DevFacto Recognized as a Top Nintex Partner for Customer Success

DevFacto is proud to announce that we have been shortlisted as a finalist for the 2020 Nintex Partner Awards in the category of Customer Success.

This nomination is a true reflection of the value that DecvFacto has been able to deliver to its clients across Canada and around the world. In partnership with Nintex, we look forward to continuing to help organizations of all sizes, in every industry, improve the automation of business processes.

Winners will be announced on July 14th, 2020.

Learn more about why we love working with Nintex.

About Nintex

Nintex is the global standard for process management and automation. Today more than 8,000 public and private sector clients across 90 countries turn to the Nintex Platform to accelerate progress on their digital transformation journeys by quickly and easily managing, automating and optimising business processes. Learn more by visiting www.nintex.com and experience how Nintex and its global partner network are shaping the future of Intelligent Process Automation (IPA)

Boost Productivity with IoT Smart Buttons and Power Automate

Enterprises today look to new ways to automate and extend their business processes. Many find great success with using Power Automate (formerly Microsoft Flow) or by leveraging a collection of apps and services in the Power Platform and Office 365.

IoT platforms are slowly becoming a part of this frontier. As companies look to scale their operations, the increasingly look to IoT for modern solutions.

Although IoT systems are still relatively new and often riddled with technological challenges such as connectivity, security and longevity, there are devices available on the market that can help enterprises carry-out a wide range of actions in just a few easy steps.

Smart buttons are one of those relatively low-cost and programmable IoT devices that can be set-up in 5 minutes! These buttons typically offer three events: single push, double push and hold. Each event can perform multiple actions such as running a Power Automate workflow.

I’ve been chasing these small IoT devices since 2017 and in that time I’ve explored a number of options made by various brands. There is a good selection of brands that make smart buttons including Flic, goButton, AWS IoT Button and others. Out of all of these, Flic certainly stands out by offering a Power Automate (Flow) integration. Their buttons are easy to use and I’m impressed by how quickly they can be hooked-up to a Flow action.

Set up smart buttons with Power Automate actions

Setting up a Flic button is self explanatory: just buy one, install Flic App on your mobile phone, create an account and follow the steps below to assign a Microsoft Flow trigger to your button.

Flic smart button

Select your button to setup actions

My Flic Power Automate Trigger

Select the desired event

Smart Button - add flow to your event

Add Flow to your event

As your final step, you will create a flow to respond to your preferred event. Flic’s trigger action, “When a Flic is Pressed”, links button with a desired action and triggers the workflow:

When a Flic is pressed action

What are the uses for smart buttons?

Easy enough? Let’s delve into some possible scenarios for using these little IoT devices in enterprises:

Replenish and re-order

Assign a serial number for a consumable product or a spare part to each button and place an order with a single click.

Send emergency alerts

Place buttons in various locations around the worksite and notify others of an emergency with a push of a button.

Book a meeting room

Place a button in a meeting room and automatically create a Microsoft Teams meeting with a push of a button.

Track employee happiness or customer satisfaction

Monitor sentiments around the office by placing two buttons in a single location to track happy/sad faces.

There are many more ways these IoT switches can bring functional intelligence to enterprises. Is your company considering adding smart buttons? I’d like to hear your thoughts on how these devices can bring value to your organization.

 

From Document Management to Knowledge Management: How AI is Changing the SharePoint Landscape

Towards the end of 2019, Microsoft announced it’s first new service since the launch of Microsoft Teams: Project Cortex. This new initiative has the potential of becoming a game-changer in how we contextualize corporate content. Most notably, Project Cortex focuses on creating Knowledge Networks that will help organizations enable true Knowledge Management across the enterprise.

Now, if all of that sounds like a whole lot of buzzwords, you’re not alone. In this article, I’ll explain how AI (Artificial Intelligence) will soon help us turn corporate information into knowledge and what you can do to prepare.

From Data Management to Information Management in SharePoint

Before we dive into the subject of AI in SharePoint, let’s take a moment to appreciate how far SharePoint adoption has evolved.

It wasn’t that long ago when we were all over Document Management. Back in those early SharePoint days, organizations saw the potential to use the Microsoft-powered technology as a considerably improved file share replacement. Full of anticipation, they created document libraries, added folder structures and uploaded their corporate documents from other platforms (for instance, Lotus Notes) to SharePoint. For some, this approach paid off because SharePoint Search was powerful enough to index documents and search based on keywords.

Others soon realized that the real power of SharePoint lies elsewhere. Once they went beyond simple keyword search and explored the metadata, classifications and information architecture, they often found that they were able to achieve much more than just managing documents. They started to manage information.

