Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Big Data - not just for Big Companies



In the last week, have you made journeys with a switched on mobile phone, posted, liked or uploaded a photo on Facebook? Have you searched the internet? Watched videos on Youtube?

Then you are data, a small part of big data in fact.

Does your company have a website? Does it do any marketing or sales?

Then it’s generating big data, the hundreds or thousands of data points that define any one journey through a website quickly accumulate.

What data exists about your company outside of your firewall, and how this could correlate to your internal business operations? For example product reviews, discussions, web articles… do they discuss concepts that are also contained within your production & CRM systems?

And what can we do with this goldmine of information? Well it’s different for every company, and on first thoughts you may think big data means big budgets and big projects and therefore restricted to big companies, but this really isn’t the case.

To quote the Cambridge Institute of Manufacturing, “If you are an established SME and not thinking about these issues, it's time to jump on the Big Data train, for if you don’t the danger is you’ll be left sitting in the sidings while newer start-ups and bigger players pull out of the station and power ahead.”

Businesses are understanding how they are perceived by their customers, sensing demand in time to fulfil it, tracking performance of their products through sensors and detecting fraud through transaction correlation, whether it’s a vehicle rental company being aware of and addressing a Facebook storm among its customers, an online retailer tracking spikes in sales for unexpected products due to current global events and proactive pushing similar products, or a tractor manufacturer notifying its customers of potential mechanical problems before they happen

It’s a new age of communication we’re living in. Individuals are starting to understand that their thoughts, movements and behaviours are being stored as a collection of ones and zeros. Machines need to get used to being monitored more carefully and maintained before they break down. And of organisations need to understand both the opportunity and responsibility this big data presents. Enjoy responsibly!

Written by Angus Menter, BI Practice Manager, DSCallards

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Case Insensitive Lookups with SSIS

Whilst recently compiling a reasonably complex transformation to bring in some data from an Excel spreadsheet I was left in the situation where I had a some look ups that were failing to resolve due to case sensitivity. This was a failure on my part really as I should have understood from the outset that this could have been the case and I should have factored this in from the start but I didn’t. No problem usually, You can just change the case at the source and and in the look-up component and you’re there. However… In my situation this was not feasible without me throwing myself out of the nearest window and making finger paintings with my own blood in my dying moments. The reason for this is that I had about 50 separate sources which is an onerous task in itself. In addition to this as I was ‘unioning’ all of this data together using the union component and then going through several more complex transformations with additional unions along the way it was getting very messy, The union components do not refresh with new fields when the source changes and so the only way to correct this is to drag new union components on in place of the old ones! This in turn means that all of the adjoining components also need to be refreshed and even talking about it I can feel the end approaching.

Read the full blog here



Written by Conrad Rowlands, Team Leader and Developer, DSCallards 

Happy to do Superficial ...

So…. Sometimes the very simplest of things can take gargantuan efforts to work out and you find out that the detail really is just too much detail.  

Just such a  situation happened with me this week when working on a site I am developing. I needed to implement the sending of an email once a post had been received from an MVC page to indicate that a booking had been made. The mail would be sent both to the establishment where the booking was made as well as a copy being sent to the person making the booking. I elected to use the inbuilt System.Net.Mail class, how hard can it be right?…… Well A damn sight harder than I thought that’s for sure! This week there will be no code sample as code was in this instance not at fault or has no bearing on what was happening. To cut a very long and very boring story short it did not matter what I did I could not get the mail class to send the mail; upon sending, the operation would timeout or the server would disconnect etc etc. It made no sense so I took a step back. I had been utilising my Yahoo account using the smtp.mail.yahoo.com server and of course as this was secure and requires authentication I used port 465. 

So I thought maybe the issue is with Yahoo and I changed to my Google account instead using the smtp.googlemail.com SMTP server again with port 465. Still no dice…..Odd. Much headbanging later and I stumbled across this StackOverflow article which led me on to this blog

Now I’m not going to lie and say that it all makes sense to me. It has at least allowed me to at least find a workaround by in this instance using port 587 on my Google SMTP server. If I sat down and thought about it I’m sure I could understand in finite detail what exactly Explicit SSL is and why the .NET mail client only supports this type of SSL, the point is…. I just don’t want to! I feel like I’ve already wasted enough time dealing with this bug (I’m sorry, Its not a feature its a bug whatever they say and one they seem reticent to fix). 

