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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.

Feature Friday: Exciting News, New Card View, and Onboarding View Update

Welcome back to AppSheet’s Feature Friday where we showcase our favorite features. This quick guide will help you build your apps faster so you can focus on what matters.    Have you heard our big news?  Last week we announced that AppSheet is joining the Google Cloud team. We’re incredibly excited for this next step in our journey and most importantly, we’re excited to have you join us. For more information on our future with Google, please read this letter from our AppSheet CEO Praveen.   Improved Card View   We discussed this release in our recent Office Hours session, but in case you missed it, here’s a quick overview. This improved card view gives you much more flexibility and allows your app to have that custom feel you’ve been hoping for. You can even create a kanban board layout with this view type.  We anticipate more updates in the future, keep an eye on this thread to ensure that you remain up to date on how we continue to improve this view.  Onboarding View It's easy to overlook one of the most challenging parts of creating and deploying applications to a team: app user adoption. In order to help your users understand why your application is useful and how to best take advantage of it, we've introduced a dedicated 'Onboarding' view type. This view works like any of our other first class views, working directly from a table of data that contains visual and text instructions. You can construct multiple pages that app users swipe through when they first open the application, rather than the single static 'About' page that existed previously. How will you use these new features in what you’re creating? Stop by the AppSheet community and let us know! Happy app building!    

Feature Friday: Top Ten Empowering Features of the Year

Welcome back to AppSheet’s Feature Friday where we showcase our favorite features. To close out 2019, we wanted to highlight the top feature releases of the year. We took this list very seriously, in part because we released so much this year that it made our heads spin. Rather than rehash the data pulls and heart breaks over what made the list, we’ll take you straight to the good stuff.  The Top Ten 10. File Generating Workflows If you work with workflows, chances are you also use the "Save File" feature. Because of its popularity, we grew this feature over the course of 2019 to include custom PDF sizes, .ics calendar invites, and more. To learn more about the “so awesome”capability of this feature, see how the AppSheet Community has been using it. 9. SNAPSHOT() SNAPSHOT() is a new release, but within the first few days of availability it was used more than 3000 times. For those of you that have applications that incorporate daily inspection reports of a worksite or you have large amounts of data displayed in a dashboard that you would like to send to your executive team automatically, this is a great expression to add.  8. Bulk Select The small but mighty action that made a big impact for applications built by everyone in the AppSheet Community, including our staff. With this feature you can scroll through the view highlighting the rows where you want to apply a normal action. If you've never used it before, there's a sample app included below where you can give it a whirl.  7. Data: execute an action on a set of rows As displayed below, there are a number of actions you can take to modify data or navigation within your application. One of the purposes of these action types is to save you time and make your applications more efficient. If you're looking for an automated version of the popular bulk select feature, this action makes that happen. 6. Customizable Dashboards Interactive mode, tabs, and custom sizing all provided new and powerful ways to display your data in this view type. according to fellow Creators, “The dashboards and data analytics side of app sheet is honestly my favorite.” The data supports this too, with tens of thousands of dashboards being added to applications this year.    5. Add a new row to another table using values from this row Released this summer, this action has been a hot topic. With this action you can specify which separate table data should be added to while defining each column added, allowing rows of data to quickly be updated and moved across all tables in your application.  4. Predictive Values Need to estimate the cost of a project or predict customer churn? You'll love predictive values. Technically we released a beta of this feature in late 2018, but we’ve made so many updates to it this year that it was an absolute must to include on this list.  3. Predictive Classification If you've ever wondered why we call ourselves an "Intelligent Platform" this is one of the reasons why. This release plus a little machine learning can help improve your apps in countless ways.    2. Map Point Grouping Maps can become very cluttered very, very quickly. We wanted to help avoid this often frustrating display issue by giving you the option of grouping your pins together or leaving them separate on your map display.  1. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) Extracting information such as prices or names from an image became possible this year. Since the beta release in late July, this feature has been used in thousands of applications making it number one on our list for a reason. It’s highly customizable, powerful, and a complete game changer.    That’s a wrap on the top features of the year! Stop by the AppSheet community to let us know what your favorite feature of the year was.  Thank you all for a fantastic 2019 and a very Happy New Year!   

