Filipa Moreno

More power to you: how to automate tasks without coding

3 min

According to the dictionary, automation is the “automatic execution of tasks without intermediate human intervention”, and we all know automation can be crucial in transforming companies. The argument for the increasing automation of internal company processes fits into a broader digital automation discourse. This discourse argues that companies are gradually completing the transition to digital infrastructures, investing in technology and improving their internal capabilities to achieve optimisations which are often reflected in the services they provide to external customers.

The adoption of automation brings numerous benefits to organisations: time savings, operational efficiencies, consistent improvement in the quality of processes while reducing human error and even the potential greater satisfaction of employees who usually have to repeat the same tasks over and over on the same day and week – employees that can often be allocated to tasks where they can bring more value to the organisation. The adoption of automation is crucial for creating internal efficiencies that can make all the difference in organisational day-to-day life.

However, the adoption of these technologies involves investment not only in the technology that allows this automation but also in the development of use cases for implementation. These two factors can often constitute barriers to the widespread adoption of this type of technologies in companies. So, how to automate tasks without programming?

It’s precisely because of these barriers to adoption that several low-code/no-code solutions have gained market share, including Power Automate (one of Microsoft Power Platform’s components).

How to automate tasks: what is Power Automate?

Power Automate is one of the four components of the Power Platform. Its purpose is to automate business processes quickly and safely, ensuring that organisations can increase their productivity in individual tasks and the automation at scale of business processes. The great advantage of this tool is, without a doubt, the fact that no programming knowledge is needed to build automated workflows. Whether these are simpler or more complex – taking advantage of RPA (Robotic Process Automation) technology, for example – anyone has the power to create their automatisms without having to write a line of code.

In addition to the features already mentioned, this tool also offers the ability to build intelligent workflows; that is, we can incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities to meet specific goals. Again, all without needing any knowledge of the technology, which is inherently complex and typically only accessible to technical profiles.

Intelligent automation: the future

How can we then integrate Artificial Intelligence into our workflows, making them more intelligent and relying on technology to help us be even more productive? We can do it by taking advantage of one of the Power Platform components, AI Builder.

With AI Builder, we can build models with different purposes, and these models adapt to different scenarios. Currently, AI Builder has 12 pre-built models: there are models such as sentiment analysis, prediction, object detection, business card readers or even receipt processing. These models take advantage of different types of AI and can be integrated into workflows to automate many repetitive tasks that we frequently have to perform in our daily lives.

Let’s imagine, for instance, that a sales team needs to present the receipts accumulated over time from their successive travels. Instead of manually analysing all these receipts, we can use the receipt processing model to make it easier to collect the data we need to reimburse our employees for those expenses. With this model, each employee needs only to take a photograph of the receipt, and through AI, the relevant information is automatically collected (the transaction date, name and quantity of items purchased, and, of course, the total amount). We can carry out the same operation with invoices sent by email from different suppliers using the invoice processing model.

To give one more example, we can implement yet another use case with the sentiment analysis model. Suppose that a retail brand is interested in quickly assessing their customers’ general feelings about the after-sales service. By analysing a customer review, this AI model can detect whether customer sentiment is positive, negative, mixed or neutral. With this information, we guarantee a more personalised service to our customers, ensuring that their experience is the best possible.

Next steps

The potential to automate daily tasks using Artificial Intelligence is unlimited, and we already have at our disposal the technology that allows us to take a step forward in the modernisation of these various processes. To take this step, you must identify a use case where it is possible to use this technology; only then will you be able to analyse the real impact of automation in your daily life and the improvement of your company’s internal operations. If you need help taking that step forward, we can help: the Low-Code Assessment Xpand IT’s team built for you aims to find the best solution possible to the challenges your organisation has to overcome, and our Xperts can tell you how to automate tasks without programming.

The future has already arrived. Don’t let it get away from you.


Filipa MorenoMore power to you: how to automate tasks without coding
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How to start with Power Platform? We can help!

