Confused by Microsoft Flow?

msflow

 

Microsoft’s Office 365 platform continues to develop and there are an increasing number of tools that are often overlooked. One of these tools is Flow, which I have seen in the app list for quite some time now but never really taken any notice. Taking a look into Flow opens a significant tool that has quite a lot of functional capability. in addition, if you have a logical mind, it’s also quite straight forward to use.

 

So what does Flow actually do? Well, in simple terms Flow is a tool that allows you to create and run cross product workflows. In layman’s terms, it enables you to create a trigger in one product that then does something in another. For example, it could monitor your email and if you get an email from a certain user with a specific subject, it could record the details into an excel spreadsheet. It also has the capability to integrate with products outside the Office 365 suite, such as twitter, Facebook or your ERP system. So imagine a school wanted to visualise it’s social activity on Twitter, Flow is the perfect tool for this. Flow could monitor the Twitter account for tweets, retweets, mentions, etc. and drop all the details into a Power BI dataset and the analysis could be displayed in (almost) real time in a dashboard.

 

The possibilities of flow are quite extensive and mainly limited by your own imagination in finding an appropriate use. On first review it may feel a little like a tool looking for a job, and you will need to be careful not to just create workflows ‘because you can’. Keep it in mind though, because when you identify that need, Flow will add real value.

 

Now this capability is not new and other services, such as the web tool IFTTT, can do this just as well. However, Flow is part of the Office 365 platform and therefore included in many of the subscription packages at no additional cost. 

 

Written by Virtue Technologies Head of Operations, Will Stead

Top 3 tips for successful deployment of Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is another great tool that is delivered as part of the office 365 platform. Released back in March, many organisations are now using teams to support their collaboration activities. However, like many apps, deployment is not without its challenges and here are my top 3 tips to help your Teams deployment be as smooth as possible whilst generating as much value as possible.

Image result for microsoft teams

1 – Pick one function and run with it

Like many Microsoft tools, Teams is packed with features and can be rather daunting for many. With wikis, chat, file sharing, skype, tabs and connectors to a whole range of other applications, the array of features in Teams can be a quite bewildering. To ease new users into Teams, I recommend giving your Teams a purpose and try to use just one feature of Teams to achieve that.

For example, the Chat tool is the core of Teams and a great way to engage your users and improve communication on a specific project, team or business wide. Move the communication away from ‘email broadcast’ to a Team chat, get some interactivity going with company announcements, or just give people space to share ideas.

2 – Use the Microsoft Teams apps

The Teams website is great, but you can’t beat the performance and ease of access that comes with a locally installed app. So, whether it’s on your desktop, laptop, tablet or phone, download the Teams app for a much more engaging experience. In addition, your users will benefit from notifications to keep them up to date with what’s happening on your Teams, which in turn will drive more collaboration across your organisation.

teams

3 – Manage Sprawl

It’s so easy to create a new Team or a new channel within a Team, but if it’s not managed there will be so many places for users to engage it will just become confusing. So, keep it tight, make sure there are not too many channels within each team, or too many teams.

Presented with a great long list of Teams in the App will just confuse people and this will reduce the uptake of your Teams.  It’s better to have a smaller number of Teams and channels that are packed full of activity rather than a long list of Teams and channels with a single post in each.

 

Written by Virtue Technologies Head of Operations, Will Stead.

 

Hear Phil Lawson, Virtue Technologies’ Managing Director, tell you what winning a BIBA did for him.

After our Managing Director, Phil Lawson, won Business Person of the Year at the BIBAs 2016 and Entrepreneur of the Year at the BIBAs 2015, here is what he had to say…

“Having won the Entrepreneur of the Year award at the BIBAs 2015, I wanted to go through the process again because I knew the experience and benefit it brought our company.

The application process was effectively a review of your performance over the past 12 months and gives you a rare opportunity in business to step back and reflect on what you have done.

Being questioned and asked to justify what you have done by the BIBAs judges definitely helped us formulate our former strategy and development of the business, and finally the second round of judging, ‘The BIBAs On Tour’  is beneficial to all parts of the business.

The judges come to our workplace and it gives our employees at all levels the chance to be asked about what they do, share their opinions and be part of the process.

The judges are all people who know a lot about business and therefore their questions are always challenging, but you come away feeling your business has benefited.

Winning at the BIBAs in 2015 and 2016 has been a tremendous motivation for all our staff. They enjoy the process, the ceremony and, of course, winning such a prestigious award.

It is invaluable to achieve things as a group and I feel is the most important part of winning a BIBA.”

Congratulations once again Phil!

The right teaching will drive education digitalisation

When it comes to ICT in education, the conversation has shifted. It’s not about providing technology and devices; it’s about teaching our kids how to use it.

In just five years, we face a digital economy that will require 2.3 million digitally skilled workers. Are our children ready to enter such a workforce?

Many would argue no. Research shows that 65% of kids will end up in jobs that don’t exist yet, but only 10% of schools offer any kind of computer science class.

