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Two Solutions, One Way: Azure Devops Vs. TestRail

Two Solutions, One Way: Azure Devops Vs. TestRail

Humans are creatures of habit and routine, which makes trying new things and breaking the shell of comfort zones a challenge. But being open-minded to new changes and flexible in seeking solutions or improvements is a necessity in an industry that evolves as rapidly as the IT world does today. Before providing visionary solutions to others, sometimes it’s necessary to initiate a change within. That’s why our QA Lead, Andrei, decided to act and speak up, proposing a switch from TestRail to Azure DevOps when the limitations of TestRail and its influence on our efficiency became more evident over time.

What is Azure DevOps and TestRail?

Azure DevOps and TestRail are tools with modules that help organize the QA testing process. Azure DevOps is a service for teams to share code, track work, and ship software. It provides a flexible, extensible and feature-rich platform for continuous integration, agile planning, and continuous delivery to cover the full development life-cycle. In relation to QA testing, it integrates a fancy module named Test Plan that provides all the tools needed to successfully create and run tests.

On the other hand, TestRail is an efficient tool designed for QA and development teams to manage, track and organize their software testing effort. It’s an intuitive web-based user interface that is incredibly user-friendly and easy to use, making the creation of QA documentation a breeze. With that said, we have a clear winner regarding QA processes… or not.

The limitations of TestRail

Although our experience and history with TestRail has been very pleasant, we encountered a few limitations that needed to be addressed sooner rather than later. One major issue was finding a balanced and efficient manner to write both manual test cases and test scripts for automation. And more importantly, to easily and quickly link manual test cases and automated tests. This fed into the bigger problem of time allocation – an issue tackled frequently in our QA meetings – as allocating the right amount of time to maintain this balance was a complication we wanted to improve on.

Thus, the journey to research and find a new tool began. The goal was to find a tool that was both suitable for our needs and could overcome the limitations of TestRail.

An unexpected challenge: overcoming the resistance to something new

It was an admittedly short research journey spanning only a couple of days, partially because of the trust placed in Microsoft services. Azure DevOps offered what we were looking for: a new test management tool. It also provided a wide range of functionalities from storing meeting resolutions and delivery models in Wiki, to managing tasks in Board. As a new tool, Azure DevOps initially felt unfamiliar and a bit difficult to use. Things got easier after trying it out a few times, and our QA Lead was convinced that it would bring about efficiency and improvements to our processes moving forward. The problem: Andrei was the only one.

One of the biggest challenges was convincing fellow colleagues that Azure DevOps was more suitable for us than TestRail. Despite attempts to approach and persuade colleagues, many remained hesitant and doubtful. We decided to adopt a different approach and mindset: Let’s give it a try for a few projects and introduce it to our QA Internship program. We’ve now experienced Azure DevOps in several internal workshops and use it as a main test management tool in our Internship program – with very good results. It’s now the main tool we use for deployment, backlog management, and test management in the Carflow project.

Making the transition to Azure DevOps

A change of this magnitude for any QA department cannot overlook the importance of having a back-up plan. In this particular case, the risks lay in the Azure Test Plan being too rigid, lacking in user-friendliness, and decreasing rather than boosting our productivity in the long term. This worst-case scenario was almost realized in the first weeks as many continued to struggle with importing their old test cases from TestRail to Azure DevOps. On the verge of returning to TestRail, we decided to kick in our back-up plan and use Azure DevOps for one functionality: linking manual test cases and automated tests.

Things progressed smoothly from there, as Visual Studio’s connection with the server made linking manual test cases and automated tests exceedingly easy and efficient. As a result, we can now run an entire automated test suite from Visual Studio and report bugs directly from Visual Studio. With these improvements, we’ve reached the next step in automating our processes.

The positive outcomes don’t end there, as we’ve also experienced increased transparency for our manual test cases. With TestRail, a special account only accessible by the QA department was required to gain QA documentation. This lack of transparency made acquiring documented QA practices difficult and time-consuming. With Azure DevOps, every member of the team can view, run, or raise an issue (if that’s the case) with our QA documentation.

