Category Archives: ISM Inc. Blog

The Evolution of eBusiness

According to Google research, 89% of U.S. marketers reported that personalization on their websites or apps resulted in an increase in revenue. B2B companies are forced to keep pace with customers’ digital preferences and high expectations now more than ever. Customers are comparing the B2B online experience to the B2C online experience and won’t hesitate to voice their opinions publicly. System delays, process inconsistencies, and a lack of personalization and customization are just what customers need to start packing their virtual bags.

We’ve summarized the findings of a recent study we conducted to understand how B2B buyers perceive the current eBusiness experience. The survey went out to 125 B2B buyers in the U.S. In this post we also discuss the urgency with which leading B2B companies must respond to the new digital paradigm across channels and devices. Lastly, we provide ideas and advice on how companies can change the game with next-generation customer portals developed with the one-to-one experience in mind.

The Research in a Nutshell

  • Almost 40% of respondents ranked process issues as the top source of friction when conducting eBusiness
  • Customer experience ranked #1 for attracting and retaining loyal customers
  • Fifteen percent of B2B buyers are not engaged
  • Fifty-three percent of B2B buyers feel that companies are only somewhat responsive to their needs
  • Forty-three percent of buyers believe getting things done easily is most important
  • The retail industry was ranked #1 in providing the best eCommerce customer engagement

Getting to the Root of the Problem

These data help us identify the root of the problem. Hint: it’s not about your website; it’s about your entire eBusiness process and technology infrastructure. B2B eCommerce is inherently more complex than B2C, specifically for manufacturers, as they require heightened coordination and communication among systems and processes. But that doesn’t matter to customers who want to get things done quickly and efficiently. They only care about the experience they encounter and whether it meets or fails their expectations.

One common problem emerged among respondents regarding complications due to lack of automation in the order process. For example; let’s say John purchases 100 motor parts from a sellers’ portal. His purchase order generates a ticket that alerts the processing team via email. The processor enters the order into the system which kicks out an invoice. The invoice is then sent back to the customer for processing. This entire process could take days or even weeks because it depends on the bandwidth of the individuals. It also increases the chance of errors. Alternatively, a custom EDI integration would automate the process and take the onus off of the individual processor. With computer-to-computer electronic data interchange, this whole cumbersome, time-sucking process is seamless not only for the company but the customer too. Sellers can rest assured knowing that their multiplicity of documents are being processed and distributed automatically, saving corporations’ time and money.

Real-Time, Relevant Interactions

Inconsistent or insufficient information about products can frustrate customers who expect companies to have up-to-date information at the ready. Maintaining the integrity and freshness of your data is key to providing the latest and best information in real time. Real-time interactions including intuitive sales and service tools are a must for the on-the-go customer.

Integrating modern data analytics tools with your customer portal enables personalized communications via email and social media channels based on behavioral patterns. B2B customers appreciate gentle reminders and updates about the changes that affect them most such as order updates, product updates, and proactive notifications should a problem arise. Custom chatbots can also engage live customers to help drive sales.

Building the Next-Generation eBusiness Experience

Companies must adapt quickly and invest heavily in modernizing their IT infrastructures to be more competitive and responsive to customers’ expectations. Companies should seek out modern, customizable options for hardware, software, networks, IT resources and maintenance to optimize business performance, control costs, and improve the customer and employee experience. Integrating CRM, ERP (including the aging AS/400), inventory, data analytics, billing, content management, and other mission-critical systems are crucial to providing that seamless and personalized experience. Systems that don’t communicate with each other just won’t cut it in a customer-first world. Hosting your eCommerce platform on a private cloud is a smart and secure option. You may also consider a hybrid option that offers a consistent platform that spans data centers and cloud to simplify IT and deliver apps and information to anyone, anytime, anywhere. A hybrid option also allows you to scale the computing power and capabilities that your business demands without wasting onsite technology investments.

According to TechTarget, APIs have steadily improved software quality over the last decade, and the growing number of web services exposed through APIs by cloud providers is also encouraging the creation of cloud-specific applications, internet of things (IoT) efforts, and apps to support mobile devices and users. Integration of APIs such as sales tax calculations, shipping calculations, product catalogs, pricing, and inventory, enable companies to serve up information seamlessly. Simplistic site navigation, self-service, responsive design, and robust search capabilities are all fundamental elements of our era.

Building a next-generation B2B eBusiness experience requires a well-planned customer first strategy that leverages social, mobile, analytics, and cloud technologies to engage the busy customer. It also requires companies to modernize aging IT infrastructures to enable the optimal response to customer needs and preferences. The fact is you are now competing with companies that have crossed over from the B2C world to take a chunk of your business.  Technology plays an integral role in helping you stay competitive. Ultimately, it will come down to how the customer perceives his/her experience with your business that will determine your company’s fate.

