Connection Community Official Technology Community of Connection Fri, 30 Sep 2022 15:51:54 +0000 hourly 1 Safety First: How Samsung’s Inertia Mobile... Sep 30, 2022 Taylor Mallory Holland

As warehouses increasingly equip forklifts and other industrial vehicles with mounted rugged tablets, they’re experiencing a wide range of benefits—from streamlined paperless workflows to wayfinding to real-time inventory. But distracted driving can be just as dangerous on a warehouse floor as it is on the road.

There are currently about 855,900 forklifts in operation in the U.S. Roughly 11 percent of them are involved in an accident each year—resulting in 34,900 serious injuries and 85 fatalities. If forklift drivers are suddenly distracted by tablet screens, those numbers could start to rise.

That’s why Samsung SDS developed Inertia, a new mobile solution that helps industrial truck operators use tablets to work more efficiently and effectively, without dangerous distractions.

Why Tablets Are Trending in Manufacturing
Over the last couple years, businesses have struggled to meet demand amid significant talent shortages and supply chain disruptions. Forward-thinking manufacturers have continued to modernize warehouses and factory floors—including their forklifts, tuggers, stackers, hi-los, and other vehicles.

Mounting tablets on forklifts helps drivers move seamlessly from one task to another. With the right software integrations, drivers can view tasks, find the most efficient route to wherever they need to go and scan pallets—without getting off the forklift. Rather than leafing through printed order lists (which quickly become outdated) or answering frequent walkie-talkie calls with new pickup requests, drivers get all the information they need in real time and from one device. 

The Inertia solution makes sure these tablets are used safely, only when vehicles are not in motion.

How Inertia Works
Inertia is a simple and highly impactful solution designed for mounted Samsung devices in manufacturing environments. When a vehicle is in motion, the device locks down and the screen goes blank until the driver comes to a complete stop.

It features different configuration levels that can be customized for different vehicles and different types of surfaces, so sensors on the device can distinguish between vibrations and actual movement. When drivers need information, they pull over, and the tablet is immediately available to them. As soon as they start moving, the tablet goes to sleep.

3 Benefits of Inertia

1. Fewer Accidents
Inertia is a relatively new solution, but it has already been implemented by several large manufacturing facilities, including a leading global automobile manufacturer. Before deploying Inertia, this business had two or three distracted driving-related incidents per month. Now, these accidents are nonexistent.

2. Lower Costs
As of January 2022, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fines businesses up to $14,502 per safety violation, and up to $145,027 for repeated violations. Industrial vehicle accidents cost even more, especially when you factor in equipment repairs and workers’ compensation. In 2020, forklifts alone caused 7,290 nonfatal injuries requiring multiple days away from work, with an average 17 missed days per person injured.

3. Easy to Deploy
Similar tools often require external cameras and additional sensors, whereas Inertia is self-contained and requires no third-party peripherals. Using it is as simple as installing software on Samsung tablets. The solution can be deployed quickly across fleets of industrial vehicles.

Deploy at Scale and Protect Your Investment

For large or multilocation manufacturers, even a simple solution can be time consuming to deploy if someone from IT has to manually install, configure, and update each device. Samsung Knox Suite lets businesses remotely manage and configure devices and software, pushing updates to individual devices, groups of devices, or entire fleets all at once.

To help manufacturers deploy safe mobile solutions quickly and at scale, Samsung offers a bundle that includes Inertia, Knox Suite, and Galaxy Tab Active3. Durable enough to meet MIL-STD-810H military standards for rugged devices, Galaxy Tab Active3 is well suited to manufacturing environments, and it can be fixed on forklift mounts. Enhanced touch capability allows the tablet to be used with gloves or in wet weather. And the S Pen—IP68 rated for dust, dirt, and water resistance—helps replace paper and clipboards.

Mobilizing industrial vehicle operations is a key step in modernizing manufacturing, but digital transformation should never come at a safety risk. Inertia is a simple, low-cost solution that manufacturers can deploy quickly to help create a safer workplace. To learn more about Samsung’s manufacturing solutions, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice today. 

TechSperience Episode 111: Mobility... Sep 30, 2022 Connection

Mobile technologies play a critical role in today’s digital world. While there’s a big focus on our remote and hybrid workforce, there are many industries that have frontline employees. This podcast explores how mobile technologies have evolved since the pandemic—from the employee and customer experience point of view—across healthcare, retail, hospitality, warehousing, and manufacturing industries.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest: Terry Price, Senior Sales Engineer, Zebra Technologies

Show Notes: 

[1:20] Mobile contact tracing and tracking technologies have taken off since COVID. In-person industries had to implement social distancing practices and set maximum capacity limits to minimize potential exposure.

[3:03] Serviceability for customers has drastically changed in the last few years. Customers expect instant gratification and convenience. Mobile technologies have become more necessary as we are quickly becoming a cashless society.

[8:09] Ease of use and manageability are also at the forefront for consumers. It’s key to leverage mobile technologies that use a “common” operating system, such as Android, to deliver a streamlined interface that users are familiar with.

[10:17] Healthcare workers require more out of their mobile devices than any other industry. Healthcare practitioners rely on technologies for patient care and life-and-death scenarios. These use cases require ruggedized mobile technologies that are fast and efficient.

[13:20] Disinfectant-ready devices are must-haves in healthcare. Retail and hospitality industries followed suit by adopting healthcare-grade devices.

[15:07] For many industries, ruggedized devices are critical, but decision-makers are sometimes hesitant on the upfront investment. A consumer-grade device will likely require more replacements and overall management. Ruggedized devices will result in an overall lower total cost of ownership.

[19:00] Each industry defines cybersecurity in different terms. For instance, in healthcare, HIPAA compliance requires that data cannot be stored on the device itself. Zebra works with software companies to develop solutions that can meet or exceed cybersecurity requirements and needs.

[23:49] How can a business start a mobile-first transformation? Determine the wireless and physical security infrastructure needed, find the right technologies that can elevate the employee and customer experience, and partner with experts to guide you through the process.

You can hear us on Apple Podcasts, Amazon MusicSpotify, or Podbean. Follow Connection on TwitterFacebookInstagramYouTube, and LinkedIn.

Success Story: Microsoft Licensing Renewal... Sep 29, 2022 Makayla Mota

When it came time to start thinking about their Microsoft renewal, Eric Hart, Director of IT at PING, had a few things he needed to consider. First, he wanted to increase security, and second, he wanted to provide the manufacturing staff with Microsoft 365 licenses. PING, one of the most popular and innovative golf brands in the world, is family-owned and based in Phoenix, AZ, with additional offices in the United Kingdom, Japan, and Canada. Their sales team has always been located throughout the world, but, like so many companies, they’ve become more of a hybrid working environment over the past few years. To reach their goals and make sure they were getting the best support possible, Eric reached out to Connection and was put in touch with Account Manager Joe Truman, Microsoft Solutions Specialist Anthony Ruffo, and Strategic Software Consultant Megan Schaller. 

“The Connection team provided a really great comparison. What I liked about Joe, Megan, and Anthony is that they really listened, and we could focus on the things we needed to talk through,” Eric says.

Enhancing Security for Hybrid Working

The focus for this project was their security posture. They had security pieces from their previous contract, but with more employees working in a hybrid fashion, Eric was interested in seeing what was offered and what the cost would be to have a more unified system. Having already transitioned their email to the cloud and their phone system to Teams for voice calls, PING was on course to creating a more modern and cloud-friendly environment—which meant being more vigilant with their security. Because they also make physical products, a large portion of their staff is in the building working in manufacturing. Traditionally, they were not set up for digital communication, and Eric was also looking to increase that capability to decrease paper use and drive efficiency. 

“We knew they didn’t need to provide the entire productivity suite, so we looked at Microsoft’s Frontline Worker solution. One of the decision points was if we needed to provide a mailbox or not. We also didn’t want to limit our security options,” he says. “In working with Megan and Anthony, we were able to define our goals, and they presented the Microsoft solutions that accomplished those goals. Our discussions were able to be much more focused and productive. We said, ‘Okay, these are the goals we want to accomplish. Which solution goes with that goal? And what security do we wrap on top of it?’ Megan and Anthony were able to help us through the decision-making process, rather than making assumptions about what we needed. Three years had passed since we did a renewal, so things had changed, and Connection was able to dig deeper, to make sure we were thinking it through and questioning some pieces.”

Optimizing Licenses for Each Job Role

The entire process was done virtually in Teams through meetings, file and screen sharing, and chatting, which saved a lot of time and minimized the hassle of getting everyone involved into one room for the multiple meetings. The Connection team utilized the Microsoft Landscape Optimization (MLO) process to pull together various scenarios for PING’s renewal. 

“Before we get to that point, we review what the customer owns today and go through the Cloud stack process,” Megan says. “We discuss what they’re using today and what they are potentially interested in and then put together a rough timeline for that deployment path using different scenarios. This also helps with our discussions with the Microsoft team, because we can let them know where the customer is today and what they’re looking for moving forward in terms of their goals for the next three years. It was a big team effort, but from my side of things, the MLO process was very helpful in pulling together all the right resources and information necessary so we could ultimately get PING what they wanted and what they needed.”

Eric was really impressed by the attention paid to their current plan and forecasting to what was needed to meet their goals for both security and utilizing the Frontline Worker solution for PING’s manufacturing staff. During their initial meetings, the Connection team walked them through every piece, consistently asking if it was needed or not, if they had a plan for it, and fully explained why they would or would not want to include things in their renewal. The Connection team listened to Eric and his colleagues and were able to present the scenarios that would be best for their business. 

Cultivating Confidence Among the Team

Anthony adds that the MLO team at Connection has had a lot of success working with Joe Truman, PING’s Account Manager, because he understands what the process is and trusts the MLO team to point the customer in the right direction. “We have that trust established with the Account Manager, so we were able to show Eric and the team the golden sample of what that process would look like. From there it was just us listening, like Eric said, we listened to what they wanted, and Megan built out the scenarios as Eric was stating what they wanted to see.”

Another key factor in the success of the partnership between PING and Connection is how involved the entire PING team was as a customer. They were fully immersed in every step of the process, meeting both with the Connection and Microsoft teams multiple times to make sure the renewal would meet all their needs. Megan describes the PING team as a pivotal part of the process and ultimately, its success, and is quick to explain that an engaged customer is not always the norm! The ease of their working relationship is apparent as they chat through PING’s renewal and recap how everything happened. 

Eric, Megan, and Anthony are joking and complimenting each other throughout the conversation, and you can tell that they are comfortable with and had gotten to know each other well professionally throughout this process. Connection also worked closely with the Microsoft team to showcase the value of PING moving from their Microsoft 365 E3 license to a Microsoft 365 E5 license and Frontline suites as well as F5 Security to support their multiple global locations.

“As far as renewals go, it was a good experience,” Eric says as we end our call. “Renewals are tough, and we started pretty early, and you always think you have so much time. It always comes to the very end, and you’re scrambling some, but thankfully, this wasn’t the scramble we’ve had in the past, so that was good, too.”

Sounds like a hole in one! For more information about the MLO process or Connection’s services, please reach out to your Account Manager or Account Executive.

Data Center Modernization Using a Hybrid... Sep 28, 2022 Connection

Today’s data centers face challenges for efficiency and performance that can be met using cloud technologies. However, determining the best cloud model and which workloads can securely be located where, or even which cloud service provider (CSP) would deliver the best return on investment (ROI), can be difficult for many organizations.

Research by IDC projects that 90+ percent of enterprises around the world are relying on a mix of on-premises, or dedicated, private clouds as well as several public clouds and legacy platforms to meet their infrastructure needs. Gartner predicts that, by 2025, 80 percent of enterprises will be using entirely cloud-based infrastructures. And, according to research by Flexera, 80 percent of survey respondents are taking a hybrid approach that combines using both public and private clouds. Altogether, cloud technologies are fast becoming a staple of enterprise computing.

Most often, there is either a hybrid cloud or multicloud strategy in place, the difference being that a hybrid cloud infrastructure blends two or more types of clouds (e.g., private, public, on-premises), while a multicloud, which primarily combines public cloud infrastructures, blends multiple clouds of the same type. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on a hybrid cloud approach.

Challenges Facing Data Centers

Enterprises need to maintain data security, ensure infrastructure performance, and make the most of legacy infrastructure for ROI. This also means they require the agility to change direction and scale based on dynamic usage needs, which also means future-proofing their investments—including for cloud technologies.

A foundational enablement for considering a hybrid cloud strategy is to see the public cloud as an extension of organizational infrastructure. This becomes important, as building additional on-premises data center capacity is expensive and time-consuming, and it cannot scale down once the investment has been made. A public cloud can easily scale for bursts in usage and enable applications at the edge of the network, meaning closer to remote users, with nominal up-front cost.

That said, decisions need to be made about which workloads and applications can (or should) run in the public cloud. Your organization might have older versions of operating systems that are not supported by CSPs. In that case, rearchitecting applications can be an additional project that takes time and resources.

Organizations also need to avoid vendor lock-in, to support remote and distributed employees with on-demand access to data, process data in real time, and to increase cloud computing capacity without increasing the data center. These challenges can be mitigated with a hybrid cloud environment. At the same time, enterprises must have a cloud strategy in place to avoid over- or under provisioning for cost containment.

What to Know about Hybrid Clouds

A hybrid cloud strategy enables agility in meeting business needs, from data privacy to avoiding vendor lock-in for any one CSP. Additionally, a hybrid cloud can scale to meet dynamic business needs, including peak activity, as workloads can be interchanged as demand and costs shift.

This can be critical for such applications as autonomous driving, industrial robots, and AI algorithms that need near-real-time data processing, which benefit from a hybrid cloud strategy to exploit the speed of on-premises data centers and the large data storage capacity of the cloud.

Another benefit of hybrid cloud is that you can have discrete applications or even cloud-native applications to meet your business needs. There is no need to hold back on cloud-native applications, but you also do not need to power legacy applications into the cloud until you are ready. The hybrid cloud gives you the flexibility to move at a comfortable pace as needed.

In the new “work from anywhere” model, organizations with hybrid cloud data centers can leverage their infrastructure so it is accessible to their remote employees. This can enhance performance, efficiency, and automation of both tasks and workforce productivity.

By leveraging automation in the cloud for configuring and provisioning resources, managing applications, and handling routine tasks, your organization can be more efficient and maximize IT staff for projects that require a higher level of skill.

A hybrid cloud also means reduced spend on infrastructure as fewer servers are needed on-premises.

To discover whether a hybrid cloud strategy could make sense in meeting business needs, enterprises should ask a few questions, as follows.

  • What is our current infrastructure? Is it scalable?
  • What is our current solution stack?
  • What workloads can be processed more efficiently by using the cloud?
  • Have we optimized our systems?
  • What is our density in terms of storage needs, now and projected?

The answers to these questions can help qualify the optimal cloud strategy for your organization.

Cloud Technologies for Security and Performance

When used in a hybrid cloud strategy, data centers can lower spend on infrastructure, gain manageability through APIs, and have consistent visibility of data whether at rest or in motion. In all cases, the data must be protected.

Securing your resources in the public cloud is always a shared responsibility between your organization and your chosen CSP. That said, top-tier CSPs invest heavily in making their data centers as secure and reliable as possible because they host workloads for hundreds of thousands of customers. Your CSP acts as an extra security layer between your processor and software.

Cloud technologies can provide an array of effective defensive measures to protect data and minimize potential attack surfaces. Intel-powered cloud technologies have built-in hardware-level security, such as with Intel® Software Guard Extensions (Intel® SGX), which isolates specific application code and data in memory so it is inaccessible from the outside.

It is important to ensure you have portability for flexibility in shifting workloads to different clouds as your needs change over time. Your chosen hybrid strategy should deploy to where the capabilities exist to optimize for the needs of given workloads.

You can also choose to optimize your on-premises environment so it mirrors the performance optimizations of cloud technologies by using Intel® Field Programmable Gate Arrays (Intel® FPGAs) to support crypto acceleration for enhanced hardware performance and Intel® Optane™ persistent memory for memory tiering. As a resource in monitoring different performance metrics, Intel Telemetry Collector (ITC) can collect references, including power and thermal statistics, performance counters, process activities, and threads and operating system–level disk, network, and memory statistics.

Your organization should determine what type of workloads should be distributed in the various environments of a hybrid cloud approach. This decision also prevents future “cloud sprawl” and avoids overprovisioning. A common miscalculation is that when an application is seen as highly valuable, it can be assigned greater cloud bandwidth when the reality is it may not need significant cloud bandwidth. Or when a newer cloud technology is perceived as more expensive, it may actually save resources because the uptime is more efficient, meaning shorter, so it is more cost-effective.

As examples of what workloads should be distributed where, consider the usage patterns from within your existing environments. You may want to retain sensitive or highly confidential data, especially if in a highly regulated industry in an on-premises data center. Other types of workloads to consider are virtual machines (VMs), business software, databases and backups, disaster recovery, development, analytics, and collaboration tools.

Future-proofing Your Cloud Investment

Changes to any cloud infrastructure in the future are inevitable, as needs, usage, and costs are dynamic. Too often, enterprises do not think about the potential changes that can make future migrations challenging. The triggers for these changes can be anything from cost increases to security risks to company policies to the need to repatriate (meaning to pull back into an on-premises environment). Preparing for such changes in advance makes them easier in the long run and maximizes your investments.

A hybrid cloud easily accommodates when some workloads need to stay on-premises and others need to shift based on demand. The good news with a hybrid cloud solution architecture is it helps avoid vendor lock-in, as cloud reliance is shared among CSPs and data centers. And by choosing Intel-based x86 architecture, which is common, future portability is simplified, as optimizations and configurations are built into the system. Optimizations in the software stack use the features of that hardware, so when migrating data to a new cloud, there are no performance issues. There is no need to rearchitect your infrastructure. And when you use containers to migrate, the process is even more streamlined.

Intel offers Node Feature Discovery (NFD), which is a Kubernetes add-on that helps pick the right node to run containers and facilitate intelligent scheduling of workloads, depending on need and platform capabilities. This orchestration of system resources and capabilities helps deliver streamlined application performance.

Another option is to use microservices, which are lightweight, loosely coupled services that can be used to build cloud-based applications. A microservices architecture is agile, scalable, and supports rapid deployment, dynamically operating multiple instances on a single or multiple servers to support workload demands. Individual microservices are often containerized to improve portability and scalability.

This kind of portability, when dictated by risk, performance, and cost, is what makes a hybrid cloud future-proof. By understanding your current infrastructure, solution stack, workloads, operating system, kernel level, usage, optimizations, configurations, and density for storage, you have a solid foundation for making responsible decisions around your cloud infrastructure.

If your organization is not yet convinced that committing data and applications to any cloud solution is the right strategy for your data center, a hybrid cloud could be the answer. Hybrid cloud eases security concerns by allowing you to keep critical resources in on-premises data centers and move other workloads to the public cloud.

Connection’s suite of cloud services is backed by a team who can help organizations navigate the complexities of various cloud environments. Connection’s team of experienced frontline experts are standing by to tailor a hybrid cloud strategy for your data center needs. To begin, just ask for a Cloud Landscape Optimization (CLO) assessment.

Intel® technologies may require enabled hardware, software, or service activation.
No product or component can be absolutely secure.
Your costs and results may vary. © Intel Corporation. Intel, the Intel logo, and other Intel marks are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries. Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.
TechSperience Episode 110: Reimagining the... Sep 27, 2022 Connection

James Hilliard welcomes Nathan Coutinho from Logitech to discuss why organizations should reevaluate IT and office space planning. With high turnover rates and many employees feeling “burnt out,” now is the time to pause and think about what solutions are needed to encourage meeting equity and enhance collaboration among in-person and remote teams. Listen to this episode to discover other strategies companies should consider to better support employee wellness and productivity.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest: Nathan Coutinho, Head of Analyst Relations and Business Strategy at Logitech

Show Notes:

[1:00] Video applications have come a long way, from barely loading frames in the 1990s to our daily need for collaboration and building relationships. Users today depend on webcams, video platforms, and audio equipment. And this need will continue to push forward the evolution of these tools.

[3:20] Office spaces have changed too. The workforce went from collaborative meeting rooms to remote work environments due to the pandemic. Hybrid and remote models are here to stay.

[4:10] Having the right setup at home is important. There are so many physical factors; the right desk, the right chair, and the right environment all play a big role in your health. From the technology side, audio and video are critical elements for users to be their authentic selves.

[8:20] Poor video and audio can lead to fatigue. But not sharing your camera at all or using your camera too much can also lead to fatigue. These factors tie into the overall work culture.

[11:10] Because we are all at different levels of tech savviness, it’s important to have an inclusive mindset and an understanding that connectivity or accessibility issues may happen. Not everyone has the same access to technology either. For instance, some employees may be able to manage their bandwidth by setting up mesh routers or getting duplicate lines, but the average person may not have the means or even the knowledge to do this.

[17:35] What is meeting equity? Making sure employees working remotely can still get the full context of a meeting that’s taking place in the office. Getting the right framing, being able to see and hear everyone, and the ability to read body language has been a problem for years. Today’s web cameras can smoothly pan to those within a conference room so remote/hybrid employees can have a better experience. Web and audio technologies will continue to advance over the next five years.

[23:39] Organizations should have a thoughtful strategy when it comes to equipping employees with the right gear. There’s no silver bullet but enabling managers to lead their teams based on how they want to work is key, along with having the support from senior leaders.

[28:00] Now is the time to reset. Re-evaluate your office space. Consider flex spaces based on what meetings are happening and how those groups engage. Often, organizations rollout office spaces and collaboration tools without asking employees what they need and want. Adoption will always be hindered until companies really understand how employees want to work.

[33:57] How we work will continue to change. So, what can organizations do? Don’t assume people know how to use technologies. Training should be part of the strategy and supported by all leaders and departments. Persona-based understanding can help develop the right package of equipment and solutions. The goal is to deliver technologies that are so streamlined that it’s nearly invisible.

You can hear us on Apple Podcasts, Amazon MusicSpotify, or Podbean. Follow Connection on TwitterFacebookInstagramYouTube, and LinkedIn.

Please Stop Factory “Hand-Me-Downs” Sep 22, 2022 Ryan Spurr

For most of my career, I watched a disturbing but common trend: the factory “hand-me-down.” It’s the act of taking older devices from engineers or higher-paid salary employees and passing them down into the factory to replace factory computers. I’m not sure about you, but I wasn’t particularly excited about receiving hand-me-downs from my older brother, so why would valued factory workers want an outdated, slower, and less capable computer in the factory? And how does this create a more attractive and productive place to work?

Another sad but realistic perception associated with hand-me-downs is what it says about how a company values its workforce. To a particular workforce population, we provide the latest and greatest devices to get the job done, but for this other group, we provide old equipment no longer suitable for use. Let that sink in for a moment, and consider how you might feel or how this and many other job frustrations might add up to a reason for underperformance or high turnover.

Yes. It’s true that a design and simulation engineer requires different equipment, and that equipment multiple years later might be better than the clunky ten-year-old computer used on the factory floor. Or that same computer might help IT solve a looming Windows end-of-support deadline.

But is that hand-me-down computer right for factory operations and those dependent on it?

Today's Factories Demand Better Devices

Smart manufacturing is about many things, including optimizing the entire value chain and deploying technologies that generate a more agile, efficient, and productive organization. As organizations shift to more digitally connected solutions, including automation, there remains a need for a frontline workforce that will depend upon endpoints to perform their job responsibilities in the factory.

Manufacturers are deploying or upgrading new ERP, MES, automation, and business Intelligence applications at their fastest pace in years. Because of this, it's even more critical to avoid hand-me-downs. The experiment of placing devices in the factory is over—technology has won and is being adopted everywhere. It’s time that manufacturers shed their past view of manufacturing technology and demand more powerful and better fitting devices for how the factory operates.

Opportunities to Improve Productivity and Outcomes

Besides the human component of this long-standing practice, I would like to challenge you with the more considerable missed opportunities at stake. First, the modern factory workforce has many responsibilities that didn’t previously exist. With so much disruption in the factory, shouldn’t our endpoint strategy change too? I would argue yes. Hand-me-downs are less capable, resulting in slower transactions, complacency, and dissatisfaction. Outdated equipment will impact major business systems’ adoption and rollouts, slow employees in everyday tasks, and ultimately affect productivity. In the worst cases, we’ve observed process abandonment or the act of employees ignoring processes, data collections, traceability, or other required tasks in response to poor technology.

Second, while a hand-me-down may have lots of computing power, it may not be a well-suited device for the environment. Office devices are not always well suited for factory work. The first challenge we often hear about is the way employees must work. Factory workers may require more flexible and fit-for-purpose devices that optimize the way they work in the factory. For example, a typical office worker might sit at a desk for hours. In contrast, a factory worker might require wildly different mounting, mobility, and accessories to optimize their ergonomics and workflow. This can be even more compelling in harsh environments with extreme temperatures, particulates, chemicals, liquids, food, drugs, or regulatory requirements concerning safety, sanitization, hazard locations, or other conditions that require uniquely fitting solutions.

Lastly, we need to take into consideration the total ownership cost. IT often ignores the unique requirements and challenges arising from not using the proper fitting equipment that is explicitly built for the environment and lifecycle. While you may think you’re saving the company money by squeezing another 3–5 years out of an already old computer, think about the total cost of ownership. Considerations include employee productivity, OEM support, next-generation operating system compatibility, life expectancy, and reliability in harsh environments. After all, your factory production depends on these devices—and you can’t just send them to another office desk.

Empower Your Factory Employees

Manufacturers are quickly deploying new responsibilities and technologies into the factory. The workforce that drives your business expects devices that support how they work in the modern world. Using refurbished devices on the factory floor may seem like a great way to save money, but today’s workers need devices optimized for their roles. Don’t sacrifice employee productivity for outdated hand-me-downs.

Connection believes there is a better way to equip your factory workforce. If you’re interested in learning more, engage with a partner that will take the time to understand your business objectives, evolving applications, and smart manufacturing goals and help you select devices that are the right fit for the future of your factory operations.

Virtualization Security Just Got Easier Sep 22, 2022 Chris Drake

Troubleshooting is never easy, but having to work through firewall issues also makes the process much more involved. That’s especially true if you have to bring in multiple people from multiple disciplines—and let’s not get started on having to request a configuration change.

The VMware NSX distributed firewall (DFW) makes this entire process much more manageable, thanks to tight integration with your existing or new vSphere installation. DFW also includes tools built to assist with mapping traffic paths and pinpointing any roadblocks preventing correct operation.

DFW technology has been specifically built for east-west traffic in a virtualized environment, enabling you to restrict or allow communication between resources before it even leaves the vSphere environment—thereby handling this security without the use of an external firewall. Additionally, this technology gives you the ability to visualize this traffic using tools such as trace flow, which shows the path taken by packets and any DFW rules blocking them. The best part? This information is presented to you in an easy-to-read format that is accessible via the NSX Manager GUI, which eliminates the need to sort through multiple log files to pinpoint potential failures.

Using NSX Intelligence in conjunction with the DFW provides even more monitoring and protection. This product not only monitors an NSX environment, but also visualizes the layout of in-place policies, groups, and services. The software also detects suspicious activity, giving you an at-a-glance view of your environments. Active monitoring of these items is just the beginning: NSX Intelligence then uses that collected information to recommend and even implement DFW rules based on your configuration and data, making sure all security changes pertain to your specific environment (and not just arbitrary metrics set by vendors).

With NSX, you can now truly manage the security of the vSphere ecosystem in an effective and straightforward manner, all while staying inside the bounds of the virtual environment. To get started, engage one of Connection’s many experts in the field to assist with implementation and fine-tuning customizations to your data center.

Maintaining Cloud Compliance and Security... Sep 15, 2022 Dan Ortiz

Each company strives to differentiate themselves from their competition through the development of intellectual property, formulas, processes, unique methods of production, etc. Protecting proprietary information is essential in maintaining a competitive edge along with preserving a unique company identity. Leveraging SaaS-based Microsoft 365 provides a comprehensive set of online services that need to be configured and continuously tuned. Your compliance and security settings are essential to the protection of your environment and proprietary intellectual capital. 

Addressing Cybersecurity Threats

Think about the beginning of modern aviation. The Wright Brothers dreamed of creating a flying machine early on in their lives. Their passion for creating something groundbreaking led to the first recorded flight. Imagine if their designs had been stolen. History would have been changed forever. The difference between the early 1900s and now is the number of bad actors out there with access to a remote gateway in which to commit theft. The scale of attempted theft of proprietary company information is growing exponentially through identity breaches, ransomware, browser hijacks, DDoS attacks, rootkits, trojans, virus, and worms—just to name a few. There are individual bad actors out there as well as state sponsored groups. Ransomware has increased 300% year over year. In 2020, the average cost of downtime associated with ransomware attacks rose by 94%

Meeting Compliance Requirements

In addition to fending off the rapidly increasing threat vectors, companies also have stringent compliance needs based on industry regulations, company location, legal, standards, and ethical practices. How do you ensure that your company is meeting all the compliance requirements? What would happen to a healthcare organization if patient information was shared accidentally? What would happen if your company was audited and there were gaps in your legal hold policies? How would your company recover from customer credit card information being accessed illegally? 

Balancing Resource Constraints

Let’s face it, companies need to ensure that their data is secure and compliant with limited IT budgets.  Per Gartner, 38% of the IT budget is tied up in headcount and 74% of their time is caught up in IT operations. These are the same people that are tasked with innovation and company growth. Burnout is a real problem in companies and the job market is quite attractive. You can invest in growing the talent internally or try to hire the right talent on the open market. How much do recruiting agencies charge for talent placements?  

Managing Complex Cloud Environments

Many organizations are faced with these cloud challenges. Proactive threat monitoring, compliance gap analyses, optimizing compliance performance, and setting policy baselines with limited resources can put a lot in jeopardy for your organization. Joining forces with a partner that offers full-scale Microsoft 365 managed services can significantly free up your IT operations and budget for other imperative needs. As a Microsoft Certified Gold Partner and Microsoft Tier 1 Cloud Solution Provider, Connection offers customized solutions to meet the needs of your organization with a value-based approach focused on your success. Our flexible options can cover some or all the administrative tasks associated with your Microsoft 365 environment, while ensuring your company is secure and compliant. Ask your Account Manager about our Microsoft 365 cloud managed services or contact us for more information.

The Top Three Microsoft Tools to Organize... Sep 13, 2022 Makayla Mota

The mornings are crisper, and the excitement and possibility in the air are palpable. The leaves are starting to slightly shift colors, and there are glimpses of school buses and new backpacks at every turn. Ahhh, September and back-to-school season are upon us. Students these days have traded in their number two pencils for styluses and their three-ring binders for devices, but the sense of hope and new beginnings remains the same.

In 2022 over 183,000 educational institutions are using Teams to enable collaboration among students and faculty. Among them is the Teaching Fellows program at UNC Chapel Hill. When student Katelyn Rhyne started college, she found herself struggling to stay organized and on top of everything within her unfamiliar environment.

“I was questioning how I went from straight-A high school student to a college student that’s struggling to get an A/B,” she says. “And I see that a lot when I talk to my peers and classmates.”

When she began the Teaching Fellows program at UNC under the direction of Dr. Jennifer Diliberto, she was introduced to a variety of Microsoft tools. Katelyn had a familiarity with programs like Microsoft Word and Excel, but it wasn't until she was given the opportunity to attend a Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Training Academy with Cindy Daniels, a Professional Learning Consultant at Connection, that she began to gain some insight into programs such as Teams, OneNote, and To Do.

1. Teams—For Optimal Collaboration

“I started using Teams at the same time I was learning Google Meet and Google Classroom,” Katelyn says. “I quickly found that I preferred Teams for scheduling meetings and video calls, because there were more specification options when scheduling. The layout of Teams in general was also easier to follow since everything from meetings, files, and messages were all connected and easily accessible without having to open new tabs.” 

Cindy explains that one of the major factors for Microsoft in the classroom over other programs is because of the alignment of their organizational tools, whereas other platforms feature programs that all have a separate purpose. Microsoft can communicate, collaborate, and provide accessibility in all their arenas. 

During her undergraduate years, Katelyn worked on campus at UNC Carolina Performing Arts, and they were using Teams to communicate as well. Katelyn was impressed with the level of organization; their Team was set up with Channels focused on different events and projects, which made it easy to seek out information or ask questions in the designated channel, so you were not disturbing everyone to get the information you needed. 

“Teams has helped me stay connected to my superiors, share project ideas, and collaborate with my peers and colleagues,” she says. “For work and school especially, Teams was useful since there is an app for it. So, no need to sign into an account online, I have access to all I need just with a touch of a button on my phone or laptop.”

2. OneNote—For Organizational Greatness

For me, OneNote has always been the shining star, the not-too-well known, little organizational gem of the Microsoft Suite. I trained teachers on using OneNote both in the classroom and for lesson planning for years. Talking to Katelyn, I could tell she felt the same affection for it.

“OneNote has been beneficial for me throughout my college experience. I created digital notebooks and organized my class notes on my laptop so that I wouldn’t have to carry as many books around campus. I also used it for personal tasks like planning my class schedule and college goals and timeline. The nice thing about OneNote is that it has three levels of organization (notebooks, sections, and pages), so there are endless possibilities for organizing school as well as hobbies or life.”

She also praises the physical feel of OneNote, which is something I absolutely agree with. The layout of a OneNote notebook mimics a traditional binder with tabs and pages, so if you’re also a fan of doing things on paper, OneNote truly feels like flipping through a notebook.

“It just makes sense with how my brain works and how I would organize physically, so I think that is a nice transition for people learning it,” she says. It also reduces some of the cognitive load of keeping track of everything for a college student. “I open the OneNote app and it’s not like I am searching through files—they're all right there—it is just the tabs I click between to find what I need.”

Katelyn also found a great studying tool in OneNote, creating guides with several types of content and sharing them out with her peers. “OneNote was most useful for me when I needed to study for tests because I could create my own study guides full of mind maps, pictures, words, etc., and then I could share it with others to add their thoughts. It made group studying more accessible, in case we didn’t have common availability to meet to study.”

3. To Do—To Get It All Done, On Time

Cindy recently introduced Katelyn to the To Do app, and Katelyn has become a quick supporter. Because the app works across platforms and can be utilized through the Microsoft desktop and mobile app, it is ideal for a college student.

“I just recently started using the Tasks and To Do app. It has helped me create reminders for myself. Up until this point, I’ve written all the things I need to do or remember in a planner. That works well unless I forget to open and check my planner. I know I will always check my phone multiple times a day, so having the reminders show up there was a good choice for me.” 

In the “My Tasks” section Katelyn can manage her academic, professional, and personal tasks, knowing that nothing will be forgotten.

“I like that as an app, Tasks and To Do will give me various types of reminders, like banners and notifications on my home screen, and then make a bell noise once I’ve checked off a task. It’s satisfying and motivates me to keep completing tasks.”  

Katelyn experienced what happens to many first-year students in college: the realization of being on their own, coupled with the responsibility of managing their class loads, jobs, and social responsibilities as adults. It can be very overwhelming, and even if academics was something that came easily for you as a high school student, college can be a completely different situation. Microsoft for Education tools have the power to connect the dots by including collaboration, communication, and accessibility tools across every platform. And because everything is aligned, it limits distractibility and eases the cognitive load—making the transition and journey through college a little easier while also preparing students for the professional world. It’s an A+ all around. Please see Connection’s Academies and Workshops for Educators for more information about planning a Microsoft training session, just in time for back-to-school season.

Apple Devices in Manufacturing and Retail Sep 12, 2022 Theresa Longley

Apple in Manufacturing

With the adoption of Industry 4.0 taking over manufacturing, facilities must be able to keep all employees—from OT to IT—up to date on new procedures, additional safety practices, and improved operational efficiencies. By putting mobile technology—and real-time information—in the hands of those that keep the factories operational, your employees will have access to the most up-to-date procedures, remote expertise, critical backend systems, and mechanisms that allow users to communicate and pivot quickly on the floor.

The Apple platform provides everything a mobile factory worker needs—from great cameras and microphones to accurate GPS and motion sensors, to optimal security, manageability, and expandability. Organizations can streamline work tasks by automatically pulling GPS data, collecting video or audio data, or using machine learning and augmented reality to support performance, management, and diagnostics on the factory floor.

Apple in Retail

Gone are the days of proprietary, single-function POS systems purchased from—and serviced by—a single entity. With digital avenues driving less traffic to brick-and-mortar establishments, retailers must find ways to improve employee engagement and differentiate the customer buying experience. 

Apple’s mobile platform is a perfect fit for the retail industry. Retail professionals are highly mobile; Apple’s platform is built for a mobile work environment. iPhones and iPads are designed to be powerful, engaging, and simple to use. They allow retail organizations to access critical information with just a tap. This is just one of the reasons why Apple’s platform is being adopted in retail.

When employees can deliver a great customer experience by leveraging real-time access to information, other benefits often quickly follow—including increased employee satisfaction and productivity.

As individuals and employees, we’ve made the transition to mobile. Now is the time to make sure your organization can keep up and Connection is here to help. Connection has been a partner with Apple for more than 35 years. Our team is here to help manufacturing and retail organizations implement mobile solutions on Apple's platform. Reach out to your Apple team today to get started on mobile technologies to drive new levels of productivity.

5 Tips for Writing an Effective IT Job... Sep 08, 2022 Patrick Dja Konan

It’s no surprise that the IT job market is very competitive. More than 90% of IT workers are currently employed, which creates a significant lack of available talent. According to the latest IT Job Market and US National Employment Data, the demand for IT professionals continues to grow in spite of inflation and high energy costs. The IT job market is expanding at record pace, with an additional 46,100 available jobs than at the same time last year—and more than 200,000 IT jobs remain unfilled. 

Although there are various steps you can take to increase your chances of securing IT talent, having a well-written (not cookie-cutter) job description can help you find the right pool of applicants. Here are five tips to consider for writing an effective IT job description. 

1. Describe the Work Accurately

Hiring managers should provide enough information about the day-to-day responsibilities to help paint an accurate picture of the position. You can include projects they will be working on, teams or people they’d interact with, and career growth opportunities (if any)—as well as the value this hire will add to the overall growth of the company. By providing sufficient information on what this role entails, applicants can better evaluate the opportunity and be more engaged throughout the application and interviewing process.  

2. Focus on Required Skills

It is critical that hiring managers solely focus on the skills that are required to perform the job. IT workers are becoming more and more specialized; therefore, applicants are most interested in the requirements that align with their current skillsets and career goals. Focusing on just the must-have skills, instead of nice-to-haves, will help filter the number of qualified candidates.

3. Use a Precise Job Title

Job titles can occasionally be misleading, especially in IT. What one company calls an IT support role could mean something completely different to another. While providing a great overview of the responsibilities is vital to writing an effective job description, having an accurate job title is just as important, since this will serve as the keyword applicants will search for on job boards. 

4. Include Education and Certification Requirements

List any education, employment eligibility, and certifications that are required for either the role or by your organization. This is something that is often overlooked, but can save you and the applicants time and effort in the long run. 

5. Showcase the Compensation and Benefits 

While some states require compensation to be included in the job description, providing your pay range in the job description shows full transparency. It also minimizes the back-and-forth of salary negotiations. Imagine having an amazing applicant who is a great fit for your job opening, only to find out at the end that their salary expectation is out of your budget. It is also important to highlight some of the benefits your organization offers, whether it’s paid time off, 401k options, memberships, health programs, and any other perks that could be a compelling reason for someone to join your company.

If your job descriptions are clear about the responsibilities for the role and are concise about the skills you want from an applicant, you will receive a higher quality pool of candidates. And if you need professional help, organizations across the U.S. can leverage Connection’s IT and staffing expertise to find qualified candidates to hire. Our experienced staffing team takes the time to understand your IT staffing requirements and provide tailored recruiting strategies to help fill your hiring needs in a cost-effective and timely manner. 

Connection and ecoprintQ: Partnering to Help... Sep 06, 2022 Michelle Petrovic

Beginning this year, Connection and ecoprintQ have partnered to bring PaperCut MF to the channel. This solution is the industry-leading print management solution. 

But first, what is print management software? How does it work? Read on to find out more and discover how this incredible PaperCut MF solution can make your enterprise more efficient.

What Is Print Management Software?

Print management software provides system administrators and IT managers with a centralized tool to enable, monitor, and track printing using:

  • Simple print enablement
  • Print security
  • Waste reduction
  • Cost control

Think of your users. How many of them print anything wherever, whenever, and however they want? Many will gravitate to color printers. Some might never print double-sided and still others might leave sensitive documents at the printer. Implementing a print management solution allows IT to determine these details per user or user group—saving your business money, increasing security, and being more sustainable.

Sustainability through Reduced Print Waste

I know printing and sustainability don’t always go hand-in-hand. But, implementing a print management solution, like PaperCut MF, will help you understand how much people are printing in your organization. For example, some users may print every email they receive. Others may never print anything. But, knowing how much people print is the first step to decreasing your carbon footprint. Once you know this, you can limit the number of pages a user has per month, require them to print double-sided, or even print only in black and white. Each of these small changes will help your organization be more environmentally friendly. 

Secure All Documents Before, During, and After Printing

How many printers do you have in your office? You likely have a few larger copiers with smaller desktop printers scattered around. If I asked you why that’s the case, I’d bet you’d tell me it’s because people don’t want to print at a communal printer that is not nearby. If it isn’t close to your desk, the risk of sensitive data being seen by others increases. What if you could prevent the job from printing until you’re at the printer? PaperCut MF provides a solution to this problem. In addition to managing when and how much someone prints, PaperCut MF provides an on-premises printing solution to allow users to pull their jobs down when they’re ready.

Shrink Your Footprint and Your Bills

If sustainability and security aren’t enough, you can save money too. In businesses where anyone can print whatever they want, paper, ink, and toner costs can get out of control. Simply requiring double-sided, black and white printing can reduce costs by as much as 50%! You’re also saving money because there won’t be printouts waiting on the printer, forgotten, only to be thrown away by someone who later passes by. For more information on how you can save money, be more secure, and print sustainably, contact an Account Manager today!

Manufacturers Deserve a Better Partner Sep 06, 2022 Ryan Spurr

Leading our Manufacturing Practice, I speak with dozens of clients each week, and with the reopening of most businesses, I have again been traveling across the country. The macro themes are all the same. Workforce challenges. Supply chain issues. High input costs. Lower productivity. The need to automate and streamline processes. Despite all these challenges, one other theme seems to eclipse them all. How can Connection be a better partner?

You might think this is a tricky question to field on the spot, but it's quite the opposite for Connection, our committed sales teams, and our vertical practices. Our company has been building its business around the simple idea of being a better partner, with less focus on the reactive and transactional, and more on being proactive, strategic, and able to deliver solutions for procurement, technology, and operations that enable our clients to focus on what’s most important: business growth.

Customer-focused Support

While I’m partial to the investments in our Manufacturing Practice, our sales organizations genuinely make the difference in being a better partner. When I first joined Connection to establish the Manufacturing Practice, I was struck by how fondly clients would speak of their sales relationships. This is furthered by leadership’s commitment to keep account executives with their clients to preserve continuity and maintain relationships, regardless of how the organization is reorganizing internally. This mindset is founded on culture and a commitment to do what is best for the client—not the other way around.

For an outstanding example, look no further than to our Enterprise division to see how our company invests in leading-edge solutions to streamline procurement processes with its proprietary procurement system, MarkITplace®, which includes deep integrations with ITSM and procurement platforms like ServiceNow, SAP Ariba, Coupa, and others. Combined with our outstanding sales teams, we aim to deliver more value through proactive features like optimizing critical workflows, delivering vital procurement analytics, supply visibility, and better asset management to transform warranty and software management. These differentiators make it easier for your employees to request, approve, and acquire approved solutions through integrated and automated processes that lighten the load for IT and procurement while also delivering a more extraordinary end user experience.

