It’s pretty much impossible to visualize a world that doesn’t rely on electronic devices that are hooked up to the internet to help each of us communicate with one another. In the past 20 years, the concept of software development has changed significantly.
To keep up with the amount of information at our fingertips, automated solutions need to rely on extensive code that allows all of this digital information to be handled properly. The tools that software developers use to create their code have also changed drastically to handle the projects that large business enterprises work with every single day.
Solutions that automate analysis of data can’t just be written by a handful of developers through a single method of programming. Software development teams need more than just a single innovative concept to implement new ideas into their projects effectively.
Developers also need ways to code more efficiently. At the same time, it is imperative to ensure that the software is secure, reliable, and efficient at performing the various tasks that are required. These are only a few reasons why innovative tools need to be used by coding teams as efficiently as possible.
By following an innovative set of programming concepts, the best ideas for software development can truly become a reality. This guide will outline three of the most innovative tools that are transforming the way software developers are building their code and deploying their products.
CI/CD pipelines streamline tasks like the testing and deployment of code for software development teams. This allows them to spend more time building code and less time trying to fix bugs and review each other’s work. A high level of automation can always be found within traditional CI/CD pipelines.
The modern era allows for so many developers to work remotely. It is absolutely essential to have tools that allow for development teams to connect, communicate, and streamline their software development processes.
Secure Web Applications More Efficiently
Developers should try to recognize the security practices that they use to oversee code development for their web applications. Web applications have become a vulnerable source of cyber attacks in recent years thanks to their exposure to an international base of hackers.
The code that keeps these rich and dynamic web applications running needs to be protected against multiple threats when it goes live online. CI/CD pipelines help web applications stay protected online by securing their code’s development without needing to involve developers or an organization’s cybersecurity professionals directly.
These pipelines can instead automate processes like code analysis or data categorization to catch vulnerabilities in the software you’re working on before it ever gets exposed to threats in a live environment. CI/CD pipelines are therefore vital to developing an application for the web. These types of pipelines allow for developed code to be tightly supervised from its initial design phase all the way through final deployment.
The collaboration aspect that CI/CD pipelines enable can extend far beyond code development as well. A software development team that uses a CI/CD pipeline for the code that it’s developing can also give their CISOs and cybersecurity personnel more insight into the code that they’re building.
CISOs and their security teams can then gain additional opportunities to review the processes that developers are using to integrate security best practices into their code, and subsequently catch potential errors that would otherwise find their way into live programs.
Keep Your Code on the Cloud
Businesses need to rely on complex applications that process millions of lines of code. This means that these applications have to handle large sets of data to be analyzed in a short amount of time. The best way to keep so many digital assets organized and maintained in a single place is to use a cloud-storage solution like Dropbox or Google Drive.
CI/CD pipelines can exist on the cloud for simplified storage and organization of a software development team’s code so that there’s never the risk of losing your digital assets on a vulnerable network. Software development teams have the ability to host native cloud development for their software applications so that they can realize the greatest benefits of their CI/CD pipelines.
Cloud environments can also allow teams who use CI/CD pipelines to oversee the use of cloud-based microservices that eliminate the need for manual maintenance of components like configuration files and integration servers. This oversight can be automated to save hundreds of hours that would otherwise be spent on manual testing and other tedious and repetitive processes.
These cloud environments make it possible to automate testing for code by using your organization’s own cloud resources. That’s because cloud-native CI/CD pipelines don’t need to rely on physical network resources that slow down important tasks like the unit and system testing.
This is necessary to ensure that code is error-free and functioning as intended. Cloud environments can also allow development teams to set up various testing systems that let them review real-time scenarios of their code running in a production environment.
Make the Most of Your Feedback
CI/CD pipelines maximize the benefit of feedback that developers can obtain from their colleagues. It is easy to give and receive feedback on your code when you use code repositories that are available through CI/CD pipelines. These repositories designate specific members on your team to whom you give read and write access.
This concept increases the possibilities for collaboration while applying version control to a single repository that stores all of your code. By leveraging code repositories that are accessible through CI/CD pipelines, it becomes possible to adopt a separate approach that allows you and your team to work uninterrupted at all times.
This makes programming much more convenient while still allowing you to identify the conflicts that you have with your colleagues’ code as well as any errors isolated within your own work. This level of collaboration makes it much easier for you and your team to push out code into production that is error-free and efficient.
