtle strategies to teach students — without the class even realizing it.

A mature technology plan, developed by a school’s IT staff, will include goals for devices, software, security, and back-end support. The technology used in the classroom may be static from one year to the next, but a strong technology plan that encompasses multiple school years will give teachers and students the resources to succeed every year. (more…)

What Microsoft’s per core licensing policy for Windows Server and System Center 2016 means to you

whats newMicrosoft recently announced details on the upcoming release of Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016, anticipated in Q3 2016. This announcement provides insights into some of the significant changes slated to occur to the Windows 2012 R2 licensing model.

Let’s review these changes, and examine the impact the new licensing agreements may have on your organization. (more…)

Office 365 E5 is here – 4 things you should know

Do you knowMicrosoft has introduced its newest Office 365 (O365) enterprise service plan – E5. It features Cloud PBX, PSTN conferencing, end-user and organization analytics, and advanced security. In conjunction with these new capabilities, Microsoft has added additional features to the existing E1 and E3 plans. As organizations evaluate these new capabilities, it’s important to understand how the introduction of O365 E5 will impact licensing options moving forward.

O365 E5’s availability

  • O365 E5 is now available for commercial and government organizations. However, E5 is not yet available for Government Community Cloud (GCC) and Education customers; availability for these customer segments will be announced at a later date.
  • E5 without PSTN conferencing will be sold separately through all programs where O365 Enterprise Plans are available.
    • Due to limited availability, PSTN conferencing is being offered as a separate add-on SKU to E5 under an Enterprise Agreement (EA) or EA Subscription Agreement only.
    • An E5 with PSTN conferencing single SKU will be offered at a later date.
  •  Updated O365 enterprise service plans consist of E1, E3, and E5. Below is a breakout of each plan’s features:

MS-O365-chart

E5’s licensing options

O365 E5 includes a number of new features that can be licensed as part of the suite or as standalone offerings. How an organization licenses these new features will primarily depend on its current O365 service footprint. There are three purchase order options for licensing E5 or any of its new components.

  1. Step-up: A step-up license allows an organization with active Software Assurance (or service coverage if Online Service, or OLS) to migrate from a lower edition to higher edition of a given product. An example of this would be “stepping up” from O365 Plan E1 to O365 Plan E5.
  2. Add-on: An add-on license provides rights to additional services and features while maintaining an existing license investment. For example, an organization can add on PSTN conferencing to O365 E5 without PSTN.
  3. Full USL: A full user subscription license is applicable when an organization is purchasing online services without any underlying license investment. An example would be purchasing O365 E5 without PSTN full User Subscription License.

An organization’s purchase option carries pricing and licensing implications. With the introduction of E5 and its new services, the number of iterations available for organizations to choose from has increased, and it’s important to understand these various options before making a final decision.

The retirement date for O365 E4 is set

The release of O365 E5 means the impending retirement of E4, slated for June 30, 2016. Organizations currently licensed for E4 can use the current plan under their agreement until renewal. Organizations that fall into this bucket will have two options to move forward with their O365 services prior to or at their renewal date.

  1. Customers interested in moving to E5 prior to their renewal can purchase an O365 E5 step-up SKU for each E4 user licensed. This SKU accounts for the difference in cost between the E4 and E5 service plans.
  2. Customers not interested in E5 can renew into E3, and add the Skype for Business Plus CAL subscription.

The upgraded features in E1 and E3

New features added to O365 E1 include Skype Meeting Broadcast and Task Management. Skype Meeting Broadcast will allow E1 customers to host every kind of meeting, including one-to-one, one-to-many, and one-to-thousands. In addition, Work Management in E1 allows for project management capabilities for teams.

E3 customers will be granted the new features available in E1, and will receive expanded rights to Data Loss Prevention (DLP) and encryption.

Visit Microsoft’s O365 Roadmap for the company’s online services portfolio. As you evaluate your move to O365, or more specifically, the new features and capabilities of O365 E5, it is important to have a partner to help you navigate this path. Reach out to your SHI Account Representative to get started.