Filipa Moreno

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Digital Xperience Evangelist - Xpand IT

How to take advantage of Artificial Intelligence?

5-SECOND SUMMARY:
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the most impacting technologies for the world economy;
  • Companies can use AI to: Change the way they understand and interact with their customers; Offer smarter products and services; Improve and automate critical business processes.
  • Xpand IT has two approaches when considering this technology project: AI as-a-Service and Data Science.

One of the most popular technologies in recent years (for different reasons) has been Artificial Intelligence. Much has been discussed about this technology: either we praise the improvements it allows in areas such as health, retail or industry, or we fear that all these technological advances that AI (Artificial Intelligence) has allowed in recent years will extinguish a significant amount of jobs on which our society currently depends.

We can say with some confidence that you will have crossed paths with the concept of Artificial Intelligence at some point in your life. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, we can define it “as the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence”. As such, and because this technology simulates and reproduces some human behaviours, we can recognise the enormous disruptive impact it is already having on our society. We know that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will eventually transform every job, business, and industry in the world.

But regardless of the advantages or potential limitations that Artificial Intelligence (AI) may have, it’s an unavoidable fact that this technology is proving to be one of the most impactful for our economy. There are countless opportunities for companies to take advantage of the best that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has to offer. The proof is the growing number of pioneers in AI – examples include Microsoft, GAFA [Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple], IBM, Alibaba, Tencent, JD.com and Baidu – that continue investing in Research & Development in different areas of AI (Artificial Intelligence) and that with their investment, prove the viability of the technology for “real life” cases.

What are the technology use cases?

The fact that several companies worldwide are investing and applying – in different ways – this technology in their business realities shows the relevance that AI has for the business fabric of our economy and the potential it has to revolutionise companies’ business models. How, then, can companies start? What are the use cases that you can start implementing in your reality?

Futurist and author Bernard Marr in his book Artificial Intelligence in Practice – How 50 successful companies used AI and Machine Learning to solve problems, states there are three different use cases that, while they may overlap, are important in helping segment and identify implementation opportunities for this technology. Companies can use AI to:

  • Change the way they understand and interact with their customers;
  • Offer smarter products and services;
  • Improve and automate critical business processes.

Any use case that we identify may fit into at least one of the above purposes. But we are also able to map different use cases to implement with this technology, depending on the industry in which you operate:

While this is not an exhaustive list of existing use cases for AI technology, it does help companies map out not only why they want to implement this specific technology but also the specific problems they will solve and the needs they will address.

Artificial Intelligence at Xpand IT

For several years now, as a tech company, we have been investing in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to find real-life scenarios where this technology can effectively make a difference in the daily lives of companies. We have two different approaches when considering projects involving this technology:

  • AI as-a-service, where we use pre-packaged AI services, incorporating greater intelligence into the solutions we develop – an example is Azure Cognitive Services.
  • Data Science, where we look at the challenge from different perspectives, and the aim is to create the best possible solution, using specific technology or models defined according to each client’s reality.

If you’ve already considered implementing this technology in your company but don’t know where to start, challenge us to help you understand where and how AI can be implemented in your business.

Filipa MorenoHow to take advantage of Artificial Intelligence?
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6 ways you can benefit your business with Microsoft Azure

5 SECOND SUMMARY:
  • The cloud is a virtual entity that allows communication between several remote servers worldwide.
  • There are three types of cloud: public, private and hybrid.
  • There are six benefits your business can have when adopting a cloud technology with Microsoft Azure: scalability, flexibility, security, investment optimization, sustainability and competitiveness.

Cloud computing is a term used to, according to Microsoft, “describe a global network of servers”. The cloud then is a virtual entity that allows communication between several remote servers throughout the world and whose objective is to function as a single ecosystem. The question that arises is: what do these servers, that are spread around the world, do, precisely?

These servers are responsible for storing and managing data, running applications or other types of services such as analytics, content delivery or even intelligence, so that information is quickly made available to those who need it. Instead of accessing services and files locally through their computer, employees can access everything online, where information is accessible anywhere via the Internet.

The cloud’s goal is to allow access to computing and storage capabilities to any company regardless of their size, as long as they have a business model that can support this approach. At present, there are several cloud providers: some examples include Amazon AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

The right cloud for your business and its benefits

It should be noted, however, that not all clouds are the same. In fact, each business is a business and each of them has individual needs. Thus, several types of clouds emerged to help each company choose the most adequate solution for their business. There are three types of clouds:

👉 Public cloud: managed and operated by third-party providers, such as Microsoft Azure. In these instances, all resources are managed by the cloud provider;

👉Private cloud: computing resources are used exclusively by a single company. This cloud can be physically located at a datacentre or at the company’s offices;

👉 Hybrid cloud: it is a mix between the public and the private cloud and where everything can be shared from one cloud to the other and vice versa.

