The Internet of Cows

The IoT is a giant network of connected objects, including people. The analyst firm Gartner predicts that by 2020 there will be over 26 billion connected devices.

The IoT allows objects to be sensed and controlled remotely by a network infrastructure. More and more devices are being designed with wifi capabilities and sensors built-in to create a vast network of things.

Put simply, the IoT is made up of any device with an on and off switch to the internet. This includes anything from coffee makers and washing machines to smartphones and wearable devices such as Fitbits.

The internet of cows

The possibilities really are endless. An example of this is an IoT application that connects cows to the internet. Working with the National Trust, BT were able to monitor the cows’ location in order to prevent theft.

The IoT is not new, back in 2008 there were already more objects connected to the internet than people. In fact, the ATM is considered one of the first examples of an IoT object.

Transport is an obvious target for IoT investment. By 2020, a quarter of a billion vehicles will be connected to the internet, generating new possibilities for in-vehicle services and automated driving (Forbes). Virgin Atlantic are planning to connect a fleet of Boeing 787 aircrafts and cargo devices with IoT devices and sensors. Each connected plane is expected to produce over half a terabyte of data per flight.

A world of connections

The variety and extent of IoT is set to grow, creating more and more opportunities for direct integration between the physical world and computer-based systems. As a result of this interaction, businesses can improve efficiency, accuracy and productivity.

The IoT looks to become all-encompassing and for companies to take advantage of the data collected from the IoT, their ERP system needs to be flexible, intelligent and give real-time information.

This article excerpt originally appeared here: https://www.hso.com/uk/blog/de…


Tackling SharePoint Intranet Requirements

SharePoint consultants spend a lot of time listening to intranet and collaboration portal requirements. 

Companies big and small want to create content and collaboration solutions that their staff will actually use. And while each industry or business will always have specific requirements, a few core requirements apply across the board. 

This article is the first in a series that will address these requirements, as well as some considerations to keep in mind if your company is looking to make that big SharePoint on premises versus SharePoint online decision.

‘Our home page should be attractive, simple and helpful …’

Let me start with a warning: surveys will come up a lot in this series. I use and abuse surveys during intranet planning. 

Clients with existing intranets should list likes and dislikes of their current home page during the planning meeting or through an email survey, then vote on the most important of these items. Use this data to formulate a few goals for the new home page (e.g., must be simple, helpful, fit company branding, etc.). This is a good point to bring up options for web parts and/or features — I show intranets I’ve built to give them something visual to chew on. This helps those with less SharePoint experience. 

On a few occasions I have cut out images of the web parts to have the team work together to “pin the feature on the page.” This not only drives discussion on what is worth featuring on the home page, but also fuels discussions about look and feel.

A recent trend is the use of Metro icons, which replace listing text links all over the page. These not only help reduce clutter but add to the much desired clean and modern design. They are also relatively inexpensive to create in SharePoint, either with some easy styling or a third party web part. I highly recommend Metro Studio by Syncfusion if you plan to design these internally.

Some companies have turned to tag clouds — visual representation of the metadata being used across the intranet —  to help users to get an idea of what is “trending.” The font size and color connote the importance of topics and make finding documents related to the popular tags much easier. SharePoint’s out of the box tag cloud works well, but third party options with a little more flash are available in the SharePoint App store.

Add a Little Razzle-Dazzle

And without fail, the topic of branding the intranet will rear its head during the home page conversation. As with any other part of this process, it will require special planning and budget considerations. Branding SharePoint involves many considerations (and there are people more qualified than I to help with them), but I want to mention the difference between SharePoint on premises and online in this context. 

As you could probably guess, with SharePoint on premises, the sky’s the limit on branding, provided the right budget and resources. If your marketing team can dream it, it can probably be done. 

While the same may technically go for SharePoint online, any branding expert worth their salt will probably advise against investing in the creation of a highly customized masterpage for SharePoint Online. The reason? Change. 

The frequency and unpredictability of SharePoint online changes means your highly customized Mercedes Benz of a masterpage may break and be a rather expensive fix. This doesn’t mean you can’t make SharePoint look less like SharePoint. Plenty of options are available to update colors, themes and light styling in a way that is not only more affordable, but gives you that extra level of comfort. 

This may sound like a detraction, but keep in mind you are getting the latest and greatest features with SharePoint online. Those with on premises installations may have to wait months or for the release of a new version before receiving these features. 