There’s a massive disconnect between what’s being taught now and the skills young people will need to compete in the jobs space of the future.

The leaders in this scenario are our teachers and their use of technology in the classroom. However, with increasing demands already placed on staff and without tech training, it is unreasonable to expect them to adopt new technologies and be our digital heroes as well, without adequate support.

From traditional to tech savvy

A recent Childwise report indicated that 6.3 million children aged 5-16 in the UK use a laptop, PC or tablet and on average, spend 1.5 hours online per day.

We are dealing with a generation of digital natives.

To cater for this, schools are increasingly introducing new tech like interactive whiteboards, film projectors and tablets.

But just introducing new devices into a still traditional four-walled teaching environment isn’t effective enough. Imagine dropping a teacher from the Victorian era into a 2017 classroom. Yes, they might need a few minutes to learn how to use a desktop computer or a whiteboard, but I guarantee you the essence of the teaching methods will be similar – students still have to conform.

We need to prepare our kids to meet the demands of a digital nation. This means cloud-based learning where kids can log-in from anywhere, anytime to access their work, or provide access to multiple teachers to ensure a ‘best-fit’ teaching style for each student.

Also, technology can benefit the teacher too. The days of marking with a red pen are numbered. Using programmes like Office 365 are guaranteed to help a teacher reduce time spent on menial tasks and allows more time for creating an environment prime for student engagement. Students could go home and complete work in their own time, freeing up the hours in the day for teachers to focus on face-to-face, interactive teaching.

Support the supporters

The silver bullet to this transformational change? Our teachers. Yet worryingly, a NASUWT Teachers’ Union report found that 83% of teachers who teach ICT as a subject, said that they do not receive regular ICT-related training and CPD. But, the report also concluded that teachers made specific references to the need to develop these skills that pupils need for the real world – highlighting their dedication to the cause.

There is no arguing that embedding a new technology into a school is always going to be challenging. But, by providing pre-implementation training and support for teachers, you can guarantee the new equipment is utilised to its full potential and will empower staff with the knowledge and confidence to use it.

In turn, if teachers can gain a thorough understanding of the technology and how to use it effectively, this can be used to prepare the UK’s younger generations for the guaranteed digital workplace they will find themselves in.

Not only that, but the combination of great technology and great teaching will help broaden their horizons for a future career.

Sophos have compiled 5 top security tips for schools

In a recent survey carried out by Sophos, a third of schools surveyed admitted to having experienced a cyber-security breach. A further 21% didn’t know or preferred not to say. The severity of the breaches vary from data loss to ransomware, but the issue still remains, that schools are a target and these breaches are destroying schools’ reputation and productivity. For this reason it is imperative that schools are aware, prepared and educated about these threats. The survey also revealed that only 14% of those surveyed view ransomware as their biggest concern, highlighting that despite its growing awareness throughout 2016, there is still a lack of awareness about ransomware. It’s important that all teachers are aware of what ransomware is and how they can fall victim to it. Sophos have compiled 5 top security tips for schools.

1)     Have an Integrated Security Plan that Does Not Stifle Productivity

To fully understand their cyber threat and risk exposure, schools should undertake a rigorous security review to identify risks, understand vulnerabilities and assess the impact of a cyber-attack. Only then can they create an integrated cyber security plan that incorporates   technical, human and physical defences to deliver effective protection without stifling productivity.

2)     Follow Best Practice  

Many security breaches can be prevented by ensuring existing cyber defences are deployed at full strength. Too often schools invest in cyber security solutions but fail to deploy them to their full advantage. This significantly reduces their effectiveness and increases the likelihood of a successful, but preventable breach. To ensure you are getting the maximum level of protection from your existing security solutions we encourage all schools to follow the best practice guidance offered by their trusted security partners and vendors.

3)     Have a Tried and Tested Incident Response Plan

Work on the assumption that an attack will happen and ensure you have a tried and tested incident response plan than can be implemented immediately to reduce the impact of the attack.

4)     Identify & Safeguard Your Sensitive Data 

It’s almost impossible to protect all your data all of the time, so identify the information you keep which would cause harm if it were stolen or unlawfully accessed and implement suitable data security procedures to ensure it is appropriately protected.

5)     Education, Education, Education

Too many cyber breaches, especially ransomware attacks, are caused by the inadvertent actions of users. It is therefore vitally important that users are educated about the cyber risks they face and the safeguards in place to protect them.  Users should also understand their individual cyber Security responsibilities, be aware of the consequences of negligent or malicious actions and work with other stakeholders  to identify ways to work in a safe and secure manner.

Introducing Virtue’s Network Monitoring & Management SaaS

Introducing Virtue’s Network Monitoring & Management SaaS, powered by Solarwinds. Customised for your school or college as an affordable SaaS solution, we deliver revolutionary network and host server monitoring with end-to-end visibility to monitor, predict and troubleshoot performance issues.