Regardless of the type of cloud that best suits your business needs, it is undeniable that its adoption has a relevant impact on the way you run your business and also on the tangible benefits in the companies’ day-to-day operations.  Often, however, these benefits may not be clear or even noticeable to anyone who’s considering adopting cloud technology in their business. That’s why we made a list of 6 ways you can benefit your business by adopting a cloud technology such as Microsoft Azure:

1) Scalability

One of the biggest benefits that come from adopting the cloud is scalability: with it, it becomes possible to increase or decrease resources and services you use, based on your needs or your workload. Better than that is being able to allocate or deallocate resources at any time, in a matter of minutes and wherever you are – something that was not possible in the daily lives of companies up until now. Additionally, you can choose to make this change manually or automatically, based on specific behaviours such as CPU usage, for example.

2) Flexibility

Unpredictability and rapid changes in context are, nowadays, an expected part of our existence that can have a serious negative impact on the companies if they are not prepared to respond to new circumstances in a timely manner. However, with cloud technology, it becomes possible to adjust to the ever-changing reality, by adding or removing resources automatically. Imagine your website experiences an increase in traffic overnight: by taking advantage of the cloud’s elasticity, it can automatically allocate additional computing resources in order to cope with the traffic spike, automatically readjusting itself by removing the additional resources when the traffic normalises.

3) Security

When we talk about security, we don’t just think about physical security (physical access to the company’s offices or servers), but also about digital security (who can access your company’s systems and data). Cloud services providers have a wide range of policies, technologies, controls and technological skills that offer better security, both physical and digital than most companies would be able to achieve independently. All of these measures by cloud services providers result in enhanced security that helps ensure the protection of data, applications and infrastructure from potential threats.

4) Investment optimisation

When it comes to investment, cloud services have many benefits: not only are they based on consumption models, that is, the client only pays for the resources consumed, but they also do not have any initial costs (CapEx), there’s no need to buy or manage expensive infrastructure and, finally, you only pay for additional resources when you need them – when they are no longer need, they can be deleted. All these benefits translate into cost optimisation: in fact, Microsoft Azure displays the prices of individual resources and services so that companies can predict their investment for a given period of time-based on their estimated usage.

5) Sustainability

Sustainability is on the global political and economic agenda and cloud technology adoption is a step towards a company’s full sustainability, as it is responsible for reducing the carbon footprint, it is eco-friendly and addresses all aspects of waste across the whole of the organisation. In reality, cloud services make a relevant contribution to companies’ sustainability: it encourages employees to use digital services rather than physical products. Additionally, with the cloud, resources can be allocated where they are most efficiently used. Essentially, cloud adoption helps to dematerialise our economy: thinking about companies’ sustainability means thinking about solutions that address waste in all its aspects and, adopting cloud technology allows us all to contribute to our planet’s health.

6) Competitiveness

All the benefits we listed above translate into a competitive advantage in the market your company operates in. Why? Because by adopting cloud technology, your company will be better prepared to deal with and manage workload increases more efficiently or even changes in the market context or economic conditions. Your company will be more flexible and more agile in its decision-making process and it will have better data in order to make informed decisions. Finally, by reducing costs and by better managing internal processes, your company will be able to dedicate more resources to adding value in other areas that will allow you to be ahead of your competitors.

Digital Xperience and Microsoft Azure

Xpand IT’s Digital Xperience business unit is focused, since its dawning, on developing solutions that take advantage of cloud technology and, in particular, of Microsoft Azure. From the first moment, the goal was to use platform services (PaaS – Platform as a Service) and not infrastructure services (IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service), due to all the potential that PaaS has, namely in the aspects mentioned above. In other words, practically all the solutions we develop take advantage of a combination of different components such as App Services, API Management, Cosmos DB, Cognitive Services, among others. In addition to initiatives of development native projects in the cloud, we often work alongside our customers to reengineer existent solutions, so that they can take advantage of all the benefits the cloud technology provides.

If you’re thinking about adopting the cloud or you have an ongoing cloud project, reach out to us. We’ve pre-packaged different engagements to help our clients make the most of this technology.

Do you want to know more about our Cloud Engagements offer? Discover our Cloud Engagement offer in detail:

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Filipa Moreno6 ways you can benefit your business with Microsoft Azure
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Governance in Power Platform: 3 steps to implement

5-SECOND SUMMARY:
  • Microsoft’s Power Platform is a low-code platform that integrates different components to respond to different business needs.
  • The platform has four products (PowerAppsPower AutomatePower BI and Power Virtual Agents)
  • If you are looking to guarantee security for your data, this platform allows you to implement a governance strategy.
  • There are three steps to implement a governance model: Security, Monitoring and Nurturing and Education.