4 min

The low-code/no-code platforms revolution has been, over the years, gaining traction in different companies and industries, as its potential is starting to become recognised. Proof of this is the projections both Gartner and Forrester make about these kinds of platforms. Gartner estimates that about 65% of applications developed by 2024 will use low-code/no-code platforms. Additionally, Forrester indicates that these platforms can reduce 74% of the costs related to traditional app development. More telling are the Forrester Wave reports indicating that the low-code market will exceed 21$ billion in spending by 2022.

These are relevant statistics that reveal these platforms’ true potential and how they can be crucial, differentiating tools in the way organisations address their digital transformation journeys, particularly for internal scenarios. These solutions allow non-technical profiles, so-called citizen developers, to build applications, workflows, dashboards and reports or even chatbots rapidly and with agility, without being dependent on IT departments, without programming knowledge or knowledge of more complex technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence.

Presently, there are several low-code/no-code platforms, and one of the market leaders in this segment (according to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant) is Microsoft Power Platform.

What is the Power Platform?

Microsoft Power Platform for those who don’t know it yet is Microsoft’s low-code platform. It is composed of 4 products with different purposes:

  • Power Apps: allows business users to develop applications that can be used either on mobile or the web, without the need for programming knowledge;
  • Power BI: provides access to data visualisation tools, where it is possible to build visually appealing dashboards and reports;
  • Power Automate: aims to automate business processes or enrich Power Apps applications with business logic;
  • Power Virtual Agents: you can build bots and conversation flows with just the knowledge about the conversation you intend to have with the users.

In addition to the products mentioned above, the platform also has components such as AI Builder, that allow users to take advantage of Artificial Intelligence differently. For example, users can create a model that learns to recognise specific fields in a document from a set of original documents, or even identify objects in images – all through a highly functional interface designed for non-technical users to take advantage of this technology’s potential.

Now that you already know the platform, we understand that the difficulty is sometimes understanding where exactly should you start and what components to bet on.

How do I get started with Power Platform?

Before you adopt Power Platform, there are three things you need to know to start your organisation’s digital transformation journey:

  • What are your needs? 

Your journey starts with your organisation’s needs. What are the most urgent challenges you need to tackle? Do you need to build an internal application or replace an Excel file continually being shared between users? Do you want to create a chatbot that supports the Human Resources Department? Do you need to automate critical business processes that are still dependent on humans, or do you want to analyse business data to make better decisions? Before you decide which Power Platform component is best suited to your needs, you need to clarify the company’s needs. Otherwise, you won’t be able to define the purpose of adopting the platform. Without purpose, the investment won’t have any guiding lines, and projects won’t be successful.

  • Can you identify a use case? 

Once you know your needs and the challenges your organisation must tackle first, you can decide which Power Platform component will best suit your needs. At this point, it’s essential to identify a use case and try to understand how the Power Platform will help you achieve your goals. Can you identify a specific process that could benefit from automation capabilities? If you need to build an application, how are employees currently performing this task? If you want to make a chatbot, do you know what kind of questions you want it to answer? Finally, if you need to analyse data, do you know what data you need to look into and where is it stored? Reflecting on your possible use cases for this technology will help you better materialise your vision for the solution. It will be important to help make that vision a reality.

  • What systems/ technologies are already at your disposal?

Lastly, it’s fundamental you make a cross-sectional analysis of the systems or technologies already in use in your organisation and that you can use to implement your use case. In many organisations, it’s already possible to access the various Power Platform components, so check if this is true for you and, if so, get down to business. If you need to, it’s quite simple to subscribe to the various products online, by activating a trial so that you can develop your first project. If you’re thirsty for more knowledge, you can attend, webinars or find out about solutions that already take advantage of this technology. What’s important is that you start exploring.

What’s next?

Suppose that even after you’ve explored the technology, examined the different content at your disposal and identified your particular needs, you feel you need specialised support to understand the best solution for your organisation better. In this case, an excellent first step is to fill in the Power Platform Assessment our team has built for you. This way, you will be able to receive different resources and personalised advice from our Xperts specialising in this technology directly in your inbox.

At Xpand IT, the Digital Xperience business unit has been focusing on developing Power Platform solutions, helping companies take advantage of its components and accelerating their digital transformation journey. In 2020, Xpand IT was awarded Partner of the Year’s prize in Power Apps & Data Analytics from Microsoft Portugal. Because of this, you can always count on us to support your projects – reach out to us at:  marketing@xpand-it.com.