Azure DevOps
+ flexible and extensible, provides integration with most leading CI/CD tools and third-party services across the entire DevOps workflow
+ reliable, scalable, and globally available
+ mature, feature-rich platform with a wide range of functionalities to cover the full development life-cycle
+ easy to link manual test cases and automated tests with Visual Studio
+ increased transparency as the whole team can view QA documentation
– doesn’t surpass TestRail in terms of intuitiveness, user-friendliness, or ease of use

+ intuitive web-based user interface is seamless, user-friendly, and easy to use
+ tool designed for QA and development teams
+ efficient tool to manage, track and organize software testing efforts
– difficult to link manual test cases and automated tests
– limited transparency as only the QA department has access to documentation

Final thoughts

We’re still riding a wave of discovery with Azure DevOps. At times, we can’t help feeling nostalgia for TestRail’s intuitiveness when things seem less straightforward with the new tool. TestRail remains a favorite amongst colleagues today due to its user-friendliness, ease of use, and its specific design for QA and development testers. Although we continue to use both tools, the advantages of Azure DevOps are now widely acknowledged and implemented by our team.

All in all, it was a valuable learning experience with an excellent outcome. Our team benefits from Azure DevOps functionalities mostly in terms of delivery, task management, code source, and automated tests. As QA members of the Carflow ecosystem, it was particularly important to fill in the need to balance manual and automated testing. And it did.

For Andrei personally, it was an experience met with enthusiasm and responsibility. It made him realize that the concept of cross-pollination is real and should always take place in our department. Individual ideas do not need to be accepted all the time, but going “against the current” to suggest new approaches and remaining flexible as a team is how we’ll continue to improve, making our work (and subsequently our clients’) more efficient.

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Understanding the Value of a Product Owner

Understanding the Value of a Product Owner

How crucial is a Product Owner to an organization?

They can determine the success or failure of a business project. More precisely, they build the business case ensuring that the solution agreed upon with the customer stays aligned with the product roadmap and business goals. Yet, having a clear understanding of this position and its impact is riddled with misunderstandings. So let’s dig deeper to clarify these 3 points:

  • the key duties of this role
  • the importance of selecting the appropriate tools
  • indicators for measuring a PO’s success

Key duties of this role

First, let’s define this position. A product owner is a leadership position within the product development, management, and marketing sphere. Simply put, he or she is in charge of a product. From concept to launch, this person works with the product development teams throughout the lifecycle of the product, even tracking its market performance.

POs assume a wide range of responsibilities, at-large representing the needs and desires of the customer and other internal organizational stakeholders or end-users to the rest of the Agile team.

Such a role requires experience and judgment to pull together all the stakeholders’ voices into a single, coherent message for the development team to follow.

Our PO, Vlad, provides valuable insight regarding the 8 main responsibilities of this position that narrows down to:

  • identifying the customer’s pain points and needs which are defined as a story that is then translated to the team
  • prioritizing the user stories from the backlog so that the team knows which stories to work on during the Scrum sprint
  • managing product backlogs, sprints, and iterations
  • ensuring quality control at each step of the delivery
  • conveying and prioritizing the requirements or features of the product to the dev team
  • mediating the technical part, the software, and development with the team and the stakeholders
  • maintaining transparency and good communication with all the parties involved
  • helping the product progress, maximizing the value for the users and the business

The importance of selecting the appropriate tools for the right outcomes

POs are responsible for a myriad of tasks, yet it is crucial that they select the right tools for the efficiency of the whole process. This way, they can determine how time, cost-efficient, and successful the work will be conducted. And at Expert Network, we constantly test and revise which tools can ease and improve our work. Depending on our needs, we will mention a couple of them, that we have grouped as follows:

1. For planning and creating the product’s roadmap is the perfect, simple solution for a product or release roadmap. It helps us stay organized with everything in one place and it’s easy to invite clients and teams to collaborate on our gantt chart or project plan.

We also use mainstream programs like Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets because they fulfill our requirements just as well and successfully.

2. For monitoring the project assists us in analyzing traffic data (heat maps, recordings, polls, form analysis). It’s safe, intuitive and it’s a great way to keep in touch with different teams – marketing, delivery, UIUX support – to understand how the project can be improved. is a very good, accessible tool for a/b testing. It is an online survey that allows us to discover trends or what to change to improve a product.