That’s how we arrived at Information Management: the next logical step after tackling Document Management. Where Document Management concentrates on the administration of documents in an enterprise, Information Management goes far beyond that. It covers not just documents, but news, articles, announcements, as well as items in a knowledge base and data records. You can look at Information Management as a kind of umbrella item that includes Document Management.

What information management looks like in practice

Today, when an organization publishes an article or an announcement, it usually does so by publishing a new modern page in SharePoint rather than a document. As the article or announcement is based on a modern page, it uses a specific Content Type (for example, Corporate News) and metadata to tag content.

Here is an example. The metadata used to tag a news article announcing the hire of a new HR Director could look like this:

  • Audience: All staff
  • Type of Content: News
  • Scope: Internal
  • Location: North America
  • Department: HR
  • Publisher: HR
  • Confidentiality: Public
  • Valid until: February 28th, 2020
  • Responsible: Mark Hammond (CEO)

Ideally, all of the content you publish in SharePoint contains tags and follows a document structure. Tagging ensures that your organization can work with information it stores. For example, the organization can create rules to prioritize this HR announcement to employees it is most relevant to, in this case, those located in North America and those working in the HR department. Tagging with metadata is the only way to ensure that the organization can create rules or business processes that use the information, like a tailored publication process regarding corporate news or applying information protection policies to corporate business reports.

Technically, rules can be based on queries and those queries rely on Content Types to determine that a document is (for example) a business report. Humans can recognize a business report by looking at the document, rules and queries can’t.

 

How AI turns Information Management into Knowledge Management

If you have been working with SharePoint for a long time, this is probably nothing new. What I just explained is the established best practice for Information Management. And that’s part of the problem! Organizations have been doing this for years, but the working style has changed. Many requirements of the modern Information Management systems just can’t be accomplished by just following the established best practice. That’s because Information Management is transitioning to Knowledge Management. What’s the difference between those two, you might ask? Information Management connects content to structures such as Content Types or metadata. On the other hand, Knowledge Management connects content to people.

The goal of Knowledge Management is to make knowledge sharable and actionable within the organization. From a technical standpoint, Information Management utilizes SharePoint Search, Content Types and metadata to help employees find information quickly.

Knowledge Management goes far beyond that by making information digestible and shareable, and not just searchable. It builds connections between information items to create a complex knowledge network. Interweaving content this way often is far too complex and time-consuming for humans, so Project Cortex will use AI to do it.

And here we’ve come a full circle! As the complex knowledge network takes shape, information, which is the foundation of knowledge, needs to be machine-recognizable. Even smart AI-powered bots rely on criteria to identify content, which is why Project Cortex’ AI model needs training.

Project Cortex - AI model training

SharePoint AI models require training

 

Adding context to SharePoint information with AI

Here is an example of how this will look like in real life. The following screenshot shows a draft of a Corporate News article about a new project called Planet Blue. Since our corporate team has already created a project site and started to work on that project, a bot equipped with Artificial Intelligence can link the News item with the corresponding Planet Blue project site, the members and the associated resources. Readers can hover over the word Planet Blue to automatically get additional insights on a topic card. But there is more. The AI bot not only creates a link between the keyword and the project site but also generates a topic page around the project including a description, a list of project members, resources etc. This topic page will update on ongoing basis.

Topic Card in Project Cortex SharePoint

Topic Cards add context to articles and documents published in SharePoint.

As AI-powered bots create a knowledge network (the previously mentioned interweaving of content), a topic page will also display related items and topics, helping humans understand the context, the scope of information and how the information relates to other information items. You can see an example of that below:

SharePoint Knowledge Network

Knowledge Network adds context to documents.

This is just one way to make knowledge more digestible for employees. Project Cortex combines knowledge from many different sources and automatically summarizes it in a way that’s easy to digest by humans. It links related pieces of information and puts it all in context. A single piece of information becomes a part of a complex knowledge network that clearly shows the full context and scope. That’s how companies will be able to turn information into employee knowledge.

Auto-populate document metadata

Project Cortex uses information from different sources to build complex knowledge networks, and one of those sources are documents. Project Cortex will be able to extract information from uploaded documents and fill-in metadata automatically (up to a certain extent). This is what you can see in the screenshots below.

Here’s what a document with no distinct metadata might look like when uploaded:

Adding metadata to documents recently uploaded to SharePoint

Recently uploaded document with no metadata

A few seconds later, the smart AI automatically adds metadata:

Project Cortex automatically adds metadata to files

AI autofills document metadata

While this does not mean that adding metadata (which is an unloved task of many Information Workers) will become obsolete once Project Cortex is available, it shows that even modern technology like Project Cortex still relies on existing technology akin to metadata tags and Content Types.