Filipa MorenoHow to start with Power Platform? We can help!
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LEO: automation solution for accounting teams

3 min

Automation is one of the significant technological trends in recent times and a hot topic for different industries. But the term is not just a fad; quite the opposite, in fact. It’s a trend that has the potential to revolutionise any company and any industry. Automation is your company’s future: companies that do not invest in automation lose the competitive advantage over those that use this technology to improve their internal processes, create internal efficiencies and automate tasks that are still dependent on human resources. This is how companies free up precious time to allow their people to focus on more strategic issues.

It may come as a surprise to some, but the truth is that the potential for automation is now almost limitless. According to McKinsey, 60% of all professions could automate at least 30% of their activities. Again, 50% of all activities could be automated using technology that we currently have at our disposal. And, according to the same consultancy company, 47% of financial activities could potentially be automated. Tasks specifically related to data processing are where the potential for automation is most evident.

Can you think of a company department where day-to-day life deals with countless documents that need to be processed and interpreted? A department where processes would indisputably benefit from automation at scale? Here’s one more clue: it’s a department that exists in every business, everywhere. Have you guessed yet? Yes, we’re talking about the Finance Department. Let’s see our automation solution for accounting teams.

Automation for Accounting teams

It was thinking precisely about the needs of the Finance Department that we created LEO – The Accounting Assistant, one of the solutions that Xpand IT presented in the Teams Partner Challenge, an annual competition promoted by Microsoft for its partners. LEO is a solution supported by Power Automate and Microsoft Teams, and its purpose is to help automate and digitise daily tasks in the Finance Department, such as processing invoices. We know that all Finance Departments need to process an enormous number of documents, and this is where LEO is indispensable to finance teams, freeing up precious time so that they can focus on other more complex tasks.

The process begins when a new invoice drops into an inbox: LEO reads the email, verifies that it complies with pre-established conditions (was it sent to the accounting team’s email, does it has a specific subject line, and other criteria – for example, does it have an attachment?) and if these conditions are met, the invoice is then processed using AI Builder. With AI Builder, we build and train models to recognise fields in the documents being analysed, such as, for example, the amount, the billing period and the name of the supplier. When dealing with invoices, one of the most important data to analyse is the amount. Clearly, we need to approve the amount on the invoice before moving it further into the organisation’s systems. A request for approval is therefore sent via Teams to Accounting, and a team member must approve it.

Once the invoice has been approved, and with the data extracted by AI Builder, it becomes possible to automate the entire process of assimilating the invoice into the organisation’s systems. Taking advantage of the RPA (Robotic Process Automation) technology that Power Automate gives us, we can register and process the invoice automatically in just a few seconds and without further need for human intervention. Finally, the Finance team can also use LEO to help them as a chatbot: LEO can answer a series of questions related to invoices. LEO can list all the invoices that have already been approved and give insights into what invoices have been rejected or approved over the last week, among other relevant questions.

Watch the demo video:

The Teams Partner Challenge promoted by Microsoft continues to allow us to challenge ourselves to build relevant solutions addressing the current context in which we live and empowering companies by offering them resilient digital tools.

Would you like to see LEO – The Accounting Assistant running in your organisation? Contact us so we can help make your vision come true:

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The onboarding process with Microsoft Teams (and automation!)

3 min

There is no doubt that last year has been a year of adaptation: adaptation to flexible working models, new and different routines and schedules and, finally, physical distancing. The transition to remote working over recent months has been the new reality for many companies and teams. Teams have had to find new ways to collaborate productively and different departments have needed to reinvent many of their processes.

One department that has had the most need to reinvent itself during this period is the Human Resources department. We know that some of the crucial activities for this department have still been dependent on a physical presence in an office and, in many cases, involved several manual tasks requiring human intervention. Let’s consider, for example, job interviews and the onboarding process through which a new employee is integrated into the company.

