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From Greenville to Alaska aeSolutions Stays Informed and Connected

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With 170 employees scattered across 21 states, aeSolutions needed a web-based software platform that could act as a central information site for all of its employees. After three unsuccessful attempts with other software development firms to implement Microsoft’s SharePoint, aeSolutions found its partner with ProActive Technology, an application development firm located right at home in Greenville, SC.

Ken O’Malley, Executive Vice President of Engineering Technology at aeSolutions, saw Microsoft’s SharePoint as the means by which to keep his team informed and connected. “It was really the remoteness of our people spread over multiple time zones that drove us to want to leverage SharePoint,” says O’Malley.

A process safety engineering and automation solution firm headquartered in Greenville, SC, aeSolutions has expanded over the past 15 years from its Greenville home to as far away as Anchorage Alaska. It also employs a number of remote employees who work from home offices across the country.

O’Malley describes what aeSolutions provides as “things that protect people, the environment, and equipment.” Often asked to come into work processes that are already designed and operating, aeSolutions provides safety protections against a wide range of industrial hazards, designing automated systems for mostly chemical, oil, and petrochemical companies. As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) upgrades its safety regulations through its Process Safety Management (PSM) program—and companies inevitably alter and improve their processes over time—aeSolutions engineers ensure that the processes are in compliance with current safety standards.

“The BP oil spill incident in the Gulf of Mexico is the kind of hazard that our systems are designed to help prevent,” O’Malley says.

For O’Malley, running such a far-flung firm became a challenge. His goal to design a web-based information solution required careful thinking about the nature of the internal corporate information and communication that his employees needed about the company, its best work practices, methods of sharing information between employees, and ways to leverage his employees’ expertise into effective marketing and branding. SharePoint’s wide range of capabilities fit the bill.

“Coming from my myopic point of view, I needed to engage a partner like ProActive that has seen the software employed at many sites,” O’Malley says. “They can tell you what works and what is time tested. It’s eye opening. I wanted to jump to the solution. But with ProActive, I could spend more time on the problem.”

The first issue was that the original SharePoint-based site wasn’t working. The site was unwieldy and difficult to navigate, produced massive lists in response to searches, and virtually required users to already know where their desired information was located. Based on discussions with ProActive project managers, the site was redesigned and developed using organized categories, links and icons which added to the functional depth.

The home page of the new site features tabs that include location information, a news page for local office and corporate-wide news, a My Event page for local offices, and a My Performance tab with key performance indicators for each job.

The corporate portal contains human resources information such as the employee handbook and policy book, a range of forms needed by employees, day-to-day instructions for administration, and information technology (IT) content.

The help desk function leverages SharePoint’s workflow capabilities to automatically route any query – from how to fill out a time sheet, to vacation and sick leave policies – to the appropriate person.

The projects portal holds all the technical information associated with the firm’s work. Although the company’s business is roughly divided into the front end and back end of the process safety life cycle, there is great overlap. To allow access to all this information, one tab is a document library. An aeSolutions’ Wiki site is ready for content such as power supply sizing calculations, or best industry practices for a power supply, to name but a few examples.

A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) library lists all of the firm’s deliverables and tasks grouped together in deliverable packages. Detailing each step in any given work process, the WBS library also includes the competencies needed and links to Wiki pages and other relevant documents. The WBS library provides valuable parameters for experienced engineers who can pick and choose what deliverables and tasks to access for each unique project, and excellent training tool for new employees.

Engineers at aeSolutions are encouraged to write white papers. O’Malley explains: “The white paper tab allows anyone to post an idea, an engineer to develop the idea, and the posting of the final paper.” The marketing coordinator can then pull those white papers for use in public relations and trade shows.

In fact, O’Malley sees great potential in the site for employees to contribute to the branding of the firm. The aeTV icon appears regularly on the site where relevant video content is available. O’Malley envisions a place for engineers to share their knowledge and problem solutions, as well as for executives to communicate directly with employees, through video. In the works now is investigation into video creating software technology. The video component, expected to roll out in the second quarter of 2014, will include counters, likes, and comments. For O’Malley, this is a measurable way to mark the contributions of employees.

“I have learned that it is not only difficult, but really impossible to influence people by telling them what I expect. But if I can provide them the information regarding how well they’re doing via measurements, it’s much more effective,” O’Malley says.

Far from done, aeSolutions and ProActive Technology will team up to work on a project management portal, and to transfer of all the firm’s technical content to the SharePoint site.

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ProActive Technology Achieves Microsoft Silver Collaboration and Content Competency

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Greenville, SC – October 16, 2013 –ProActive Technology, LLC, Greenville’s oldest software development firm, announced today that it has received Microsoft’s Silver Competency in Collaboration and Content.

