The one cool thing about the latest Google Hangouts release…

Google recently went to press about improvements to their communications platform, Google Hangouts. While their headlines focus on Hangouts now being part of the G Suite “core,” which is great, the improved Google Meet is where the action is.

This new release of the video call and conferencing service is very slick, navigation is easier and one click can start an online meeting. In addition, Meet is now tablet enabled for Android and iOS. If you are looking for a streamlined video conferencing for up to 50 participants, Google Meet is worth checking out:

https://meet.google.com/

 

Holding ISPs accountable: Let’s build an app to monitor net bias 

Re-posting this interesting conversational gambit from ZDNet about pushing back on what they’re calling the Bias Net: 

In the continuing fight for holding our broadband providers accountable for their actions, our front line weapons will be the cloud and the Internet of Things.

Source: Holding ISPs accountable: Let’s build an app to monitor net bias | ZDNet

Strategic Technology Plan Easter eggs

A well-crafted strategic technology plan can identify significant opportunities to advance how technology supports your mission.  This is particularly the case with the opportunities presented by cloud services and applications.  In my experience, I find the planning process frequently surfaces ancillary benefits that are unanticipated, much like the Easter Eggs in software applications.  These benefits represent ways to do better in four key areas:

First, by enhancing organizational effectiveness through, as an example, improved allocation of staff resources in existing fundraising processes.

Second, by enhancing your decision making effectiveness through better data acquisition, evaluation, and reporting practices.

Third, by improving efficiencies in program execution. An example in this is an area might be identifying where staff access to cloud services can improve how data is used to deliver services.

Finally, we often find opportunities to leverage existing systems in order to increase organizational effectiveness, decision making effectiveness, and program execution. Understanding how systems are used, as revealed through the assessment and visioning steps in the planning process, frequently leads to better utilization of current investments.

While these accomplishments are not necessarily the intention behind strategic technology planning, they are so readily available through the insights gained that it’s hard not to carry through on them, or at least include them as part of the final recommendations.  Happy hunting!

Google calendar finally gets an update this November…

The Calendar app in G Suite is finally getting a refresh, the new version will incorporate better graphics, room scheduling, and event details at a glance. Starting November 14th, admins can let the roll out happen automatically or manually by designating users ready to transition to the new Calendar.  More details from Google here.

Why MailChimp is so great at data normalization

As part of a recent data integration project with a client, we did a deep dive into the data architecture in MailChimp. Without giving away their secret sauce, I can say they did an amazing job of creating contact records containing just the right amount of data, no more, no less – normalized! Here is what I found.

Within the web-based messaging platform MailChimp, clients can contain all of their contacts within a single list, called a Master List. The Master List has many benefits, including that each email address can only be in the list once – built in de-duplication, which is always a win!

Now of course, the Master Lists can be segmented through traditional demographic ways – let’s have a segment for small to medium businesses, let’s have a segment for our midwest newsletter subscribers and so on – but MailChimp also offers the capability to subdivide a Master List into subsets known as Groups (Interest Categories) and Interests (Master List Members who have a specific Interest in common). These Interest lists are the mailing lists that admins can use to send out their messages and conduct their outreach.

And this is where it gets really exciting, from a data perspective. The Groups in a Master List can only contain Interest lists, they can’t contain Members. In short, Groups are just buckets for the Interests lists. However, in examining the record structure of a Member record, there is no Group ID associating Members with Groups! Instead, each Member has a Master List ID, and an array of Interest list IDs, some of which are True (Subscribed) and some of which are False (Unsubscribed). And that’s it!

When working with MailChimp Member subscription records through the MailChimp API, we only make calls to a Master List ID and an Interest ID, because that is all we need to extract and manage specific list Members. By tradition, drilling down to a specific record involves querying for the master table, the next subordinate table, and so on until the right record is reached. By containing only the essential IDs in a Member record (the Group ID can always be derived, if needed), the MailChimp data architects streamlined the data and brought the essential Member record details to the surface, making the data quick and easy to use when managing subscriptions and pulling lists. In our case, we were able to use Dell Boomi to synchronize MailChimp lists with the data in an on premise Filemaker application by only passing two parameters, extremely economical.