In many companies, the onboarding process can be a somewhat complex reality and often involves a mixture of digital processes, manual processes, and information spread out across different organisational systems. Furthermore, the digitalisation and automation of this process have often been postponed due to a lack of time and internal resources. However, nowadays, not modernising this process is not an option. In an increasingly digital reality where hybrid working models are the norm, it is crucial to ensure that the integration of new employees can be carried out digitally in an equally effective and engaging way.

New times, new solutions: digital onboarding process

Identifying the challenge and building a solution that would address the needs of the Human Resources department in this new reality was the starting point for Xpand IT’s participation in the Teams Partner Challenge, an annual competition promoted by Microsoft for its partners.

Thus, POM (Power Onboarding Manager) was born. This solution aims to simplify and digitise the onboarding process for new employees, supported by different Power Platform components and Microsoft Teams. POM allows organisations to optimise their investments and encourages creating internal efficiencies within the Human Resources department, not only through the reduction of paper-based documents but also by creating synergies between the recruitment teams and the teams responsible for the integration of new employees into the company.

Starting as soon as the future employee accepts the job offer, the goal is for our solution to facilitate the bureaucratic process of collecting personal data in a quick, easy, secure way. When they then submit a form, different automatic processes are triggered so that various departments can process and use the information, such as creating new credentials and carrying out additional legal requirements.

After this, the process is centralised in Microsoft Teams as a collaborative hub. After having received the hardware at home and being granted access to all the applications, the new employee will be directed to an onboarding channel on Teams, where they will find an embedded Power Apps application containing all the information they need for the first days at their new company: colleague contact details, the “buddy” responsible for their integration, upcoming events (such as onboarding sessions or specific sessions related to their specific Business Unit) or the HR bot, whose mission it is to answer the most frequently asked questions asked by new employees such as “where should I submit my timesheets?”, “how do I access the intranet?”, and “how can I book holidays?”, among others.

Watch the demo video:

The Teams Partner Challenge promoted by Microsoft continues, over the years, to allow us to challenge ourselves to build relevant solutions that address the current context in which we live and empowers companies by offering them resilient digital tools.

Would you like to modernise your onboarding process and have POM running in your organisation? Reach out to us here:

Filipa MorenoThe onboarding process with Microsoft Teams (and automation!)
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5 questions you need to answer before creating your Azure solution

4 min

There are countless articles, blog posts and other types of content that talk about the cloud: from the benefits that this technology offers to companies to demystifying popular myths, and from how to make the most of this technology to how to optimise existing applications. The relevancy of the role that cloud technology currently has in the reality of companies is undeniable.

The topic remains so relevant that, according to a recent survey conducted by IDC, organisations show a strong inclination to increase investments in cloud services in 2020. On the other hand, the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus has resulted in an increasing digitalisation of companies where the cloud element has proved to be essential, given the benefits it presents for companies that have been forced to adapt digitally overnight. Infrastructure requirements have increased significantly, and the number of workers who have started to work remotely has also grown. Additionally, it has become clear that companies need to offer digital versions of their services to consumers.

However, considering the number of different available options, it can be challenging to understand where to start. Whether your company already adopts this technology in some parts of the business and wants to optimise it, or even if your company has yet to adopt cloud technologies, it’s important to do an analysis of the business to clarify the objectives and purposes your organisation needs to achieve by using this technology.

5 questions you need to ask to create an Azure solution

There are 5 elements you need to clarify to understand where to start on your digital transformation journey with the cloud with as much information as possible:

1) What are your needs?

Before moving on to developing solutions that take advantage of cloud technology, start by asking yourself what your needs are. Do you want to modernise an existing solution, build a native cloud solution, create a data platform, or are you still unsure of what your business needs are? Clarifying your business need is the first step you need to take before you even start thinking about embarking on a cloud migration project. Without the answer to this question, the purpose of the investment will not be straightforward – nor how it should be done.

2) What type of solution are you looking for?

Secondly, you need to understand what kind of solution you are looking for. Are you looking for a web app, a mobile app, a business backend, a streaming app or are you looking for another solution? Eventually, you may conclude that what your company needs right now is an aggregate of these elements. Having a clearer sense of your business needs and the type of solution that can help you suppress it will be an essential step to take on your migration journey to the cloud.