Google Analytics or Google Search Console allows us to check indexing status, monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot a product’s presence, to optimize visibility on its website.

For tracking and improving Code Quality and Security in our applications, we constantly use

3. For a visual representation of our delivery process and are excellent applications that help us better communicate with our stakeholders from the dev team to sales and support, keeping everyone informed and updated. They offer visual representation like diagrams, system overview, flows, etc.

But regardless of what anyone chooses, just as important is to keep all parties engaged and informed of them. By directing stakeholders to use these tools as well, we maximize the benefits and smoothly reach the desired goals.

Indicators for measuring a PO’s successful implementation

A good product owner has to demonstrate various qualities to be able to manage the diverse aspects of the job. And how he or she can measure the performance and success of the product will be decisive for their role.

But how can they measure performance?

It all narrows down to the business, the vision, the mission, the strategy, and their understanding of the product. And the first step is to clarify all of these directions, making sure they are quantifiable, easy to measure, and ultimately, actionable. At Expert Network, for instance, we’ve adopted a system for high-performance software delivery. In broad terms, we focus on:

  • Deployment frequency
  • Lead time for changes
  • Time to restore service
  • The change failure rate

By monitoring and measuring them, we obtain indicators that determine how well we are performing, to continuously learn and improve. Furthermore, our PO considers certain KPIs which are largely dependent on the type of product and the user we’re trying to reach. KPIs can be related to the product itself, the agile team, the delivery, end-users, etc. But to offer some clarity, we’ll list some examples that guide us:

  • Is the backlog groomed enough to ensure sufficient stories for 2–3 sprints in the future?
  • Are the stories specific and testable?
  • Is the backlog a reflection of real business needs?
  • Did we increase the value of the product?
  • Did we improve ROI?
  • Is the PO highly reachable for the team?

Vlad points out that with the right system in place, it is easier and more efficient to focus and measure the following:

The solution created. If it adds value to the customer, stays in line with the vision for the product, and the end-users are satisfied, the standard has been reached.

On-time delivery. When they correctly prioritize the customer’s requests, using the appropriate tools, it ensures they keep to their schedule.

Maintaining good customer relationships and communication. As PO, he is responsible for constantly being aligned with the customer’s needs and vision. He makes sure that the Product Backlog is visible, transparent, and clear to all, and shows what the Scrum Team will work on next.

Team commitment to delivering value.This is demonstrated when the team takes action and adjusts their behaviors based on feedback and new learnings. It is how, at Expert Network, we keep our standards and the agreed-upon level of delivery.

All things considered, POs have an important role because they manage the stakeholder’s needs and are the sole ambassadors of the agile team to the stakeholder. They can impact all aspects of a business, so they need to be visionary and focus on actions that matter. Without a proper product vision for a business, it becomes difficult to determine if they’ll be moving in the right direction with the project or start bleeding money.

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Why Is Iasi Viewed as the Silicon Valley of Europe

Why Is Iasi Viewed as the Silicon Valley of Europe

When we think about Silicon Valley, we envision an ecosystem that boosted the modern economy with new, nimble corporations that achieved massive wealth and brought forward innovation. Major businesses like Apple, Google, Amazon, Adobe, and many more tech giants established their headquarters and operated from Silicon Valley bringing forward tech advancement and new possibilities.

What made it all achievable?

It became possible because of the young, daring, brilliant minds as well as the partnerships, the right environment, and financial support for such progress.

So how can Iasi be considered the Silicon Valley of Europe?

In fact, if we analyze some fair reasons, it will make all the sense in the world. That is why, the blog post will explain all the hype that surrounds Iasi, providing examples, and details for its consistent growth and point of interest.

1. Iasi viewed as the hidden gem with huge potential

When Frederic Apers, at that time CEO of the Wildstream Group, first came to Iasi in 2008 for a CodeCamp presentation, he was pleasantly surprised by the city. His keen eye for business and development spotted the pool of possibilities the city has. Additionally, in May 2015, Frederic held a presentation at CodeCamp that was entitled ‘Can Iasi be the next Silicon Valley?’, which was an ideology Expert Network supported as we were looking forward to our long-term investments in the area.