Enabling the Collaborative Healthcare Workforce

Five common misconceptions about moving Office to the cloud.
The modern workforce, in general, is highly collaborative, nimble, and connected. For the healthcare industry in which laws such as the HITECH Act and HIPPA privacy and security rules are paramount, the path to technological advancement is often met with skepticism. Nevertheless, 40% of U.S. healthcare providers’ IT budgets are increasing, according to IDC. Leading healthcare organizations are realizing lower costs and increased productivity in the cloud, all while meeting stringent compliance requirements with Microsoft Office 365. Microsoft Office 365 offers a full set of cloud-based tools for Web, mobile, tablet and desktop. It keeps the workforce connected and productive with a host of social apps like Yammer, SharePoint, Delve Artificial Intelligence, Skype, and Exchange for uninterrupted email.

According to Gartner, 80% of Fortune 500 and 65% of Fortune 1000 clients have or will migrate to Office 365. That being said, pockets of doubt remain regarding the perceived vulnerabilities of cloud-based applications. As a leader in enterprise collaboration software, more than 100 million people use Office 365 commercially every month. Check out these examples of healthcare providers that have already migrated to Office 365. In this post, we discuss five common misconceptions regarding cloud applications and why a move to Office 365 is well worth considering.

Misconception #1: Moving workforce collaboration tools to the cloud is not secure enough for the healthcare industry. We blame a lack of knowledge for this, as well as some early-adoption mishaps. Some healthcare organizations are still holding on to the false sense of security that on premise systems provide when in fact many of them could be hacked without their knowledge. “It is becoming increasingly clear that your on-premises systems are not inherently more secure than they would be in the cloud,” says Mark Anderson, founder of the INVNT/IP Global Consortium, a group of governments and security experts helping to solve the increasing cyber threat. Microsoft’s advanced security infrastructure “Assumes Breach” which means it is always working to prevent attacks against its cloud services. To learn more about Microsoft’s services related to HIPAA and HITECH visit the Office 365 Trust Center, or read the white paper Addressing HIPAA Security and Privacy Requirements in the Microsoft Cloud.

Misconception #2: You cannot partially migrate to the cloud. The fact is that almost all organizations start their cloud journeys with partial migrations. Granted not all applications are suitable, however, migrating applications in cycles is a prudent option. The hybrid option offers a consistent platform that spans data centers and cloud to simplify IT and deliver apps and information to dispersed workers across devices. A hybrid option also allows you to control the computing power and capabilities that your business demands at scale and without wasting onsite technology investments. Most implementations start with a hybrid approach, moving single applications such as Exchange and OneDrive to the cloud while developing the long-term plan.

Misconception #3: Cloud costs rise over time. Many companies think that if they buy hardware and a perpetual license for software, it will cost less long-term, as there is no need for license renewal and they can take advantage of tax breaks like depreciation. The fact is that maintaining and upgrading applications on premise costs more in the long run. This argument has been thoroughly analyzed in this article.

Misconception #4: Mobile Device Management (MDM/EMM) can be expensive and risky from a security standpoint. The proliferation of BYOD raises concerns in a cloud environment, as is the security of application data. If an employee uses his/her device to exchange patient healthcare information, let’s say via email or document sharing, there must be stringent security measures for wiping that data clean from the device should an employee move on. This process is even more critical when a company’s data is hosted in a public cloud.

The fact is that Microsoft Office 365 offers built-in apps to manage the BYOD conundrum. Administrators can perform all of the significant functions without additional licensing via the security and compliance center, or they can use Microsoft Intune which enables flexible device and application management so employees can work with the devices and apps they prefer while protecting company information. Both options allow administrators to manage these tasks remotely for employees and for customers.

Misconception #5: Frequent updates of software can break mission-critical applications. With the advancement of microservice architecture, a method of developing software applications as a suite of independently deployable services, DevOps, and Microsoft’s 99% uptime ensures the least impact to your business when upgrades occur. Also, there’s no need to rewrite APIs after an update. Microsoft is collaborating with leading software vendors to ensure a smooth transition to Office 365. It is also minimizing compatibility issues by providing best practices for update management and development.

Microsoft Office 365 is a cloud-based collaboration, communication, and social intelligence powerhouse for the healthcare workforce. Microsoft partnered with Forrester to understand the total economic impact of implementing Office 365 in one health care organization, Advocate Healthcare. The result was an estimated saving of $53.8 million due to increased knowledge worker productivity. Sutter Health also provided a detailed video example.

As a certified Microsoft Gold Partner, ISM, Inc. can help you get up and running on Office 365 with little to no business interruption. As a trusted IT partner to hundreds of healthcare organizations, we’re always ready to help you navigate the journey including strategy, implementation, and maintenance.