Earning the Microsoft Collaboration and Content competency demonstrates ProActive’s knowledge and expertise in Microsoft’s SharePoint technology.  SharePoint is used by organizations for internal and external communication, document management, web design and development.  ProActive Technology has extensive experience in working with customers on SharePoint projects such as public facing sites, intranets, workflows, and document management systems. In addition, ProActive helps businesses manage their SharePoint infrastructure, improve their governance, and simplify their upgrade process.

“Our team works hard day in and day out managing and customizing SharePoint environments of all shapes and sizes for our customers,” says Adam Drewes, SharePoint Practice Manager at ProActive. “Achieving this level of certification is an acknowledgement to our team’s dedication to our existing and future clients. I’m very proud to work with such a talented and devoted team.”

In addition to the Silver Competency in Collaboration and Content, ProActive also has achieved Silver Competency in Business Intelligence and Gold Competency in Application Development. ProActive has provided support services to companies like BMW, ae Solutions, Sage Automotive and Carolina Appliance Corporation.

silver comp

For more information about ProActive Technology, and the many other services we provide, please visit our website.

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Customizing the Suite Bar in SharePoint 2013

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This is a quick tip to drive adoption to multiple web applications within your farm. It was inspired by Wictor Wilén’s post SharePoint 2013 Central Administration Productivity Tip but I tweaked the HTML to use links as well.

In his post, he describes managing multiple SharePoint 2013 Farms, some of which may be designed to look alike (Production, Staging, etc.). Introduced in 2013, the bar at the top of all sites, called the Suite Bar, defaults to blue with SharePoint in the top left. Every site in your farm is the same, including Central Admin, and if you don’t change it, every farm is the same. Since we are able to customize the Suite Bar with static HTML via a PowerShell command set, many admins are doing so as a piece of their strategy to guard against accidental modifications to the wrong environment. ProActive does this on our farms for our internal use as well as our development farms here for clients.

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From there, I decided I wanted to do this on some of our content Web Applications as well. ProActive has three main SharePoint web apps, ProActive Intranet, Partner Sites, and Vigilix Intranet, (Vigilix is our sister company), as well as a company blog that features articles sourced from a number of employees. My plan is to use the Suite Bar for two goals:

  1. Make it easier to switch between applications for those that already use multiple
  2. Drive awareness and adoption of those applications that aren’t as widely used as the others

Since you can add any static HTML to the Suite Bar, I decided to add links to all the applications listed above on all the content applications excluding the blog since it currently resides elsewhere. Since I wanted this to look similar to the right hand side of the Suite Bar where the Newsfeed, SkyDrive, and Sites links reside, I grabbed the HTML from those links and made some modifications.

So, I grabbed the source by going to the IE Developer Tools (F12). Selecting the correct element, right clicking, and selecting Copy Outer HTML:

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Then, I replaced the double quotes with single quotes (for PowerShell), replaced the IDs with my own IDs (I plan on making future mods), and replacing the rendered links with ProActive specific links to give me:

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Finally, I take this one line and apply it to all three content applications using the same approach as Wictor. The end product is:

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Related Posts

SharePoint 2013 Central Administration Productivity Tip

http://www.wictorwilen.se/sharepoint-2013-central-administration-productivity-tip

 

Customizing the SharePoint 2013 Suite Bar Branding using PowerShell

http://sharepointryan.com/2013/04/16/customizing-the-sharepoint-2013-suite-bar-branding-using-powershell/

 

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Posted in General, SharePoint | Tagged , , , | 1 Response

As the Digital Signage Market Explodes, ProActive Helps DEEL! Deal with the Growth

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It’s not just the inviting, warm smell drifting through the lobby. It’s the vision of hot, buttery popcorn piled high to overflowing in a bucket, or a super-cold beverage bubbling over clinking cubes that makes that cinema snack so irresistible.

Don’t care for popcorn? How about some chips drenched in cheese, or a sweet stash of candy? Do you see the new special? That looks good.

Ready to see a movie? Check out the animated movie poster, or the action-packed movie trailer playing right next to the show times. Wow! Which one to see?

Welcome to the age of digital signage. Now, instead of printed or lettered signage on backlit boards, movie theaters, restaurants, and quick stop stores are using colorful and often animated digital signs to better market their products. And DEEL! Media, LLC, knows how to present the product, how to color it properly, how to retouch for video, and how to animate products across a board for the best effect.

Better yet, the company’s digital signs are flexible and fast. Need three different menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? No need to take one sign down and replace it with another. All the menus appear electronically on the same digital sign. Prices can be changed. Yesterday’s special can be replaced with today’s, or a new product can make its delicious debut. Movies, showings, and theaters can be updated for this week’s offerings. And there’s no waste.