First of all, Iasi is a university city and one of the most important education and research centers of the country as well as the place of the first engineering school in Romania. This means that it provides education and skills, fostering culture, and building community relationships. With eight major universities specialized in various fields like IT, Engineering, Science, Medicine, and more, the city brings forward an increasing network of talented graduates interested in starting a career.

This brings us to the next key element which is the positive impact on business development and growth.

2. Iasi is becoming the first choice of business for well-established organisations

According to “Romania’s IT industry ranks first among the most profitable investment for local US companies.” And the main reason is our rapid ability to see business opportunities and act accordingly providing added value. Big-league companies like Continental, Amazon, Accenture, etc. have their offices in Iasi. And one reason is that Iasi is an emerging hub for software development, with the benefit of being one of the largest cities in Romania.

Another explanation for the increasing interest in Iasi is the affordable infrastructure when it comes to investment in construction – for building offices – or providing team benefits. This is because everything is cheaper here while the quality stays the same.

3. The city’s development and upgrade

Iasi has changed significantly over the past five years. It has modernized key institutions like the airport, making it easier for international travels. It has constructed Palas Iasi, a commercial area, considered by many a “city in the heart of the city”, that integrates complex segments for retail, hotels, A-class offices, underground parking lots, and many more.

Another differentiating benefit is our good internet infrastructure. It has prospered along with the developers, who, for instance, leveraged the network to offer high-quality outsourcing services. All these advancements stand as proof that the local authorities, investors, and community are competent to implement, work, and complete grand projects.

4. Iasi considered a valuable tech hub in Europe

According to fDi Magazine, the city ranks second in the top 20 fastest-growing tech hubs in Europe by a year-on-year increase of attendees to tech-related Meetup events per city. And aside from this, a new trend has surfaced where more and more companies here are investing in the local value.

For instance, at Expert Network, we devote ourselves to the community by shaping the tech environment through our own business model, projects, and direct engagement. To be more precise, we collaborate with tech universities and participate in events like FII Practic, FII ITst, or Jobshop. Additionally, we take part in conferences like CodeCamp organizing our annual conference, TechDays and since 2015 we hold internship programs on ASP.NET and QA. Our approach is directed towards mentoring, guiding, and equipping the young, talented minds with opportunities to grow and better themselves among professionals.

Furthermore, Iasi has known an increase in start-ups in the past years, as the focus has been put on creating qualitative, authentic, and long-lasting businesses. It has become possible through networking, and collaborations among like-minded people as well as through the interest investors have shown making it possible to create strong partnerships.

All things considered, it is undoubtedly that the city is steadily developing, showing great potential for foreign investments. And even if comparing it to Silicon Valley might be an overstatement, it is clear that Iasi has become a magnet for young, smart talent, reaching new heights.

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Advance Your Business to the Next Level with Cloud Computing

Advance Your Business to the Next Level with Cloud Computing

There are a lot of questions you’ve probably heard or even asked yourself regarding the cloud.
What is it? What provider to trust? Is it really necessary?

In this blog post, we’ll tackle these questions along with other aspects like the top cloud platforms and how at Expert Network, we’ve come to master the cloud services provided, contributing with innovating solutions for our clients.

Understanding the cloud

The term “cloud computing” can be traced back to 2006 when companies like Google and Amazon began spreading it to express a new way to access software, computer power, and documents over the Web instead of their desktops. Simply view the cloud as a metaphor for the internet, where you just rent what you need.

From a business standpoint, imagine that the headache of having to own your data center and company infrastructure is all in the past. Basically, an organization can rent the processing power, applications, intelligence, networking and storage they require from their cloud service provider.

Just as important is being aware of the three main types of computing, depending on the degree of control you need over your information and the services required:

  1. Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) – an organization signs up to an application it has access to, over the Internet. Basically, it hosts the infrastructure components traditionally present in an on-premises data center, including storage, servers, and networking hardware.
  2. Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) – a business is able to develop its own custom applications for use by everyone in the organization.
  3. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) – where names like Amazon, Google, Microsoft offer a backbone that can be accessed by other companies. It is the most popular as well.