Microsoft’s Power Platform is a low-code platform that integrates different components in order to respond to different business needs. The platform has four products (PowerApps, Power Automate, Power BI and Power Virtual Agents) that companies can use to build their customised solutions to solve the specific challenges they face daily. Each of these products has access to more than 300 data connectors. In practice, this means that solutions built with any of this platform’s components can connect to multiple services, whether from Microsoft or other organisations.

Users’ broad access to information comes with numerous challenges, especially regarding the platform’s governance. One of the most significant advantages of the Microsoft Power Platform is the democratisation of the construction of different business applications for a new generation of citizen developers,  i.e. people with non-technical profiles who can develop these solutions. However, as more and more people start to build applications, we must ensure the data and any confidential information is not misused. And so, it’s critical that any organisation that has already adopted (or is considering adopting) this platform implements a governance strategy that ensures the security and integrity of the data used and that all Power Platform’s components are used responsibly.

Read on to find out the three steps you need to take to start implementing a Power Platform governance model.

Three steps to implement a governance model

Now that you know why it’s essential to create a governance model, the question that arises is: where should you start? It was to answer this question that we wrote this article. Power Platform already has many built-in tools that organisations can use to manage and monitor their solutions. To do so, we have listed the first three steps you should take to implement a governance model in this article.

By taking the first steps to implement a governance model, you allow developers – whether technical or not – to build their solutions with confidence and security, feeling assured that their solutions will always be managed, protected and maintained while following the best compliance practices. These are the first steps you should take:

1) Security

The first step you should take to define good governance practices with Power Platform is to know your environments and how to structure them. As such, you should define your environment strategy early on: creating different environments for development, testing and production. You also need to assign different roles to users according to their responsibilities and even create a process for accessing existing environments or creating new ones. You should also establish data loss prevention (DLP) policies that help prevent users from inadvertently exposing data. These policies can be defined at both the environment and tenant-level, allowing for greater flexibility when establishing different policies for different use cases. Moving on to development, organisations can define a set of best practices (what to do, for example, when two developers need to edit the same application simultaneously, or what the procedures for migrating applications, etc. are) that can help teams organise their work and deliver higher-quality solutions.

2) Monitoring

After taking the first steps in structuring environments and creating different development policies, you should monitor your solutions as a whole. This way, organisations can get complete visibility of how they are using the different components of the platform. Once again, Power Platform provides a series of features that allow organisations to monitor and track platform usage: it’s possible to monitor Dataverse usage to ensure that consumption levels are not abnormal; set up alerts such as setting up notifications whenever an application is shared with other users, or Microsoft launches a new connector. If you don’t wish to start from scratch, the Centre of Excellence is a toolkit designed precisely to help you start building a governance strategy for the Power Platform.

3) Nurture and educate

Finally, once we’ve adopted a particular technology or framework, it’s essential to think about how we propose to nurture and educate our team with the resources they need to continue to deliver excellent work. It’s crucial to have a set of guidelines for each new team member who needs to learn about work methodologies, good practices and different processes they need to follow. On the other hand, it’s critical that any developer – again, whether they’re technical or not – has the resources they need to keep up to date on the evolution of the Power Platform’s different products and components.

Final Thoughts

If you’re considering adopting Power Platform or, if by any chance, you already use different components of this platform in your organisation, you can follow these steps to start defining your governance model. Alternatively, you can reach out to us to help you take these first steps: we’ve pre-packaged different engagements targeting specific governance needs. Xpand IT focuses on developing Power Platform solutions, assisting companies to take advantage of its various components and accelerate their digital transformation. In 2021, Xpand IT was named Partner of the Year by Microsoft Portugal. In 2020, Microsoft Portugal awarded Xpand IT the Partner of the Year’s PowerApps & Data Analytics prize.


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Azure DevOps: how to build a quality culture

5-SECOND SUMMARY:
  • The DevOps culture promotes transparency, communication and a spirit of collaboration between development teams, operational teams and business teams. But how to build this culture?
  • The four main benefits that this type of culture adds to your teams: alignment, shorter release cycles, continuous learning, and accountability.

You’ve quite possibly come across the term DevOps at some point in your life, especially if you’re at some stage in the process of launching and implementing a digital project. According to Microsoft, DevOps is a mix of development (Dev) and operations (Ops). Its purpose is to deliver value to customers by bringing people, processes and technology together. The ultimate goal is for teams to become more productive by using DevOps practices and tools and simultaneously create, iterate, and improve digital products faster and with higher quality. Rather than having different teams working in silos, with DevOps, they collaborate with a common purpose: to create, iterate, and maintain better and more reliable products, responding even better to a client’s needs. But why is DevOps such an important concept? Firstly, because DevOps has a direct impact on the quality of the digital product. The truth is that DevOps is so much more than just automating processes and improving the client’s code.

