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The Best Solutions Met with SharePoint

Posted By Sunil Jagani  on 22. July 2014 23:22

The number of things SharePoint can do to strengthen an organization’s communication, efficiency and security is astounding. You can also take advantage of document library for storing accessing and sharing documents securely, branding, sequential workflows, BI and reporting tools.

Here are the best occasions where a SharePoint solution comes in handy:

A SharePoint solution is fast to develop and cost effective. Because of ready-to-use modules, the development process is fast.

SharePoint is great for collaboration and communication. Built-in modules like discussion boards, document library and social features are par for the course with SharePoint. Outlook integration and automatic alerts connect the office. It is easily the one of the best collaboration platforms on the market.

Business Intelligence can be enhanced with a SharePoint solution. BI reporting is quick and easy with automatic graphs, XSLT web parts and survey lists. Filter features can be customized to quickly filter relevant information. The readily available dashboards and UI make navigation simple too.

SharePoint makes documents more secure. The document library for storing, accessing and sharing documents makes document management naturally more secure. User access and privileges are easily controlled.

SharePoint offers process automation with workflows. SharePoint has in-built elements to design approval workflows, auto-task creation, alerts & notifications etc. Mostly workflows create a chain of sequential actions. But what if your approval process is event-driven, not to worry, SharePoint even offers event driven workflows to set up conditions that fall beyond the default workflow setting. You may set event-receivers and place appropriate actions when the event-receiver receives intimation.

SharePoint offers granular user permissions and restrictions to control access of information to be granted to user. This also ensures security as you are revealing information only to the people you choose.

Using web parts in SharePoint provides great convenience. Add lists, libraries and functionalities to the web part and use it anywhere within the site. Talking of usability, SharePoint also provides master pages that allows you to design a single page template which can be used as a base for creating multiple pages.

Creating mobile-ready website is also easy with SharePoint. There are ample of design features available to you to make your site ready for any resolution.

Search is a key feature of SharePoint. SharePoint offers robust search that finds information faster within lists, libraries, content and even documents.

Predefined workspaces, blogs, wikis, multi-lingual support and user management are also some of the important features to name a few.

SharePoint is a platform offering ample of in-built features to provide you with the ability and flexibility to build a befitting solution. If you feel confined with SharePoint’s in-built capabilities, you can always have the flexibility to customize SharePoint to arrive at the solution you want.

SharePoint is way beyond just document storage. It is best suited for collaboration, content management, user management, public-facing websites, intranet solutions, business intelligence and – the list goes on.

With every new release SharePoint brings in lot of features for enhanced solution and improved user experience. We will be coming up with some astounding SharePoint 2013 features shortly.

What are some of examples of times you used SharePoint to meet a solution? Has there ever been a time when a SharePoint solution required too much customization to meet the requirements? Share your experiences in the comments below.

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Do You Need a Mobile Website or a Mobile App?

Posted By Sunil Jagani  on 8. July 2014 04:53

The proliferation of mobile devices and the changing expectations of users are reshaping the way we access information. While users once primarily visited your website from the comfort of their home desktop, they now more often look up online info from their mobile devices while on the go.

Now businesses and organizations are challenged with tapping into this mobile market and establishing a mobile presence. But is it better to simply mobilize your website, making it readable from a mobile device’s browser, or developing your own downloadable mobile app?

A mobile website is simply a website designed for the smaller handheld display and touch screen interface. Mobile web pages contain browser-based HTML pages linked together and accessed over the Internet on mobile devices. They may have a dynamic layout which shifts to accommodate various screen resolutions. . There is limited to no access to device specific features like GPS, Bluetooth, Push notifications, etc. While it depends on the nature and purpose of a business, the choice for most will be mobile website rather than an app. Mobile websites are typically less expensive to develop and have a number of advantages.

A mobile website is easy to distribute since there is nothing to download and install (the user presumably already has a browser app installed). Mobile websites are simply accessed from a mobile browser in a similar way as a normal website. A mobile website is also easier to find since it can appear in an organic search using a search engine.