The most popular cloud platforms

We have over 15 years of experience, a period in which we’ve gained extensive knowledge in using cloud services and implementing high-tech services. As a result, we earned the highest standards of Microsoft’s widely-recognized partnership program, becoming Microsoft Partners – Gold Cloud Platform and Application Development.
Based on our expertise, we have selected two trustworthy providers that we have been working with a lot: AWS and Azure.

AWS – Amazon Web Services
It is a global platform with over 1 million active users in 190 countries. It is a top choice for many organizations because of the variety of services it includes and because it has proved to be a reliable vendor over the years.
Microsoft Azure
Word wide, around 90% of Fortune 500 companies are using Azure to run their business. It is a top choice because it supports a wide range of programming languages, databases, operating systems, frameworks, and devices, enabling companies to benefit from tools and technologies they trust.

Five Benefits of a cloud

Reduced costs without investments in physical hardware
Because you can avoid purchasing hardware like storage, backup software programs, switch, hypervisor, and more, you cut on costs. Both vendors allow customers to use resources, networking, and security solutions without infrastructure costs or high initial investments.
Additionally, AWS enables you to spin-up new servers within a few minutes without needing to buy separate licenses for many operating systems and software. And Azure includes the pay-as-you-go model where you pay for what you use to build or expand resources using their services.

Security of your data and processes
Both platforms ensure maximum security to their clients as they use the latest technologies and tools to protect business data and systems. For example, AWS allows you to automate manual security tasks and Azure is the most trusted cloud platform by U.S. government institutions.

Server stability
Ensuring an entire stable environment while using cloud computing is essential. AWS has had two or three outages and were only region-specific. As for duration, they haven’t been longer than 2-3 hrs. So they provide a stable system. Azure is also constant, assuring steady event-driven applications with a microservices-friendly approach using Functions.

Intelligence and Analytics for business solutions
With AWS, you get to choose from the broadest and deepest set of services that match your business needs. From pre-trained AI services to fully-managed, comprehensive machine learning solutions.

Azure and AWS, are both platforms that offer Blockchain as a Service (BaaS), Bots, Machine Learning, and Cognitive APIs capabilities.

The power of scalability
This is a key feature of cloud computing. During traffic peaks or fast increase/decrease in computing resources, the cloud manages the capacity of your environment automatically. AWS provides a deployment service – Elastic Beanstalk – that creates a scalable environment in just 5 minutes. Also, Azure service allows you to auto-scale according to the demands of the application usage.

Expert Network’s experience

Being experts in coding and developing digital products for our clients, coming up with cloud solutions is a key ability we have developed over the years. That is why the platforms and services we use must be the safest, the most reliable, and stable out there.

Ever since we signed with Azure and AWS, we have benefited a lot from cost savings because we simply use the resources we need, as opposed to the on-premise setup where you own the hardware and the software.

For example, for our Carflow and Workero teams, the cost of hosting have been reduced as the cloud services cover these needs while we have the freedom to integrate and automate the release processes.

Another plus for using the cloud has been security. When we use these platforms, the ISO standards for security are implemented by the providers and we adapt the settings according to our requirements. In fifteen years, we have never faced any serious security issues.

Scalability has considerably improved our work. There are certain periods of time when the traffic intensifies exponentially, so in these instances, we need greater processing power without the need for someone to monitor and control scaling up or down. During one of our projects, we were able to automate the settings in our cloud infrastructure to take care of the issue without needing a person’s assistance. It has saved us a lot of time and it made our delivery more efficient.

For instance, Workero, the highly interactive digital platform developed by us, provides business owners the opportunity to open up their unused office to a community of freelancers, startups, and traveling employees. As you can imagine, there is a lot of interaction going on as individuals connect to exchange ideas, rent and book office spaces, subscribe to events, share news, and catch-up with updates in the technology field.

All of these processes depend on scaling up or down based on the online demand. And by using the AWS platform, all the traffic and processes have been smoothly working, enabling us to provide cutting edge solutions for our clients’ needs.

Last but not least, we love the feature related to machine learning and analytics. They are installed by default in the cloud service and the great advantage we and our customers have enjoyed, has been that they provide a clear analysis of how a product or app performs over a period of time.

