Lift & Shift is an approach to migrating a legacy business application hosted in an on-premises data center environment to one hosted in the cloud. The goal is to move the application “as-is,” with little to no changes to the business functions performed by the application. One common lift and shift scenario is the migration of applications that were not originally developed for distributed cloud environments, but once moved, can take advantage of some of the benefits of cloud computing, such as increased availability and/or reduced total cost of operations (TCO).

This blog details some important considerations and challenges associated with the lift and shift method, based on our real-world experiences  moving both custom and packaged (commercial) legacy applications to Microsoft Azure. Read More…

AIS recently worked with the General Services Administration (GSA) Technology Transformation Services Division, better known as 18F.  The engagement involved working with 18F to digitize the Division of Labor’s Section 14(c) certification application process (part of the Fair Labor Standards Act). This is currently a paper-based process that 18F hoped to modernize as an intuitive, online application…and to do it using agile methodologies.

AIS was tasked with building the first version of the digital form within a 60-day period of performance – much shorter than typical federal contracts.  AIS pulled together a multi-disciplinary team comprised of user researchers, designers, and front- and back-end web developers to work closely with 18F and the Division of Labor (DOL) Product Owner. The team built the entire form with complex validation along with a registration and login and an administrative section to process the form applications. They performed multiple usability tests with actual end users, and followed 18F’s principles of working in the open using a public GitHub repository. All User Stories and discussion threads were thoroughly documented in that repository’s issues list.

AIS was able to work together with many divisions inside DOL to make this happen.  We addressed security concerns by the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and worked with the CIO office to coordinate delivery of the application and a testing and staging environment for deployment. We also set up a Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment process so that multiple DOL stakeholders could stay abreast of what was happening and exercise the existing application state.  We were even able to address legal concerns with testing by external citizens by getting signed consent forms for testing and recording the sessions.

The collaboration was so successful that our client wrote their own blog post on the project, detailing exactly “how government and private industry can work together using agile methodologies to produce great results.” You can read it here. 

These types of successful, agile engagements break down the myths that software development for the government needs to take months (or even years). Government can and will move faster, and after every small win like this project, the traditional methods of building software and procuring software development are changing across the industry.  This bodes well not just for the citizens who need to interact with these digital services… but also for saving our tax dollars.

Inflexible customer solutions and business unit silos are the bane of any organization’s existence. So how does a large, multi-billion dollar insurance organization, with numerous lines of business, create a customer-centric business model while implementing configurable, agile systems for faster business transactions?

The solution is not so simple, but with our assistance, we’ve managed to point our large insurance client in the right direction. What began as a plan to develop a 360-degree customer profile and connect the disparate information silos between business units ultimately became the first step towards a more customer-centric organization.

A major multi-year initiative to modernize the organization’s mainframe systems onto the Microsoft technology platform will now provide significant cost savings over current systems and enable years of future business innovation. Read More…

Intranet 101: If your employees still use email to request information that’s on your intranet, your intranet is failing.

Maybe it’s too hard to update, so everyone simply assumes the information there is outdated. Maybe the search functionality consistently returns irrelevant results. Maybe it’s not accessible from a smartphone or tablet.

Whatever the reason, the result is the same: poor user adoption has doomed your intranet.

For over 30 years, we’ve been building complex intranets for businesses and organizations of all types and sizes, leveraging the latest technology platforms to create beautiful, usable intranets that solve business problems and eliminate common user pain points.

Our latest whitepaper, Building the Intranet Your Employees Expect, walks you through the building blocks required to design an intranet that not only incorporates today’s capabilities and features, but will also be an essential system that gets adopted, used and loved by your employees. Download your copy today!

Microsoft Dynamics CRM is an interesting and powerful business application. A core out-of-the-box (OOTB) benefit of Dynamics CRM is the ability to extensively tailor the application to address business needs, and here there are two approaches to consider: development or customization. Determining which approach to take is the key to maximizing the benefits of Dynamics CRM while keeping costs low.

Dynamics CRM is a basic web user interface fronting a SQL Server database that manages relational data. However, it is flanked by a built-in array of basic analytical tools and extensive administrative features, such as auditing, which give it enterprise-level credentials. Throw in a customizable user interface (UI), and you have a tool that is capable of supporting both small businesses and multinational corporations. So it would be logical to assume that Dynamics CRM has a developer-friendly, structured architecture to support customizations.