Still to Come

Your intranet home page is only one thing to consider as you begin the process of rolling out a new intranet. The remaining articles in this series will cover some of the other common requirements, such as:

  • “We need to be able to easily find content” 
  • “More collaboration but less email”
  • “We need integration with the other tools we use”
  • “I need people to be engaged and actually use the intranet” 

This article excerpt, by Joelle Farley, originally appeared here: http://www.cmswire.com/social-…/

3 Reasons Your Employees Need You to Switch to Office 365

We can’t really it hammer it home any more than we have – it would benefit your business to switch to Office 365. With rare exception, we’re recommending Office 365 to most of our small and medium-sized business clients. In fact, we’ve been talking about it for quite some time on the blog. If you’ve been considering a migration because of licensing or equipment costs – know that there’s another reason to consider it: your employees. Check out these three reasons your employees need you to switch to Office 365:

  1. They’re fantasizing about destroying your lagging server.
    Your server is getting older and it just isn’t keeping up like it used to. Your employees see it in every click they make. It’s impacting their productivity and they’re thinking of pulling an Office Space and taking it out back with a baseball bat. The only thing worse than losing money due to unproductive employees is losing employees due to outdated technology. Don’t allow your employees to continually become more frustrated. Migrating to Office 365 means a huge load off your server when all your e-mail data moves to the cloud. This will speed your server up, giving your employees faster access to other files and applications on your server in addition to their e-mail service in the cloud. It’s a win-win scenario.
  1. They want to work from home – or anywhere else.
    Your employees don’t like the idea of being chained to their desk. More than ever users are demanding flexibility. They need immediate, speedy access to e-mail from anywhere. They want to be able to get work done from home, at a coffee shop, or while they’re on vacation. An Office 365 migration is going to give them the flexibility they need without having to rely on your local server or internal connection to access their e-mail. Hosted e-mail means that employees can access their e-mail at any computer with a browser, securely, reliably and quickly.
  2. They need Word and PowerPoint on more devices.
    While we went into this in a previous post, we didn’t really outline what this means for your employees. Office 365 comes with licensing for all user mobile devices and smartphones rather than the two-computer limit that Office had previously. This is huge for employees that use tablets, phones or laptops to access presentations, spreadsheets or other Office documents. It means collaborative editing and quickly transitioning from device to device with a user login to access recent documents. Read: increased productivity.


Employee happiness is about more than annual raises and BBQ events. It’s a comprehensive undertaking. Technology plays a massive role in the satisfaction of your employees, and every moment they have to spend working on subpar technology is contributing to their level of engagement with your organization. If you want to employ savvy, quick people, you need innovative, quicker technology. Take a moment and assess the true impact that a transition like this can have on your employees and consider making the switch to Office 365.

This article excerpt, by Business 2 Community author Buddy Marti, originally appeared here: http://www.business2community….

Microsoft Acquisition to Beef Up Skype for Business Management Tools

Microsoft announced this week that it has acquired the assets from Event Zeroto improve its Skype for Business online offering. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

In an announcement on Wednesday, Microsoft said the acquisition of the technology assets underlying the UC Commander product suite from Event Zero will allow the company to improve the built-in management tools for Skype for Business.

Event Zero, a provider of management software for Skype for Business Online, will continue to serve its customers and partners.

“Our goal is to make the Skype for Business management tools as powerful and easy-to-use for IT professionals as Skype is for end users,” Zig Serafin, corporate vice president, engineering, Skype for Business said in a statement. “Today, customers of our calling and conferencing services can use the Office 365 administration center to acquire and assign phone numbers to their users in minutes, view reports of audio and video conferencing usage, and quickly access aggregated call quality information using our Call Quality Dashboard. In the future, using the technology acquired today, we will be able to add strong diagnostics and troubleshooting capabilities with even more extensive reporting and analytics for online audio, video conferencing and media streams — all within a unified management and admin system.”

According to a blog post by Microsoft, the company plans to integrate Event Zero’s monitoring, reporting and analytics capabilities with Skype for Business Online management tools.

Serafin said Microsoft would share more details about the integration in the coming months.