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How Voice Ordering Is Reshaping the Hospitality Industry

How Voice Ordering Is Reshaping the Hospitality Industry

Over the last couple of years, technology adoption has increased considerably. Nowadays, there is almost no field that hasn’t witnessed the benefits of using computers and automation to improve the quality and efficiency of services.

Modern technology has allowed us to develop resourceful tools, putting useful information at hand. In most domains, more and more traditional business models are giving way to those empowered by a digital, connected world. And the food service industry (HORECA) makes no exception. To attract and retain customers in this area, keeping up-to-date with digital innovation has never been more important.

Voice-ordering in the food service industry

According to the 2019 PYMNTS Retail Innovation Readiness Index, 80% of food services providers believe that technical innovations are a competitive advantage. Therefore, interactive smart tables, virtual bars, voice-ordering and robot servers are quickly becoming the new norm in restaurants.

Alexa in practice: Place orders through voice commands

Initially, Expert Network developed Growzer platform to allow hospitality business owners to manage their day-to-day operations, from stock management to placing orders and managing the food cost.

The natural next step was to think about ways of improving the platform. One option was to integrate it with a voice assistant platform such as Amazon’s Alexa. Why? Because of advantages like:

  • The speech-to-text technology behind Alexa is allowing the food industry to simplify and streamline the shopping process, reducing the amount of time needed to place (check or deliver) an order, thus increasing efficiency;
  • Placing an order using voice is much more convenient – you can order food or supplies while doing other activities, including driving or cooking. Moreover, it allows multicultural employees, who are not proficient in writing in a certain language (usually English), to order easily and avoid misunderstandings. For instance, in Belgium, there were 41% of Flemish hospitality employees with a foreign background in 2017. And the number continues to grow. The percentage of the share is also much higher than the average percentage of foreign background employees across all sectors, which is 17%;
  • Using voice assistants result in higher customer satisfaction and allows restaurants to save costs by reducing the time and money spent on taking phone orders;
  • Machine learning is improving the experience – since voice ordering systems are based on artificial intelligence, they are able to learn from their interactions with customers without having to be explicitly programmed. This means that each time you use Alexa to place an order, the conversation will be more accurate than the last.

Although it’s still in its early stages, voice ordering or voice commerce is definitely here to stay. The food industry seems to be among the first adopters of this technology, but voice commands using Alexa can have a great impact on many other domains.

The supply of voice-enabled businesses is still quite low, but the demand is skyrocketing. This is the moment to start exploring solutions if you want to get ahead of the game.

Want to join the voice commerce revolution? Want to learn more about the integration with Alexa’s voice capabilities and take the first step to help your business thrive in the voice economy? We would love to help you.

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What Should Businesses Consider Before Adopting Blockchain

How Voice Ordering Is Reshaping the Hospitality Industry

For some time now, blockchain has been revolutionizing the way we see banking, fintech, digital identity, supply chain management and even the healthcare system. An IBM study which surveyed more than three thousand executives has revealed that at least 80% of respondents are actively using or planning to integrate blockchain technology into their businesses.

Although there still are a lot of companies that continue to rely on traditional, central databases to generate revenue, this technology has gained considerable ground in the last 3-5 years. Moreover, according to Gartner, blockchain is expected to generate an annual business value of more than USD 3 trillion by 2030. The same report shows that 82% of reported blockchain use cases were registered in the financial sector in 2017, yet, the percentage dropped to 46% in 2018.

Nevertheless, more recent statistics indicate that financial services are still considered to be the current and near-term future leader of blockchain, with high potential also seen in industrial products, energy and utilities as well as healthcare.

What is blockchain?

Blockchain has made its public debut in 2008 when Satoshi Nakamoto, whose real identity is still under discussion, released the whitepaper Bitcoin: A Peer to Peer Electronic Cash System. However, the first work on a cryptographically secured chain of blocks was described in 1991 by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta, two researchers who wanted to implement a system where document timestamps could not be tampered with.

Blockchain is a distributed and public ledger used to record transactions across many computers. Simply put, it is a decentralized saving data structure. The details of the transactions cannot be altered retroactively, without tampering all subsequent records, which actually makes the modification of data really difficult. Even though this is not exactly impossible, so far blockchain has proved to be more secure than other technologies.