3) What is your business objective?

Once you know what you need and also what type of solution you are looking for within the universe of cloud technology, it’s crucial to reflect on what your business objectives are. This is the moment where you can finally crystallise your vision for the company and how this technology can you help you achieve it. Clearly and unambiguously communicating this vision will help specialists be aligned with you so that you make that vision a reality.

4) What is the technological stack you’re using/that you want to use?

Regardless of your needs, be they modernising an existing solution, creating a data platform or even building a native cloud solution, it is crucial that you consider the different technologies you already use or want to use. In this way, you can analyse the impact these technologies will have when starting on your cloud journey. The sooner you analyse the possible limitations or obstacles to achieving your goals, the more efficiently you will be able to find strategies to overcome them.

5) What are your main drivers?

Last but not least, it’s also essential to clarify the company’s drivers. What kind of elements are crucial for the company’s activity and which ones do you want to prioritise? Is it costs, performance, scalability or something else? To ensure the solution built is highly personalised and focused on the individual needs of the company, you need some visibility over what type of indicators guide it. Only in this way will it be possible to arrive at a solution that addresses all the challenges and opportunities to which the company wishes to respond.

What happens next? Next steps

Even after you’ve answered all these questions, it can still be challenging to understand what the best cloud solution will be or the best combination of resources for your specific needs. To help, Xpand IT has designed a Cloud Assessment tool. This tool’s goal is to make a brief assessment, so that our specialists can help your organisation understand what you’re already doing right, which areas you can improve and, finally, get visibility as to what is the best combination of resources within your business’s specificity and the challenges you need to answer.

At Xpand IT, the Digital Xperience business unit has, for many years, been focused on the development of solutions based on cloud technology, namely Microsoft Azure. The solutions we have been developing over the years take advantage of a variety of components that are combined to build the best possible solution: App Services, API Management, Cosmos DB, Cognitive services, among others. Our experience with these technologies and particularly with Microsoft Azure derives not only from the development of native cloud solutions but also from reengineering existing solutions, where we help our customers make the most of this technology and all its components.

Complete our Cloud Assessment and take a step forward in your digital transformation journey.

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Chatbots: how they can help your business run remotely

3 min

Chatbots are a well-known concept. It is quite likely that many of us have already interacted with a bot in our everyday life – whether on social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp, mobile applications, websites or even SMS. These virtual assistants have, in recent years, become very popular support tools for companies.

In fact, because they simulate human conversation – both written and spoken – they have ended up becoming the perfect business allies, whatever the industry in which they are integrated. This rise in popularity is mainly due to consumer expectations around being able to enjoy the digital experience 24/7, without having to limit their interaction with brands to opening hours or the availability of telephone lines.

At Xpand IT, we’ve been involved in different bot development projects for some years now and, therefore, we understand the importance these tools hold for any business. Utilising this valuable experience, we’ve written a chatbot playbook where we explain in detail what a chatbot is, what the different types of chatbots are, and how they apply to different business realities; without forgetting the advantages that can be obtained by implementing these virtual assistants.

Chatbots’ implementation approaches

Chatbots are tools that ensure a company is always accessible and available to answer customer requests – whether these are simple chatbots able to answer your customers’ most frequently asked questions or more complex chatbots that can utilise artificial intelligence technology throughout the interaction with the customer. We follow two different approaches for implementing this kind of digital channel:

  • Programmatic approach, building highly personalised bots according to our customer’s needs – at both functional and UX/UI levels;
  • Low-code approach where, taking advantage of Microsoft’s Power Platform and Power Virtual Agents, we can build a bot without the need for programming or knowledge of artificial intelligence.

Regardless of the implementation approach, chatbots are becoming essential tools for any business but they become even more important in disruptive times such as the crisis we’re all currently experiencing, as they can alleviate and help companies handle unexpected customer demand. This kind of customer support guarantees that no customer is left without an answer in times of need. In reality, chatbots are tools that can make a real difference in scenarios that are absolutely crucial, (e.g. helping to free contact centres, so that employees can be available to serve those who really need help).

