Anant Corporation Blog

Our research, knowledge, thoughts, and recommendations about building and leading businesses on the Internet.

Category Archives: Business


Modern Enterprise: Why Airtable? The Top 20 Links Worth Your Time

Airtable is a relatively new Software-as-a-Service (online software, more commonly known as SaaS Software) to enter the arena for business users. I first saw it when I was looking for process management tools and a search result showed it in comparison to Trello. I was intrigued because I love Trello for what it does for me personally and what it has done for our team. This post is first in a series which will focus on Airtable and how to use it in a modern Enterprise. The Modern Enterprise is an organization or team that uses the Internet and online business software to organize people, processes, information and systems to achieve their goals. We chose to start with Airtable because it hits home for a basic and fundamental need in business which Excel, Google Spreadsheets, and others have thus far met fairly well. If you are no novice to organizing information, you know what I’m talking about. I once knew a professor who said his $500 million / year professional service business was run by his COO on Excel.

 

Business users have been using spreadsheets to organize information for decades. Excel is probably one of the most used business tools in the world because of its versatility by way of simple columns and rows and power by way of formulas and macros. Today, there are many alternatives to Excel that users can use online. Here are a few which I’ve used and think are good for the most part.

 

Google Spreadsheets – We use these extensively.

SmartSheets – I have used it in the past, and think it does some things well.

Microsoft Excel 365  – In addition to it _being_ Excel, syncing with iOS apps, it can also work with Microsoft’s Big Data product HDInsight.

 

These tools are all great and I don’t want to take away from them, but Airtable is another beast altogether. What drew me to Airtable was its simplicity. It looks simple. It feels simple. It _is_ simple. Having had, ahem, some, ahem, experience in databases and online software, I knew how to start using it pretty quickly. I knew I could use it, but I wanted to see if someone else could use it. I asked one of our Project Managers, Danielle, to make an Airtable to track the status of our clients, which ones were on subscription with us vs. working with us on an ad-hoc basis. Danielle is an extremely intelligent and organized team member but she’s not a technologist per se. She’s the model for what I call a technology empowered team member. Danielle had never used Airtable before but was and is very adept at using spreadsheets to track projects and project finances. She was able to whip something up in no-time.

 

Here are my initial thoughts which will guide my evaluation of Airtable for The Modern Enterprise in four upcoming articles (see below).

  • Airtable can be used across the different responsibility areas of The Modern Enterprise (Sales & Marketing, Products & Services, Research & Development, Operations & Infrastructure, Finance & Accounting, and Leadership & Management)
  • Airtable can be used by people internal and external to a company because of its ease in creating “teams” which share a certain set of tables.
  • Airtable can be used for tracking Information or Data, but I think there are better uses for it, especially tracking the Information for Processes.
  • Airtable is a powerful system and can be connected to other systems easily, non-technically, using Zapier or through custom development that interacts with Airtable APIs.

 

Here are some great links to get you started until the next few posts on Airtable.

 

 

This article is part of a larger series:

  1. Modern Enterprise: Why Airtable? The top 20 you need to see.
  2. Modern Enterprise: How Airtable can work for different departments and responsibilities.
  3. Modern Enterprise: How to organize & collaborate with People around the world with Airtable.
  4. Modern Enterprise: How to manage & track Processes with Airtable
  5. Modern Enterprise: How to connect Airtable with anything and create magical automations.

 

Check Airtable out here!

Disclaimer: We aren’t affiliated with Airtable and nor are we getting anything in return for this, we just love it when there’s awesome new technology out there that solves a number of pain points elegantly.

The Swarm of Sources

Reactive Manifesto, The Next VisiCalc, and Future of Business Technology

Thanks to some of our great partnerships, our firm has recently consulted at University of Michigan, Cisco, Intuit, and Kroger and at several government agencies on business information and enterprise technology. Even though we don’t directly create consumer technology or applications, eventually all consumer technologies have a backend enterprise technology that makes it work because a consumer technology company backed by crappy technology for the enterprise is bad for business.