However, the reality is a little more complicated and brings up some curious paradoxes about Dynamics CRM. Read More…

2013 was a great year for AIS — we worked on exciting projects for our terrific clients, built some cool apps and won some cool awards. We were honored with the 2013 Microsoft Mid-Atlantic Cloud Practice Award and are among the first Amazon Web Services partners to earn a “SharePoint on AWS” competency. And throughout the year, we wrote and blogged about our passion for cloud computing, SharePoint, going mobile, and doing “more with less” for our government and commercial clients.

Here’s a round-up of 2013’s most popular posts and series, in case you missed them:

We have big plans for the blog for 2014 — more posts, more events and more compelling content from the entire AIS team. Stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and check out our Events page for details on our free presentations and webinars.

Happy holidays, and thanks for reading!

My decision to join AIS six years ago was a revelation. After almost seven years spent working as an embedded IT analyst for various government customers, I joined AIS to support a customer who was implementing SharePoint.  I soaked up everything I could about this (at the time) brave new world of SharePoint. I loved it.

SharePoint 2003 had been available for use in my previous office where I had initially set up out-of-the-box team sites for working groups to support a large department-wide initiative. I found it empowering to quickly set up sites, lists and libraries without any fuss (or custom coding) to get people working together. Working with my new team, I gained insight into what we could do with this tool in terms of workflow, integration and branding. It got even better when we migrated to SharePoint 2007.  We made great strides in consolidating our websites and communicating to those who were interested exactly what the tools could do in terms of collaboration and knowledge management.

This ability for a power user to quickly create a variety of new capabilities exposed a deeper customer need – easier communications with IT.  While we had all this great expertise and firepower to create and maintain IT tools and services, our core customer base did not have an easy way to quickly and reliably communicate their needs in a manner that matched their high operational tempo. It was a problem. We needed a way for our customers to quickly and easily communicate with us in order to really hear what they needed to meet their mission goals and work more effectively. Read More…

I vividly remember the iconic scene from the 1995 box office hit Apollo 13 where a team of NASA engineers gathered around a table with a collection of mishmash spaceship junk. From this collection, the team had to create a square air filter to fit in a round receptacle so that the astronauts would not asphyxiate on CO2 in space. It’s an intense, life-or-death scenario of literally making a square peg fit in a round hole, where “failure is not an option.”

Working as a business analyst for our federal government clients means that budget, time, and resource constraints almost always play major role in any development effort. This challenge requires our team to use bit of ingenuity and a mixed bag of tools to create a solution for our customers. Read More…

Workflow in SharePoint 2013 has undergone quite the architectural change from its SharePoint 2010 ancestor.  I documented many of the major changes in a previous blog post, “What Changed in SharePoint 2013 Workflow? Pretty Much Everything.”  While SharePoint 2013 is backwards-compatible with SharePoint 2010 workflows, you may decide that the benefits of the new design are needed.  The purpose of this post is to illustrate the new considerations you’ll need to keep in mind when targeting SharePoint 2013 workflows. The SharePoint 2010 project we’ll use for this example is the one from my very first AIS blog post, “Developing Multi-Tiered Solutions for SharePoint.”

Web API Methods Mockup screen shot

Figure 1 - Sample WebAPI methods for Section Document Merge and Post-Merge Actions.

In our example project there are actually two workflows, SectionDocumentApprovalState (SDAS) and MasterDocumentApproval (MDA). The MDA checks if the various SDAS-related sections have been merged and finalized, then notifies specific users for approval of the final document. An instance of SDAS is created for each section, created from the Master Document that monitors the editing and approval of the specific section. We’ll focus on just the SDAS workflow. In the previous post, I referred to the workflows as being part of the Presentation Layer and the custom code called into the Business Layer.  Both of these layers will change in a SharePoint 2013 workflow solution.

Read More…

Dynamics CRM 2013 is about to be released and if you have already made a large investment into SharePoint as a development platform, you may be asking yourself why Dynamics CRM matters.  After all, you are already using a wildly successful platform that underpins collaboration tools, intranets, your ‘corporate’ social media and quite likely a base of custom applications and tools. Why would you need yet another platform if SharePoint is capable of handling everything you throw at it?

First off, let’s clear up a misconception that everyone generally has the first time they hear about Dynamics CRM: it’s not “Dynamics versus SharePoint,” it’s “Dynamics AND SharePoint.” Dynamics CRM offers some pretty significant benefits that are not available when using the SharePoint platform alone. Likewise, SharePoint has capabilities that Dynamics CRM simply wasn’t designed to even begin to replicate. The trick is knowing when and how to best leverage the benefits of each tool. Simply put, both tools need each other to offer a truly complete platform that offers you the best of everything: a collaboration tool, an intranet and content management tool, a repository for unstructured data, an application platform, and a quick and easy way to rapidly and efficiently build applications to manage structured data. Read More…