The Power to Know: Self-Service Data Analytics for SMBs

Self-Service Data Analytics for SMBs

Enterprise companies often enjoy the advantages of a having a large in-house IT department to extrapolate insights from multiple data sources. Traditionally, they’d help line-of-business owners make smarter, faster business decisions. Innovations in technology, along with more competitive pricing models have enabled small business owners to access business intelligence insights without involving IT or enlisting the help of a data analyst.

Modern business intelligence analyzes and transforms data from up to 80 sources into highly visual charts, reports, and dashboards in a matter of minutes. These insights are no longer constrained to the back-office desktop they are accessible online anytime and across a host of mobile devices and native apps.

Modern BI is capable of integrating seamlessly with third-party, cloud-based services or legacy systems, and Microsoft’s Power BI is one of the premier options for companies running Acumatics, NDesk, SweetIQ, Web APIs, UserVoice, Github, Twilio and others. User-defined dashboards combined with customized visuals, live streaming, and interactive features make it an even more attractive option.

Business leaders already know they can’t afford to ignore the treasure trove of data that flows constantly. The challenge lies in accessing those insights quickly and easily without interrupting productivity. Business Intelligence by itself has limited predictive capabilities; however, embedding machine learning like Microsoft’s Azure can help companies predict trends with surprising accuracy. With the help of R language, an open-source language for statistical computing and data visualization, users can create their own desired output.

These insights can be used to optimize future behavior and improve an organization’s products and services. Small businesses can now leverage user-centric analytical tools with robust capabilities such as:

  • SaaS analytics and virtualization
  • Desktop analytics and visualization application
  • Intuitive mobile apps for tablets and smartphones
  • Embedded API to surface Power BI visualization in third-party applications

Cloud-based Power BI empowers teams to pull data from operational systems, sensors, and external sources – explore relationships between them, spot trends and predict ends – and then share routinely updated visual and statistical reports to multiple recipients whenever and wherever they are.

7 ERP Implementation Best Practices to Get the Most Value from Your Investment

Avoid these common mistakes often associated with ERP initiatives
By Jignesh Mistry and Vishal Adheda


Since its inception in the late 70’s, ERP implementation has been a daunting task. From SMBs to enterprise companies these undertakings have pained executives year after year, often resulting in large capital expenditures with no tangible ROI.

To harness the full power of ERP, here are some critical components to have in place:

  1. Have a clear understanding of company needs:

Selecting an ERP solution based on short-term goals is a recipe for disaster. It is imperative that business leaders understand the unique needs and requirements of the business now and for the future. Performing a detailed analysis of functionality, flexibility and features will give insight into how the ERP system aligns with the organization’s processes and goals. A thorough analysis will also reveal any gaps in AS-IS and TO-BE process mapping

       2. Involve actual end-users in the research process:

Don’t make the mistake of benching the people who will eventually become key users. Include these important stakeholders in the research process to create a sense of ownership in the project and its outcomes.

       3. Ensure pre- and post-implementation governance:

Keep financial decisions and accountability for user adoption and performance with the steering committee. Call on your leadership to help stomp out confusion and beat back interference from competing initiatives.

        4. Enlist competent project managers:

Select your ERP project manager carefully to ensure alignment of skills and vision. Let the PM take the helm of the process from the very beginning. Sadly, decisions are often made without the project manager’s knowledge, including final decisions about the solution. Once again, this mistake will result in little or no sense of project ownership.

         5. Apply business process modeling:

This is a critical step in the process as it ensures that no business process or planned improvement remains undocumented. The current state (AS-IS) is influenced by existing users because they are most familiar with the process. Thorough documentation removes dependencies from specific business functions and a well-documented process provides clarity to the implementation teams. More emphasis on this phase can lead to increased efficiencies in a future state (TO-BE).

         6. Document Standard Operating Procedures (SOP):

During most ERP implementations, the perceived value for SOPs is slim to nil. However, it’s worth thinking it through to realize the full value of your new system. SOPs help sustain routine processes which can then be automated in the new ERP system. Organizations with high turnover rates will benefit most from this exercise as it helps transition new employees into their roles faster.

          7. Decommission legacy applications:

We’ve experienced instances of legacy systems lingering long after the new one is in place. In some cases, multiple systems are in use simultaneously, resulting in increased anxiety about switching to the new tool and swelling maintenance and support costs. Just let it go!

ERP systems provide an integrated view of how an organization gets things done and helps them identify ways to improve upon processes including automation. Companies that consider these seven best practices will achieve greater implementation success and realize more value from their ERP implementations.