In this webinar recording, hear from our presenter, Will Stead, discuss the many benefits and features of our Network Monitoring & Management SaaS during a live demonstration.

The Rowan Learning Trust turned to us when they required a service that could scale to meet the needs of their growing trust

The Rowan Learning Trust (RLT) was established as a multi-academy trust in 2012 and brings schools and communities together through development on their journey to become outstanding. Currently the RLT family comprises fourschools: two high schools, one primary school and an all-through alternative provision academy. One of these schools is Hawkley Hall High School, an 11-16 mixed comprehensive of around 900 students and 110 staff situated to the west of Wigan. Virtue Technologies’ relationship with the RLT originally started with Hawkley Hall, as we have been working with the school for around 10 years. The school started with quite a small scale service support and over the years it’s grown with the school, and more recently with the trust.

The Challenge

The trust initially had a local authority internet connection which John Robinson, Information Systems Manager at RLT, describes as “patchy to say the least”. John says “Because we are a multi-academy trust, we’ve got several schools now and are looking to grow in the future, we like the idea of a common network with other schools, and being able to share resources. We were interested in how Virtue’s service could scale to meet our needs”.

The Solution

Virtue Technologies’ Private Wide Area Network (PWAN) turns internet connections into true private circuits without the use of complicated VPNs. We do this by building a dedicated private core network for a school, the whole network is then protected by a dedicated firewall which we customise to each school’s specific requirements. A PWAN provides a collection of schools such as a secondary, and its associated feeder primary schools, with a private network with absolute security and without the need for VPN tunnels. As our PWAN has been designed to work across all of their connectivity solutions, we’re able to connect a primary school with a high speed EoFTTC to a secondary school with a leased line.

The RLT moved to our PWAN solution and John says “Since we moved to the PWAN, we’ve had virtually no downtime at all, in any of the schools, it’s very reliable”. We asked John what benefits have the internet and PWAN brought to Hawkley Hall as an individual school, and also as a multi-academy trust and he said “it’s mainly about having a reliable internet connection that is fast enough to do the job. We’ve many mobile devices now, the internet is obviously vast, more so now than it was 10 years ago. For an individual school it’s important to have that stability. I think as a MAT it’s about how the schools can make efficiency savings by being joined up. From an IT perspective, being able to have a single IT team manage everything, the PWAN helps with that, but also what we are starting to explore is the teaching and learning aspects of it, and how people working across schools can share resources more effectively”.

John also discusses the challenges faced in delivering and managing the IT services across multiple sites, the main one being consistency, and making sure everyone is on the same page. The RLT have tried to develop common perspective structure templates on how they manage things, so when someone at one school goes into another school, they will know exactly how things are set up and they can work as effectively on every site. John says “it’s been quite challenging because everyone has their own way of doing things, every Network Manger does things slightly different, so it’s been quite tricky to try and pull all that together”.

When John was asked what makes Virtue Technologies stand out to him, he talked about the level of service he receives, “the guys on the help desk are always willing to help and go the extra mile, Virtue has always been a step above in terms of that”. In reference to other support companies that John has dealt with, he states, “you pay your money, someone comes in every now and then and has a bit of a check, but with Virtue it’s a partnership, and we can bounce ideas off people and its genuine advice that we get from the guys. When we’ve taken on other schools and looked at the support that they’ve had and what we’ve had – Virtue is always a level above in terms of customer service.” Discussing this partnership further John continues to say, “because it is more of partnership, I know I can ring Phil Lawson, Virtue Technologies Managing Director, and talk things through with him, without feeling like we are going to get a sales pitch. It’s just genuine advice. I think because Virtue are so big in education, they share that philosophy with us that it’s for the students and it’s all about the ethos of the school, even though Virtue is a business. They actually understand what goes on in schools, it’s not all about a computer on a desk, it’s about the experience for the students so I think we share that with Virtue.”

Simon Steele, Virtue’s Technical Director, holds termly meetings with John to help the trust focus and plan their development priorities. John says “keeping Virtue involved in our trust-wide ICT strategy allows us to work more effectively together to build robust and scalable solutions.” When asked if he feels like he’s got value for money John said “I definitely think so. I know broadband prices fluctuate massively, and we went into a 3-year contract so we had that security – Virtue are definitely competitive with their pricing.”

Future Plans

The RLT plan to grow and expand and add more schools, so obviously they will be looking at adding internet services to them, but also more about how they can make collective savings as a trust. They are currently looking at having a single internet filter for all of their sites and again, the PWAN allows them to do that. They’ll be able to have a single virtual internet filter that will scale indefinitely to meet their growing number of users. When asked what the single most important thing to him is in terms of IT delivery, John said “it’s got to be how it impacts teaching and learning in schools, because that’s the reason we are all here at the end of the day. As Virtue provide the IT support with everything from the internet services to the servers support, we can focus on the classroom. The less we have to worry about the support and maintenance, the more we can focus on the development of IT systems to support our students.”