How to build a DevOps culture

The DevOps culture promotes transparency, communication and a spirit of collaboration between development teams, operational teams and business teams. It’s a culture that has a profound impact on teams’ work methodology as a whole, their workflows, their processes, and even the quality of the code they deliver. Acting according to this culture has several advantages: it speeds up the product’s iteration timeline, allows us to adapt more quickly to the market and competition, allows for an improvement in the average recovery time, and makes it easier to maintain stability of the systems.

DevOps influences the entire lifecycle of applications, at whatever stage of the process, whether in its planning, development, delivery or maintenance. All these phases are intrinsically linked and depend on each other to deliver the expected final result.

Image: Microsoft

Adopting a tool like Azure DevOps is only the first step, and, frankly, it will always be the least important step. Why? Because it is useless to have the tools, frameworks and methodologies at our disposal if culture and people do not actively intervene in the process of their adoption and guarantee a continuous commitment to their objectives. Building a DevOps culture requires teams to change how they think about issues, work, and collaboration. In truth, that can be challenging and, at times, even demotivating. However, the myriad benefits that are quickly gained eclipse any challenges that arise in creating a culture whose mission is to deliver quality and added value. Some of the benefits to be gained from adopting a DevOps culture are:

1) Teams’ alignment

It will always be easier to achieve alignment between different teams in a given project if they follow DevOps as a standard guideline. Teams start to collaborate and focus on the same goal, ensuring that they are “rowing to the same place”; they have the same goals and measure their success in the same way.

2) Shorter release cycles

These teams are characterised by being more agile. With shorter release cycles, they can plan their work better and manage risk better. Additionally, they can better respond to clients’ needs and better adapt to the market and competition.

3) Continuous learning

Teams that embrace the DevOps culture focus on a growth mindset and incorporate their learnings into their processes to become better and better with each iteration. This journey doesn’t have an end, so the goal is to improve continually.

4) Accountability

Once teams find alignment, they become committed to their goals and the results they need to achieve. Thus, there is a greater involvement from the different teams responsible for different stages of an application’s lifecycle.

Image: Microsoft

Why do we use DevOps at Xpand IT

Quality is part of the organisational values and is something that is rooted in Xpand IT’s culture. We work with different Azure services to ensure we produce and deliver top of the line products to our clients. Azure DevOps plays a crucial role in our ability to deliver everything we set out to do. The Digital Xperience business unit has a team focused on Azure DevOps, whose responsibility is to ensure all projects comply with quality requirements. These projects can be customer-facing, i.e., mobile applications, websites, backend projects where we work with Azure to create solutions that improve business operations, or Power Platform solutions, where we also use DevOps to improve the quality of solutions built on top of this platform.

Learn more about our work methodology and some of the projects we have already developed here.

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Return to the office: hybrid, fully remote or physical? Technological.

After the last 18 months of disruption, it seems we are finally returning to a semblance of normality. Although the pandemic continues to be a part of our lives and will continue to be so in the near future, we are all relearning to interact physically and, in many cases, hoping to return to socialising with colleagues, partners and clients. Proof of this enthusiasm is the way in which some companies are designing a return to the office, helping people get back to their usual places of work. The models that companies are considering multiply according to different realities (whether they are 100% remote/physical or hybrid models with different variations). The truth is that we are entering a new era, and our relationship with work is also evolving.

According to Deloitte’s 2021 Return to Workplaces survey, 64% of organisations intend to return to the office in 2021. 25% had already reopened their offices at the time of the survey (April 2021). Additionally, 68% want to implement some kind of hybrid model. What data from this and other studies seem to indicate is that mixed models seem to be an integral part of this new reality. And regardless of the model that companies decide to adopt from now on, the truth is that returning to the office raises a set of challenges that companies will have to address: adapting spaces so that they meet security conditions, office logistics, seat reservations, and ensuring that teams have the necessary tools to collaborate effectively, as well as maintaining the team productivity, among many others.

Technology and different digital solutions can answer many of the questions that organisations are facing while preparing to return to the offices and are, without a doubt, essential to facilitate this return to the workplace. To dematerialise and automate different processes, we can take advantage of existing solutions built for the purpose, such as Microsoft’s Return to the Workplace, or we can develop tailor-made solutions, such as Microsoft Power Platform, which helps organisations to build applications, workflows or even chatbots, quickly and agilely and with a significantly reduced time-to-market.

Microsoft’s Return to the Workplace solution, for example, is a solution that was built with security optimisation of the workplace in mind and uses different components of Power Platform (PowerApps, Power BI and Power Automate) so that logistics and security teams can manage their offices as safely and promptly as possible. As we gradually return to a physical reality, there are multiple processes for which companies will need to find solutions: solutions that will help companies register external visitors or even processes such as canteen management.