To achieve this, Project Cortex and the underlying AI technology requires training so that it can recognize new information (for example, which documents belong to a specific project). This is done by creating a model in the new Content Centers, which uses the already existing AI Builder functionality in PowerApps and Power Automate (formerly Microsoft Flow).

Project Cortex - Content Center

AI-powered Content Center

How to prepare for Project Cortex?

The interesting question is, what can organizations do to prepare for Project Cortex launch?

Project Cortex uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) to extract information from documents and to build a knowledge network. However, it can’t work miracles! Under the hood, Project Cortex still relies on metadata and presumably Content Types. Once Project Cortex is available, likely in Q1/2020, I assume that many organizations will import their existing documents to see how Project Cortex can help them with Knowledge Management. And that is exactly where organizations can start today. The better your current information is structured and tagged, the easier it will be to train the AI bots of Project Cortex.

But don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting to update your Content Types and metadata terms just to be prepared for the launch of Project Cortex. It is actually the other way around. If you keep your Content Types and metadata terms up to date and tag your documents accordingly, there will be an immediate benefit for your organization and your staff – and your start with Project Cortex will be much smoother.

At the time of writing this (January 2020), there is still too little information available to provide more detailed recommendations. The only thing we know for sure is that Power Automate, PowerApps and AI Builder will be used to do the heavy lifting under the hood. Based on the videos shared during and after Microsoft Ignite, I’m guessing that Project Cortex will take advantage of Managed Metadata as well. And because it is established best practice to use Content Types to ensure consistent usage of metadata, I assume Project Cortex will take advantage of Content Types as well. Hopefully, Microsoft will also use this opportunity to modernize the Term Store and the Content Type hub.

Best Practices regarding metadata and Content Types

Whenever I support customers who are migrating to SharePoint, I conduct at least two (2) workshops at the very beginning of the projects. The first one is around best practices for metadata and the second focuses on Content Types. My recommendation is this: work with your corporate entities and departments to identify the types of documents in use. When compiling your list, consider all document types such as manuals, invoices, reports, contracts, announcements or news. Create a corresponding Content Type for each identified type of document and take advantage of Content Type inheritance. Your corporate Content Types should be stored in the Content Type hub to ensure they can be used throughout the entire organization.

Once you’ve identified all document types, continue working on identifying corporate metadata terms and structure them within Term Sets and Term Groups. Next, assign Term Sets to Content Types and configure your document libraries to use Content Types.

There is one question that comes up each time I deliver my Content Type workshop. I am asked how many Term Sets should be used per Content Type and how many of those should be required. Unfortunately, there is no definite answer to this question. As a rule of thumb, I recommend not to use more than 10 Term Sets per Content Type.

There are also no definitive answers regarding the number of required metadata. I recommend to use  only as much metadata as necessary. Ultimately, your metadata needs depend on the types of documents and on how those documents are used. For example, a corporate handbook usually needs less required metadata compared to a contract or an invoice. Also, be mindful of user experience. The more required metadata users need to provide when uploading a document, the more annoying the activity.

Summary

Project Cortex will be an exciting addition to Office 365, and I admit that I can’t wait until it is available. You might know that I am an advocate for Document Management, and I have been promoting Document Management since I became a SharePoint consultant many years ago. Project Cortex will definitely support organizations in transitioning from Information Management to Knowledge Management, but this will come with a price tag. Information still needs to be structured, and AI will require proper and thorough training. The better the training, the better the results, but if the AI model is trained poorly, you can’t expect stunning results.

If you want prepare for the launch of Project Cortex, start by assessing how metadata and Content Types are used in your organization. If you encounter gaps or areas in need of improvement, update your Managed Metadata structure and/or your Content Type structure and configure document libraries to use Content Types!

The DevFacto team is closely monitoring the progress of Project Cortex, and we are already working on guidelines and best practices to support organizations once Project Cortex is available. If you have questions or want prepare your organization for the Project Cortex, launch, get in touch with us.

References

Project Cortex – Your knowledge network in Microsoft 365

Introducing Project Cortex

Mastering the Art of SharePoint Document Management implementation

Are folders in SharePoint Ancient Technology?

DevFacto Community Foundation: Software Innovation for Charities

We’re excited to announce the start of the DevFacto Community Foundation, a program that connects talented young developers with not-for-profit organizations to create software solutions that make a difference. Through the foundation, we want to help our local communities innovate the best way we know how – by building software that humans love to use.

The DevFacto Community Foundation works in two ways: it offers promising developers a chance to hone their skills while working on a real-world projects, and it helps not-for-profits fulfill their mission with modern tools and apps. The foundation has already completed its pilot project and released the first mobile app called Missions. The app was built in partnership with the Edmonton Skills Society and Lethbridge-based Southern Alberta Community Living Association (SACLA), two not-for-profits that help people with disabilities experience meaningful lives as valued citizens.

