It’s 2017 and it’s official: Government agencies want to move to the cloud. But they are often unprepared for the transition, or stuck in the middle of a confusing process. So this week, AIS and Microsoft kicked off the new year with a terrific AzureGov Meetup full of valuable information, training resources and demos on exactly where and how to start a successful government cloud journey.

The full line-up of cloud experts includied David Simsik, Cloud Practice Manager at AcceleraDan Patrick, Chief Cloud Strategist at OpsgilityBrian Harrison, Cloud Solution Architect at Microsoft, and AIS’ own Vishwas Lele, who presented a demo of the AIS Service Catalog offering, which is specifically designed to ease cloud adoption for government agencies.

See below for some photos of this (packed!) event and a video of Vishwas’ Service Offering presentation. For future DC AzureGov Meetup dates and details, go here. We hope to see you next time!

(Check out our Cloud Adoption Framework for more on how AIS can take you step-by-step through the Cloud Journey here.)

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.


azure-api-managementAIS’ CTO and noted Azure expert Vishwas Lele has a brand new course available at Pluralsight: Microsoft Azure API Management Essentials.

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are increasingly considered “engines of growth” and are already fundamentally changing the way organizations do business. In this three-part course, you’ll learn about how the Azure API Management service can ensure that your current and future APIs reach their fullest potential.

First, you’ll learn why you should use API Management, and how to manage your API with the Azure service. Next, you’ll learn how to protect your API with rate limits, plus how to add caching to improve API performance. Then, you’ll learn about policies in API Management and C#-based Policy Expressions. Finally, you’ll learn about security in API Management.

By the end of this course, you’ll have a solid understanding of Azure API Management, its key capabilities, and how to host and secure your API (both internal and external). Get started right now!

Bridging the Divide With DevOps

DevOpsDevOps is the latest catchphrase that everyone claims to be doing.

Gartner recommends that “leaders wishing to create a significant, lasting impact on IT performance should look to move beyond the Bimodal paradigm in the space of months rather than years.” Leading and executing on this cultural change is very challenging in enterprise IT. The urgency is to ensure your line-of-business teams remain engaged with enterprise IT, rather than deepening the divide between infrastructure operations and application development teams. In today’s rich marketplace for cloud-based solutions including infrastructure, platform, and software as services, application teams and line-of-business customers have options beyond traditional enterprise IT operations for hosting their solutions. Read More…

AIS is proud to announce the selection of Steve Suing, Practice Manager for our Durham, NC office, for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Patriot Award.

ESGR, a Department of Defense office, was established in 1972 to promote cooperation and understanding between Reserve Component Service members and their civilian employers and to assist in the resolution of conflicts arising from an employee’s military commitment. The Patriot Award reflects the efforts made to support Citizen Warriors through a wide-range of measures including flexible schedules, time off prior to and after deployment, caring for families and granting leaves of absence if needed.

This award was presented in recognition of Mr. Suing’s support of Colonel Stephan Iacovelli who has worked with AIS since 2013. Colonel Iacovelli enlisted in the Army in 1984 and was commissioned as an Engineer in 1989. He has served in various leadership and staff positions over his 32-year career and is currently the Commanding Officer of an Initial Entry Training Brigade stationed at Ft. Jackson, SC. Read More…

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…

Let’s face it, keeping up with the latest on Windows Azure is hard. Whether it is a new feature announcement, a white paper, a code sample or just another attempt at “cloud washing,” it’s difficult to keep up with the latest, no matter how adept you are at mining the various social media channels.

This is why we built this “intelligent” twitter bot ( @AzureUpdates) as a weekend project. @AzureUpdates is designed to keep you to up to date with all things #WindowsAzure, in and around the Twitterverse.

Here’s how it works:

1) The bot looks for new tweets with the hashtag #WindowsAzure or #Azure *AND* have a (retweet_count + favorite_count) of five or more. Furthermore, we count retweets/favorites only if they are coming from a twitter user with a follower_count of 50 or more.