5 Product-Configuration Essentials for a Next-Generation Customer Experience

How leading companies leverage product configurators to boost efficiency, revenue, and the customer experience

By Darshak D. Patel

5 Essentials for a Next-Generation User Experience

Product configurators allow B2B customers to customize items in real time from a variety of components and options. Product configuration as part of eBusiness/eCommerce is essential in providing a seamless and more personalized customer experience. Product configuration is so much more than color, size, and material selections; it enables complex combinations and variances in construction, shape, and functionality.  There are a multitude of algorithms and unique identifiers that run in the background. Thousands of options and restrictions must be indexed and updated regularly. A product configurator is a component of the user interface (UI) which dictates the user experience (UX).

Here are five things to consider: 

  1. Assign unique identifiers: Not only does it simplify the repurchase process, it can be used to identify and reward customers for referrals. This identification system also ensures that your clients receive the right products and that shipping costs stay low.
  2. Leverage dynamic pricing science: In this competitive climate, price, demand, and market conditions change rapidly. Dynamic pricing enables companies to respond in real time while providing the most advantageous options for the customer.  Complete configuration details can then be sent to the customer and to the sales rep.
  3. Enable a next-generation customer experience: The user interface and experience should be seamless. At the most basic level your modeler should include a definition of parts, complete structural data, and dynamic pricing. Any restrictions or potential conflicts should push an alert to the customer and to the engineering team for immediate review.
  4. Personalize the experience: Full integration with back-end systems such as ERP and CRM provides efficiency and agility for responding to customers’ unique needs and preferences on the fly.
  5. Ensure scalability: Customized solutions allow companies to create their ideal system today with the flexibility to add more features tomorrow. Some key components include:
    • Adding custom text to products
    • Sharing configurations in social media or email
    • Adding customized products to a wish list
    • Enabling easy access to quotation and negotiation tools
    • Automating bill of material (BOM)
    • Providing free training and support
    • 3D visualization via third-party (REST/SOAP)
    • CAD model design via third-party (REST/SOAP)

Companies that are serious about meeting B2B buyers’ rapidly changing expectations are modernizing their eCommerce strategies to further engage customers, increase sales, and improve the overall quality of the eBusiness experience. Have questions or need help in this area? Let us know.

4 Reasons Not to Be Afraid of Artificial Intelligence

AI is creating sea change in the manufacturing and healthcare industries and there are multiple positives for businesses and individuals.

artificial intelligence

Anytime you have two well-known entrepreneurs, Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, at odds about a topic you know it’s something transcendent. Some common perceptions about artificial intelligence include job loss, conspiracy theories, and even world dominance. At this moment, however, we cannot ignore the extremely positive outcomes AI affords. What AI is, according to Forbes, is a concept of machines’ ability to carry out tasks in a way that people consider “smart.” Many applications fall under the AI umbrella such as machine learning, deep learning, predictive analytics, and others.

Here are four solid reasons not to be afraid of AI:

  1. It saves lives: Early cancer detection and treatment, recognition of brain disorders, and new drug discoveries and treatments are just a few ways in which AI is changing medicine as we know it. Machine learning also helps advance the collection and digitization of electronic health records, thereby improving the quality of the doctor/patient relationship.
  2. It creates possibilities: Ultrasound has been an essential tool in critical moments for monitoring and diagnosing patients for almost a century. A new break-through technology packs the power of ultrasound into a lightweight, cost-effective silicon chip with built-in deep learning. These chips could potentially give access to many healthcare professionals around the world who wouldn’t otherwise.
  3. It entertains: Alexa’s presence in the patient’s room, doctors and nurses can access the records without troubling the patients or logging into computers. Alexa can be a great companion providing stories and music for patients with disabilities. Alexa can also give reminders when it’s time to take/administer medication or serve/eat food.
  4. It skyrockets efficiency: From faster production to optimizing worker schedules leading manufacturers are already experiencing the benefits of AI in their smart factories. Manufacturers can foresee trends and be more innovative by making better, faster business decisions. All of the data from IoT sources presents endless possibilities for manufacturers.


Since AI is still rather young, there are much more applications to which we can look forward. According to Forrester, the evolution of AI will likely see the most success in three – five years.


SharePoint’s Progression: Creating Perfect Balance in the World

By Umang Shah

SharePoint's Progression Header Image
*Source: Ignite 2015

Microsoft provides one of the premiere solutions for enterprise collaboration. If we compare SharePoint’s evolution over the past decade to those of the IT industry you’ll find that they have many similarities:

  • Loose coupling/microservice-based architecture: SharePoint started this approach in 2010 with service applications (remember shared service in MOSS?). Since then, Microsoft has been working diligently to decouple as much as possible.
  • Mobile-first approach (Cross-platform, device-specific app development): This trend changed the face of IT services, and Microsoft SharePoint embraced it with responsive design and multi-channel support.
  • Cloud-first model: Features such as Delve are only possible in a Cloud-first environment, and Microsoft invests heavily in machine learning and research to the advantage of its subscribers. On-premise models are no longer feasible, as they require significant investments of time and resources.
  • Improvement in identity management: AAD (Azure Active Directory) is a global active directory. One of the biggest advantages of any enterprise solution is SSO (single sign on), and Microsoft’s AAD is a powerful option. Moreover, Office Groups’ all-in-one authorization maintenance is a cherry on top.