This article excerpt, by Talkin Cloud author Nicole Henderson, originally appeared here: http://talkincloud.com/cloud-computing-mergers-and-acquisitions/microsoft-acquisition-beef-skype-business-management-tools

Shift Happens: Approaching Cloud Migration with Confidence

The recent Microsoft Future Decoded event in London’s ExCeL was a vibrant and engaging mix of speakers who showed what an engaged ecosystem our industry has generated.

It was a also a reminder about how the expectations placed on enterprise technologies have become more demanding, as awareness grows that cutting edge IT infrastructure maximises productivity, efficiency and agility— and not keeping up can mean being left behind.

To make the situation even more challenging for businesses, the number of cloud tools and cloud applications continues to multiply, adding even more complexity to the decision of how to approach cloud migration. That’s a big reason Rackspace launched Fanatical Support for Microsoft Azure, a managed cloud solution that reduces the complexity of Microsoft’s cloud platform by providing guidance on planning, implementation and all aspects of support from proactive monitoring to patching.

As part of our commitment to Azure, we are constantly tracking its evolution and the addition of new features to ensure that our customers have the option to free themselves from all the related management responsibilities. Our expanded support of Azure, plus other Microsoft offerings, has become a key part of Rackspace’s managed cloud strategy that sees us offer Fanatical Support for a wide range of technologies.

As our CEO Taylor Rhodes wrote to customers when we announced our support for Azure, “This ‘technology agnostic’ approach enables us to update our offerings and help you adopt new capabilities as products and platforms evolve. It also further aligns us with you, because we are free to give objective guidance based on the best solution available for the mission you need to accomplish.”

From the conversations I had before and after my presentation at Microsoft Future Decoded, it became clear that many organisations still have misgivings over potentially selecting the wrong cloud solution for their business.

Luckily, there is a solution: working with a cloud provider that doesn’t lock you in to a specific platform — and this is precisely why Rackspace is committed to providing first class support, no matter what technologies our customers want to use.  A key takeaway for me was the need for users at all levels to understand the specific platform for a particular IT use case and not just the cloud that it runs on.

If your business is still working to make that decision, and you’re considering Azure, you may be grappling with some very real management and resource challenges. With help from leading industry analysts, we’ve compiled a wealth of data and found some interesting insights into Azure. We took that information and built an easy-to-read infographic, jam packed with relevant data: “Overcoming the Challenges of Microsoft Azure.”

We had a great experience at Microsoft Future Decoded 2015 and I hope we will see you at next year’s event.

This article excerpt, by author Paul Bolt, originally appeared here: http://blog.rackspace.com/shift-happens-cloud-migration-azure/

Why the Cloud is the Best Place to Manage Customer Identity Data

As the amount of data generated by always-connected consumers continues to increase, IT departments are scrambling to deploy technologies that are able to put that data to use. Understanding how to safely leverage this data using established business systems is a major challenge. Historically, this task fell to legacy identity and access management (IAM) technologies, which could easily manage hundreds or thousands of corporate employee identities and devices. Customer identities and devices, however, number in the millions, and managing that much data exposes several shortcomings in traditional IAM technology.

Scale and Scope

The largest on-premises IAM systems are designed to accommodate users and devices that number in the hundreds of thousands – occasionally, millions. Managing consumer-generated data can multiply those numbers by 100 or more. In addition, IAM solutions integrate primarily with internal applications and processes in order to simplify and enhance the employee or partner experience. Managing consumer identities entails integration with a set of applications that have different functionalities and purposes.

Data Structure

IAM systems are built on highly structured, relational data schemas. However, the majority of consumer data is unstructured. In order for these unstructured attributes to have value, they must be normalized so they can be queried alongside structured data.

Security

IAM providers use perimeter-based security measures that are less-effective when handling customer identity data that must interact with multiple third-party services and identity providers, while remaining relevant and secure as profiles are progressively built over time.

Initially, IT professionals addressed these shortcomings by adapting IAM systems or building custom solutions themselves. Now, specialized customer identity and access management (cIAM) vendors are developing cloud-based platforms to manage the volumes of unstructured consumer data and generate actionable insights. Best-in-breed cIAM systems feature:

  • Enhanced user experiences – Self-service registration and password management plus single sign-on access across websites, mobile applications and other Web properties reduces friction and drives customer engagement.
  • Valuable customer insights – Omni-channel data synchronization maintains a single, definitive customer view gained through functionality – such as progressive profiling – which provides a deeper understanding of customers and builds trust over time.
  • Security and compliance – API-focused transactional security, data encryption and redundancy, plus automatic compliance with social network privacy policies and government regulations keep businesses safe and compliant in a changing marketplace.
  • Robust cloud platform – The cloud’s flexibility enables plug-and-play integrations that accelerate time-to-market, as well as scalable architectures for rapid change and growth. The streamlined deployment process reduces development costs associated with custom integrations.