100% digital is the new normal

It is no surprise that, at the present time, the vast majority of companies and their employees are working remotely, having been required to adapt their work methods in order to be able to remain active during this period.  This is, in fact, the new normality for an increasing number of countries and what this new normality demonstrates is that it is becoming increasingly essential that companies be prepared to keep their operations going remotely in the event of catastrophes (regardless of their nature) or any other changes in the social, political or economic context that occurs on a national or global scale.

If even before this pandemic we advocated the importance of digital channels for companies that wished to keep up with their customer needs and expectations, now – at a time when we all have to allow the world is changing – it becomes even more obvious that digital is the new normal. Companies that are digitally prepared, using appropriate channels, are best equipped to resist the economic and social impact that will be the result of the many changes we are currently going through.

Being an agile company is not just about having the appropriate knowledge or the resources to be able to understand the constant unpredictability of the markets, the needs of consumers and their changes in behaviour or even the constant technological innovation. Being an agile company means finding creative solutions, exploring new paths and new tools that allows a company to act – in a timely manner – in a relevant way during uncertain times. These capacities, not only of preparation but also of action, are what often decides the survival of some companies and not of others.

Uncertain times can become pivotal moments for any company or business, as they can often present an opportunity to reinvent internal processes that originate new ways of thinking and acting, not only within the company but also to the outside world. In our view, uncertain times are also opportunities to reinvent the way companies interact with customers and find ways to offer more value to their daily lives. This is exactly what a chatbot allows you to do.

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6 ways you can benefit your business with Microsoft Azure

4 min

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 in the way you run your business and also in 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 comes 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 for 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 a 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, in 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.

Find out how you can make the most of this technology in your specific context: get in touch with us here.

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Artificial intelligence: from buzzword to real-life application

3 min

Artificial intelligence is definitely here to stay. A technology that started out as a buzzword is now effectively in use in many different organisations and industries. Artificial intelligence shows tremendous potential not only to change the way in which organisations work, but also the way that we, users, interact with the most diverse digital solutions. The term Artificial intelligence is not exactly recent, but has, in recent years, witnessed unprecedented growth that highlights its credibility, as well as the value that organisations and individuals give to the technology with every passing year. Discover my vision about Artificial Intelligence: from buzzword to real-life application (and a great example!)

Artificial intelligence, in simple terms, consists of equipping machines and other devices with intelligence, an inherently human characteristic. The goal of this specific field of computer science is to develop devices that realistically simulate human reasoning. However, the technology doesn’t stop here. One of the great advantages this technology offers is the capacity to build models that develop and learn from the inputs they receive. It is this last feature that offers the automation potential for so many tasks already being operated by artificial intelligence systems, such as customer support services using chatbots.

AI Builder enters the scene

Presently, this technology is mainly used by technical people with the adequate knowledge for it, which in practice means that it is not accessible to everyone within an organisation It was precisely this gap that Microsoft intended to address when it launched AI Builder.

AI Builder is a Microsoft Power Platform (Power Apps, Power Automate and Power BI) capability that offers business users – regardless of their experience or technical knowledge –  the ability to use artificial intelligence technology in their applications. Even if employees do not have any programming knowledge, they can create an artificial intelligence model in just a few clicks (the first step may be using one of the templates that Microsoft provides), give it data to work with, and finally, customising the models generated. In just a few minutes, we can train the model we created, giving the system the opportunity to develop itself and learn using the information we provided. Of course, the quality of the algorithm’s answer depends on its training, but ultimately, it’s incredibly easy to start taking advantage of the technology and understand how all the pieces fit together, without the need for advanced technical knowledge, either in programming languages or in mathematical algorithms.

Use case: Retail PowerApp

As we mentioned earlier, AI Builder’s differentiation factor is giving non-technical people the ability to explore a powerful technology capable of transforming their organisations’ day-to-day life. The potential of a tool such as AI Builder becomes clear when we take as an example a supermarket that, with its many dozens of shelves, has an incredible amount of stock to manage. The shelves of any supermarket are in constant motion: products are initially placed on the shelves and, as customers visit the store, the product quantities on the shelves start to decrease. Therefore, it is necessary to replace those products so that shelves are never empty. This process can typically be based on manual tasks and that’s why we decided to understand how we could automate the whole process using AI Builder. Taking our Retail PowerApp, which as the name implies is a mobile application that was developed using Microsoft Power Apps, we then incorporated an artificial intelligence model trained to recognise certain products. And so, an employee tasked with replenishing supermarket shelves only has to open the app and, having previously defined what they were supposed to find on a given shelf, take a photo of the products. In this way, the Artificial Intelligence model will not only be able to recognise the products, but also which of those (and in what quantities) need replacements.