Delivering Optimal Technology Partnerships and Solutions

As part of our Industry Solutions Group, the Manufacturing Practice is led by a team of industry experts from the manufacturing trade. We understand the manufacturing business because we have worked in various business functions and information technology. We understand the taxonomy, job roles, challenges, and the measures business objectives are held to. As a result, the team can engage with various stakeholders to better understand your business and what makes it unique, and recommend use cases and solutions that prioritize the business outcomes you seek.

The manufacturing practice also has a diverse and evolving portfolio of hardware, software, and services aimed solely at supporting manufacturing businesses. Through regular client engagement, industry working groups, and market analysis, we introduce new partnerships to make available the technology and solutions necessary to support your manufacturing’s growth and transformation initiatives. Each offering focuses on critical capabilities that a manufacturing organization may require, whether IT, operational technology, cybersecurity, or business functions like facilities, field service, production, research, development, or warehousing.

Through in-person workshops or virtual collaboration sessions, our Manufacturing Practice works closely with clients on an ongoing basis to form a deeper understanding of your business objectives, facilities, infrastructure, and processes. This allows our teams to proactively educate OT and IT teams on emerging technologies, proven use cases, and what solutions might be viable options now or as part of a longer-term investment strategic plan.

Many of our clients are looking to simplify their sourcing process in favor of a partnership that rationalizes disparate products, consolidates purchasing to achieve better pricing or terms, simplifies procurement and renewal processes, and ensures they get the best service delivery. Working closely with our sales teams, our Manufacturing Practice can sit down with your procurement teams to collaboratively review the existing inventory of products for opportunities to streamline your sourcing operations or identify solutions that bring better value or capabilities.

Another way we support clients is by supporting their efforts to comply with industry standards or regulations. While each manufacturing subindustry has different obligations, we are prepared to support the diverse needs in waterproof, sanitization, intrinsically safe, hands-free, fanless, and traceability solutions. Let our Manufacturing Practice recommend products and services that mitigate environmental conditions, enhance how your employees work, and ensure compliance.

Our team is passionate and well prepared to help your business by establishing a partnership that is better, relevant, and long-term.

Yes. Let Us Prove We’re a Better Partner!

Connection is committed to continuously investing in the future of our manufacturing clients through an evolving manufacturing portfolio of hardware, software, and services, along with world-class sales teams, client portals, procurement automation, and backed by manufacturing-certified sales teams who care about your business and go above and beyond to help you succeed. If your business is looking for a better partner, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice or contact our Sales Team to help simplify your efforts to acquire the best-fitting technology solutions for your unique business. 

Don’t Just Upgrade Your Data... Sep 01, 2022 Ryan Spurr

Operational excellence is everything in manufacturing, whether we’re talking about speeding research and development or producing next-generation products faster, cheaper, and at better quality. The companies that can bring products to market faster will outperform the competition.

Those manufacturers that value process and technology are not only investing in solutions to accelerate business processes but are also concerned with the ability to reduce bottom line costs, offset higher energy prices, meet sustainability objectives or investor obligations, and fuel innovation vital to delivering competitive advantage.

For example, 40% of carbon emissions come from the manufacturing industry and its consumption of electricity and fossil fuels to support operations. That same energy consumption impacts operational costs and runs counter to any corporate values, strategic objectives, or investor expectations for environment, sustainability, and governance (ESG) initiatives. Even for those organizations unconcerned about energy consumption, change is underway as regulatory organizations like the SEC issue proposed rulings that would mandate disclosure of greenhouse gases in financial statements. Whatever the driver, reducing energy consumption leads to reduced costs, and this is good business.

Moving away from energy to accelerating innovation, manufacturers shifting from legacy research, development, and production models to model-based product development achieve total savings between 70 and 80%. With the usage of digital twins, generative design and simulation, and integrated digital processes, manufacturers can dramatically reduce design cycles and costs—and bring products to market faster. Install new high-performance compute solutions such as these onto the highest performing and most efficient compute platforms, and your organization will see further benefits as compared to traditional solutions.

Productivity, another focused business measure in manufacturing, is also under assault as productivity fluctuates due to increased wage pressures, high employee turnover, material shortages, and higher costs. More recently, it was made clear how these headwinds were affecting businesses with Q1 2022 productivity dropping 7.5%, the most since 1947. With fluctuating productivity, inflation, and wage pressures impacting the bottom line, manufacturers look to “adopt new technologies or invest in equipment to make their workers more productive” and to attract and retain the talent necessary to sustain operations and grow their businesses.

Changes You Can Make Right Now

While many of these economic challenges are outside of manufacturers’ control, what actions can manufacturing leaders take to reduce costs, improve productivity, and also deliver on investor or regulatory initiatives, such as energy and sustainment?

One simple lever is investing in next-generation computing platforms. For example, AMD’s advancements in its compute platform are proving essential to optimizing how your business executes its strategic goals with realistic reductions in energy and infrastructure costs, and faster time to market.

By simply replacing the existing computing platform within your data center, research processes, or plant operations, you can obtain substantial business outcomes with a short time to value and an impactful return on investment.

Is your business looking to speed up research, improve processes, attract and retain the best talent, and out-compete the competition? Let’s look at how easy it is to invest in technology that has been proven to deliver results for manufacturers.

Business Levers You Can Pull

Manufacturers are under pressure to grow, cut costs, deliver faster, and continue to create more innovative people, processes, and tools to establish long-standing business differentiation in the marketplace. So, what are some of the typical business levers manufacturers might consider pulling to improve their technology posture while also delivering tangible business results in line with strategic objectives? AMD EPYC processors typically perform 17–50% better per-core than the market. This added performance is a significant factor in lowering data center operational costs in the following areas:

1. Rationalized Infrastructure: A common go-to for IT is to deliver the same or better services with a smaller footprint by rationalizing the number of servers, space, power, and associated costs to operate the data center. While the data center facility may not need to shrink, the demand on IT to deliver more compute surely exists, and having adequate space in the data center to house increased compute platform and workload is important for a growing business and deployment of new applications in support of the business.

With AMD EPYC, servers can be consolidated up to 8-to-1 over existing infrastructure. As an example, 50 servers can be consolidated down to six. This level of consolidation can reduce space in racks by 88%, rack floor space by 75%, administration costs by 88%, and power by 83%.

2. Reduced Licensing Costs: Perhaps more costly than the data center infrastructure itself is the software it’s designed to execute. Today’s ERP, PLM, and MES platforms are extremely expensive, and shifting to a lower density processor infrastructure without sacrificing compute capacity and performance may be one option to explore.

Software includes operating environment (OE) and applications licensing. The licensing models include per-processor and per-core costs but may also include other metrics like virtual memory. Deploying AMD EPYC can typically save 50–75% on per-processor OE licensing, including VMware virtualization software from vSphere to the full stack of VMware Cloud Foundation. For per-core OE licensing like Microsoft Windows Server, deploying AMD EPYC can save up to 50% over existing infrastructure.

The cost of applications, though, typically ranges from 5 to 20 times the cost of the computing hardware. And it is here where AMD EPYC makes a significant impact on lowering the cost of operations. For example, in a small 5-node database server cluster, switching to AMD with just 14% fewer cores needed to match the latest generation of Intel processors can save $272,000 on Microsoft SQL Server licensing, with an additional savings of $62,500 per year in support costs. The computing hardware in this example is around $75,000.

3. Increased Productivity: Nothing makes leadership more excited than increases in productivity measures, shortened design lifecycles, and reduced risk with new product introduction. With AMD’s compute platform, not only can you deliver reduced costs of operation, but you can also deliver more computing performance that results in more design cycles and simulations, as well as allow your organization to experiment with new design or production techniques before the product ever hits the factory floor. This not only creates a more productive organization, but also one that may be more innovative—and together those can deliver a significant market differentiation.

Productivity in IT operations is improved by having fewer servers or fewer processors to maintain. At any scale, deploying AMD EPYC improves reliability and availability and reduces security risk. Every EPYC processor has built-in Infinity Guard security features that work seamlessly without administrative burden.

Productivity in research, design, testing, and validation processes is improved when designers and engineers can do more in less time. Creativity and inspiration fuel innovation. Designers can do more simulations, raise element resolution to a design model, and add in more design factors in studies.

4. Reduced Energy Costs: Next-generation compute platforms are simply more efficient and utilize less energy. Whether the technology is housed in the data center servers, edge compute or edge servers in the factory, or in some specialty laboratory supporting engineering, AMD EPYC hardware will drive down operational costs, reduce peak time usage in at-risk locations, minimize utility penalties, and help contribute to any corporate objectives associated with environment and sustainability initiatives.

In the consolidation example shown above, the reduction of most interest here may be the reduction of greenhouse gases. For this example, emissions are reduced by 225 metric tons CO2 per year. Energy savings and emissions reduction associated with a consolidation with high-density compute in many cases fully justifies the cost of a replacement alone without any of the other factors considered.

Every manufacturer has different challenges and objectives, and AMD EPYC provides a full spectrum of processor core densities, from 8 to 64 cores per processor, that will enable a wide range of business stakeholders and use cases. Manufacturing applications will perform optimally at some point within this spectrum between deploying low-core density with higher per core performance and higher scale-out node count, or higher-core density with higher per node performance and fewer nodes. Throughout both ends of the spectrum, AMD EPYC excels over the competition in both performance and energy use. 

How Is Technology Applied to Business?

It’s important to not only evaluate the impact on IT (think space, maintenance, infrastructure costs), but also how investments will improve key business departments and the overall corporate business objectives. Here are a few use cases that Connection has supported for enterprise manufacturers and the kinds of outcomes achieved by updating to next-generation compute platforms.

1. High-performance Compute (HPC) Applications: Deploying AMD EPYC servers accelerates the design process for HPC applications, including computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and finite element analysis (FEA). EPYC provides higher model granularity and accuracy to the design process while speeding up the time to design and test the designs before prototypes are constructed and tested.

2. RTL Simulations for Semiconductor Design: Faster time-to-value (TTV) is realized with AMD EPYC, providing more simulations per day and faster staging of shared resources. RTL Simulation also provides design assurance, which reduces the risk of failure in a manufacturing step in a one-thousand-step process. A single failure can disrupt production, resulting in major costs and delays.

In both examples above, productivity gains become inherent as designers and engineers realize they can attempt new approaches and what-if scenarios. The other obvious benefits include shorter design and simulation cycles, more simulations in the same period, and increased productivity from your engineering teams.

3. ERP Infrastructure: AMD EPYC systems not only outperform in manufacturing design applications they also provide operational efficiency, reliability, and security in the data center. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other critical business systems are core to business operations. They can also act as a drag on business processes as software becomes more demanding, your business grows, and the amount of processing necessary to complete data processing or analysis tasks is constantly on the rise. This is especially true in common use cases such as material resource planning (MRP), netting, nightly processing, or closing books at the end of a financial period. Each of these tasks takes hours or perhaps days. These same software applications are also costly in terms of licensing and maintenance—creating even more opportunities to reduce overall licensing costs via hardware, while also improving overall performance and delivering results faster.

The Benefits of Server Consolidation

Let’s examine how AMD EPYC systems help to improve performance, reduce licensing costs, and deliver better reliability and security of critical business systems.

Operational efficiency is the result of deploying fewer servers, processors, and cores. Server consolidation is one method, and with EPYC, higher consolidation ratios are possible. Higher per-core capabilities maximize the number of users, improve response times, and speed up reporting and processing. EPYC per-core advantages average 23% over the competition, thus saving on per-core licensing. And saving that percentage on expensive software typically exceeds the cost of the server platform by a factor of 5 to 20 times. Other compute consumption models have similar cost savings.

Processor consolidation is another method that improves operational efficiency. It also improves reliability. Contrary to popular belief, reducing the processors in a server adds to reliability. Having 2-socket CPUs in a server doubles the risk of failure, as when one processor fails, it typically crashes the server and renders it unbootable until the processor is replaced.

Servers with four or more processors can be consolidated to one or two EPYC processors. A higher density of DRAM allows larger memory per CPU, so memory capacity is no longer an issue. The benefits include software licensing savings, lower energy, and smaller footprint.

EPYC provides better performance per watt which reduces power and cooling, a common issue with many data centers.

AMD EPYC’s Infinity Guard is a unique set of silicon-level security features built into every EPYC processor. These features are complementary to other data security solutions and work without additional software and the associated administrative burden. Infinity Guard includes secure memory encryption (SME), secure root-of-trust, and secure encrypted virtualization (SEV). Public cloud providers’ confidential computing is enabled by SEV. Infinity Guard protects from malicious attacks on physical memory access, malicious firmware attacks, and rogue attacks mitigating virtualization VM-to-VM and VM-to-hypervisor vulnerabilities.   

Start Reducing Costs and Improving Productivity Today

Deploying a modern compute platform is proven to improve performance and drive significant business outcomes in many areas of a manufacturing business. It’s easy to imagine how deploying AMD’s EPYC compute platform can benefit your business, especially if you have complex research and development, high-performance compute use cases, or even for ERP environments in search of better performance. Not only will AMD EPYC-enabled servers improve performance, but they can positively contribute to your space constraints, support energy reduction or sustainability initiatives, and most importantly, reduce operational costs across a range of business levers critical to IT and line of business. Don’t just upgrade—upgrade to the best, and transform how business gets done.

If your business is considering upgrading servers, or your company is interested in how next-generation compute platforms can improve how your business operates, then engage Connection’s AMD specialists and our Manufacturing Practice to learn more about how this technology and the many use cases may benefit your organization.

Your Call is Very Important to Us. . .Uh Huh Aug 23, 2022 Dr Keith Nelson

In this age of Artificial Intelligence (AI), bots and internet shopping, is customer service now dead? One could easily argue that, in the words of Billy Crystal/Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, it’s MOSTLY dead. It sure seems like people are generally willing to accept the frustration of being left on hold for an hour, dealing with a clueless level 1 employee reading from a script, or being denied an option to speak with a human being at all. Maybe, but as with everything in life, there’s always a tipping point.

For a while I’ve held the view that each business organization has done the research to determine the inflection point where poor customer service will lead to a meaningful loss in business, but now I’m not so sure. Signs of a consumer rebellion are slowly beginning to emerge in the form of actions like cable cord-cutting, brutal social media reviews, and moving on to competitors. Predictably, this reactive shift is highly concentrated in the over 40 demographic, given their memory of friendlier times.  For the millennials+ generations, the jury is still out as to whether the current acceptance of this new world order will persist or crumble as our society wrestles with what is widely perceived as an accelerating evolution toward a lack of accountability and an erosion of civility.

Notably, the healthcare industry may present a unique circumstance where customer service is rapidly taking on greater importance.  Patients have historically been willing to put-up with scheduling inconvenience and impersonal interaction because of their emotional tie to a given provider whom they view as their best chance to rescue them from their health ailment. This stickiness is usually a result of a valued referral from another provider or individual they trust, or a positive impression formed by researching the provider’s public profile. And so, there is a built-in loyalty factor that typically overshadows provider shortcomings, which essentially has made medical practices bulletproof to business contraction.  However, American society has been inexorably pivoting to a more consumer-centric orientation, and savvy healthcare providers have responded to this by aggressively competing for patients on the basis of convenience and superior technology, among other experiential differentiators.  Hence, the new concentration on customer service and the recognition that patients are willing to prioritize their personal experience over their confidence in the provider’s reputation and capabilities.

So, what kind of things are luring patients away from their trusted providers? Here are some examples, a few of which were mentioned in prior blogs (see “Personalizing the Patient Experience” and “How to Optimize Your Patient-Facing App”):

  • An easy-to-use Digital Front Door including a robust app that puts the patient in control (i.e. prescription refills, scheduling, communication with the provider, indoor wayfinding, parking assistance, intuitively organized medical records)
  • Digital appointment registration, reminders and check-in
  • On-time service
  • Out-of-pocket price visibility prior to treatment
  • Friendly, proactive and personalized interaction driven by staff training and in-office personalized/curated messaging and education
  • Easy follow-up access to the provider
  • Virtual Reality pain management
  • Hospital bedside infotainment
  • Robots (telemedicine, delivery, welcome)
  • A remote patient monitoring/communication program
  • A user-friendly and readily available telemedicine service

Walking a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

In the classic film “The Doctor,” William Hurt plays an arrogant surgeon with a terrible bedside manner who is diagnosed with cancer and, as a result, experiences healthcare from a patient’s perspective, thereby enlightening him as to the failings of the medical system and injecting him with a newly found compassion and sensitivity for others. Seems like a good application of the golden rule, and one that could lend significant insight as to the best way for medical providers to advance the expanding patient-centric movement and consumerism of healthcare.

Just some health food for thought.

TechSperience Solutions Episode 109: PC... Aug 22, 2022 Connection

Today’s digital work environment has elevated cyber security risks for organizations. It’s no longer safe to only rely on software-based solutions. This podcast explores why we IT teams should adopt a “zero-trust” mindset and how you can equip your employees with the right tools, software, and training to help protect against costly cyberattacks.

Host: James Hilliard
Guest: Rhett Livengood, Director, Digital Business Enabling at Intel

Show Notes:

[1:00] PC security has evolved drastically since the pandemic. With remote and hybrid work environments the norm today, security risks are even greater. Data breaches are unfortunately more common and can cause detrimental impacts. In a recent report, the average financial loss is $4.2M per breach (IBM). 

[3:36] We're in a zero-trust environment now. Companies should assume that employees and organizations are being attacked at all times. No links or external data can be trusted. 

[5:00] VPNs are difficult to maintain and manage and are no longer an effective approach to protect employees. Adding more security software slows systems down and don't lead to a great user experience. 

[6:30] Intel has looked at building security right into the hardware as a solution without slowing down PCs to better support remote and hybrid employees.

[7:10] People are the weakest link when it comes to cyber security. Organizations should implement a recurring training program with reminders about multi-factor authentication, using unique and complex passwords, and paying attention to links. Phishing attacks are getting more sophisticated so highlighting what employees should look out for is key.

[10:05] Security patches should be seamless while also considering employees' working hours. Offering the user scheduling options is ideal to minimize business interruptions. 

[12:56] Security should be a holistic mindset. It requires consideration of the employee, technology, security threats, and training. Multilayer device protection should include software, application, and hardware.

[15:40] When deploying PCs to employees, IT teams should be mindful about the software that is being loaded. Each program will impact PC performance which, in turn, impacts the employee experience. Work with a partner to effectively integrate software and systems for optimal protection and user experience. 

[18:00] Protecting data involves encryption. Zero-trust applies here too. Nothing can be trusted.

[20:15] Security assessments and audits continue to be in the forefront when it comes to balancing employees' needs and tools, various work environments, and organizational security protocols.

[23:48] In the future, Artificial Intelligence will play a key role in automating security checks to help minimize user error.

TechSperience Solutions Episode 108: Current... Aug 19, 2022 Connection

Internal hiring managers looking to fill IT positions are currently experiencing a wide variety of challenges. From low unemployment rates to a high demand for IT professionals due to hybrid and remote work environments, traditional recruiting activities are no longer effective. Listen to the podcast to learn what new strategies are needed to fill your IT positions and how Connection's IT staffing services can help.

Host: James Hilliard

Guests: Patrick Dja Konan, Lifecycle Services IT Staffing Business Development Manager at Connection

Timothy Duffy, Lifecycle Services IT Staffing Business Development Manager at Connection

Show Notes:

[1:00] There are more IT positions open now than ever before.  

[1:47] The power dynamic has switched to those seeking employment. HR teams are under a lot of pressure to fill positions.

[3:48] Hybrid and remote working environments has led to the significant demand of IT staff.

[6:10] Internal hiring managers are under a lot of stress with many open positions to fill and retaining staff.  

[9:20] Hiring managers should understand the root need for the position. For IT and other specialized positions, working with a staffing company can help supplement the hiring team’s awareness of various industries and roles.  

[12:32] Posting positions on every job board will result in many applicants that won’t qualify. Hiring managers should work with IT teams on the job description and understand the career path.

[17:20] Less than 2% of IT professionals are unemployed. A best practice to find highly qualified candidates is to approach those that are currently employed elsewhere.   

[19:35] Nurture a talent pool by constantly interviewing and pre-screening candidates to build a database of potential applicants.

[23:10] Filling temporary positions and staff augmentation is another solution that may help for urgent project needs. There are many employees that enjoy contract or consultant work.

[26:05] Partnering with a company that specializes in IT staffing – that can serve as an extension of your HR team – can help businesses find the right candidate based on the need.  

AI in Retail: Key Considerations Before... Aug 18, 2022 Brian Gallagher

In today’s world where customers expect personalized products and services, artificial intelligence (AI) solutions are helping retailers meet their customers’ expectations. The impact of AI in retail can be compared to the evolution of mobile device solutions in retail 15 years ago. As a retailer, the AI journey cannot be ignored just as mobile engagement could not be ignored. AI can impact the entire retail enterprise. The decision that needs to be made is: What will provide the most value to your brand?  

Retailers need to consider AI from two vantage points to create an effective implementation roadmap: designed business impact and your organizational readiness.

What Business Impact Should I Focus On?

Consider your current pain points and future customer experience requirements. Do your own research and find experienced partners to help ensure your organization is able to consider the full impact AI can have on your current and future state of the business. Retailers can leverage AI for a host of opportunities:

  • Personalized Customer Experiences: Technologies such as facial recognition can identify customers revisiting a store and remember their likes and dislikes. Cameravision solutions can identify customers by family unit, likely age group, or even specific items like what type of phone they are carrying. The ability to then customize marketing, employee engagement, and offers can drive enormous increases in revenue and customer satisfaction.
  • Chatbot Support for Customers and Employees: Chatbots are becoming smarter every day. AI allows these solutions to consume enormous amounts of data to deliver amazing experiences. Chatbots can lead training, product information, suggestive selling, and more.
  • Employee Productivity Optimization: Employees in retail have an incredibly complex role from customer engagement to stocking to staffing and other operational functions. An AI solution can streamline workloads and optimize scheduling to improve productivity and job satisfaction.
  • Price Adjustment Flexibility: The ability to react to even the smallest changes in global, national, regional, and local spending trends can maximize the pricing and sell through of your products. Maximization of sales provides customers the best price while maximizing your inventory turn.
  • Improved Supply Chain Management: Maximize your inventory performance by allowing AI solutions to consume millions more data points than even the brightest planning minds could ever consider. By considering historical data and current trends, you can improve both inventory turns and customer experience.

How Ready Is Your Organization?

Business transformations all follow a similar journey. While the AI journey is no different on the surface, the processes require each organization to honestly explore the following:

Foundational Readiness: AI solutions require unique combinations of data management, device connectivity, edge computing devices, and software working in unison to create desired outcomes. AI cannot deliver maximum results without the systems and data to feed the AI engine.

Operational Readiness: AI solutions require unique skillsets from planners, marketers, and DevOps teams. Organizations needs to prepare by combining the best of traditional workforces and AI-specific workforces to reap the maximum benefits of the AI solution. AI is not simply a new tool for the existing workforce. It requires a workforce able to understand and interpret the outputs aligned with a new thinking and vision. Never walk away from traditional success matrices, but rather maximize them with new team models.

Transformational Readiness: AI solutions require the entire enterprise to be open and aligned to results of the solutions. AI transformations are not a program that can be driven from traditional top-down management. AI solutions require incredible amounts of organizational communication and transparency to succeed. AI outputs often call for immense changes in procedures, inventory engagement, and customer experiences. Transformation readiness is the key to maximizing any AI benefits. 

Remember, AI is a must for your business. It is just as critical as mobility solutions, omnichannel operations, and brand development. To better understand your organization’s AI readiness, visit our Power of Two partners to take a brief assessment and receive a complimentary customized report. You can also visit

Upgrade Your Technology for More Productive... Aug 17, 2022 Connection

Modern device management is less about technology than it is about providing a quality employee experience. It means providing employees the user interfaces, tools, and low-friction access with confidence around data security while enabling organizational device fleet management.

A recent Forrester report, commissioned by Intel, notes that just a 5 percent improvement in employee experience leads to a 3 percent increase in bottom-line revenues—and that nearly 60 percent of survey respondents noted that an employee’s satisfaction levels with technology have a substantial positive impact on their overall employee experience.1

Today’s reality means companies need to provide hybrid or remote workspace capabilities for optimal employee productivity and collaboration, whether employees are doing remote or even on-site work. Workplace transformation considers and then implements organizational IT readiness to support hybrid employees in multitasking effectively from various networks anywhere in the world.

As a result of these now fundamental requirements in workflow, environments, and IT infrastructure, an organization’s IT team needs to resolve several challenges.

  • Security: When the world switched to remote work, new attack surfaces and threat vectors emerged. Cyberattacks continue to expand in scale, scope, and frequency. Users and their data must both be protected, including when data is in motion using beyond-the-firewall networks.
  • Updates: Devices must be consistently scanned and updated to ensure they have the most current and stable systems and applications. This includes new and previously released drivers such as support software, BIOS, utilities, firmware, and patches.
  • Permissions and deletions: Access to applications must be protected, and deleted data must be handled securely.
  • Infrastructure: The right infrastructure integrates all system elements, including applications and workload balancing for optimal operations for both on-site and remote work environments. Modern device management helps ensure operational efficiency around identity management, flexible hybrid workspaces, and corporate compliance with regulatory standards.

How the Right Hardware Can Support Workplace Transformation

Having the right equipment and infrastructure ensures IT and organizational success. Key elements of a solid systems infrastructure will address several challenges.

  • Cybersecurity: Guard a hybrid work environment against ever-evolving cybersecurity threats beginning with hardware, activated by software. Intel delivers technology that improves foundational security, data and workload protection, and software reliability—even beyond the firewall.
  • Remote management: In today’s hybrid, remote, and on-site work environments, IT teams cannot physically be everywhere. However, with devices running on the Intel vPro® platform, the IT team can be everywhere via remote management capabilities. The Intel vPro® platform comes with Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT) and Intel® Endpoint Management Assistant (Intel® EMA) to help IT teams remotely discover, repair, and protect devices across the entire organization—adding simplicity to the support process and helping reduce disruption for employees.
  • Collaboration: Today’s employees need technology to enable digital workspaces for productive collaboration, communication, content management, and information flow throughout projects and initiatives. Connection’s Modern Device Management Services ensure the right infrastructure is in place for optimal efficiency across employee networks.
  • Compliance: Respond to growing regulatory compliance pressures with hardware for encryption when it comes to applications access, data wipes, and location-based access. Intel offers hardware-based memory encryption that isolates specific application code and data in memory through Intel® Software Guard Extensions (Intel® SGX). Essentially, this built-in capability enables companies to protect the section of the memory that’s executing the code.
  • Infrastructure: Ensure your organization has the right infrastructure to appropriately support functions such as applications frameworks, integrations, workload balancing, and 5G networking with Intel® hardware. The Intel® Xeon® Scalable platform provides a foundation for data center agility and scalability, as this innovative processor provides significant levels of capabilities and convergence across compute, storage, memory, network, and security.

Altogether, it’s critical to update your business infrastructure and devices not only for security, remote management, compliance, and infrastructure but also for successful workplace transformation. Even more, this kind of investment also ensures greater employee satisfaction, including in hybrid or remote work environments.

Connection’s Windows 10 Deployment and Management Service helps your organization navigate infrastructure upgrades. Our guidance allows your IT team to remain focused on operations throughout the workplace transformation process as well as support employees in having an optimal experience. And Connection’s Modern Device Management Services provide strategic infrastructure enhancements for optimal fleet management.

Connection’s Workplace Transformation Services can help your organization configure the IT infrastructure you need, so all your IT team needs to do is push the button to deploy. With expertise in Intel® technologies, Windows 10 deployment, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), and modern device management, Connection is ready to complement your internal efforts toward workplace transformation.

1. “Invest In Employee Experience (EX), Drive Your Bottom Line Growth,” Forrester, October 2020, 1. Intel® technologies may require enabled hardware, software, or service activation. No product or component can be absolutely secure. Your costs and results may vary. © Intel Corporation. Intel, the Intel logo, and other Intel marks are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries. Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.

Do I Need SIEM Technology? Aug 16, 2022 Bill Virtue

As our threat landscape continues to evolve, businesses are looking for solutions to help mitigate cyber threats. The Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) market is a $4.2B market and is expected to grow to over $5 billion by 2025. SIEM platforms collect and analyze data from networks, applications, servers, and/or devices and alert users of a potential cyberattack. When the system detects an event that deviates from pre-built or custom-built rules, an alert will trigger via a personalized user interface for quick resolution.

Compliance obligations—such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, GDPR and others—often require organizations to aggregate, store, and log large amounts of data to generate insight into network security threats. Earlier versions of SIEMs were not able to keep pace with the volume of data they were ingesting, and therefore, not able to alert in real-time or even near real-time. Not to mention, the skills required to operate and tune the SIEM was a constant drain on IT and security resources. SIEM architecture, performance, and training were also big factors for businesses deciding to bring a SIEM solution inhouse or not.

New SIEM technology

Newer SIEM technology consumes data from multiple sources—not just anti-virus events and firewall logs—and can do all the normalization and correlation. Many of the performance issues of earlier SIEMs have since been addressed by cloud-based resources supported by a scalable architecture, and in some cases, replacing the legacy database or data warehouse with a data lake. The data lake accommodates for data growth and allows pointing almost any device at the SIEM for data collection and correlation, while keeping pace with data ingestion rates.

SIEM vendors have also added machine learning capabilities to address user and entity behavior (UBA/UEBA). By modeling behavior, SIEM solutions can develop a baseline of “normal” behavior and expose any suspicious activities when a specified threshold is exceeded. Behavior analytics can be correlated with other activities to help detect lateral movement of an attacker and attack surface trajectory.

Other challenges with legacy SIEM technologies involved understanding query language, building complex queries and rules to detect specific events, and managing large numbers of false positives. Today’s SIEM technology still requires some level of aptitude, but many solutions are now equipped with an easy-to-understand user interface (UI) and pre-defined workflows based on use cases.

Security Remediation Workflows

Today’s SIEMs are often paired with security orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR). One of the benefits of SOAR is orchestration. Businesses have a number of resources and tools used to understand threats that exist or are evolving on the network. Orchestration centralizes data collected from vulnerability scanners, threat intelligence subscriptions, and other data sources that a SIEM does not collect. This orchestration feature enhances the understanding of compromising indicators and delivers visibility across multiple tools and threat sources.

SOAR can also automate the repetitive tasks a security analyst performs as part of incident response. Older SIEM technology only provided the alert data. The analyst would then need to perform the tasks necessary to determine root cause. Many of these tasks can now be automated using SOAR.

Lastly, SOAR can respond to detected threats by removing the threat itself from the network. This streamlines the amount of time it takes to respond to a threat and drastically reduces the overall operating cost.

Benefits of a SIEM / SOAR Solution

Sophisticated attacks require complex threat detection and protection. Newer SIEMs can take in any data, and once tuned properly, provide the alerting needed for investigation. SIEMs are also used for threat-hunting: delivering the data required to detect threats that exist within the network and improving security operation efficiency. Adding SOAR increases the power to identify threats using other security tools and automates the workflow and response process.

Managed SIEM

Purchasing and deploying a SIEM on-premises can be an expensive endeavor. It means you need the infrastructure to support it, the additional cost of servers and storage, and the expertise to manage it.

A managed SIEM allows an organization to partner with a third party service provider who can monitor the company’s network for potential indicators of compromise (IoC). This often includes endpoint detection and response (EDR) as part of that managed service. Given the skills gap in security expertise, many companies look at outsourcing SIEM technology to leverage the expertise of the partner to help manage security alerts and protect the business from cyber threats. This takes some of the burden off your company’s security team, but will require you to work with the partner to ensure the setup, monitoring, alerting, and reporting complement the capabilities of your security analysts and meet your business’s SLA requirements. For resources to assist with SIEM selection or a managed SIEM solution, contact the experts at Connection today.

Microsoft Further Supports the Hybrid... Aug 11, 2022 Makayla Mota

Did you know Microsoft Teams has over 270 million monthly active users? It is the most used and most advanced platform for work, and the only solution with meetings, calls, chats, collaboration, and business process automation all in the flow of work. It is the intersection where work, data, and business process come together.

For the past few years, Microsoft Teams has been a game-changer in both remote and hybrid work environments and with the recent announcements and updates (they have introduced over 450 new features in the past year alone!), it is easy to see Microsoft continues to come up with innovative ways to support employees in our ever-changing world. 

Let’s start with the most recent updates from July’s Microsoft Inspire 2022: 

Excel Live

Microsoft announced at Inspire 2022 their plans to incorporate the Live feature that has been available in PowerPoint since early this year into Excel. This will allow for real-time collaboration on Excel content within a Teams meeting. The feature will be live in public preview at the end of August and will let users share their Excel workbooks via the share tray thereby giving editing access to all meeting attendees directly from the meeting screen. Everyone editing the workbook can create their own custom views to sort and filter data using Sheet Views without disrupting anyone else’s view. Users also can set permissions and use the “Show Changes” feature to make sure edits were made during the meeting.

Video Clip

Another exciting announcement at Inspire was the addition of Video Clip to Teams. The Video Clip feature lets the user create, send, and view short videos as an alternative to sending out messages in the chat function for the times when text, emoji, or even gifs just won’t cut it. Users will see a small video icon in the chat box where they can record a message and edit the length, thereby saving the time of typing it out while also, in some cases, providing a better way convey the meaning of the message. 

Collaborative Annotations

If you enable Annotation mode while sharing your desktop, users can now draw, type, and react on top of the content shared in a meeting! Powered by Microsoft Whiteboard, Collaborative Annotations is now generally available. Meeting attendees will see the Annotations toolbar giving them access to a rich toolset to add input and drive the discussion further, adding to the collaborative nature of Microsoft Teams.

Teams Connect

Internal and external collaboration! Teams Connect is an ultra-modern and hybrid-friendly feature that allows organizations to collaborate in a channel or via chat without having to switch tenants. Teams Connect has been in preview since March, but several improvements were announced, as it is scheduled to move into general availability mid-August. Updates include an increase of shared channels from 50 to 200—with 200 Standard, 30 Private, and 200 shared per team—enhancement to the external user’s chat experiences now allowing for the use of emojis and gifs, enhanced admin reporting, better security, and app support for external users, as well as the functionality to create apps within shared channels for developers.

Chat with Self

You may have noticed yourself pinned to the top of your chats in Teams—I know I recently did! The Chat with Self feature was designed to give users a place to store notes, save drafts and files, even send themselves reminders or midweek motivational gifs. An easy way to stay organized and on top of your workload no matter where you are.

New Webinar Features

If you use Teams as your platform to host virtual trainings, webinars or customer meetings, some cool new features have been added to enhance the virtual meeting experience. Users can now set up internal or external webinars, can select up to 10 co-organizers, and can post information such as bio, headshot, and LinkedIn profile of speakers prior to the event. Taking a cue from Teams Live Events, you can also now incorporate a structured Q&A within your meeting allowing for attendees and speakers to interact more seamlessly in a moderator-based environment. 


Now generally available, LinkedIn integration within Teams allows users to see contacts’ details on LinkedIn through calls, meetings, and chats—creating that interconnectivity that drives the hybrid work model.

Teams Chats within Dynamics 365

It is now possible to embed Teams chat within Dynamics 365, which will be especially helpful for salespeople to streamline workflow between the two platforms. Users can now link new and existing chats to Dynamics 365 records like sales opportunities and service records. This feature is currently in public preview but will be moving to general availability soon.

Live Share

Live Share in Teams Meetings was announced at Microsoft Build in May and creates a collaborative environment that allows meeting participants to co-create, co-watch, and co-edit projects during the meeting, thereby extending the passive screen-sharing experience into a rich collaborative environment. Using the power of Fluid Framework, developers can now use new preview extensions to the Teams SDK to extend the Teams app and create Live Share experiences. Developers from, Hexagon, Skillsoft, MakeCode, Accenture, Parabol, and Hexagon are early partners building Live Share experiences.

Although the work experience has changed significantly over the past few years, Microsoft continues to add both simple and complex features to its already robust repertoire of products and platforms—improving the user experience while seamlessly adapting to the ever-changing work model. As someone who has been using Teams since the very beginning, I can say with all honesty that it keeps getting better and better. 

Have questions about Teams and the new features? Reach out to a Connection expert today. 

4 Tips to Keep in Mind When Managing Your... Aug 09, 2022 Heather Eakin

I love the cloud. A lot. 

You have a business problem? There is a cloud option that will solve it. There are big clouds that do practically everything, like AWS and Azure. And there are specialty clouds that focus on just specific services, like Wasabi cloud storage. And of course, there are even as-a-service cloud-based applications or micro-services that many of us use every day, like Office 365, Dropbox, Concur, and Smartsheet. You probably even have your own private cloud in the data center.

There are a lot of good reasons that the cloud is more ingrained into technology today. Cloud services can allow your business more agility when spinning up new applications and workloads or recovering from a disaster recovery event. A business can also see accounting benefits by categorizing traditional capital expenses (CAPEX) as operational expenses (OPEX).

With all these new benefits that you gain by leveraging these solutions, there are a few extra areas that every business needs to take into consideration when operating in a cloud model:

1. Develop a company cloud policy

The cloud is a beneficial tool because it is so agile and provides near-immediate resources. However, it can be just as easy for a department to consume cloud services while charging it to the company credit card, leading to cloud sprawl or shadow IT. If IT doesn't know about your new environment, you can bet they aren't making sure it is being backed up. Also, data protection isn't included out of the box with many cloud services. 

Without a comprehensive company cloud policy, your data might not be secured correctly, leaving vulnerabilities for hackers or exposure to ransomware. This could also potentially place the company in non-compliance with industry regulations. 

Bottom line: allowing your end users to bypass IT puts your business at risk and decreases your IT department's ability to protect and support you.

2. Manage your cloud sprawl

Cloud services accrue costs quickly, especially when you have a lot of them. Having too many services might lead to an overlap of capabilities in certain areas which will result in redundant costs. 

Truthfully, some overlap is inevitable. You might be using AWS for your infrastructure and using Wasabi as your cloud storage platform. Obviously, AWS has Glacier for archiving, but you might choose to bring in another potentially lower-cost provider for added resiliency of data locations and regions, or simply because you prefer the service.

Be sure as you engage multiple cloud providers that you are making choices based on business needs and not due to lack of planning or understanding of your existing capabilities. No one should sign a contract with a new vendor just to find out that the same service is already provided through another contract, and it just isn't being used.

3. Choose a management strategy

The more cloud environments you adopt, the more complex they are to manage, especially since each environment has its own suite of management tools. This is fine when you have a small number of cloud partners, since there are not that many different tools to manage. But as your business onboards with more cloud providers, you should minimize the number of tools in use. It is easy to get lost in the tangle of multiple management methods and very difficult to become proficient in each. Trying to maintain too many of these tools often leads to situations in which important data are not reviewed in a timely manner, potentially increasing costs. 

Fortunately, there has been a lot of development in this space. Tools or services like CloudCheckr or Flexera One (formerly Risc Networks) are available for management of multiple clouds. Industry leaders are also developing proprietary solutions to help in this area. For example, VMware Cloud Foundation  can manage your on-premises vSphere environment and your VMC instances from one console. Dell APEX and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Greenlake both offer an as-a-service overlay to infrastructure management.

The challenge is less about finding a tool: It's about determining which one will suit your needs best. 

4. Keep data mobility in mind as you onboard new cloud offerings

What is the process to cancel a cloud service contract? What are the ingress and egress charges for a specific provider? 

If you have a cloud backup repository and want to change vendors, it might be more cost effective—due to egress changes and other potential micro-charges—to start using the new service and leave the existing one in place until the backups age out. 

We live in a multi-cloud world, and it is here to stay. Take the time to evaluate your cloud options and make sure they support your overall IT and business strategy. If you need help, engage an expert. Connection has cloud-focused technical experts, as well as consultants who can assist you with strategic planning.

Inside Look: Life of a Connection Intern Aug 04, 2022 Connection

I started my internship at Connection in February of 2022. Currently, I am enrolled at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, NH, and I am working on obtaining a degree in business management, alongside studying communications. I was taking a class in Human Resource Management, and I reached out to Joan Evans, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Connection, to see if I could intern in her department as part of an honors project for the class. My experience in the class and at Connection has given me insight into the “HR world,” which I found to be incredibly interesting—especially after seeing Joan’s passion for the company and its employees. This made me wonder, could I see myself doing this? 

My favorite part of interning at Connection, and especially in HR, is the people. I have gained some incredible mentors throughout this process. One of the most important things to me is follow-through, and in this department, that is something I have noticed is important at Connection. The three people I’ve been working most closely with—Joan Evans, Sr. VP of Human Resources; Andrea Faraco, Director of Talent Acquisition; and Jen Tamposi, Executive Assistant—have all been amazing mentors. I have been working on various projects such as document organization, coordinating job descriptions, updating bonus entry spreadsheets, and more. I was even included in weekly remote meetings focused on launching a new, companywide employee engagement program. Jen has also done a fantastic job of making sure I can meet with as many people as possible to learn about their roles within the company. Not only am I learning through hands-on tasks, but I’m also learning directly from people in other departments.

My experience at Connection has been nothing but positive, and I look forward to a possible future with the company. If I were to say one thing to anyone thinking about interning at Connection, it would be “go for it”! The people you work with only want to help you succeed, and overall, care about you gaining the best experience possible. 

What is up next for me? My first goal is to enjoy the rest of my summer. After that, my next goal is to finish off the last two semesters, graduate in May, and follow that with finding a job to set myself up for success. 

Olivia Conforti is an intern at Connection. She is pursuing a business management degree with a minor in communications at Franklin Pierce University. She serves as a mentor through the university’s Center for Academic Excellence program and enjoys photography in her free time.

“It Will Never Happen to Us”: A Look... Aug 03, 2022 Joseph Salzer

We often read the news and learn of high-profile ransomware attacks on companies and organizations. When we read these stories, many of us think of ransomware attacks as something that only happens to “the other guys.” This is especially true when it comes to smaller organizations, as there seems to be a false narrative that ransomware attacks only affect larger organizations or high-profile companies. However, the reality is that no organization, regardless of size, is ransomware-proof. In fact, when it comes to the current surge in ransomware attacks, it becomes a question of when not if. An organization’s ability to survive an attack depends on their preparedness and ability to minimize damage.

By the Numbers

According to latest statistics, ransomware attacks have increased by 62% year-over-year, making this type of attack the most prevalent cybersecurity threat. A 2022 report indicated that a whopping 76% of organizations surveyed were targets of at least one ransomware attack in the last 12 months. In fact, the average ransomware attack frequency was approximately 2.4 attacks in the last 12 months. The size of the organization attacked seems irrelevant as most ransomware attacks are random instead of targeted. The following diagram shows the frequency of ransomware attacks by employee size:

A frightening statistic is that of companies surveyed, over 40% reported data loss and downtime due to a ransomware attack. In various cases, the attack resulted in partial or complete data loss even after a ransom was paid.

When we consider the increasing frequency of ransomware attacks and the high data encryption rate, it becomes clear that an organization’s ability to survive a ransomware attack depends on preparedness and the approach taken to mitigate such attacks. It is no longer enough to prepare for what to do “if we get attacked” but rather to prepare for “when we get attacked.” Preparing for the inevitable or always yields the best results and provides the best damage control options.

Backup Immutability

Being a victim of a ransomware attack is indeed scary and can have an organization-wide impact, but there are various steps that can be taken to minimize damage and reduce the risk of data loss. When it comes to ransomware, it is important to think about prevention; however, it is more critical to focus on mitigation and damage control. 

