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Technology and the future of the retail industry

3 min

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)

3 min

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.


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Process automation in SAP (with Robotic Process Automation)

3 min

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.


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User Experience: Why experience matters and how to start

4 min

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.


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Process automation with RPA (the future of organisations)

4 min

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.


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App modernisation with Azure: the journey to the cloud

3 min

It’s common to hear that companies need to modernise themselves in order to remain competitive in the different markets and industries in which they operate. We often use the buzzword “digital transformation” to rationalise the many decisions that companies have to make when choosing which technologies to implement, which processes to automate and which applications to develop to continue offering the best services and products to their customers. The term “digital transformation” sounds great, but the gains will only ever be as consistent as the robustness of the initiatives carried out.

Technology innovation is constant, and companies increasingly need to build highly personalised systems and infrastructures adapted to their specific needs and challenges. The concept of app modernisation emerges precisely because of this continuous evolution. But what is it all about – what does app modernisation actually mean? Put simply, it is the process of analysing existing applications, some of which may be legacy applications, and modernising their infrastructure, architecture or features. Many applications fail to keep up with technological innovation. As such, they become applications that are hindered by some limitations, both when solving identified bugs and updating the app itself. And so, the cost of maintaining such applications becomes significant, leaving companies with a complex situation to manage – often having to carry on maintaining some applications on which they have become (too) dependent.

The benefits of app modernisation are many: greater efficiency, more flexibility and scalability and better resource management, among others. Still, and as happens with all change processes, the key to success lies in the defined strategy and the decisions to be made. So how should this process of analysing and migrating your applications to the cloud begin?

Cloud migration: the three (first) steps to consider

The migration of applications to the cloud does not need to be a complex process. Still, the success of such projects is due, as previously mentioned, to the strategies that organisations adopt. Ultimately, the decision to make (or not to make) a migration must be made based on the benefits that will result from that same process, such as the speed that the technology offers, scalability, flexibility and the development of new features – benefits that allow the application to improve the organisation’s processes and end up positively impacting on its customers’ experiences. For this reason, before embarking on a project like this, it is essential to:

1) Do an application inventory

Before even thinking about starting a migration project, it is necessary to make an inventory of all the existing applications used by the organisation. This step is essential to understand which applications are most used by the organisation and, more importantly, which are critical applications for business. Having completed this inventory, it is possible to get to know the current status of the business and what its most pressing challenges and most urgent needs are: this knowledge on the business allows you to start making decisions and defining priorities. After prioritising, you’ll be prepared to go to the second stage of migration to the cloud.

2) Carry out a technological analysis

After making an inventory of your existing applications, you can start making a more exhaustive technological analysis: on the one hand, you can analyse your in-house tech stack, and on the other hand, you can do a more exhaustive analysis of the organisation’s architecture. This will be key information that can potentially influence some decisions later on in the process: should the application be reengineered, should processes be reengineered or would none of these options work? There’s nothing better than having the information available to answer questions that will certainly arise during the app modernisation process.

3) Prioritise and define an action plan

Finally, it’s time to set priorities. You’ve made a list of all existing applications that would benefit from modernisation and you also have information about your organisation’s architecture and technological stack. At this point, what’s most important is that you define which application(s) should be migrated to the cloud. This prioritisation can take several factors into account, but it is important to prioritise the applications that would have the greatest positive impact on the organisation or that would bring a significant improvement to the consumer experience. The application with the best effort/benefit ratio, should be one of the first to be migrated to the cloud.

Cloud-native: a relevant decision to make

This app modernisation step is just the first step on the journey for organisations to become cloud-native companies. By taking this first step, they become more familiar with designing initiatives that are oriented towards a cloud reality. The applications are then built with all the benefits of this approach and the mindset of the organisation and its employees will be fully aligned to this positioning, preparing organisations to continue to as be highly competitive and innovative as the market currently requires.

At Xpand IT, we are Azure experts and have been working with this technology for several years, building solutions that take advantage of different Azure components. Whether building native applications in the cloud or to accompany the entire app modernisation process, the solutions we implement always serve the same purpose: helping our customers become the companies of the future. Get to know one of the projects we developed in Azure for one of the biggest Portuguese companies.


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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.


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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:

Filipa MorenoLEO: automation solution for accounting teams
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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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