AIS recently completed work on a complete revamp of the Texas Workforce Commission’s “Texas Reality Check” website. Texas Reality Check is an Internet-available, fully accessible, responsive, mobile-first and browser-agnostic design. This website was tested for accessibility, performance, vulnerability scans, and usability.

Background

Texas Reality Check (TRC) is targeted at students on a statewide basis, ranging from middle school to high school (with some colleges and universities making use of the tool for “life skills” classes). The goal is to inspire students to think about occupations, and prepare for educational requirements so they can achieve the income level that meets their lifestyle expectations.

This tool walks students through different areas of life, on a step-by step-basis, identifying budgets associated with living essentials such as housing, transportation, food, clothing, etc. Students make selections and then calculate a corresponding monthly income that would afford the selections they make. From here, the students are directed to another page and connected to a database on careers and associated salaries.

However, the existing site was dated and in need of improvements in three core areas: UX, Accessibility, and overall performance. Here’s how AIS delivered:

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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 Department 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 Department 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!

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…

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.

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!

The mission was critical, and the task complex: Ushering a print publication like Rolling Stone, a Bondi publication, into the digital age by providing them with a turnkey solution to present their print magazine archives online, for viewing on high resolution-connected devices of all shapes and sizes. Unlike other digital versions of magazines on the market, the new platform would allow the publisher to monetize its own unique brand through the years.

The Challenge

AIS needed to address multiple technical areas to provide the most viable solution for Rolling Stone and other archives.

  • Speed
  • Scale
  • Security
  • Continuous Delivery
  • High-Definition Presentation

Rolling Stone’s existing solution (‘print to digital’) only supported 100 issues, and AIS was challenged to multiply the output tenfold while reducing management costs and allowing Rolling Stone the freedom to design their interface in a way that matched and enhanced their other digital presences.

Solution

AIS implemented a multi-tier solution in the creation of the Bondi Archive Platform. The platform we built consists of a flexible, scalable website architecture using HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET MVC and SQL Azure. The system allows viewers to see exact replicas of the original print issues, something not offered by any other platform. Users can navigate using a mouse, keyboard or touch and can zoom in or conduct complex searches. Bookmarking inside the archive is available as is print, based on the publisher’s preference.

Results

The new archive platform has allowed Rolling Stone to join the online revolution and bring their print content online in its original format and context, thereby retaining copyrights. By serving the content directly from their own website or from the cloud, the company can avoid content restrictions and fees imposed by third-party aggregation platforms and app stores. The project and platform has been an unequivocal success. Rolling Stone chose to enhance its print subscriptions by offering the full digital archive at no extra charge. By tightly integrating their online content with the digital archive, a deeper level of interaction with readership has been realized.

Our Windows Azure Media Services Manager (WAMS Manager) is a desktop-based application that makes it easy to upload, tag, encode and publish your media assets. It is designed to bring the benefits of Windows Azure Media Services to end users (typically business users responsible for managing media files) without the need to write any code.

(If you would rather skip the background and a high-level description of the overall architecture and simply get access to an evaluation copy of this tool, please email us directly.)

For everyone else, we are glad that you are taking the time to read this. Let’s start with some quick background…

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