With so many software as a service options coming online each year, it becomes more and more important to know which apps are designed from the ground up to play nicely with others. APIs and other data integrations between cloud services are where the value lies these days, and a prospective vendor’s plan for integration is a key consideration you should use when evaluating their services.

Cloud IT Out – Year One

They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and I must admit, this past year has been a delight. So much so, in fact, it hardly seems possible that an entire year has gone by since launching both the blog, Cloud IT Out and the web site for Nimbus Nonprofit Solutions.
 
Even though Year One has been a good start, I see so many opportunities to share more insights and useful tips with others working in today’s tech.
 
It really is so rewarding to help good causes navigate all the benefits the Cloud offers, from Blockchain to NoSQL to Identity as a Service. It all comes down to sharing the best, most timely information available in order to enable winning decisions.
 
As always, thank you for your support, please visit the other sites and let’s work some magic as we roll on to Year Two!

Nonprofits, you may already have the best firewall-crossing collaboration tool!

Who knew that through Groups in Office 365, Microsoft has delivered a seamless firewall-crossing collaborative experience for users?  Way to bury the headline, Redmond!

With O365 Groups, Group owners invite users or guests to join their Public Groups.  When joining, external users can use their existing email address (user@gmail.com, etc., no need to create a Microsoft mailbox), add a password, and they will gain access to the O365 Group resources, including file shares, calendars, and message threads.  Group owners can quickly pull together and manage their teams directly from Outlook.

 

File and content management in the enterprise is increasingly challenging for many nonprofits.  While they need to collaborate easily across firewall boundaries, nonprofits rarely have the security resources on hand to make this easy.  And without strategic IT expertise, they also frequently work from legacy file shares that drag innovation and limit effective collaboration with external supporters.

This quickly leads to users crafting their own solutions, typically involving consumer-targeted apps that let them quickly and easily share data and content externally.  While addressing user needs, this approach weakens data governance, security, and internal workflows.

Fortunately, because so many NPOs are already on Office 365, they can readily take advantage of Groups in Office 365 to work easily with their external collaborators.  And this can all be accomplished with strong administrative control over access, including granular permissions, audit trails, and usage reporting.

Underlying this capability is an excellent resource positioned exactly as it needs to be:  SharePoint.  Buried under the apps users already use every day, and this CMS Cinderella has finally arrived at the Ball!

For more details, follow the link below, keeping in mind that all the features referred to in the videos work for both internal and external users, as determined by the Group owner:

Office 365 Groups videos

 

 

Call me on my Private Line…

Like most IT projects, migrating between hosted VOIP providers is an exercise in logistics, culminating in one of the hardest deadlines in our business – the user-facing cut-over.   This is when the losing carrier stops providing dial tone and inbound call routing, and the winning carrier takes over.  For users, this means that everything is functioning well, a change happens, and then…the unknown.

Fortunately, today’s cloudy and highly-virtualized digital landscape makes the cut-over much more predictable.  For example, Skype for Business supports a little-known and very helpful feature called the Private Line.  This is a throw-back to the earlier days of telecom, when executives would have a special glowing button on their desk phones for their dedicated line, and they would give this line’s number out to just a few lucky recipients.

The private line functions as a second in-bound phone number associated with a S4B user account.  With a private line, a user can operate their normal S4B client with their established number, and the same client can also receive inbound calls on a second number.  The calls appear with “Private Line” tags displayed, so the user can see which number is being called.

This is hugely beneficial during the pilot group testing phase of a migration.   The private lines can be enabled by the winning carrier and assigned to pilot group members in the S4B Front End server via PowerShell.  This allows your test population to receive inbound calls and confirm that basic call management features – transfer to voicemail, receive internal, receive external, etc. – are all operational, and that calls perform well.  This small step gives everyone a much greater confidence level going into the cut-over.

