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Nancy Powaga

Nancy Powaga
Nancy helps app creators build and learn with AppSheet.

Recent Posts

Three Technologies Impacting the Utilities Industry

Digital transformation like mobile apps, augmented reality, cybersecurity, and more are natural fits for people entering the workforce today. But for workers who have been in the utilities industry for years, the idea can be puzzling. After all, the sector only recently opened up to innovation. They’ve been doing things the same way for a long time. “The power and utilities sector was traditionally where many parents or grandparents parked their savings as they got older, attracted by low volatility and stable returns,” explains Deloitte. “While solid and dependable, the sector wasn’t generally considered cutting-edge, innovative, or exciting by any stretch of the word.” The sector’s main goal, Deloitte continues, was to “keep the lights on without breaking the bank.” So, how did we get to this point? As it turns out, innovation has been happening steadily, behind the scenes, for quite some time. Slowly but surely, organizations have been building out their networks and laying the groundwork for the technical revolution that’s taking place today. The roots of what we’re seeing take place can actually be traced back to the 1970s, and the spread of the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System (SCADA), an architecture used for data acquisition and automated control in industrial environments. In the early days of SCADA, utilities only had large mainframe computers. Wide area networking (WAN) hadn’t been invented yet and each SCADA system operated disparately. Over the years, SCADA continued to evolve along with breakthroughs like the Local Area Networking (LAN), personal computers, software, the internet, and eventually wide area networks. Each iteration in computing opened new possibilities in terms of how companies communicate, and how they collect, process, store, and share data. Today, SCADA systems are mostly digital, and they’re playing a critical role in managing information flow and automation across industrial networks. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some digital technologies that are making their way into SCADA systems and utilities.  Machines learning through big data Thanks to the IoT(Internet of Things) and the industrial IoT (IIoT), utilities today are collecting vast amounts of data from business and consumer environments. This information is being used to identify usage trends, drive sustainability efforts, curb costs, and discover revenue-driving opportunities. These days, leading utility companies are starting to move beyond merely collecting big data and applying it more intelligently to their operations. One of the best examples of this can be seen with no-code machine learning. In short, utilities are starting to use intelligent no-code platforms to develop business productivity apps powered by their own data. By using a platform with an embedded machine learning engine, companies are finding new ways to process and leverage unstructured data that they could not previously extract value from. What machine leaning is capable of doing is continually iterating on itself as it collects data. This keeps your businesses as up-to-date as possible so that workers can make the best choices for the job. Cybersecurity for digital infrastructure As utilities are becoming increasingly connected, decision makers are becoming increasingly concerned about the ramifications of a large-scale cyberattack that could produce widespread outages across electric grids. In a recent example, 6,500 government officials and executives came together to prepare for a catastrophic attack. Making matters worse, bad actors are starting to apply artificial intelligence to cyberattacks. This is a trend that will take off in 2020, leading to many problems across the globe. Utility companies are starting to prepare for this next advancement in cybercrime, implementing next-generation cybersecurity solutions supported AI, machine learning, and biometrics. Another security technology that utilities are using today is security information event management (SIEM), a system that provides advanced security monitoring and analytics services across wide area networks. SIEM systems make it possible to detect suspicious end-user activity across WANs. For example, with a SIEM solution in place, a company would be able to detect an unusual login based on the time of day, the location of the end user, and the information they are accessing. IT departments are embracing the power of no-code development because it allows companies to create application specific to their needs while offering complex security protocols that remove some of the headaches for IT when dealing with out-of-the-box software. Increasing networks through SD-WAN SD-WAN revenue is on track to reach $1.5 billion this year. It’s now a top networking trend across all sectors—especially in the increasingly connected utilities sector where bandwidth, security, and availability are all critical for success. SD-WAN involves decoupling the control plane from the data plane, making it possible to deploy virtual networks with lightning speed. By deploying SD-WAN, utility companies can guarantee maximum app performance and scalability across a global network. This leads us to one of the biggest technologies to hit the utilities sector to date: business productivity apps, which are being enabled by cutting-edge no-code platforms. Again, no-code is sought after my many industry leaders right now because of its flexibility, power, and agility. Not only are networks expanding by removing the need to visit centralized control panels, but they are also evolving with a variety of new options thanks to the ability for no-code platforms to iterate upon themselves as new problems arise. Conclusion Technology is a part of our everyday lives whether some would like to admit it or not. In this day and age it's not a choice of whether a company should implement digital transformation into their business model. It's a question of when. "Business as usual" today means that your business is constantly changing thanks to no-code and other technological advancements that are allowing companies and workers the capacity to respond to problems more quickly, efficiently, and securely. The hardest part is making the choice to jump in, but we believe the hard work is worth it in the end.