Some researchers consider that the way blockchain is used is similar to the internet and that is why they have called it “the internet 3.0”. The technology can be used to develop blockchain applications, including social networks, messengers, games, exchanges, storage platforms, voting systems, prediction markets, online shops and many other.

Main characteristics of the blockchain technology

A blockchain network has a series of characteristics that make it so popular among business owners.

  • Decentralized – it is not owned or controlled by a single entity. Each of the blocks of data is secured and bound to each other using cryptographic principles. All parties involved have a copy of the ledger;
  • Immutable – even though everyone has access to the ledger, no one can tamper with the data that is inside the blockchain;
  • Enhanced security – apart from not being a centralized system, the use of cryptography is another thing that adds an extra protection layer. Every information on the blockchain is hashed cryptographically, which means the information on the network hides the true nature of the data. For this process, any input data gets through a mathematical algorithm that produces a different kind of value, but the length is always fixed;
  • Anonymity – since blockchain transactions are represented as a sequence of numbers, nobody can tell who they belong to;
  • Consensus – a transaction is accepted and recorded on the blockchain as long as all the participants agree to follow the same rules. A transaction will be considered invalid if it violates one of the rules the network agreed upon.

4 aspects businesses should reflect on before adopting blockchain

The blockchain is clearly a great innovation and companies are really hyped about using this technology to enhance their businesses. Blockchain can be used to improve efficiency, secure processes and cut costs by removing unnecessary middlemen. But there are certain aspects that should be considered before jumping in the blockchain bandwagon.

Firstly, before investing in blockchain technology, companies should perform a strategic evaluation of their business model and business needs to see if this is really a good fit. If your company has dependencies on a third-party that sometimes is more of a hassle, blockchain might really help. Of course, this will also depend on the business type and on the area where it is to be implemented.

Yet, in some cases, the challenges a company faces can be solved in other ways that do not involve blockchain, including by reworking several legacy-based solutions.

Secondly, once a decision to go with blockchain has been made, companies need to prepare and follow a strategy that will allow them to leverage the maximum benefits of blockchain technology. Defining a strategy also includes deciding whether to use a public blockchain (where anyone can join and be a part of the network) or a permissioned blockchain (where all those who want to become part of the network must be assessed by the current participants). If your company is not quite ready to handle large amounts of transactions and data, then a permissioned blockchain might be the best approach.

Thirdly, the cost is a significant aspect that has a great impact during the decision-making process. Mainframe, storage and energy costs are the top three things that need to be considered. Energy costs may rise substantially as the transaction volume increases.

Lastly, the effect these changes will have on employees and customers is also an important factor. According to a Juniper Research survey, 35% of companies think that blockchain integration will cause disruption to their internal operations, while 51% feel it will cause a “significant disruption” to their partners and customers. Just think about Bitcoin and the impact it had on people and on the Fintech industry.

Needless to say, blockchain technology has the potential to reshape the existing models. Companies that want to integrate it into their operations need to understand how it works and, more importantly, if it really works for their company.

If you’re a business owner looking to know more about blockchain and whether or not to implement it into your company, get in touch with us and we can help you see how it can benefit your business. We at Expert Network believe that, with the right guidance and the proper tools, any idea can be turned into a successful solution. Your vision, coupled with our extensive knowledge in business areas such as automotive, HORECA, retail & services, all supported by a revolutionary technology such as blockchain, can be the key towards a powerful product.

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Machine Learning and the Way Your Business Can Benefit from It

Machine Learning and the Way Your Business Can Benefit from It

Nowadays technologies are definitely changing the whole business context, as Internet did decades ago. Part of these, machine learning has a tremendous impact on the way companies use data, offering them new analytics opportunities, no matter of size or field.

And this is not just a passing wave, it’s actually the future starting to happen now. So, the way every organization, big or small, will learn to ride on the new, rising wave, will be a key factor of their future success or, probably, of their existence itself.

That’s why it’s essential to understand what machine learning has to offer and how businesses of all shapes and sizes can use it to stay competitive and attain tangible value.

AI and ML: Some conceptual clarifications

As artificial intelligence and machine learning are becoming mainstream conversation, the usage of specific terms can be confusing. The two buzzy words do not stand for the same thing, but they are connected.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science, focused on creating intelligent machines able to perform human-like tasks (learn, process natural language, plan, predict, solve problems).