CI/CD pipelines can also promote intuitive review processes that allow other developers to quickly glance at your code and provide feedback when necessary. This goes both ways since it can make it easier for you to review code in real-time when it’s necessary as well. With this methodology, you can maximize your uptime and work specifically on your code as much as possible.
You wouldn’t want to walk into a meeting just to be asked to review a new feature of code that you have never seen before. CI/CD pipelines virtually eliminate the risk of getting left out of the loop due to their instantaneous feedback loops.
You can easily use CI/CD pipelines to engage with other developers quickly and efficiently. This means that you can increase the amount of productive feedback that you receive from them on the development of your code.
Take Advantage of Automation
The ability to take advantage of automation is certainly available with the resources that are integrated into CI/CD pipelines to build deployments. All updates go through the same process once they are inputted into the CI/CD pipeline.
The code will typically arrive at a predetermined code depository and go through several code checks and test servers. At the conclusion of this process, the code will likely pass the checks and be approved through the remainder of the deployment process. If there are errors or issues during the checks, then the code will not be deployed, and developers will have an opportunity to address the issue.
This deployment process takes full advantage of automation, making the development process very efficient and effective.
Automation is ideal for many developers because it speeds up the process of deploying code that has recently been developed. Instead of going through a manual deployment process, you can simply utilize the automation of a CI/CD pipeline to have the code deployed in a matter of minutes. This process can repeat multiple times per day on a regulated schedule, especially if you are developing an app that needs a lot of small build updates regularly.
While automation can make things a lot easier, it still has to be used in the proper way to provide developers with the benefits that they are looking for. There are good ways to use automation and bad ways to use automation.
Relying on automation to do everything is not a good idea because you still want to be monitoring the process at all times. There are vulnerabilities within CI/CD pipelines that can be exposed if the automated process is not maintained appropriately.
One of those vulnerabilities is the concept of security within CI/CD pipelines. The biggest problem with security is that CI/CD pipelines weren’t exactly developed with security in mind. This means that additional steps may need to be taken by development teams to ensure that their CI/CD pipeline remains secure at all times.
Enhancing Security in CI/CD Pipelines
Now that you know that cyber-security could be a major vulnerability within CI/CD pipelines, it might be a good idea to talk a little bit about how security can be enhanced to ensure that your projects achieve the maximum level of protection from hackers.
DevSecOps is a concept that can be useful in this type of work environment because it specifically focuses on enhancing software security during the development and deployment processes.
By promoting a familiar security concept like DevSecOps into the development environment, you can ensure that your Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery pipelines remain secure at all times. Developers should also realize that DevSecOps promotes the idea of implementing security into the code itself, rather than from external sources outside of the pipeline.
DevSecOps makes it possible to easily prevent security breaches by taking advantage of an ideology that previously didn’t exist within most CI/CD pipelines. Traditional security measures can still be used in some cases, but maximum security within your pipeline may not be achieved until you explore other concepts like DevSecOps.
The ability to expand security measures as you expand your projects is a difficult task that can be hard to achieve. DevSecOps will provide you with ways to scale your security measures alongside your CI/CD pipeline. However, you will still need additional security measures to fully ensure that your projects are protected.
Unit tests that are based around security can be significant to implement because they can provide an additional layer of security within your project. The problem is that many development teams completely ignore security-based unit tests because they place their focus elsewhere.
You should always try to implement code that doesn’t include any possible vulnerabilities. One way to check this is to implement static analysis security testing. You can implement a scanner for specific types of coding languages to check your code for these security vulnerabilities. An alternative option is to integrate dynamic analysis security testing scanners to ensure that your code cannot be attacked from external sources.
Git and GitHub
The Git software is synonymous with the modern understanding of ‘version control’ in the world of software development. Created by Linus Torvalds, Git was originally considered to be a software that could enhance version control of the core kernel for the Linux operating system.
It has since given rise to the largest online storage and code collaboration space in existence, commonly recognized as GitHub. This transformation has reinvented how software developers share and collaborate with each other on their coding projects.
Permanently Integrate Version Control
It’s impossible to run successful software development without version control. These days, it’s necessary to use a version control application that provides high-view snapshots for each of your developer’s changes.
These snapshots make it easy to understand the changes that a developer has just made. A development team that uses no version control solutions can quickly run into confusing issues with its developers struggling to upload their revisions against those of their colleagues.