Tip #1: Develop a well-defined contingency plan to help protect your data.

Despite having clearly defined security policies, ransomware attacks are difficult to prevent. As previously mentioned, when we focus on the “when” instead of the “if,” we can develop a well-defined contingency plan to better cope with an attack. One of the best ways to cope with an attack is to minimize the inflicted damage. In most cases, ransomware attacks go unnoticed for days or weeks, and when the attack is identified, it can be too late to prevent data encryption. Therefore, backups play an even more critical role now than they have in the past. We used to think of backups as something that was “nice to have” if we ever needed to recover lost data (a file here, a VM there, etc.). However, backups are now the last line of defense when there is a ransomware attack. It is for this reason that ransomware attacks are increasingly targeting backup images. In the past, backups were not thought of as being part of an organization’s security practices, however, today backups play a crucial role in an organization’s ability to recover from a cybersecurity attack. 

One of best solutions available to survive a ransomware attack and minimize damage is backup immutability. When backup immutability is implemented, it prevents backup images from being modified, deleted, or encrypted after they have been written to the backup target. This ensures that if an organization experiences a ransomware attack today, yesterday’s backups are immutable; therefore, they cannot be altered or deleted. Since immutability prevents any modification to the backup images while the immutability period is active, backup images cannot be encrypted by a ransomware attack. This allows for quick data restores to a point in time prior to the attack. Data loss (if any) is limited to the changes that took place from the time the backup image was written to when the attack occurred. This can be further mitigated by establishing clearly defined SLAs and performing more frequent backups.

Immutability: Cloud vs. On-premises

When it comes to immutability, there are some pre-requisites that must be met. First, the backup application must support immutability. Second, the backup target or repository must also support immutability. Immutable backup targets can be located on-premises for quick and fast restores, or they can reside in cloud object storage. The ability to have on-premises immutable storage is highly recommended; however, due to hardware acquisition costs, it may not always be an option. In these cases, immutability on cloud object storage provides an inexpensive way to leverage backup image immutability. If the backup application supports immutability, enabling immutability on cloud object storage is a straightforward process requiring minimal reconfiguration.

On-premises immutability is a bit more complex to deploy, but it does provide some advantages over cloud object storage (i.e., eliminates cloud data transfer costs and increases recoverability speed). However, it tends to be a more expensive solution to deploy due to hardware acquisition costs. 

Tip #2: Leverage immutability both on-premises and cloud (preferably both leveraging object storage) as your budget allows.

Given the likelihood of a ransomware attack, backup image immutability should be a critical component of every organization’s data protection and cybersecurity response strategies. 

No More Denial—Your Organization Will Be Hit with Ransomware Attacks

When we read that of 3300 organizations surveyed, 76% experienced at least one ransomware attack, it becomes clear that a ransomware attack is likely to occur. Clearly defined security practices help minimize external risk but given the fact that most attacks begin internally through phishing, clickbait, etc., a ransomware attack is almost inevitable. This makes backup immutability one of the best tools available to do damage control and ensure recoverability. Assuming the existing backup application and cloud storage provider support immutability, backup immutability is inexpensive and simple to implement. 

Tip #3: Include other security measures such as hardening (operating system and hypervisor) as well as airgap to further contain a ransomware attack and to reduce data loss risk. 

While the backup immutability does not reduce the risk of a ransomware attack, it increases an organization’s ability to cope with an attack. It also reduces or eliminates the need to make any ransom payments as encrypted data can easily be recovered. Given how successful and lucrative ransomware attacks are and their increased frequency, thinking that “it will never happen to us” is clearly the wrong approach. The sooner we begin thinking of how to respond to a ransomware attack “when it happens to us,” the better prepared we will be to cope with such an attack.

The Top Use Cases of AR in Manufacturing Aug 02, 2022 Ryan Spurr

When it comes to adopting new technologies, look no further than the home and the next generation of end users. I was visiting friends recently, and their kids were walking around the living room, virtually climbing a rock wall together while bumping into furniture. It became clear to me how ready this technology is and how future generations will expect its use in the workplace. It made me rethink its application in today’s manufacturing environment. 

With some research, it becomes clear that the technology is already here and ready for use in manufacturing. It’s estimated that augmented reality (AR) users will reach 1.73 billion by 2024, with much expansion outside of gaming and into practical business use cases. So what are some of the practical use cases being deployed in manufacturing? Are these use cases worth the investment? And are there more exciting or forward-looking use cases for organizations looking to leap ahead in this space? 

As I dug into the existing reasons one might leverage augmented reality solutions, I was blown away by the practicality of it and the partnerships available connecting devices with software, collaboration platforms, and data integration.

Augmented Collaboration

Collaboration is perhaps the most mature and viable use case, with many variants that deliver a reasonable return on investment for any business. These use cases were also heavily utilized during the pandemic and are now “battle-tested.”

For example, many clients have packaged disparate technologies, including a rolling cart, laptop, camera, and microphone. This cart is rolled around the facility to provide tours to external clients, partners, or employees—but it has its limitations. First, most factories are limited to who from the plant tour can participate in this collaboration session, limiting it to the person closest to the cart. Second, carts are limited to open spaces and flat surfaces. This approach quickly fails if a tour requires navigating tight spaces, visualizing factory equipment, or climbing stairs. 

Now imagine using a hands-free augmented reality device with integration to a collaboration platform like Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex. You have a whole different experience for employees and remote guests. In this scenario, all key employees can wear a headset to hear, speak, and visualize any participant content—both physical and virtual. Because the devices are hands-free, tours are not bounded by any physical limitation, allowing the tour to go anywhere a person can. And best of all, these solutions enable virtual attendees to zoom, highlight areas of interest, interact, and share information with onsite attendees, making the collaborative experience more productive for all involved. 

Augmented Reality

Beyond collaboration, native augmented reality use cases and solutions are what the technology was intended for. In these use cases, the devices and software stitch together the real world with the digital to create a “mashup” experience for end users. This allows manufacturers to deliver hands-free interactive solutions that provide more than work instructions or insight about the production process.

These solutions integrate data from various sources to convey comprehensive insight into the working of facilities, machines, or products. Imagine incorporating data from PLCs, sensors, business systems, alerts, safety warnings, work order data, and SOPs into a single pane of glass that is easily visible and integrated with the physical environment. Try doing that on a traditional computer while assembling a vehicle, satellite, or medical device—or while walking the factory floor.

Imagine the ability to transform how employees collaborate, integrate data, and improve processes all through a single augmented platform. This is where the real power of augmented reality will lead us into the future and become more critical, given the challenges with the workforce, skillset management, and keeping pace with change across product design, production, and client experience.

Top Collaboration Use Cases

  • Augmented Troubleshooting and Repair: Returning the factory to operational status is always a top concern—and when equipment fails, it’s crucial to get engineers or third-party resources working to diagnose and repair failed equipment quickly. With augmented troubleshooting and repair, organizations can get the right resources in place virtually from anywhere in the world to speed return to operation. Engaging experts remotely can save time, speed resolution, eliminate travel and expenses, and possibly limit the disruption to an employee’s personal life.
  • Augmented Client or Partner Tours: For some manufacturers, it’s important to walk potential clients or partners through their factories to demonstrate compliance, adherence to standards, and maturity and to make third parties comfortable with their ability to produce. Whatever the reason, bringing remote individuals through a virtual tour is much easier. This can be especially helpful in production labs or environments where guests might represent obvious challenges like a risk to health, gowning, or space constraints—making a virtual augmented tour more favorable and practical to all parties involved.
  • Augmented Kaizen and Continuous Improvement: Not all resources exist onsite. With a process improvement initiative, it’s sometimes essential to bring many different resources together to assess a current process and make recommendations based on observations. With augmented collaboration platforms, any help can be part of the team regardless of location.
  • Augmented Audits: Many organizations are subject to audits as part of Sarbanes-Oxley or industry standards groups. This often requires the presence of a third party to ensure inventory, facility, security, or factory audits are truthfully and adequately conducted. The pandemic demonstrated how complex requirements such as this can be, but with augmented collaboration, any organization can conduct audit activities as usual with remote auditors shadowing job roles via augmented solutions. 
  • 3D Work Instructions: Move away from the desk or kiosk-based work instructions to deliver 3D operating procedures that enhance the experience for employees by integrating work instructions, steps, data collections, and visual overlays atop actual physical products to enhance assembly, quality assurance, or field maintenance activities.
  • 3D + IoT Insight: Fuse 3D and IoT data into a single experience for any job role in the factory. With the ability to look at a physical machine, building, or product, an employee can quickly visualize sensor data, inner workings, components, and health conditions with data from within the environment.

Hand-held AR Devices

There is a wide range of augmented reality devices on the market—their differences are more akin to their use cases and the environments used within than anything else. Various form factors include hand-held mobile devices like tablets and hands-free devices like augmented reality headsets.

Perhaps the most practical of devices are mobile phones and tablets. Many of today’s devices come with high-end cameras and augmented reality accelerators designed to optimize the end-user experience and maximize the functionality of applications running on these devices. With a wide range of mobile devices available, including commercial, rugged, ultra-rugged, and even intrinsically safe or sanitizable, these devices are a practical way to initiate early augmented reality initiatives or proof of concepts. Additionally, these mobile devices can be used by employees for many other job functions like training, actionable insight, digital forms, and workflow, accessing business systems, capturing subject matter knowledge, and much more.

Hands-free AR Devices

Unlike their counterparts, hands-free devices are designed specifically for augmented reality use cases. They allow employees to perform job duties without the restrictions of holding another device, make it easy to fuse their work environment and digital universe into one, and provide a great deal of hands-free interaction into a fully smart mobile device creating a truly immersive experience.

There are top-of-mind devices like Google Glass and Microsoft Halolens. Still, there are others, including RealWear, Movario, and Lenovo—each offering a range of augmented reality devices to fit your budget, capabilities, and regulatory requirements.

For example, some brands offer a single glass piece, while others provide dual. Some offer intrinsically safe and rugged versions designed to withstand the rigors of manufacturing or regulated environments where sanitization or explosive risk must be mitigated. Some are wired to a computer and connect to a smart device via Bluetooth; others are self-contained smart devices that support wireless and cellular connectivity. Selecting the “right” device comes down to the use cases, job roles, and the environment. 

AR Robots

Yes. Robots are also being utilized. Not all use cases are ideal for an employee (whether hand-held or hands-free) to provide virtual access to remote resources for extended periods. For this reason, remote-controlled robots integrated with augmented reality collaboration platforms can create an alternative approach to connecting remote resources with access to physical locations. It’s beneficial for tours, industrial engineering assessments, and kaizen events giving the remote resource freedom to virtually conduct their jobs onsite. 

Connection has a team focused on innovative solutions using robots, augmented work, and integration with business systems to help our clients with the evolving way we work and automate activities anywhere in a facility.

Connection Can Help

Augmented Reality is here, and it’s full of practical use cases that can deliver business results, augment and enhance the workforce, and transform how work gets done. If your company is considering augmented reality solutions, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice. Discover the practical use cases of augmented reality in manufacturing, from remote collaboration to virtual blueprint overlays and more.

Inside Look: Connection’s Product... Jul 27, 2022 Connection

Interested in becoming a Connection employee? You’ve come to the right place. Follow our "Inside Look" series to find out what it’s like to work at different departments within our organization. You will learn about our open positions and hear from our department leaders on what they look for in candidates during the interview process. This month we are featuring our Product Management organization.

What is the role of a Product Manager?

The Product Manager works collaboratively with the assigned partner(s) and internal resources to select key initiatives to drive growth and profitability. They are responsible for developing, implementing, and managing go-to-market strategies across all selling subsidiaries. They also direct cross-functional activities as detailed in the business development plan for their designated partner’s solutions.

What is it like to work in Connection’s Product Management Department? 

No two days are alike. There are times you will focus on sales strategies, working closely with our sellers to help them with opportunities. Other times, you will be working on marketing campaigns with your partnerboth internal with our sellers and external with our customers. There will be data analytics work, collaboration with our purchasing team on strategies, training sellers on the latest technology trends, direct engagement with our customers, operational improvement projects, and more.

How is the Product Management Department structured?

The department is set up between two technology pillars: Workplace Transformation and Data Center and Advanced Technology.

Think of Workplace Transformation as all the IT solutions that are close to you as you workdevices, displays, accessories, printersall the hardware technologies a user needs to be productive.

Our Data Center and Advanced Technology team focuses on the products and solutions that help power the underlying infrastructure supporting business critical operations such as compute, storage, and networking solutions, as well as the requisite software to support on-premises, hybrid, or cloud infrastructures.

Each group has a leadership team that supports our Product Managers and Specialists as they work closely with our partners to develop strategies to help our sellers bring the latest technologies to market.

What are the relationships like between the Product Management Department and other areas of the company?

Product Management is unique in that we engage with almost every other department in the company. We work closely with sales, purchasing, marketing, finance, data analytics, the Technology Integration and Distribution Center, operations, and IT to bring our knowledge of our partners’ solutions to our customers.

What kinds of personalities mesh best within the company?

We are looking for new team members who are creative, results oriented, open to learning, collaborative, supportive teammates, entrepreneurial spirits, and those who like to leverage technology to apply creative solutions for customer challenges. Having a passion for technology helps our teams influence and excite others!

What does it take to be successful in the Product Management Department at Connection?

Understanding technology, our partners, our sellers, and our customers. We will help enable you to be successful by showing how each of these things are connected.

If someone reading this was coming to interview tomorrow, what interview tips would you give them? 

Be prepared to speak to your experience and provide examples of transferrable skills. Our job requirements can be unique to our company and industry, and we have great results for people looking to migrate to a career in technology. The best way to do this is to help us understand your experiences.

What can new hires expect from joining the Product Management Department? 

Our department is very collaborative and supportive of one another. We want everyone in our department and company to succeed. We want to set you up for success and continue that throughout your career. In addition, Product Management opens up various opportunities to advance one’s career into various roles, from team leadership to advanced technical positions. There is great potential for team members to build their career in the Product Management Department.

Why Connection? 

Connection offers an opportunity to be part of a leading, Fortune 1000 national solutions provider in the IT industry and a chance to work closely with global IT OEM partners to help our customers calm the confusion of IT. The evolving landscape of IT allows for growth and new challenges every day. You will be working with a fantastic group of talented people who are grounded in the values that have been core to Connection since our founding in 1982: respect, excellence, and teamwork.

Ready to take the next step?

Can you see yourself working in our Product Management Department? We are hiring! Check out our open positions below or contact one of our hiring managers directly. 

Hiring Manager: Steven Carey
Partner Development Specialist - APC

Hiring Manager: Camden Haley
Business Development Specialist - Digital Signage

Hiring Manager: Katie MacKenzie
Partner Development Specialist - HP Peripherals

Partner Development Specialist - HP Supplies

Hiring Manager: David Olivier
Business Development Specialist - HPE

TechSperience Solutions Episode 107:... Jul 26, 2022 Connection

Today’s work-from-anywhere paradigm brings key challenges that organizations must address through IT transformation. This episode explores new PC solutions to address the needs of hybrid and remote employees while easing device management for IT staff. Topics include built-in security, accelerated compute capabilities, and automated data processing. 

Host: James Hilliard

Guests: Rhett Livengood, Director, Digital Business Enabling at Intel

Show Notes:

[1:40] Top IT security and performance challenges we're seeing with remote/hybrid working.

[3:50] Work-from-home challenges from the personal perspective.

[7:55] How Intel strategized and mobilized to support the new remote working environment.

[11:00] Most PCs are outdated which can negatively impact security and performance.

[12:30] 12th Gen Intel Cores extend battery life by 2x and have embedded security. 

[14:00] Software in PCs can prioritize video conferencing usage for improved user experience.

[19:00] Benefits of hardware/software integration and partnering with the right provider.

[22:51] With the current supply chain limitations, developing an advanced plan, teaming with a solutions provider that can advise on the best of breed technologies, and access to global resources are critical.

[28:00] Modern PCs can accommodate for Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6 extended, 5G, and 6G to elevate the employee experience at home.

Smart Manufacturing: Achieve Better... Jul 25, 2022 Ryan Spurr

Most manufacturers are investing in smart manufacturing, which means increasing the number of edge-based computing devices in factories, warehouses, yards, and other environments. To put this transformation into perspective, let’s look at some compelling statistics: 30% of enterprise budgets will shift to edge computing solutions and roughly 75% of all enterprise data will be produced at the edge by 2025.

New demands for digital processes are driving this transformation at the edge including the need to collect data or automate at the edge, or even empower employees with actionable insight at the edge. Whatever the use case, this means deploying more end-user or headless devices into harsher environments where traditional commercial end-user devices fail to perform or survive. Let’s look at some reasons why fanless industrial products outperform in these manufacturing environments.

Resistant to Particulates

All environments have dust or particulates in the air. In manufacturing, the types and frequency of particulates can play a more impactful role. Some examples include wood-based manufacturing with wood particulates being a constant in the air, in poultry-based manufacturing, feathers and other particulates float to every part of the facility, or even in fabrication-based production environments where various metals or chemical particulates are sucked into factory computers via fans intended to keep computers cool and operating at optimal levels.

Whatever the industry, particulates can be harmful in a couple of ways. First, these particulates enter traditional end-use devices, jamming fans and preventing the adequate flow of air needed to cool components. If unchecked, these particulates lead to overheating and eventually early product failure. Second, some organizations create maintenance tasks to vacuum or blow out end-user devices periodically to combat this. This activity is non-value added, requires a machine to be taken out of service, and depending on the types of particulates in the air, could also represent a safety risk to employees tasked with cleaning.

Operable Under Varying Temperature Ranges

Many end-user devices used in smart manufacturing are placed in locations where traditional fan-cooled devices might not survive. For example, devices may be placed into production equipment, cases, kiosks, utility closets, or mounted in a way that exposes them to higher temperature variations or minimizes airflow.

Most fanless devices are designed to operate in more diverse temperate ranges. They can operate without fans for airflow and leverage fins to transfer heat away from the unit, making fanless or sealed devices more durable and flexible for use in manufacturing or other challenging environments that require compute at the edge.

Durable Components

Let’s take into consideration the components used in fanless or sealed devices. While some products may use less capable processors to control how much heat is produced, most industrial edge devices utilize higher-end components designed to withstand harsher environments and temperatures, and employ production processes to ensure that onboard components are better able to survive the environments they are designed to operate within.

Longer Lifecycle and Support Windows

Lastly, fanless edge devices are built with a longer lifecycle. While traditional end-user computing devices have a limited production and support cycle, most manufacturers of fanless edge devices understand that these devices will be deployed in environments where capital equipment, process equipment, test stands, and other critical equipment may be utilized. This means that these devices have a longer operational lifespan, deliver less downtime, and increase investment return.

This can be even more important if you deploy edge compute into a finished smart product where devices are expected to last, meet warranty requirements, minimize impact to design and production lifecycles, and offer a longer support window.

Connection Can Help

Many new products on the market offer protection for your smart manufacturing initiatives. These devices balance cooling, temperature, and vibration, feature higher performance components, and can perform in environments not suitable for typical end-user devices. These devices also come in many different form factors and may be configured with a wide range of ports and accessories to fit any manufacturing project needs. If your company is looking to deploy end-user or edge compute to support a smart manufacturing initiative, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

Three Technology Upgrades Retailers Should... Jul 20, 2022 Brian Gallagher

It feels like so much has changed in the past six months. The supply chain is broken, both for your business and for the digital transformations you had planned. Inflation has skyrocketed. Labor and experience shortages have impacted both your business and the digital transformations you had planned. Consumers have shifted spending priorities to experiential segments like dining and travel.

As tumultuous as all of this has been, the good news is that each one of these challenges require the same digital transformations you probably planned to invest in anyway. The “why” might have changed—but not the “how.” These three technology transformations can drive employee productivity, employee satisfaction, supply chain management, customer experience, and revenue all at the same time.

  1. Smart stores improve experience and optimize available labor: The amazing thing about a smart store is the ability to meet customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) expectations at the same time. Smart store technologies are wide reaching, but some of the most impactful areas include CameraVision, AI, and IoT devices. AI solutions that allow businesses to react in non-linear ways to elevate a shopping experience are creating the new “wow” experience. CameraVision is driving automated solutions for digital marketing, employee engagement, checkout, and security. IoT devices are eliminating mundane tasks and activating more productive employee activities. Applying AI to your most significant pain points not only eliminates the pain, it also elevates the business outcomes for customers and employees. These types of solutions are available for all sizes and segments within retail and hospitality. It sounds scary, but these solutions can fairly easily provide amazing new experiences for customers and employees.

  2. Mobile solutions are critical to support CX and EX: We can all agree that we live in a mobile world. Simply put, mobile solutions are the only way to keep employees engaged and productive. There were approximately 6.2 billion smartphone users worldwide in 2021, and retailers need to embrace this world across all positions within the brand. The savviest retailers will look to elevate the role of associates in the overall store experience through mobile technologies.

  3. Networking and security infrastructure is your top priority: Finally, the foundation of our new digital world can take center stage. For years, retail’s CIOs and CSOs have begged for investment. They warned of the ramifications to both customer experience and business productivity if smart investments were not supported. Retailers must now invest in infrastructure, while also implementing these new technologies at the same time. The digital foundation has never been more critical. The ability to meet customer expectations and improve employee productivity cannot be achieved without optimizing your networks and security solutions.

In a world that has seen enormous amounts of change in just the last six months, there is one constant. Technologies are leading the way in improving every single pain point you are facing. Prioritizing and implementing these technologies is a heavy lift for most lean IT retail organizations. Identifying the right partners to support fast and efficient deployment will be the key to all digital success. A great partner like Connection can support your new retail digital world from conceptual design through configuration and deployment.

If you’d like to talk more about how these technologies can impact your retail business or how Connection can help bring them to life, please contact us today!

AI in Healthcare Jul 19, 2022 Dr Keith Nelson

Artificial Intelligence (AI) . . . it seems like every IT organization is claiming they use it.  Feels like only yesterday when an avalanche of companies were rushing to adopt the descriptive label of dot com or cloud or crypto or artisanal. New day, new name.  But are all of the AI claims valid, or are the creators just relabeling traditional Boolean logic systems as a marketing tool?

The definition of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is generally accepted to be “a computer system that is able to perform tasks that ordinarily require human intelligence.” This means contextualizing data (understanding the underlying meaning of that which is being observed, as opposed to just recognizing key words or data elements).  It’s about comprehension and assimilation and (machine) learning.  Intuitive thought over recognition. Some common examples of AI applications include advanced web search engines (Google), recommendation systems (YouTube, Netflix, Amazon), understanding human speech (Siri, Alexa, ambient transcription), self-driving cars, and competitive gaming (chess, GO).  

Within the healthcare sphere, AI has heretofore mostly been applied to revenue cycle activities, cancer research (think IBM Watson) and drug discovery.  More recently, however, the technology is increasingly being leveraged for ground-level clinical endeavors like population health management, clinical decision support, genomic therapy and personalized medicine. Below is a quick primer on a few real-world AI healthcare applications currently in use:

Forecasting: Population Health Management

  • Risk stratification of patient populations (predicts which patients are at risk of developing a disease or experiencing an adverse event)
  • Predicting low-weight, high-risk pregnancies
  • Predicting medication adherence (via filled prescriptions) 
  • Determining the Risk of Hospital-Acquired Infections
    • Predicting Clinical Pathway* Efficacy (effectiveness of treatment plan) including the influence of social determinants

*A clinical pathway is a document outlining a standardized, evidence-based multidisciplinary management plan, which identifies the appropriate sequence of clinical interventions, timeframes, milestones and expected outcomes for a homogenous patient group. In other words, a specific treatment game plan.

  • Predicting Non-Adherent Patients
  • Predicting Errors/Complications (clinical or medication) 
  • Predicting Sepsis (infections), Atrial Fibrillation, Congestive Heart Failure, NICU need, Transplant Cases   
  • Determining the Risk of Bed Sores

Real-Time: Clinical and Administrative Support

  • Determining Treatment Effectiveness (quality of results)
  • Early Disease Detection  
  • Bed Management
  • Automatic removal of PHI (identity anonymization) for analytics sharing
  • Robotic Process Automation (RPA) applied to revenue cycle management (coding/posting/denial management), reading images, reducing readmissions, natural language processing (unstructured data)
  • Reading x-rays, other images and doppler ultrasound 
  • Diagnosing skin conditions

Although there are numerous “out-of-the-box” solutions available for the above use cases, each typically requires a degree of customization and tweaking in order to optimize the system to achieve the desired results. This means that an organization must either purchase the solution and dedicate staff to this task, or outsource the entire function to a third party (i.e. a population health management firm).

As previously discussed in other postings, the runway for AI applications contains endless possibilities that will be enabled as the technology evolves, such as autonomous robotic surgery, machine-driven diagnosing and clinical/surgical decision support. But the path to this evolution will no doubt contain multiple friction points, as healthcare providers gradually (and grudgingly) become disintermediated from their traditional roles and responsibilities, and the overall “trust factor” becomes elevated in importance. 

Paging Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard . . .

Clearly, we can do better with respect to our current healthcare delivery in this country.  But are we OK with where all of this is going?  I guess time will tell.  As with any advancement in technology, AI adoption will be largely contingent upon value perception, utility, trust, user experience and the degree and quality of its impact on society.  We’ve learned time and again that new is not always better, but when it is, it’s usually pretty great.

Three Layers of PC Security to Protect... Jul 14, 2022 Connection

Security is more important than ever. Cyberattacks are relentless, increasing in number, complexity, and severity of attacks. Cybercriminals no longer just steal data but now commandeer system-wide compute resources.

Minimize Security Risks

One of the most common ways hackers get into systems is to access a compromised PC and get encryption keys, passwords, and sensitive data. Many organizations rely on software-based security while hackers continue to evolve their techniques to go beyond software to hardware infrastructure vulnerabilities. This presents a challenge for the IT team, which must manage PC fleets, including security for hybrid or remote locations, while meeting regulatory compliance requirements for data localization and privacy.

The solution is to invest in hardware-based technology that protects information security from endpoint to network edge to cloud. That means defense at each layer of infrastructure and applications, including the hardware, BIOS/firmware, operating system (OS), and virtualization machines (VMs).

Intel has built and evolved the Intel vPro® platform to provide the most comprehensive security for businesses.The goal of each new generation is to reduce the attack surface, adding more defense-in-depth and zero-trust security protections up and down the stack.

Multi-Layered Hardware Protection

As an example of this security assurance, Intel® Hardware Shield on the Intel vPro1 platform comes with three groups of security technologies built into each layer of the processor, meaning they work upon system boot without any extra steps or IT enablement. These protections help ensure safety in hybrid or remote work environments.

  1. At the firmware and below-the-OS security layer, Intel Hardware Shield technologies ensure only untampered firmware and trusted OS images will load with Intel® BIOS Guard and Secure Boot.
  2. Within the application and data protections layer, defense is enhanced through virtualization-based security and hardware-based encryption that help protect endpoint applications and data at every layer without impacting the user experience.
  3. At the advanced threat detections layer, monitoring CPU behavior and GPU offloading for potential attack activity can help ward off malware that evades traditional antivirus software and mitigate extreme attacks like control-flow hijacking, ransomware, and crypto mining.

Also included in the security ecosystem within the Intel vPro platform is Intel® Threat Detection Technology (Intel® TDT). This technology uses a combination of CPU telemetry and machine learning (ML) heuristics to detect—in real time—anomalous activity and potential threats that leave a footprint on the Intel® CPU performance monitoring unit (PMU), which sits beneath applications, the OS, and virtualization layers on the system. In other words, this helps address supply chain–style attacks that infect business applications. 

Microsoft Defender for Endpoint will soon leverage Intel TDT to help detect ransomware cryptojacking and to perform accelerated memory scanning on hundreds of millions of endpoints. In fact, Microsoft ensures security in the operating system for high levels of hardware, software, and identity protection features.

Security Standards

When it comes to industry security standards, Intel follows rigorous policies and procedures spelled out in the Security Development Lifecycle (SDL) to integrate security principles and privacy tenets at every step of hardware and software development. Intel has dedicated experts driving a security-first mindset that starts with research and design and doesn’t stop until products reach end of service.

Further accelerating adherence to industry security standards, the Intel vPro platform delivers 47 built-in MITRE ATT&CK countermeasures.2 In addition, Intel worked with security expert Coalfire to help validate how procuring an Intel vPro platform-based PC provides a meaningful accelerator for adopting security standards and best practice initiatives. The Coalfire report maps out how Intel vPro platform capabilities help achieve support for five key NIST, TCG, and FIPS security standards.

The Intel vPro platform also comes with remote management capabilities to help with fleet security so the IT team can administer processes at both the software and hardware level. This means devices can be monitored, maintained, and managed wherever they are, including ensuring devices have current operating systems, antivirus technologies, and malware-scanning software. Two of the tools the Intel vPro platform provides for remote device management are as follows:

  • Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT) provides persistent out-of-band connectivity that operates independently of the OS, allowing fixes to a wide range of systems issues—even when the OS is down in a hybrid or remote work environment.
  • Intel® Endpoint Management Assistant (Intel® EMA) enables cloud-based Intel AMT remote management capabilities for devices outside the firewall.

Altogether, Intel Hardware Shield on the Intel vPro platform provides the most comprehensive off-the-shelf, built-in PC security for your business3 while providing the IT team a direct path to remote device management.

Workplace Transformation

As sophisticated attacks continue to evade conventional tools and processes, IT security teams must adopt new technologies, including hardware-based solutions, to deploy new detection and response capabilities. Intel infrastructure ensures you have the protection you need for successful workplace transformation. 

When it comes to workplace transformation, organizations cannot afford to rely on software-based security alone. Invest in the right hardware-based solutions for confidence in a secure hybrid or remote work environment for data and infrastructure safety as well as employee productivity and job satisfaction.

Connection’s security practice can help with industry-leading assessments, analysis, and technology planning and integration. Visit our Workplace Transformation Services for more information or contact your Account Manager to learn how our collaboration with Intel, Microsoft, and other equipment manufacturers deliver secure PC solutions.

Additional resources on security technologies

Intel Hardware Shield Overview

Intel Hardware Shield – Below-the-OS Security

Intel Virtualization Technologies

Advanced Threat Protections White Paper

Cross-Platform Feature Comparison


  1. As measured by the unrivaled combination of above- and below-the-OS security capabilities, app and data protections, and advanced threat protections the Intel vPro® platform delivers for any size business, as well as Intel’s security-first approach to product design, manufacture, and support. All business PCs built on the Intel vPro platform have been validated against rigorous specifications, including unique hardware-based security features. See (platforms) for details. No product or component can be absolutely secure.
  2. See (platforms) for details. No product or component can be absolutely secure.
  3. All versions of the Intel vPro® platform require an eligible Intel® Core™ processor, a supported operating system, Intel® LAN and/or WLAN silicon, firmware enhancements, and other hardware and software necessary to deliver the manageability use cases, security features, system performance, and stability that define the platform. See for details.

Intel® technologies may require enabled hardware, software, or service activation. No product or component can be absolutely secure. Your costs and results may vary.

© Intel Corporation. Intel, the Intel logo, and other Intel marks are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries. Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.

Get All the News From Microsoft Build Jul 13, 2022 Makayla Mota

The annual Microsoft Build conference is a unique event and experience for developers by developers. This year’s virtual event featured several speakers from Microsoft—including Satya Nadella, Kevin Scott, Amanda Silver, Scott Guthrie, and Kathleen Mitford—and included a slew of announcements, product updates, and releases. Now that we’ve had about a month to digest all the exciting news, here is a roundup of the highlights. If you haven’t already, I would recommend checking out Microsoft’s Book of News detailing everything covered at the conference this year, and you can also catch up on key moments and watch all the on-demand content here!

Azure Migration and Modernization

Microsoft announced the addition of features to streamline cloud migration and modernization, such as:

  • Agentless discovery and grouping: This feature is generally available and ensures all components are identified and included in a move to Azure.
  • Azure SQL assessment improvements: This feature is in preview and will help to improve customer experience. New assessments include recommendations and support.
  • Pause and resume of migration function: This feature is also in preview and allows users to have control in scheduling migrations during slower periods.

Azure API Management Updates

The wonderous hybrid and multicloud Azure API Management platform that has the capacity to manage APIs across all environments also received the following updates:

  • GraphQL passthrough support: In addition to the Azure API Management benefits like security, observability, and reduced latency for their Graph APIs, customers can also access GraphQL-specific features like easily adding GraphQL services as APIs and running text queries in the Azure and developer portals.
  • Synthetic GraphQL and Token Store are both in preview.

Learn more about this update


Live Share in Teams Meetings creates a collaborative environment, allowing meeting participants to co-create, co-watch, and co-edit things during the meeting—thereby extending the passive screen-sharing experience into a rich collaborative environment. Using the power of Fluid Framework, developers can now use new preview extensions to the Teams SDK to extend the Teams app and create Live Share experiences. Developers from, Hexagon, Skillsoft, MakeCode, Accenture, Parabol, and Hexagon are early partners building Live Share experiences.

Live Share On-demand Session

The Power App Collaboration Controls go live this summer enabling developers to drag and drop collaboration features in Teams and Microsoft 365, such as chat, meetings, task, files, and approvals, into Power Apps—thereby streamlining and simplifying the flow of work and building custom collaborative experiences.

Microsoft Teams Collaboration Controls in Power Apps Live Session


New features will be added to OneNote, such as an updated draw tab, page sorting, and a new share window. OneNote will also be given the Windows 11 treatment with a visual refresh including rounded corners and revamped animations in the navigation section, full-screen mode, section tabs, and notebook dropdowns.

Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform

Microsoft Build also included the introduction of Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform! This is a seamless data platform that boasts the ability to integrate databases, analytics, and governance, so you can spend more time creating value in your organization than managing and integrating your data estate.  

Microsoft Learn

New enhancements were made to the Microsoft Learn platform, including the Exam Readiness Zone on Learn TV, which provides everything you need—training, study guides, Microsoft Official Practice Tests, and more—to ensure that you are ready to pass your Microsoft Exam and/or certification. Microsoft Learn Cloud Games is also now available! Connect with your peers to role-play through real-world tech problems by implementing Microsoft technologies and solutions in a risk-free, simulated environment. It's a great way to level up your knowledge, technical skills, and experience.

Datamart in Power BI

Now in preview, the new Datamart capabilities in Power BI Premium allow for all users, regardless of coding experience, to build datamarts that can be centrally managed with workloads up to 100GB. This powerful addition both lessens the load on IT and enables users to discover their own insights from independent and dependent data sets.

Windows and Edge

With the recent retirement of Internet Explorer 11, Microsoft Edge now provides backwards compatibility in Internet Explorer mode for users that still need access to Internet Explorer based apps. This is huge for Web and app developers, as it means no longer needing to work backward for IE11 compatibility and the continued support embedding Web content on the MSHTML (Trident) engine.

Because Windows is an open platform, developers can design Windows apps using the software of their choice. Several updates and improvements have been made across Windows developer technologies:

  • The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) is now available in the Microsoft Store. As an essential tool for many developers, engineers, and others with Linux workflows for the cloud and Web, this addition to the Microsoft Store makes it easier to install and update.
  • Windows Subsystem for Android is currently in preview and available in the Microsoft store. The new updates include windowing and resizing improvements, a robust app catalog, developer tool integration, and enhanced networking.
  • Windows App SDK 1.1 Update includes new features such as Fluent visual materials, updated desktop windowing APIs, and performance improvements.
  • Tooling Updates include Template Studio, updated Edge developer tools, and .NET Upgrade Assistant.
  • Widgets for Windows 11 is a fresh view into app content for users.
  • Hybrid Loop is used for building AI experiences across cloud and edge.

For more information on anything Microsoft Build, please visit the official Microsoft Build site. I can’t wait to start seeing some of these new features and tools in action! You can also visit the Microsoft showcase page to see the latest solutions or to contact a Connection Account Manager.

Intrinsically Safe Devices Avoid Explosive... Jul 11, 2022 Ryan Spurr

As manufacturers advance smart manufacturing initiatives, add digital work instructions and traceability, or deliver actionable insight to more frontline workers, most think about form factor, security, and durability. However, some manufacturers have to go one step further—to prevent the risk of explosion or fire. This requirement stems from regulations, corporate policies, and procedures and is simply part of a safe work environment. To eliminate the risk of ignition associated with smart technologies such as end-user computing devices or tablets, the hardware must be certified to prevent heat and spark (that source of ignition) from being allowed into areas where there is the possibility or always present danger of combustion. 

The most common industries typically impacted include chemical, pharmaceutical, plastics, and oil and gas manufacturing. Still, we see it in food and beverage or textile manufacturing where at-risk chemicals or particulates may be present in the production processes.

Does your company have requirements for intrinsically safe devices? Are you struggling to find solutions for end-user devices that comply while helping your business adopt modern digital workforce platforms?

Safety in Hazardous Locations Must Come First

Safety is always number one in manufacturing, and in some sub-industries, the risk of fire or explosion is serious. Depending on the kind of manufacturing business, this risk can be limited to a few areas where chemicals, gases, or particulates may be present—or they could represent the majority of your operations. Whatever the use case, these spaces have traditionally banned commercial or digital technologies like computers, tablets, phones, and even IIoT sensors because of their dangers. 

Regulation of hazardous locations (HazLoc) varies by region of the world. While the United States is migrating to international standards (IECEx), it has historically leveraged the ANSI / National Electrical Code (NEC) to classify the type of hazardous environment correctly and what measures the device must comply with to be safely used and avoid combustion.  

According to ANSI / NEC, this is generally broken down into three classes primarily dictated by the types of explosive or ignitable substances: 

  • Class I: Environments with flammable vapors and gases may be present, such as acetylene, hydrogen, ethylene, propane, and methane
  • Class II: Environments with combustible dust may be present, such as metal, coal, or grain dust
  • Class III: Environments with combustible fibers, such as textile particulates

The other factor to consider is the presence or the likelihood of a specific hazardous material combusting. These are typically looked at as divisions:

  • Division 1: Implies regular presence or usage of ignitable substances under normal operational conditions or where frequent failure or maintenance may occur.
  • Division 2: Implies the use of ignitable substances in operations but handled in closed containers or closed systems which may only present a risk under the failure of the containment systems.

Whatever standards your business complies with, whether within the U.S. or globally, it’s essential to know that many products today offer one or multiple industry standard certifications associated with hazardous locations. These intrinsically safe devices are engineered with explosion protections down to the electrical components, wiring, and casings, to eliminate the typical risks associated with commercial electronics. Upgrading to intrinsically safe devices is also a great way to enable an evolving organization looking to digitize its operations and workforce.

We Can Do That Too

If your business is in an industry that has combustible substances, or your industry is regulated by specific safety measures for hazardous environments, know that Connection offers a wide range of intrinsically safe products—from tablets, computers, digital cameras, sensors, networking, and even accessories—to help your business keep manufacturing operational and safe.

Engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

TechSperience Solutions Episode 106:... Jul 07, 2022 Connection

Navigating the ever-growing complexities of today’s IT global chain supply issues is a challenging undertaking for any organization. In this episode, we’ll dive into how GlobalServe, part of the Connection family, is helping customers to tackle these challenges. 

Host: James Hilliard

Guests: Peter Waters, Senior Director of GlobalServe, Connection

Jessica Cerone, Director of Supply Chain at GlobalServe, Connection

Show Notes:

[1:11] Introduction of guests

[1:30] What’s one of the biggest issues customers are struggling with today?

[2:06] What is the solution to those issues?

[3:33] How can customers start to be more flexible with OEM standardization?

[5:25] Are people more flexible today than 2 years ago?

[6:24] Are we seeing more examples of customers mixing in different providers?

[8:06] What does the landscape look like from a global perspective where certain regions can acquire certain products?

[10:10] How can companies plan so far out when they were accustomed to an on-demand world?

[12:45] Is there any possibility of going back to where we were prior to Covid, or have things fundamentally changed?

[14:15] What are we seeing with pricing challenges?

[15:25] Are customers willing to pay more now, or are they still expecting bargains?

[16:42] How are we helping teams navigate shipping costs?

[18:41] How can you get creative with helping customers with these new challenges?

[24:58] How have GlobalServe’s connections established throughout the years helped them to navigate the challenges of Covid?

[30:35] What are some examples of customer success stories?

[36:22] How is the experience of working in so many countries?

[41:05] Contact information

The Benefits of Waterproof and Sanitizable... Jul 05, 2022 Ryan Spurr

Some manufacturing industries require more capabilities than the typical end-user device can offer when it comes to modern manufacturing processes. This couldn’t be truer than in the pharmaceutical and food and beverage industries. While many industries require end-user products that meet specific durability, reliability, and useability requirements, these industries go even further with particular prerequisites that comply with safety, health, and regulatory requirements.

Devices for the Pharmaceutical Industry

In biopharmaceuticals, manufacturers are faced with similar challenges as they digitize operations and comply with standards such as the current good manufacturing practices (cGMP). In these cases, the sanitization agents required in the research and manufacturing processes vary depending on what is being handled but generally require an aseptic and sterile process. For example, cleaning spores, viruses, bacteria, or fungi might require sporicidal disinfectants. In any sterilization procedure, careful consideration is placed into the types of devices purchased, how easy those devices are to clean, and how the devices will hold up to repeated sanitization with damaging chemicals that can quickly destroy traditional end-user devices.

Devices for the Food and Beverage Industry

In food and beverage, manufacturers are deploying new enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution system (MES) platforms to more efficiently address food traceability and safety requirements associated with the US Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) or Safe Quality Food Institute (SQF) standards. Many of these organizations are replacing manual or paper-based processes with new electronic methods or possibly deploying end-user digital solutions into factories for the first time. Depending on the type of food and beverage manufacturer, you may have requirements to wash down your facilities, manufacturing line, and associated equipment. Traditional devices are not designed for liquids, high pressure, and sanitization chemicals necessary to ensure the facilities are safe and meet food quality standards.

Evolving Employee Needs and Expectations

Meeting compliance and safety requirements is always essential. Still, another consideration has been brewing for years: delivering an outstanding employee experience that aids in process and job productivity, while also acting as a tool in workforce acquisition and retainment. Next-generation and top talent want to leverage the best processes and toolsets available. Hiring an outstanding worker only to outfit them with paper, outdated methods, and lackluster technology is increasingly considered unacceptable in a competitive market.

In addition to the “latest and greatest,” this may also imply tailoring the end-user device experience to the job role and its everyday duties. For example, providing a traditional fixed computer to a maintenance or process engineer whose sole purpose is to travel the facility to identify and solve problems may not be ideal. Instead, consider a range of devices that meet the employee in the way they work best regarding their job duties, culture, mobility, and personal expectations.

Job Roles We Should Consider Optimizing

Don’t forget about the many support roles necessary for keeping facilities operational and optimized. In addition to the traditional operator role, consider how we make higher paid roles more efficient every day by using technologies designed to comply and perform in these same environments.

  • Management, Supervisory, and Process Engineers
  • Maintenance and Controls Engineers
  • Environmental Safety and Health Managers
  • Quality and Continuous Improvement

Headless Devices Matter Too

It’s also essential to take into consideration headless devices in these spaces. With a rise in smart manufacturing, Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence, and increasing objectives to connect, integrate, and orchestrate data across operations, manufacturers in these industries require a different breed of edge compute devices that withstand environmental conditions.

Survive and Thrive: Devices to Meet Manufacturing Compliance

Fortunately, manufacturers no longer need to decide between end-user experience and compliance. Today’s devices come in a wide range of form factors from traditional fixed terminals, touchscreens, input devices like smart scanners, edge compute devices, and tablets designed to comply with the harsh rigors of these environments, adhere to or exceed compliance, and tailor the experience to the specific job role.