If, similar to what other companies are doing, you’re now planning your return to the office, and you’d like to explore how technologies such as Microsoft Power Platform can help address the different challenges you’re likely to face, give us a call. At Xpand IT, the Digital Xperience business unit focuses on developing Power Platform solutions, helping companies take advantage of its components and accelerate their digital transformation journeys. In 2021, Xpand IT was named Partner of the Year by Microsoft Portugal. In 2020, it was awarded Partner of the Year’s Power Apps & Data Analytics prize by Microsoft Portugal. As such, you can always count on us to support your projects.

Filipa MorenoReturn to the office: hybrid, fully remote or physical? Technological.
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Technology and the future of the retail industry

Over the past few years, technology has been a disruptive element in every industry in the economy. The retail industry is no exception. We don’t need to think long to list the different ways in which technology has had an impact on our lives in the various roles we play – as professionals, as parents, as educators, and as consumers. As consumers, the truth is that technology has been the real instigator of changes to our habits and our preferences regarding what we consume and how we consume it. It has also been a determinant in how we relate to the different brands with which we interact throughout our lives.

In addition to technology, other factors have disrupted the retail industry; namely the change in consumer behaviour, the growth of e-commerce and, more recently, the global pandemic that we’re currently experiencing. Throughout this pandemic and successive lockdowns, new challenges arose for the industry. When you think that only pharmacies, supermarkets and other essential shops were open during lockdowns, this meant that retailers had to quickly adapt and reorganise, or risk not surviving these challenging times.

Online shopping became the obvious choice for consumers confined to their homes, unable to visit the shops where they were used to buying many products. This resulted in a dramatic explosion in e-commerce activity, which, according to a United Nations article, went from 16% of all retail sales to 19% in 2020. Nevertheless, many retailers, including the Irish giant Primark, did not even have the digital channels to continue their operations while their physical shops were closed. Others did have digital channels (a mobile app or an online store), but the accelerated increase in online sales ended up exposing vulnerabilities that weren’t previously noticeable: difficulty processing orders, systems that weren’t versatile or agile, information dispersed across different organisational systems, and lack of agility throughout the supply chain, among others.

How technology is changing the retail industry

As we can see, the challenges retailers face nowadays are manifold. Technology can help answer many of them, however, allowing organisations to restructure business models and optimise operations, whether internally or externally. Several technologies are currently contributing to innovation within the sector: Business Intelligence, Big Data, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and automation, among others.

For instance, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a crucial technology for improving different processes in the sector. It has several use cases: implementing a chatbot for customer support, optimising the delivery process, building more digital, cashier-less stores, stock control, and more. Another of the most prevalent technologies for this sector is automation. Automation is another technology that offers several use cases and has many benefits: using RPA (robotic process automation), it is possible to automate different internal processes, such as delivery information, order invoicing, product categorisation, campaign planning and even returns. Both technologies can help revolutionise many of the processes that are still dependent on human interventions. As such, they are crucial to generating internal efficiencies that, in turn, have a visible impact on customer experience and satisfaction. According to a McKinsey study, 50% of activities in this sector have the potential for automation using technology that we already have available, such as AI and automation. This means there are still many processes that can be transformed, improved and optimised. The important thing will be identifying specific use cases where technology can make the most significant difference and starting there.

Retailers are under enormous pressure to adjust to the market and the consumers they serve quickly. They constantly need to find ways to innovate, using technology to revise their business models, and ultimately, reinvent themselves, becoming more resilient businesses capable of weathering abrupt and unexpected change.

As technology experts, Xpand IT can help you explore how you can use technology – via its different applications – to address the challenges you’re currently facing.

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Digital Health: the medicine of the future (and the present)

One of the industries most affected by the pandemic was the healthcare industry. The global pandemic has put immense pressure on national health services globally, filling hospitals to the brim with people in need of urgent and immediate care. Additionally, the usual activity and the existing people who already needed care due to other illnesses could not be ignored. These people also needed continued care. This pandemic has put pressure on the many professionals who had to work long hours to counter the lack of human resources, often putting their own health at risk, and being limited by the available infrastructures of different health services in different countries.

Healthcare professionals are a crucial element in society to ensure continued support for the health and well-being of all citizens. We recognise their fundamental role: prooved by the countless tributes paid to healthcare workers during the first lockdown. They work in a highly complex environment and under conditions of high personal risk. They often do not have all the necessary resources to carry out their work with total efficiency. Doctors, nurses, and other medical teams working in the healthcare sector need robust and flexible tools to provide the best care available to their patients.