Cloud-based cIAM platforms offload the burden of safely managing structured and unstructured customer data. The technology excels at connecting multiple APIs in a multi-tenant environment, delivers extreme operational flexibility, and includes built-in software integrations for greater agility and flexibility. Customer and internal data assets remain discreet, minimizing the impact of breaches.

Security Takes Center Stage

Cloud and on-premises solutions face the same types of attacks and breaches. According to a 2014 Alert Logic Cloud Security Report, overall attacks remain much more likely to occur in on-premises environments than in the cloud. But, breaches are on the rise in cloud-based environments, likely due to wider adoption of cloud-based over on-premises solutions, and the migration of “higher value” data into the cloud. In response, cloud providers strive to build strong security measures into their core architectures.

Cloud-based cIAM platforms rely on API-focused security, rather than firewalls, which tend to control access for classes of users. These identity-based security policies have evolved with cloud technology. API-based protocols used by identity providers have a largely open-source background, allowing them to easily adapt. Best practices for working with self-provisioned identities indicate that each transaction should carry within it the attributes required to authenticate and authorize users.

Since leveraged customer data will typically be acted on at many endpoints, best-in-breed cIAM solutions have strong authentication, authorization and auditing policies in place, such as OAuth 2.0 and SAML. In addition, personally identifiable information is encrypted when stored and transmitted. Strong roles and permissions policies enforce tight control over user access, and robust audit logging tracks errors and bugs in the system.

Finally, risk-based authentication minimizes friction for users by evaluating risk on each login instance and triggering a two-factor authentication only when necessary. As the “Internet of Things” grows in scale and complexity, this methodology will become increasingly important for practically all digital transactions.

Best-in-breed cIAM platforms also provide auto-compliance with data-privacy policies. A recent survey found that 96 percent of U.S. consumers are at least somewhat concerned about their data privacy. Working with user-provisioned data means businesses must stay in compliance with frequently changing social network privacy policies, as well as with government regulations that apply to any service that interacts with that data. Maintaining this level of compliance on an ongoing basis is risky and time-consuming. Cloud cIAM solutions automate this process.

Cloud Platforms Deliver the Best Solution for Managing Customer Identity Data

Many revenue-driving business systems rely on customer identity management functionality that is outside of the scope of legacy IAM technology. Best-in-breed cloud-based cIAM platforms offer a streamlined deployment that shortens time-to-market, scales to fit business needs, and enables faster and easier integration with applications that help businesses monetize their customer data. Finally, cIAM’s API-based security ensures more secure transactions, while building customer trust and protecting data privacy.

This article excerpt, by Gigya author Suresh Sridharan, originally appeared here: http://cloud-computing.tmcnet….

Pexip’s puts Infinity into Microsoft’s Azure cloud

Pexip’s upcoming release will make another major technology leap, continuing to tear down the barriers that have historically plagued the communications industry.

The upcoming version of Pexip Infinity adds support for deployment to Microsoft Azure cloud.

It is a well known fact that “The Cloud” impacts organizations and businesses. “The Cloud” impacts how we work, how we interact with customers, and how we perform financially.

The shift and transformation to the cloud helps all organizations operationalize their use of IT infrastructure. From the technology to the finances, features and functions become easier to turn on and off on demand while driving up usage and scale easily and affordably. Cloud computing is a convenient tool and asset for many, and it continues to transform businesses every day.

As a direct result of customer requests, Pexip Infinity 12 introduces support for Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform. As one of the three large native cloud platforms (Amazon Web Services — which is already supported by Pexip Infinity — and Google Cloud make up the two others), Azure provides organizations the ability to align cloud hosted compute under the same umbrella as other IT workflows. Many organizations are adopting Azure at scale today, and Pexip is the first vendor to bring scalable and interoperable video, audio, and web conferencing into this environment.