These devices also support a wide range of operating conditions, sanitization procedures, harsh environments and are waterproof to meet even the most stringent sterilization scenarios associated with food, beverage, and pharmaceutical. If your business is looking for next-generation devices that also meet industry compliance for safety and sanitization, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology, available services, and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

VMware Cloud Foundation—It’s Not Just a... Jun 30, 2022 Heather Eakin

What is VMware Cloud Foundation? It’s more than just an innovative way to bundle licensing together: it’s also a product that helps you manage the compatible versions of several different functional elements that you would otherwise have to manage separately.

Version control is hard enough as it is with just a couple of differing solutions. In a VMware environment that is only running ESXi and vCenter, you might run into problems by upgrading a host before you upgrade the vCenter. Oops—now the vCenter can’t manage that host. This is just one example where it is simple enough to gather all the necessary compatibility information and determine the order of operations for upgrade, potentially avoiding the above situation. Now imagine you are also running vSAN, NSX, and vRealize Operations (vROPS) in this same environment. You will have to validate that all components work with each other before every upgrade. 

The Complexity of the Upgrade Timeline

Traditionally, VMware starts product update releases focusing on vSphere and ESXi first, and then rolls out updates to other products in a staggered timeline. Based on this, it would be entirely possible that applying a new release of vCenter/ESXi would be compatible with vSAN and vROPS, but not yet with NSX. There is always a chance that performing a rolling upgrade of your environment without checking compatibility could break the cross-product compatibility and cause reduced functionality—or worse, a network wide outage. Not to mention that vendor support will have you roll back any unsupported updates before any troubleshooting could happen.

Imagine that you use more stand-alone products. The interoperability will become increasingly more complex with each addition. vRealize Automation, Log Insight, Site Recovery Manager (SRM), and Workspace ONE are all examples of multiple software deployments that must be compared to each other to ensure continued, correct operation. With all these different products, it quickly stops being simple to ensure that you are moving to a compatible version. 

The examples described are just applicable to single data center environments. If you are using SRM or vSphere replication as part of your Disaster Recovery plan to a separate location, you also need to make sure you don’t upgrade the primary data center beyond what the DR site will be capable of receiving.

VMware Cloud Foundation Components

Luckily, VMware is on top of this problem. The first piece of the answer is Lifecycle Manager. This product is part of the vRealize Suite, which helps you support the deployment, upgrade, and patching phases of all other vRealize solutions, including Log Insight, Automation, and Operations Manager. If you have nothing currently handling these functions, this would be a good standalone option to consider. However, if you are like many other companies, this is probably just the tip of the iceberg. This is where the second piece of the puzzle comes in—VMware Cloud Foundation licensing (VCF).

VCF is a bundled suite that, depending on the licensing model you choose, includes the following components:

  • SDDC Manager
  • vSphere (with Tanzu)
  • vCenter
  • vSAN
  • vRealize Suite, which is Log Insight, vRealize Operations, vRealize Automation, vRealize Lifecycle Manager
  • NSX-T
  • Workspace ONE Access

SDDC Manager will automate the installation, configuration, upgrades, and patching of vSphere, vSAN, NSX, and the vRealize suite components, using Lifecycle Manager. There is automatic, constant communication between the SDDC Manager and the Lifecycle Manager, so VCF is aware of which vRealize components are installed—eliminating any chance of attempting to deploy conflicting software releases. Critically, SDDC Manager will not let you upgrade any component to an unsupported version; it will instead notify you when compatible patches or upgrades are available, and then let you schedule them.

No solution is perfect, but both solutions described will go a long way to easing the initial configuration and the ongoing updating and patching of your VMware environment.  To learn more about either of these solutions to maintaining your VMware environment, contact us today.

Four Keys to Delivering Hybrid and Remote... Jun 28, 2022 Connection

Today’s work-from-anywhere paradigm brings key challenges that organizations must address through IT transformation. Employees in a hybrid workforce need consistent performance with the ability to effectively multitask from anywhere in the world, connected through various networks. This means devices need adequate processing power for faster application performance, even when running complex workloads like video calls.

Additionally, mobile employees need device stability with consistent connectivity, including wireless connections for collaborative projects with security beyond the network firewall. Technology needs to work in an integrated way, including security assurances and expandability options with various devices. Further, IT teams are faced with managing all those devices remotely—from updates to patches and troubleshooting.

In meeting these challenges, organizational digital maturity and IT readiness determine technological capabilities, performance, and ultimately, productivity. Digital maturity marks how prepared an organization is to understand and flexibly adapt to dynamic customer and employee technology needs and demands because of marketplace shifts.

Organizational IT Readiness

Elements of IT readiness include an honest assessment of existing architecture and systems capabilities for things like device portability, data management, and compute power. It means employee software is fully enabled for collaboration, appropriate access, and security. And the IT team has the capability to handle remote workforce management with device updates, patches, and troubleshooting. This type of readiness accelerates identifying, and proactively preventing, potential issues that can cause problems.

By not handling digital maturity gaps in infrastructure or hybrid work challenges, organizations face risks that could jeopardize bottom-line results. For example, reduced employee productivity because of limited compute or inconsistent connectivity will likely yield leaner revenues. When employees are dissatisfied or feel unsupported in their technology, talent retention becomes a challenge. And when security is inadequate, the result is an exposed surface and greater vulnerability to a potential cyberattack.

Four Critical Success Factors for Hybrid Digital Workers

Organizations need to support work-from-anywhere employees with four key capabilities, including:

  1. Ubiquitous compute to handle complex workloads, employee multitasking, and working with any device from any location using wireless communication and networking technologies.
  2. Pervasive connectivity to ensure employee devices communicate with multiple systems wirelessly in a synchronized way for consistent access to information.
  3. Cloud technologies for edge compute, meaning data processed closer to its source to preserve data security, faster performance, and new feature deployment.
  4. Artificial intelligence (AI) to facilitate and help support compute, connectivity, and cloud technologies for employees and remote IT management to automate routine tasks like daily backups, software optimizations, and permissions management for security.

IT Transformation with Intel and Microsoft

Intel and Microsoft have teamed up to deliver technology solutions that address each of these critical success factors and support IT transformation initiatives.

Employees and the IT team can get more done, more simply and more securely, with better compute power and connectivity—regardless of workspace location—by using Windows 11 Pro devices on the Intel vPro® platform powered by 12th Gen Intel® Core™ processors.

Windows 11 Pro for business is built for hybrid work, with optimized productivity enhancements and a more intuitive experience for ubiquitous compute. The Intel vPro platform delivers built-in multilayer security and remote manageability, along with several other vital capabilities, including:

  • Intel® Hardware Shield: Provides three groups of security technologies out of the box.
  • Intel® Control-Flow Enforcement Technology (Intel® CET): Helps defend against common malware that modifies an application’s normal flow so that an attacker’s malicious code is executed instead.
  • Intel® Threat Detection Technology (Intel® TDT): Provides cyberattack monitoring and increased security performance at the hardware level.
  • Intel® Active Management Technology (Intel® AMT): Provides remote access to devices for diagnostic and management functions, even if they are powered down or the operating system is nonfunctional.
  • Intel® Endpoint Management Assistant (Intel® EMA): Supports process automation and managing devices remotely beyond the firewall and into the cloud.

Additionally, Intel® Edge-Centric FPGAs and Microsoft Azure IoT ensure performant cloud technologies at the edge. Microsoft Azure IoT is an Internet of Things (IoT) solution that allows enabled devices to communicate with one or more back-end services hosted in the cloud. Intel Edge-Centric FPGAs are built for small form factors, low power, and cost-sensitive deployments at the edge and beyond. This is a powerful combination for secure edge-to-cloud computing.

Meet Intel’s Latest Platform—12th Gen Intel Core Processors

Intel’s newest 12th Gen Intel Core processor features a new hybrid architecture that dynamically adjusts how it processes workloads based on usage. In other words, it works smarter vs. harder, yielding faster performance, accelerated AI with hardware enhancements, and exceptional visual graphics density for video on laptops, mobile, and PC devices.

The 12th Gen Intel® Core™ vPro® platform also supports Wi-Fi 6E with the Intel® Connectivity Performance Suite (Intel® CPS), which continuously optimizes Wi-Fi performance for remote worker collaboration. Intel CPS is leading-edge technology that is part of the Intel vPro and Intel® Evo™ platforms. Essentially, Intel CPS prioritizes voice and video packets and picks the best wireless access point for better performance.

Altogether, the 12th Gen Intel Core processor in combination with Intel vPro works as a stable, comprehensive platform that delivers fast performance, visual quality, built-in security, and remote management for today’s hybrid workforce.

The reality today is that digital employee performance depends on built-in security, accelerated compute capabilities, and automated data processing to be able to work from anywhere. The hallmark of success for today’s wherever workspace means employees use the technology that optimizes their productivity from any location, no matter the workload requirement. A future-forward, edge-to-cloud-enabled IT infrastructure, streamlined for efficient operations, leads to a digitally ready organization for increased employee satisfaction and staff retention, as well as positive bottom-line organizational benefits.

Be sure to check out all of Connection’s Intel-powered technologies, so you can be assured of the right solution for your business needs.


Intel® technologies may require enabled hardware, software, or service activation.

No product or component can be absolutely secure.

Your costs and results may vary.

© Intel Corporation. Intel, the Intel logo, and other Intel marks are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries. Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.

What OSHA’s New HEATNEP Mandate Means for You Jun 23, 2022 Ryan Spurr

New Programs to Improve Safety

In April 2022, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released directive CPL 03-00-024, a National Emphasis Program (NEP) focused on enhancing and expanding inspections related to outdoor and indoor heat-related hazards. This directive aims to minimize health-related risks to workers—especially those that lead to injuries, hospitalizations, and fatalities.

To put these risks into perspective, environmental heat cases result in 35 fatalities per year and 2700 heat-related incidents causing multiple days away from work. Despite most manufacturing organizations valuing a strong safety culture, heat-related injuries and illnesses continue to impact employees’ wellbeing, workforce productivity, and insurance premiums with costly federal, state, and local violations. Whether your company is an OSHA Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) participant, looking to proactively comply, or responding to an abatement plan—there are various reasons to leverage people, processes, and technology to improve safety in the workplace.

Inaction Results in Scrutiny and Violations

OSHA provides violation guidance to all regional, state, and local agencies. These fees can range from $14,502 per violation, $14,502 per day for failure to abate original violations, and up to $145k for willful or repeated violations! Despite the potential for fines, it’s also important to consider the impact of OSHA disruptions to your workplace.

For example, if your business is selected for a planned or unplanned inspection, this will create additional costs for your organization to support on-site efforts, and could potentially lead to violations or abatement actions. And be aware that if an employee submits a complaint, an inspection is even more likely and another smart reason to ensure a safe environment.

Path to Compliance

There are many elements to CPL 03-00-024 compliance, including monitoring, training, awareness, assessing contributing risk factors, and providing appropriate environmental conditions when heat levels rise. While technology cannot support all of these, it’s a great tool to enable workers, safety officers, and management to quickly determine when external or internal temperatures and humidity reach prescribed risk levels.

Modern temperature and humidity sensors have never been easier to acquire, deploy, and integrate into your company’s environment, safety, and health programs. Today’s solutions come complete with sensors that can be installed in minutes and offer simple provisioning, integration with monitoring dashboards, and features like control limits, event triggers, alerting, and incorporation with other communication platforms. Sensors can be used to abate additional OSHA requirements or aid in smart manufacturing initiatives, making them a great value to larger corporate objectives.

Another aspect of compliance includes an employee’s ability to alert management to potential heat illness symptoms, request additional cooling measures, or quickly contact emergency personnel to assist with a specific health incident. Smart buttons are a low-cost technology solution that can be placed throughout your facility or in high-risk areas. These buttons empower employees to quickly alert management or safety officers of a potential situation, and proactively prevent a potential incident that might otherwise result in worker injury or trigger further inspections.

Digital signage and alerting platforms can also be used to communicate with staff, regardless of location or access to technology. On the frontline, digital signage can be a powerful training and alerting tool to educate employees on new OSHA or corporate safety initiatives. In the event of an actual safety incident, data from sensors can be integrated to tailor communications, improve the response, and prevent injury. By adjusting digital signage, alerts, and other messaging, your organization can immediately communicate with employees and provide specific guidance to avoid harm.

Connection Can Help

Manufacturers face numerous challenges everyday. Ensuring OSHA compliance is just another task leaders must incorporate into daily decision-making as they aim to keep workers safe and productive.

If your business has experienced a recent inspection, received a HEATNEP OSHA letter, or is part of a voluntary compliance program, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about how we can assist with technologies that can complement a specific abatement action plan or your broader safety programs.

Deliver An Enhanced Workplace Mobility... Jun 21, 2022 Ryan Spurr

Today, it’s not enough to simply purchase mobile devices. Organizations need to fully consider how these devices will connect; how their workload will be prioritized compared to other resources; and how to deliver an excellent experience for employees executing the critical work your business depends upon. Is your IT department ready for today’s modern workforce productivity solutions in manufacturing?

Delivering a great experience is more essential and more complicated than ever. Was it the network, device, security, application, SaaS, or patching that caused an issue? Or was there something else in the environment—like signal interference—that might have contributed to the problem? Whatever the case, your IT staff have a challenging role trying to identify a root cause easily and quickly—never mind implementing a solution and improving the reliability and experience for end-user devices.

The good news is that networking manufacturers are partnering with device manufacturers to jointly address many of the challenges facing both end users and IT professionals. Those improvements aim to simplify the task of troubleshooting proactively and reactively, while also improving the general end-user experience.

How Partnerships Impact Workplace Mobility Experience

Seamless Roaming: Unless your facility is 10,000 square feet, consider the different job roles and how employees will use mobile devices in factories, warehouses, and the entire facility. Some use cases are stationary, meaning they will connect to a single wireless source and rarely deviate. However, suppose you have supervisory and engineering roles, line side material stockers, facilities, or other roles that require employees to travel to different ends of the facility. In this case, chances are they will hop from one access point to another. While not all mobile applications require a durable connection, some will impact the experience, productivity, or quality of the end-user experience.

For this reason, manufacturers should understand the roaming lag that occurs when devices transition between traditional access points. If you’re experiencing these sorts of challenges or upgrading to next-generation wireless, you’ll need to understand the features that simplify device handoff from access point to access point—also known as adaptive 802.11r. These features allow devices to roam between access points without requiring full authentication, reducing lag, or minimizing impact to the mobile experience.

Another option for high-demand use cases is private cellular. This can provide coverage across a facility and ensure corporate ownership of traffic and security, while enabling you to segment traditional Wi-Fi use cases to those that demand a seamless experience.

Carrier to Wi-Fi Handoffs: This topic was covered in more detail in one of my recent blogs, but it’s relevant to the role of corporate networking and mobile device experience. Delivering a great device experience over the corporate network is essential, but so is considering how employees transition from 4G/5G carrier services outdoors into your facilities. Today’s networks can integrate with carriers and provide seamless transitions from cellular to corporate Wi-Fi.

Quality of Service: A wide range of mobility devices offers the ability to deliver voice, video, and high-quality streaming content to end users. These use cases might include workers communicating with their team or supervisors, or troubleshooting problems with remote experts. Whatever the situation, these use cases compete with other network traffic and congest RF environments. Identifying the types of devices and communications—and prioritizing that traffic higher—will ensure that communication critical to people and processes gets the necessary attention it needs. This can be accomplished with the network, but many end-user device makers have already worked with network makers to simplify these tasks and deliver the best experience.

Evolving Tools to Proactively and Reactively Solve Issues
Delivering a great experience to employees is always the goal, but it isn’t always easy for IT teams to determine the root cause and mitigate problems with complex tech stacks. It’s typically a drawn-out process that requires many tests and resources—further delaying resolution and frustrating employees. Partnerships are also aiming their sights on helping technical staff by arming them with new tools to help better manage the overall experience.

Heatmapping and Intelligence: Leverage your network and mobility to provide information about facility utilization, occupancy, behaviors, and other insights. Organizations can quickly utilize tools like heatmaps to identify common issues, including end-user proximity to access points, weak coverage compared to mobile demand in a specific area, and even track a mix of personal and corporate devices flowing in the environment to make future adjustments or investments. Be sure to explore these new toolsets to aid in the everyday role of optimizing user experience.

Security: Another experience factor is ease of use. Nothing frustrates employees more than when their devices cannot connect to the network. While this may be a mere nuisance for most, it could be significant if the team is trying to connect a new machine, IoT sensors, or another wireless production device in a factory or warehouse. With zero trust and device profiling, organizations can make it easier to identify specific kinds of devices.

For example, the warehouse depends on a range of bar code scanners and RFID readers. Teams often hold backup devices that have never been connected or remain off the network for extended periods, until they need to replace a broken unit. With profiling, IT can quickly identify an approved device—let’s say a Zebra or Honeywell bar code scanner—quickly provision and connect the device, and allow impacted employees to get back to work.

This also helps IT and security ensure a zero-trust profile, while quickly authorizing approved devices, delivering a more productive work experience, and simplifying low-value network tasks that can distract an already stressed IT staff.

Troubleshooting: The most helpful evolution is application-level visibility, integrated packet inspection, and location context. Bringing disparate troubleshooting tasks into a single management pane allows IT to quickly identify contributing factors, speeding the team to root cause and corrective action. And that’s good for business!

Think about how many times IT teams fought over which department was the culprit. It’s security. It’s applications. It’s the network. It’s a policy change. Business leaders and employees don’t have patience, nor care who is at fault—they want the problem to be rectified and get back to work. Tools that streamline the troubleshooting process are invaluable, quickly align and aim teams to execute mitigation actions, and ultimately improve how IT delivers reliable and responsive services to the business.

Looking to Improve Your Mobility Experience?

With the explosion of a wide range of modern end-user devices driving next-generation productivity, ensure that your manufacturing departments are delivered a great experience and achieve outstanding performance by optimizing their processes. This starts with the right mix of technologies and partnerships. If your business is experiencing issues or exploring ways to improve workplace experience, productivity, and troubleshooting, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology, available services, and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

TechSperience Trends Episode 4: Managing a... Jun 17, 2022 Connection

Many companies are now operating in a multicloud environment. In this episode, we’ll explore the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of cloud environment, the pros and cons of operating in one, and the best ways to manage it.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest: Duncan Epping, Chief Technologist at VMware

Show Notes:

[0:28] Introduction of guest

[0:41] Are there geocultural differences between the way that North American-based companies approach technologies like the cloud compared to other regions?

[3:33] Are companies in Europe more conservative and risk-averse in their approach to new technologies?

[5:36] How do you define a multicloud environment?

[8:02] Compare multicloud to hybrid cloud.

[9:52] Why should someone move to a multicloud environment?

[12:10] When would a multicloud approach be the right move?

[14:48] Is the complexity of multicloud environments, combined with the cloud skills gap, a disadvantage?

[17:51] Have you seen organizations get back time back for their IT teams because of multicloud environments?

[21:17] What are some questions that a team needs to think about to make sure that they’re managing multicloud environments most effectively?[

25:27] What would you advise teams to be thinking about with security in a multicloud environment?

Inside Look: Connection Sales Department Jun 17, 2022 Connection

Interested in becoming a Connection employee? You’ve come to the right place. Follow our “Inside Look” series to learn what’s it like to work at different departments in our organization. You will learn about current open positions and hear from our department leaders what they look for in candidates during the interview process. This month, we would like to feature our Sales department.

What’s it like to work in Connection’s Sales department?

We offer a fast-paced environment for someone who is looking to reach their full potential. There’s also plenty of support available in the department—and the company—to help you succeed at providing your customers the best solutions. This environment really allows you to create relationships with customers that can last the span of your career at Connection.

What is the structure of the department?

First of all, we have three Sales organizations, Business Solutions, Public Sector Solutions, and Enterprise Solutions. Business Solutions works small- to medium-sized businesses, Public Sector services government and education, and our Enterprise Solutions team works with large businesses. In all three of our organizations, the Sales department is a full open-door policy. From the President of Sales to a new hire, we’re all in it together to support our customers. If you have a problem that needs to be fixed everyone will get in the weeds to help.

What are the relationships between Sales and other areas of the company?

We have great relationships with other departments. Connection is a true family mentality, with everyone working together to help our customers. There is a level of comfort and support that comes with each department, whether it’s Marketing, Product Management, IT, Finance, or Facilities.

Sales is hiring. What kinds of personalities mesh best within the company?

There is no perfect makeup to being a successful Account Manager. We’re looking for people who are motivated and driven to support a customer in any situation, with a willingness to collaborate with other peers to find the right solution. We’ve had so many people come from different paths—from construction, photography, retail, etc.—who’ve grown to be top tier Account Managers.

What are the most important qualities someone needs to succeed in your department?

We look for people who are self-motivated and driven. The technology knowledge can always be learned. We want you to want to succeed and grow.

What does it take to be successful in your department and at Connection?

Knowing who to turn to for answers to customer questions is a huge part of being successful in Sales. We’re effective most when we collaborate with others to make sure our solution to a customer’s problem is ironclad. And it takes a great quarterback in an Account Manager to lead the process, but also a great team around them to help finish the job.

If someone reading this was coming to interview tomorrow for a role in Sales, what interview tips would you give them? 

Be authentic. We want the person you are in the interview to be the person who shows up in the position. Do research on our organization and the role itself so you can have a constructive conversation about the opportunity. Be curious and inquisitive—be sure to ask questions of your own. It also helps to project confidence; it’s important that our customers can put their faith in our people. 

What can new hires expect from joining the Sales department?

They can expect a ton of training and a ton of support. Your tenure starts with a well-designed training and enablement curriculum that provides a sound foundation of knowledge to build from. Your sales leadership will support you along the way with coaching sessions for individualized development of your sales skills and business development in an effort to help you succeed. You’ll be part of a team where everyone will be rooting for your success.

Why Connection?

The amount of help and support you receive is unlike any other sales company. We are invested in our people’s success. Also, there is so much earning and growth potential here! 

We offer the opportunity to help others and grow to reach your full potential in the world of technology. Plus, we promise you’ll never be bored, because every day, there’s a new situation or challenge to solve. You get to run your own book of business on a collaborative team, and your decisions can help your customers grow exponentially.

Could you see yourself working in our Sales department? Click below to browse some of our current open positions or contact one of our hiring managers directly.

Hiring Manager: Jonathon Dobbs

Account Manager, SLED – Dakota Dunes, SD

Hiring Manager: Michael Marshall

Business Development Manager – Boca Raton, FL

Hiring Manager: Nicholas Souris

Inside Sales Support Rep – Merrimack, NH

Hiring Manager: Jeanne Fuchs

Inside Account Manager, Federal Sales – Rockville, MD

Why Should You Partner with an Azure Expert MSP? Jun 15, 2022 Ken Mason

Running your business in the cloud enables innovation and speed to market at the scale that works for you. Cloud computing with a hyperscale provider like Microsoft Azure offers organizations of all sizes a platform that is highly elastic and agile, while reducing or eliminating the need for traditional large IT infrastructure capital investments to support business workloads. To maximize your investment in Azure, your cloud resources need to be continually optimized for performance, consumption, and cost. Your Azure environment must also be kept secure by proactively implementing measures that will safeguard data and infrastructure, coupled with 24x7 expert management to thwart any threats. A certified Azure Expert Managed Services Provider is best positioned to help you get the most value out of your Azure investment while protecting your environment. 

Trust a Dependable, Experienced Team

Azure Expert Managed Services Providers, like Connection, have the proven capabilities to help customers across the entire cloud lifecycle spectrum, from planning and designing, to building and migrating, culminating in managing and optimizing. They are highly technical organizations with expertise in Azure consulting, architecting, and managed services. Azure Expert MSPs help customers achieve business outcomes by focusing on the application/solution down, not from the infrastructure up. To become a distinguished Azure Expert MSP, an organization must pass a rigorous independent third-party audit every year. You can be sure that when you partner with a certified Azure Expert MSP, you’re getting the expertise you require based on your unique needs.

Your Partner in All Things Cloud

At Connection, we can help you in every step of your cloud journey. We offer flexible plans that expand as you grow. Our Azure managed service plans provide you comprehensive IaaS and PaaS management, DevOps support, workload optimization, proactive health, compliance and security monitoring, incident escalation and remediation, patching, configuration management, and migration—all backed up by our 24x7 help desk staffed by a team of certified Azure experts. We can augment your organization as your IT department’s IT department so you can spend more time on your business. Let us know how we may help you with our certified expertise as an Azure Expert Managed Services Provider.

vSphere 6.5 and 6.7 End of Support Is Fast... Jun 14, 2022 Heather Eakin

It’s hard to believe that vSphere and vSAN 6.5 and 6.7 are already nearing their end of support dates. Wait, didn’t we just upgrade to them? It certainly seems that way. Unfortunately, the deadline is looming. Both 6.5 and 6.7 are headed to End of Support status on October 15, 2022. Then End of Technical Guidance for 6.5 and 6.7 is November 15, 2023.

What Do End of Support and End of Technical Guidance Mean to Me?

It can be pretty confusing to understand what exactly happens on October 15. How is End of Support different than End of Technical Guidance?

First off, End of Support, often known as End of Life, means that there will be no more patches released for 6.5 or 6.7, including bug and security patches. You can expect that harmful actors will focus on exploiting new vulnerabilities that can no longer be patched on or after the deadline. It can be a significant business risk to run on an unsupported platform.

You will also no longer have access to VMware vSphere support via phone, but you will be able to log web-based help tickets. The results of these tickets will often be to reference you to knowledge base (KB) articles about known issues and their remediation steps. This support will typically be best effort, meaning your problem may or may not reach resolution. The web-based support is what is known as technical guidance. That will only last until November 15, 2023.

Start Planning Your vSphere 6.5 Upgrade Now

We highly recommend that you start planning your upgrade now while you still have support. Here are some key steps that you will want to consider.

1. Determine what is in scope for the upgrade. Consider all the VMware products you are using and how an upgrade of vSphere will affect compatibility with other software products. You may find if you are using another product that this product needs to be upgraded too (either before or after the vSphere upgrade happens). After all, each version is only compatible with specific versions of other VMware software. The more products you use, the more of a challenge it will be to determine which version you should run. 

Check the VMware Hardware Compatibility List to see if your hardware is listed for your target version. If it isn’t listed, you might need to replace your storage or server infrastructure as well. If your hardware isn’t supported and you run into trouble, you will receive limited help from VMware vSphere support.

2. Plan to upgrade your vCenter before you update your hosts. vCenter cannot manage a host that runs a higher level of ESXi. For this reason, it must be upgraded before you upgrade your hosts.

3. Upgrade your hosts. If you have adequate resources, you can evacuate the host and perform the upgrade without disruption during normal business hours. You would simply move workloads back to the hardware when you are done with the upgrade. If you do not have adequate resources to run the VMs or do not have the ability to evacuate a host, you will need to schedule maintenance windows for this work. 

4. Finish the update by updating the VMTools and Hardware version on the virtual machines. Depending which version of VMTools and Hardware you have running, you may need to reboot the VM. We find that some people get stuck at this step. After all, rebooting a server usually requires a maintenance window and sometimes end user validation that the virtual machine or application is functioning correctly. However, it is important to complete this step. 

VMTools allows for better management of the virtual machine and helps the ESXi host operating system communicate with the VM operating system. It also provides some useful functionality for rebooting, video resolution, mouse movement, sound, and synchronization of time.

The Virtual Hardware version may need some consideration, as each version gives additional capabilities to the virtual machine, but also only functions with a certain VMware software level. For example, if you have two data centers, one running ESXi 7.0 U2 (7.0.2) and another running ESXi 7.0 (7.0.0), and you want to make sure that the virtual machines can run at either data center, you will need to choose a hardware version that is supported on both software levels. For example, you would not choose Virtual Hardware version 19, as it is only supported with ESXi 7.0 U2 (7.0.2) and not ESXi 7.0 (7.0.0). 

We Can Help

This can be a pretty complex process, and you might not have the time to develop and execute a comprehensive plan that will allow you to upgrade painlessly and with the minimal amount of down time. If you need help, Connection has a technical team who can assist you with planning and performing your vSphere and vSAN upgrade. Contact an Account Manager to get started.

Microsoft Office 2013 to End Support in... Jun 09, 2022 Makayla Mota

As of April 11, 2023, security updates and support for Microsoft Office 2013 will no longer be available, potentially increasing your organization’s exposure to security risks or affecting compliance obligations. If you are connecting to Microsoft 365 via an Office 2013 client, you may also experience performance or reliability issues.

What Does the End of Support Actually Mean?

Almost all Microsoft products have a support lifecycle, also known as the Microsoft Lifecycle Policy, that lasts a fixed number of years from its initial release. During this lifecycle, they provide bug and security fixes. At the end of this lifecycle, the product reaches what is known as the end of support, and Microsoft no longer provides the following:

  • Technical support for issues
  • Bug fixes for issues that are discovered
  • Security fixes for vulnerabilities that are discovered

What Should Be Your Next Move?

For starters, reach out to your Connection Account Manager to begin looking at your upgrade options:

  • Microsoft 365 Apps: The subscription version of Office that comes with many Microsoft 365 enterprise and business plans.
  • Office LTSC 2021: Sold as a one-time purchase, through a volume license agreement and available for one computer per license. OR Office 2021: Available through traditional volume licensing programs with Software Assurance. 

What’s the Difference Between These Options?

The key difference between the two is that Microsoft 365 Apps are regularly updated, sometimes as often as monthly, with new features, whereas Office LTSC 2021 remains static with the features from its initial release date in September 2021.

Microsoft 365 subscription plans include access to Office applications and OneDrive. When bundled in a suite, other cloud services including Teams, Exchange Online, and OneDrive for Business are available to your organization. Microsoft 365 Apps is the version of Office that comes with many Microsoft 365 enterprise and business subscription plans. It includes the full versions of Office apps in a user-based licensing model, meaning users can install Office on multiple devices with their license. This gives users access to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, and Teams whether they are using a Windows 11 device, an Apple device, and/or a mobile device. 

Office LTSC 2021 is available to organizations through a volume licensing agreement for enterprise admins to deploy to users in their organization. It is supported on devices running Windows 10 or Windows 11. The following Office products offered through volume licensing are available on devices running Windows:

  • Office LTSC Professional Plus 2021
  • Office LTSC Standard 2021
  • Project Professional 2021
  • Project Standard 2021
  • Visio LTSC Professional 2021
  • Visio LTSC Standard 2021

These products use Click-to-Run rather than Windows Installer as the installation technology, but you would still use Key Management Service to activate. Office LTSC has 5 years of Mainstream Support and does not offer Extended Support.

It is also important to note that Office LTSC is separate from the Office that is available through Microsoft 365 plans. Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise (formerly Office 365 ProPlus) already has all the features included in Office LTSC 2021, along with many additional features. If you have already deployed Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise, you would not need Office LTSC 2021.

For more information, or if you need assistance in planning for this transition, contact an Account Manager today.

TechSperience Solutions Episode 105:... Jun 08, 2022 Connection

When COVID-19 hit, school IT teams found themselves needing to reevaluate the tools they were using. Modern solutions from Microsoft, including Autopilot and Intune, can bring an array of benefits to the education space. In this episode, we'll explore how the education field can utilize these technologies in schools to benefit teachers, administrators, and students.

Host: James Hilliard

Guests: Lisa Trisciani, VP of State, Local and Education Field Sales at Connection

Rick Sabarese, Director of End-User Computing and Mobility at Connection

Show Notes:

[0:35] Introduction of guests

[1:00] What were the biggest things that IT teams have learned over the last couple of years?

[2:42] What was Microsoft Autopilot doing in other areas like the business world that the education space realized they could also benefit from?

[3:44] How have platforms like Microsoft Autopilot helped make it easier to get technology devices up and running for students?

[5:38] Why are education customers looking at Microsoft Autopilot today?

[7:51] Can a technology device be kept with an individual student and stay with them for their entire time in school?

[9:25] How can Microsoft Autopilot alleviate technology responsibilities from teachers so that they can focus more on teaching?

[12:45] What benefits does Microsoft Autopilot provide to parents of students?

[15:06] What is some of the early feedback from school districts that have adopted Microsoft Autopilot?

[18:32] How does our team work with a school district to set up Autopilot so these machines can hit the ground running as soon as they hit a student's hands?

[20:20] In a hybrid environment, can Autopilot be utilized to manage Google devices?

[23:00] Are our students more well-versed in technology platforms today?

[24:44] How are schools funding new technology solutions? What are some of the funding opportunities out there?

[30:20] Contact information

Where 5G and Manufacturing Environments... Jun 07, 2022 Ryan Spurr

With the accelerated use of consumer and corporate mobile devices and the rapid growth of connected sensors, next-generation workforce end points, and industrial products, manufacturers need to reconsider how they leverage modern cellular-based solutions to empower a new range of use cases that improve everyday communication and operations.

The approach can include delivering a better experience for employees and guests, ensuring cellular service signals are accessible in all indoor environments, and building out an alternative network based upon unlicensed spectrums in the form of private cellular to connect an evolving range of devices both indoors and outdoors.

Let’s look at some of the technologies and how they’re being applied inside the manufacturing sector.

Cellular Solutions to Consider for Your Manufacturing Facility

Cellular DAS: Whether driven by new local building regulations to provide robust emergency response communication indoors or to provide strong cellular coverage to all indoor spaces, distributed antenna systems (DAS) can solve both compliance and experience. It’s important to highlight that some parts of the country mandate this technology inside new or retrofitted buildings based on technologies that failed in a prior crisis like 9/11 and other tragic rescue situations where first responders’ communication technologies failed to operate indoors.

This technology leverages outdoor antennas that connect to a carrier tower for service, bi-directional amplifiers, and indoor antennas located across all floors or work spaces to ensure outstanding cellular coverage in all plant areas. This technology will ensure that all your cellular devices have the coverage you expect outside of any compliance requirements and deliver a great end-user experience.

Cellular to Wi-Fi Handoffs: One of the most common frustrations we hear from clients is inadequate cellular coverage inside manufacturing facilities. As employees navigate deeper into the industrial areas of the plant, most end users experience challenges with consistent and reliable cellular service. Another issue is the transition from outdoors into the building; end users may experience call quality degradation, or their call may drop altogether.

Manufacturers can now leverage their existing IT infrastructure, including access points, to deliver a great experience that allows employees to transition direct carrier services to corporate network infrastructure via a seamless handoff that eliminates call drops, avoids poor call quality, and ensures that everyone can continue their calls uninterrupted.

The approach is similar to DAS but leverages existing IT infrastructure instead of an entirely different platform. With a few additional investments, this approach is quickly becoming a standard option in many top network brand portfolios, and it’s something your organization might be able to adopt rapidly.

Private Cellular: Carriers aren’t the only ones who can deploy cellular services. Now private businesses can deploy their own private cellular solutions to leverage the benefits of cellular over a private network your organization controls, owns, and secures. Expect this trend to evolve as we have seen for other standards in the industry, such as the adoption of Wi-Fi, BLE, and ZigBee, among other standards—each with respective benefits and use cases. The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) opens up 5G options that leverage previously unavailable spectrum and makes the remaining unlicensed spectrum available for general use by businesses.

Private LTE or cellular options will be an essential component of the smart manufacturing journey as manufacturers look to integrate new types of endpoint technologies inside and outside of their facilities. And like any organization where intellectual property and proprietary processes exist, many manufacturers might want to look toward private cellular options as an alternative to public offerings.

Cellular Backhaul: Slightly out of this blog’s scope but familiar in nature, check out our previous blog about creating more resilient solutions with a wide range of cellular connectivity solutions. Unlike the above use cases, which either extend or make private cellular, cellular backhaul connects remote facilities, critical equipment and machines, and acts as a backup alternative to traditional connectivity like broadband or fiber carrier solutions. 

It’s Time to Invest in Cellular

With many new cellular offerings available, manufacturers are reimagining their use of cellular-based technologies, mobile experience, and how these capabilities integrate with their evolving smart manufacturing initiatives to grow and improve business.

If your business is exploring cellular-based solutions to improve experience or operations, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology, available services, and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

TechSperience Trends Episode 3: The Cloud... Jun 01, 2022 Connection

Cloud computing jobs are in high demand. However, there are not enough people with the right skill sets to fill those roles. In this episode, we’ll explore the factors that led us to this point and how to best address the cloud skills gap moving forward.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest: David Linthicum, Chief Cloud Strategy Officer at Deloitte

Listen Now

Show Notes:

[0:30] Introduction of guest

[0:50] Is it a good idea to encourage prospective employees to explore jobs in tech?

[1:50] Why are we at a point of a cloud skills gap?

[3:51] Is there enough passion for cloud computing now that will fill these roles in 5 years?

[5:33] Are there any concerns with the types of people who might be filling these cloud roles?

[7:59] What are some tips and ideas on how people can re-skill themselves to take advantage of
the cloud skills gap?

[10:51] Is the traditional model of school falling too far behind to keep up with cloud

[13:03] Are you finding organizations that are recognizing and making accommodations for
their employees to go back to school for cloud computing?

[14:45] Are there any differences between enterprises and SMBs in the types of training that
are offered?

[16:26] If you were hiring, what would you be looking for in a potential employee?

[18:36] What are tips for leaders that already have a team in place that want to spark a passion
in the current employees to change roles?

[20:33] Are there any verticals that are more at risk of the cloud skills gap?

[24:03] If you’re looking to advance your own career in the cloud space, what’s the first thing
you should do?

[26:28] What’s something that leaders can do to encourage awareness around the cloud skills
gap and help their employees can position themselves to fill those roles in the future?

[29:23] Once someone gets hired into a cloud computing role, what can they expect?

TechSperience Solutions Episode 104: Who Is... May 26, 2022 Connection

Does your IT team need an IT team? Here are insights into our Managed Services offerings and how they help teams to secure their environments. 

Guest: John Chirillo, Managed Services Director at Connection
Guest: Tony The, Services Businesses Development Manager at Connection

Show Notes:

[0:45] Introduction of guests

[1:35] What are the top security breach challenges that IT teams are facing today?

[4:26] Is stealing credentials still a security issue?

[7:03] Are customers currently more interested in investing in security?

[8:11] What is the foundation and framework of Connection’s Managed Services?

[9:49] Is the mindset of the organization more important than a specific technology?

[11:15] How do customers prioritize their security issues?

[12:36] How would Connection’s Managed Services framework mitigate specific security risks?

[14:29] Where do certain technology toolsets fit in?

[17:07] How can we get teams on their best security footing?

[18:30] Is there still a wide variety of acceptable risk levels?

[22:00] What’s the process for teams to understand and prioritize their security risks?

[24:05] How do you recommend that customers not get too far behind within their security environments?[27:25] What’s some memorable customer feedback you’ve received?

No Signal? No Problem: LoRaWAN Can Reach All... May 24, 2022 Ryan Spurr

I have written many blogs about wireless technologies like WiFi, BLE, ZIGBEE, and RFID—but what about the lesser discussed Long Range Wide Area Network or LoRaWAN? LoRaWAN isn’t new but perhaps only considered suitable for outdoor applications like agriculture or construction, where sensors might be distributed across vast geographies. The truth is that LoRaWAN can be a great technology within manufacturing, as it has some outstanding benefits that other technologies don’t.

So what benefits does LoRaWAN have over its peers? What technologies might we connect with LoRaWAN? And what use cases might we leverage LoRaWAN for in manufacturing?

LoRaWAN in Action

First, as its name suggests, LoRaWAN is a long-range technology. LoRaWAN utilizes narrow bands and has a higher link budget than traditional wireless protocols, including LTE. It’s ideal for delivering small amounts of data over very long ranges. How long? Like any signal, this depends on the antenna and how much interference exists in the environment (trees, buildings, structures). Typically speaking, LoRaWAN ranges up to 10 miles in rural areas and three miles in urban areas. With the ability to reach far, you can imagine how this technology might be helpful inside warehouses, factories, outdoor yards, or other large operational environments. With a typical WiFi or BLE installation, you’re lucky to get up to 5–50 yards, let alone cover an entire facility. Still, with a single LoRaWAN gateway, you can cover an entire facility.

Second, low power consumption is another benefit of technology running atop LoRaWAN. Devices can run up to 10 years on a single charge, meaning this technology is ideal for any situation, as it can run for years with little maintenance and can be reliably leveraged when power is lost or non-existent.

Third, LoRaWAN is a wide area network protocol that supports end-to-end encryption, receives firmware updates over the air, allows for device roaming across gateways, and can support high volumes of devices and messages, making it useful for IoT-based use cases.

How to Acquire a LoRaWAN of Your Own

There are many ways to acquire LoRaWAN-based devices, and the choice of which to leverage depends on the use case you’re trying to solve.

  1. Create Your Own: As LoRaWAN is an open-source protocol and leverages an unlicensed spectrum, you can create your own LoRaWAN gateways and devices or tap into an open-source network of “shared gateways” located all over the world. For example, people are known to create LoRaWAN gateways using a Raspberry Pi and open-source software. This might be a fun learning activity if you’re an engineer, but it’s probably not ideal for commercial purposes.
  2. Public LoRaWAN: A popular option is the use of public LoRaWAN services. While coverage isn’t available everywhere, public LoRaWAN allows companies with use cases that require coverage across large geographic areas to contract with a carrier. This might be an outstanding option if you seek not to procure and maintain your own LoRaWAN hardware or if your use cases require coverage beyond your corporate offices.
  3. Private LoRaWAN: LoRaWAN public services are not available everywhere. If you leverage use cases that optimize corporate plant operations (vs., say, supply chains and logistics), then the purchase of a LoRaWAN gateway from trusted hardware partners is a viable option. It’s easier than ever to acquire LoRaWAN gateway options that plug and play with your existing network brands and provide IT and cybersecurity teams with the maximum control and visibility into this protocol and management of the more extensive network infrastructure. Most LoRaWAN gateway brands utilize open standards, making it easy to acquire a broad range of affordable sensors and connect them to a common LoRaWAN infrastructure. And many of the gateway makers also provide LoRaWAN sensors, software, and even proof of concept packages, allowing you to jumpstart a LoRaWAN project, implement use cases, and obtain quick time to value.

Popular LoRaWAN Use Cases

Equipment Monitoring: Not all facilities or process equipment support modern technologies, communication standards, or can provide status. For example, vibration monitoring of pumps, motors, and fans requires multiple dimension vibration and temperature monitoring to determine the health of the equipment. With LoRaWAN-based vibration sensors, a manufacturer can quickly install, connect to a gateway, and integrate data with business systems like CMMS, MES, ERP, SCADA, or reporting platforms.

Monitoring and Safety: While every manufacturing environment is different, leveraging LoRaWAN-based sensors even where Wi-Fi or other traditional infrastructure doesn’t exist implies manufacturers can install sensors reliably anywhere for collecting data such as temperature, humidity, particulates, liquids, location of sensitive chemicals, or materials, light, and much more.

Sustainable and Efficient Operations: Collecting data about the environment with LoRaWAN-based sensors and integrated data can lead to more innovative facilities. Utilizing occupancy, temperature, humidity, and open/closed sensors, a manufacturer can integrate data with building management systems, intelligent lighting, and other facilities resources to optimize energy consumption and improve employee experiences.

Supply Chain-based Traceability: With the availability of public and private LoRaWAN installations across the globe, this technology lends itself to use cases such as tracking essential products in transit. Think cold chain monitoring of food or vaccines. This level of reach means that a diverse range of sensors can be applied to cargo, vehicles, or other logistical situations where you want to provide traceability data outside of your corporate offices’ walls and gather insights that enable monitoring and improvement of your supply chain operations.