SharePoint developers are anticipating even more changes. For power users and developers, here are the latest developments:

  • SharePoint Community Portal > Yammer: SharePoint Community Portal was one of the most underrated features. It had badges, reputation, and gamification components. Now, with a more modern interface in Yammer it is difficult to find a strong use case for SharePoint Community Portal. Some features of SharePoint Community Portal are not in Yammer but it can be added via Market Place.
  • Insights (PerformancePoint/PowerPivot/Report Viewer/Excel Services) > PowerBI: From the beginning SharePoint has focused on BI. It supported reporting service web parts in MOSS, and then acquired Business Scorecard Manager which morphed into PerformancePoint. It also introduced PowerPivot (SSAS) and Power View (SSRS) in SharePoint mode. These are now separate components of Power BI as a service and are available as an independent component of Office 365.
  • SharePoint Search > Delve & Hybrid Enterprise Search: Search has been a cornerstone of SharePoint and it continues to evolve. Delve “lets the content find you automatically” based on your personal interaction and permissions (machine learning). Hybrid Search (Office 365’s on-premise search service) is a true hybrid option with a single index rather than two separate indices. Although Delve is evolving, it is still not a replacement for the traditional search center.
  • Forms customization from List/InfoPath > PowerApps. InfoPath Form Designer: A rapid form designer found in SharePoint’s older versions that still supports quick editing of list forms and task forms in (Workflow Designer). Eventually PowerApps will replace it, but for now it’s decoupled and can be applied to any data. It also has built-in support across devices with a Cloud-first, mobile-first approach.
  • Task Lists > Planner in Office 365: Originally designed to be used in Workflow, a 2013 addition of the timeline allowed for more seamless project management. It remains the preferred option for structured project management, but Planner has a better user interface and seamless integration with other services.
  • SharePoint 2010 and 2013 Workflow Engine > Microsoft Flow and Logic apps: Many people have moved on because of a workflow issue. The Workflow engine evolved drastically in 2010, and then again changed in 2013, but decoupling would make it even more efficient.
  • Customization (WebPart > client-side WebPart/Sandbox > SP Apps > add in > SharePoint Framework component: Customization has changed significantly in SharePoint. From manually copying all to GAC and web.config changes to structured WSP to APP packages. With the evolution of CSOM API, we are in the era of SPF in which Microsoft decoupled development away from Visual Studio/MSBuild. Also it focused more on a full-stack development model. SPF (SharePoint Framework) is one of the most common buzzwords in the SharePoint environment.

We’ve been helping enterprise companies leverage the power of SharePoint for over two decades. As the Office 365/SharePoint Lead for ISM, Inc.,  we’re always here to answer any questions you may have regarding your company’s strategy, architecture, and governance for implementation.  Connect with me on LinkedIn.


The Power of Beacon Technology in Manufacturing

By Darshak Patel, Ketan Bhavsar, Mahesh Dhapa, Bhumit Patel


When you think of beacons what comes to mind – a lighthouse right? In its simplest form, beacons are Bluetooth Low Energy devices (BLE) that broadcast location signals. Since most major operating systems support Bluetooth technology, it allows businesses to connect a bevy of Bluetooth-enabled devices. BLE is a one-way transmitter intended to help identify the whereabouts of a person or object. More commonly used in retail to engage potential shoppers in close proximity, forward-thinking manufacturers are finding ways to leverage beacons both indoors and out.

Beacons are gaining ground across industries including:

  • Manufacturing
  • Wholesale/retail /trade
  • Hospitality
  • Tourism/travel
  • Education
  • Healthcare

For example; if a manufacturer attaches beacons to its warehouse containers, with mobile device in tow, workers can easily determine the location of the containers and identify the contents.

The RFID chips of the past are no longer efficient with their limited range, high interference, and significant infrastructure investments. A few beacons and you’re ready to cover a large swath of the warehouse. Stationary or in transit, beacons are helping companies become more efficient at tracking their assets, engaging customers, and more.

Moreover, the cost savings for switching from RFID to beacons is significant due to the simplicity of connecting any Bluetooth-enabled device to a WiFi connection. RFID costs can spiral because it requires a good bit of cabling, antennas, and readers plus tags. Meanwhile, beacons are easy on the budget because it only requires readers.