The promise of The Cloud

Enterprises want flexibility. They want flexibility in how they consume services and products, and they want flexibility in how they can scale up or down according to requirements. The cloud simplifies decision-making, reducing the need to plan long in advance for large hardware or infrastructure investments. The resources are available and can be leveraged in a moment’s notice.

And, according to a recent survey conducted by Harvard Business Review, Cloud Computing Increases Business Agility, the holy grail for many enterprises. No wonder leaders want to explore their options of how to deploy, manage and consume IT.

Pexip Infinity on the Azure Cloud

From version 12, Pexip Infinity can be deployed on the Microsoft Azure cloud service. Azure provides an infinitely scalable computing capacity and eliminates the need to make upfront hardware investments, so customers can deploy Pexip Infinity faster, and with less effort.

With Pexip Infinity on Microsoft Azure, customers can launch as many or as few virtual servers as needed, and use those virtual servers to host a Pexip Infinity Management Node and as many Conferencing Nodes as necessary to support their conferencing capacity requirements.

In a similar fashion to other Infinity cloud-hosted compute models, Infinity on Azure cloud can be combined with on-premises deployments for a seamless hybrid model.

Also read: To Cloud or not to Cloud – Pexip Infinity in Hybrid deployments

Cloud bursting elasticity — the ability to automatically* use cloud resources when necessary and turn them off when they are not required — provides Pexip customers with a unique ability to leverage the best that cloud hosting has to offer without incurring the heavy costs associated with always-on services.

Customers have the flexibility to scale up to handle changes in requirements or spikes in conferencing requirements as needed. Azure’s APIs and the Pexip Infinity management API can be leveraged to monitor usage and bring up or tear down Conferencing Nodes as required to meet conferencing demand.

How do I manage Pexip Infinity on Azure cloud?

Once set up, there is no difference to how you manage Pexip Infinity on Azure. The user experience is just the same, whether you choose an on-premises solution, an Azure cloud solution, or a combination of on-premises and cloud.

How do I get Pexip on Azure cloud?

Pexip will publish disk images for the Pexip Infinity Management Node and Conferencing Nodes. These images may be used to launch instances of each node type as required.

The fundamentals of Visual Communications

There are a few basic principles ensure that visual communications deployments are what they supposed to be.  In the past, these video conferencing roll-outs were relatively simple.  They were mostly confined to meeting rooms, with only a few desktop end points reserved for executives, and they usually connected colleagues either to one another at the office or, occasionally, to home users. Today that’s all changing and the key catalysts are Unified Communications (UC) and Activity Based Working (ABW).

There’s a rapid shift towards video everywhere.  Networks are expanding to include 4G and high speed internet connections, and employees are starting to use WiFi.  Meeting environments are transitioning from rigid old meeting rooms, to video available on laptops, tablets and smartphones.  The people we connect with are no longer just colleagues but now clients and suppliers as well as connections to home and mobile workers.  The landscape is completely different from what it was.

Scalability

This ‘explosion’ in video demand and usage is forcing many businesses to think more carefully about managing the user experience, which will drive wider adoption of visual communications solutions and, in turn, ensure better return on investment.  The best approach is to consider the fundamentals of successful visual communications and move forward from there.

The key is to recognise and accept that the number of video calls will increase rapidly over the next few years, as more smart devices become video-enabled, and demand to use them skyrockets. Eventually, you may have as many as three or four devices per person, plus your usual meeting rooms, all demanding access to video facilities.  Scalability is therefore all about whether your infrastructure and support processes can grow as fast as the increasing demand.  Will you continue to provide a good user experience regardless of how rapidly the solution scales?  One solution to management scalability the “as-a-service” model turning the whole solution from capital intensive to a consumption based OpEx model.

As demand increases, the service scales accordingly, and does so faster and more smoothly than businesses can do so internally.  Another possible option is outsourcing the infrastructure itself.  Platforms like Microsoft Skype for Business Online can now be used with legacy video endpoints for example to provide an elegant, cost effective solutions.  If the business needs to scale the number of end points, the supporting infrastructure grows accordingly with no additional capex, no need to wait for change controls, and no arduous procurement processes.

Business buyers are beginning to see that visual communications services involve more than purchasing a software licence or a piece of hardware.  It’s about the whole solutions (end point, the infrastructure, management, installation, Audio/Visual accessories and support) so that the outcome is quality and uniform across the organisation.