Getting Creative With DIY Technology

In a matter of months, the Coronavirus had drastically altered how people around the world work and live. The response to the virus has been unprecedented with schools and businesses closing, as well as vast swaths of the population working from home for the foreseeable future. Right now, we don’t know what will happen.  However, we can look to small silver linings that center around human ingenuity. Humans adapt. We make the most of bad situations. We find ways to thrive, even when the odds are stacked against us. In the age of COVID-19, IT departments have once again stepped up to help teams stay productive. Team members are learning new ways to stay connected while working remotely.  But what can individuals do? What if there isn’t a solution for the work or life project you need to tackle?  No-code development platforms have long challenged the status quo set by one-size-fits-all software and applications. And now, as everyone figures out a new normal, no-code technology is uniquely poised to rise to the occasion. Non-technical people can build highly specific technology solutions that adapt to new challenges around work and play. The following list of free AppSheet sample apps will help spur your creativity as you come up with new ways to stay productive, happy, and connected. Or start with your own data to create unique applications. In the meantime, the AppSheet team wishes you health and safety. Take care! Education and homeschooling apps Assignment management app Activity schedule app Class assignment app How-to instructional app Work from home apps Project management app Sales and lead tracking app Contact manager app Quote calculator Timesheet app Webinar app Leave a comment to let us know what you’re building.