Mobile apps on the other hand are actual applications that are downloaded and installed on a mobile device rather than simply being rendered within that device’s browser. A mobile app may use more of a mobile device’s functionality, including GPS or the camera. Since they are downloaded once, they may not require an Internet connection. Apps are programmed using native languages like JAVA or Objective C, depending on the device they are built for. Apps are available on device-specific portals such as Apple’s App Store, Android Market, or Blackberry App World.

Ultimately, if interactive engagement and building user experience using high end graphics and animation is your goal then a mobile app is the likely choice. Otherwise, if the goal is to simply provide content and establish a mobile presence then a mobile website is a less expensive choice, faster and overall simpler choice. At times starting with a mobile website is a good way to test the waters, then developing a mobile app down the road as it seems necessary.

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Deciding Which Mobile App Development Approach is Right for You?

Posted By Sunil Jagani  on 25. June 2014 02:00

As you most certainly already know, mobile devices have transformed the way people access and share information online. And the mobile application has become the digital vestibule for any business or organization.

But those with the aspiration to develop mobile applications are sometimes left without a clear path for development. Although iOS products make up a large share of the user base, should your app be developed natively for that environment? Or should you focus on a more versatile, cross-platform application that is developed to run congruently on any mobile device? In order to decide, there are a few things to consider.

Native vs Cross platform mobile development

The main advantage in developing natively is a technical advantage. By focusing on a single OS, a developer can strive for faster performance, superior security, and a rich user interface that takes advantage of the device’s unique capabilities.

This is usually the preferred development approach when the app requires the use of high end graphics or if the app needs to access device-specific features like a camera, geo-location, address book, eye-tracking, etc. Natively developed apps are high performance; however developers must maintain separate apps for each platform.

Cross-platform apps have a cost-saving advantage; the app is developed only once and works on all platforms. Cross-platform apps are developed and deployed faster for a wider audience because they support multiple platforms with generic code. However, these apps fail to take full advantage of a unique device’s performance hardware and capabilities. Cross-platform apps are often preferred when dealing with database list queries or when the developer requires wider market coverage with a cost-effective solution.

Ultimately, the determining factors between native and cross-platform development are the purpose and complexity of the app, the market coverage, the security requirements, and the budget. Cross-platform apps should be the default approach for simple apps that can be developed quickly and cheaply for multiple devices. But more complex apps that have more hardware, security, and interface requirements should consider a native development approach.

What approach do you find best when developing mobile applications? What factors do you consider when deciding on which approach to use? Please let us know in the comments below.

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Converting Non-Responsive to Responsive, Mobile-Friendly Site

Posted By Sunil Jagani  on 10. June 2014 02:10

Your web audience has changed their behavior. According to a recent survey, Americans access websites with their smartphones 28% more often than on their desktops – and this trend shows no sign of slowing down.

With this increased proliferation of smart phones, tablets, and other devices capable of browsing the Internet, there’s no excuse for having a website that only displays correctly on a standard browser. By not doing so, you are missing out on a large number of prospects who browse on mobile devices. Designing a responsive site that supports an optimal view from the device it is viewed on has become a necessity.

Converting to Responsive Site Design

The good news is that most websites can be easily converted from non-responsive to responsive – but not all can. It depends on where and how your priority information is displayed. Some current designs cannot simply be directly converted to a one-size-fits-all mobile-friendly design. But that’s okay, we’ll help you get started.

The first step in your redesign is to rethink your priority information, and from this determine clear and concise design requirements. Take a look at mobile browsers and check on their universally compatible components. From here, you can decide whether you should manually convert your website or use a framework.

A framework is a common set of concepts, practices, and criteria for designing a responsive website. Frameworks make conversion easier for designers because they use a common coding structure that can be reused instead of designed from scratch.

‘Bootstrap’ and ‘Foundation’

Currently, the market is flooded with various frameworks for mobile website conversion, however the most popular are ‘Bootstrap’ and ‘Foundation.’ Bootstrap was designed by Twitter and uses a fully functional grid system with four different standard sizes. It uses standard styling for forms, buttons, images, headings, and navigation systems. Its main properties are CSS customization and jQuery-driven components. These jQuery components include drop-down menus, tooltips, popovers, alerts, image carousels, and accordion-style panels. Bootstrap is one of the most popular frameworks among others.