Uniformity

The key challenge for business today is achieving the same standard and quality of visual communications across all of their office locations.  Often, the experience is fair at its headquarters or major offices, which usually have high-touch support on hand. But it’s not the case with remote sites or home offices.  As a result, the utilisation of visual communications at headquarters sites is often much higher than at remote offices, and the user experience is equally better.

Uniformity requires the fundamentals to be in place, such as having a single directory, making sure the correct architectural controls are implemented, and then delivering the service consistently wherever the user’s may be.   This is often easier said than done for a business whose key focus is not communications technology.  A visual communications service provider like Generation-e that’s able to deliver such services can do so at a fraction of the cost that the business can provide internally and without the risk of employing, training and retaining personnel to do so.

Adoption & Change Management

Much has been said about the importance of user adoption and change management in the success of visual communications. Again, the uniformity of the user experience across locations contributes to both ease-of-use and increased usage.  It’s important to keep your most “luddite” users in mind − those who show an inherent reticence for using unfamiliar technology.  A concierge service may be an option to help these users, enabling them to enter a meeting room and simply meet but training and familiarisation is really the best approach.  If employed, the concierge meets and greets the participants to ensure that the call is set correctly. The concierge then leaves the meeting, but keeps monitoring the call, and can re-join if necessary.

It’s always worth considering a formal usage and adoption programme so that you people get the best out of the technology. This helps sustain users’ awareness of the benefits of the solution, as well as assisting the business to understand what their users want and need from the solutions.

Video end-points will increase rapidly over the next few years, as more smart devices become video-enabled and as workers become more distributed.

What users want today may be very different from what they expect in future.  It’s important to maintain the improvement of the visual communications strategy on an ongoing basis.  The balance between what’s ‘cool’ and new versus what’s practical and truly useful.  Previously it would have been questioned that there was real value in connecting to socially driven networks such as Skype.  Today, with the massive adoption of such platforms, it is mandatory so we can communicate with our customers.  

 

Any visual communications strategy you develop should tightly integrate into the businesses broader unified communications strategy.  Look out for ‘walled gardens’ solutions, in which you’re only able to call within their infrastructure or you may have no choice but to use that provider’s services which are often expensive or the provider may quite simply not support that call.  The net result is that visual communications often remains a poorly adopted technology. Consider partnering with a managed service for provider like Generation-e that can provide advanced services and utilises an open-standard architecture which can integrate into your overall unified communications approach.

Microsoft deprecates older Active Directory sync tools

Microsoft gave notice on its older Active Directory synchronization tools, giving IT pros almost a year to move to its newer Azure Active Directory Connect tool.

Today, Microsoft announced a “deprecation schedule” for Windows Active Directory Sync (DirSync) and Azure Active Directory Synchronization Services (Azure AD Sync). The announcement appeared to be somewhat retroactive, though.

Microsoft will no longer develop those products after April 13, 2016. It won’t support them after April 13, 2017, per the announcement.

Dead Products
In the recent past, Microsoft had said that DirSync and Azure AD Sync would be deprecated, but it hadn’t specified an exact date. The “deprecated” term means that the products continue to work, but Microsoft stops developing them. It’s Microsoft’s way of signaling a dead product.

Monty Python’s “

” comedy sketch maybe provides an apt metaphor for what this actually means for IT pros.

Going forward, Azure AD Connect is Microsoft’s favored sync tool. It has the most capabilities of all of Microsoft’s synchronization tools so far, according to Microsoft’s recently updated Azure article, “Hybrid identity directory integration tools comparison,” linked here (Microsoft tends to move this document around, so search for the title if the link fails). Even Microsoft Identity Manager 2016 currently lacks some capabilities that are enabled by the free Azure AD Connect tool.

Azure AD Connect is a wizard-like tool aimed at simplifying directory synchronization tasks. It used to be that only some sync tasks could be performed by using the older tools, but Microsoft seems to have quietly removed those restrictions.

Migration Options
IT pros using the two older tools have two options to move to Azure AD Connect, according to this Azure article. They can perform an in-place upgrade to Azure AD Connect under certain circumstances. Alternatively, they can perform a parallel deployment (also known as a “swing migration”), which involves using a new server running Azure AD Connect.