On the other hand, machine learning (ML) is actually a core part of AI, a technique based on creating algorithms that enables the machine to process large volumes of information, find patterns and draw conclusions, also continuously updating outputs as new data becomes available.

In the data-driven era, machine learning can bring immense economic opportunities, providing many specific benefits, no matter the industry.

ML in practice: How Expert Network used it to predict sales and increase turnover

When it comes to using machine learning to it’s best, one very interesting and challenging project for our dev team came from the biggest photo studio network in Europe. The company faced a very irritating problem: how to have an accurate financial plan and reduce management frictions, as every member of the board had their own perspective towards the future and their own predictions.

Developing a custom financial plan with ML help
The main objective was to find and develop an intelligent solution to predict how many photo shooting appointments the company will have in the next financial year. In order to predict future appointments, relevant past data was used as an input. But the records consisted of thousands of items which would have been very hard, nearly impossible, for a person to aggregate into a solution. The option: to use the powerful learning algorithms of Microsoft Azure Machine Learning Studio to process all the numbers and make the needed deductions. After grouping the information with k-means clustering, linear regression algorithm was used to make a prediction for each day of a given month and for every type of appointment. In the end, data regarding prices was added for a complete image of future sales.
Using the ML ability to learn and by continuously updating the data, the Expert Network financial plan could state highly accurate predictions for every future financial year.

The complementary real time marketing tool
Having a custom-made tool to predict sales was a big deal, but determining, in advance, if the financial plan would be reached looked even better. Therefore, a real time marketing tool was developed to disclose how many appointments should have already been booked at a specific moment, in order to reach the planned appointments. The new, complementary solution proved to be extremely important and helpful as the company was able to take measures to correct the deviations from the predicted plan before they happen.

The impact
These machine learning-based solutions enabled the company to use its database to the fullest, transforming figures into predictive and advanced analytics for better business decisions and better results. Expert Network’s financial prediction tool offered a more accurate perspective of the future and reduced frictions on management level. Accordingly, managers could better understand the dynamics of the business and make adequate decisions that translated into operational efficiency and higher level of revenue. The real marketing tool decreased the gap towards the monthly plans, increasing the number of appointments, as well as the total turnover with around 10%-15%.

More ways ML can help businesses

In addition to making better business decisions based on better analytics, machine learning yields even more benefits. We’ve summed up some of them.

Improving customer experience
Machine learning comes with the possibility to personalize experiences, customizing products and services according to the needs. Using vast amount of data, intelligent systems can find trends and make predictions of what customers will wish for next. Also, chatbots and virtual assistants can be successfully employed to provide more informed, convenient and more personal customer interactions.

Taking marketing and sales to the next level
No more intuition-based decisions when it comes to sales. ML-powered models can optimize sales by taking over mundane tasks (sorting leads, monitoring orders, communicating with customers), pinpointing meaningful correlations or automatically adjusting prices to all relevant context conditions. For marketing, ML means creating and delivering highly personalized ads in terms of content, placement and audience. Additionally, the continuous process of gathering data is helping companies benefit from predictive marketing, anticipating needs and making customers more receptive to their marketing campaigns.

Solving security issues
Implementing effective cybersecurity measures powered by ML keeps companies safe from losing sensitive information or having interruptions of the business processes as a result of cyberattacks. Likewise, by identifying patterns in large volumes of performing transactions, ML has an important role in detecting and preventing fraud.

Revolutionizing Human Resources
With ML, businesses can manage a diversity of information on a big scale, have access to relevant insights, analytics and prognosis regarding recruiting needs, career development, staff productivity, training requirements. ML and AI can also assist recruiters in finding the right person for the right job.

The Expert Network use cases are just some examples of how machine learning can drive better results for companies. However, it’s potential is absolutely remarkable. ML opportunities exist in every sector and every core part of any business, being able to improve efficiencies, productivity and profitability.

Every company should explore and test the new opportunities and embed these advanced technologies into their operational environment. Because ML is here to stay and to bring business value.

Interested in making a business upgrade using ML technologies? Let us know your problem and we will let you know our meaningful solution.

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