LoRaWAN: An Effective Smart Manufacturing Initiative

LoRaWAN is an excellent alternative to many other popular wireless communication protocols. Its strengths include long-range, lower power, and a diverse list of affordable IoT devices. This makes it an excellent technology for outdoor and indoor plant operations, offering deep coverage where other technologies struggle. Its ecosystem of devices and business-based use cases make it a great consideration for your smart manufacturing initiatives. If your business is looking to explore LoRaWAN or other smart manufacturing technologies, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization. Contact an Account Manager today to get started!

What Can You Do to Help Secure Top IT Talent? May 23, 2022 Patrick Dja Konan

Though the IT job market has always been competitive, it’s no secret that the last several months of 2022 have presented numerous challenges for companies to find, hire, and retain IT professionals. Adding to the challenging market, companies are also dealing with the impact of the Great Resignation, which is estimated to continue throughout the year and will add more challenges for hiring managers and HR teams. As you evaluate your staffing needs for the year, here are three things to consider when looking to hire IT professionals.  

1. Start Early

It’s understandable that budget and project planning can impact how soon you can begin the recruiting process for your IT hiring needs, but be sure to start the process as soon as you can. CompTIA cited the employment in the United States technology sector increased for the 13th consecutive month in December 2021, and job postings for open positions grew from 316,000 to over 332,000 for the month. IT unemployment is at an all-time low, and every organization across the country is looking for IT talent; therefore, starting your recruiting and hiring process early would allow you to find the right talent to hire in a timely manner.  

2. Offer Flexibility

The U.S. job market has drastically changed since the beginning of the pandemic, which forced many employers to create hybrid and even fully remote workplaces. With the increase of virtual jobs and limited pool of talent, IT professionals are reevaluating their priorities and will only pursue opportunities that match both their personal and career goals. Offering some type of remote or hybrid flexibility could potentially help with your search for IT talent.

3. Provide Competitive Pay and Benefits

Per Yahoo , salaries increased by 9.5% on average across major tech hubs for experienced hires, and—with a 357% increase in remote IT jobs—companies basing salaries on location, not market value, may lose out on talent. By offering competitive pay (market value) and benefits tailored to today’s needs, companies can increase their chances of landing top IT talent.

At Connection, we have a dedicated team of experts with over 30 years of staffing experience that can help your organization navigate through these challenges by providing market-based information and IT recruiting solutions to fill your technical openings. Get in touch today!

Cellular and Wireless Backhaul Support... May 19, 2022 Ryan Spurr

In manufacturing, we have long focused on the concept of always-on operations to keep critical processes and production online. More recently, the pandemic reminded us of some other vital principles: mainly resilience, flexibility, and planning for any potential disruption. Add in long lead times for hardware, materials, and workforce shortages, and there are more risks being realized simultaneously than perhaps any other time. With so many challenges in play, infrastructure shouldn’t be an obstacle to meeting customer demand or keeping organizations connected.

So how is your organization providing more redundant connectivity options? With long lead times for services and hardware, how is your organization ensuring future expansions or remote facilities get the connectivity essential to meet the pace of business?

Alternative Connectivity for Manufacturers

Whether your organization is trying to build out a more reliable infrastructure or expanding facilities in support of growth objectives, you need flexible solutions that will allow you to stand up and preserve connectivity in the ever-increasing digitally connected manufacturer.

Networks fail, fiber is expensive, and connectivity services can delay new facility go-live dates. Fiber can cost as much as $26k per mile for aerial and $173k per mile for buried. So what alternatives exist to allow your organization to layer connectivity and redundancy in critical operations? Let’s take a look at a few solutions manufacturers implement to meet these challenges.

  • Device-level Cellular Backhaul: End-point-based cellular backhaul can provide a single device with direct cellular connectivity, either as the primary connection or as a failover. And many of these devices also offer edge-compute options, allowing your organization to deploy containers or edge intelligence to provide for data acquisition, orchestration, and automation, among other things. This technology can provide devices, regardless of location or purpose, with flexible connectivity.
  • Network-level Cellular Backhaul: Similar to device-level, these network-based devices can provide cellular connectivity to a limited number of endpoints, such as a critical manufacturing line with production equipment and PLCs, that may require non-stop operation even when traditional networks fail. Some of these networks also support containers and integrated security capabilities to help keep critical infrastructure safe, online, and resilient.
  • Site-level Cellular Backhaul: This technology comes in different shapes and sizes, and leverages cellular backhaul connecting the site with network switches or wireless access points, providing a modest-sized environment or remote facility with connectivity in lieu of traditional wide area network connectivity. This option can quickly connect remote facilities, equipment, or critical production equipment with dedicated connectivity or act as a backup option in a networking failure.
  • Point-to-point/Multi-point High-speed Wireless: Depending on the brands and products chosen, this technology can provide point-to-point connectivity, point-to-multiple-point connectivity, and speeds ranging from 50 MB/S to 500 MB/S across distances up to 15 miles. Unlike its cellular counterpart that allows connectivity to carrier services, these technologies leverage an unlicensed spectrum, allowing manufacturers to connect facilities or multiple devices at ultra-high wireless speeds without wired or fiber-based solutions or third party carrier services. Other benefits include low latency, fast and accurate handoffs, and rapid deployment at a fraction of the cost of traditional solutions.

Fiber Alternative: Not all situations require fiber to be deployed, especially for remote locations or facilities that don’t need much capacity. In some cases, fiber installation and its associated service may take longer to deploy than a facilities plan can support. Leveraging cellular or wireless backhaul solutions may be a solid alternative to quickly connect those early third party and employee resources standing up the new facility or production line.

It might also be a more viable option if a new facility is acquired with a direct line of sight. Or perhaps, that scenario where your business acquires the building across the street but still requires fiber services or installation to be deployed. Leveraging wireless backhaul or point-to-point solutions can provide high speed and rapid connectivity at lower costs.

Campus Networks: Many manufacturers have multiple buildings or buildings close to an existing facility with fiber and carrier services. Leveraging wireless backhaul, your organization can quickly deploy a high-speed point-to-point or point-to-multipoint network connecting various buildings, test sites, or equipment anywhere on campus.

Temporary or Outdoor Structures: This could be an outdoor event where connectivity doesn’t exist, nor is it feasible to deploy. It could be security cameras in parking lots, entrances, and other facility-related situations requiring reliable high-speed networks. Or it could be as simple as providing connectivity to safety towers across the facility’s property, ensuring reliable safety anywhere on the property.

Backup Connectivity: We have all been there—connectivity events that should never have happened but do. Your factory is hard-wired with fiber coming into the building. The facility team is building out a new cooling system or extending the building to accommodate business growth. The construction company responsible accidentally severs the underground fiber coming into the building, and production goes down indefinitely. Connectivity with a regional data center, cloud, or co-location services is now unavailable, and all critical operations dependent upon business systems are impacted.

Your experiences might be different. Perhaps it’s an issue with the local carrier or a wide area network hardware failure without redundancy in place. Whatever the root cause, it sends support staff home and may result in loss of production. But what if the building had cellular backhaul capabilities and could run the most critical connections keeping the plant operational? What if other buildings on the campus still had connectivity and you had wireless backhaul stood up as a backup? In either case, you would have the capacity to operate some or all of your operations without impacting production.

Affordable and Resilient Connectivity Solutions for Manufacturers

Cellular and high-speed wireless backhaul solutions offer an array of options to meet the needs of today’s modern manufacturers. These technologies support many everyday business use cases and allow manufacturers to implement affordable and resilient connectivity solutions to support growth and operational excellence. If your business is looking to explore cellular or high-speed wireless backhaul solutions, or other industrial infrastructure technologies, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

Connection and TechCrunch launch The... May 17, 2022 Connection

We are proud to announce The Connection IT Superhero Awards are back for another year! Held in partnership with TechCrunch, these awards recognize hard-working IT professionals whose heroics have saved the day.

The Connection IT Superhero Awards are open to IT professionals from organizations of all sizes and industries, from startups and enterprises to healthcare, retail, manufacturing, education, government, and other organizations. Winners will be announced at The Connection IT Superhero Awards Show, held during TechCrunch Disrupt on October 20, 2022 in San Francisco, CA.

This year’s awards program benefits three deserving non-profits—Year Up, NPower, and Girls Who Code—selected by Connection employees as part of the company’s Connection Cares initiative. Read the full press release for complete details.

Do you know an IT Superhero? Submit your nomination by August 31, 2022 and let us recognize their dedication and hard work!

Cloud Considerations: Pave the Way to... May 17, 2022 Dan Ortiz

Many businesses are still trying to determine what percentage of their infrastructure—or which specific workloads—should move to the cloud. Per Gartner, the cloud spending forecast for 2023 is $599B—a 37% increase from 2021’s forecast of $410B. During the same period of time, cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is forecast to grow by 52%, followed by cloud software as a service (SaaS) at 31%.*

Creating an on-premises infrastructure requires a thoughtful approach, but it is different in the public cloud. You need to purchase hardware covering server and networking needs for an on-premises environment which—at the most simplistic view—takes time to ship and set up. The public cloud provides agility that cannot be realized in an on-premises environment. You can spin up a new workload within minutes and have it feeding data to your application within an hour (once configured).


The cloud offers speed to market that is revolutionary—and so many more benefits. However, it also creates the need to implement policies controlling spend. There are compliance considerations around data residency and industry regulations as well. And don’t forget about access management and data protection. Plus, you need to assemble and assign the new responsibilities to the staff. Oh, and did you consider how to get the staff trained to pivot their skills to the management of resources in the cloud, or are you going to acquire new talent in this resource constrained market? Do you know what tools you will need to manage your cloud environment and what they cost?

The Bottom Line

Needless to say, there are many things to consider when moving to the cloud. And each decision has its own set of pros and cons—and unnecessary costs if done incorrectly. But you don’t have to do all the thinking, planning, and supervising yourself. Connection has a mature managed services practice with Azure Expert designation. Our team will administer and monitor your environment while uncovering ways to further innovate within your cloud. We can help you achieve your prioritized outcomes at an accelerated pace.

Take a moment to review Connection’s Azure Managed Services. You can use the form at the bottom to contact an expert—or reach out directly to us through your Account Manager. We would be happy to get a better understanding of your goals and build a plan that helps you achieve success.

*Gartner, 2022, Gartner Forecasts Worldwide Public Cloud End-User Spending to Reach Nearly $500 Billion in 2022

A Connection Customer Success Story with... May 16, 2022 Makayla Mota

Rachel Hatten, Director of Professional Development at the David C. Anchin Center for the Advancement of Teaching, is a big believer in the “tinkering mentality” when exploring tech tools, particularly when it comes to teaching.

“The more we can get our pre-service teachers engaged in that mentality, the more willing they are to let students take risks and try things out. It is okay to use a tool you are not fully versed in and let the kids teach you! They will explore. They will become the experts.”

The David C. Anchin Center for the Advancement of Teaching is part of the University of South Florida College of Education and supports the space between the College of Education and practicing teachers and administrators in partner school districts. Their purpose is to support practicing teachers by putting on professional development for teacher recertification and continuing education. Though their outreach is community-based and primarily focused on practicing teachers, Rachel was excited when Nicole Caldwell, a Professional Learning Consultant and MIE Expert at Connection, reached out with a desire to set up Microsoft trainings with pre-service teachers during the pandemic.

“This stemmed from remembering what I felt as a first-year teacher, feeling like I was drowning and reflecting on how unprepared teachers were when the pandemic hit, and we all got sent home,” Nicole shared. “They didn’t have good preparation to be able to survive virtually at all—and that is not a knock at teachers—all over the world educators were not prepared for this.”

Getting Teachers—and Students—the Tools They Need

After getting in touch with Rachel and Ashley, the Administrative Specialist at Anchin, the three of them began brainstorming about different offerings they could provide for both pre-service teachers and USF professors and decided to run several Microsoft Innovative Educator programs allowing them to become certified MIEs. Their first two sessions were held in the Fall of 2020, one focusing on faculty and one focused on the pre-service teaching students and staff, with the main objective being to open people’s eyes to how much power the Microsoft tools had to offer and to get better implementation across the board within the College of Education.

“The professional development with Nicole and Connection fit this really important need, because we were still in the middle of the pandemic and everyone, including our USF professors, was figuring out teaching online for the very first time. So we have USF professors trying to figure out how to use USF tools, we have USF students trying to figure out how to use USF tools, and some of those USF students are student teaching with K–12 students who are in an online setting for the first time,” Rachel said.

Nicole approached the MIE Academies with an eye toward implementation. Knowing that the pre-service teachers are likely going into school districts that are also Microsoft customers, she knew that by training USF professors on the Microsoft Suite they would then be modeling how to best use the tools in class, thereby better preparing the students for their student-teaching practice. It was important to Nicole to centralize her efforts around using the Microsoft platform only, rather than several, in turn creating a full-circle attempt to fully take advantage of teacher modeling.

“Teachers teach the way they were taught,” Rachel said. “So Nicole approached the college from the place of—how can we make implementation and the use of Microsoft tech tools better in the College of Ed so that pre-service teachers see their teachers using these tools, and are modeling for them how to best use these tools, then when these students go into their student-teaching practice experience they are well-versed and prepared to use the tools with the student they are going to serve especially when they are going into schools districts in the Tampa Bay area that are also Microsoft customers.”

This full-circle approach is beneficial for everyone involved. The USF professors are getting trained on what the entire Microsoft Suite has to offer, and by implementing those tools into their day-to-day practice, the pre-service teachers are getting more prepared in their student-teaching roles, taking that aspect of training off the plates of the partner school districts that work with the Anchin Center. Providing this training and the in-class modeling for the pre-service teachers felt like an opportunity where they could give them practical and hands-on tools that they could use immediately within those partner districts, and the partner districts would not have to worry about training them on the Microsoft Suite.

“It felt like a way to bring both of those sides together and say—this is part of what our preparation looks like. We know we’ll send them to you with at least this space covered,” Rachel stated. “It makes hiring USF grads a major selling point to districts. Constantly trying to PD new teachers on new curriculum, new standards, new district ways, even how to take attendance is overwhelming and to have this one thing we could lift off the district’s plate in terms of training new hires on the Microsoft Suite and having pre-service teachers see that through-line from I had this as a student, I practiced this in my student teaching, and now I can implement it as a teacher. That kind of learning, if we could replicate it in other places, is really powerful.”

Opening Up New Possibilities with Training Sessions

The Fall MIE Training Sessions provided by Connection were a huge success that garnered positive feedback from USF professors, staff, and pre-service teachers alike. The attendees were constantly surprised by how much they didn’t know about the Microsoft 365 Suite and consistently wanted to learn more. Where Teams was thought of as a virtual meeting tool only, the attendees learned how Teams could be used to collaborate, learn, and teach in a virtual environment and then carry those practices back into schools as they returned. Microsoft Sway also got a lot of attention from Nicole’s trainees, several of them expressing that they found the tool so useful for asynchronous consumption because they can build content and their students can access it independently.

The positive feedback led to planning for Spring 2021 Connection Introduction and Advanced MIE training sessions that Nicole conducted in innovative ways. She focused a lot on instructional practice and how to use programs and tools like Teams, OneNote Class Notebook, and Reading Progress in both the in-person and virtual classroom and real-life scenarios. She also planned for a lot of free time throughout the training sessions, allowing the attendees to play with the applications spread across a Tic Tac Toe board at the front of the room, again encouraging that “tinkering mentality” that is so important in training a new teacher.

“Go ahead and click—you’re not going to break anything. What’s going to happen?” Rachel said. “Pre-service teachers seeing that modeled by faculty are more likely to do that in their own classrooms. A willingness to explore, back out of something, and try again. Those are skills we want kids to have, we just call them fancy names, like 21st century skills, but really we just want kids to not know how to do something, try it and explore a little bit to learn as they go, and I think that is a major piece of what those workshops did for those folks.”

This is only the beginning of Nicole and Connection’s partnership with the University of Southern Florida and The David C. Anchin Center. The importance of training pre-service teachers is something Nicole kept coming back to throughout various points of her career and she is thrilled to see this partnership flourish, expand and be a source of guidance for pre-service educators in the coming years.

Please see Connection’s Academies and Workshops for Educators for more information about planning a Microsoft training session and encouraging your teachers to tinker.

TechSperience Trends Episode 2: Legacy vs.... May 12, 2022 Connection

Since COVID-19 hit, cloud-native apps have become critical to the daily operations of most companies. At the same time, a lot of people are still using several legacy apps in addition to cloud apps. Looking forward, how should companies successfully migrate their legacy apps to the cloud? How should they decide which ones should move? In this episode, we explore the pros and cons of both legacy and cloud-native apps.

Host: James Hilliard
Guest: Ian Moyse

Listen Now

Show Notes:
[0:39] Introduction of guest

[1:06] Without the cloud, could humanity have survived the last 18–24 months?

[3:30] Were you surprised we didn't see more failures with the cloud in that time period?

[6:00] What do you think smaller organizations and users of the cloud have learned in the last year?

[11:25] What cloud applications are you surprised saw growth in the last 18–24 months, or are there some that are on the verge of seeing more adoption?

[15:43] For smaller businesses, it’s an even greater undertaking to migrate legacy workloads to the cloud. How do they overcome?

[21:06] How should companies address their home-grown legacy apps and how do they get them to the cloud?

[29:20] Where are we going to find the talent to fill cloud positions?

[35:35] What does the cloud landscape look like in ten years?

TechSperience Trends Episode 1: Cloud Myths... Apr 28, 2022 Connection

It’s time to put some common cloud myths to rest. Here are the most pervasive myths about the cloud and some clarification about what the cloud can actually offer your organization.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest: Jeff Doolan, Vice President of Microsoft at Connection

Listen Now

Show Notes:

[1:02] Introduction of guest

[1:40] Technology myths in general

[3:08] Where do these myths start?

[4:52] What are the top three cloud myths that you think are being perpetuated?

[6:10] Where did the myth that “cloud is expensive” come from?

[10:51] Is the cloud actually cheaper?

[12:45] Can we confidently say that public cloud is secure?

[16:32] Who should be involved in early conversations to ensure security is at the forefront in a cloud migration?

[21:56] Is it still a pervasive myth that “I lose control over my data in the cloud?”

[26:05] Should companies put all or some of the data in the cloud?

[29:23] How do you stay up to speed on cloud information?

A Day in the Life of a Connection Partner... Apr 26, 2022 Hallee Quinn

Becoming a Partner Development Specialist (PDS) at Connection is a great way to grow within the company. As a PDS, I have different types of tasks that I do on a daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis—which keeps things interesting! For instance, some days I put on my creative genius hat and come up with new incentives and fresh marketing ideas. Other days require me to put on a trainer hat and educate sales about various cutting-edge products. These varied tasks help you determine your strengths and give you the freedom to build on them. Some of what I do includes:

  • Rolling out price changes to help us stay ahead of the competition
  • Setting up programs to help our Account Managers get competitive pricing
  • Creating marketing materials for the Sales Team and customers
  • Creating and promoting incentives that help partners stand out and get attention
  • Overseeing internal Focus Days that elevate products and build a pipeline for business
  • Assisting Account Managers with product questions (Always be a go-to product expert!)
  • Browsing Open Quotes and proactively contacting Account Managers on ways to help win business

A large part of this job involves building relationships within the workplace. One of the biggest roles I have is working with global IT leaders. For instance, over the past four years I’ve been working closely with experts from HP. Through them, I’ve been able to learn about everything from ink, toner, and print hardware to personal systems and beyond. I’ve found—in this position—making yourself available as the go-to will help you become more successful.

The sky is the limit for a Partner Development Specialist. It’s up to YOU to make it your own role. Sound like fun? Find out for yourself by applying today.

Empower Your Manufacturing Employees with... Apr 26, 2022 Ryan Spurr

There has never been a more exciting time to start your journey when it comes to sensors. There are so many technologies and options in the marketplace. The choice for which options you leverage depends on your business goals, existing infrastructure, and how you plan to scale proof of concepts everywhere. 

This is where Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensors set a new standard for companies seeking to deliver quick time to value, leverage existing and trusted infrastructure, and provide a growing array of long-lasting and beneficial sensor technologies to instrument any part of the manufacturing value stream.

Technology that Scales Quickly

We have seen this written about extensively. Engineers implement a sensor or smart technology in a single plant only to learn it cannot scale across the business into other plants, office spaces, or global operations. This is what the industry calls “pilot purgatory,” and it’s where well-intended initiatives go to fail. Why is this the case? 

While the technology selected might have met its purpose, the chosen technologies didn’t meet corporate policies, cybersecurity requirements, nor did they integrate in any thoughtful way with the existing IT or plant technologies used across the business. This lack of trust, integration with the larger enterprise, and its ability to rapidly scale with little friction limited its future. What if we could select technologies that are pervasive, could ride atop many brands and infrastructure solutions, and could scale up to meet the ambitions of the engineers and leadership alike?

BLE-based sensors are replacing many of today’s legacy technologies for just these reasons. These devices support extended battery life, integrate with IT’s trusted network technologies from Cisco, Meraki, Aruba, Juniper, and can ride atop a widening range of infrastructures such as wireless access points, beacon extenders, mobile devices, and even smart cameras. 

To learn more about how wireless networking is evolving to include technologies like BLE, check out our prior blogs.

What makes this all possible? All of these devices are pervasive in any office space, factory floor, outdoor yard, or warehouse and are now packed with BLE antennas, creating a mesh network of native gateways anywhere in the enterprise. This is huge! It means that we can deploy smart sensors in any department for any process improvement initiative and quickly scale it everywhere. 

Beyond the ease of deployment or scale, imagine what this does to the cost of technology acquisition and the dreaded need to provide business justification (aka, return on investment). If information technology has deployed smart cameras and next-generation wireless access points in all facilities, the cost to deploy sensors just went way down. You need only to acquire a software license and sensor—whether on a limited quantity to run a proof of concept or at volume. Either way, you can quickly acquire, connect, and evaluate if a sensor combined with people, processes, and technology will yield the desired business outcome and meet target KPIs.

Couple this infrastructure with a growing number of BLE-based sensors, and you can start to imagine how this technology isn’t just impactful for a limited few or engineers with the skillsets to deploy. Now any department in the enterprise can apply sensors to solve business objectives like safety, health, environment, capital asset management, and even continuous improvement studies. 

Temperature and Humidity: Many types of sensors exist, but temperature and humidity are some of the most commonly deployed. It’s simple to understand and can be easily correlated to the conditions of just about any business, industry, and process. From monitoring cold storage, setting control limits in factories, monitoring facilities to optimize energy and employee comfort levels, and even monitoring workplace health conditions. We have many customers even deploying this technology into IT network closets, data centers, and other environments that might impact the performance of critical technology and require alerts in the case of cooling issues or fire.

It's also important to understand that technology is no longer working in isolation. For example, I mentioned BLE-antennas embedded into smart cameras. Not only might a temperature sensor collect data and alert for specific conditions, but these sensors now work in tandem with smart cameras and business management systems. When the temperature meets a threshold, it might not only alert a key stakeholder but also correlate a specific event detected by the camera—such as an IT employee leaving a data center door open or an operator leaving a fridge door open—making it easier to determine the cause of the event and aid in employee retraining or corrective action.

Employee Safety and Mustering: Unlike temperature sensors, there are now many sensor options aligned to support environmental, health, and safety use cases. This includes smart sensors that can monitor multiple environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, particulate, TVOCs, and ambient noise. 

On the worker-safety side, sensor-based badge technology allows for all employees to have BLE-based sensors attached to their badge with push buttons to alert for help (think slips, trips, falls, or equipment injuries), quickly locate the employee anywhere in the facility to aid in the emergency response process—and in the event of a fire or facilities event—track the safe mustering of all employees and guests.

Continuous Improvement Events: Data is critical to any kaizen event, but what if the data you seek isn’t readily available? What if the team’s next step is to validate its assumptions? How might you leverage sensors to help identify the root cause or even support the team in identifying ways to improve? With sensors that can track the real-time flow of people, vehicles, and things, or take any number of measurements, sensors layered atop of a BLE-based infrastructure can be an elegant way to collect real-time data over a period of performance. That data can then be used to support root cause, corrective action, and verification efforts.

Predictive Maintenance: For any manufacturer dependent on factory machines or facilities equipment like HVAC, moving away from traditional maintenance approaches to a real-time data-driven model is essential to improve visibility of potential equipment issues, proactively maintain equipment that may fail early, and avoid costly downtime. 

While sensors are not the only option to support predictive maintenance (e.g., industrial IoT data acquisition and automation can also help where PLCs exist), sensors can play an important role, especially in situations where equipment is less sophisticated. Think of a simple pump, that legacy motor with no connectivity or intelligence, or other physical equipment that can vibrate, wobble, overheat, or smoke. Sensors can be applied to these types of equipment to ensure proper operation, generate alerts with drifting performance criteria, automate specific downstream tasks with ERP, MES, or Maintenance Management software, and provide plant teams with excellent visibility into their critical equipment.

Automation: An everyday but straightforward use case is how to automate a call for help or trigger a specific business process. Simple BLE-based sensors now exist that allow you to place push-button sensors anywhere in a factory, warehouse, or office location to drive automation. Common examples include placing engineering support calls to support operators who must call for supervisory or engineering support to address a machine equipment failure or quality issue. Another example would be to call material management or line-side stocking teams to replenish material at a specific location. Some companies use the same technology for less glamorous tasks like alerting facilities and janitorial staff to a cleanliness issue in a bathroom. Whatever the situation, you can see how a simple, customizable button might be used across a manufacturing facility to alert, integrate, and automate tasks.

End-to-End Manufacturing Visibility

Sensor technology is rapidly evolving and easier to acquire, deploy, and integrate data to bring business value-based outcomes. BLE is a popular and practical technology to automate wasteful activities, deliver cost-effective solutions, and improve business processes and customer experience. If your business is looking to explore sensor technologies or automate various business processes aligned with corporate goals, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

Create a Safer Manufacturing Workplace with... Apr 21, 2022 Ryan Spurr

When it comes to location solutions, so much attention is spent tracking materials, products, and vehicles. Automation and business system integration in these typical areas can deliver outstanding business outcomes for manufacturers, but what about our most valuable assets: employees?

Regarding employee-based location solutions, peoples’ initial thoughts typically point to one of two places. First, tracking employees for more nefarious purposes like ensuring employees act a certain way and do what they should. This is often frowned upon by unions and can create distrust among employees. The second is employee safety or workplace enhancements that improve the employee experience. With the latter, we can include employees as part of the business change and put improvements in place that visibly improve or protect their interests.

If your company values safety, health, and environment, or has strategic initiatives in these areas, consider how location technology can play a part in improving employees’ well-being and help your teams measure success. Let’s take a quick look at how these technologies come together to make all this possible.


Next-generation location solutions like Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) are becoming pervasive with the implementation of modern wireless access points and beacons. For example, both Aruba and Cisco Meraki access points include BLE antennas. This means that the infrastructure necessary to leverage BLE location services may already exist (if your IT organization recently upgraded wireless), or your organization should be considering this with its next upgrade.

To learn more about Bluetooth Low Energy technologies in more detail, check out our prior blogs. This is a game-changer for other business functions like HR, Safety and Health, and Facilities because it means that you can quickly adopt safety-based location solutions at lower entry-cost points, and the same solutions can promptly scale to any site in the company. If there are gaps in the deployment of BLE-enabled access points, beacons can be added that can connect to existing wireless or wired networks, extending the range or coverage where BLE doesn’t exist. This is especially useful where access point density is limited, in bizarre corners of buildings where wireless signals are weaker, or in the case where wireless may not exist at all.

Tags and Sensors

With the proper infrastructure, we can turn our attention to how we tag employees, deploy sensors that monitor the safety conditions of the environment, or push buttons that allow employees to alert for help. 

Employee tags have come a long way. For example, today’s tags are the same size as an employee badge or contained within a retractable lanyard adaptor and last years on a single battery. Some options exist with programmable buttons that can be used to call for help or trigger another desired business event. Sensors can monitor temperature, light levels, humidity, air quality, and even occupancy levels. All of this comes together to ensure that conditions are optimized or alerted to when employee safety might drift towards or breach control limits. Together, this can create a smarter workplace and better working conditions that help to attract and retain employees while keeping everyone safe.

Software and Quick Time to Value

Lastly, it’s software that integrates all this technology and delivers business value. Today’s software is easy to acquire, deploy, and brings value in minutes. For example, you can buy a starter kit from many partners, enter license keys, and be online in under 15 minutes with little effort. This makes proof of concepts and scaling a breeze. The software provides many out-of-the-box capabilities, dashboards, alerts, and event management. And when you have outgrown the basics or wish to integrate the data with business systems, these same toolsets offer application programmer interfaces (APIs) to bring higher forms of data integration and automation to the business.

Driving Safety through a Connected Workplace

Safety and employee experience are top of mind for almost every manufacturer we engage. Keeping employees safe, productive, and retained are goals worth pursuing, especially in today’s marketplace. Bluetooth Low Energy infrastructure, along with a wide range of safety, environmental, and employee-based solutions is a great place to initiate your next smart initiative that aims to empower and protect your very most valuable asset, your employees. If your business is looking to explore location technologies or automate various business processes, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and how its many use cases can benefit your organization.

A Full-Circle Connection Customer Success... Apr 19, 2022 Makayla Mota

When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, educators were faced with huge challenges while transitioning to virtual learning. At the time, Cindy Danielsa former Principal turned Professional Learning Consultant and certified MIE at Connectionhad been working with and training K–12 teachers. She quickly transitioned her own approach, and began virtually training educators on how they could use Microsoft 365 to better reach students and organize their classes and content. Amid the chaos and questions regarding education in those first few months, she had a lingering thought:

Why Are We Not Helping New Teachers?

Never one to shy away from challenges, Cindy reached out to a former professor at the University of North Carolina with the hopes that she could offer training to students enrolled in the Teaching Fellows program at UNC Chapel Hill. Here, Cindy met Dr. Jennifer Diliberto, the Director of UNC Chapel Hill Teaching Fellows and Clinical Associate Professor of Special Education and Literacy. The two formed an immediate bond and immediately set up a series of Microsoft Pilot Academies for Jen’s students.

“I look at things as an opportunity,” Jen says, “and now is a prime opportunity to make sure that we do, in teacher education, what we should have been doing for a long time in making sure that our pre-service teachers have a level of comfort with teaching face-to-face as well as virtually. So, we just organically started digging into all of the Microsoft tools last year and for me, as an instructor, I’ve embedded the use of Teams in all of my projects.”

Through Cindy’s Microsoft training, Jen continued incorporating Microsoft tools into her own teaching, in turn, allowing her students to experience first-hand the power various Microsoft programs can have in the classroom. After struggling for a way to log case studies virtually, Jen began using OneNote and creating sections for each of the exceptionality areas and then pages for each of the cases.

“Through all of Cindy’s wonderful trainings, we’re helping to give the students some ideas of how they might be able to utilize the tools,” Jen shares.

Powerful Education Tools for Better Learning Outcomes

Dasia Toone is one of those students. She is a bright and energetic student teacher enrolled in the UNC Chapel Hill Teaching Fellows program. She is currently teaching in an EC Resource class for K–5 students in Durham, NC. The night Cindy covered Flipgrid in Jen’s class a light bulb went off. Dasia had been struggling to extract information from one of her 4th grade students, explaining that he is very verbally expressive but checks out when it comes time to write.

“We only have 30 minutes and half of those minutes are transition times, so we had to get down to the nitty gritty and it just wasn’t happening. I could see that this student was getting frustrated. We really were working on detail and beginning, middle, and end in his writing. I went to class, and we started talking about Flipgrid and I thought—hmm maybe I could try this with my student and so we tried it literally the next day.”

Flipgrid is a video discussion app that allows teachers to create prompts for students to respond to. The student is then allowed to create a video answering the prompts and presenting material. It excels at allowing students to be creative and silly and has a unique and special power to draw out even the most introverted kids. I know because I have seen it. I have seen it work wonders in the classroom for both students and teachers. As Dasia talks about her student and the strides that he has made using Flipgrid this year, her eyes light up and a giant smile plays across her face. The pride and accomplishment of reaching a student and presenting another option to something that may have been difficult for them is written across her face, and soon all four of us on the Teams call are grinning from ear to ear. Education is powerful, and when teachers are presented with the right tools, they can do anything and all students can succeed.

“It has been a turnaround for that student. I am seeing him write, or speak, more in detail without that frustration and he is able to really give us some quality work. I would say that it has been a transition for me, as well. Going into this program, my teaching philosophy was a bit anti-technology. I had this idea that you couldn’t truly learn if there was so much access to technology. I am already seeing a shift as to how much I use it as an elementary school teacher. It has been a way to break through to my students.”

Dasia is also using Flipgrid for her social emotional check ins. A few weeks ago while doing a Flipgrid prompt, her student got visibly frustrated and had a meltdown. Dasia then flipped the activity on its head asking her student to create a 5-minute video on how he was doing that day. The student responded so well that she has incorporated this technique into her solution strategies.

“He likes that a lot because he doesn’t have to talk directly to me, but he knows I am going to listen to it and comment. He has a little room where he escapes for privacy, even though he knows I am going to see it. He gets to perform and express himself—through his writing and his emotions—to the computer.”

Empowering the Students of Today

Dasia has also seen him grow tenfold in confidence over the course of the year, even taking on a mentor role to new students, something she doesn’t think he would have ever done without that Flipgrid confidence boost.

“We have some behavioral issues, and he is generally resistant to everything I say except Flipgrid! He loves it. We also just got a new student, so yesterday he made a Flipgrid and showed the new student how to make a Flipgrid alongside him. It was really cute.”

As Dasia speaks about this student and the ways that he has grown, she suddenly has another idea of how she could use Flipgrid with her 3rd grade math students. She envisions asking them to be the teachers and creating videos explaining the mathematical concepts they are learning for each other, explaining that Flipgrid is so versatile that you can use it for any subject. She’s excited and vibrant and I can see what a great teacher she is already, and the impact Microsoft tools have made on her teaching style thanks to the training and innovative leadership of Cindy and Jen. Teaching has gone through a big and tumultuous transition these last few years, but through my conversation with Cindy, Jen, and Dasia I see a whole lot of hope and promise for the future of education. These three educators have impacted so many students—from K-12 to Higher Education—in the past two years by using various Microsoft Education tools and tailoring them to their specific classroom and the struggles they face. Training educators on how to use Microsoft tools makes the possibilities limitless.

The Power of Wow

Before we end our conversation, I ask if there is anything anyone wants to add about their experience using Microsoft in the classroom and Jen says, “the wow power,” and laughs. I ask her to elaborate.

“I had a meeting with a student just a little bit ago, who’s one of my interns, and she needed some support with her own learning. I was sharing Immersive Reader because she’s doing a lot of reading right now. She said that what’s always been so hard when doing research is getting through all of the material and reading it. So having the screen reader and using the dictation piece can be so empowering—to anybody, not just someone with a disability. It equals the playing field for someone with a disability, but then it just makes life simpler. I was telling the student you can have the Immersive Reader read the article while you’re listening, then you don’t have to focus on deciphering and comprehending the words. You just need to focus on comprehending the language, and then you can take notes while it’s reading to you. Kind of like you would during a lecture, right? Wow. So, yes, the wow power.”

Inside Look: Connection’s Technology... Apr 13, 2022 Connection

Interested in becoming a Connection employee? You’ve come to the right place. Follow our Inside Look series to find out what it is like to work in different departments within our organization. You will learn about our open positions and hear from our department leaders on what they watch for in candidates during the interview process. This month we’re featuring our Technology Integration and Distribution Center.

What’s it like to work in Connection’s Technology Integration and Distribution Center (TIDC)?

It’s great to be able to work in the tech industry and know you’re making a difference to companies in the various markets—not only local and national businesses, but also healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and the public sector, including education and state, local, and Federal government.

Connection is a fast-paced business servicing communities throughout North America and—in some accounts—worldwide. The warehouse work is consistently busy, so the day often flies by fast. The facilities are modern with breakrooms, outside social areas, training rooms, an electronic serviced cafeteria, strong physical and digital security, and an amazing culture.  

There is plenty of variety in the work offered across the different departments. Not only are there career opportunities for advancement in the company, but individuals are also able to continuously improve their skills—including handling of different equipment, working with supply chain programs like JD Edwards, and gaining experience in receiving and shipping. With these new skills, you can often move to Lead and Supervisor roles.

And if you’re more technically inclined, there is a whole other part of the operation that focuses on computer configuration, integration, and deployments to the North American markets. This is often referred to as Configuration Services and includes many technical roles, from entry-level configuration technicians through senior technicians to system engineers, project managers, and technical management. What is also exciting here is you can enter the business in the warehouse and work your way into a technical role, while the company assists you in obtaining industry recognized certifications. You may also choose to grow into sales or pre-sales solutions in other departments. 

Working in the Connection warehouse offers a lot to choose from, whether you’re an entry-level warehouse position, a new sales associate, an experienced supply chain international shipper, a quality control expert, a service or configuration technician, a project manager, or a system engineer. Connection’s TIDC has something to offer everyone!        

What is the structure of the department?

There are many departments within the TIDC. In general, there are Warehouse Operations, Quality Control, Inventory Control, Receiving, Shipping, Configuration, and Depot Services. Each of these departments offer career opportunities within the department, as well as movement and advancement to other departments. The departments are generally managed by a Director or Sr. Manager, who will usually have Supervisors or Leads running floor operations. The Directors report to a Vice President over different areas of Configuration and Operations. Also, within the Wilmington location, there are corporate department positions available, for example, entry-level Sales and International Shipping. 

What are the relationships between the TIDC and other areas of the company?

There are many “connections,” so to speak, from the distribution center to other areas of the company, including, in some cases, working directly with our customers and partners. To start with, the TIDC is closely aligned with Product Management, Corporate IT, Finance, and especially with Sales. We have several groups that serve on companywide committees like Safety, Security Compliance, and Facilities Management. In a few areas, we also work directly with our customers and Sales organizations. For example, Project Management works directly with Sales Support, and Service Delivery and our Configuration System Engineers interface with customers on setup. Some departments interface daily with individual departments: Inventory Control often communicates to Finance, and Shipping and Configuration work with Corporate IT platforms, and Human Resources stays in constant contact with all departments.   

The TIDC is hiring! What does it take to be successful in your department and at Connection?

To be successful, you need to offer a positive attitude, try your best, and show up willing to contribute every day. You’ll be working at a company that takes customer service seriously. We watch industry trends and listen to employee and customer feedback—so be prepared to listen, learn, and share.

If someone reading this was coming to interview tomorrow for a role in the TIDC, what interview tips would you give them? 

Candidates should come prepared to share what's important to them today and their aspirations for the future. We like to have an open, honest dialogue to understand your priorities and how we can help you achieve your goals.

What can new hires expect from joining the TIDC?

At first, it will seem like a lot of information coming at you all at once. Don’t worry; try your best, reach out when you have questions, and know the rest of your team is ready to help you learn and excel. Depending on the role, you will be offered training in different areas of operations or configuration. Expect that every day will be busy, often performing work that's similar day to day but also may shift depending on customer needs.  

Also, be sure to wear supportive, comfortable shoes because the building is quite large, and sometimes we have to hustle between other departments. We’ll also provide specific dress code recommendations that will best fit your new role.

And finally, why Connection?

Connection is a multi-billion-dollar, Fortune 1000 company celebrating 40 years of innovation in the fast-paced world of technology solutions and services. We are here to stay and grow. We care about our customers, our employees, our partners, and the changing markets. We invite you to come work for a company that offers competitive industry wages with dynamic opportunities and the room to grow your career in the direction that you choose. Stay local or set goals that may take you to other areas of the country. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a good chance we can help you achieve your career goals. 

Ready to take the next step?

Could you see yourself working in our TIDC? Browse some of our current open positions or contact one of our hiring managers directly.

Hiring Managers: David Evans, Alisa Pisarcik, Rick Lawrey, or Robert Bush

Inside Sales Account Manager - SLED

Hiring Manager: John Milburn

Imaging and Install Technician – Corporate – Configuration Services

Hiring Manager: John Milburn

Master Scheduler

Hiring Manager: Nathan Byers

Program Manager TIDC

The Impact of Collaboration in Healthcare Apr 12, 2022 Dr Keith Nelson

Collaboration in healthcare is generally defined as two or more healthcare professionals working together to optimize the treatment plan and health outcome for a patient. The backgrounds of the participating professionals can range from primary and tertiary care providers, to pharmacists, geneticists, physical therapists, social workers, dieticians, and/or any other allopathic or alternative therapy practitioners.

The tangible benefits of such a collaboration include a reduction in medical errors, medication errors and duplicative tests, as well as innovative brainstorming, quicker patient throughput, and improved provider satisfaction that accompanies a democratized and collegial care process. From a broader perspective, it seems reasonable to expect a reduction in the large number of annual patient visits currently taxing the healthcare system as well as the number of inappropriate treatment plans and unnecessary surgeries.

A 2017 study of 286 patients conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that as many as 88% patients seeking a second opinion leave the office with a new or refined diagnosis and 21% of them receive a significantly different diagnosis.  With this in mind, one could argue that the existing pervasive environment of medical silos is among the most serious deficits in the American healthcare system. Patients typically see a primary care provider (PCP) for an ailment, and often then get referred to one or more specialists in a very disjointed process which involves jockeying for appointments, a significant time commitment, traveling, paying additional fees, and ultimately reporting back to the busy PCP.

But There Has Been Progress Toward Improvement

Obamacare ushered-in a great number of changes in the delivery of healthcare.  In general, the sector has been shifting from a fee-for-service system to a pay-for-performance/value-based system.  This evolution, in which healthcare providers assume financial risk, is forcing doctors and hospitals to become more efficient in order to survive, and to have skin in the game when it comes to patient outcomes. One outgrowth of this systemic shift has been the incentivization to create Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and patient-centered medical homes, where a primary care physician becomes the coordinating advocate (or general contractor) for a patient.  But these are small steps because the tertiary/specialist silos still exist and separately report back to a single source, leading to delayed and sometimes disorderly case coordination and follow-through. Accordingly, there is a clear need to get everyone in the same room, and we’re thankfully starting to see motion in this direction.

The most visible current example of such a collaborative approach is the engagement of multidisciplinary tumor boards at hospitals to evaluate and treat cancer patients.  Although the majority of institutions limit tumor board activity to only the most complex cases, there is a growing movement to apply them to every cancer patient. To this end, given the successful track record of this approach, it seems like a natural extension for providers to create collaborative boards to manage other chronic diseases, beginning with diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and arthritis.

One great area that could see substantive improvement is collaborative medication management. Prescription inertia where various specialists myopically write scripts for a patient to address a medical condition that intersects with their specific discipline, and where there is no intercession by a coordinating party (PCP), has created a runaway train. It is certainly not uncommon to see senior patients with a bag full of medications – a situation that often leads to many unintended consequences resulting from unanticipated drug interactions. Although interoperable EHRs have mitigated prescription and comorbidity miscommunication to some degree, they are not universally deployed and there is still the problem of PCPs being unwilling to challenge the judgment of their vaunted tertiary care colleagues.

Follow the Money

Finance continues to be the driving factor of change in healthcare (and just about everything else), although government subsidies and oligopoly positioning have historically insulated the sector, resulting in glacial progress when it comes to improvement in operational efficiency. But we seem to have hit a tipping point now that U.S. health expenditures represent north of 19% of the GNP. Consequently, innovations such as value-based care (where, again, providers are at financial risk), population health management and collaborative care have been gaining wide acceptance. Not surprisingly, these types of initiatives rely heavily on technology.

Leveraging Technology

On the most basic level, collaboration requires a real-time exchange of accurate information.  This has been the driver for the promotion and subsequent adoption of Electronic Health Records, a movement that was the centerpiece of the HITECH Act which was part of the 2009 Obamacare Affordable Care Act.  Although most healthcare providers have adopted an EHR, interoperability between disparate entities remains an obstacle to a large degree.