Here is a snapshot of what Missions looks like:

Missions App Demo

A bit of history

For the last twelve years, we have supported numerous charities in our communities. We fundraised, donated and contributed employee time to numerous causes which include United Way, Stollery Children’s hospital, and Movember Foundation.

Over the years, we noticed that charities have a hard time keeping up with technology. In particular, they struggle with building custom solutions, apps and portals that empower their missions and enable unique experiences for their sponsors and supporters. Charities cannot afford standard consulting rates, and even at a discount the amount of money spent on a software solution is hardly justifiable when faced with other priorities. As one of Canada’s premier consulting companies, we wanted to empower charities through technology. As it turns out, almost by happenstance, we might just have found the way to do it.

Putting skills to a good use

Young developers rarely get the opportunity to apply their hard skills in real-life projects. They know how to code, but they lack the experience that comes from designing and building enterprise-grade solutions. Applying project methodology or mastering communication and teamwork can’t be fully taught in a classroom setting. But without that know-how, it can be difficult for developers to progress their skills.

At the same time, there is a strong demand for modern tools and technology among not-for-profits that look to support local communities in new ways. They want to leverage software and mobile applications to reach those in need of help. While custom built solutions can bring these organizations closer to their communities, limited budgets often stand in the way of achieving this goal.

Aware of these challenges, we wanted to make a difference in a meaningful way, and we found just the way to do it.

High school students build an app

While judging a Skills Canada competition, Matt Waggoner, one of our star developers, met some highly capable highschoolers. Ben Lehmann and Shashank Bhat, Grade 11 and Grade 12 students at the time, who took the top spots at Skills Canada were certainly ready for the next challenge.

You may already know that here at DevFacto we’re seriously committed to empowering the next generation of software developers and we even run a co-op program in partnership with the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary. However, as high school students, Ben and Shashank, wouldn’t qualify for it.

So, when Matt got back to the office the following Monday, he knew there was something he could do. With the support from DevFacto, he set out to find the right project for the students to work on. He connected with SACLA and Skills Society, two not-for-profits who were looking to build a mobile app that helps people with disabilities fully explore their community.

Under Matt’s watchful eye, Ben and Shashank spent their summer at DevFacto developing Missions, an app that makes it fun for people with disabilities to discover new interests and build a sense of inclusion with their community. Users select missions from a list of specially pre-designed activities and then complete them with their families or allies. The app offers them a chance to explore exciting things to do in their neighbourhoods and to reflect on their experiences. Skills Society and SACLA will use Missions app to empower people with disabilities and help them achieve their individual goals.

See a complete demo of user functionality in Missions:

DevFacto Community Foundation: how does it work?

The DevFacto Community Foundation offers not-for-profits a chance to build custom applications at a fraction of the cost. Talented young developers do the coding while seasoned DevFacto consultants manage and guide their work. As DevFacto, we provide methodology, on-going mentoring, and project management throughout the engagement. We also closely guide the students to ensure that the final product meets the business needs of our not-for-profit partners.

All the proceeds from the project go exclusively towards student’s wages. DevFacto offers its services pro-bono. In the future, any money left from the projects delivered by the foundation will be put towards a scholarship fund for students who participated in the program. We trust that this will further support young developers and encourage them to pursue education in STEM fields.

And now, the good stuff! DevFacto Community Foundation will build more apps in 2020. If you represent a registered charity that needs a consumer-grade application, we would love to hear from you. Let’s find a way to empower your organization with technology – get in touch.

What does Malcolm Gladwell have to do with consulting?

Everyone knows the famous Albert Einstein quote “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This phrase quickly comes to mind when we observe someone else’s struggles, but it’s less obvious when it comes to our own challenges. It’s hard to see clearly when we’re stuck in a rut – working hard, but not really getting anywhere. So, how do we know we’re stuck? And what can we do to get out of the rut?

So often, what we really need is to look at our challenges in a brand-new light: find different ways of looking at what’s familiar and approach problems the way a stranger or scientist would. But that’s of course easier said than done. Seeking inspiration or help from people who think differently than we do, is one of the best ways to get there.

A book or a podcast that challenges our beliefs is a good start for when we feel stuck. Malcolm Gladwell is a go-to authors when it comes to that. He looks at the world and makes sense of it by finding insights that others miss. Reading his books or listening to his podcasts offers a fresh perspective and sheds a different light at old assumptions.

Gladwell’s approach is in fact quite like consulting. As consultants, we shed new light at business problems and help companies get unstuck. At DevFacto, for example, we precede many of our service engagements with Ideations, which are interactive workshops that facilitate innovative thinking and problem solving. Ideation shifts the perception of the challenge at hand and help our clients uncover the ideal solutions.