I’ve been sensing a shift in business information for a while. Business information, the frequency it’s created at, the number of sources it comes from is only increasing, exponentially if not logarithmically. This means, that businesses, and subsequently end-users need to rely on real-time data processing and analysis of this information. The businesses that embrace the “reactive manifesto” of how to build software and technology are going to succeed in the new world where data is coming from millions of people through their mobile devices, processes through applications and software processes, information through global data sources and APIs, and systems in the form of servers and things all over the globe. The “swarm” of sources is mind-boggling.
The Swarm of Sources

The Swarm of Sources

The first business response to all this business information is: let’s bring it all together to analyze it and visualize it. That’s horseshit. Even with the big data technologies out there today, it is wasteful to try to process all of it at the same time. That’s like trying to understand how the universe works at every second. The better response is to understand what’s happening and react to it at the moment in the context that it is important.

This reactive methodology of building large infrastructure can help businesses react to new IoT initiatives, integrating with numerous business software to run the modern enterprise, and partnering with other modern enterprises. Whatever you see out there in apps, devices, sites, and APIs has to be managed in the back. The reason for silicon brains is stronger when you just can’t do it with carbon brains. Technology has to get better faster through iterative machine learning in order keep up with the amount of data that’s being created.

Commercial organizations are being thrown sledgehammers to solve things by vendors such as Oracle, Cloudera, MapR, DataBricks, etc. Although these products are great, they are more like Personal Computers .. but without the real “Killer App.” They aren’t solving industry-specific / vertical problems. Consulting companies waste inordinate time & materials costs to get it “right.” What people need are “lego block” software so that non-technical folks can self-service their information needs without hiring a team of data analyst, data engineer, data architect, data scientist, data visualizer, and of course a project manager. (If you do need a team today, Anant provides an elastic team with all of those skills for the same investment per month as a part-time or full-time employee. Message me or my team.)

I believe the major breakthrough that will change the experience for business technology users is going to be system design tools that help them get what they want without knowing how to program. I don’t know what it will look like, but we need a VisiCalc for the new age, and no it’s not Google Spreadsheets. It’s something else altogether. It’s something that will fix the yearning for a tool that helps people mashup and leverage various gradients between structured and unstructured data in dynamic knowledge pages that always keeps us up to date on what we care about. A machine that learns what we need to know and summarizes it for us, but also allows us to manipulate the knowledge even if it is being created in 10 different systems.

How to use Kafka to understand the English Premier League

Here at Anant we are very interested in data wrangling (aka data munging), which basically means, we want to be able to help people take data in one format and convert it to a form that best suits their needs. One way we keep up to date is through the excellent Data Wranglers DC group that meets monthly here in Washington.

 

At the most recent meeting, the group tackled the challenge of integrating real-time video and data streams. Mark Chapman, who is a Solutions Engineering Manager at Talend, explained how his company utilized Spark and Kafka in their product to analyze real time data in the English Premier League (EPL). In addition to the video inputs at 25 frames per second from cameras throughout the stadium, the stream was correlated to data connected to players’ heart rates and other measurements. The EPL is then able to overlay this information into replays to improve presentation and analysis as well as send data to companies offering in-game wagers.

 

The presentation was very interesting and Mark graciously shared his slides:

 

If you are in any way interested in data wrangling – just like it sounds, getting data under control and to work for you – we would love to hear from you and let you know what might be possible with your data streams. If you are in DC and are interested in the technical side of data munging, please come out to the next event and meet us. This past presentation was hosted by ByteCubed (@bytecubed), in Crystal City, but the gatherings have been in Foggy Bottom as well.

Webinar 4 Recap: How to Organize Business Information with Enterprise Search & Knowledge Management (B2B)

Thank you to everyone who recently joined us for our final installation of the autumn B2B webinar series focused on data integration and data management basics!

 

We plan to put together more informational webinars in the new year. Before winter settles in, though, imagine yourself on a deserted, tropical island with only a boat and just a few hours until sundown. In the distance, you can see other islands and you know each of them has just one thing you need — food, water, fuel, shelter, etc. The problem you now face is how to get to all of the islands in an efficient manner before sundown. However, without knowing which island has the fuel to power your boat, you are left guessing and hoping you can get everything. If only you had a map – or all of the supplies could be obtained from a central location – this process would be so much quicker, simpler, and easier. In the workplace, this problem plays out every day when you need to search for reports, documents, and other digital assets that help you efficiently run a business or project.