When it comes to approaches to achieve tactical/procedural improvements to patient care and workflow efficiency such as population health and chronic disease management, many technologies are being employed.  Among these are sophisticated analytics of voluminous data from multiple sources, AI-driven clinical decision support, telemedicine and remote patient monitoring (including access to wearable fitness device data). For care coordination, timely and often frequent communication between the provider(s) and patient is essential, to wit: secure email, texting/DM, patient portals and apps – the digital front door.There’s clearly a lot of work to be done in order to break down the isolated silos in healthcare, but hopefully with some elbow grease, compassion, ingenuity, focus (“Be the ball, Danny”), and probably an instinct for financial preservation, we will enter a new era with vastly improved, highly personalized and efficient patient care.

Jumpstart Advanced Tracking with Mobility Apr 07, 2022 Ryan Spurr

When it comes to location solutions, most often fixate on larger-scale fixed infrastructure and complex use cases. In the case of RFID, we think of choke points or dock doors with fixed readers and antennas. For Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), we think of next-generation wireless access points with embedded BLE antennas. Whatever the use case and infrastructure, these depend upon a significant investment into equipment that must be budgeted, planned, installed, and tuned. For many organizations, this leap to larger installations may be harder to sell to leadership and financial officers or fraught with many challenges and lessons learned along the way.

What if there was another way to jump-start your location and tracking initiatives? What if you could start down this path without all the fixed infrastructure, making it easier to vet the technology, gain buy-in, and prove the value to leaders?

To learn more about Bluetooth Low Energy or Passive RFID technologies in more detail, check out those past blogs.

The good news is that there is an alternative to launching location solutions without significant investments into infrastructure. It’s actually where many of our partners recommend that you start your journey. Why? Because location solutions are more than just the antennas used to read them. Most manufacturers have complex environments full of RF interference, complex use cases, and various assets or products to be tracked. Starting with bounded use cases and less complex hardware makes it easier to address early decision points and gain familiarity with the technology, without the full-up installation and hardware acquisitions.

Start Simple Approach

  1. Understand the Use Cases: What problems does the business have with people, processes, and tools? Where is waste, human error, or opportunities to automate needless tasks? What is the cost of not acting? How will automation improve KPIs or business outcomes? Taking stock of why you might apply enabling technologies to make the business better is always the first step. It will aid partners like Connection, peers, and business stakeholders to understand how to help you, what technologies to apply, where you’re seeking to start or scale to—and most importantly—assist your team in justifying any investment.

  2. Identify What Needs to Be Tracked: Different location technologies have various pros and cons. These technologies are applied differently depending on what you want to track. What are the objects you plan to locate? How do you track them today? How often must you update their location (seconds, minutes, hours, or days)? What systems track these objects (ERP, WMS, MES, CMMS, or SCADA)? What is the environment like (hot, cold, indoors, outdoors, rugged, clean areas, or any specific regulations)? What is the nature of the objects? This last question is fundamental, since it will dictate what technologies might support tracking. It will impact how location tags are affixed, how they perform, and what kind of tag might be required. Understanding the objects in your use cases may be the most complex aspect of location solutions. This is why teams spend so much time upfront understanding how things are managed within operations to select the best fitting tag technologies to maximize the use case.

  3. Start Simple with Mobility: You can start with fixed infrastructure, but many use cases can begin with a mobility-first proof of concept. In fact, for some organizations utilizing mobile devices with built-in BLE, RFID, and 1D/2D scanning is a great short and long-term solution. Today’s smart mobile devices can do it all. These devices are much more affordable, allowing an individual or team to acquire a limited number of mobile devices as part of the proof of concept. They can then procure different tags to validate which tag or technology type will work best with the object being tracked and its environment. And perhaps equally important, they can validate the location software on the devices and business integrations to ensure automation is feasible and meets business outcomes.

Starting Use Cases for Location via Mobility

Material or Finished Goods Tracking: Many of our customers seek to track materials or finished goods. This can take on different forms, depending on what they produce and how it’s managed (think process vs. discrete-based). Tracking solutions are a great fit if there is something of value or criticality to optimize and ensure that products are traced and delivered on time to customers or that materials are regularly misplaced.

With mobile devices, we can quickly look up what we’re tracking, where it was last, where it is now, and if we need to get more granular—we can use the mobile device to narrow into exactly where that thing is. We can also use these devices to scan barcodes, RFID, or BLE tags and integrate that data into business systems as we do with traditional barcode-only scanners. This means the same device can scan legacy tracking and modern solutions from the same device.

Manufacturing Tools and Production Equipment: Let’s face it, things go missing! Whether items are misplaced, buried around or near other objects, or hoarded by an engineer unwilling to part with an in-demand tool—losing equipment and tools can impact how plants get work done. With mobile tracking solutions, employees can quickly locate an item on a map (using active tracking like BLE) or Geiger Location (using passive RFID) to home into that missing thing.

IT Hardware, Machines, Fixtures, and More: One of the most pervasive and scalable solutions, for smart mobile devices with location capability, is tracking things in support of production. These could be IT assets, fixtures, production equipment, facilities equipment, or anything that requires locating, validating its identity, and collecting data against. With mobility tracking, engineers, facilities, or support teams can quickly find equipment anywhere. And because the mobile devices are smart, you can leverage these devices to perform other job duties like paperless forms, working with business systems or maintenance applications—and even collaborating with peers.

Keep the Manufacturing Process Moving

Smart mobile devices with location solution technology are a great way to evaluate or jumpstart automation location use cases. Mobility is an affordable and practical technology alternative vs. fixed infrastructure. With easy-to-deploy hardware and software, it’s an excellent start to automate wasteful activities, deliver cost-effective solutions, and improve business processes and customer experience. If your business is looking to explore location technologies or automate various business processes, don’t hesitate to engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and how its many use cases can benefit your organization.

How to Optimize the Factory and Supply Chain... Apr 06, 2022 Ryan Spurr

When people think of location solutions, they often think of RFID first. While other technologies now exist, RFID maintains a relevant role in locations solutions driven by its strong market presence and partly due to its robust implementation base, maturity, and reliability. Passive RFID may be an older technology compared to other standards, but it continues to evolve and maintains many benefits worthy of its continued usage in manufacturing.

What’s New with RFID Tags?

While all elements of the technical stack have evolved over the years, the first thing to consider with RFID is tags. Tags have dramatically transformed over the decades. Today, tags come in many shapes and sizes, specifically to optimize how tags attach, operate, and optimize how you locate objects being tracked. In addition to their advancing diversity, tag prices have dramatically reduced (they approach pennies for high volume use cases). Tags can also be printed using industrial RFID label printers, making it easy for manufacturers to replace traditional 1D/2D labels with RFID labels, while maintaining existing label processes and human-readable content. And just because RFID tags are typically passive, don’t think all tags must be “boring.” High-end RFID tags exist that can support high-temperature environments like kilns. Some collect sensor data such as temperature, humidity, or vibration, and others can even provide tamper evidence to ensure supply chain protection.

Moving up the stack, antennas and readers have also evolved. While some of the very same technologies exist, antennas come in many different flavors, making it easier to apply RFID in a broad range of use cases, minimizing the impact on the environments utilized within, and improving execution effectiveness. When I first implemented RFID decades ago, the antennas were simple, bulky, and visible. Today’s antennas include table mats, under workbench mounts, floor pads, door-jam attachments, and all-in-one dock door setups, and they can be mounted just about anywhere. Gone are the days when RFID was only relevant at limited choke points. Manufacturers are free to envisage many new scenarios to leverage this proven technology both in tags and supporting infrastructure.

Where—and How—to Begin Tracking with RFID

For those without any location solutions in place, another consideration is how and where to start your RFID journey. Like any initiative with boundless use cases and technologies, it’s best to keep it simple. First, RFID uses, of course, radio frequencies. And radio frequencies in manufacturing environments may be complicated by electronic emittance from machinery or limited by shelving, other physical facility structures, and—most importantly—the objects being tracked themselves. Therefore, it’s vital to assess the feasibility of RFID with your use case and environment. To address this, most initiatives require a site assessment, a review of the objects being tracked, and the risks to the radio frequency. All of this leads to the selection of the best-fitting tag(s). 

This is where many clients waste their valuable time money—or fail altogether—so it’s essential to leverage a partner with deep RFID experience who can quickly assess and recommend tags and antennas that deliver results for your intended use case. 

In addition to fixed antennas and reader infrastructure, many organizations start out leveraging RFID smart mobile devices. Most RFID software platforms are designed to work with fixed and mobile RFID technologies. Starting with a lower-cost mobile RFID device makes it easier to test the performance of tags in different use cases. This includes the often sought-after “geiger counter” functionality or the ability for employees to hunt for misplaced objects while walking around the facility. Leveraging mobile devices in the proof-of-concept phase also speeds time to value, lowers phase one implementation costs, and quickly allows your organization to prove the technology. So don’t try to do it all; take a bounded approach that leads to quick results, confidence, and continued support from stakeholders to scale or invest in more complex implementations.

Bring It All Together with RFID Software Options

Lastly, it’s essential to acknowledge what makes all this hardware work—software. This is perhaps the area of RFID I’m most excited about because my past was fraught with expensive RFID software systems, limited functionality, and never-ending challenges to maintain and keep operational. Today’s RFID software partners have robust platforms designed for on-premises and cloud, providing full integration capabilities with a wide range of hardware and business systems, making integration with business processes and applications that we wish to automate far more straightforward and productive.

Popular use cases include:

• Tool tracking: Due to a low profile and lower cost, RFID tags make an excellent option for tracking tools. Many organizations will have mobile or fixed readers to quickly scan tools as they leave tool closets or cribs, move between work cells or larger facility spaces, and arrive at the final destination. Many organizations also use tags to ensure tools are returned, and in hoarding situations, tags can be helpful in quickly locating coveted equipment or tools.

• Job or product tracking: Many organizations, especially in discrete manufacturing, have high-value parts or finished goods they wish to track through crucial process points or at a more granular level to automate traceability and integration with business systems, improve visibility, and ensure these products can be located in the event of misplacement. Tagging job paperwork, products, or packaging through the process can easily allow companies to improve how they track and optimize their workflows incrementally.

Are you looking for a use case sure to get the attention of any CFO and deliver a strong return on investment? Many organizations will utilize product tracking (whether on the product or its final packaging) to optimize the shipping process, correlate with sales orders, and streamline manual financial and customer invoicing processes to speed up how manufacturers get paid.

• Pallet or packaging tracking: Every manufacturer is different. Some products are destined for the customer and never return to the facility as part of a larger product lifecycle. For those that do have reusable pallets, specialty packaging, or products that return to the facility for repair or services, RFID tracking is a great way to track products as they arrive at customers (think about offering your clients automation and advanced supply chain notifications (ASN)) or fully automating the receiving process and delivering real-time information to an eager customer looking to ensure it hits your dock.

• Supply chain tracking: For those high-value or high-risk supply chain challenges (whether a permanent capability or as part of a short-term root cause analysis activity), RFID tags exist that can collect environmental data associated with the proper care during delivery and storage. Tamper evidence tags can also be utilized to ensure products are not compromised in transit. Whatever the case, these technologies can be used to optimize, protect, and automate various aspects of the supply chain to ensure products safely reach the ultimate customer and don’t compromise your brand.

There are many ways the technology can be applied to make manufacturing and the supply chain smarter. RFID is a practical technology to automate wasteful activities, deliver cost-effective solutions, and improve business processes and customer experience with its long-standing precedence and diversity.

If your business is looking to explore location technologies or automate various business processes aligned with corporate goals, contact an Account Manager today. They can connect you with Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

Tracking the Supply Chain: Why GPS... Apr 05, 2022 Ryan Spurr

Most locations solutions we think of include asset or material tracking inside of a typical facility. These are tried and true use cases to improve operations with technologies like RFID, wireless, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). But what about outside of the four walls? How does a modern manufacturer track high-value products in transit or across the supply chain? How do we track forklifts, vehicles, and trucks in transit? How do we optimize operations in a yard or extended outdoor territory where operations might be equally important or benefit from data to optimize processes, reduce theft, and improve safety?

The solution is simple: Global Positioning Systems (GPS). This technology isn’t new. Heavily used in military, commercial, and civilian life, we have come to rely upon this technology to locate and navigate our world. The business use cases for GPS are no different. Low-cost GPS sensors and products now exist to make it easy to track any business asset, whether on corporate property, in the woods, or in transit to a customer.

Along with a range of proven business use cases and underlying technologies, the deployment, management, dashboards, and data integration have all significantly improved to benefit how manufacturers add smart value chains. Imagine a world where a GPS sensor can last five years on a single charge. When the sensor breaches a virtual zone, the sensor awakes to transmit its location, shares zone status and other metadata, alerts key stakeholders, and triggers integrations that further automate business processes. These features are a reality today! And utilized in use cases from theft detection, inappropriate employee behavior detection, safety, and customer experience.

Powerful, Flexible GPS Technology

The technology couldn’t be easier to acquire and deploy. At the heart is a GPS-enabled device. Many types exist with form, fit, and function-changing abilities that adapt to use cases and the object it is attached to. These devices are battery operated, utilize low-bandwidth communication technologies, and even maximize how and when they communicate to get years out of a single charge. In addition to location, many of these units can also detect other data about their environment—via embedded sensors—including impact, temperature, and humidity.

Today’s sensors can communicate in a variety of means, adjusting and providing options for manufacturers based on their specific deployment use case. Two of the most common connectivity options include cellular and LoRaWAN. The first should be obvious to most. These sensors and their services include options like 4G or 5G—and often use lightweight protocols such as IoT. Cellular is best used when assets are in transit over longer ranges, or outside of the typical business possession—like in a yard or outside a production facility. For use cases that are localized, LoRaWAN is a great option with a range of up to 15 miles. It’s simple to deploy LoRaWAN gateways that securely connect to existing network infrastructures.

Lastly, connecting and integrating data couldn’t be easier. All providers of GPS technologies today include dashboards that are easily managed and help you get everyday value, triggers, and application interfaces that drive automation options within business systems, cloud services, and third parties.

Vehicle Tracking, Fuel Optimization, and Safety
Telematics isn’t a new topic—but for those manufacturers with a fleet of service vehicles, sales vehicles, or delivery trucks, modern telematics can be anything from tracking the location of a vehicle to fuel and route optimization, safety and accident awareness, and a whole range of outstanding features that optimize vehicle management. Best of all, these solutions are easy to deploy and bring significant return on investment in areas like efficiencies, cost reductions, customer experience, and insurance fees.

In-Transit Tracking: Not all manufacturers make products that warrant in-transit tracking, but for those with high-value products, theft across the supply chain, or who have regulatory compliance to ensure safe delivery, GPS solutions can make this all very simple. This is especially true for industries with reuseable totes or containers. While some industries use passive RFID to track key logistics points—like shipping and receiving—GPS solutions allow you to track something in real time, provide updates on location, and can send alerts on adverse conditions that might lead to a change of course, damage, or even theft.

Outdoor Asset Tracking: Some manufacturers produce large products outdoors or have a requirement to track people, forklifts, tools, and vehicles in an expansive outdoor facility. These use cases are no different from that of an indoor facility, other than the technology used to track it. GPS can provide easily deployed location sensors with little to no outdoor tracking infrastructure. They can also integrate with business systems like MES, CMMS, ERP, and CRM to streamline operations.

How Can Your Business Benefit from GPS?

There are many ways the technology can be applied to make manufacturers’ extended enterprise and supply chain smarter. GPS is a practical technology to automate wasteful activities, deliver cost-effective solutions, and improve business processes and customer experience with its easy-to-deploy platforms—constraining you only to your imagination.

If your business is looking to explore location technologies or automate various business processes aligned with corporate goals, then engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

TechSperience Episode 103: How Public Sector... Mar 22, 2022 Connection

Learn more about the stimulus packages that have passed since COVID-19 and how it impacts information technology in the public sector space.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest 1: Jeff Chabot, Public Sector Segment Director for Schneider Electric

Jeff is the Segment Strategy Director of the Schneider Electric Federal Sales Team. His team is responsible to lead the sale, customer support, design, and implementation of critical power, cooling, and management solutions in U.S. government information technology environments within and outside the continental United States. In his 22 years at Schneider Electric, Jeff has held various sales and sales leadership roles in commercial sales, state and local government sales, and federal government sales. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science from Rhode Island College.

Show Notes:

[0:30] Introduction of guest

[0:45] What are the choices and funding that are currently available for the public sector?

[2:00] What should be at top of mind for State and Local to consider with the American Rescue Plan?

[4:05] Is there a time period that teams need to spend these funds?

[4:33] Within State and Local, what are some of the top areas where they can spend their funds?

[5:00] Where are IT professionals spending these funds?

[6:10] Where are K–12 focusing their purchases?

[8:05] Are there similar types of spending in Higher Education?

[8:57] What is the application process that IT professionals need to be aware of to access these funds?

[10:19] How smooth has the process and experience been for folks so far?

[11:13] Anything else we should know about the American Rescue Plan?

[12:25] Have funds started to be released for the new Infrastructure Plan?

[13:40] How is broadband defined now and how is it a part of the Infrastructure Plan?

[15:42] Will more rural areas see more funding for broadband investments?

[16:38] What are all the aspects of broadband that are covered in the Infrastructure Plan?

[19:43] Could the Infrastructure Plan help with supply chain issues, inflation, and efficiency?

[20:51] When can people begin to apply and access the funds from this new Infrastructure Plan? [21:22] What are some tips that you have that would make the most sense for people to spend these funds?

Inside Look: Connection’s Marketing Department Mar 21, 2022 Connection

Interested in becoming a Connection employee? You’ve come to the right place. Follow our Inside Look series to find out what it is like to work in different departments within our organization. You will learn about our open positions and hear from our department leaders on what they watch for in candidates during the interview process. This month we are featuring our Marketing Department.

What is it like to work in Connection’s Marketing Department? 
We foster a collaborative approach, drive marketing best practices across the organization, work hard, and have fun. A majority of the team is remote or hybrid—and we all have access to leading tools and apps, including Marketo, Uberflip, Workfront, Salesforce, and more!

How is the Marketing Department structured?
The Vice President of Marketing, who reports to the Chief Growth and Innovation Officer, leads a marketing team of approximately 50 people that make up: 

Program Marketing: Aligns closely with our Strategy Marketing and Event Marketing Teams, Product Management, and the Industry Solutions Group to drive demand generation programs.

Brand and Integrated Marketing: Builds brand awareness and develops integrated multi-channel campaigns working with cross-functional teams

Event Marketing: Aligns with teams across the organization to deliver high-quality events that are strategically aligned to our business goals. Drives overall planning and execution for virtual and face-to-face events for customers and internal employees—start to finish.

Creative Services: An in-house team of designers, writers, email and Web developers, a full-service video team, and producers that support the entirety of our creative needs.

Segment Marketing: Manages sales enablement aligned with campaigns for our enterprise, small/medium business, and public sector channels to drive revenue goals.

What are the relationships between the Marketing Department and other areas of the company?
The Marketing Team engages with almost all departments within the company and often works with our leadership team on strategic initiatives to propel the business. 

What kinds of personalities mesh best within the company?
• Energetic
• Assertive
• Curious
• Collaborative 
• Team player
• Communicator 
• Strategic
• Accountable
• Intelligent 
• Eager to learn, inspire, and lead
• Resilient

What does it take to be successful in the Marketing Department and at Connection?
Integrity is one of our core values at Connection, so be prepared to be accountable and work hard. You should be results-oriented, ready to grow your passion for our brand, and intent on putting the customer first. 

If someone reading this was coming to interview tomorrow, what tips would you give them? 
Be prepared to provide an overview of your accomplishments in marketing and results they garnered. 

What can new hires expect from joining the Marketing Department? 
You will have the opportunity to collaborate with cross-functional teams and have a direct impact on driving Connection’s business goals. As part of a dynamic workforce, you’ll also have ample opportunity for professional development and advancement. 

Why Connection? 
Our teams combine several of the top things you should look for in a career: the longevity and stability of an established Fortune 1000 company and the creativity, flexibility, and energy of a startup hungry to make its mark on the world. We are made stronger by a multitude of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. It’s what makes Connection unique—what drives us to innovate and create technology solutions that stand apart from the crowd. We’d love for you to be a part of that fabric, to share your ideas and experiences with a team that thrives on fresh thinking, creativity, and helping others.

Ready to take the next step?
Can you see yourself working in our Marketing Department? We are hiring! 

Marketing Manager Segment
Hiring Manager: Rob McIntosh

Marketing Programs Manager
Hiring Manager: Lola Small

Top Three Teams Features Educators Are... Mar 15, 2022 Makayla Mota

Education has shifted in both amazing and challenging ways over the past two years, and educators have been at the very forefront of that change. Microsoft Teams, both in the classroom and at a school administrator level, has also experienced that shift while providing exciting updates to ease this ever-evolving transition. However, keeping up with every update and new feature and then beginning to use them in the classroom can be daunting! So, what are the top three Teams features educators and schools are underutilizing?

Education Insights

Adding the Insights tab in your Class Team is the number one way you can provide additional support for your students. Insights provides real-time analytics of when and how students are using Teams and engaging with the content provided in your class. Insights is presented with easy-to-read data and visualizations that make it easy for educators to track the student experience and to ensure that the student’s academic, emotional, and social needs are being met whether it is through in-person or virtual instruction. Teams takes data from Assignments, Channel engagement, Files, OneNote Class Notebook, Meetings, Reading Progress, and Reflect to populate the Insights dashboard allowing educators to fully assess the student using a continuous cycle of identification, reflection, discussion, and action.

Educators and educational leaders can access Insights though their Teams personal app or as a tab within their Team.  


Insights Complete Guide for Educators

Step-by-Step Tutorials

Insights Blog Post

Reading Progress

Reading Progress in Teams is AMAZING! Built into Assignments in Teams, Reading Progress allows students to submit their own recordings of reading fluency checks, either with a text provided by the educator or ReadWorks, freeing teachers to access the recordings at any time to build differentiated lessons based on student needs, comprehension, and reading levels. The teacher can allow for multiple attempts as students gain fluency and confidence. With a built-in AI component, educators can save time utilizing the AI-assisted review for student errors and to capture words per minute and accuracy rate automatically as teacher listen and review. Reading Progress data is collected in the Education Insights dashboard, providing educators with the data needed to plan for effective planning.


Introduction to Reading Progress in Teams

View reading Progress data in Insights

The Educator and Student's Experience with Reading Progress

Class Notebook

Utilizing Class Notebook in your Class Team seems like a no-brainer, right? But whether educators are overwhelmed with tools or simply too busy to add content they are missing out on hands-down one of the best Microsoft programs ever. OneNote is essentially a digital binder; the Class Notebook component is built into your Class Team and contains three sections:

The Content Library: a read-only space where the teacher can share handouts and content with students.

The Collaboration Space: a space where everyone in your class can share, organize, and collaborate.

The Student Netbooks: a private space shared between the teacher and each individual student. Teachers can access every student notebook, while students can only access their own.

The Class Notebooks feature creates a safe space for students to access the content needed to learn, provides a collaborative resource for group work, and opens up a communication portal with their teachers to check in, ask questions, and see classwork and progress. Truly a no-brainer for educators.


Use OneNote Class Notebook in Teams

Set up a Class Notebook in Teams with Existing Content

Class Notebook in Microsoft Teams

Interested in learning more about Microsoft Teams in the classroom? Reach out to your Connection Account Manager to explore our Microsoft professional development services.

3 Areas Where AI Can Improve Retail Operations Mar 10, 2022 Brian Gallagher

If I had to pick a single game changer in retail, hands down it would be AI applications. During my 20 plus years as a retail leader, I saw a lot of change, but all that change had one thing in common—it was all linear and driven by human experience and expectation. I can’t count the number of times that our senior management teams would say, “This is a good first step” when, in reality, we needed to take leaps or even a complete shift in direction. Experience is always important, but it is also limiting. What we were really missing was the ability to takes flying leaps instead of tiny baby steps. AI has changed how retailers will win going forward.

Every retailer can apply AI solutions to one or multiple parts of your business today. AI engines simply need data, and as retailers, we have more data than we ever knew what to do with it. The good news is this past and future data collection can finally be put to good use. AI needs to be integrated into every facet of our retail business model—and here is how it might affect your business.

Customer Experience

Every retailer, from the smallest boutique to a global mega-retailer, can use AI to help customers find what they need quickly in an omnichannel supported way. AI allows customers to get assistance the minute they need it, whether it be product information, virtual fitting rooms, or customer feedback.

These experiences can manifest themselves in any number of customer touchpoints including mobile devices, digital signage, or voice-bots. Digital signage using computer vision can also measure customer engagement and serve up real-time advertising that speaks to the audience. POS system captures data about what was purchased that is used to generate new product recommendations. Digital signage collects data about which types of customers are shopping and when, so that merchandising can make better decisions about product promotions. All this leads to more accurate segmentation and experiences that are tailored to a customer’s patterns and preferences.

Employee Productivity

In a retail world where employee availability is forever changed, the ability to use AI across the entire employee journey can provide huge returns. An AI engine can more quickly and accurately identify the best candidates to interview or even identify unique locations for resourcing employees. But even past the hiring process, AI completely changes how an employee is trained, which delivers more effective learning and faster onboarding. The ever-active motion of hiring and training can be deployed faster with better results.

Once an employee is hired, AI might have an even bigger impact on employee performance and job satisfaction. AI solutions can improve productivity by simply eliminating the unnecessary, anticipating the necessary, and modifying the motions. A productive, engaged employee will always work harder—leading to longer tenure, less turnover, and higher customer satisfaction.

Supply Chain Demand, Planning, and Logistics

It makes sense that a better understanding of trends and driving factors can improve your ability to anticipate demand and react accordingly. AI helps retailers improve forecasting, make pricing decisions, and predict future trends. AI analytics can help you order the right amount of stock so that stores won’t end up with too much, too little, or either in the wrong location. Omnichannel data provides a maximum benefit to the supply chain. AI can truly see trends that the human brain cannot normally comprehend and certainly not as quickly. Maintaining an accurate inventory is also a major challenge for retailers. By connecting data from more parts of the omnichannel business and applying AI, retailers gain a comprehensive view of the entire supply chain.

AI in Retail Operations: Trust and Understand the Outputs

There is one huge difference in each of these experiences compared to the past. There is no human programming or human anticipation. The days of product teams deciding that a customer that buys white sneakers probably wants white socks are gone. The AI engine has looked at every piece of data imaginable and can decide what to promote based on customer demographic, time of day, micro-location, and a million other factors that the human brain could never begin to absorb.

Trust your AI. Understand and trust your outputs. As leader, we all want to rely on our experience and work in our comfort zone. The investment in AI for your business will provide tremendous benefit, but only if we trust the decisions it produces.

For more information about how Connection and our partners can help improve your business through AI or other technologies, please visit us at or

A Day in the Life of a Business Development... Mar 08, 2022 Savannah Davis

As a Business Development Specialist, I am building relationships and trust among Account Managers, Sales Managers, and Directors in our company. Account Managers reach out to ask for help finding solutions for their customers’ needs, and I collaborate with them to find a fitting solution and to also help grow their book of business. Not only do we work with Sales, but also with the Product Management department to grow our business numbers and focus on implementing their ideas.

We use reports to help bring topics to Account Managers to dig into their customers more and help present information to their customers. As Business Development Specialists, we educate the Account Managers and customers on our product line. We also advocate to the Product Management department for what resources our sites need, as well as present ideas that we have.

We get the pleasure of not only working with multiple departments at Connection, but also with top partners like HP, Microsoft, and Lenovo. These partners provide products that are crucial to companies.  You can’t go anywhere without seeing some form of technology. With all the constraints that have been happening due to the pandemic, we can help find alternatives to keep businesses, healthcare organizations, and schools moving and not skip a beat.

There is so much excitement that comes with the role! It’s the excitement of closing a great opportunity AND seeing the Account Manager’s excitement when it’s closed, knowing you had a hand in it—chasing numbers, growing the business, and building wonderful relationships along the way. The Account Managers want to work with me and my team because they trust us and we bring value to their business. We are standing next to them and winning together! If we lose, we stand back up together and go after another opportunity. There is always another opportunity, and if they don’t see one, we find one for them.

Since the pandemic we’ve been hearing, “We’re all in this together.” Well, that’s what it’s always been like working as a Business Development Specialist at Connection. It’s more than just coming to work to do your job—we are bringing value to people while experiencing the excitement of sales.

Firsthand account of what working at Connection is really like
TechSperience Episode 102: The Tour De Force... Mar 01, 2022 Connection

Finding the “best in class” IT resources to meet all for your wish-list items can be a challenge, especially when trying to future-proof your infrastructure and remote workforce all while maintaining security protocols and budgets during a world pandemic. Tech expectations continue to increase and the need for collaborative IT solutions has become paramount. 

What have other companies done to roadmap their next 5 years of success?  How have they overcome some of these challenges and mitigate the disasters of a wrong decision?  Find out on this episode of TechSperience as we explore a “tour de force” of tech collaboration.

Guest 1: Laura Belincky – Sr. Business Development Manager, BSG

Guest 2: Brian McGuffin – National Business Development Manager, BSG

Guest 3: John Maslanik – Business Development Manager, BSG

Guest 4: Brian Chandler – Director, Business Development Manager’s Team, BSG

Guest 5: Derek Olson-Sr. Manager, Business Development Manager’s Team BSG

Host: James Hilliard

Show Notes:

[0:38] Introduction of guests

[1:30] How do you start the process of learning about your customers and what their pain points are?

[2:55] What's your favorite place to go to learn about a new customer?

[4:30] What's a unique place where someone has been able to uncover new information about a customer?

[5:31] Currently, what are the biggest pain points you are hearing from customers where solutions providers can help?

[8:16] Besides logistical pain points, what are some personal pain points we are hearing from customers?

[10:48] How do you start imagining the resources that you can provide a customer when they ask for products and/or services?

[13:20] How does bringing in more team members to sit in on meetings allow for more potential resources to the client?

[15:25] Are customers surprised that Connection can offer more services than they initially thought?

[19:05] How often do you find a customer is willing to talk to another customer about their experiences?

[24:40] Could you design a new data center from the ground up?

[26:33] What are your goals when engaging customers?

BLE Is Catching on Fast in... Feb 23, 2022 Ryan Spurr

Location solutions are nothing new in manufacturing. The most common include manual tracking solutions involving scanners or automated technologies like Passive RFID. But over the years, a new tracking technology has entered the mainstream: Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). BLE is quickly being adopted compared to its peer technologies—and there are three big reasons why.

BLE Is Already Ubiquitous

First, BLE is becoming pervasive across various technologies, lowering deployment costs, and simplifying development. Unlike technologies like RFID, which require separate antennas, readers, power, and cable runs, BLE is built into many modern technology platforms you may already own or be considering. It’s compatible with many tablets, mobile devices, and smart scanner technologies, making it a clear choice when combining mobility with location solutions.

We also see that many network device companies now include BLE antennas in their access points. This is important because manufacturers can quickly deploy location capabilities across the factory, warehouse, offices, yards, or anywhere where IT manages wireless access. It also lowers the cost to deploy use cases, increases the return on investment of both the network and department initiatives, and speeds the time to value. It also has one other outstanding benefit. If a use case is successful, it can quickly scale to any facility or department with IT-managed access points, eliminating the dreaded “pilot purgatory.”

BLE Has More to Offer than Wi-Fi

Second, BLE is an active location technology, meaning it doesn’t have to wait for a tag to enter the range of an antenna to excite it. BLE solutions actively broadcast, making it an excellent option for any use case that requires near-real-time location updates. Unlike Wi-Fi-based solutions (mainly being phased out over time in favor of the newer options), the BLE standard utilizes power more efficiently, resulting in longer battery life, easier maintenance, and more capable location tags.

You Can Add BLE to Virtually Anything with Tags

Third, BLE tags come in many different sizes, shapes, and capabilities, making it easy for manufacturers to tackle that first use case. Following that first proof of concept, it can quickly move onto new use cases where form, fit, and function differ while leveraging already existing BLE-enabled access points, beacons, and mobile devices across the IT infrastructure.

Tags can be affixed in different ways, come with programmable buttons, share metadata about their health and battery life, and many can even collect additional data like temperature, humidity, or vibration. As a result, BLE tags can significantly complement any manufacturer’s smart manufacturing initiatives, such as:

  • Tool Tracking: Manufacturers have various tools from torque wrenches, dies, and specialty gear. Unfortunately, many organizations struggle with tool availability, utilization, hoarding, misplacement, and theft. For companies with internal or regulatory mandates around high-value asset tracking, ensuring accountability, possession, and location as part of audit processes may be critical. The manual processes to augment these business challenges can be costly, inaccurate, and inefficient at best. BLE tags atop of BLE-enabled access points and software can automate these tasks with existing maintenance management and capital asset management systems, freeing employees to work on more meaningful activities.
  • Product Tracking: Not all materials or products warrant tracking, but for those situations where tracking critical materials, regulated materials, or real-time visibility is vital to inform business systems or employees, BLE-location solutions are a great fit. The technology can be used to ensure products do not violate specified zones (whether driven by regulation, safety, or corporate policy), to track the flow of materials and products through crucial process points, or to make high-value products easy to find, or be tracked from production to shipping, and ensure delivery against the proper sales orders. Whatever your specific business needs, location solutions can be creatively applied to automate, improve visibility, and reduce human error or potential for undesirable escapes.
  • Employee Safety: No employee likes to be tracked (and it’s even more complicated in union shops). However, there are many situations where location solutions can positively benefit employees and their safety. Building on the BLE technology stack, multiple solutions make workplaces safer and justify location solutions from the employer and employee perspective. For example, in today’s current climate of pandemics or close contact events, BLE-based badges can make it easy to quickly assess which employees must be notified of potential close contact situations and streamline response teams tasked with sanitization. Leveraging BLE-based badges with buttons, organizations may provide employees an emergency alert feature, making it easier for an injured employee or peer to call for help and navigate safety officers or medical teams to the correct location. Lastly, mustering with BLE-based badges can ensure all employees get out quickly and safely, alerting facilities and first responders of a successful building evacuation or aiming teams to specific employees requiring assistance.

There are many ways the technology can be applied to make manufacturing smarter. It’s easy to imagine how deploying real-time location solutions can benefit your business, especially if you have specific challenges that would benefit from IoT automation. With long tag lifespans, active data communication, and endless use cases, Bluetooth Low Energy solutions are a fantastic location technology that can build upon IT-managed infrastructure, scale, and deliver automation to help manufacturers improve visibility, provide real-time integration with business systems, reduce costs, and drive productivity. If your business is looking to eliminate wasteful transactions, augment stretched-thin workforces, or add a practical automation capability to support your business goals, then engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

Safe and Flexible Education with Microsoft Cloud Feb 22, 2022 Katie John

It was a normal weekday morning in October, and my day began with quiet, unassuming routine. The smell of brewing coffee gave me the inner strength to get up, throw on my slippers, and stumble out of the bedroom to make sure my two teenage daughters were on track to get to the bus stop on time. I ran down the mental checklist of things they tend to forget to ensure they would be ready for the day. Teeth brushed? Lunch packed? Stray biology textbook and homework gathered up and stuffed into a backpack?

After the sixthexasperated, “YES, Mom!” I put them on the bus with a quick wave and a sleepy mumble, “Love you, guys. Make good choices!” I shut the door, shuffled to the coffee maker, and sat down at my desk to get ready for the workday. Five minutes later, the phone rang, jolting me out of my spreadsheets and data reports, and that was the end of anything resembling normalcy that day.

The call was an automated message sent to all parents from our school principal stating they had been alerted to a school shooter threat planned for that day. They were working with the police to investigate whether the threat was authentic or a prank. Once the buses arrived at the high school, all the kids began hearing the same message over the intercom. The morning spiraled into a chaotic whirlwind of rumor, misinformation, fear, and stress.

Over 2,000 parents descended on the school campus in a panic. Traffic was backed up for miles as parents tried to get to their children. I spent most of the day texting with my daughters to make sure they were safe, and to keep them calm while trying to keep myself calm and clear-headed at the same time. A lot of things happened that day, but I can tell you the one thing that didn’t happen was any sort of academic learning. It did turn out to be a prank threat, and thank goodness, the culprits were found and arrested a few weeks later. As I later reflected on the events of that day, I was struck by how easy it is to steal education away from children with one simple fake social media post or anonymous fake tip.

If you are a parent, a teacher, a student, or a school staff member, the sad reality is that you’ve probably been through either a vaguely similar or exact same experience at least once, if not multiple times in the past year. I wish I could say this was the only time this happened to our school. Unfortunately, the day I just described has happened to us three times now. It shouldn’t be this way, and we have much work to do as a society to make both our K–12 and higher education systems safer for our children, grandchildren, and future generations. While there is no one single magical fix, I do believe in the power and potential of technology and cloud adoption as one piece of a larger solution.

Imagine a school where teaching and learning could happen from anywhere. What might our family’s day looked like if the principal could have sent that automated message before the school buses arrived? What if her message was not simply to inform us of a threat, but also to inform families that in response, on-campus learning was cancelled for that day, buses were turned around, and education for the day would seamlessly pivot to live remote learning? What if teachers were able to initiate virtual classrooms and continue the same real time class instruction that they had planned for that day, using technology tools they are proficient in, while students logged in from home? What if education was not so easily threatened or derailed? How much more learning can happen when young minds are not consumed and preoccupied with tremendous fear and stress?

Human connection is essential. We were not designed to do life alone. The recent pandemic clearly showed us the truth of this, as so many children struggled with depression after months of quarantine, remote learning, and separation from friends and extended family. Full-time remote learning may be necessary for some unique situations, but it isn’t the best solution for all students. There is value in brick-and-mortar schools and the sense of community and connection they bring. However, teaching and learning should not be confined or limited to a school building. Flexible education is essential.

As businesses are shifting to a hybrid work from anywhere model, education also needs to shift to a hybrid and more flexible learn from anywhere model. Many schools are already beginning a cloud journey toward this future. What many of our customers are discovering this year is that cloud adoption with Microsoft solutions can open so many doors for education and learning, such as:

  • An increase in digital equity and inclusion
  • Access to massive compute power for research and projects
  • Accessibility tools through Microsoft assistive technologies to meet the unique needs of every student
  • Secure and connected campus environments

Having the ability to provide this learning platform for our students, no matter where they are located, can give school administration the freedom and confidence to be able to decide with a moment’s notice, “There is a security risk at our normal learning location. Let’s continue learning today from somewhere safe.”   

Along the journey to a cloud-based platform, there are very real and undeniable challenges that schools are facing:

  • Limited budgets and funding
  • Time and resource bandwidth constraints for IT administrators to manage thousands of users, devices, and large amounts of data
  • Lack of training for both teachers and students to successfully utilize the technology available to them
  • Security concerns around user identity, data, and information

In a collaborative partnership with Microsoft, Connection’s Public Sector division is successfully addressing each one of these challenges to help both K–12 and higher education institutions overcome hurdles and build a cloud platform for better learning outcomes now and for the future.

We have teams working with schools daily to provide help in so many ways:

  • Funding experts who are well versed in current available funding and grant programs available for technology in the classroom
  • Cloud Advisors who provide no-cost consulting, guidance, and cloud architecting for our Microsoft customers
  • Our Microsoft Customer Success Team can recommend the most cost-optimized licensing paths and purchase programs
  • Our Managed Service Provider program alleviates the burdens placed on IT teams of managing your environment and keeping your users and data safe with robust 24x7 security monitoring
  • Microsoft Innovative Educators (MIEs) provide professional development customized to your unique school needs through technology training academies and classes for staff and teachers

I think we all agree there are very complex challenges around education in our society today. Threats to safety is one of them. There are no easy answers or a quick fix. But cloud-based technology is no longer just a fancy “nice to have” accessory. It is a viable solution to several of our most difficult challenges. Microsoft has invested an incredible number of resources into developing tools for education and has made them widely available to help every student and teacher on the planet achieve more. Adopting these technologies is not beyond your school district’s ability to achieve. Contact us, and we will work hard alongside you to help build a secure learn from anywhere environment for better education outcomes and safety for both teachers and students.

Black History Month: Celebrating Black... Feb 01, 2022 Connection

Happy Black History Month! To start this month of celebrating achievements by Black Americans, we’d like to take a look at five Black pioneers who made groundbreaking contributions to our favorite field, information technology. 

Evelyn Boyd Granville was only the second African American woman to receive a PhD in mathematics from a U.S. university—earning her degree from Yale in 1949. In 1956, she began work as a computer programmer at IBM, where she became part of the team that worked with NASA on the programs that would guide the early space program. Her work on the Apollo program in particular means she helped get us to the moon.

Roy Clay, Sr. is most well-known for helping to start the Computer Science division at Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 1962. After teaching himself to code, he started a job at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, CA, where he met David Packard. At HP, he became the director of the team that developed the HP 2116A, one of HP’s first minicomputers.Not content with success just for himself, he also used his time at HP to create initiatives that would help other Black computer scientists thrive in Silicon Valley. In 1971, spurred by his interest in electrical safety, Clay left HP to found ROD-L Electronics in Mountain View, CA, where he invented the dieletric withstand test or high potential (hipot) safety test. ROD-L Electronics is now just as well known for their contributions to the local community as they are for their technology. 

Clarence “Skip” Ellis was the first Black person to earn a PhD in computer science, earning his degree from the University of Illinois in 1969. He joined a team at Xerox, where he developed systems for computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) and groupware—think Google Docs or Microsoft Teams. His team created OfficeTalk, one of the first groupware systems. In addition to laying the foundations for CSCW, Ellis was also part of the team that worked on Alto, the world’s first PC. The strides he and his team made in developing the hardware, interfaces, and programs for a personal computer would eventually help Apple’s team develop their Lisa computer and Microsoft create their MS-DOS software. Our recent move to remote hybrid work might not have been possible without Ellis’s contributions.

John Henry Thompson created the programming language Lingo, which was used in Adobe Director (previously Macromedia Director) to help render visuals, such as images and video, in code. Another self-taught coder, Thompson learned as many programming languages as he could in order to invent his own. With Lingo, he developed a programming syntax that was more like spoken language, making it easier for beginners to learn and get started coding. Lingo was also instrumental in the explosion of multimedia and interactive programs on CD-ROMs and on the Internet in the 1990s, as the primary programming language of Adobe Shockwave. The Internet as we know it might look very different without Lingo. 

Mark Dean is the co-creator of the personal computer that IBM released in 1981—and even holds three of the company’s nine original patents. He led the design team that developed the first gigahertz processor chip, as well as the first color monitor. Working with engineer Dennis Moeller, he developed the Industry Standard Architecture system bus, which allowed PCs to support plug-in devices like disk drives and printers. In 1995, he was named the first African-American IBM Fellow.

TechSperience Episode 101: RTO and the... Jan 20, 2022 Connection

In 2022, many companies are navigating how to return to the office safely and smartly. In this episode, we address this challenge and explore some possible technology solutions surrounding RTO.

Guest: Tony Dancona, Digital Workspace Evangelist and part of Connection Lab. With more than 25 years of experience in virtualization and end-user computing, Tony is considered a thought leader in the industry. He currently serves on different Technical Advisory Board including Dell Technologies, VMware and CRN Channel Company IOT.

Host: James Hilliard

Show Notes:

[0:20] Introduction of guest

[0:45] What did work look like in 2008?

[2:36] What does work look like currently?

[3:45] How are customers defining in-office collaboration?

[4:40] Are we lacking anything from working remotely?

[6:15] How do we make today's office safe?

[8:01] What technologies are you seeing most organizations trying to implement today to keep their offices safe?