Normally I’m a man who likes to get the detail, a superficial overview is never normally enough as it leads to design mistakes. However in this instance I now know in enough detail for me that the .NET mail class does not support all SSL SMTP conversations and I’ll continue to bask in my own ignorance.

Written by Conrad Rowlands, Team Leader and Developer, DSCallards 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Supporting PHP in Visual Studio

I was very recently asked to lend my support for maintaining a website we have which is written in PHP. Now normally I’d run straight off to my trusty little 2010 macbook (which, by the way, has NOT degraded in speed in all that time nor does it require constant reboots..do you hear that windows? I digress) and use any one of the free or cheap plethora of tools to help with this task. Personally I tend to use Aptana Studio. Just for once I thought I would try and leverage my normal windows work machine for this task and so I turned straight to Visual Studio. It turns out that there is an add-on for studio made by the guys at Devsense. So using the Visual Studio Extensions and Updates manager I installed the add in called ‘PHP Tools for VS 2013′ (which is on a 30 day trial) and awaiting the amazingness…..

Time passed and true amazingness did not happen and so I decided that I would just get on with my work instead.

I downloaded the source for the website put it onto my machine and then started the process. As the project is an already existing site i needed to run the ‘Project From Existing Code’ menu item available from the File/New menu item. This takes you through a simple wizard and at the end of this process you have a visual studio project with all of your PHP code. Great, so now down to it…. Unfortunately what I did not realise was that this site made use of PEAR extensions, thus everytime i tried to run a page with email capabilities it would just break unable to resolve the necessary libraries.

Click here to read full blog.

Written by Conrad Rowlands, Team Leader and Developer, DSCallards

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Augmented Reality



So, IBeacon…. You may or may not have heard of this technology, Indeed up until a year or so ago I must confess that I had not. These funny little items then ended up on my desk, 3 in all, and I wondered what to do with them. As with most things that cross my desk eating them was an option but they looked pretty inedible so after an interval of some months I instead opted to find out what I was supposed to do with them. So i headed over to the Estimote website who are the manufacturers.

 “Estimote Beacons and Stickers are small wireless sensors that you can attach to any location or object. They broadcast tiny radio signals which your smartphone can receive and interpret, unlocking micro-location and contextual awareness.” Instantly I can imagine that sales and marketing teams are practically wetting themselves at yet another opportunity to push their unwanted wares upon us in yet more insidious ways. I know that the first and every other subsequent app that tries to promote their wares to me in this way will be removed from my life for ever. I do not need any help in spending money. However looking beyond the more obvious tired use case for these beacons and examining the phrase ‘contextual awareness’ raises some real and positive use cases that I as an individual would actually subscribe to. ‘Contextual awareness’ or ‘Augmented Reality’  is the process of providing supplemental information about an environment or area that would further help the user to understand or interact with his/her surroundings; that is, enriching the real world with appropriate digital information ensuring that that ‘viewer’ has access to a fuller understanding of the environment which they find themselves in. So real world examples…. Well mostly people are trying to sell you stuff.. sigh, you know the drill, you walk into a department store and as you approach the perfume department the stores app will sense your proximity (and odour!?!) and will tell you what special offers are available today.

Click here to read the full blog.

Written by Conrad Rowlands, Team Leader and Developer, DSCallards

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Blogging: Lead By Example



“If you want it enough you’ll make time.”

It’s a phrase I use often in meetings or one-to-one  situations when someone is letting me know how they are super busy and can’t fit “it” into their life.  I’m not different I didn’t ring my mum again this week because I was just too busy.

Of course that’s absolutely nonsense. I chose not to ring her for one of many reasons, all utterly plausible and all legit but the one reason that was not plausible or legit was that I didn’t have time. When I was waiting for the pasta to boil, instead of watching half an hour of the x factor, while waiting to pick my daughter up from yet another dancing lesson all time that could have been better used … but I chose not to.

And so it is with writing a blog. In our office there is a notion from the hierarchy that content is king. I am part of that hierarchy and believe that content is king passionately. Why is Google Google because it has content – lots of it and with it they have huge power. On a different level it’s still the same, if you write a good blog and put that content out there in the ether you see how many people read it -  good content eventually finds its way round and for those that it is addressing it’s important!