Innovation in People Management

Beacon technology is also a very powerful tool for interacting with users in your warehouse. A custom application installed at the entrance enables employees or visitors to navigate the most complex layouts. For example; a bottling plant has many departments including ingredients, washing, mixing and blending, filling and capping, labeling, inspection, and packaging. By developing a custom beacon app managers can quickly identify the whereabouts of staff and determine the next logical move. This custom beacon technology can also welcome visitors, facilitate real-time interaction, and offer advice on how to proceed through the plant floor cautiously.

Beacons can also help keep employees safe. Installing these tiny devices in high-caution areas can warn employees with customized alerts built into their wearables. It can recite safety procedures and suggest the appropriate protective gear for various scenarios. For instance, beacons can be attached to an employee’s helmet and synchronized to his or her employee ID. Once a match is made it allows the system to analyze ID signals for greater control and security, especially in an emergency when understanding the exact position of your employee is crucial.

When in Doubt, Ask About

As certified Android and iOS mobile application developers, ISM, Inc. can help expand your knowledge on the subject. Enterprise manufacturers will find that BLE technology lowers power consumption on the plant floor which in turn lowers costs. It simplifies inventory management and provides insights that can optimize employee activities and shield them from danger. Embedded analytics add another dimension to this cost-saving technology. At a time when security, efficiency, and productivity are top of mind, beacon technology is a strong answer to the call.

Office 365: An Enterprise Collaboration Powerhouse

By Umang Shah


The call for more choice in enterprise collaboration tools has been answered. Depending on your objective there are many different apps/tools within Office 365 that have very different functionality. First, let’s list of all the existing collaboration tools within O65 for individual analysis. From time to time we’ll publish an insightful article regarding each of the tools we identify today. We’ll call the series “O65 by ISM, Inc.” These Cloud-based, all-in-one tools are available with rich client (Apps) and can be accessed on almost any device.

Several apps are integrated with Office 365 enabling a seamless and secure work environment. From Yammer to Groups to Team Sites, Microsoft has done an excellent job packaging the ultimate tools for collaboration. Remember when porting an object from Word to Excel to PowerPoint was new? Now, Microsoft has extended those capabilities, allowing users to embed apps from OneDrive to SharePoint to Exchange or Teams.

To begin, let’s list all of the existing collaboration tools within O65 for individual analysis. From time to time we’ll publish an insightful article regarding each of the tools we identify today. We’ll call the series “O65 according to ISM, Inc.” These Cloud-based, all-in-one tools are available with rich client (Apps) and can be accessed on almost any device.

office collaboration1

  1. Exchange: The majority of internal collaboration is conducted via email. It is a three-decades-old technology that’s not going anywhere any time soon. Exchange is O365’s Cloud-based email that enables easy access to built-in apps and categorization of incoming streams. Exchange is not going away, but as other collaboration tools surface, we may see a slight decline in its usage. Response times may be longer but it’s a good tool for structured, one-on-one communications.

  3. OneDrive for Business: This is not a replacement of your website; it’s actually a replacement of the “My Documents” folder on your desktop. It is a great tool for external sharing and synchronization for offline viewing. Commonly used for sharing drafts with dispersed team members. We suggest starting OneDrive for business with limited people, and then moving to a more flexible SharePoint document library.

  5. Office Groups: Think of Office Groups as a container of user permissions (both internal and external). Confusion arises because our imaginary container has a user interface under office 365 Outlook, Yammer, and other 0365 services. Once you create a group it enables additional integrations such as conversations, files (OneDrive), calendar (Outlook), and personal notes (OneNote). Some people compare the experience with Yammer, Teams, and others. In the long run the use of Office Group will probably remain as a container for all Office services. Office Groups can be created from Outlook and Yammer to quickly collaborate with internal/external users. Users receive a dedicated email address for the group.

  7. Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams is one of the latest collaboration tools for teams. Its Slack-like (persistent chat) tool integrates well with other apps in the suite such as Planner, Outlook, and Calendar. Throw in a little video conferencing capabilities and you’ve created a great way to increase team productivity and engagement. It’s not a replacement for Group, it’s a component of Group (Actual Azure Security framework). This tool is commonly used to quickly connect with specified contacts in a closed setting. Teams are able to plan, chat, share documents, and conduct a video calls in the secure app.

  9. Skype for Business: Most commonly used for impromptu web meetings and instant messaging. This is the quickest way to communicate one- on one or in a team setting. You can even extend it with Cloud PBX for peer- to-peer voice calling. The Skype app continues to outclass its competitors, and at a much more attractive price. Commonly used for daily stand-up meetings in which teams are geographically dispersed. Very useful for quick brainstorming sessions and informal communications that don’t require a saved record.

  11. Yammer: As an enterprise social network, Yammer has carved a niche for itself in helping internal/external teams stay connected. Its user experience and ability to engage large audiences is a huge advantage. It is non-structured and can be focused on large or small teams. The most common use is crowdsourcing ideas across the organization. Ideas can be shared and assessed within Yammer before any action is taken.