[10:13] What benefits are there to utilizing some of this technology?

[11:25] Can some of this technology allow for exceptions?

[13:13] What technologies are companies looking at inside work environments?

[16:23] What verticals can this technology impact?

[17:31] How do we make offices smarter than they were a couple of years ago?

[20:51] What have been the advancements in conference technology?

[23:03] Give us a high-level primer on the Connect Aware app.

[27:50] To utilize the features of this app, what technologies are required?

[29:03] What changes do you expect to see in physical offices in the coming year?

The Noninvasive Glucometer Jan 18, 2022 Dr Keith Nelson

Diabetes is a dreadful disease that effects nearly every system of the body, most notably the kidneys, eyes, peripheral nerves and the circulatory system. There are two varieties of diabetes, Type 1 (genetic –  usually expressed early in life), and Type 2 (acquired – largely diet-related), and both involve an inability of the pancreas to produce adequate levels of insulin, which controls the body’s glucose (sugar) levels. The causes of Type 2 are varied, but mostly involve a combination of genetic predisposition, excessive body weight, poor nutrition and physical inactivity. Advanced stages of the disease often lead to blindness, lack of sensation in the limbs which in turn leads to pressure ulcers, compromised circulation leading to amputation, and end stage renal (kidney) disease requiring dialysis or, if the patient is lucky, a kidney transplant. As of 2020, 463 million adults were living with diabetes and 374 million people were at risk for developing the disease (prediabetic).

Managing diabetes involves, depending upon disease severity, diet control, exercise, oral medications and daily insulin injections. The goal of the latter is to maintain a stable and acceptable level of blood glucose throughout the day. In order to accomplish this, an individual must periodically measure his/her blood glucose levels in order to optimally balance the frequency and dosage of insulin injections. On a day-to-day basis, this typically involves pricking one’s finger and then applying a drop of blood to a paper strip which is inserted into a small electronic device (a glucometer) that generates a blood glucose value.  Given the repetitive nature of this painful exercise, there is great interest in an effective measurement alternative. One such alternative is the continuous glucose monitor (CGM), which is a small device containing an electrode sensor inserted into the skin for 2 weeks at a time (usually in the upper arm) and a transmitter to relay the numeric readings to a peripheral device like a smartphone.  This device in turn could be integrated with an insulin pump to precisely balance the body’s insulin levels.  An example of a CGM is the Free Style Libre.  

It shouldn’t be surprising that the holy grail for monitoring glucose levels would be a non-invasive glucometer, which would enable a painless, on-demand (or continuous) glucose measurement. Such a device would facilitate the precise management of the disease, which would likely prevent or delay the onset of the serious health complications previously mentioned.  Unfortunately, the development of this technology is easier said than done.  Complicating factors include population variance in skin thickness, soft tissue, fat, and the size and depth of blood vessels. 

There have been many attempts to develop a non-invasive glucometer over the last 50 years, applying diverse measurement techniques including bioimpedance spectroscopy, microwave/RF sensing, fluorescence technology, infrared and near-infrared spectroscopy, optical coherence tomography, optical polarimetry, raman spectroscopy of the interstitial fluid, reverse iontophoresis, and ultrasound technology. Experimental devices range from handheld and wearable appliances to patches and contact lenses. With respect to the latter, many scientists have turned their attention to targeting the eye for measurement as opposed to the skin, as there is easier access to glucose-containing bodily fluids (tears) and less anatomical variance from person to person.

Which brings us to today . . .

Looking through a lens made from a very large grain of salt, there are three recent commercial initiatives in particular that I believe warrant our attention. The first is from Rockley Photonics, a company that offers advanced health monitoring technology for smart watches, including those from Apple (which invested at least $70 million in the company). They are using infrared technology, which they claim is up to one million times more accurate than the LED technology used in smartwatches today and can perform continuous monitoring of numerous biomarkers such as hydration, blood pressure, core body temperature, lactate, and glucose levels.

A second offering is from Know Labs. They claim their non-invasive Bio-RFID sensors (using radio waves) can identify different molecules in the body, such as glucose, oxygen, alcohol and metabolized drugs. The company says it will be available in both wearable and small handheld forms.

Finally, an Israeli startup, Hagar Tech, is similarly using radio frequency wave and AI technology to measure glucose under the name G-Wave.  They claim the accuracy is 95% compared to off-the-shelf handheld finger prick devices currently in use.

On the surface, all three of these initiatives sound promising, especially given Apple’s substantial investment in the category. Still, considering the long history of failed attempts and the associated hundreds of millions of dollars spent on R&D, only time will tell if all or any of them will prove successful and become commercially viable.  But if the grail is finally realized (nod to Harrison Ford), the amount of reduction in suffering, and the number of lives saved, would be incalculable. If you’re looking for a striking example of a game changer, this would be it.

Microsoft Purchase Program Changes Jan 13, 2022 Carrie Alicata

Microsoft announced new pricing and changes that will introduce new terms and billing options for specific Microsoft Cloud Subscriptions, such as Microsoft 365, through your Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) like Connection. So, here’s what is changing and what you can expect:

A New Billing Model

Microsoft is introducing a new billing model for Cloud Services called New Commerce Experience (NCE). Under NCE, you’ll have these three options to pay for your Microsoft 365 licenses:

  1. Month-to-Month Commit: Month-to-month payment
  2. Annual Commit: Annual or monthly payment options 
  3. Multi-Year Commit: Annual or monthly payment options *Availability date TBA

If you’ve just purchased or are renewing as of July 11, 2022, you’ll be enrolled in the NCE billing model with these term options. If you’re currently purchasing monthly term products, there will be promotions available through June 2022 to help you move and save money. 

A New Pricing Model

On August 19, 2021, Microsoft announced global list price increases to their Microsoft 365 user licensing. These price increases are effective on March 1, 2022:

  • Microsoft 365 Business Basic, from $5 to $6
  • Microsoft 365 Business Premium, from $20 to $22
  • Office 365 E1, from $8 to $10
  • Office 365 E3, from $20 to $23
  • Microsoft 365 E3, from $32 to $36
  • Office 365 E5, from $35 to $38

There are no current changes to pricing for education or consumer.

How to Reduce Financial Impact to Your Business

Through the end of June 2022, Connection—as your CSP partner—is offering promotional pricing when you renew, transition, or start your licensing journey. As a tip, if you’re currently a monthly subscriber, moving into an annual commitment will lock in your pricing before March 1, 2022. 

Annual commitments will also give you the option to save money on your licensing. If you’re currently purchasing licensing month-to-month, making a 1- or 3-year commitment on select products will afford you the best price. You’ll have the option to schedule renewal changes with your CSP partner ahead of time, and plan out your licensing journey for the year ahead. 

How to Maintain Flexibility for Growth

The month-to-month flexibility to change licensing and user counts is a requirement if your business is experiencing rapid growth or uncertainty. This option is still available, but as a premium service. To maintain the flexibility needed for your business, you can anticipate a 20% higher cost over annual or multi-year pricing. We encourage you to work with us, as your CSP partner, to take advantage of any promotions to offset increases through June 2022. 

Key Dates to Help You Plan

December 31, 2021—The last day to transact in Microsoft Open Business

January 10, 2022—NCE is generally available

March 1, 2022—Microsoft 365 price increases are effective

March 10, 2022—All new cloud services licensing will be transacted through the NCE

June 30, 2022—Promotional offers end in the NCE

July 11, 2022—All renewals of cloud services licensing business to be renewed in the NCE

Bookmark this blog and subscribe to our Microsoft Tech Insights to receive continual updates, FAQs, and announcements about the NCE for Microsoft cloud subscriptions through Connection.

What It Takes to Be a Great Connection... Jan 11, 2022 Andrew Plewa

Connection Account Managers act as a point of contact for customers—building long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships, and always striving to find the products which best fit individual customer needs. Are you passionate about serving customers? Have you got what it takes? Find out more about the daily life of a Connection Account Manager!

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

Our Account Managers work with clients to solve IT needs—discussing ongoing projects, using Connection’s team of subject matter experts to create hardware, software, and service-related quotes, and statement of work. Additionally, you will research and call new organizations to grow your business.

What do you learn when you start as a Connection Account Manager?

You will gain a firm understanding of what Connection can offer to fulfill customers’ IT needs. Develop patience and determination to successfully meet expectations and deliver value to all of your customers.

What are the most challenging aspects of the job?

Account Managers are always challenged to be patient, determined, and focused.

What makes a good Account Manager?

Be the hardest working person in the room and make yourself accountable. It’s also important to under-promise and over-deliver with every client interaction. The time and energy you devote to this will help you accumulate clients along your tenure.

Any advice for newcomers?

Count small wins every day! Success is just a culmination of small wins each day. Small wins are tangible progress points that show that you are on the way to reaching your goals. Be determined to succeed and work at it!

Connection Recognized by Women’s Forum of... Jan 06, 2022 Connection

Connection was recently honored by the Women’s Forum of New York at its sixth biennial Breakfast of Corporate Champions for our work promoting diversity and gender parity in the boardroom. The Women’s Forum’s “Corporate Board Initiative” recognizes S&P 500 and Fortune 1000 companies that meet, or exceed, 35% representation of board seats held by women. As we continue to strive for gender parity, we are proud of our efforts and pledge to continue our work promoting diversity in the boardroom and throughout our company.

About the Women’s Forum of New York

The Women’s Forum of New York is a network of women leaders representing the highest levels of professional achievement across all sectors, industries, and spheres of influence in New York City. In 2021, the Forum founded their Corporate Board Initiative to accelerate the advancement of women on corporate boards across all industry sectors. The initiative focuses on the game-changers: CEOs, Chairman, Nom./Gov. chairs, and Directors who can truly accelerate the advancement of women on boards, with the overarching goal of achieving gender balance on corporate boards by 2025.

Learn more about their initiative.

TechSperience Episode 100: Windows 11 Is Here Jan 04, 2022 Connection

Windows 11 Pro has arrived. Why should you make the switch? Listen in for more information on what you can expect from the upgrade—features, timelines, security, and more.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest 1: Burt Kersey, Lenovo Channel Account Executive

Guest 2: Ashley Lofaro, Microsoft OEM Senior Partner Development Specialist

Show Notes:

[00:19] Introduction of guests

[00:43] What are some of the promises of Windows 11?

[02:49] What can we expect from Lenovo devices as we start seeing Windows 11 roll out?

[06:00] What can we expect from the graphics interface of Windows 11?

[06:49] Can we set up custom desktops based on what you’re using with Windows 11?

[08:30] What’s the timeline for Windows 11 adoption and what are the conversations you hope to be happening during the transition?

[10:30] Are machines bought within the last year likely to accept Windows 11?

[13:55] What do teams that recently made a move to Windows 10 need to consider?

[14:53] What do teams that recently made a move to Windows 7 need to consider?

[15:46] What if a team buys Windows 11 machines, but needs to be on Windows 10 for a period of time?

[16:22] What are some things we can expect from hardware manufacturers like Lenovo to integrate with the security in Windows 11?

[19:30] What should IT teams be considering while looking at their networks before rolling out a more robust OS?

[21:51] What type of conversations do you anticipate you’ll be having with teams looking into Windows 11?

[24:08] Is there something that Lenovo is looking at from a supply chain perspective to get customers the gear they need to support Windows 11?

TechSperience Episode 99: Addressing QSR... Dec 30, 2021 Connection

Learn how Connection's partnership with Elo can help to address the new changes within the QSR industry, including staffing shortages, changes in customer demand and behavior, and supply chain issues.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest 1: Brian Gallagher, Retail Strategy Director, Connection

Brian is a Retail veteran who has spent the past 5 years supporting the adoption of new technologies in retail to deliver amazing experiences to customers and employees.

Guest 2: Luke Wilwerding, Sr. Director of NA Sales, Elo

With over 20 years of interactive technology experience, Luke is at the forefront of innovation as retail customers create new shopping journeys that push engagement, creativity, information, and commerce.  Elo solutions can be found across all verticals, with many of its' over 25 million installations deployed in many of the most popular retail chains and luxury brand stores across the globe. Working with some of the biggest retailers around the world, Luke is in a unique position to understand what’s coming next in retail.

Show Notes:

[0:38] Introduction of guests

[1:28] What industry trends were QSRs seeing in early 2020?

[4:40] In mid-2020, how did the retail industry adapt to Covid-19?

[8:45] From a supply chain standpoint, what technology inventory began to run low as a result of Covid-19?

[10:45] Have the changes been beneficial from a customer standpoint?

[16:38] How can kiosks help with new and evolving employee responsibilities?

[18:30] How can Elo products support the new POS capabilities needed?

[21:01] What's it like to manage the complexities that new technology products bring?

[23:56] What impact would adopting new POS systems have on retailers' networks?

[25:45] What products are available to improve QSR employee productivity?

[29:00] How has the ease of use of employee technology products improved?

[34:52] What's the experience look like when customers start the conversation with Elo?[36:53] What's an innovation that you expect in the coming months to a year in the QSR space?

5 Healthcare Technology Trends for 2022 Dec 30, 2021 Alexis Ford

COVID-19 created change in the healthcare industry that will persist in the years to come. The pandemic has caused patients, providers, and payers to become increasingly accepting of new technologies that alleviate workplace stress and facilitate better patient care amid industry challenges.

One such challenge is the mass exodus of healthcare workers who retired early or are leaving the field due to the pandemic. Of course, even before COVID-19, healthcare struggled with workforce shortages and burnout. As far back as 2005, 75 percent of nurses were attributing workplace stress and insufficient patient care to workforce shortages.

However, there is hope for the future. The pandemic served as a call to action for a new eager generation of aspiring providers, creating an uptick in medical school applications. Overall, applications to medical schools increased by 18 percent in 2021, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, with some schools seeing application surges as high as 35 percent more than the previous year.

This new generation of healthcare providers has a different relationship with technology, not only because many medical schools are integrating technology into their curriculum but because they have grown up in a world perpetuated by technology. Given this relationship, they will be even more open to innovative and technology-driven solutions.

Among these solutions, here are the top five for 2022 that are making the future of healthcare better for everyone.

1. Taking Telehealth to the Edge

Telehealth has always existed on the fringes of healthcare, but the pandemic made it the default mode of patient-provider interaction. Even with the return of in-person visits, telehealth use has increased 38 fold from pre-pandemic levels, as patients and providers alike enjoy the flexibility of having the option for virtual appointments.

Telehealth generates enormous amounts of data. Much of this comes from connected technologies, like sensors and Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices. In order for telehealth to continue to expand and provide value, facilities need to invest in edge computing where the massive amount of decentralized data generated by telehealth can be processed and analyzed in real time.

Edge computing reduces the amount of bandwidth required for processing and storing massive amounts of data across telehealth technologies. It also minimizes latency for faster decision-making and communications among providers and patients, which is especially critical for situations where every second counts.

Democratize Healthcare at the Edge

Telehealth creates new opportunities for patients who live in “care deserts,” or 30 or more miles away from quality healthcare. Eighty percent of U.S. counties lack access to some form of essential care, but telehealth enables patients to receive these services no matter where they live.

With nearly 75 percent of all doctor, urgent care, and ER visits able to be safely and effectively handled by telemedicine, access to telehealth in rural areas could help close a longtime health gap.

Telehealth programs, including remote monitoring, can be implemented without edge computing. However, without an investment in edge computing, telehealth data must be pushed to a centralized location such as a provider’s data center or a major cloud provider. Unfortunately, processing telehealth data at a centralized location is slower and bandwidth intensive. 

With edge computing, data is processed close to the point of creation which limits the amount of bandwidth and time required to support a modern telehealth initiative.

Edge computing also makes new technologies such as remote patient monitoring more accessible. IoMT-connected monitoring devices can provide information on patients wherever they are, at the facility or at home. When applied to telehealth scenarios, providers and patients benefit from the real-time data access provided by edge computing. For example, a doctor can be video conferencing a patient while also receiving health data, allowing them to better assess patient complaints and provide an educated treatment plan.

Additionally, remote monitoring devices boost patient outcomes by empowering patients to take control of their health. With these devices, they can monitor their own vitals, make their medication regimen work around their schedule, and send their physician updates.

Connection's Telemedicine Solutions can help you take telehealth to the edge, providing you and your patients with more convenient, safe, and collaborative healthcare tools.

2. Smart Data Processing with AI/ML

In addition to facilitating telehealth, an edge investment enables better performance of AI/ML implementations (artificial intelligence and machine learning) and big data initiatives. Running AI/ML efforts close to the point of data creation enables a provider to identify patterns locally and streamline training models for faster processing and improved accuracy.

86 percent of healthcare professionals whose organizations have adopted AI found that the technology helped them make better use of data, and 79 percent said it helped them reduce provider burnout by automating tedious back-office tasks.

There are several ways AI/ML can move the healthcare industry forward. But research and development, population health management, and revenue cycle management are key emerging areas where organizations are unlocking the benefits of this technology.

Accelerate Research

AI can improve cancer identification by looking at samples and identifying abnormal areas faster and more accurately than humans can. For example, Children’s Health of Orange County is working to build an edge infrastructure to support an AI initiative that helps clinicians provide faster and more accurate diagnoses.

Boost Accuracy for Population Health Management

In 2019, only 21 percent of healthcare organizations were using analytics to manage population health at scale. But with smart data processing at the edge, the trend is growing.

Edge computing allows for fast analysis and integration of health data with other socioeconomic and environmental data, providing insights about whether a patient is at-risk, likely to be readmitted, or struggles with noncompliance. With this information, providers can make more informed treatment decisions and make better long-term care plans. 

Automate and Analyze: Revenue Collection

Payment and claims management is a burden for any provider. Efficiently designed AI/ML initiatives can lighten this burden.

AI can automate processes that previously were handled manually on a case-by-case basis. For example, prior authorizations are the most burdensome, transaction-heavy parts of the revenue cycle, requiring staff to complete a series of repetitive tasks. AI can alleviate the burden on providers by automating these steps and anticipating changes on future authorizations. 

Claims departments are utilizing ML in a similar way. On average, health claims have a 9 percent denial rate. ML can be used to learn why claims are being denied, apply intelligence during claim review, flag missing information, and prompt human interference. This allows the system to predict which claims will be denied and correct the situation before they are ever submitted.

3. A Wider Playing Field for Robotics

Surgical robots have been around since the 1980s, first offering surgeons assistance in the operating room via robotic arms. Surgical assist capabilities in robotics have evolved to allow procedures to be done with minimal invasiveness, reducing recovery time and mitigating infection risk.

Today, with increased network optimization, faster processing speeds (with edge or 5G), and heightened security, robotics-assisted healthcare procedures can be completed in a wider array of locations.

Alleviate Labor Shortages

Healthcare robots have spread from the surgical theater to other parts of the industry, mitigating the workforce shortage by performing simple but time-consuming tasks to free up workers to focus on patient care.

AI will continue to support this increased emphasis on robotics by allowing human-supervised robots to act more autonomously, performing surgeries, moving freely about the hospital to perform tasks, such as linen transportation, disinfection, and even patient interaction.

Enhance Workplace Infection Control

Healthcare robotics played a large role during the pandemic, checking patients for fever, disinfecting hospital rooms, and delivering medicine and food. Robots are also playing a larger role in patient care. Robots equipped with screens and specialized sensors can be used to interact with patients without putting providers and other patients at risk of infection.

Facilitate Operations Management

Behind the scenes, robotics help with logistics, inventory tracking, and supply management. Today, this looks like robots navigating elevators and hospital floors to transport medication and supplies throughout the facility.

However, trends are moving toward robots playing a more crucial role in supply chain management in the future, facilitating initiatives like perpetual inventory and strategic sourcing.

4. Without Security There Is Only Instability

Healthcare systems became a primary target for cybercriminals amid the pandemic. Rushed technology adoption and organization changes left them vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks. These attacks are detrimental not only for compliance reasons, but they can also completely disrupt operations by forcing a hospital or an entire healthcare system to move its network offline and resort to pen and paper, putting patients at risk.

In the last year, there have been 706 major healthcare data breaches (over 500 records), compromising the healthcare data of more 44 million individuals.

While technologies and tools such as robotics, IoMT, and advanced data computing provide exciting new opportunities in the realm of healthcare, they also provide potential vulnerability points for ransomware attacks.

To combat cybersecurity attacks, organizations must build more resilient centralized networks, fortify infrastructure, ensure device security, and work in best-of-breed cloud configurations. Connection can help protect your data, manage your mobile devices and network, and migrate seamlessly to the cloud.

5. Improving Surgical Outcomes through AR/VR

The use of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) is growing in the surgical arena and post-op recovery, currently being used in state-of-art facilities. AR augments what is seen in reality by using image overlays and location-specific information, while VR creates a new digital environment that replaces the current real world. AR and VR differ in their healthcare applications, but they are both being used to improve surgery and post-op care.

Minimize Invasive Procedures

When performing surgery, a surgeon typically uses an anatomical roadmap gleaned from 2D imaging, such as scans and x-rays. This acts as a terrific guide when performing an open surgery where the patient’s anatomy is exposed. But today more surgeries are being performed using less invasive means to lessen recovery times and mitigate infection risk.

AR can be used to provide crucial visuals to guide surgeons during less invasive procedures. By creating a 3D rendering of a patient’s anatomy and superimposing it on their live video feed, AR gives surgeons much more detail during an operation.

For example, smart glasses combine medical image processing with 3D AR visualizations. That way, an orthopedic surgeon can perform minimally invasive procedures more accurately by projecting three-dimensional representations of the patient’s internal anatomy into the surgeon’s limited field of view.

Enable Better Practice and Education Opportunities

Surgeons can also use these 3D renderings to practice their surgery beforehand. For example, Medivis uses a combination of AR and AI imaging to provide surgeons with a 3D holographic visualization of a patient’s anatomy, allowing the surgeon to create a plan and even practice procedures beforehand.

VR is emerging as a vital training tool for our next generation of surgeons. Using goggles and headsets, students can be taken on a 3D tour of the human body while an instructor narrates. Furthermore, VR can be used to educate patients and alleviate anxiety by showing them exactly what’s going on in their body and how a surgery will be performed.

During surgery, a physician using an AR tool can enable remote access for expert colleagues, residents, or students to see what they’re seeing and hearing and offer feedback. It can similarly be used for patient rounds.

Improve Pain Management

Another area where VR is emerging as a potential solution is pain management. In this scenario, VR works as an interactive distraction, encouraging patients to manage their breathing or focus on what’s in front of them rather than the pain.

During COVID, Hoag Hospital treated nearly 200 inpatients with VR technology and asked them to rate their pain before and after a 15–30 minute session. The results were encouraging, with patients reporting lower pain levels and showing decreased activity on MRI scans of pain-processing areas of the brain.

This study and the growing body of research indicate that VR is a promising, risk-free pain management solution that could even abate the use of opioids.

Prepare for the Future of Care

As the healthcare industry becomes more comfortable with technology, what are now revolutionary trends will become commonplace in the years to come. But healthcare organizations shouldn’t wait until then to start exploring.

At Connection, we help healthcare organizations prepare for the future of care by providing the tools and guidance they need to implement edge infrastructure, AI/ML, robotics, and other innovations successfully and without compromising security. Get the most from your technology investments and make your organization better for your patients, providers, and the communities you serve. If you are interested in learning more about how Connection can help your organization implement the technologies discussed in this blog, connect with one of our healthcare experts today!

2022 Retail Technology Trends Dec 28, 2021 Brian Gallagher

As painful as 2020 was for retail, the lessons learned may have saved the industry from long-term doom. Retailers were forced to think differently. Forced to drop the lessons learned over decades of prior success. Forced to accept a new world and the new expectations of consumers. 2021 became the ultimate testing ground for retailers to understand the true relationship between shifting customer expectations and the ROI available to the business.

I believe that history will look back at 2020 and 2021 as one of the most meaningful 24-month periods in the history of modern retail. 24 months that have defined what our customers expect and what our employees will demand. While not all retailers will embrace these lessons, the lessons are clear.

Everyone is looking forward to returning to normal and moving past the pandemic. Here are 5 key technologies that retailers should embrace in the new age of retail.

  1. Smart stores improve experience and optimize available labor: We all understand the new age of smart homes. The same concepts are now an expectation for consumers who engage in retail across so many different channels. The amazing thing about a smart store is the ability to meet customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) expectations at the same time.
    Smart store technologies are wide reaching, but some of the most impactful areas include AI, CameraVision, and IoT Devices. AI solutions that allow business to react in non-linear ways to elevate a shopping experience are creating the new “WOW” experience. CameraVision is driving new digital marketing, checkout, and security solutions. IoT devices are eliminating mundane tasks and activating more productive employee activities. It sounds scary, but in reality these solutions are attainable and can provide amazing new experiences for customers and employees.

  2. Store associates need mobile technology upgrades to support CX and EX: We can all agree that we live in a mobile world. We must also see that mobile retail is our best opportunity to engage employees, support customer expectations, and deliver results. There are approximately 6.4 billion smartphone users worldwide in 2021 and retailers need to embrace this world across all positions within the brand. As new employees are hired, how do they want to learn? Mobile. As employees are communicating with each other and customers, how do they want to communicate? Mobile. When a customer engages an employee either digitally or in-person, how do they expect to be serviced? Mobile. The savviest retailers will look to elevate the role of associates in the overall store experience through mobile technologies.

  3. Omnichannel experience must be seamless and accurate: Having an omnichannel strategy no longer simply means operating both a brick-and-mortar location and an online store. The pandemic allowed every retailer to understand how the digital and physical presence work together in a new model. Customers expect to meet uniform and engaging shopping experiences across channels, including websites, various marketplaces, and social media platforms. The key for retailers now is blending these digital and physical experiences to meet consumers where they are and how they want to engage. It should be easy for them to find the product they want, order, checkout, and receive it, when they want.

    This seamless Omnichannel strategy requires a highly integrated technology model combining real-time information shared securely across hundreds of networks with hundreds of potential customer engagement points. Meet the customer where they are with accurate and meaningful experiences.

  4. New ways to pay are not optional: It may seem impossible that payment methods are changing so rapidly. It was just 5 short years ago that EMV was required and, now, the number of payment options are exploding. It seems like out of nowhere Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) solutions have exploded in popularity with major retailers like Walmart and Macy’s. By using BNPL apps that are integrated into a retailer’s checkout, customers can shop with thousands of stores, receive an order right away, and pay for it over six weeks—completely interest-free. It’s just one more example of how retailers are responding to changes in consumer shopping habits.

    Customers want convenience and it’s now one of the main experiences that retailers can provide. These payment models are only going to continue to grow in popularity—benefiting merchants who adopt the solutions early and begin the process of educating customers on the benefits of these interest-free payment options.

  5. Networking and security infrastructure is priority: Finally, the foundation of our new digital world can take center stage. For years, retail’s CIOs and CSOs have begged for investment. They warned of the ramifications to both customer experience and business productivity if smart investments were not supported. It’s good news, sort of. Investments will be made to support all of these exploding technologies. But retailers must now invest in infrastructure, while also implementing these new technologies at the same time. The digital foundation has never been more critical.

Prioritizing and implementing all of this technology is a heavy lift for most lean IT retail organizations. Identifying the right partners to support fast and efficient deployment will be the key to all digital success. A great partner like Connection can support our new retail digital world from conceptual design through configuration and deployment.

If you’d like to talk more about how these technologies can impact your business or how Connection can help bring them to life, please contact us today!

Connection Celebrates the Season of Giving Dec 21, 2021 Connection

Generosity takes on many forms in Connection culture. Whether it is employees donating unused Paid Time Off to coworkers going through a difficult time, taking advantage of the Volunteer Time Off program to give back to their community, or organizing fundraisers, our employees always come together to help those in need.

This holiday season, as part of our Connection Cares program, our team organized two initiatives to help us give back to our communities. We partnered with One Warm Coat, a non-profit organization dedicated to keeping people warm, to collect coats for children and adults in need. The goal was to motivate employees to donate gently worn coats of all sizes at one of our locations or make a monetary donation online to help us raise $1,000 toward this initiative. Connection employees rose to the occasion to support our first coat drive and we are thrilled to report that we have collected hundreds of coats and raised $4,700 in donations. Thanks to everyone who helped our neighbors in need by supporting this drive!

Our employees also had the chance to do something great for the kids this holiday season. Since November, we have been collecting new toy donations and funds for our toy drive initiative benefiting the Toys for Tots Foundation. This year, our team collected hundreds of new toys and raised more than $3,000 to help brighten the holidays for deserving children.

We are incredibly proud of our team and their commitment to helping those in need. To support their efforts—and our communities—Connection has pledged an additional $10,000 in corporate funds to our employees’ holiday donation campaign, contributing $5,000 to both the One Warm Coat and Toys for Tots programs.  

We love and always look for opportunities to get involved with great causes like these, especially in time for the holidays—when giving is so important. For more information on the ways we get involved in serving our communities, check out our Connection Cares page.

VMware Workspace ONE: Enhancing and Securing... Dec 20, 2021 Kaitlin Sherman

Working 9 to 5 in the office is quickly becoming a standard of the past as more companies are adopting modern practices like remote work opportunities and bring-your-own device programs. While these new opportunities are enticing for employees, the shift to remote work has posed unique challenges for IT, forcing already strained teams to rethink how to support new and varied environments. As usual, VMware is ahead of the game. When IT teams augment their environment with VMware’s Workspace ONE, managing and securing a diverse EUC environment becomes as smooth as silk. 

Unsurprisingly, security remains a top concern for most organizations. In Gartner’s latest report, The Top 8 Security Risks and Trends We’re Watching, securing the increase of remote workers and devices poses the biggest security threat to companies. Legacy tools simply cannot keep up with a stream of increasing users, endpoints, and apps as they lack visibility into off-network PCs. When 95% of breaches originate at endpoint units, security protocols must be flexible, scalable, and agile. VMware’s Workspace ONE alleviates several security issues by replacing siloed management tools with a single cloud-based modern management system complete with intelligent automation and a familiar console. Further, Workspace ONE replaces the tedious task of configuring policies by providing 100% cloud policy management that can be deployed in minutes anywhere at any time. Off-network PCs are now visible with Workspace ONE, and patching is kept up to date.

It is impossible to discuss the management of remote workers without delving into the topic of cost. Legacy infrastructure is designed to manage devices on the company network, and it’s clear that business is trending more and more towards remote work in the future. Because of this, teams are required to spend more time and money to deploy, manage, and support the increasing volume and variety of remote devices. Workspace ONE streamlines device setup and management by utilizing features like policy templates, pre-packaged applications, automation, and drop ship. The below table demonstrates the full power of Workspace ONE’s time and cost savings to organizations.

Source: Traditional vs. Modern Management, VMware

Possibly the most overlooked aspect of remote work is the employee experience. Modern employees want a seamless experience while using familiar devices. Legacy systems create disjointed and inconsistent delivery of apps and services, resulting in employee dissatisfaction and frustration. By implementing Workspace ONE, employees can connect and use all devices seamlessly from day one by using single sign-on. Most rewarding for both employee and IT teams alike is the ability to recover devices, gain insight into device performance, and provide support without needing to access the physical device.

In short, adopting Workspace ONE alleviates more than one pain point. It allows organizations to deploy, manage, secure, and troubleshoot all devices—whether remote or not—through one familiar management platform. Named Gartner’s Leader in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Endpoint Management, Workspace ONE provides businesses and employees alike with a clear path to continued development and success.

To learn more about the benefits of VMware Workspace ONE, you can download this free white paper. [link to white paper is in turn-in]

Azure Chaos Studio: The Art of Predicting... Dec 17, 2021 Leandro Rocha

At the beginning of November 2021, Microsoft made a lot of announcements at Ignite, and one of those that caught my attention was the Azure Chaos Studio. The Azure Chaos Studio is a managed service for improving resilience by injecting faults into your Azure applications.

Chaos engineering first became relevant at Internet companies that were pioneering large-scale distributed systems. For example, in 2010, Netflix decided to leverage the Chaos methodology to answer their demand to move from physical infrastructure to AWS cloud and help them make their services more resilient. This would help them avoid downtime, as failure of individual components in the cloud architecture would not necessarily compromise the availability of the entire system.

Inject Failure to Prevent Failure

Chaos engineering leverages the failure injection to proactively test how an application or system responds under stress, so you can identify and fix failures before they end up in costly outages. It is essential to highlight that the failure injection process doesn’t happen randomly without a purpose. Instead, it is a well-defined and formalized scientific method of experimentation that provides several benefits to distributed systems and microservices. The failure injection is categorized into five levels: resource, network and dependencies, application, process and service, infrastructure, and people.

The experiments could be applied to help with things you are aware of and understand, something you are aware of but don’t fully understand, things you understand but are not aware of, and things you are neither aware of nor fully understand. There are no limits to Chaos experiments. The type of tests you run depends on the architecture of your distributed system and business goals. The most common Chaos known tests are used to simulate the failure of a micro-component, turning a server off to see how a dependency reacts, simulating a high CPU load, producing latency between services, emulating I/O errors, and producing sudden traffic spikes.

Controlled Chaos 

The Chaos principles should be applied continuously to help you expose issues early. Ideally, it would help to leverage that when deploying new code, adding dependencies, observing changes in usage patterns, and mitigating problems. According to the 2021 State of Chaos Engineering report, the most common outcomes of Chaos engineering are increased availability, lower mean time to resolution (MTTR), lower mean time to detection (MTTD), fewer bugs shipped to product, and fewer outages. In addition, teams who frequently run Chaos engineering experiments are more likely to have >99.9% availability.

Nowadays, large tech companies such as LinkedIn, Meta (formerly Facebook), Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and more traditional industries like banking and finance are practicing Chaos engineering to understand their distributed systems and microservice architectures better and help them ensure the reliability of every new feature.

As a Microsoft Azure Expert MSP, our Cloud Solution Architects and Engineers have the knowledge and experience to help you reduce disruptions by improving the reliability and availability of your Azure applications leveraging Chaos engineering experiments. Let’s get in touch and dive into the Chaos engineering conversation and see how it can help you evolve in your cloud deployments

Manufacturing in 2022: Not Accelerating... Dec 15, 2021 Ryan Spurr

Some people will insist on introducing new concepts or rebranded terminology with their 2022 predictions, but let’s be clear: that’s all hype, as little of significance has changed. Don’t get me wrong. There are many advancements in all sorts of enabling technologies relevant to manufacturing operations and information technology. The real momentum is less about any individual technology and more about what is fundamentally changing within the sector, and I can assure you that it’s not technology-driven.

What has changed is the culmination of business headwinds, a need for competitive advantage, and a heightened appetite for change. What does this all boil down to? Acceleration.

Digital Transformation Is Ramping Up

Before the pandemic, there was a great deal of hype around smart manufacturing. Still, most organizations were not addressing substantive technology convergence, adopting newer enabling technologies, or dramatically reshaping their business process to prepare for the future. Those that did pursue new technologies were primarily focused on small proof of concepts that by themselves didn’t scale or move the needle. 

The pandemic changed all preconceived notions and has struck a nerve in the manufacturing sector. It’s changing how leaders look at radical business change from workforce gaps to supply chain disruption to meeting demand in new ways. Starting with the pre-pandemic trade wars, workforce shortages, and growing global competition, the pandemic only catalyzed the already in-motion undercurrents in manufacturing. This is why “74% of CEOs say their organizations are pursuing large-scale digital transformation initiatives” as they grapple with offsetting headwinds, building more flexible and resilient operations, or gaining competitive advantage in the future. 

The various market forces are quickly changing how organizations address business change and technology adoption. Together, they point to the need for a larger vision, alignment with organizational change and departmental needs, and the intersection of technology at a scale and velocity we haven't seen for decades in this industry. The adoption of new business models and processes, accompanied by enabling technology, will accelerate in 2022 as manufacturers play catchup or seek to lead.

Convergence: It’s Past Time to Integrate OT and IT

What good is accelerating next-generation technologies like sensors, machine vision, artificial intelligence, remote management, and industrial IoT platforms if manufacturers haven't created an OT/IT integrated infrastructure? 

The stark reality is that most organizations haven't come to terms with the infrastructure divide between operations and information technology. In fact, some in the marketplace are theorizing the days of the IT department might be numbered. Will IT play a role in the future of technology and process? Or will business units adopt entirely new strategies for their digital future? Whatever the case, the future is a fully integrated technology company despite which organizations own it. This future has integrated infrastructure and focuses on digitally native processes, workforce optimization, and client experience.

Converged networks and infrastructure will lead to expanded productivity, create environments employees want to work in, and establish new competitive advantages. The near-term future will comprise a fully integrated environment that will unlock data silos, support the scale of smart technology pilots, and create a value-chain more resilient and focused on long term optimization.

The investment must include infrastructure that meets the needs of operations (think uptime, resilience, speed, and configuration control) and information technology (access management, visibility, and threat reduction). Today, solutions exist that make convergence achievable while also meeting the vast needs of multiple departments. Convergence is one of the most stark changes underway as it lays the foundation for years of continuous improvement, and next year will only see this trend accelerate.

One Buzzword Allowed: Hyper Automation

What would a prediction be without a buzzword? While I’m not usually a fan of them, I love Gartner’s coined phrase “hyper automation” because I think it articulates the expansion of automation in today’s manufacturers, encompassing it both in breadth and depth. For organizations that rely on Lean/Six Sigma methodologies, there remains a massive amount of waste in most manufacturing processes. The headwinds associated with the post-pandemic world are great catalysts for long-term change no manufacturer should let pass by. If uncertain about whether to capitalize on automation in this time of change, you only need to look at research that shows that Industry 4.0 technologies coupled with process change can raise productivity by up to 40% and create a more flexible factory. Those organizations that capitalize on automation will outperform their peers and create sustained competitive advantage while mitigating today’s business challenges. 

Automation isn’t always about robots—many other approaches allow manufacturers to automate their way to success. The first area of expected growth is office automation and includes automating back-office processes, tasks, and low-value activities across applications, platforms, and businesses. Over time, these small automation activities (whether organization-wide or democratized to employees) will free up traditional workers to focus on higher-value tasks and fuel productivity improvements in areas of the business where it’s long been stalled.

The second area expected to grow is in the form of industrial automation. While it’s been around in various forms for decades, the modern version will see a world that breaks down traditional OT expectations connecting both industrial controls systems, facilities, workers, and different IoT technologies into a single interconnected platform. This will enable manufacturers to integrate everything to reduce human error and waste, augment workforce gaps, improve quality, and streamline operations in a whole new way that isn’t just limited to the factory. 

Expect automation to be one of the most prominent trends for many years to come. It will mitigate many of today’s business challenges while readying organizations to scale with demand in the out years.

More Integration: Data and Edge Technology

74% of leaders are looking to tackle existing data silos, whether connecting operational technology for the first time or delivering data to different internal stakeholders. With infrastructure convergence, improved industrial security, and next-generation automation solutions, the next critical element remaining is the acceleration of data acquisition 

Data acquisition is hugely important and will challenge the traditional SCADA-only or siloed operational infrastructure model. Gaining competitive advantage isn’t just about real-time visibility and insight for plant workers on the floor—it’s also necessary to bring valuable data to the supply chain, material planners, design engineers, producibility engineers, quality engineers, and other up or downstream employees.

Unlocking data across the value chain will empower employees to tackle everyday business challenges and enable entirely new solutions. Many of those new solutions will integrate and operate at the edge. Edge solutions might include machine vision or artificial intelligence or fuel advancements into how business systems and workers integrate with the factory. 

Tapping into data to drive workforce visibility will unlock new solutions typically considered a no pursuit and create a wildly more flexible and resilient manufacturing organization. With continued uncertainty of the long-term impact of the pandemic, workforce and supply chain disruptions, and a rapidly changing employee model, expect data and edge integration to be a critical focus area for manufacturers.

It Always Comes Back to Security

Security was a huge focus in 2021, mainly because cybersecurity attacks propelled manufacturing to the second most targeted industry in 2020. Security will continue to be a critical investment in 2022 for similar reasons, but due to the acceleration of the very platforms and technologies driving business change and how those technologies will introduce new risks as companies converge infrastructure and vertically integrate data across enterprise infrastructure. 

Spending surveys indicate IT budgets are increasing and forecast how companies are taking this joint investment in new technologies and cybersecurity seriously and incrementally investing 2022 budget in accounting for such risks. In traditional IT cybersecurity solutions, companies are also funding industrial security hardware, software, and services to ensure that the historical gaps in industrial security are not exposed going forward.

In the end, security is as vital as ever. Integrated OT/IT security budgets, investments into managed cybersecurity solutions, and improvements in overall security hygiene from networks to monitoring to response will all accelerate in 2022.

Invest in Your Workforce to Ensure Productivity

When it comes to the tools manufacturing frontline employees use, let’s be honest—for decades, most manufacturing operations have placed less value on the technology this portion of the workforce uses. In the past, it might have made sense. Operations were largely manual tasks filled by a never-ending supply of low-cost or replaceable labor. Technology inserted into the factory is also cost-allocated back to product costs so that less technology may support higher profit margins. 

Today and into the future, technology is quickly becoming the standard for achieving competitive advantage, critical to attracting and retaining a workforce, and an ever essential means to improving productivity. So it is crucial that we not forget about the committed and trusted workforce that remains. 

We must also recognize that job roles and the type of work we ask our employees to execute will also shift. For example, many frontline workers’ “activity is becoming more digitized and automated, which calls for higher-level skills—and upgrading existing jobs to attract the next generation of workers.”Offices may have been forever altered, but factories must continue to operate. We must recognize that people are not going away. For most manufacturing subindustries, the utopia of a “lights out” factory is unachievable. Manufacturers will continue to rely upon employees to conduct operations with or without automated solutions in place. It’s essential that we reskill, upskill, and enable the workforce with productive, intuitive, and purpose-built technologies that make it easier for them to perform their job duties while also supporting an innovative and technology-rich environment that attracts and retains the best talent.

The future is unwritten but what is certain is the manufacturing industry is under tremendous pressure to change. “A digitally progressive organization is a future-ready organization that's able to pivot, scale up or down, and maintain stability” amongst competitive landscapes as well as disruptive forces. Those companies that take on today’s challenges with a multifaceted business process and technology investment strategy will indeed outperform their competitors in the short and long term. Connection’s Manufacturing Practice understands the acceleration of foundational technologies and investment into a mix of smart technologies is sure to focus on manufacturing 

Managing Factory Equipment from Anywhere Dec 09, 2021 Ryan Spurr

Before the pandemic, there was a trend of shifting engineering to a “shared engineering service” model. This was largely driven by the need to attract and retain talent in the form of a workplace benefit, or a consolidation effort, as previously seen with organizational constructs like IT or procurement services groups. More specifically, this effort involved locating engineers in places where they desired to live, and where there were robust workforce pools and educational institutions versus placing engineers in remote locations across the country where factories resided.

During the pandemic, with engineers and support resources sent home, a different trend emerged. Rather than being concerned with attractive workplace locations, the need for engineers to work from anywhere was focused on keeping the workforce healthy while also keeping the factory operational. 

The truth is that both work approaches have long been used in some fashion to provide employees or top talent with degrees of flexibility, albeit on a lesser scale or case by case basis. Fast forward to today, when we find both approaches are leading to systemic and essential changes in how modern manufacturing companies operate. Manufacturers must deliver both workforce flexibility (aka, work from anywhere) and the need to provide resilient operations (aka, engineers manage machinery from anywhere). 

Connect IT with OT

It’s impossible to connect the factory and its equipment with engineers when many of the equipment isn’t connected or integrated with IT. OT/IT convergence is quickly becoming a top priority for manufacturing leaders as they seek to create a more vertically integrated company capable of driving smart manufacturing initiatives at scale.