Making the Most of Barcodes, QR Codes, and NFC

The origins of barcode scanning in business For most, the word “barcode” conjures up images of stocked grocery aisles and packages marked with the now-ubiquitous Universal Product Code (UPC). While we’re all familiar with the the black vertical lines that make up a barcode, most of us take this simple invention for granted — not realizing the extent to which it’s revolutionized how businesses operate. Invented in the 1950s, barcode scanning was inspired by a Philadelphia grocery store’s desire to automatically record product information during checkout, a manual process up to that point. During the 1970s, with the introduction of the UPC, barcodes started appearing on the packages and store shelf labeling for most household goods. Over the last five decades, barcode scanning has revolutionized industries — improving overall efficiency, speeding up inventory management, automating tasks, and reducing opportunities for human error. While the one-dimensional barcode continues to be reliable and effective, its success inspired the development and adoption of more modern scanning systems like Quick Response (QR) codes and Near-field Communication (NFC), which help businesses streamline their processes even further. Let’s take a look at the role these systems play today in the manufacturing, utilities, and construction industries. “Lean manufacturing” with barcode scanning Many areas of manufacturing can be rife with inefficiencies, with excess labor and overly complex processes leading to bloated costs and reduced productivity. But barcode scanning has helped companies of all sizes pursue “lean manufacturing” — a way of doing more with less that was first popularized by Toyota in the 1930s. While adopting lean systems can be expensive (in terms of both cost and time), barcode scanning continues to be a simple, proven and cost-effective method for streamlining and automating myriad manufacturing and distribution processes. In manufacturing, barcodes are used for a variety of mission-critical tasks, including: Getting real-time tracking alerts and inventory status on parts and goods Quickly locating stock across multiple locations without having to roam warehouses Processing and managing orders with accuracy Replacing manual inventory-taking and data entry methods Eco-friendly QR code practices for utilities The success of the barcode led to the development of QR codes in the 1990s. Unlike one-dimensional barcodes, QR codes are coded in two directions (across and up/down), which means they can hold much more information, including text, URLs, images, videos, and documents. Because of their flexibility and storage, utility companies have been using them to not only improve the customer experience, but also to implement sustainable and eco-friendly business practices. For instance, in 2015, the United Kingdom’s Department of Energy and Climate Change introduced QR codes on residents’ energy bills. With a single QR code, each resident was able to perform all of the following by simply scanning the code with their smartphone: Monitor their gas and electricity consumption Review comparison charts of energy costs across different suppliers Easily switch suppliers to save money Utility companies in other regions have adopted similar practices, as well as using QR codes to replace paper documents that require mailing to provide a quick and easy way for customers to access billing and other information without having to print it or request hard copies. NFC on construction job sites NFC — a short-range wireless communication technology that became its own standard in 2003 — is also helping companies improve efficiency, especially in the field. Rooted in RFID (radio-frequency identification technology), NFC allows two-way communication between two electronic devices when they’re within 4 cm of each other. It enables familiar consumer experiences like contactless mobile payment systems and content-sharing on social media, as well as pushing offers and incentives to retail customers’ smartphones as they enter or move through a store. NFC has also been widely adopted to help companies with workforce, equipment and inventory identification, authentication, and tracking. In the construction industry, NFC tags and readers are used on busy job sites to streamline day-to-day operations. For instance, NFC readers are strategically placed around sites to automatically track workers’ arrival times and whereabouts across specific locations. Some companies even place NFC tags on hardhats to quickly access workers’ safety accreditations and to accurately track people during sudden site evacuations. Construction sites are also using NFC tags and readers to track and manage on-site equipment, including tracking materials and sections of large structures as they arrive on site. Choosing the right solution for your business Barcodes, QR codes, and NFC all have their individual advantages, and one shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for another. Instead, all three are effective for streamlining processes, automating work, and reducing opportunities for human error — it’s just a matter of using them smartly, in ways that optimize for each of their strengths. And while their results can transform your business in powerful ways, they’re still quite affordable and easy to implement. So why not experiment with all three?

No-Code Development Saves Time and Money by Bridging the IT-Business Gap

Virtually every business is now digital in some form or other, with organizations heavily relying on digital systems and tools to engage internally and externally. As a result, IT teams play a key role in most large- and many medium-sized companies. But businesses that weren’t born digital — including those in traditional industries such as manufacturing, utilities, and construction — often struggle to bridge the gap between business and IT teams.  No-code platforms can help those on the business side easily build and maintain key apps, reducing development and communications churn, saving money, and creating more relevant user experiences. At the same time, often-overburdened IT department are freed up to focus on mission-critical network and infrastructure initiatives.  Save time and communications churn with no-code App development can be a time-consuming, inbox-filling experience; and many companies spin their wheels as IT and business teams try to align on development. Like the analogy of too many cooks in the kitchen, app development initiatives often have too many voices at the table, working at cross purposes as they try to define requirements, design the user experience, and develop a solution that meets everyone’s goals and needs.  Since no-code platforms do not require coding skills, business teams can autonomously build and deploy a wide array of data-based apps to support everything from inventory and asset management to hiring streams and business process workflows — without relying on IT to get the job done. With the right no-code platform, apps can be built in as little as a day (vs. the months-long process typical in cross-functional app development efforts).  Off-the-shelf is often off-the-mark IT teams often rely on off-the-shelf software or pre-written codebases to build apps that serve the widest possible audience. But those apps often don’t support the specific needs of the teams that license them.  With no-code development, people in any area of the company — from HR and finance to marketing and sales — can easily build apps that are customized for their team, processes, data, and goals. Instead of purchasing a one-size-fits-all solution that doesn’t quite solve downstream needs, teams can now build, launch, and update their apps as needs evolve. Doing more with less (IT support) Often, apps are costly to build due to the sheer amount of IT development time involved. And in a landscape where demand for skilled developers outstrips the available supply of talent, IT teams are often understaffed and paying a premium for their hires. Likewise, the expense of per-user seat licenses for third-party software can be prohibitive (especially if most of the users are only using a fraction of the available features and functionality). No-code development allows companies to build the specific apps they need without absorbing costly developer hours or investing in large-scale SaaS tools. For instance, companies with a vast array of equipment and other hard assets may spend upwards of $11,000 per user for broad-spectrum, off-the-shelf enterprise asset management (EAM) software. Yet, with no-code, those same activities can be supported at very low cost by building apps for user-, location-, asset-, and function-specific needs. And then these apps can be integrated with a centralized reporting app. Stakeholders and users get exactly the functionality they need, while saving not only money but also valuable IT resources that might normally have gone into rolling out a large-scale solution. An added bonus: Instead of the months often needed to train an entire company (including new hires) on a one-size-fits-all solution, you can now quickly train individual teams to work in just the apps they need for their respective jobs. As digital transformation takes hold around the world, no-code platforms are empowering business teams to independently build the apps they need most, while freeing up limited IT resources for more strategic initiatives. No-code is helping companies save significant time and money, while also allowing teams to create the data-based apps they need to support their users more effectively and efficiently. The time is ripe for no-code to shift the way everyone works, from IT to business. Ready to learn more? We are here to help you get started with no-code development!