  13. SharePoint Site: The quintessential tool for managing lists and metadata, custom workflows, news, and more. Some components of the core site will be integrated with other office 365 tools. All of the other tools use the core concept from the SharePoint framework. Best for solving business issues quickly, creating lists with metadata, and using PowerApps and Flow for small business-centric apps. It has a good user adoption rate due to its popularity, and the SharePoint activity feed helps visualize activities across other office 365 tools.

  15. Delve: Delve is an intelligent, personalized site that uses Machine Learning (Office Graph) to discover and serve up content most relevant to you in real time. It is a secure tool with some borrowed featured from SharePoint for profiles and contacts. The biggest advantage is its Office Graph API. It’s intelligent enough to guide you along your content journey and it continues to get more accurate as you increase use. Good for informal research and understanding organizational structures.

  17. Co-author (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote): We can use the Office application in the Cloud and even in rich clients. We can co-author the documents simultaneously and see each other’s changes quickly. Great for collaborating seamlessly without worrying about version control.

  19. Planner: Planner provides a simple way to work together and organize tasks. It is extremely intuitive and easy to use. Teams are able to keep their projects separate and run visual status reports. Its integration with Teams and SharePoint ensures a seamless and transparent process for completing tasks and meeting objectives. Planner enables quick and efficient planning and management of multiple tasks. Teams can track progress, create sub-tasks, and access robust reports. Can be compared to Trello or Wunderlist.


Imagine you are participating in an active Yammer group to brainstorm ideas about a new product. Someone mentions a new technology that might help speed up the process, and the idea took off. There are several participants located around the world and you need to rally everyone for a quick huddle.You start a quick Skype meeting to discuss the details. During the Skype session, one person keeps close track of the conversation in OneNote. In the span of 10 minutes, a decision was made to move forward with the technology. As project lead you create an Office Team to initiate the project.As time goes by all of the original Yammer participants were invited to the new Office Team to plan the project. You also add Kartik, an independent consultant, to the Office Group and organized all project tasks in Planner. You measure the project’s progress using the charts within Planner, and then share them with your teammates in PowerPoint. I could go on but I’ll stop here. The possibilities for enterprise companies are endless. Office 365 E5 enables greater control of your communications process and ensures that you are operating in a secure environment with all of the bells and whistles at your fingertips.

As a Microsoft Gold partner, ISM, Inc. can help you choose the right app for your collaboration efforts and get you the best ROI from Office 365. Contact our Microsoft team today to learn more.

8 Key Drivers of IT Projects That Don’t Flop

Pravin Dabhi, PMP, PMI-ACP and Vanessa Saulsberry contributed to this article

Not all organizations fully understand the value of effective project management. Indeed, over half of IT projects fail. That’s a staggering percentage considering how important IT projects are in delivering real business value to the organization and its stakeholders. Nevertheless, many project management executives don’t know how their projects align with their company’s business strategy. The good news is that the rate of project success is on the rise. According to Project Management Institute, even though today’s companies still meander $97 million on average per $1 billion invested – it’s a sizable decline (20%) compared to the year prior.[i]

When user experience, revenue, and reputation are on the line, it’s vital that companies get it right. Some companies know all too well the woes of project failures. In 2009[ii], RBS’s customers were locked out of their accounts for two weeks following a botched software update. In 2013 the rollout failed to sign up the majority of Americans who tried to enroll ahead of the impending deadline[iii] What about Hershey’s not-so-sweet ERP project that caused an eight percent dip in its stock price?[iv] You get the point. IT failures have long been the subject of many articles, keynote speeches, research studies, and the like. In this post, we examine eight of the key drivers to IT project success.

W. Clement Stone writes, “Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement.” We all know that projects start with inputs which in turn generate outputs. But we seldom distinguish between outputs and outcomes/impact. Imagine a project in which we build a bridge. Building a bridge that is ready for use is an output – a short-term goal. Building that bridge so that it generates millions in revenue for the state, and reduces traffic jams is an outcome or the long-term impact. Intended or consequence, knowing your projects short- and long-term goals are crucial to success. As such, it is the very first driver we address:

  1. Identifying short- and long-term goals: Some projects are meant to bear fruit immediately, and others ramp up in value. For example; let’s say that one of your projects is to add business intelligence (BI) and predictive analytics to your current data analytics system. The other one is a project to build a mobile application for an upcoming tradeshow. The goal of the embedded application project is apparently long term, while the main goal of the mobile app is short term. The outcome/impact of the mobile app may be positive because if people fall in love with the experience and rave about it for years to come, that’s an added benefit. The short-term goal is to engage attendees; keep them informed, organized, and connected throughout the live event. According to Project Management Institute, only 64% of projects meet their goals. It would seem that a good portion of that outcome is due to either misinterpreted or misguided goals.
  1. Insufficient planning: Benjamin Franklin writes, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” 39% of IT projects fail due to lack of sufficient planning. The valuable time you put into planning your project at the outset will help guide the execution of phases seamlessly and make provisions for managing time, cost, quality, change, risk, and more. Brian Tracy writes “Every single minute of planning saves 10 minutes in execution, yielding a 100% return on energy”.
  1. Scope creep: “Projects are like icebergs; it’s easy to see the third above the water, but it’s the two-thirds below that sink the ship”—Eave Capital. We’ve all been there. Misunderstandings or last minute additions which, by the way, are “nice-to- haves” versus “essentials,” are often due to poor requirements gathering. Upon a thorough assessment, however, some changes bring much more value to the final deliverable and are worth pursuing. As such, developing a flexible change-management plan is vital.
  1. Inadequate leadership: A recent IndustryWeek article identified three types of leaders: One-Step-Ahead Managers, Two-Steps-Ahead Managers, and Three-Steps-Ahead Managers. The premise is that the unique leadership qualities found in each of these leader types (from the risk-averse tweaker to the risk-taking visionary) are all necessary qualities for effective leadership, especially when attempting to implement significant change. At the same time, someone who holds a position of leadership is not necessarily a good leader. Some leaders lack the interpersonal and motivational skills to rally team members and provide the necessary direction. They tend to be more focused on executing tasks versus overseeing the project and ensuring measures are in place for success.
  1. Poor communication: Communication is a core competency for organizations. All stakeholders should feel as though they have a voice in the project’s outcome. Listening to and addressing their concerns, where feasible, promotes transparency and aids in problem-solving and decision-making. According to a study conducted by PMI, poor communication is one of the most important factors responsible for project failure and ranks second to poor planning. When executed poorly it can polarize project teams and its stakeholders, leaving the project doomed for cost overruns, rework, and even worse—failure.
  1. Conflicting priorities: Companies must identify which projects will bring the most value to the organization and its stakeholders, and then make those a priority[v]. Working on a project for the sake of checking it off your list is a waste of time, energy, and resources. Instead, coordinate with business leaders, who are sensitive to the needs of the organization and customers, and then assess the business impact of each project on your list. Be sure to involve your CIO early on in the project so that he or she can help align the project outcomes to the strategic goals of the organization.
  1. Stakeholder management: Stakeholders have a vested interest in the project. A project is only successful when objectives and expectations of its stakeholders are met. Typically, the more stakeholders involved in your project, the more complex and stressful it becomes. Earlier we mentioned keeping the lines of communication open for stakeholders throughout the project. It is equally important to create a process by which ideas can be vetted properly for either inclusion in the current project or reserved for a later date. The criteria outlined below is essential to managing stakeholders effectively:
  • Interpret their expectations
  • Define clear success criteria
  • Accurately assess their influence
  • Keep them involved and informed
  1. Resource misalignment/overallocation: Assembling the right team with the right capabilities, experience, and skill sets is critical. PMI found that less than one in three companies currently prioritize the continued development of technical, leadership, or business skills, rendering most teams ill-equipped to manage complex technology projects. Overallocation is another issue for organizations looking to embrace new technology for competitive advantage. There are just too few people participating in too many projects, snuffing out any real chance of success. When this happens, it not only dampens team morale, it creates a lot of undue stress.  Outsourcing your IT project might be a feasible option as long as they have experience within your particular industry and follow an agile methodology for speed and flexibility. Indeed, 75% of highly agile organizations met their goals/business intent, 65% finished on time, and 67% finished within budget, according to PMI.

So what does all of this mean? At a high level, leading companies are leveraging technology to transform every corner of their businesses and are driving positive outcomes as a result. To achieve this IT projects must receive the proper oversight to bring tangible value to the organization, its stakeholders, and customers.  We recognize eight key drivers of IT project success ranging from effective planning to transformational leadership. Most importantly, industry-specific challenges and nuances require seasoned project teams with an agile approach to delivery. Daily tasks and activities, stakeholder engagement, and continued innovation are crucial for navigating large-scale IT initiatives, as is salience in understanding and advising on complex requirements. When in-house projects stall or never get off the ground, a trusted service provider can step in to help busy executives navigate the technology landscape.  A good strategic IT partner will keep your implicit and explicit needs at the center of its approach to ensure your project’s success and long-term business outcomes. The end goal is to be able to answer yes to the most important questions. Does it meet the intended scope? Did we stay on or around the budget? Was it delivered on time? Does it provide the organization and its stakeholders the intended value?

For a deeper dive on this topic download our latest e-book which includes more advice for bringing the best out of your IT teams: 8 Tips for IT Projects That Don’t Flop