Modern operational infrastructure and security are essential to connecting critical equipment to the balance of the enterprise, as well as engineers working from anywhere. According to Forrester, manufacturers will increase investment into smart factory infrastructure by 40% in 2022.
Therefore it’s important to consider the underlying infrastructure from industrial networking, industrial security, edge compute, and industrial IoT (IIoT) software necessary to properly connect, integrate, and automate the factory with the balance of the technical estate. Topics include east-west traffic management, industrial deep packet inspection, industrial protocol support, integration with corporate SIEM/SOC for monitoring of potential security threats, and the kind of hardware support that advantages a factory’s high availability needs and organizational requirements.

Provide Engineers with Real-time Data Visibility 

It’s critical for engineers (whether facilities, maintenance, or industrial controls) to keep tabs on their machines, sensors, and other smart products. Relying on traditional air-gapped SCADA platforms or onsite inspections limits engineers’ effectiveness in the modern remote or resilient environment.  Engineers (and all support roles realistically) should have real-time access to key data and machine health. 

Therefore, in addition to connecting equipment or operations with IT, it’s crucial to also focus on data acquisition in the production line and environment systems. The heterogeneous nature of factories implies implementing modern Industrial IoT (IIoT) platforms capable of connecting with almost any industrial machine. These solutions must support a wide range of device drivers and industrial protocols. They must also be capable of quickly integrating devices and protocols natively with IT solutions, including data center, cloud services, and remote monitoring to mobile devices or any company-owned asset used by employees. 

Accessing and Controlling Your Industrial Equipment

Connecting and controlling industrial equipment is another focus for remote teams. For example, today's solutions offer engineers the ability to connect securely to industrial equipment or smart machines to monitor, troubleshoot, and take action with the PLC or device itself and manage a fleet of edge compute solutions in the factory or field-deployed smart products.

While connecting and controlling machines is essential, so is the ability to monitor, troubleshoot, or conduct kaizen events remotely visually. The powers of observation still play an indispensable role in designing, building, deploying, and supporting equipment in factories, wherever they exist. The ability to use modern camera solutions, AR/remote collaboration headsets, and integration with the most common collaboration platforms also contributes to engineers’ improved and connected workplace.

The Future of Remote Factory Management

Whatever your company’s drivers for business change, engineering talent exists everywhere and includes salaried employees, contractors, and third parties. The need to connect engineers from anywhere is core to any future smart factory and modern technology strategy, a critical tool for the modern workforce and talent management, and essential to managing digitally integrated factories or smart products domestically and globally.

Connection’s Manufacturing Practice understands the challenges and goals in modernizing factories, exploring new smart product services, and how it all integrates with the larger IT and corporate  strategies. To learn more or to discuss remote management further, contact one of our manufacturing specialists today!

What’s Next for IT? Top Trends for 2022 Dec 07, 2021 Shawna Stewart

In 2020, we (albeit unexpectedly) were forced to move our infrastructure to support a remote workforce. In turn, 2021 compelled us to address how we collaborate and best work together in this new landscape. Now, in 2022, we can expect to see the priority shifting to the security of our new (and potentially vulnerable) networks. Combined with the continuing problem of ever-growing data challenges and privacy concerns, IT professionals will have their work cut out for them in 2022. Here is a peek at some of the things that may impact your business in the upcoming year.

Cybersecurity Mesh

Anyone in the IT industry knows that malware, cybersecurity, and other threats are increasing, and attacks are becoming more mature. Data growth is a big concern for 2022, but protecting your data should be one of your organization’s highest priorities. Because the “traditional” security perimeter is all but gone due to employees working remotely on a large-scale basis, this will lead organizations to make decisions that will have them viewing their security from a different angle. Organizations should be doing their best to respond to these attacks before they happen, where possible. Cybersecurity mesh, by definition, is a flexible architecture that brings together best of breed, standalone security solutions to work together to improve overall security.

The trick to cybersecurity mesh is understanding what level of security you want to have and how to get there from where you are now. The thought here is that organizations that adopt a cybersecurity mesh strategy will have integrated security that will allow for a productive, cooperative, and secure infrastructure and this will allow for a reduction of the costs involved when an isolated security attack occurs.

Data Fabric

Data is one of those things that is forever growing, and because of this, solutions are always required for simplification of said data, as well as complete access to it. Making clean and organized data available from multiple access points will remain on the list of technology priorities but finding this solution in a cost-effective manner is the continual roadblock. Considering the amount of data that grows year over year while dealing with the fact that skilled professionals in the data and analytics field remains relatively constant, finding appropriate people within an organization to handle this growth is a regular challenge. Data fabric is a 2022 trend, which effectively has been renamed with a new buzzword that is the most recent in a long line of trends that address the issue of “How do we deal with a constant data explosion in the most economical way?”  

Privacy-enhancing Computation

Loss of customer trust as a consequential result from privacy incidents and dealing with data protection and privacy legislation on the international stage is going to be, if it is not already, a priority for CIOs in 2022. Protection of personal and otherwise sensitive information from an IT department, whether it be a data issue or on a software or hardware level, and the analysis of infrastructures and allowing for information to be shared securely without violating confidentiality is the current landscape of concern over security. The main concern is, “How do we change our employees’ online behavior to keep our company protected from privacy legislation?”

Cloud-native Platforms

Cloud-native platforms use cloud computing to give organizations elastic and scalable capabilities to deliver faster value and reduced costs to the bottom line. Although this trend is something already in play in most organizations, it still has a lot of traction left, especially where organizations are trying to change their applications to be more resilient and manageable.  

AI Engineering

Information technology professionals need to utilize great effort to integrate AI within applications. This is accomplished with the Internet of Things, as well as AI engineering to operationalize artificial intelligence models. Unfortunately, there is a perception that as much as this is a valuable place to spend IT budget, many of these projects waste money and time on projects that never quite make it to the infrastructure. Also, many organizations do also have a hard time showing and retaining value from these solutions. AI engineering is an integrated approach for operationalizing AI models. 

One artificial intelligence technique is generative AI—machine learning approaches that learn about content and uses said data to create code and targeted marketing. This should be employed delicately, as it also opens the door to fraud and identity issues if not kept in check.

If you are concerned about these, or any other IT trends, please contact your Connection Account Manager. They can connect you with one of the skilled technology professional experts to help you to navigate the choppy waters of technology indecision and help put you on a path with the best possible move-forward strategy. 

What Making Decisions at the Edge Means for... Dec 02, 2021 Ryan Spurr

We hear so much about computing moving to the edge. Predictions like 75% of data will be created and processed outside of traditional centralized data centers leave us to wonder what future is there for the data center. Unlike past shifts, this doesn’t imply all compute will move from the data center to edge, just as it didn’t for edge to cloud. It means that today’s edge compute capabilities are significantly improved, integrate with more things, and act at the point where the process executes. Today’s edge can also pass relevant data up the stack to other stakeholders, including engineers, maintenance, supply chain, quality, and leadership. 

Contrast the technology predictions with corporate objectives, and this will make more sense why edge computing technologies are advancing in their adoption. According to a recent survey by Deloitte, 74% percent of CEOs say their organizations are pursuing large-scale digital transformation initiatives ranging from optimizing processes to addressing workforce shortages to creating a more resilient company. More important than any single rationale for change, the research indicated the path forward wasn't mutually exclusive. Today’s manufacturing leaders cannot select a single smart factory initiative by itself. Instead, leaders must identify multiple initiatives that ride along shared enabling technologies to deliver more significant long-term benefits for the business. 

The Move to the Edge

The future of manufacturing isn’t just ensuring your company is digitally connected. It’s augmenting your existing workforce to improve productivity, filling gaps due to labor shortages, creating a more sustainable organization, and developing a more competitive and resilient business. How is your organization tackling these business challenges? Is it looking to an integrated business strategy and leveraging enabling technologies effectively? Will your smart initiatives not only connect and integrate data, but also drive improved action by both employees and machines?

For those companies investing and reaching the “use” phase, 73% are leveraging data and edge automation to fuel industrial change. Beyond using this technology to connect heterogeneous devices across the factory, organizations can capitalize on automation and decision-making at the edge. It’s because of this value add that we see a future in edge compute and smart solutions. It’s also important to understand that not all use cases support “lights out manufacturing.” Improved decision-making at the edge can take two forms: autonomous and augmented workforce.

Augmented Workforce

Not all manufacturers have a workforce issue, and many do not view job elimination in alignment with their core values. This doesn’t mean automation isn’t possible—it’s just not the same use cases. There are many areas where automation can augment employees to reduce fatigue, stress, and mundane or error-prone tasks from a process. The truth is that some tasks aren’t a good fit for people. Eliminating non-value-added tasks leaves retained employees to focus on higher-value activities.

Examples of automation augmentation include paper elimination, data entry, or providing recommendations at the edge to operators from data gathered by equipment, environment, and business systems. These are a mix of monotonous tasks no employee really enjoys, along with data not typically available. Freed of boredom and empowered with meaningful insight, these valued employees can improve how machines operate through adjustments, observation, or experience to ensure their process area delivers better results for the company. And that’s good for business and employees.

People matter. Through augmentation, we can see a future where automation and valued employees co-exist by outfitting low-value positions with automation or augmenting existing roles with job aids. This action allows us to take those workers who choose to stay and invest and reskill them for new roles in the company while still meeting corporate goals and offsetting the broader workforce challenges.

Autonomous Workforce

On the other hand, if businesses continue to experience increasing no-show rates as well as labor churn, at some point, organizations must discern how to remain operational. Some manufacturers are already reaching a point where they must choose—wait to hire or pursue automation.

Automation doesn’t only mean robots. While robotics is always an option for the proper application, most manufacturers are full of waste in manual processes from traceability collection, measurements, data entry, handoffs, and workflow mired down in manual transactions. Such transactions continue to be impacted by absenteeism or labor shortages, drive down production, and affect operational resiliancy. 

For those companies that choose automation, there exist many practical options available to start the journey.

  • Process and Regulatory Control: Almost all factories require process controls for safety, proper operation, and quality. For some manufacturers, there are regulatory, internal compliance, or corporate policies. Today, many options exist to collect real-time data and compute to ensure process compliance. Combine monitoring with decisions at the edge; factories can quickly identify unsafe work conditions, quality defect precursors, drift in process controls, or even detect and remediate an event that would trigger an audit or regulatory risk. 
  • Maintenance Management: All organizations have some form of machine or facility maintenance, including building equipment, HVAC, and production equipment that must be monitored and maintained. Maintenance inspections and updating business systems with machine status can be laborious and people-dependent. The typical maintenance monitoring tasks can be fully automated by connecting and integrating with maintenance software, including proactive action, maintenance ticket creation, and even some emergency actions like machine shutdown.
  • Quality Inspection: Employees are involved in all sorts of visual inspections. Today’s edge computing and machine visions combined with software are capable of many visual inspection use cases leading to improved defect detection, quality, and speed. Machine vision provides decision-making to fully replace a manual inspection or combine with expert employees to extend their scale and effectiveness across multiple work cells. 
  • Setup and Configuration: Yes, even robotics can be more effectively integrated into existing processes to augment or address workforce gaps. Take a largely manual factory work cell with a simple machine load/unload scenario. Many operations with CNCs, automated production lines, or other machines require employees to retrieve parts, load a machine, review the work order for job-specific details, load a configuration file, wait for the machine to process, and then unload the machine. Suppose your organization can no longer hire skilled workers to operate this work center. In that case, this is an example where decisions at the edge, combined with integration and automation, can allow a work cell such as this to become fully autonomous.

Agility Is Key

The ability to ingest data and camera feeds from any device in the factory and combine it with robust and scalable compute offerings means companies can solve a wide range of business challenges, with or without employees. And in a world with labor shortages, high turnover, and increasing business costs, making decisions at the edge implies resiliency, digitally lean platforms that systematically improve over time, and solutions that empower companies to advance their corporate goals.

Whatever business headwinds your company faces, automation and decision-making at the edge are increasingly common. Connection’s Manufacturing Practice has a range of practical solutions to help your business augment employees, manage workforce gaps, break down data silos, and improve productivity.

To learn more about Connection’s Manufacturing Practice or to discuss the automation and edge decision capabilities highlighted in this article, contact one of our manufacturing specialists today

TechSperience Episode 98: How TIDC Is... Nov 29, 2021 Connection

In the unprecedented COVID era, the Connection Technology Integration and Distribution Center (TIDC) is still making things happen and doing more with less. Here’s how they are mitigating the current constraints on labor, supply chain challenges, and the COVID-19 delta variant.

Host: James Hilliard

Guest: Steven L. Crowther, VP of the Technology Integration and Distribution Center

Guest: John Milburn, Sr. Director of TIDC Operations

Show Notes

[0:40] Introduction of guests

[1:00] What are the biggest changes in customer demand?

[2:58] The Amazon effect and customers wanting goods sooner

[4:55] What were some of the things Connection did to adjust to changing customer demands?

[7:22] Where do we stand now with the work disruption that COVID-19 brought on 18 months ago?

[9:33] How can customers rely on Connection to get gear into end-user hands?

[10:32] What has been the change in the labor force and the equipment they need?

[11:35] What impact did the labor shortage have on customers’ needs for technology?

[13:07] What are some of the top IT requests due to the labor shortage?

[15:28] How can customers get insight through the TIDC about current technology offerings?

[16:44] Is the labor shortage crisis easing up?

[18:40] What should organizations be planning for in early 2022 to make sure they get the right gear as more people rejoin the workforce?

[19:38] Where do we currently sit with supply chain constraints?

[24:30] Are we having to introduce customers to new products due to supply chain constraints on their preferred products?

[25:37] When will the supply shortage end?

[26:00] What should we be thinking about to stay ahead of supply chain issues? [27:30] Are there certain technology products that you think might be limited in the coming months?

We Are Now an MSP for Microsoft 365 Nov 23, 2021 Carrie Alicata

Recently, Connection introduced our Managed Services offering for Microsoft 365 to complement our Azure Managed Services Provider (MSP) offering—an event I have been eagerly anticipating for some time. In fact, leading up to the announcement, I was working very closely with a small non-profit that had no established IT person, let alone an IT department, and I couldn’t help but think that this customer would find great value in our managed services.

You might wonder what managed services are in the Microsoft 365 space, what the value is to these services, and who would benefit from them most.

COVID-19 propelled our world into a hybrid model. Shopping online became more relevant than ever before, restaurants offered more take-out, and people found gig jobs based heavily in new technology. With all these changes, Teams and Microsoft 365 took center stage in providing solutions for employees everywhere to work from anywhere. The applications in Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, Power Apps, and third-party apps that you connect to through your Microsoft 365 subscription need to be configured to your specific business for your employees. You need security and compliance tools but might not have the skills or resources—not to mention time—to keep everything running smoothly. If you find yourself struggling to manage your IT environment in this new hybrid era, you might need a skilled managed services provider on your side.

Why Connection?

As a managed services provider, we have a team of experts who are available 24x7 to help deploy, monitor, and secure your modern workplace environment to make sure you are taking advantage of all the features of your subscription purchases, while keeping an eye on your environment to make sure that any threats or risks are identified, addressed, and eradicated as quickly as possible.

Our team is available to answer questions and handle any issues that arise, regardless of the hour or day of the week. We can assist with setting up a new environment and assigning licenses to users, configuring the specific settings you want for different users or user groups, and taking full advantage of the communication and collaboration tools within Microsoft Teams. We can also set data retention policies as well as manage Intune device management policies.  

Could I Benefit from Connection’s Managed Services for Microsoft 365?

Any customer could benefit, but just how these services would make a difference depends on the size and scope of your environment and what your goals are. A small customer like the one I was working with that might be operating with one person managing the entire technological infrastructure would benefit insofar as they would have a team behind them to help guide them through securing and personalizing their environment for their individual needs. This customer may be new to the cloud or could use some guidance, suggestions, or even just an extra hand with the day-to-day tasks.

A mid-sized or larger customer could also find value in having the mundane tasks handled elsewhere so they can focus their energy on more important tasks and projects to further their business goals rather than getting caught in the weeds of monitoring for viruses, malware, or even internal policy violations that put their company’s data at risk.

With all the news of bad actors today, it can’t hurt to have a trusted team by your side to keep your company secure while you sleep.

If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to your Connection Account Manager today.

How You Can Bridge the Cloud Skills Gap Nov 18, 2021 Eric Johnson

Has uncertainty brought on by the pandemic changed the way your company works? This unplanned shift has revealed the gaps that many companies have in cloud technology and has therefore accelerated cloud adoption. Due to continuing uncertainty, more organizations are now charting new courses for their journey toward cloud computing and digital transformation. In fact, just a few months into the pandemic, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that the company had seen two years of digital transformation in two months.

This skyrocketing demand for cloud solutions and services has exposed a skills gap. Companies heading full-speed to the cloud are struggling to find the bandwidth—as well as the necessary knowledge—to keep up with quickly evolving demands. Organizations are looking everywhere for IT staff skilled in cloud computing, cybersecurity, and data management.

Why Is the Cloud Skills Gap Conversation So Important Now?

Lack of in-house cloud skills and losing valuable skilled talent due the ongoing reshuffling in the job market are the top reasons that many of my customers are struggling to adopt cloud in an effective way. IT talent shortage is a big concern for most corporations, as the 2020 Challenges in Cloud Transformation survey found that 86% of respondents believe their lack of in-house skill will slow down cloud projects. If you’re unable to implement cloud solutions effectively, you could actually be spending more money than you need to—it’s estimated that companies overall have lost $258 million in the past year due to the slow pace of adoption.

How to Address the Problem

There are a few ways to address this gap. You can train your existing staff—offer incentives to get certified in these modern technologies. Microsoft, AWS, and Google offer various certifications that encompass numerous skill paths—and Connection has services that can help you deploy certification training at your organization.  

An Alternative to In-house Skilling

While enabling your IT staff to earn more certifications is a good thing, it’s hard to keep up with cloud technology’s rate of change. As soon as your team is certified for the latest and greatest, something new is already taking over. Hiring employees who are already certified is also a good idea in theory—but usually, they’re in such high demand that you end up spending too much time on a candidate search. To complement your existing team’s new knowledge—and to help prevent this game of infinite catchup—you might find it effective to work with a third party who can implement and manage new cloud solutions for you.

How Connection Can Help

Our cloud expertise covers the most in-demand cloud services such as, cloud advisory, migration, and managed services. We also have solutions for all the major cloud platforms, including Microsoft 365 and Azure. So start closing that skills gap today. Talk to one of our Account Managers to learn how we can help simplify your cloud journey.

Robots in Healthcare Nov 17, 2021 Dr Keith Nelson

Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, mankind has been dreaming of creating a machine replica of a human in the quest for both loyal assistance with a variety of activities and for companionship. Reflections of this pursuit in popular culture have flooded movie and TV screens over the years in a myriad of forms including Robby the Robot (Twilight Zone), the Lost in Space Robot (Danger, Will Robinson!), Data (Star Trek), C-3PO, the Terminator and the titillating Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina. Meanwhile, in the real world, non-humanoid machines, like the Roomba vacuum and delivery drones, have been steadily developed, mostly to perform singular functions, and have created a category distinction between human-like androids and robots assuming an alternate, nonanthropomorphic form.

A robot is defined as a type of automated machine that can execute specific tasks with little or no human intervention and with speed and precision. To wit, robots can be guided by an external control device, or be completely autonomous. It is the latter which is the stuff of dreams (and nightmares) and is the canvas upon which to develop a functional evolution from simplistic Boolean and AI program routines to the holy grail of sentience and the ability to learn and to evolve.

Robots have a multitude of potential applications that transcend nearly every business vertical. Most, as defined above, are programmed to perform specific tasks with great precision – case in point, the industrial robots seen in factory production lines. Hence, there are many different types of robots and, based on the task(s) that a robot is designed to perform, Gartner segments them into four (4) categories: Personal, Smart, Logistic and Industrial. I have taken the liberty of adding a sometimes-overlapping 5th category, Humanoid, to the mix. Let’s review these.

Types of Robots

Personal Robots

A personal robot is a robot that has been designed and created to be used by an individual. It will assist the user in their daily life and tasks, help in family life, do some repetitive tasks around the house or, in some cases, become a daily companion. Personal robots perform tasks autonomously based on given rules or algorithms.  Examples of vendors and products in this category are: Moxie from Embodied, Robo Temi, and Pepper by SoftBank Robotics.

Smart Robots

A smart robot is a robot that works autonomously in the physical world, learning in short-term intervals from human-supervised training and demonstrations or by their supervised experiences on the job. They sense environmental conditions, recognize and solve problems and can work alongside people (for example, in workspaces, as hospital/surgical robots, or in retail or warehouses). Hence, they are sometimes called “cobots” (collaborative robots). Smart robots don’t require complex and precise programming. Instead, smart robots can be trained by showing them the movements required to complete a task.  Examples of vendors and products in this category are: SoftBank Robotics’ Whiz or the aforementioned Pepper, LG’s CLOi line up (including PorterBot for the airport, ServeBot for hotels, and GuideBot and CartBots for the store and market).

Logistic Robots

A logistic robot is a smart robot designed for work in a warehouse or logistics facilities, often alongside people.  Examples of vendors and products in this category are: Geek+, Locus Robotics, XYZ Robotics.

Industrial Robots

An industrial robot is a robot used for manufacturing and requires complex and precise programming. They are often used to perform repetitive or dangerous tasks and sometimes placed in cages (as they don’t have enough sensory capabilities to work along with humans). For the purpose of this discussion, industrial robots also include agriculture robots.  Examples of vendors and products in this category are: FANUC, Motoman Robotics, Kawasaki.

Humanoid and Anthropomorphic Robots

Humanoid and anthropomorphic robots are those with a body shape built to resemble the human or particular animal body in form and/or function. This represents a crossover category of the above listed segments. Great examples are the Boston Dynamics (Dancing) Atlas and Spot, Honda’s Asimo and the UBTECH Walker-X.

There are seemingly limitless potential applications for robot technology within the boundaries of current technology, which is driving a burgeoning business sector and frenetic research and development activity. That said, one of the biggest obstacles to the wholesale adoption of robotics today is cost.

Some Examples of Diverse Robot Types and Uses

  • Autonomous Vehicles and Drones (civilian and military)
  • Bots (virtual)
  • Surgical Robots (e.g. DaVinci, Medtronic Hugo)
  • Manufacturing/Assembly
  • Warehouse Inventory Management (pick and pack; replace human-piloted forklift transport and conveyor belts)
  • Delivery (FedEx/UPS, Walmart, Amazon, Domino’s)
  • Lab Research
  • Bomb Defusing
  • Fire Fighting

Robots for the Healthcare Theater

Given the considerable breadth, diversity and expanding potential of the robotic technology landscape, I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight a few current use cases specific to the healthcare sector.

Clinical Use Cases

  • Patient Rounds (Telemedicine) – Examples: InTouch Health (Vita), AVA Robotics, Double Robotics, VGo. Patients respond enthusiastically to the robot interactive experience, and the technology gives providers workflow flexibility, and allows for both more frequent check-ins with the patient and the mitigation of travel stress.
  • Robotic Surgery – Examples: The aforementioned Intuitive Surgical DaVinci Robot, Medtronic Hugo. One can envision a future where surgeries are performed by a remote expert surgeon working in conjunction with a local surgical support team.
  • Restricted Zone Coverage (e.g. area with infection, toxic agent or radiation exposure). This is particularly compelling in an epidemic or pandemic situation.

Operational/Administrative Use Cases

  • Room Sanitization (disinfecting and cleaning) – Examples: CIRQ+, Ava Robotics, Xenex. There are three types of cleaning robots:
    • UVC – Sterilizing with UV light. Must avoid human skin and eye exposure. Only sterilizes what it can see (projected line of sight).
    • Fogging – Creates a wet mist in the air. Must wait 30 minutes before people are allowed into the treated space to avoid inhalation of the disinfectant. Uneven surface coverage (cleaning agent stays where it lands). Used extensively by airlines.
    • Electrostatic Spraying – Uses an electrode that introduces a positive electric charge to the disinfectant solution, yielding extensive and creeping surface coverage, especially in hard-to-reach areas. Recommended by the CDC. Low moisture. Disinfectant agnostic. Treatment area almost immediately available to occupants.
  • Visitor Assistance (delivering information, wayfinding)
  • Supplies/Food/Beverage/Medication/Linens Delivery (hospitals) – Example TUG Robot

Affordability Factor

The cost of purchasing a robot depends upon the type of machine and the level of sophistication of the technology that is needed to perform a desired function. On the higher end, a fully autonomous robot that performs patient rounds can be purchased in the range of $32,000 to $80,000, but there are leasing programs that start at around $1,000/month.  On the low end, the Double Robotics self-driving, semi-autonomous robot with object avoidance technology sells for $4,000, making it affordable for nearly any telepresence scenario including patient rounding, hospital visitor assistance, and student proxy presence in a medical school classroom.

At the end of the day, robots clearly represent an extremely promising supportive technology to enhance the delivery of healthcare.  From an aggregate category perspective, robotics most certainly addresses the widely adopted healthcare Quadruple Aim of improving the patient experience, improving the provider experience, lowering costs and improving patient outcomes. As with most technologies, new use cases will emerge over time, driving greater innovation to meet those challenges. I would argue that the biggest bang for the buck and the majority adoption trigger will be the development of multifunctional robots that allow for the maximization of their use, thereby lowering the investment threshold. But then again, how can you put a price on Ah-nold?

Edge to Cloud: How Do We Get There from Here? Nov 11, 2021 Ryan Spurr

In industrial automation, we spend a lot of time focused on connecting things at the edge and doing something useful with data. This might include machine-to-machine automation, edge decision making, or passing data to business systems (think CMMS, ERP, and MES). In my last blog, I discussed data acquisition and protocol management, the integration of data with other components, and the challenges of connecting a diverse range of things.

Let's be honest: Connecting machines across east-west traffic on an industrial network is one thing. But what about connecting almost anything across domains and corporate infrastructure from the customer with the cloud?

Besides the immediate obstacles that cross your mind, there are also some outstanding reasons to connect to the cloud. First, connecting sensors, machines, and systems in the factory helps to instrument end-to-end manufacturing processes. Connecting those same things to modern cloud services unlocks a whole range of capabilities and can lead to competitive advantages. Second, embedding edge compute and connectivity into finished goods creates new business models for manufacturers. The cloud is full of modern offerings to build a brand new client service on top of including software as a service and cloud infrastructure. In fact, the majority of cutting-edge business system platforms are first offered in the cloud, and then eventually on-premises, if at all. Changes in cloud capabilities and availability are what has driven manufacturing to become the #1 spending industry for public cloud offerings.

Connecting things to the cloud is just the beginning. We also must aim to understand why we’d invest in these technologies. What problems are we trying to solve? What stakeholders are involved? How will we measure success? It’s important to understand what corporate goals your company seeks to achieve and how these solutions solve a multitude of business challenges, or uncover new growth opportunities.

Once we understand how to improve process or meet corporate objectives, connecting things to the cloud has never been easier. There are a wide range of enabling technologies—from data acquisition and edge hardware, software with vast driver and protocol libraries to support the complexities of operational or fielded devices, and automation that easily integrates with modern platforms, including the top cloud services like AWS, Azure, GCP, and more. These technologies make the task of interconnecting anything easier and set a foundation that allows your manufacturing business to address a wide range of existing and future pains points. Because of these technologies, the business potential (most importantly, return on investment) is much higher than the initial use case.

Of course, there are other great reasons to invest and connect data, and integrate with cloud, besides access to modern processes, scalable and resilient global resources, or speed to value. On the operational side, other benefits might include gaining access to high performance computing, digital twins, scalable AI solutions, and business systems designed from the ground up to integrate with modern data and IoT protocols—making digital process integration more of a reality.

Whatever your organization’s interest in the cloud, it’s clear that manufacturers are adopting cloud solutions to improve operational excellence or to transform customer experience. Connecting and integrating all things at the edge to the cloud is the next practical step to deliver information to a diverse range of stakeholders. By leveraging modern technologies, we can connect all things that matter across the value stream, and leverage cloud to bring that data to life.

You don’t have to go it alone! Connection’s Manufacturing Practice can help you connect, acquire, integrate, and use industrial data to improve visibility, automate processes across complex infrastructures, and achieve new business outcomes. Let our team work with your experts on the right technology stack and software to integrate your industrial operations with cloud.

To learn more about technologies and services that connect the edge to the cloud, contact one of our manufacturing specialists today!

These Teams Tips Will Change the Way You Work Nov 09, 2021 Nick James

With 145 million daily active users, Microsoft Teams has become an integral part of most companies. You may be a frequent user of Teams, but are you using it to its full potential? As a workplace productivity hub, Teams can help you achieve everyday tasks in less time. If you are new to Teams, the apps may be overwhelming and confusing. Here are some tips and tricks to improve your efficiency.

Shortcuts for Everyday Tasks

  • Go to Search: Ctrl + E
  • Turn your camera off: Ctrl+Shift+O
  • Mute yourself: CTRL+Shift+Spacebar
  • Background blur: Ctrl+Shift+P
  • Zoom: Ctrl+= to zoom in or Ctrl+- to zoom out
  • Go to your files: Ctrl+6

How to Translate Messages from One Language to Another

You can translate messages to your base language in Microsoft Teams on a message-by-message basis. Next to the specific message you want to translate, simply click the ellipsis button and select Translate.

How to Use “Do Not Disturb” to Finish Your Projects in Ninja Mode

When trying to hit a deadline for a project in ninja mode, constant pings can be a productivity killer. The Do Not Disturb option is just what you need. To turn on Do Not Disturb, click your profile icon in Teams and set your status to Do Not Disturb. If you want to make sure you don’t miss any important messages from your boss when you’re in Ninja mode, select:

  1. The 3-button ellipsis next to your profile picture
  2. Settings
  3. Privacy
  4. Manage Priority Access

How to Get Your Message Noticed When People Are Busy

I hesitate to post this tip, so use it sparingly and ONLY if the message is truly urgent! To send an Urgent Message Notification, look below the text compose box, and you’ll be able to check Urgent or Important to grab the recipient’s attention.

If you mark a message as urgent, the recipient will get it every two minutes for 20 minutes, which makes it difficult ignore, but could also make an enemy. Hence, my suggestion is to use this option thoughtfully.

How to Run Meetings Like a Boss

Meeting Notes: You can take notes directly from the meeting screen instead of having to go back and forth between different programs. The meeting notes will create a panel on the side for taking down meeting notes. To select Meeting Notes in Teams:

  1. Select the More Options ellipsis button once the meeting has started
  2. Start Taking Meeting Notes

Together Mode: Together Mode places all your meeting participants together in a shared background, such as an auditorium. To select Together Mode:

  1. Go to the Settings tab after selecting your profile.
  2. Check the Turn on new meeting experience option.
  3. Start a video call in Microsoft Teams with five people or more.
  4. Select the three dots while you are on the call and then select Together Mode.

Whiteboard: Whiteboarding has to be enabled to use it in Teams, but once it is, it’s a great way to interact remotely. I use it when drawing out technological concepts for clients when scoping calls to make sure we’re on the same page, and to diagram architectural concepts. To enable Whiteboard in Teams:

  1. Select Share
  2. On the right-hand side  of the screen, select Whiteboard

Conduct Polls: When you need your team’s help to make a decision, you can now survey a meeting chat. Microsoft Forms allows multiple answers and anonymous polls too. You can also conduct surveys on channels and one-to-one chats. To conduct polls:

  1. Select FORMS under the message box (you may have to click the ellipsis)
  2. Create your poll and type your question and the answer choices
  3. Select your options for multiple choices, share results automatically, and keep the poll anonymous

I hope some of these tips and tricks are helpful and improve your Microsoft Teams experience. As a Microsoft partner, Connection takes pride in helping companies deploy and configure Microsoft Teams. In addition to deployment and licensing optimization services, we now offer Teams workshops to help companies achieve long-term success with Teams. These are free workshops for eligible customers. Check out our workshop information, and let us know if you are interested.

Microsoft Ignite 2021: Top Announcements and... Nov 04, 2021 Sreeraj Vasukuttan

This year’s Microsoft Ignite conference happened this week, from November 2–4. I was really looking forward to the session from Scott Guthrie called Innovate Anywhere From Multicloud to Edge, as well as a presentation about Power Platform. But after attending many of the sessions, I must admit that the Microsoft 365 session, Empower Everyone for a New World of Hybrid Work by Jared Spataro, became my favorite. This is where groundbreaking additions to Microsoft 365, such as Microsoft Loop and Context IQ, were announced.

I am excited to share some of the top announcements and some new insights from this year’s Ignite. Read on!

Microsoft Loop, Context AI, and Mesh

Microsoft Loop is the new collaboration app coming to Microsoft 365 that is built on top of Microsoft’s Fluid framework for document collaboration. It’s hard to describe the utility of Microsoft Loop from the videos and blogs Microsoft shared around it yesterday. But if you take a “don’t try to understand it—feel it” approach, I may say it almost feels like a unicorn in your office. The collaboration capabilities that Loop brings to your table could indeed be groundbreaking. Like Jared Spataro said, modern worker collaboration is the new atomic unit of collaboration in the digital age—akin to the assembly line in the industrial age. Loop sets the stage to help the modern workers to become the new atomic unit of production. Loop consists of workspaces, pages, and components. Loop components can be added to a Teams chat or an email, but it’s all tied to the Loop app in the background. I can’t wait to tell my colleagues, “Let’s cancel that document collaboration meeting; I will meet you in the Loop.” 

In addition to Microsoft Loop, Microsoft will bring Context IQ to Microsoft Editor. As Jared Spataro describes, Context IQ takes AI-based suggestions for all your writing in Microsoft 365 to the next level. It can not only predict your words but also suggest documents and email of collaborators in real-time. This would save you a ton of time every day searching for documents and email addressess. In essence, Context IQ will champion the interconnectedness of your Microsoft experience. 

Microsoft Mesh will be fully available for Teams later this year. Microsoft Mesh is a brainchild of Microsoft’s visionary technical fellow Alex Kipman, who is also behind Microsoft’s HoloLens. Mesh is built on top of Azure, and with it you can realize virtual workspaces in Teams, but its possibilities are not limited to Teams. Mesh supports HoloLens and many other devices of different form factors. 

Microsoft Viva Suite Is Now Fully Ready for You

In addition to the fantastic Microsoft 365 announcement like Loop, Context IQ, and Mesh, Microsoft made a follow-up announcement for Viva at Ignite. Microsoft Viva, Microsoft’s new employee experience platform, is now fully available for you with all its components—Viva Connections, Viva Learning, Viva Insight, and Viva Topics. Microsoft Viva is also now available as a Viva suite. 

What Does This All Mean for Your Hybrid Work Plans?

Microsoft 365, with Teams at its center, is growing as a highly integrated yet elegant framework that could transform work and employee experience to a new level. You may not find this level of integration in any of the workspace software out there. But Microsoft 365 is still only the building block for your success. It’s up to you to use it to its full advantage. This is where Microsoft’s “the art of possible” approach run through partners like us will play a massive role in your success. Connection offers Microsoft 365 workshops that will help you realize your full potential with Microsoft 365. 

We are adding new workshops to our workshop lineup every month. Microsoft will pay you for these workshops if you meet their eligibility criteria. Reach out to our Account Managers to learn more. 

Read Microsoft’s Ignite Book of News for Ignite news from other areas like Azure, Dynamics 356, and Power Platform. 

Automate Your Way to a Competitive Advantage Nov 04, 2021 Ryan Spurr

Connecting and integrating machines is not an easy task in manufacturing. The heterogeneous nature of all the things contributing to manufacturing processes is staggering. Typically, systems are made up of a wide range of legacy equipment, operating systems, and industrial protocols, and cobbled together by generations of engineering and M&A. So how do manufacturers connect and integrate such a complex landscape? How do organizations speed toward high-value levers associated with a smart factory and unlock new productivity, quality, and cost management forms?

In our previous blog about process instrumentation, we discussed the role of sensors and integrating those into the business. Unlike modern sensors—most of which are built atop newer technologies and leverage modern protocols native to business systems, middleware, and cloud platforms—manufacturing is a wash of legacy industrial machinery with most not capable of connecting and integrating with much of anything.

And let’s be honest—most of these machines are older and limited in their ability to connect and integrate with modern IT and cloud infrastructure. These machines are usually comprised of robots; industrial control systems; third-party leased equipment; building management systems controlling the environmental conditions of a plant, tools, pumps, CNCs; and one-off specialty machines designed in-house to serve a unique purpose.

Further complicating an operational team’s efforts, most machines represent a significant cybersecurity risk to the typical manufacturing organization. Ultimately, technical complications and business risks result in an operational environment usually bifurcated with only select machines integrated into the balance of the business. This results in a lack of visibility, as well as limited data collection and automation against key portions of plant processes and business operations. It limits the organization’s ability to integrate with business systems like ERP or MES, next-generation cloud services, and more exciting solutions like artificial intelligence or machine learning. 

It’s this obstacle of connecting and integrating that prevents business advancement and digital transformation. For older manufacturers with built-up technical debt, the problem is only more profound. Up against startups or newer firms built from the ground up, older firms find themselves competing with newer machines, modern processes, and tight integration with current business systems. All of this makes these organizations more efficient—and that means more competitive and able to deliver a better customer experience.

Connecting and integrating machines requires an entirely different approach, but it’s not impossible and doesn’t have to be complicated. Modern software and hardware solutions exist to easily connect the unconnectable, leading to a “no machine left behind” strategy that allows organizations to connect even the oldest devices capable of basic I/O or serial connections, as well as leveraging modern industrial devices standards and protocols. 

Because of these technologies, manufacturers can now connect almost anything in their operational tech estate, creating new ways to read and write machine data to automate factory operations. This allows manufacturers (even those with high technical debt) to quickly connect their operational equipment with SCADA, business systems, cloud services, business intelligence and reporting, AI/ML platforms, and even automate between machines. Most organizations start with a single bounded challenge in their plants. Still, it’s easy to see how this capability can quickly become a powerful change agent to a manufacturer’s industrial transformation objectives and lead to long-term operational excellence.

It’s also important to point out that this technology has no physical boundaries. Let’s face it: our companies are radically changing. We often focus only on the machines that exist in the typical four walls of factories, warehouses, research labs, and office buildings. Machines are also present in smart products, remote facilities, vehicle fleets, and even under the possession of customers. Machines outside the four walls represent key business processes worth connecting, integrating, and optimizing. The same solutions that allow manufacturers to transform the typical operational equipment can also be leveraged to connect outside of a facility to drive improved productivity and customer experience, and to deliver new business models to drive top-line revenue growth.

Whatever your business objectives, most manufacturers are dealing with workforce shortages, increased operational costs, and seeking more resilient solutions to drive productivity in a challenging economy. At some point, organizations must decide how best to work through lack of skilled talent and how best to utilize their employees. Consider automation as one option to augment your workforce, eliminate error-prone non-value-added activities and defect escapes, and deliver improved operations that help your business gain and sustain a competitive advantage.

Want to learn more about how Connection advises clients on these topics, and the outstanding solutions we have available to digitally transform your operations? Contact one of our manufacturing specialists today

A Day in the Life of a Connection Account... Nov 02, 2021 Katie Hallowell

What does an Account Manager do?

An Account Manager is a project manager—a time management task master! Someone who builds relationships with clients by understanding their business strategy—not just from a technology standpoint but holistically. Asking questions to better understand a customer, their role, and their company allows Account Managers to establish a mutual trust while supporting them with tech solutions as they grow. We are a true partner and extension of our customers’ IT team.

What does a typical day for an Account Manager at Connection look like? 

The time I spend on any/all of these tasks of course varies by day, but typically I’m moving between tasks such as:

  • Checking on orders/backlog
  • Updating cases to get things moving
  • Conducting both internal and external calls (some are hour-long meetings with existing clients or 5-minute prospecting calls to new potential clients
  • Attending trainings on new tech
  • Collaborating with resources
  • Strategizing with vendor partners

All day, I’m constantly learning and growing because technology solution selling is never stagnant.

How did you become an Account Manager? What attracted you to this job? 

My career background is varied and none of it includes being in sales (except a couple part time retail jobs in my early 20s). Understating that technology is at the forefront of everything, I made a career change. It was a jump into something new, and I’m glad I did it. What attracted me to the job is my interest in staying current and that technology never stands still—plus, this position gives you the opportunity to develop your unique style into your own book of business. Most importantly, as you grow this business you do have the support of Connection behind you, plus the resources that come with the position.

What do you feel is the key skill or attribute needed to succeed in your role?

My well-roundedness. My natural curiosity of the world—always having a willingness to learn and having a competitive nature—mostly with myself. I believe having that natural competitiveness along with the willingness to keep learning and adapting really helps in sales. I think another attribute is my general friendliness, passion for helping others, and having a varied work experience. I do have 10 years of experience in the biomedical field in positions, ranging from pre-clinical tech, to analyst—to telephony admin—and more.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Relationships—the foundation of every transaction! Building relationships with peers at Connection, vendor partners, clients of course, management, coaches, training staff, specialists, solution architects, and all the awesome people who support us logistically daily in operations—we cannot do this job without them! A business is not one person—it is a team sport!

What’s the best part about working at Connection?

It’s not just a company, you are part of a community—embrace it! Truth be told, this position is not easy and comes with its challenges, but it also comes with great satisfaction. Any task in life worth doing has its challenges (I’ve been through many challenges in every role I’ve held elsewhere, but not every company has the sort of support I have found here). The differentiator at Connection is that people don’t just say they care—they show they care by being accessible. As people grow here, they work to support those after them. The tenure here is proof. The sense of being part of a technology revolution which is helping companies overcome obstacles—especially in these times— that is what drives me!

It’s Time for Your School to Embrace... Oct 29, 2021 Pam Aulakh

2020 brought many challenges to learning, and now districts across the country are working to address what has been termed “learning loss”—or the term I prefer “unfinished learning.” Some of the funding that schools are using to help support these programs include ESSER funds from the CARES and ARP Acts. We are seeing a trend where more schools are adopting an adaptive curriculum and addressing student engagement with STEM programs. Some of this is due to the requirements behind the ARP ESSER funds, but most of it is because schools recognize the need to prepare students for their future, which includes globally competitive markets based on technology.

Science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) are grouped together to create powerful learning opportunities where students have the chance to uncover their interests and explore ideas that may not come out of traditional, single subject curriculum. Sometimes, STEAM is misunderstood to be its own separate subject, but connecting these subjects encourages educators to integrate other disciplines into lessons and allow students the opportunity to apply learning in new and creative ways. Consider a lesson on money. This lesson could easily have science, technology, and engineering incorporated by extending the lesson to include a hands-on practical learning experience. The extension could be asking students to build a structure with materials that have a cost associated with them. It could be constrained to certain dimensions and required to hold a specific amount of weight within a cost budget. At the end of the lesson, students could create a “shark tank” type of media presentation to convince investors to support their project.

Not every lesson or STEAM engagement should be scripted. A true STEAM environment nurtures curiosity, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication, and citizenship. STEAM environments allow for movement, conversation, respectful disagreements, and collaborative support of ideas. I’ve had a lot of engagements with senior executives at some of the world’s largest engineering firms and asked them what they are looking for in their future workforce. While they all want their employees to have technical skills, they were very clear that they are looking for employees that are creative, understand how to work with people, and can help to create a culture of innovation and collaboration amongst peers. STEAM learning isn’t a trend, and it isn’t going away. If you are looking for what types of STEAM learning tools to add to your lessons, start with adapting one lesson you already teach and extend it to include STEAM. When you are ready to move beyond that and incorporate other disciplines such as computer science, look for products that include a robust curriculum. Most importantly, know that it’s okay if you aren’t an expert on things like coding and robotics. Be honest with your students and allow your students to be the functional experts while you remain the facilitative expert.