Foundation is a framework that gives you less to work with, but more flexibility. Foundation wants you to build your sites in mobile first so that it can adapt to larger screens easily.

Bootstrap's desktop support includes Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, and IE8+. For the mobile browser support, Chrome on iOS and Android, and Safari (iOS only).

Foundation's desktop support includes Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and IE9+. For mobile browser support, iOS (iPhone), iOS (iPad), Android Phone 2, 4, Android Tablet 2, 4, and Windowns 7+.

The main difference between Bootstrap and Foundation is that while Bootstrap tries to give you everything you’ll need for your responsive website; Foundation just gives you a foundation to build upon. Bootstrap has a larger community support while Foundation will require you to do more on your own. However, Foundation does give you more control over your site, allowing you to carefully plan your CSS.

When converting your non-responsive sites to responsive, have you redesigned from scratch, or used Bootstrap, Foundation, or something else entirely? Let us know what path you took and how it turned out in the comments below.

If you have a website and are looking for a responsive solution, you may just take your phone and dial 484-892-5713 and talk to us.

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An Exploration of PHP Frameworks

Posted By Sunil Jagani  on 8. May 2014 05:02

PHP framework is the canvas where a developer creates code. Using a high quality PHP framework is essential to creating a clean, stable, and error free site. Coders bask in the rich open source community, piles of documentation, resources galore, and a flexible user interface.

The growing popularity of PHP has led to a variety of MVC platforms to choose from. So which one is the best for your project? The question merits a deeper exploration of PHP frameworks. While there are many out there, we will dive into the following four: Zend, CodeIgniter, CakePHP, and Symfony. On a high-level, each framework has its own strengths and weaknesses. The right decision often comes down to the type of site you want to build, and the scope of the project itself. Project size, timeframe, and PHP skill level are all factors in picking the right framework for your development team. Let’s take a closer look:

CodeIgniter

One of CodeIgniter’s strengths is speed. It’s great for projects both large and small, and relatively simple to install and adjust. The MVC structure is clean, and easy to understand. Along with speed, the CodeIgniter community is overflowing with documentation, forums, wikis, and tutorials. If you don’t have answers, there are many resources at your disposal.

CodeIgniter is also versatile, professing user-friendly tools that enable coders to build elegant sites without code restrictions seen in other frameworks. This is a double-edged sword with CodeIgniter, as the freedom in coding can lead to inconsistency in code if not done carefully. Overall, CodeIgniter is a solid choice if you need to get a project going quickly.

Symfony

Symfony is a powerhouse for large projects. Highlights include using ORM, a definite asset for working in a database environment. Another interesting feature of Sympfony is the “Bundles” concept, that helps organize code. Symfony has a steep learning curve, but a wonderful community.

Although Symfony is one of the more difficult frameworks to understand, it is also one of the most robust out there. Deciding whether Symfony is the right decision or not often comes down to time, and the size of the project at hand. For a heavy database environment, Symfony is an excellent option.

CakePHP

Like the other frameworks mentioned, CakePHP also has a huge following, along with the “Cake Bakery” where developers can share code with the community. Cake PHP is a great framework choice for simplicity and structure. Cake PHP framework is also PHP4 compatible, making it a great option for site revamps, and makeovers.

With that said, the framework can be unforgiving depending on what you want to accomplish. This can be a plus if consistency is a high concern, but can also pose challenges depending on the situation. Overall, CakePHP is a well-rounded option for small to medium sized projects.

Zend

Like Symfony, Zend framework is also geared towards enterprise development. It could also be considered one of the hardest frameworks to learn. Using Zend requires solid command of PHP. If you’ve used CakePHP or CodeIgniter, you’ll find some similarities, but Zend’s complexity and modularity makes it harder to learn at first.