But the process doesn’t need to end there: so that this employee’s experience is smoother and simpler, if they find products that need replacement, they can order them directly in the app. And in the case of stock management capabilities, they can also check the order history and the stock available at a given store. All these features together enable employees with increased productivity, better information and more agility across the entire stock management and product replacement process, through a single digital experience.

More than explaining how this application works, how about seeing it in action? Meet our Retail PowerApp below.

Filipa MorenoArtificial intelligence: from buzzword to real-life application
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Microsoft PowerApps: how to transform ideas into business apps

3 min

We live in a world in which mobility is ubiquitous: there are, at this point in time, apps for whatever action we need to complete at any given moment of our lives. The majority of those apps are built with the consumer in mind and ideally, it is this end user that companies are thinking of when designing and building their digital solution. However, mobile applications are not only useful for the general public. Mobile apps, in a business context, can be critical to managing a company’s daily activities.

Business apps, as they are commonly called, are specifically designed to solve a problem within an organization. In that sense, these apps offer the possibility for companies to manage part of their business in a faster, more efficient and more productive way. However, not all business apps justify the time and investment that is required for a custom development tailored to the needs of each and every company. Since companies have to contend with budget constraints as well as time and human resources limitations, it might seem like a distant dream building an app that can suppress internal needs of efficiency and effectiveness for processes that have the potential to be automated.

Taking advantage of the entire Microsoft ecosystem, which is present in many organizations, it is possible to build an app with Microsoft PowerApps.  From an internal point of view, PowerApps have a considerable impact on business processes – they can be dematerialized and, consequently, it is possible to increase productivity and reduce inefficiencies.

On the other hand, with Microsoft PowerApps, you can enable everyone – even people with no programming or coding skills – within the organization to create and maintain the application.  Additionally, Microsoft Power Automate – a tool that complements Microsoft PowerApps – helps automate processes in different applications and services, whether it is requests’ approval, fulfilment of certain conditions (actions to be followed in case the answer is yes or no), automation of repetitive processes, etc.

In this way, these digital solutions will not depend exclusively on the IT Department and these power users, who already have the business knowledge – and guaranteeing that they are equipped with the necessary knowledge to use these tools – will be able to sustain an effective solution, based on Microsoft infrastructure, without the need of programming knowledge. Moreover, with Office 365, data circulates naturally, rather than generating silos of information which create entropies and inefficiencies. Therefore, your app is always kept up to date with real-time data.

Practical scenario: automating vacations approval

The vacations approval process is a great use case of these tools: you can automate the whole process where the first step is building a vacation request form that the employee submits for approval. Secondly, the manager receives a push notification on his mobile, in which he can immediately approve the request. The process is finished by sending an automatic email to the employee letting him know that his request has been approved. In just a few steps, we are able to automate the process that was previously dependent of the HR department.  With these tools available, we can quickly go from conceptualization to execution and in just a few minutes the employee can start planning his dream vacation instead of despairing while thinking that it will take several weeks for his request to be approved. Like this example, there are many other different use cases for Microsoft PowerApps and Microsoft Power Automate – these tools are a tailored solution, fully adaptable to the singular reality of your company.

Xpand IT experience with PowerApps

Xpand IT has been working with Microsoft PowerApps and Microsoft Power Automate since the first stages of these products’ development. As such, we recognized from the outset that these technologies could complement our own mobile development solutions, whether in cross-platform (Xamarin) or native development. In our point of view, in the context of business apps, PowerApps has an interesting value proposition not only because of the shorter time-to-market but also for allowing business users to materialize their vision in a useful tool – a tool that might justify, in the future, the development of new versions or the recourse to other technologies. For every problem there are many different solutions and we consider Microsoft PowerApps a very interesting tool to boost digital transformation in organizations.