Feature Friday: Duration, CONTEXT() Updates, and a New Onboarding View

Welcome back to AppSheet’s Feature Friday where we showcase our favorite features. This quick guide will help you build your apps faster so you can focus on what matters.  Duration  Duration is part of the Date and Time expression family and allows you to calculate duration of seconds, minute, or hours. This has been expanded to make it easier to compute intervals in TOTALSECONDS(), TOTALMINUTES(), and TOTALHOURS(). These functions are great ways to track hours worked by your employees or manage duration of time spent on a project.   CONTEXT() Update The function CONTEXT(option) is used to return a Text value that indicates where in the app this expression is being used. It's useful for "meta-data" operations but in a rather limited scope. We've expanded the functionality to include a fourth option, CONTEXT("AppName"). You can take a deeper dive into the technical side of CONTEXT() functions in reviewing this help document.  Coming Soon: New Onboarding View  The “About View” that your users currently interact with is rather static. To improve the experience for onboarding those that use your applications, keep an eye out for a soon to be released “Onboarding View.” You’ll have multiple pages for content, swiping capabilities and more.  Top Features of the Year  Next week we will be releasing our list of the Top Ten Features of the Year. stay tuned to see if your favorite made the list!    How will you use these new features in what you’re creating? Stop by the AppSheet community and let us know! Happy app building!

Feature Friday: Intersect, Table Sorting, and ICS Calendar

Welcome back to AppSheet’s Feature Friday where we showcase our favorite features. This quick guide will help you build your apps faster so you can focus on what matters.    INTERSECT() Are you a list person? If so, then you probably have a few lists running with common items that you wish you could manage differently. We’d like to give you a bit of sanity back by introducing you to our INTERSECT() function.  Whether you're managing inventory or events, you’re going to want to go straight to your editor and add this function. It takes all the elements which are common to both of the original lists and stores them in another list. The newly created list becomes a summary of the elements that we similar.  Our community has had a few days to work with this feature and has some great suggestions on how to implement this new expression. To learn more stop by the AppSheet Community.  Table Sorting in Dashboards A small but mighty feature, this update allows Tables displayed in Dashboards to be sorted by their headers. Previously, Tables that displayed in Dashboards were relatively static. This new capability, however, provides a more interactive way to present your data.  We introduced this update in our new and improved Office Hours this week. If you missed the session, we've got you covered.    ICS Calendar Attachments   We're expanding the options available for the file types that can be sent in your workflows. The latest addition is the ICS Calendar (also known as .ics) which allows you to send calendar invitations in an email message. If you've received a meeting request or event invitation in an email, you've used .ics before.  This workflow update can be used for sending calendar information for everything from formal meeting requests to surprise party invites. Information sent in your .ics file can include location, date, time and more. To learn more about working with workflows, review our workflow support series.  How will you use these new features in what you’re creating? Stop by the AppSheet community and let us know! Happy app building!