Like the other frameworks we’ve examined, Zend also has an active community, so answers aren’t far away. Stability, feature integration, and security are all top-notch. This makes Zend a popular choice for developers building large applications.

So which one is right for me?

This is best answered by examining your development team, and the scope of the project you are going to undertake. PHP skill should also be considered when selecting a framework. Large-scale projects will likely require a more robust framework like Zend or Symfony, to handle the workload and ensure consistency. If speed and ease of use is a factor, a lighter framework like CakePHP or CodeIgniter may be the better way to go. While one framework may fit your needs better than another, most of the popular frameworks share a common trait: great documentation and help forums. At the end of the day, picking the right framework is best answered by reflecting on the project itself.

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A Look at the Current State of Android 4.4 (KitKat)

Posted By Sunil Jagani  on 22. April 2014 05:55

Android 4.4 - KitKat

With Android 4.4 debuting on the Nexus 5 back in October, developers and users have had some time to get used to the new operating system.  Originally, released on October 13 on Nexus 5 and then extending to other devices, the KitKat upgrade boasted an impressive list of new features designed to enhance the usability of the OS as well as make it even easier to develop for.

What did KitKat Bring to the Table?

Among the original features of KitKat is ‘OK Google’ – a replacement of ‘Google Now’ that enhances voice commands.  An updated ‘Hangout’ application allows users to store almost every online communication in one place.  KitKat was enhanced with a predictive search-based input that uses data from a user’s most dialed and typed locations.  An exciting Caller-ID feature on the Nexus 5 can identify inbound and outbound numbers even if they are not saved as contacts.  ‘Immersive Mode’ hides Android’s on-screen notifications and buttons to give apps more canvas space.  Cloud printing and cloud storage enables users to use these options from their mobile devices.  Additionally, KitKat has some under-the-hood improvements to memory management and security.

What’s Been Happening since KitKat?

KitKat has undergone three critical updates since debuting.  The 4.4.1 update added an update to the camera, some minor keyboard changes, and bug and UI fixes.  The 4.4.2 update added a full screen mode, wireless printing, improved battery life, and the option to revert to default settings.  Finally, the latest update, 4.4.3, fixed unstable data connections and further enhanced the battery life and the camera focus.

What’s in KitKat for Developers?

KitKat added support for simple screen recording.  The screen recording utility allows developers to start and stop recording on a device that’s connected to the Android SDK environment over a USB.  This is helpful not only with recording high quality video to show off your app, but also to find bugs and test various features.  Also assisting with debugging is the Procstats debugging tool that makes it easier for developers to assess their memory usage.  It’s especially useful if your app launches background services because you can see how much memory they are using.

The Google Cloud Print App allows for smooth integration between apps and printing processes.  Access of sms/mms is also made simpler with KitKat.  Developers can also take advantage of animated transitions, a translucent system UI, and improved storage access that facilitates in requesting and sending content to the provider. 

KitKat Compared Against iOS 7

KitKat’s main competition is Apple’s iOS 7 which launched in September, shortly before Android 4.4.  The striking new interface of iOS 7 looks far better than its previous version and includes the ‘Control Center’ feature to efficiently toggle on and off certain settings.  KitKat looks similar to its previous version with only slight changes like a transparent status bar and easy switching between the home screen and notifications.

When comparing crash ratios, KitKat is slightly in the lead.  Compared to its previous versions, iOS 7 crashes 1.7% of the time, while KitKat crashes only at a 0.7% rate compared to its previous versions. 

However, the largest difference that everyone is aware of is the acceptance rate of the operating systems.  iOS 7 still takes a whopping 85% of the market while KitKat lags way behind with only 8%. 

Yet, 8% of all mobile users is still a large number of users and the adoption rate of Android is gaining.  Overall Android’s KitKat 4.4 OS has positive reviews.  According to user reviews on Engadget, KitKat has a 9.2 out of 10 while critics are giving it an average of 8.6.  It may be time to consider Android as a serious contender in the mobile space. 