Filipa MorenoMicrosoft PowerApps: how to transform ideas into business apps
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Apple Pay in Portugal: What changes in our daily lives

4 min

It’s 7.20 AM of a weekday like so many others.

Can you imagine what it is like having to deal with the morning chaos of preparing and eating breakfast, showering, dressing, preparing the lunchbox while trying not to forget putting on socks or at least trying not to put on two different ones. Amidst the chaos, there’s always something you forget. A day like that has everything to go well, right? Wrong.

It is obvious that on such a day, while you’re looking for your card to pay for lunch, you realise that you left the wallet at home.

It only takes two seconds after that to grasp that you just lost your financial independence and you that will have to call a colleague in order to come and save you by paying for your lunch, rather than spending the whole afternoon making up to the restaurant for the meal you enjoyed without paying for it.

A few years ago, it would be plausible to come across such a situation. Nowadays, instead of making that embarrassing call to your colleague, you can just grab your phone and pay. It’s that simple. In less than a minute the payment is complete without any friction. How is it possible, you ask? Well, Apple Pay makes it possible. Thank you, gods of technology!

But what exactly is Apple Pay? What are the implications of this new service for consumers and what does the introduction of this service means for the financial industry?

Apple Pay relies on mature technology. The service was originally launched by Apple in October 2014 in its country of origin – the United States of America – and, throughout these 5 years, Apple has been expanding the service to many other countries. In fact, right now, more than 50 countries support Apple Pay and we can confidently say that Apple plans to continue the evangelization and implementation of this service in more countries.

From June 2019 onwards, Portugal became one of the countries to support Apple Pay. Crédito Agrícola, Revolut, N26, Monese and, more recently, Moey! were the first banks to offer this service in the country and we were one of the first companies to implement the technology.

Xpand IT was one of the partners that accompanied the implementation process of Apple Pay within the Crédito Agrícola mobile app from the outset and had to assure the creation of a simple and intuitive navigation flow, so that adding cards to Apple Wallet through the banking app would be fast, easy and frictionless. Together with Crédito Agrícola, Xpand IT has guaranteed that the implementation passed all security tests and all demanding Apple requisites. Not less important, Apple’s intervention in the implementation process highlighted the necessity of having a partner whose sole focus would be the user experience – to assure the experience was coherent and that it was capable of giving life to this new payment method.

How, then, does Apple Pay work? Getting back to the example above, after the initial setup in which the user is able to add cards in the Apple Wallet app, you can now use just your phone to make contactless payments. Payment terminals are still the same – in case they already accept contactless, the user needs only to open the Wallet app, use TouchID or FaceID for authentication, touch the phone to the POS and voilá, that’s it – transaction completed.

There’s no need for wallets or physical cards that only create obstacles to this process – a process that should be fast and painless. As an additional security measure, if the amount is higher than 20 euros (value determined in Portugal), the user will be asked to confirm the transaction through a PIN.

The truth is that this service is a game changer, as it offers complete convenience to the payment act – you pay for your shopping in any channel, be it online, physical or even in mobile apps by using the devices that are already part of your life (iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple Watch), without any complications or waste of time. On the other side, this payment method offers more security: not only because your card data is safely stored through the virtual representation of the card (token) – this token can be deactivated or activated at any moment in the app and is independent of the physical cards – but also because in order for the user to authorise a transaction, a biometric authentication is required. This is one of the reasons why this service has been widely accepted in different economy sectors and also why it has been having such a considerable impact in the payment industry.

I know you must be thinking that not all is roses with this service and that might be true. There’s something none of us can escape – we still need to have battery on our phones in order to assure that our cards are accessible and that payments are just a touch away.

I can now leave my wallet at home without any concern. I just have to make sure that my phone doesn’t run out of battery. If that happens, there’s no technology that can save me.

Maybe in a few years’ time we will be able to make a payment just by authenticating our identity without the need of a phone. But that’s something for another blog post!

Filipa MorenoApple Pay in Portugal: What changes in our daily lives
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