That’s why, we’re very excited to announce that we’re helping bring Malcolm Gladwell to Edmonton for an evening that explores things often overlooked. The internationally best-selling author and host of the podcast Revisionist History will be at the Winspear on October 2nd and DevFacto is proudly sponsoring this event. The tickets are now sold out, but you can add your name to the waitlist here.

We look forward to seeing you there!

The DevFacto Internship Experience

For several years now, we’ve been running a co-op program in partnership with the University of Alberta and University of Calgary. In that time, we’ve had the chance to mentor many bright and talented students from the departments of computing science and computer engineering who chose to kick-start their careers with an internship at DevFacto. Curious to know what an internship in software consulting and product development is like? Read on to learn what some of our recent and current co-op students have to say about their internship experience. You can also access our current co-op postings on PlacePro (UofA) and CareerLink (UofC).

Co-op students Darren Tran and Anas Mohamed attending DevFacto’s 2019 QualityConf

Darren Tran

Darren is a Computer Engineering, Software Option student at the University of Alberta and a bit of a fitness fanatic. He has just finished his eight-month long internship at DevFacto.

Why did you choose DevFacto for your co-op internship?

I wanted to get the most of my co-op experience and searched for opportunities at software consulting companies. The thing that stood out to me the most about DevFacto was the emphasis on employee happiness — and from what I have experienced here, it definitely holds true!

What kinds of projects have you worked on at DevFacto?

I’ve worked on a couple of different projects, the most interesting one so far is a game portal for a high-profile corporate client the name of which our marketing team won’t let me share. Essentially, the project is made up of four elements: a website, an admin site, a trivia game (which will be part of the website) and a back-end to support it all. The game drives visitors to the website, the central hub with information about the products our client is selling. Visitors will get to play games to earn rewards and win prizes.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this internship is being able to work with brand new technologies that I have never been exposed to before. For example in my last project, I worked on the back-end with AWS and Serverless.

What skills did you get to develop and practice during your internship?

On the technical side of things, I have learned new programming languages, frameworks and libraries – React, Typescript, Serverless just to name a few. I have also learned to work with others in the agile/scrum process. In terms of soft skills, I feel like I learned how to better communicate my ideas with other project members. Having a daily stand up with the team opens communication and helps us keep track of the tasks between team members.

Can you share your favorite DevFacto experience so far?

Definitely Friday beer o’clock to wrap up the week! Aside from that, meeting and learning from all the amazing people around the office has been invaluable.

Anas Mohamed

Anas is a Computing Science student at University of Alberta and he’s currently completing an eight-month internship at DevFacto. When he’s not working with computers, he’s picking up new hobbies. His newest one is learning Japanese.

Why did you choose DevFacto for your co-op internship?

The biggest appeal of an internship is the experience. With that in mind, I chose DevFacto because I felt assured that there would be no lack of volume or variety in the experience that I would gain.

What has been the most interesting project that you have worked on so far?

Beacon, for sure. Beacon is an internal project focused on rebuilding a tool called TechRadar. The tool was used for discussing various tech DevFacto teams wanted to adopt, avoid, etc. In simple terms, it’s a website we use internally to discover, discuss and recommend tech. What made this project the most interesting one, is being able to witness and participate in the discovery process. We researched why the previous tool failed, what is the purpose of the new tool, and how it’s going to be used. The knowledge and skills I gained from this process, I feel, are hard to come by as a student.

What skills did you get to develop and practice during your internship?

I learned more about full stack web development, database management, and had my first encounters with agile project management as well as UI and UX. I also got to work with a wide variety of teams. Those experiences taught me how to handle working with remote team members, how to collaborate, and most importantly how to communicate (the answer is: often!). Too much communication, I found, is much better than too little.

Can you share your favorite DevFacto experience so far?

Best experience by far has been consistently uttering the same sentence, “Wow, I did not know/think of that”. Almost every day, I’m humbled by the experience and resourcefulness of the people that I work with.

University of Calgary co-op student Alexa Astorino

Alexa Astorino

Alexa is a software engineering student at the University of Calgary and currently completing her internship on DevFacto’s product development team. She discovered her passion for software after attending her first coding class at the university. Her interests go well beyond coding. She has impressive soccer skills and has been playing competitive soccer since she was 5 years old.

Why did you choose DevFacto for your co-op internship?

I chose DevFacto for my co-op internship because through the course of my job search, DevFacto was the only company I felt wanted to take me on not only because they valued my skills, but because they valued me as a person. I had the pleasure of interviewing with David (DevFacto’s CTO) and Zana (Talent Specialist), and I remember feeling very excited that they believed in what I could do, especially as a student, right off the bat. Something that really stood out to me was their desire to find someone that fit with DevFacto’s culture and team, so this was another deciding factor for me.