Amazingly, the firm headquartered in Alpharetta, GA, serves 35 clients in 600 locations all over the world with only five employees–including work for Regal Entertainment Group, Yum! Brands, Universal Studios theme parks, and Pilot Travel Centers.

Electronic changes can be made at the touch of a computer key, communicating with software on a terminal in the customer’s store. But as the company grew, it became clear to managing partner Bill Clapes that its hodgepodge of licensed software from other vendors wasn’t as efficient as it could be.

“The software we used didn’t really do what we needed it to do. We needed efficient management of a lot of different locations,” says Clapes. “To make it right, we would need our own platform.”

With a recommendation in hand from Atlanta investor Postec, Clapes contacted ProActive Technology in Greenville, SC, to start the process of software development. ProActive took the requirements for the new system and built a tailored web-based central content management system, and its interface. All of the content is stored and the changes are made on this system. This new application is called Carbon.

In addition, ProActive was asked to develop the distribution infrastructure to allow the many customer terminals to link to the central system.

“The customer’s machines had to be able to operate through firewalls without special configuration, download schedule information and media files, and automatically patch themselves when new updates were available,” according to ProActive’s Jon Hester, lead developer on the project, ProActive has experience with monitoring systems and could develop an intelligent file download system with a mechanism to deliver new versions automatically.

Clapes says his company’s growth will not be hindered by his technological capability any time soon. “We don’t know where the limits are. We haven’t even come close yet.”

The proprietary software is easily scalable as well, allowing DEEL! to license it to customers who can design and manage their own menus. Now, all of the licensing revenue contributes to the bottom line of the company, adding to its maintenance fee revenue. Because of the system’s efficiency, Clapes hasn’t needed to add any more employees to his staff.

Three years after Carbon’s launch, Clapes is ready to work with ProActive Technology again to build in some further features to the system.

“We’ve been very pleased with Carbon’s performance and its ability to do what we expected it to do,” Clapes says. “Even though we couldn’t describe what we wanted in development terms, ProActive Technology was able to ask the right questions and turn our requirements into a very productive application.”

 

 

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Reach the Peak of What BI Can Offer

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Business Intelligence projects have become commonplace amongst industry leaders over the past several years.  What never ceases to amaze me is how different the implementations are from one environment to another and how often a setup is extremely strong in one area, while lacking in another.  I stumbled across a really great document about IT governance that discussed process maturity and thought that some similar concepts could be applied in the BI domain.

The below tables are a collection of central ideas from our BI team’s experiences that are meant to be a guide in determining the level of maturity or completeness of the BI implementation.  I’ll be the first to admit that they are not all-inclusive as project requirements can cover virtual miles of territory.  But they certainly contain many of the core components necessary for a highly useable, secure, available, quality, visible set of analytics.

What categories, components, or ideas would you add to the list?

High Level BI Maturity Assessment

0 Lack of Awareness – May have heard terms related to BI, but have little or no understanding of what is involved.  There is no awareness of potential impact of data analytics.
1 Aware – Have become aware of BI topics and some general benefits and features.  May have minimal exposure to related technologies.  Potential benefits are still abstract, but there is recognition that BI analytics would have a positive impact on the business.  Could be some manually created spreadsheets or documents that are not easily shared or centrally stored.
2 Entry Level – The first steps have been taken.  The questions and problems that can be answered by data analysis have been defined.  There is likely some one-off development that has been done using entry level self-service products or spreadsheets.  Analytical collaboration and re-use between end users is difficult.  Producing new analytics is time consuming, use inconsistent rules, and have data quality issues.
3 Centralized Data Rules – Source data for analytics reside in a single point and is reused for all data visualizations.  End user facing visualizations are still mainly contained within spreadsheets, but there may be some other relatively static reports that have now been created.  Consistency of data rules has been improved by using a central source, but there are still many data quality issues and collaboration at the data presentation level is still difficult.  Data latency is relatively high, with data being refreshed on periods of 24 hours or greater.  Most analytics are still looking backwards into “what happened”.
4 Clean and Shared – Data quality issues have been addressed and there are processes in place to continually improve.  A platform has been chosen to deploy collaborative analytics that can be shared amongst users.  Data latency has improved to multiple data refreshes per day.  With data quality improvement, analytics are now starting to show relationships between characteristics to show not only what happened, but why it happened.
5 Predictable – Data quality is excellent.  There are secondary and tertiary data components now included that allow immense analytical power and flexibility.  End users are able to create, explore, and share analytics in only a few clicks.  Security models follow best practices.  Data latency is under an hour to all end users.  Infrastructure personnel have insight and visibility into BI processes to monitor for any issues.  Analytics can now begin to show trends and help predict what will happen next.

 

Kevin graph

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