How Mobile Apps Can Increase Your Construction Site Productivity

Finding ways to increase productivity at the work site is a major concern for many construction company owners. Often, there is a lack of standardization across construction teams; workers complete tasks differently, find shortcuts to get things down quicker, and record data often by hand. Adopting mobile apps is a great way to solve a lot of these problems while also offering powerful and flexible tools for workers to add to their tool-belt.  Many contractors are using (or building their own) apps for project management. One benefit of project management mobile apps is reducing the amount of paper needed on a job - especially drawings. Mobile apps are not only reducing the need for so much paperwork, but they also are centralizing your data. In the past, workers might need to fill out paperwork after visiting a site, and then deliver it, fax it, or scan it, when they get to the site office or back to their own. Using Mobile apps allows them to store and send data to everyone who needs it wherever there is a mobile signal. Many existing processes can be automated and provide important information for everyone involved on a construction project. Applications can be designed to track progress of projects to help save time and increase efficiency. Here are some ways mobile apps can help your construction company stay productive and agile in today’s fast-changing market: Better tracking of your job site Adopting a mobile infrastructure for your business doesn't just get rid of paper, it also allows you more flexibility and agility in tracking your workers' work and your assets whereabouts. Theft is a common problem on construction sites, particularly of valuable materials like tools, copper, and aluminum. Using radio-frequency identification (RFID) devices to track assets via mobile apps can help recover missing or stolen articles, while mobile surveillance can help reduce job site theft and increase employee productivity, especially at remote sites. In addition to the added protection over your job site, mobile tracking allows you to make smarter decisions when allocating resources between multiple sites and workers. Power to your payroll One of the biggest headaches of any business comes from tracking and recording of your workers' hours. Accountability can prove difficult when you're working systems that don't properly document the time in and out. Using mobile apps to file times sheets and process payroll can help boost efficiency, since workers can clock in on their mobile devices and report to work immediately on their mobile devices. Your apps can also give GPS tracking and bio-metric capabilities can also help reduce time fraud. And real-time information can be immediately processed via mobile apps, reducing response time and increasing efficiency. One example of this type of app is SurePayroll, which allows employees to access paychecks and other payroll details at their own convenience, and allows employers to access their payrolls even on the go. Whether it’s paying regular employees or independent contractors, employers can enter payroll, preview, and submit payroll at the touch of a button. Project Management and Collaboration Mobile apps can connect everyone involved on a construction project, from architects to engineers to project managers. Adopting these mobile technologies can help manage activities, employees, information, and processes associated with a given project and even control scheduling. Mobile apps allow project managers to download blueprints, sync information in real-time, and communicate with the job site even when they aren't on-site. One popular app for project management  is the Photo Measures App, which allows users to measure dimensions captured in photos. It has a user-friendly interface, and users can quickly record and save measurement on a frequent basis. Another app that helps reduce planning time and boost efficiency in construction projects is Plan Grid, which allows project managers to easily share plans, markups, photos, and reports with the entire project team from anywhere. PlanGrid can be used with or without an internet connection during construction to track revisions, document progress, and manage issues in the field while keeping everyone on the current set. Mobile Apps Reduce Constructions Costs The construction industry has been seriously challenged by rising costs and declining opportunities, placing increasing pressure on companies to make their processes more cost and time efficient.  According to Go Canvas, statistics show that 50 percent of a worker’s time while on the clock is devoted to wasteful activity caused by poor communication, inadequate management, or over-staffing. Meanwhile, construction companies are losing some $6.9 billion in inefficient processes among operations and maintenance staff, and $1.7 billion to outdated communications like paper forms. And large construction companies can waste some $3.5 million searching for information or recreating documents they couldn’t find. AppSheet can help you customize apps to boost your construction job site productivity and efficiency. Built with Google Sheets and AppSheet, the app automatically captures GPS locations, collections images, and allows customization of the collected data. Here are a couple sample apps that you can play around with to get started: Quote Calculator enables contractors to calculate payment owed based on services rendered, and is a useful tool to quickly and easily calculate costs of services. The app allows users to input numerical data in to the app, calculate and display the results, and save the entry for future recall. Repair Manual is a useful app for any business that needs to provide an instruction manual to employees or customers. This app has step-by-step instructions for repairing dry-wall, with helpful images that demonstrate each step clearly. Timesheet is an app easily tracks log times in and out to compute hours and calculate total wages, providing all necessary information for accounting or human resources departments. This app uses information capture via forms, app formulas, virtual columns, references, and image display. Let AppSheet help you raise the roof on your construction job site with custom mobile apps!  This post was updated on December 9th, 2019.