Microsoft also has a tool known as the Azure AD Connector for Forefront Identity Manager and Microsoft Identity Manager. Microsoft’s article linked above indicates that this tool is at “feature freeze.” It’s not formally deprecated, Microsoft claims, but “no new functionality is added and it receives no bug fixes,” which sounds very much like a deprecated product. In other words, it has ceased to be. Microsoft wants you off it.

DirSyn users and users of the Azure AD Connector for Forefront Identity Manager (FIM) won’t have the option to perform an in-place upgrade to Azure AD Connect, according to this Azure article:

An in-place upgrade will work for moving from Azure AD Sync or Azure AD Connect. It will not work for DirSync or for a solution with FIM + Azure AD Connector.

Moreover, Microsoft only recommends an in-place upgrade when organizations have “less than about 100,000 objects” on a single server. The reason for that restriction is that it will take a lot of time to perform the upgrade under that circumstance. With more than 50,000 objects, it will take “more than 3 hours to do the upgrade,” Microsoft explained, in this Azure article.

Consequently, some organizations will need to go through the swing migration process to move to Azure AD Connect. The swing migration process involves using two servers to perform the upgrade.

Despite all of the complexity involved in the retooling with Azure AD Connect, Microsoft has claimed that IT pros prefer using Microsoft’s free tools over third-party software tools to sync up with Azure AD. Earlier this month, Microsoft indicated that it had 100,000 customers syncing their on-premises directories with Azure AD. Alex Simons, director of program management for the Microsoft Identity Division, said that the tools use breakdown was as follows:

45k are using Azure AD Connect, 46K are using DirSync, 7.5K are using Azure AD Sync and just over 500 are using Microsoft Identity Manager or FIM. The remaining 1% are using other solutions.

Back in January, Simons had described the use of Azure AD sync tools in terms of percentages. He said at that time that Azure AD Connect was used by 17 percent of tenants. In contrast, DirSync was used by 50 percent, while Azure AD Sync had a 9 percent use rate. Based on those figures, it seems that Azure AD Connect’s popularity has rapidly grown in just a few months’ time. It’s the preferred tool for multiple forest environments, which the older tools can’t handle.

This article first appeared in Redmond Mag.

Retail shopping is in midst of a tech revolution

The woman next to you on the streetcar has a killer handbag. Snap a picture on your phone, and an app reveals its designer and where it’s sold.

You pass a shoe store on a Saturday stroll, and your phone flashes a push notification that the leather boots you’ve put off buying are 40 per cent off.

You walk into a department store with one task: find a toaster oven. Open an app that guides you to the aisle and offers discounts on items en route.

This is not the future of shopping. It is the new reality.

These shopper marketing tools developed by Toronto companies are just a few of the strategies being deployed by retailers to segment monolithic customer bases into target demographics, even individuals.

Shopper marketing blends big data collection — tracking consumers’ locations, and browsing and purchase histories — with psychology, to influence shoppers while they are in stores, at the point of purchase. Bricks-and-mortar retailers are harnessing consumer insights to offer convenient, customized experiences to lure shoppers from their couches and into the malls.

Data-rich smartphones have simplified the art of consumer intelligence for physical retailers, putting within reach a dream they have long chased: a world where they know what you want before you do.

To some extent, retailers can already predict our behaviour, says Neil Stern, a senior partner at retail consultancy McMillan Doolittle.

About 80 per cent of grocery lists are repetitive, he says. Mobile technology has made tracking habitual behaviour — those everyday decisions we make so repeatedly they’re automatic — more precise and efficient than ever.

Some tools, such as Slyce, the app that can turn a photo into a purchase, require consumers to actively download the program. Others, such as iSign, automatically relay location-based offers, which users can opt to accept or reject.

Hudson’s Bay uses Apple’s iBeacon sensors to deliver offers to customers based on their in-store location and shopping history, while Loblaw’s PC Plus loyalty program taps into consumers’ past purchases to send them tailored deals.

And this is just the beginning of advanced customer profiling, Stern says. “It could progress to the point where it is almost as individual as a person, where yours would be almost like a fingerprint.”

While the technology does raise privacy concerns, Stern says the biggest barrier to widespread adoption is consumers themselves — changing shopping patterns is difficult and slow.

For most shoppers, there’s still a line between customization and creepiness. But it’s getting blurrier.