No-code development + human-centered design puts people first

Made famous by the Silicon Valley design firm, IDEO, in the 1990s, human-centered design (HCD) is a framework that approaches problem-solving and product design from a deeply human perspective. According to IDEO.org, “Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.” And when used effectively, HCD incorporates input from the very people experiencing the problem you’re trying to solve throughout the design process. While human-centered design can manifest in different methods, depending on the team and the problems needing solving, HCD is founded on guiding principles that are also exemplified in no-code development. Let’s take a look at how human-centered design lends itself to both no-code development and successful no-code apps. Staying people-focused Who better to fix a problem than those who understand that problem best? While human-centered design emphasizes the importance of empathizing with the people affected by the problem that needs solving, no-code development actually empowers those same people to build solutions themselves. Because no-code platforms allow non-technical people to create apps without having to write actual code, anyone can digitize routine work, automate tasks, and create apps to improve how things are done in the workplace. Like HCD, no-code development uses a bottoms-up approach that enables those closest to a problem and the work to explore the types of products or solutions that can make a meaningful difference in the workplace. No-code allows the general workforce (and not just engineering teams or IT) to come up with solutions that meet the everyday needs and use cases that off-the-shelf products too often can’t address, since they’re built “for everyone.” With no-code, the very people experiencing a pain point can take matters into their own hands and develop a solution that addresses their real needs. Teams no longer need to wait for engineering resources – and the inevitable game of telephone (and endless meetings) that often lead to lengthy development timelines, not to mention products that don’t fully solve the problems faced by workers. Test, iterate, repeat A fundamental principle of human-centered design is to frequently test your designs and solutions on the very people who will ultimately use what you build. Without HCD, you can end up designing within a vacuum, which often leads to solutions that don’t actually solve anything and products that just collect dust. Meanwhile, people don’t get the products they actually need to do their jobs, resulting in a lot of workarounds and duct-taped solutions that lead to inefficiencies, poor management, and inaccuracies. While traditional software can take months or even years to develop, no-code platforms are designed to help people without any technical skills or background to launch apps quickly and easily. With no-code development, workers can easily deploy prototypes for testing within the workplace, refine their prototypes using feedback gathered from trusted testers, and continue iterating until they’re ready to launch a finished app across a team, department, or entire organization. Empowering your workforce Applying human-centered design principles to no-code development can not only result in a rich set of apps that are incredibly customized and fine-tuned for your teams, but it can also empower your workforce and engage them in meaningful and truly productive ways. No-code platforms allow workers to bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds at a time where many are worried about their skills getting replaced by artificial intelligence and automation. By keeping people and real-life users at the forefront of development – and empowering employees to build their own apps – your teams will have the ability to improve all areas of their day-to-day work, including training, on-boarding, project management, and more. So as you consider your road map for internal tools and identify urgent business needs, consider using the framework of human-centered design and a no-code development platform to inspire and get real results, quickly. Want to learn how AppSheet can help your organization use human-centered design?