The pandemic was responsible for accelerating a large-scale digitalisation of different processes in multiple industries. The healthcare industry was no exception – in fact, one of the opportunities the global pandemic offered us was to put in practice the rapid digitalisation of this industry by finding new ways to provide patients with the best healthcare services, even from a distance. A practical example was the accelerated growth of telemedicine during the first wave of the pandemic. According to Statista, in 2019, the telemedicine market was valued at 49.9 billion dollars. By 2030, it’s projected to reach 460 billion dollars.

Digital health – a new paradigm in healthcare

Although we have a lot to regret as a consequence of this pandemic, one of the lessons we can learn from this event is that technology and the digitalisation of certain processes offer countless benefits to institutions whose priority is to take care of health and well-being of patients. Various technologies are currently being used in favour of a consistent improvement in healthcare: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cloud, Big Data and automation technologies are just a few of them.

The purpose of digitalisation, in any sector or industry, is to improve and even increase the productivity and operational efficiency of an organisation’s different departments. It is about simplifying and automating different processes; processes that before were dependent on human intervention or being based on non-digital tools that were inconvenient and not very agile.

Automating processes has numerous benefits for a sector such as healthcare: it can offer different mechanisms to improve customer service in a more easily scalable way. The purpose of automating different processes, however, should always be user-centred. When we think about health digitalisation, we should consider how the patient will benefit from using these services. The goal should be to offer greater autonomy to the patient, offering the possibility of scheduling an appointment or an exam through a digital channel, for example, or even provide a dedicated portal where the patient can consult all their history. Several moments in the customer journey can be digitised and automated so that they aren’t dependent on people – the check-in and check-out moments, for instance, can be optimised using technology.

On the other hand, by using automation to generate internal efficiencies, we will also be able to improve the user experience. By digitally transforming processes, it becomes possible to find new ways to manage patients’ personal information, speed up diagnosis and make it more accurate, streamline communication across multidisciplinary teams so that they have a holistic view of their patient’s symptoms and history, sharing reports and medical examinations digitally, among other processes.

The future of healthcare is also digital, and the industry landscape is changing due to the constant innovations that technology allows. We know that technology is already pervasive in different industries. As consumers, our level of acceptance of digital tools is increasing. Thus, as digital and physical become intertwined, we will find it increasingly natural to function in a hybrid model, where “going to the doctor” no longer necessarily means going to a hospital, waiting our turn in queues to find a doctor across the desk ready to listen to our ailments. In the future (one rapidly approaching), we will discover integrated healthcare services with more and better information about our clinical history and, more importantly, a more personalised service.

Reach out to us today to find out how you can use the different technologies we mentioned and take a step forward towards that future.

Filipa MorenoDigital Health: the medicine of the future (and the present)
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Process automation in SAP (with Robotic Process Automation)

According to Statista, it is estimated that the automation industry generates around 214 billion dollars globally, an increase of 15% compared to 2019. This data demonstrates that the automation market is rapidly growing. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic caused by COVID-19 has generated even more interest in this technology due to the enormous potential it offers organisations for the modernisation of their operations.

Automation, as a concept, can have different aspects within an organisation, and, of course, it can be implemented using various technologies.

Automation, as a concept, can have different aspects within an organisation, and, of course, it can be implemented using various technologies. At its broadest, automation is about automating internal processes to increase efficiency and productivity – and generate economies of scale. As happens with any technology decision, companies will always look for those that bring them the most benefits and the least effort (of implementation, adoption, etc.) to obtain the best return on investment.

The great aim of automation is to take a manual and repetitive process and make it independent of any human interaction. And as one would expect, there are numerous processes that we can start automating, even in systems that the organisation already uses in its day-to-day. One example is SAP – a management system used in many organisations and a preferred target for creating automation flows that allow for optimising time for all the teams that interact with the platform.

Process automation in SAP: practical use case

Nowadays, it’s already possible to automate different actions in SAP through Microsoft’s Power Automate, one of Power Platform components, by taking advantage of existing connectors or, if there isn’t a suitable connector yet, by accessing the RPA capabilities that the Power Automate Desktop makes available for all users. These RPA capabilities allow you to record the interaction you want to automate, repeating it as many times as you like, thus saving precious time that can then be redirected to other tasks.

But what kind of processes are we referring to? One of the use cases we’ve already implemented is a manual, time-consuming and highly repetitive task performed in SAP. There being no connector available, we used the RPA capabilities in Power Automate Desktop to record the interaction that interested us in SAP and automatically replay it whenever necessary. Let’s imagine then that you receive a set of documents that you need to analyse every day, extract information from, and then be able to input said information to different SAP fields. You need to access SAP several times a day, analyse the documents, and transfer all relevant information to your management system, spending precious minutes every time you perform this task. With Power Automate Desktop, it’s possible to record all the steps of this interaction and automate it so that the flow retrieves all relevant information from the documents and automatically inserts it into the appropriate fields in SAP without requiring any human intervention.