Increase Social Connectivity with GitHub
GitHub allows for social connectivity to come alive in your software development process. GitHub is an amazing development tool that allows you to connect and share your projects with your colleagues and other external users outside your organization.
The possibilities for enhancing your code extend well beyond development since GitHub enables collaboration in plenty of additional ways. GitHub promotes the sharing of other software development projects as a way for you to collaborate with your colleagues, even if you’re not with them in person or working within the same organization.
You can review copies of other projects as a way to understand the methods that someone else implemented a feature. You can also figure out how you can go about changing it yourself with new additions to the code.
The biggest takeaway regarding GitHub’s social connectivity is that the collaboration it promotes doesn’t need to be limited to one aspect of development. GitHub streamlines everything about development so that code is more transparent and understandable to everybody working on it.
Maximize Your Team’s Productivity
It would be a shame to squander opportunities to increase productivity when so many software developers need to constantly iterate upon and refine their code. Tools like Git are so helpful because of their documentation. The documentation makes it much easier for developers to get up-to-speed.
The ability to use Git and immediately apply it to your software development projects is an imperative skill that you need to have if you want to maximize your coding productivity. Git focuses heavily on user convenience and serves as an intuitive interface that developers can use to quickly track their coding changes.
The interface is constantly being updated. This provides developers with the freedom to tailor their own bash commands, organize their local repository of code, and optimize personal workflow by adding files to previous commit statements. These features go a long way toward making individual contributors as productive as possible, without interfering with other developers’ code.
Agile Development Frameworks
The agile development framework is the king of the software development world. It makes projects much more manageable by breaking them up into digestible chunks.
If you haven’t heard much about Agile development, which basically just envelops multiple agile methodologies into a single term, it might be challenging to understand how to apply it to your software development projects. There are a few key tenets of agile development that you can immediately incorporate into your coding process to improve your software and streamline your workflow.
Make Coding More Manageable
Agile development emphasizes taking one thing at a time to ensure the greatest success possible for multiple, bite-sized amounts of work. You can improve the time you spend on your code by using an iterative process of development that promotes feedback as soon as the code has been reviewed.
Rather than make no progress and wait around for reviewers to look at your code, agile development frameworks force code to constantly be iterated upon and eliminate downtime.
This process of constantly tackling tiny pieces of code goes hand-in-hand with CI/CD pipelines, promoting constant reviews of code to keep pushing functioning features into production.
By making the coding process more manageable, you will save time, improve productivity, and increase efficiency. You may also notice that it is easier to produce higher-quality code when working in this type of environment.
Improve Your Code Iterations
Working within an Agile development framework means that you should take all of the necessary steps to iterate effectively upon your code. It also means that each iteration involves taking the correct steps to create the best possible code for your project. Make sure that you’re making the most of your Agile iterations by optimizing their steps.
Your software development iterations should consider what’s most important to the client. You should always be thinking about implementing the features you believe your client would most heavily favor during your iterative processes.
An easy way to remember that you’re giving the appropriate amount of focus to customer-driven features is by building a checklist of features to build. You should also consider deadlines for implementing each feature and design specifications for each feature you plan to develop.
Achieve Better Interdepartmental Collaboration
You can apply agile frameworks to your projects even when they include IT personnel who aren’t specifically working on code. Perhaps you involve your cybersecurity team. Maybe your DevOps teams need to help set project deliverables and timelines that affect them.
You can learn to apply Agile development frameworks to these inter-departmental projects for maximum efficiency and productive collaboration. Agile artifacts can extend to setting sprints that determine user stories and acceptability criteria, not just sprints to churn out an iterated line of code.
Agile development frameworks can help organize many moving parts between departments involved in a single project by setting specific milestones that you can have certain personnel oversee. It can be difficult to make sure that different departments contribute to milestones that affect your code and your project. By applying inter-departmental Agile frameworks, you can create a great way to keep everyone in check during the process.
What Does the Future of Code Look Like?
Code for software can only become so complicated before it’s virtually impossible for developers to create it. The future of software development has many possible routes. Many of them lead down a path with much less manual coding involved during the process.
With the continued rise of automation, connectivity, and an increasingly diverse collection of programming languages, there are more than a few plausible scenarios for the future of coding.