What kinds of projects have you worked on at DevFacto?

So far at DevFacto, my time has been spent on team Sparrow [Sparrow is an employee engagement platform and Devfacto’s flagship product]. I have been working on improving and adding brand new features to our Administration Portal. This includes contributions to the User Interface, Analytics, User Management and Post Management. We have a big release coming soon that we are all very excited about. Having my teammates by my side has really made working on Sparrow that much better.

What skills did you get to develop and practice during your internship?

In only 4 months here, I’ve developed so many new skills and improved upon existing ones as well. On the technical side, I have learned 4 completely new coding languages and become familiar with new database services. Additionally, I’ve been able to improve my time management and organization skills as I’ve gotten used to the concept of sprints. I’ve also improved my communication and teamwork skills significantly by constantly asking questions, which was very nerve racking in the beginning, and tackling daily problems or bugs with my coworkers.

Can you share your favorite DevFacto experience so far?

My favourite experience so far has been QualConf 2019 and the Summer Party. QualConf [DevFacto’s internal semiannual conference] allowed me to leave with new ideas regarding UX thanks to Figma 101 workshop, important knowledge of security from Web App Security Basics, and an understanding of personal branding. It was really fun and exciting not only to meet and get to know so many people across all of our regions, but also to learn from them during workshops and talks. I was able to bond with people I always hear about in the office and learn about their experiences at DevFacto. It was also a great chance to catch up with the Edmonton interns.

Co-op students Ben Ripka, Anas Mohamed and Jack Xia at a ski trip with fellow DevFactonians

Jack Xia

Jack is studying a Computing Science at the UofA and currently completing his internship at DevFacto. He’s a huge Pink Floyd fan.

Why did you choose DevFacto for your co-op internship?

The culture. DevFacto values people most.

What has been the most interesting project that you have worked on so far?

It was definitely a live auction portal. What makes it different from other projects is that it’s a real-time application, which means that users get real time and up-to-date notifications every time the state of an auction changes. My role involved developing new features for the site.

What skills did you get to develop and practice during your internship?

I gained considerable experience in full stack development – I developed for front-end and back-end and deployed apps to the server. In addition to the hard skills, I also learned how to effectively communicate with other developers and project managers and how to resolve problems.

What has been your best experience at DevFacto so far?

My favorite thing is that I can always get mentorship from experienced developers. Curtis has helped me all along this internship.

Co-op student Zach Drever at 2019 QualityConf

Benjamin Ripka

Ben is a Computer Engineering student at the UofA. Whatever free time he’s got, he spends it outdoors hiking, biking and snowboarding.

Why did you choose DevFacto for your co-op internship?

Consulting seemed to me as one of the best ways to get hands-on experience in the software development industry. I figured it would provide contextual examples of how software systems are created, used and maintained in businesses. Specifically, I decided on DevFacto because the people seemed fantastic and I thought the company culture would be a fit for me. I was right.

What has been the most interesting project that you have worked on so far?

My most significant project during this internship has been an end-to-end testing system I designed and developed for a webapp used by thousands of people every day. Our client has an in-house QA team that performs frequent manual regression testing to make sure all the features are up and running. This gets quite costly, and so they hired my team to automate the process.

I had a lot of autonomy on this project which lead to a massive increase in both my confidence and understanding of software systems. Through the process I also gained many new skills such as C#, .NET Core, NUnit, Selenium, React and Specflow.

What skills did you get to develop and practice during your internship?

First and foremost, I’ve built a set of skills required to work with cross-disciplinary teams. This includes skills like version control (git), sprint planning, demos, and general communication. Second, I’ve picked up more technical skills with C#, Javascript, .NET, React, etc. than I could have ever hoped for!

What has been your best experience at DevFacto so far?

My best experience at DevFacto would have to be the Beer O’Clocks after work on Fridays. It’s when all of DevFacto (or most) get together in the lounge for some drinks and snacks to hangout and play games after a full weeks’ work.  It is the perfect environment to get to know everyone and talk about everything from the weekend plans, to passions, to career goals, etc. I’ll never forget the feeling of such a lively bunch all jammed into the kitchen!

 

 

It’s more than just a meeting room.

You may have heard that we’ve been renovating our Edmonton office. Thankfully, the construction is done and we’re finally ready for the big reveal! And while there are plenty of interesting new features in our newly expanded office, there’s one space I’m most excited about: our new Ideation room.

What’s Ideation, you might ask, and why does it require a dedicated space? Come to think of it, why would someone get excited about a meeting room? The answers to these questions lay in the process of great software design.