 

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Best Method for a Desktop-Based File Transfer

Posted By Sunil Jagani  on 19. March 2014 03:04

File Transfer

Recently AllianceTek was faced with the challenge of creating a desktop application for a client that would allow them to transfer files seamlessly and effortlessly with other users. The client would be able to select a file or folder and then choose a recipient from a dropdown list of other users. In the development of this application, we had a chance to experiment with various techniques for transferring data. We believe the results may prove useful to any developers experiencing a similar challenge.

Our first attempt was a ‘byte transfer’ method. However, this method had a limitation wherein we could not allocate an adequate memory buffer to transfer large files. It worked well in transferring file sizes up to 110 MB, but was unable to transfer a 200 MB file. When attempting to do so, we were met with an error that explained the application failed a managed memory buffer of 536870912. This limitation would not be acceptable for the client, so we went back to the drawing board.

The second method we tried was the ‘stream transfer’ method. Unlike byte transfer, stream transfer was able to handle large file sizes, including 1 GB files. However, we soon found out that the method was incompatible with HTTP 1.0 and only worked well with HTTP 1.1. This is because chunked encoding uploading is not supported on the HTTP 1.0 protocol. If either the client or the end user receiving the file used HTTP 1.0 then the transfer would not succeed. We would need to try a third method before we found a file transfer method that met our client’s requirements.

The third and final method we used was to employ FTP file transfer within the application. This method facilitated transferring files of 1 GB seamlessly. Setting on this transfer method, development on the application was complete. It required the executable to be deployed at both ends – the sender and recipients. Although it does not actively require an internet connection, there are web services called internally. Hence, if the web services or FTP are blocked by a firewall, the app may not function as desired.

Thus concludes our experiment with desktop-based file transfers. We’d like to hear from other developers who have had experience with this issue. What methods did you try and what were the results? Tell us your findings in the comments below.

By: Sunil Jagani

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SharePoint and ERP Better Together

Posted By Sunil Jagani  on 18. March 2014 04:28

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)—Breaking Down Information Barriers

SharePoint and ERP

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is a systematic way for a company to plan optimal use of their money, material, staff and other resources. One system breaks down the information dams between departments and enables it to flow so everyone to work together with ease.

An ERP system can extend from the workers making widgets on the production line to the accountants crunching numbers, those on the front lines serving the customers and more. ERP even enables communication with outside stakeholders such as suppliers and customers.

When associates can tap into other departments’ information as needed, the company is able to shift into overdrive. At the same time, management can get a snapshot of every process, and a bird’s eye view of the business as a whole. This empowers all associates to make better decisions and correct course as necessary.

While small companies can muddle along without ERP, it is a must-have for a company that wants to grow and remain competitive. Without an ERP system, information is likely to be trapped in departmental ‘silos’. Also, because we’re human, mistakes happen and inconsistencies occur when processes aren’t automated and standardized. As a result, data isn’t trusted and associates hesitate to use it for decision-making.

ERP not only tunes up every department, but also helps them work in sync with other departments. Teamwork and automation is facilitated, driving productivity and customer satisfaction. It becomes the engine that drives your sales and profitability to take off because your company is firing on all cylinders.

SharePoint—the Water Cooler and Library

SharePoint goes beyond resource management to facilitate fluid communications, collaboration, and content management. It’s the water cooler conversations, virtual meetings, and company library, all wrapped up into a system associates can access anywhere, anytime.

Why SharePoint and ERP are a Perfect Pair

Even if a company is using an ERP system to control their resources, they still need to collaborate, coordinate, and organize information. And that’s what SharePoint can do. It enhances the visibility, accessibility and conversation surrounding the data provided by an ERP system. The synergistic power of ERP plus SharePoint can give your company a competitive edge and empower employees to reach their potential.

Call us now at 484-892-5713 to learn how we can help you to leverage SharePoint and ERP for productivity and profitability.

By: Sunil Jagani

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6 Reasons to Use SharePoint Dashboard To Jumpstart Growth

Posted By Sunil Jagani  on 18. March 2014 04:20

There are six common reasons why technology officers are recommending dashboards and business intelligence, available in SharePoint Enterprise Edition, to upper management.