Consumers, especially this generation of digital natives, have grown accustomed to being tracked, said Allison Johnson, faculty director at Western University’s Ivey Behavioral Research lab.

In the field of consumer psychology, this is called habituation — repeated exposure desensitizes us until we feel comfortable with being targeted.

Studies show personalized marketing generally increases consumer satisfaction, Johnson says. The fact that it can feel creepy? That, she says, just shows how good the data is at nailing us down. And yes, she adds, people really are that predictable.

When campaigns go terribly wrong, companies do risk losing customers. But backlash is incredibly rare compared to the number of people for whom the technology is useful, she says.

Target famously crossed the line in its study of purchase behavior, which aimed to determine when women were pregnant based on a combination of items they bought. Some women found the campaign intrusive, and one father reportedly found out his teen daughter was pregnant based on the targeted advertising.

Johnson believes an eagerness to capitalize on analytics overshadowed social intelligence, leading to consumers discovering how much the company knew.

Stern says retailers should use Disney World’s Magic Band as an example of how to play up the consumer experience and de-emphasize data collection’s “creep factor.”

The company touts the wristband as a way to make payment at its parks easier, help users get through lines quicker and unlock “special surprises, personalized just for you.”

The device is so omniscient that it can identify the whereabouts of a Hispanic family whose daughter loves Elsa from Frozen, and then have Elsa find her and greet her in Spanish, Stern says.

Striking that balance between customization and creepiness is one of the biggest challenges for the retail clients of Aislelabs, a Toronto-based big data analytics firm.

Co-founder Nilesh Bansal says the technology gives established retailers a better footing to compete with advancements made in e-commerce — the key is to explain as much as possible to consumers and give them an option to opt out.

“With this technology, they know that you walked into the store, and this is your third visit this year, and typically you browse in a particular part of the store, so they know a little more about you to offer you personalized content.”

The technology is still in its infancy, but is developing rapidly, he says.

A decade from now, the way consumers interact within the mall will be more efficient and convenient, he says — they’ll browse products on their phones, touch and try on the options, then make payments through their mobile wallets.

A look at Toronto’s shopper-marketing tools

Toronto is home to many shopper marketing platform companies of all different sizes that are at the forefront of a technological revolution in retail. Here’s a look at some of them:

Slyce

The visual search technology, also known as the “Shazam for stuff,” is integrated into retailer’s apps. It allows users to take pictures of items and find the product or something closely matching from the retailer’s line.

Users can then either purchase the item through their smartphone or are directed to the nearest retailer. The technology can also deliver deals and other content to those snapping images.

Retailers collect a host of data whenever a user inputs an image.

Slyce’s first customer 11 months ago was Niemen Marcus. It has since signed deals with Home Depot, JC Penney, Toys R Us and Urban Outfitters, among others.

iSign

The Richmond Hill-based proximity-oriented messaging platform pushes ads through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Consumers can choose or refuse to view them. The tech reports the results, along with the make and model of mobile devices, to the retailers.

iSign can target users inside or outside of stores, concerts, airports and sporting events with offers and other content. The company says it doesn’t collect any personal information such as names or phone numbers and doesn’t require a download from the user.

The service is especially popular with younger shoppers, particularly when it comes to fast food offers. Business partners include Telus, IBM, Verizon and Baylor University.

Unata

The Toronto-based start-up allows physical retailers to tailor experiences for customers by integrating purchasing, loyalty, flyers and promotions into one app.

Focused largely on grocers, it links emails, mobile, web and bricks and mortar shopping to give shoppers an omni-channel shopping experience.

Unata received $1.2 million in funding this year and says it plans to use the money to expand in the U.S. markets. Clients include Longo’s and Grocery Gateway and Lowes.

Linkett

The Toronto- and Waterloo-based start-up has developed an in-store mobile marketing system that doesn’t require users to download an app.

Instead, they use screens in stores that activate when a customer approaches. They offer personalized content such as a video or coupon, and ask them to sign into its Wi-Fi to receive it.

If they do, a browser opens and they’ll receive the content.

The company says they’ve been particularly successful in increasing sales of so-called impulse buys.

The system has been installed in GTA locations including Staples and Oxford Properties. About half of its business is in the U.S., where it boasts Big Red Liquors among its top clients.

This article excerpt, by Business Reporter Sunny Freeman, originally appeared here: http://www.thestar.com/busines…