Over the years of building award-winning software, we came to a realization that there’s a piece missing from a typical application development project. Time and time again, we saw businesses arrive with an established idea of what they needed, only to realize once the project was complete, that their new, beautiful, functional solution didn’t quite propel the organization forward. It became clear to us that standard requirements gathering sessions are rarely enough to really understand the problems any business is facing. All the focus on features, functionality, and technology causes people to overlook what’s really important: user satisfaction and tangible value to the organization. Our customers needed a better way to translate real-world pains into solutions that made a difference. They needed solutions that humans would love to use.

So, instead of gathering requirements we flipped the model and we began hunting for the root causes behind them. We based our approach on our shared experiences and drew inspiration from the Design Thinking and Service Design methodologies. This led us to developing an Ideation workshop, a process that’s become a foundation for our customer’s success.

What is Ideation?

At DevFacto, Ideation is a collaborative process we use to facilitate our customers’ innovative thinking and problem solving. It helps us uncover the ideal solution through a series of exercises that shift the perception of the challenges at hand. Through a mix of convergent and divergent techniques it explores opportunities and reveals the hidden value within any organization. And by bringing cross-functional teams together, it encourages collaboration and idea-sharing without long, drawn out meetings.

As cognitive science proves, humans are hardwired to think convergently. When faced with a challenge, we want to come up with a single, well-established, logical answer. We constantly narrow down the options until we arrive at the right solution. Once we have it, we head straight to executing. Any alternative solutions that were discovered in the process end up discarded.

While that is a great approach for hacking away at day-to-day tasks, it doesn’t encourage meaningful change in an organization nor allow for innovative thinking. When we go straight from the perceived problem to the seemingly obvious solution, we skim over pain points and miss perspectives that can fundamentally alter our vision for the future.

Our ideation process disrupts the typical approach to solving problems by bringing people together and affording them the chance to think collaboratively in different modes while driving alignment around the most powerful ideas.

Over the years, Ideation has helped our clients realize numerous benefits  – from experimenting and testing ideas before setting them in motion, to reimagining user experience, boosting customer satisfaction, and cracking new markets.

Software Ideation Session

Why do we need an Ideation room?

Meetings, deservedly, have a bad rep and the typical conference room design only escalates this problem. Large conference tables lower meeting engagement, while poor flow discourages collaboration – both of which are critical to creativity and innovative thinking. We are creatures of our environments far more often than we think. Which is why a new approach to the space is so powerful. We wanted to create a space that transforms the mindset and inspires fresh ideas. One that changes the expected meeting dynamic and gets everyone active, working, and exploring. By setting the stage for ambitious collaboration, our ideation room does just that.

We’ve built it with creative, brainstorming sessions in mind, so it’s is full of light and bright workable space. Writable surfaces all around the room facilitate idea sharing, while standing-height desks help get people moving and collaborating. Although the typical conference room fare – long conference table and chairs – is gone, we kept some uber-comfortable high stools to maximize accessibility. And because Ideation sessions can get quite intense, we’ve added a lounge area just outside the room so that the participants can recharge when it’s time to take a break.

Just last week, I facilitated my first workshop in the new space with one of our clients that’s looking to deliver a WOW experience to their end-users. Being a part of an Ideation workshop held in a space designed to foster empathy and common understanding among teams was eye-opening to everyone involved. We saw inspiring ideas spring to life but also witnessed a diverse, cross-functional team come together in an unexpected way. For this group, looking at a business problem in a new way, in a completely different type of environment brought results that went beyond what we could anticipate.

Powerful ideas are just around the corner, and sometimes a special kind of meeting in an entirely different space is just what’s needed to find them.

We’re Launching a Sabbatical Program to Help DevFactonians Grow

When David, Ransel and I set out to design a different type of company over twelve years ago, we were all young and naive. We knew what we liked and disliked about our past employers, and we were driven to create a different kind of work environment: one with a great, constantly evolving culture and a lot of flexibility. As our first joint decision at DevFacto, we came up with a simple mission statement, or rather a simple mathematical equation (since the three of us are geeks): “Happy Employees = Happy Customers”. This equation has stood the test of time and has been our guiding beacon ever since.

Years later, it isn’t just a nice-sounding catch phrase. It’s how we work. In fact, we continuously measure employee happiness and client happiness. We take this so seriously that our executive team’s compensation is closely tied to these two metrics.