SharePoint Dashboard

  1. Achieve business goals quickly

    You’ve probably heard the saying “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring.” And the management guru Tom Peters says, "What gets measured gets done!" So it makes sense not only to measure activities and results, but also to have those metrics at your finger tips and in graphical formats that give a snapshot of your company’s health.

  2. Make better decisions

    Real-time data that tells you what’s trending, what’s working, and what’s not helps you hone your decisions based on key-performance metrics. It’s like having a GPS to guide your business.

  3. Gain business insights previously not possible

    Because SharePoint enables you to blend data from multiple systems, you can piece together puzzle pieces in entirely new ways, and see new pictures emerge that lead to ‘ah ha’ moments.

  4. Manage by exception

    You don’t have time to look at everything, so make sure you’re looking at what counts most. SharePoint makes this easy with automated tracking of results against pre-defined red, yellow, and green success thresholds. Focus on what’s red to clean up growth obstacles quickly. Check what’s green to discover the wins your business should duplicate.

  5. Avoid being blindsided

    With SharePoint in place you’ll have advanced warnings of business downturns and upswings. Avoid the fire fights by taking action early.

  6. Save time

    Automation can help you avoid spreadsheet hell--painful, manual, multi-step report formatting processes that are invitations for errors and employee burn out. Let SharePoint do the heavy lifting.

Call us now at 484-892-5713 to learn how we can help you to leverage SharePoint for business intelligence.

By: Sunil Jagani

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SharePoint Alerts: How to Keep the Team on Track

Posted By Sunil Jagani  on 18. March 2014 04:18

Does top management complain that work isn’t getting done on time, or that someone has dropped the ball?

SharePoint Alerts

In the last three decades worker productivity has increased by 80%. Information technology has helped of course, but the employee workload is also typically heavier. With greater demands on each associate, and the increased need to leverage teamwork to stay ahead of the competition, companies need processes and systems to keep the team on track.

Right now in many companies as employees try to do more, task lists expand in Outlook. Reminders also find tenuous homes on scraps of paper and Post It Notes that cling to monitors.

But it’s not enough—things slip through the cracks. And one sticky wheel in your business machine can clog up the works. It breaks down the teamwork it takes to carry a project successfully over the finish line.

That means it’s time for you—the technology superhero —to prove your value and save the day. You can help grease the flow of operations by implementing a SharePoint solution that includes alerts.

Start by setting up and managing lists and libraries in SharePoint. These enable to teams to collect, follow and share information through a web browser. Users can also request alerts from lists and libraries to come to them directly.

Once alerts are set up, users are updated with emails and text messages that let them know about changes in list tasks, or new tasks assigned to them. They can also receive alerts on changes in shared documents, when a team member completes a task, and when an existing task is edited.

These alerts gently nag associates to keep them on track, enabling the team to move forward in lock step. And they don’t have to check into the SharePoint site for changes. Once employees set up alerts, anything that’s relevant comes right to them. How’s it done?

Users, who don’t have to be technically savvy, go to a SharePoint content area and use the Alert Me button in the Ribbon. Then SharePoint guides them step-by-step through the process. It asks them to name the alert, decide if they prefer an email or a text message, and more. Each employee can tailor their alerts to the way they want to work. For example, do they want alerts immediately, daily or weekly?

There’s no customization needed to set up alerts in SharePoint. And even if you want something special, you can set it up in no time at all.

Call us now at 484-892-5713 for a free consultation on creating lists, libraries, alerts and more in SharePoint.

By: Sunil Jagani

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About the Author

Sunil Jagani

Sunil JaganiBecause he believes processes and systems grease the engine that creates business prosperity, Sunil Jagani founded AllianceTek in 2004. The inspiration for AllianceTek came as he ascended from technician to Senior Technical Lead in companies from Bisys to Advanta. He discovered that companies struggle to reap maximum benefits from information technology due to gaps in development teams’ skill sets. AllianceTek is now that ideal team.

Sunil is an avid golfer—and, yes, he has a system to assure his weekend tee-time is booked before anything else.  Read More>>