Feature Friday: DateTime, New “Save” Button, and Enterprise Updates

Welcome back to AppSheet’s Feature Friday where we showcase our favorite features. This quick guide will help you build your apps faster so you can focus on what matters.    DateTime  Have you been waiting for the ability of 24-hour format selection regardless of locale? Good news, you can! You can learn more about this new expression in the TEXT() document, but here’s a look at the function itself.  TEXT(DATETIME("2019-11-01 1:34 PM"), "HH:MM") returns 13:34 For the non-engineers who may be wondering what a 24-hour format DateTime selection is, here's a quick breakdown. DateTime is an expression that displays time in what some call "military time" (ex: 06:00pm would be 18:00). Some locales typically default to 12 hour formats while other locales default to 24 hour formats. When you use this new expression your locale no longer matters. This is great for those who work with different users across the globe.  New “Save” button  The floating “Save” button is getting a makeover. If you've been around AppSheet for some time you're probably used to seeing this in your nested menus when it's time to save the work that you’ve done:  With the recent change, your "Save" button now looks like this:  This update brought the addition of a few keyboard shortcuts, and the ability to both Undo and Redo items in your editor. It can be found in its new location, your primary navigation bar. Enterprise Updates  If you benefit from working with an Enterprise plan, a few administrative updates are taking place. The ability to transfer all applications (think bulk action) grants a Root Admin the ability to transfer applications from one user to another. This is a great way to manage access when someone on your account no longer needs to manage applications.  The Enterprise Dashboard has also been redesigned and will include a search bar to the shared apps tab, you can take a look at a preview below.  Coming Soon: Improved Card View  More UX changes are on the way and this time it’s the Card View. You’ll be able to configure layouts by clicking on elements and when data is loading, the layout will show animated UI skeletons. Make sure to follow along in the Community to see when it becomes available.  How will you use these new features in what you’re creating? Stop by the AppSheet community and let us know!  Happy app building!

Feature Black Friday

Happy Black Friday! Take some time to digest our favorite new features from the last month. And you don't even have to wake up at the dawn to get cracking on using these in your latest apps. SNAPSHOT() Use this expression to embed charts & maps in workflow generated emails & PDFs, for richer notifications, documents and reports. Range of Rows A simple update that will save you time is the ability to select multiple rows (or items) and perform an action.  Webhook Generating Form Post Customize and control the content and format for your webhook body with a template.  EXTRACT() Extract selected values from your text by implementing this new expression.  UX Color Schemes Choose from “dark” or “light” color schemes to have a cohesive UX experience in your applications.  Stay current with our feature updates by attending one of our upcoming webinars.

Feature Friday: UX color schemes, a sneak peek, and SVG

Welcome back to AppSheet’s Feature Friday where we showcase our favorite features. This quick guide will help you build your apps faster so you can focus on what matters. UX color scheme updates  If you’ve created a new app recently, you’ve probably noticed a change to the color scheme selections. We’ve updated the choices available to select either a light color scheme or a dark color scheme paired with your button color of choice. This is a temporary, incremental part of some of the improvements we’ll be making to the branding capabilities in your AppSheet editor. As part of this change, we’d love to hear more from you, our app creators. Because of this we’ll have a few members of our team who work closely with UX in our Office Hours session on Tuesday, November 26th. During that time you’ll be able to provide feedback and ask UX related questions. Register here if you’re interested in attending. Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG)  A topic that’s been trending in our community as of late has been working with Scalable Vector Graphics. For those new to this concept, SVG is a graphic format based on XML and is used to display a wide variety of graphics in digital environments. This is a great way to improve logo designs, images used on PDFs, and more. Coming soon: improved Emulator  Over the next few weeks we’ll slowly be rolling out an important improvement. The Emulator in your AppSheet editor is getting a makeover to improve your app creation experience. Soon, you’ll see sleeker aesthetics, have the ability to preview different form factors without leaving the editor page, and jump straight to to full screen application.  How will you use these new features in what you’re creating? Stop by the AppSheet community and let us know! Happy app building!