The most significant advantage when using Power Automate to automate this task is that we can automate not only the interaction that takes place in SAP but the entire process.

The most significant advantage when using Power Automate to automate this task is that we can automate not only the interaction that takes place in SAP but the entire process. That is, with just a single tool, we build a Power Automate flow to capture the documents we need to analyse, use an Artificial Intelligence (AI) model to analyse and extract data from documents and, finally, replay the RPA flow and enter data into SAP. All happens automatically in a matter of seconds, without the need for anyone to intervene in the process. Furthermore, you have the possibility of monitoring and auditing the whole process to ensure the validity of the actions taken.

Thus, a process that would previously be highly dependent on human action can now happen regardless of the availability of the human resource that would typically handle this process, and that person will be able to dedicate the time gained to more complex tasks.

And now? What is the next step?

If you have already come up with several ideas for process automation in SAP after reading this blog post, reach out to us. At Xpand IT, the Digital Xperience business unit has been focused, in recent years, on developing Power Platform solutions, helping companies accelerate their digital transformation and become more productive and agile. Having been awarded the 2021 Microsoft Portugal Partner of the Year reflects our experience with this technology. As such, you can count on our help and expertise to modernise your organisation’s internal processes.

Filipa MorenoProcess automation in SAP (with Robotic Process Automation)
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User Experience: Why experience matters and how to start

We’ve never talked about experience more than in recent years, mainly because we’re increasingly operating in a new paradigm that is essentially digital. And because the economy we live in is based on digital, it is critical that companies offer relevant experiences to their customers. A lot is said about how User Experience can be a differentiating element for consumers, but it is often difficult to understand how we can materialise it properly, adding value to everyone involved. We can recognise that companies such as Uber, Spotify or Revolut offer convenient, seamless, highly satisfying digital experiences, but when we start thinking about building something similar for our own customers, we know it’s not that easy delivering a memorable experience.

But why has experience become such an essential element?

With the increasingly frequent use of smartphones, it’s become possible for people to stay connected longer, to be closer to the services they need and to have the ability to satisfy their needs more immediately. The needs and expectations of consumers have become increasingly demanding, something that’s even boosted biologically: when we are able to do what we need when we need to make us feel an instant gratification that releases dopamine. This, in turn, causes feelings of happiness and personal fulfilment. As such, the experience has become a differentiating element of the customer journey and, often, an element that decides the success (or not) of many brands – regardless of the digital channel used.

Building experiences: five main ingredients

The ideal experience allows users to perform a task effectively and positively and ends with a feeling of satisfaction. This premise is deceptively simple. Building the ideal experience is a more complex journey than you might think: in fact, it’s a journey of learning, trial and error, success and failure, and many iterations and evolutions. It doesn’t exactly have a beginning, middle and end, because the ideal experience changes as our users change, and is therefore iterative in nature.

The solution to a user experience problem involves getting a clear answer to the following questions:

  1. What is the problem? (Identify the problem);
  2. Who has this problem? (Who are we designing the experience for?);
  3. How do we solve the problem? (Strategy);
  4. What are your goals? (Business goals and user goals);
  5. What features are required to achieve those goals? (Functional requirements);
  6. How will the product work so that the goals are achieved? (Solution).

In essence, a UX project consists of the following key phases:

1 – Strategy

Without a strategy, there’s nowhere to go. Without a path and guidance, it’s difficult (not to say impossible) to build an experience with a solid foundation, and this is halfway towards the project’s failure. It is, therefore, essential to define a vision and purpose in order to build an effective user experience. It’s that definition of intentions that will help us shape our business objectives and vision, identify user needs, and map the initiative’s success and how we want to measure it.

2 – Research

Building an experience implies identifying the problem(s) to be solved. Only after identifying the challenges users face does it make sense to think about how to solve them.  And so, identifying and prioritising different user journeys, makes how to materialise the solution with the various tools at our disposal clearer.

3 – Analysis

After clearly identifying the problem we want to solve and even before we start implementing some aspects of the experience we want to build, we must go through an interpretation phase. The purpose of this stage is to gather precious insights that will help us lay the foundations for the memorable experience we want to build. Typically, we create different personas in this stage, use different user stories, experience maps and other tools to guide us.

4 – Design

This phase of the experience-building journey is even more collaborative: it is the moment when, after we have matured on the problem we want to solve and have already laid down the foundations of how we’re going to solve it, we will start to materialise our vision, either in functional prototypes or in wireframes. By using low-fidelity functional prototypes, the main objective is to test our ideas with the users who will interact with the product and let them get to grips with the experience for real.

5 – Production

The last element of this journey is producing all the assets that add up to the overall experience, whether they be prototypes and high-fidelity layouts or the design system and all the components inherent to it. It’s one of the most critical stages of the process. Through testing sessions and other necessary validations, this is a step that we cannot miss when building an excellent experience.