Transform Expense Reporting in 2020

This year is shaping up to be pivotal for business as companies look to boost profits and make inroads into new markets. But growth takes money which of course impacts the bottom line. Controlling financial output becomes critical. However, many companies still use outdated expense reporting systems which puts them at a major disadvantage against their forward-thinking peers.  Enter expense reporting for the year 2020. Challenges around traditional expense reporting  First, let's explore some problems that can arise by using traditional paper or spreadsheet-based expense tracking systems:  Slow processing times  This won't come as a surprise: paper and spreadsheet-based expense reporting takes time. Reports need to be created manually, submitted, processed, approved, and cleared. In some cases, the process can take weeks or even months. This timeline can result in delayed payments, slowing down your business and frustrating workers.  Unauthorized transactions  Employees often submit expense reports without receipts, opening the door to fraud, errors, and abuse while creating challenges during financial audits. Companies tend to be less strict about expense reports when there aren’t any formal policies or mechanisms in place for processing employee payments.  Security issues  Manual expense reporting is very insecure and can leave sensitive transactions — like strategic trips or executive purchases — open to employees who shouldn't see this information. Companies should always avoid managing expense reports without proper access controls in place.  Expense reporting apps  The solution? Going digital with your expense reports. Here are some of the benefits:  Goodbye, paper!  Paper is highly-resource intensive and takes a toll on the environment. Paper expense forms need to be transcribed, processed, and filed. Paper also needs to be purchased and stocked on a regular basis. Digital apps are far less expensive, provide more accurate data, and are a more sustainable record keeping option.  Automatic alerts Paper and emails can remain stagnant within inboxes for weeks on end. However, digital reports can be sent along with SMS triggers ensuring that administrators receive alerts and respond quickly with approvals. This system reduces payment backlogs while supercharging productivity and accelerating incident response. Advanced forecasts  Digital apps can also provide advanced reporting features, making it possible to track daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly employee or departmental expense patterns. A company can track annual expense reporting over time and use that information to make better decisions about the next year’s budget. No longer a drag For most companies, financial expense reporting is a laborious and inefficient process.  The good news? Mobile expense reporting apps turn the process into a strategic asset, helping to reduce waste and risk while improving back office efficiency. Ultimately, making the change delivers more value to your customers.  Check out how AppSheet’s no-code platform can help transform expense reporting.  

The Stages of Digital Transformation for Construction Companies

There are many ways construction companies can approach digital transformation with each approach carrying specific advantages.Ultimately, construction companies should be looking to weave multiple technologies together in order to create well-rounded digital transformation strategy that encompasses connectivity, software, connected endpoints, big data, and analytics. So where do you start? First, consider where your company sits in terms of digital transformation progress. Forrester breaks down digital transformation into three tiers: 47 percent of organizations are classified as beginners, using rudimentary digital strategies that transform experiences. 39 percent of companies are in an intermediate state of digital transformation, with strategies in place that can transform business operations. 14 percent of companies have achieved an advanced state of digital transformation, where it’s possible to transform markets. Here’s a breakdown of some of the benefits that a construction company can achieve through digital transformation in the context of Forrester’s three tiers: Beginner Construction companies with loosely-defined or uncoordinated digital transformation strategies can be classified as beginners. Benefits at this stage may include enhanced communication (e.g., using apps or real-time communications platforms), enhanced productivity, improved data entry, and possibly some cost reductions. At this level, business processes and employee experiences are improved. Intermediate At the intermediate level, digital transformation is tied together and executed strategically across the organization. At this stage, benefits extend beyond just the user experience. Companies tend to operate as cohesive digital units driven by mobile apps, connected devices, and analytics. At the intermediate level, however, benefits do not extend beyond the walls of the company. A company can’t expect to drive industry-wide change with an intermediate digital transformation strategy.   Advanced The highest level a company can attain is an advanced state of digital transformation. Here, the organization is fully digitalized and capable of driving change across an entire supply chain, making use of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, sharing apps and services with vendors, and using predictive analytics to make decisions and plan project outcomes. At this stage, companies typically avoid making hasty digital deployments. Instead, they roll out so-called “lighthouse” projects, which are small projects designed to study how digital processes may impact teams or divisions. Companies at the advanced level tend to be much more methodical about how they go about digital transformation. One step at a time Digitalizing your construction business is becoming a vital process because of how the industry is evolving, but that doesn't mean you have to drop yourself in the deep end immediately. The great thing about digital transformation is that you can do it at your pace, one step at a time.