To keep our employees happy, we look after their well-being in many different ways. And while the list of our perks and benefits is vast and fairly unique, we felt it lacked something to reward our longest-serving staff. The ones who have been with us for many years, doing great work for our clients and pushing us to get better along the way. The smart, talented and loyal employees that most CEOs dream about. The kind of people that recruiters call me about to express how frustrating it is to try to “poach” them from DevFacto. We owe our success to them. Although we don’t believe in rewarding roles based on tenure, we wanted to celebrate and honour employees who have been with us for a long time. So, after some conversations with our amazing staff we came up with the concept of “Discovery Days”.

“Discovery Days” is a two- or four-week fully paid sabbatical, duration of which depends on the length of service with the company. It’s main purpose? Expand the employee’s horizons as a human being. Employees that qualify, apply for the program by sharing what they will do with the time and how it will take them outside of their comfort zone. It doesn’t need to be extreme, although it very well could be. Anything goes, as long as it meets the following criteria:

  1. You will do something that will help you grow as a person.
  2. You will document the journey and share it with the team via a Pecha Kucha talk.

The program has launched, and the initial reception has been great. I can’t wait to learn about our employees’ adventures and if you’re as curious as I am, be sure to keep an eye on our social media profiles where our marketing team will be sharing these journeys in the upcoming weeks/months. After all, personal growth and self discovery enrich the entire community and not just the individual.

And who knows, maybe we will end up rewriting that simple equation to “Happy Employees + Discovery Days = Delighted Customers.”

 

It’s more than just a hallway.

September 6, 2018 started as a regular day at DevFacto, our employees slowly trickled-in and got about their days. Some crafted code, some designed beautiful and meaningful experiences for our clients, others dealt with finance, sales and marketing. That morning the weather was colder than usual in Edmonton, Alberta, the air was more fall-like than summer. We had had almost three weeks of air quality warnings from the fires burning in British Columbia and everyone was looking forward to clearer days or what my good friend Doug calls the 100 days of business: the days between the middle of September and the middle of December.

“It finally happened, you should write about it.” – Fernanda Badano, VP Delivery

September 6, 2018 seemed like a regular day until I received a text message from Fernanda Badano, our VP of Delivery Services, containing this image of our Edmonton office and the words,“It finally happened, you should write about it.” As I rushed between client meetings, the image initially looked just like our regular hallway so I put it aside and kept on with my day. However, a couple hours later it dawned on me: see…if you have been to our office in the past, you know that for the last seven years we had ¾ of the 22nd floor in Scotia Place. The picture from Fernanda showed a new hallway, a hallway that for the first time connected our old space to the rest of the floor. DevFacto now occupied the entire 22nd floor.

This was great news for our team since for the last four months our office has been very cramped as we welcomed 26 new DevFactonians to our company. The picture was also a testament to all the great work our team has accomplished, including years of dedication to our employees and our clients. This picture represented a growth milestone that we had never envisioned 11 years ago when we set out to create a company based on the following principles:

1. Happy Employees = Happy Customers.
2. Build Software that humans love to use.
3. Provide a WOW experience for our customers.

I want to thank everyone who has played a part in our journey, our employees, contractors, clients, advisors and partners. Thank you for being there and helping us through our growing pains.

We are excited to design this new space to match the rest of our award winning office and we will continue to plan our office space needs in Regina, Calgary and Toronto. Eventually, we would like to have our own campus, a place that we can design from the ground-up, that is as unique as the culture that keeps our employees excited to come to work every day.

In the meantime, we continue to focus on growing our Analytics (Business Intelligence) practice, innovate on the Sparrow Modern Workplace, deliver great experiences in our Custom Development practice, service our clients through our Managed Application Services practice, deliver world-class experiences in SharePoint and Office365 – so many things on our plate – we would not have it any other way. Our strategy is set and our team is executing.

DevFacto Announced as Nintex Partner Award Finalist

DevFacto is proud to announce that we have been shortlisted as a finalist for the 2018 Nintex Partner Awards in the category of Business Excellence.

This nomination is a true reflection of the value that our Nintex partnership has been able to deliver to DevFacto clients across Canada and around the world. Together, we look forward to continuing to help organizations of all sizes, in every industry, improve the automation of business processes.

Winners will be announced on July 15 at the Nintex Partner Awards Dinner in Las Vegas, Nevada.

To learn more about why we love working with Nintex, visit our website or register for an upcoming Workflow in a Day Workshop near you.

About Nintex

Nintex is the world’s leader in intelligent process automation (IPA) with more than 7,500 enterprise clients and 1,700 partners in 90 countries who have built and published millions of workflow applications. With its unmatched breadth of capability and platform support delivered by unique architectural capabilities, Nintex empowers the line of business and IT departments to quickly automate, orchestrate and optimize hundreds of manual processes to progress on the journey to digital transformation. Nintex Workflow Cloud®, the company’s cloud platform, connects with all content repositories, systems of record, and people to consistently fuel successful business outcomes.