I work with some prolific blog writers, mainly technical people who use others’ ramblings to help themselves so feel at one writing articles in the hope that they are giving something back into the environment they take from. However out of that techie-to-techie world getting staff to write blogs or content becomes harder. The Sales Team have come up with some excellent ideas of helping others, answering the questions they had when they started, but their second or third blog becomes harder.  The Administration staff struggle with “who’ll read my blog  anyway” syndrome which is strange because when questioned they all accept they read blogs to help them with day-to-day activities.

Then there is management, it becomes a mix of all the above.
They are not technical enough to write technical to technical.
They are too savvy to write the “Beginner’s Sales” or “How To Guide”.
They are not specialist enough to write “The Top 10 Social Media Skills” or “Top 15 One-to-One Questions”.
They wonder who would read their solutions, help, problems, ideas anyway.
And of course … managers don’t have time!

Written by Adrian Handley, Managing Director, DSCallards

Monday, 29 September 2014

Ten Reasons Why I Hate Blogging - Part One

I am not a person who is enveloped by the ubiquity of social media. I am on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but I tend to treat them as ‘read-only’ most of the time, using them to catch up on the latest news when I have the time to do so, but rarely choosing to post anything.

Relevance – this is what I struggle with. I try to think about the reader of my potential output of social media and think – is it relevant for them? Is it appropriate?


More often than not, this perpetual self-analysis and self-deprecation tends to lead to convincing myself not to bother.


Blogging, on the other hand, is a different matter. I understand that this has many important uses – a fountain of knowledge for some, or an aide memoire for another.


But again, the relevance question always comes back to haunt me – does anyone ACTUALLY care what I think?


I am not yet convinced, but if you, like me, are currently being “persuaded” to write more blogs, here are five things that I find difficult which serve as reasons for hating the process:


1.    Starting The Blog

This is always the first stumbling block for me. How should I start? The pressure to engage your audience whilst being witty, intelligent and articulate and at the same time drawing your readers in for the long haul is always the first big obstacle to my blogging.

2.    A Clear Message

 
Those of you who know me, and those of you who have battled through my blog this far, will know that my writing style is somewhat circumlocutionary!  Therefore, finding a clear message which readers can take away, with a warm feeling of being informed and inspired, is not something that comes easily to me. I also often find that this contributes to the first reason why I hate blogging – it’s hard to come up with a charismatic audience-gripping intro when you aren’t sure what you’re going to be talking about!


3.    Losing Momentum

So after getting your readers hooked with an opening paragraph worthy of a Royal Variety performance (see reason 1), the next big problem is keeping that momentum going whilst staying “on message” (see reason 2). I personally find this very hard, not being a natural writer; I tend to proceed by leading the interlocutor on a long and winding ramble into the wilderness of ambiguity, not knowing whether they are coming or going. Much like you are experiencing now, I imagine!

4.    Being Judged

Being naturally self-conscious, I am always concerned with blogs that the three people who do eventually happen upon my less-than-scintillating explosion into the blogosphere will be the ‘Simon Cowells’ of social media. Going through the process is painful enough, but the thought of it being read and slated (privately or publicly) by a ‘Blogging Baron’ is normally the icing on the Blog-hating Belgian Bun.

5.    The Big Finish


So – you’ve made it this far. Knocked them out of the park with your charismatic intro, a message that’s as clear a mud which you’ve stuck to like glue with all the momentum of a concrete elephant (mixed metaphors, anyone?) and dazzled the critics so far.


Now to round it off with a simple, concise yet informative conclusion that will resonate with readers and get tongues wagging around the globe.


I have to say that of the first five items, this is the most difficult for me. Concise is, as you now know, not normally in my vocabulary (why use a sentence when a paragraph will do just as well?) It’s also hard to conclude something without repeating yourself and sounding like you’re just filling up the word count. On top of the fact that most of your readers have probably now got more interest in the advert for Game of Thrones that is now scrolling across the foot of this blog site, it really is very difficult to round things off well.


I hope you (both?) enjoyed reading this little ray of sunshine of mine. If you enjoyed it, then please come back for the second half of this two-part thriller: “10 Reasons Why I Hate Blogging – Part 2” (innovative name).


I hope this too will help to spread the message that blogging is not for everyone!


Written by Sam Massey, DSCallards