If you’d like to know more, here is more information on Private Lines in Skype for Business:

https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/gg412728.aspx

Skype for Business Private Lines

Managing Private Numbers in Skype for Business Server 2015

 

 

 

Keeping the Cloud aloft: buying broadband

Cloudscape by CHRISTOPHER M. LAVERY
Cloudscape by CHRISTOPHER M. LAVERY

Contemporary depictions of the Internet universally include a cloud image, which we fully endorse here at Cloud It Out.  Most often, the cloud is seen floating across a blank background while essential objects – buildings, businesses, mobile devices and dollar signs – orbit around it, joined to the cloud by dynamically curving lines of economy or, in more technical versions, tubes.

Focusing a bit more closely on the Cloud itself, though, a question comes up: what is holding it up?  How does that little Cloud graphic stay up there on its own?

Poetically enough, the virtual Internet cloud borrows from the physics of the actual clouds we see everyday up in the sky.  In the same way that the airborne droplets and water vapors overhead are simply too small and numerous to succumb to gravity, the mature Cloud we utilize today is too diffuse, too redundant and widely distributed to come down.   An essential element of this global architecture is the carrier circuits that carry our data from endpoint to data center and back again.

Your organization needs carrier circuits to function.  Here are a few points to keep in mind when buying broadband:

Need connectivity fast?  In many cases a local Internet Service Provider can deliver affordable, basic Internet access quickly.   For new installations, major, national carriers have lengthy provisioning processes involving subcontracting with both other national carriers and local ISPs.   Frequently, local providers are able to deliver service over existing circuits far more quickly.   There may be a trade-off in terms of performance or availability, but installations can be completed in days versus weeks or even months.

Know your building provider.   Check with your landlord or property management company to find out who has “lit” the building.   In many cases, a major carrier will be the primary capacity provider, with a fiber optic or similar high capacity run installed in the telecom room of a building.  Other carriers will then attach to and resell this service to you when you need a circuit in your offices.

Plan ahead.   Even in these days of high connectivity and instant communications, coordinating multiple technical teams to be on-site on schedule to bring up your broadband can be challenging.  Even though every order begins with a site survey, as an install progresses it is not unusual for an engineer to come on-site and turn around again without completing their segment, due to untagged circuits or even building liability insurance requirements.   As the customer, it is difficult to anticipate exactly what will delay completing your order, but it is good foresight to assume something may.

Love your vendor engineers.  I have rarely met a broadband technician who wouldn’t go the extra mile for our order.  They are typically patient, committed, and knowledgeable about their craft, and when set up for success by their home office, they deliver.  No matter how many frustrations have cropped up in the order process (which they have no control over), greet them warmly, keep them informed, and help them help you, it always pays off.

Know your terms.  When starting a partnership with a new carrier, avoid long term commitments.  Even though the rate will be higher on a one-year versus a three-year term agreement, the new carrier’s performance will be an unknown risk until they have established a track record with your organization.  Skip the headache of breaking out of a lengthy term agreement and pay a bit more up front until fully confident in their ability to deliver.

Buying broadband is complex, this post doesn’t even touch on the technical requirements and how to assess them – that will have to be another post. Hopefully, however, some of these tips are helpful as you plan your connectivity to the Cloud.

This is Cloud IT Out

Cloud IT Out is a place to come for technical tips, stories, insights, and industry perspectives on the latest advances in Cloud-based technologies and how they can help non-profits deliver on their missions.

The Cloud brings a wealth of opportunities to nonprofits, including hosted solutions, simplified infrastructures, and technically sophisticated technologies capable of starting small and affordable and scaling up as needed.

This site is part journal, part blog, and part knowledge library for the many ways that nonprofits can migrate their infrastructure, data, and applications to hosted solutions in the cloud. If your organization or company is looking forward and wondering how to proceed, then welcome to the site and I hope you find these resources useful!

– Matt

Matt Veltkamp

mveltkamp@nimbusnonprofit.com 

Nimbus Nonprofit Solutions