 

Do you find yourself using multiple systems to get your work done – Salesforce for lead tracking, G-Suite for collaboration, Box for digital storage, Sharepoint for site management, etc. – and feel like the technology gets in the way as you bounce from one application and window to another? Each time you sign up for an online service or install an app, you create a data island or data silo. These semi-isolated islands can rapidly grow in size and number and, without a plan to manage this growth, can quickly lead to wasted time and money as you look for things or redo a previously completed report. Last week’s webinar touched on these issues and, more importantly, shared how you can take control and bring these islands together with a knowledge management system and enterprise search.

 

Knowledge management is the process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information generated by your company. Martin White, an enterprise search and information management strategy consultant, has defined enterprise search as, “a managed search environment that enables employees to find information they can rely on in making decisions that will achieve organization and personal objectives.” These two concepts complement each other and the webinar goes into far greater detail about their importance to your company and how you can think about them as you set up or revamp your knowledge management processes.

 

Remember, just like with a car or bike, there are systems to meet all sizes and budgets. We highly recommend you take the time to assess the systems you are looking at and understand what some of your objectives are before spending the money to connect your islands and silos of information. Having these goals and objectives in mind beforehand will save you countless hours during setup and limit the time and expense of future changes you might want to make as your company grows. You might ask yourself, “Why should I go through the headache of this in the first place, it sounds dreadful,” and, to this, I would reply that not leveraging technology will leave you at a competitive disadvantage. With a proper knowledge management and search system in place, you will be nimbler and obtain more insightful analysis into your operations and clients at both a tactical and strategic level.

 

You can find the slides from the presentation below:

 

This webinar was the last in a series of three others which included:

  1. Webinar 1 – Building Online Business Software 101 (B2B)
  2. Webinar 2 – How to Connect Online Business Software 101 (B2B)
  3. Webinar 3 Unifying Business Information with Portals and Dashboards (B2B)

 


Come see us present in person at one of our upcoming events. Anant can be reached at solutions@anant.us for questions, inquiries, and comments.

Webinar 4: How to Organize Business Information with Enterprise Search & Knowledge Management (B2B)

Where is it?!

 

You know you have it and just can’t find it right away.

 

With the myriad of online and on-premise systems available today it is very easy to get frustrated and delayed as your organization drowns in a steady flow of data generation. What is even more aggravating is that you know this issue costs you not just money, but opportunities as well. Your operational efficiency is negatively impacted and, according to various reports and our own experience with clients,  this unnecessary restriction impedes your ability to maximize the value you can provide to your customers and partners.

 

Today, we have Google, Bing, and other search engines to comb the world’s information. What these engines do not see is everything on private networks, your corporate devices, and enterprise servers — and there really is no great, off the shelf solution to pick up the search slack. Very few companies have an efficient search engine for their own internal systems, yet an employee can often be found asking how can it be so hard to find an internal document. The solution to this problem begins with something called enterprise search, which Martin White defines expertly in his book (highly recommended buy) as, “Enterprise search is a managed search environment that enables employees to find information they can rely on in making decisions that will achieve organization and personal objectives.”

 

In this webinar, we will cover actionable steps that you can take in order to pluck your business information out of the depths of your many disconnected business systems such as Salesforce, WordPress, and more. We will also look at potential ways you can implement enterprise search best practices in order to get a hold of your business information and deliver what you do best in a faster and more efficient manner.

 

You can sign up for this Friday’s webinar here. We will start at 10am with a short introduction, followed by a presentation of the topic and demo and, if time allows, finish off with an open-forum style discussion. We look forward to seeing you there!

 

If you would like to check out some light reading prior to the webinar, this post by Martin White is a primer on what to consider when undertaking the development of an enterprise-wide search strategy.

 

 


Come see us present in person at one of our upcoming events. If you are in the DC area next week, Rahul will be moderating the monthly Data Wranglers DC event on Wednesday evening (11/9) at 6:30pm Presenter Mark Chapman will speak about integrating real-time data by using Apache Spark and Kafka for video and data stream analysis.