Digital Transformation for Utilities: The Flywheel Effect

Has your organization begun its digital transformation process? Are you just starting out or well on your way? No matter your answer, remember that digital transformation refers to an operational state and not a destination. Even organizations that are fully digitized need to continuously explore new and better operations. Digital transformation, in other words, is an ongoing effort much like research and development. The utilities industry needs to be especially ready to adapt and grow. Customer expectations, new technology, and climate change present challenges—and enormous opportunities—for utility companies. Seem daunting? Let's get motivated. Digital transformation promises a massive potential payoff. Utility companies stand to generate performance gains of 20 to 40 percent by implementing new technologies. Read on for the top benefits to digital transformation in the utilities industry. And remember, once your digital programs have started, these benefits become ongoing characteristics that you can improve and grow. Reduced waste Digital transformation helps identify and eliminate areas of waste, both in terms of finances and productivity. Digital lighthouse projects help kick-start and illuminate these benefits so that everyone in your organization gets on board. Lighthouse projects involve setting up a small team that goes through the various departments of your company and analyzes the various ways they conduct their work. This digital analysis uncovers inefficient practices or problems areas in your business that you can then implement digital solutions toward. Once a lighthouse project succeeds, digital transformation tends to work like a flywheel by gaining momentum with each new project. Improved visibility Digital transformation can also be a remarkable learning experience for utility companies. One you've identified how different departments operate, implementing new technologies can be an empowering experience for both the workers and the management team. For instance, imagine sending a task force to interview a group of engineers and see how they work. In addition to potentially identifying new technologies, it’s a great opportunity for management to check in and find out what actually happens on across the business. This can produce invaluable feedback that can help improve operations. Agility to get the job done Digital disruptors entering the industry put traditional utilities companies at risk. Embracing digital transformation is a great way to stay agile and nimble enough to pivot and capitalize on new opportunities. No-code platforms create flexible, agile, and powerful technological solutions for businesses. Workers, project managers, and IT professionals create applications that provide standardization while allowing immense customization and options. Employees get tools they need to complete jobs quicker and from anywhere. A key factor in job completion is getting the data recorded and then entered into the system. Often, that might involve workers having to transport paper documents to computers or offices. With mobile applications, workers can record and upload data directly to the server from their phone, cutting out a lot of the legwork. Improved customer experience  Utility companies that undergo digital transformation also have the opportunity to become customer experience (CX) leaders — a strong differentiator in a field that typically ranks very low in customer satisfaction reports. Successful utility companies use a combination of data, smart devices, intelligent apps, and more to provide stellar customer service that translates into stronger experiences. Customer experience is often based around response time, ease of use, and transparency. When workers have more freedom and power to complete their jobs efficiently, customers enjoy quicker and more reliable service. Everyone wins.

Your Guide to No-Code Development

Want to learn about no-code development? You’ve come to the right place. Recently, we created a resource center where you can learn all about the technology, AppSheet’s bread and butter. Visit our “What is No-Code Development” page to find: A download of AppSheet’s latest white paper, Business Uncoded: An Introduction to No-Code App Development. Customer stories from no-code development early adopters. A library of sample no-code apps for you to explore, copy, and customize. Explore no-code development Check back frequently for updates to the page. In the meantime, comment below with any questions you have about no-code development, platforms, use cases, or whatever else you’d like to know about the technology. We'll do our best to answer your questions. Have no-coding!

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