User Experience at Xpand IT

We understand that building memorable user-centred experiences implies specialised technical knowledge and specific know-how. We also recognise the importance of the user experience in delivering successful digital products in the markets they operate. Therefore, our UX business unit has invested in recent years in offering services in this area to grow our portfolio of user-centric design solutions.

The work we’ve been developing in UX is based on the know-how gained over several years and the work we’ve developed with the various technologies we are familiar with. We believe that technology will always make the difference in building good experiences. Thinking about the experience we want to implement allows us to start the conversation with our clients sooner, ensuring that we implement projects that make a difference.

Discover our UX business unit and how we can help you here.

Filipa MorenoUser Experience: Why experience matters and how to start
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Process automation with RPA (the future of organisations)

RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is one of the technological trends of recent years, and its adoption has accentuated over the course of the pandemic of 2020. Process automation with RPA has become a mantra for organisations. In a context where people have been working remotely, outside the office and far away from each other, it was noticed that there were several weaknesses in processes that were too dependent on human intervention. Considering the growing digitalisation of businesses in the most varied industries, automation becomes ever more urgent since it is precisely by automating different processes that companies can generate internal efficiencies and become operationally more effective.

Although the technology has been around for some time, it’s expected for its growth to continue to be felt in different companies and markets, mainly because, as mentioned, the pandemic has increased the interest of organisations in these technologies. According to Gartner, by 2024, large organisations will triple the capacity of their RPA portfolios, and the research company also predicts that almost half of all new RPA customers will be from business profiles, and not just IT.

In this sense, the adoption of RPA technology is more pressing than ever. The benefits of implementing this type of tool in organisations are many: achieving greater productivity in different processes, reducing the chances of human error, achieving rapid ROI and even the scalability that the technology allows us, among others. We could offer many arguments for you to start revolutionising your organisation’s internal processes today or, if you aren’t doing it yet, why you should become aware of how this specific technology will evolve.

Two RPA Power Automate features that you won’t want to miss

Our Digital Xperience business unit has been accumulating some experience with robotic process automation technologies over the years. Through Microsoft Power Platform and, more specifically, through Power Automate, we have been exploring and demonstrating to different clients the true potential of this technology. As such, we want to highlight two different features that can help you get the most out of this technology when you adopt it in your organisation.

1) Process mining

The process advisor component is one of the most recent RPA features in Power Automate. To put it simply, process mining is a tool that allows us to discover, monitor and collect detailed information to improve business processes. It’s effortless to use this feature: by recording the exact steps of each process, we can generate a visual map of the process we’re trying to analyse. Using this map, we will then be able to identify opportunities for improvement, examining the details of the different steps of the process. This feature also provides essential insights and metrics to determine what causes entropies in processes and identify immediate improvements. We can create greater efficiencies in different processes and improve methods of work within the organisation. We will have all the essential information to optimise the internal processes that could potentially be reflected in the customer’s experience.

Image 1: Visual map of a process (source: Microsoft)

Image 2: Process Advisor insights area (source: Microsoft)

2) Document automation

The document automation feature was introduced, like the previous one, very recently and combines the best of RPA technology with that of Artificial Intelligence. The purpose of this feature is to help organisations extract and interpret different data from documents (be they structured or not) to automate the entire document interpretation and processing process, starting from an email with invoices and receipts to the approval of those documents before they are filed in the organisation’s ERP. Companies can gain scale processing the different receipts and invoices they receive throughout the day while freeing their employees’ time for more complex tasks that provide greater value to the organisation – with significant time gains as to what regards the remaining tasks of the accounting teams related with the processing of expenses. The flow is simple: the first step begins with the reception of invoices into an inbox. AI Builder then analyses the documents using a model created and trained specifically for the purpose. Once this analysis has been completed, if necessary, the information can be validated by an employee to ensure that it is all correct. After validation, the data is then inserted into the ERP or any other system that the organisation already uses. Finally, it’s always possible to follow and monitor the process to ensure that all steps are running as expected.

Image 3: Document automation flow (source: Microsoft)

Next steps

Automation was one of the technological trends identified in our new Banking report – Banking Industry: Digital Banking in a New World, and this technology, as mentioned in the beginning, will continue to grow over the coming years. RPA technology is an essential step to consider in the digitalisation journey that companies will have to continue along to modernise themselves and to remain competitive in the increasingly digital economy in which we live.

Do you feel like experimenting with RPA technology and the features we just shared with you to start automating the most repetitive manual processes of your day-to-day? If you’re considering adopting this technology in your organisation or want to understand better the potential that RPA has to revolutionise your company’s agility and productivity, reach out to us. We will be happy to help you take this vital step for the future of your organisation.

Filipa MorenoProcess automation with RPA (the future of organisations)
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