This way we know that we have a “tweet worth retweeting.” (Okay, fine, I admit I’ve been watching too many “ideas worth spreading”-themed TED talks lately.)

2) Since the #Azure hashtag is used by folks who are not just talking about Windows Azure (overzealous Azure developers may have likely forgotten that “Azure” also stands for a variation of the color blue), we apply a supervised machine learning algorithm based on Naïve Bayes classifier to filter out the tweets that are not referring to Windows Azure. (I am making it sound like I know a lot of machine learning when in fact I don’t. I only just completed a coursera course on machine learning. But if you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend it.)

3)  Now, some sneaky folks don’t retweet; they copy the tweet as a quote, modify it ever so slightly, and then tweet it. Now, we don’t want our twitterbot to be tweeting the same tweet again (remember our objective is to reduce the signal/noise ratio). Fortunately it’s not a tough problem to solve, at least for tweets that contain a hyperlink. Since we log every (re)tweet, we have an indexed inventory of all the “reduced”  hyperlinks. So if someone changes the text but points to the same “reduced” hyperlink, we will simply skip that tweet.

4) Okay, we know what you’re thinking. “I could use my super fancy twitter client, set up a search for the hashtag, language, set engagement counts for retweets, replies and favorite, and filter out unneeded tweets” Well, you certainly can, but who has time for that? Hopefully the sum of all the little “intelligent” features we described above is greater than the individual parts.

That’s it. Hope you follow @AzureUpdates.  Before we go, let me will give you one more reason to follow @AzureUpdates.  It is built on all-around favorite #WindowsAzure #MobileServices!

Thanks to Mohit Chabra from AIS for helping with the development of this bot.

In our next Azure ‘n’ Action session, we will explore how many companies are leveraging Software as a Service (SaaS) and Azure Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to lower their operational costs.

Did you know that by extending your on-premises Active Directory into Windows Azure Active Directory (WAAD), your users can authenticate to Exchange, Lync and SharePoint SaaS by using Windows Azure Active Directory managed accounts, and stop requiring federation back to your on-premises data center by leveraging DirSync with password sync? This allows you to take advantage of Microsoft’s facilities, which provide the redundancy and high availably that you desire, for not only your applications but the underlying authentication infrastructure as well.

Did you know that Windows Azure Active Directory (WAAD) is FREE?  It provides you and your organization secure authentication via Azure for your all your devices, and services for a globally mobile workforce.

Do you want to learn how to securely integrate your Office 365 SaaS environment by extending your information architecture into SharePoint 2013 IaaS? You can quickly and securely leverage Windows Azure AD as your Identity Provider to enhance authentication globally.

Are you ready to see  this in action? Please join us at the next Azure Café we will walk you through the scenario of an Office 365 SharePoint website integrated with an Office 365 Site Collection, and an IaaS-hosted SharePoint 2013 environment — all using Microsoft to provide authentication.

March 19, 2014
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. (EST)

Click here to register!

AIS will be presenting a new series of Azure ‘n’ Action Café webinars in early 2014. We will have expert speakers offering new and exciting content in a convenient “lunch and learn” online format, one Wednesday a month, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. EST.

Our first presentation date is Wednesday, January 29. You won’t want to miss this session, as we’ll cover both updates to Azure and new ways to extend your data center.

In this session we will share an example Platform as a Service (PaaS) Web Role workload in Azure.  This workload will help you understand how Azure constructs can be used in support of different scenarios.

The workload we’ll discuss makes use of the following Constructs:

  • A private data center extended into multiple Azure Regional Data Centers (East Coast / West Coast) with IPSEC tunnels
  • The on-premises AD / DNS infrastructure extended into Azure IaaS
  • An on-premises SQL Server 2012 Server database supporting a High Availability Group (Synchronous) with a local primary and a remote secondary located in Azure IaaS
  • The PaaS Web Role Load Balanced across data centers using Azure Traffic Manager

Click here to register!

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!