Low and No-Code as the Norm
The future of coding may not include all that much coding, after all. Visual interfaces like integrated development environments, or IDEs, traditionally required a whole team of developers to even maintain. These now have the potential to automate software development by promoting low or no-code environments.
Visualization is one of the biggest features that these environments will use to reduce manual coding requirements. This transformation will improve development efficiency and promote the creation of new products and features.
Writing code manually can be time-consuming and tedious. The future of software development will likely rely on automated processes that can take care of bug-fixing and iterating on snippets of code designated by you or your team.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence will undoubtedly become integral to automating code in the future. Developing skills within these fields will go a long way to contributing to future projects that require fewer programming skills.
Cloud Computing will Transform Tech Roles
Cloud computing has radically shifted the technology landscape and proliferated movements in DevOps that have transformed the roles in tech. The dominance of cloud computing can run entire applications and make the existing roles for actually developing and testing software applications obsolete.
It’s also increasingly important to know how to protect sensitive data on the cloud. This can help data centers and business enterprises avoid threats that occur on their physical networks. Cloud storage devices are beneficial for reducing the number of entry points available on your network to cybercriminals and malicious software.
You can use cloud-native solutions to store your code, and valuable digital assets as wireless connectivity enable greater technological capabilities in the future.
Big Data Continues to Proliferate
Business enterprises continue to leverage the benefits of ingesting and synthesizing massive sets of data. It only makes sense that skills in data management will be crucial for software developers to adopt so that they can meaningfully contribute to a variety of projects.
Understanding how to prioritize data sets and categorize and analyze them accordingly will be paramount for bridging the gap between IT departments and executive stakeholders.
The Internet of Things Takes the Stage
Software developers need to know how to create solutions that encrypt IoT devices’ data on wireless networks. These developers can give themselves a leg up in the near future in terms of skill sets by combining an understanding of new innovations in IoT with an indefatigable drive to learn more.
There’s no such thing as a plateau in terms of learning and mastering new skills in IT, and the same holds especially true for the burgeoning field of IoT. Learn what you can about communication protocols that IoT devices use to interact.
The Concept of Machine Learning
One major question about the future of coding revolves around the concept of machine learning and artificial intelligence. As these technologies continue to progress with time, new opportunities to make the programming process more efficient could start to appear.
Does this mean that coding will no longer be developed by human beings in the future? While it is unlikely that humans will stop coding entirely, there is a possibility that artificial intelligence can replace some fundamental jobs that humans currently do today.
In the distant future, there is a reasonably good chance that advanced technologies will be available that allow for computers and artificial intelligence to write their own code and develop software.
One early example of artificial intelligence is the concept of self-driving cars. They use sensors and cameras to relay information to an AI driving system to ‘self-drive’ the car. This might be a completely different topic, but the general concept remains similar in the grand scheme of things.
Machine learning is the concept of having an artificial intelligence system learn with experience over time. For example, if you simulated through weather patterns for five consecutive years with a machine learning system, there is a pretty good chance that with every passing day, the system will more accurately predict the weather.
This concept can work across any number of industries and it can get very complicated really quickly. The biggest problem that the world faces right now is trying to understand how many human-based jobs will be lost due to machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Imperative Skills of Team-Based Coding
Many development teams that develop and deploy code with CI/CD pipelines understand the important skills that come with developing code as a team. There are resources available that can help make this process easier — but it doesn’t guarantee success unless everyone is on the same page.
Communication is one of the primary skills that come into play because it is imperative to be on the same page as the other people on your development team.
If you are managing a large development team that utilizes many of the tools and resources that have previously been mentioned, then it is also important to not ignore the imperative skills that are required for team-based coding environments. These skills can range from technical skills, communication and accessibility.
One of the most important skills that will be required to effectively develop code is to be able to analyze a lot of data in a short period of time. Analytical skills come into play constantly throughout the development process. If you are debugging code, running tests, or simply developing the code, you will likely come across scenarios that require you to analyze output logs and data.
Familiarity with Multiple Programming Languages
There is the possibility that you will have to understand multiple different types of programming languages if you are a software engineer or developer. Many different coding languages can be used for software development, including Python, C#, Java, and many more.
If you are familiar with the fundamentals of multiple programming languages, then you are probably prepared to handle complex situations that might arise throughout the development. You will also likely be more comfortable working with different types of code editors, platforms, and resources.
Experience with cyber-security is always important. This is a skill that a lot of people, unfortunately, do not possess. It is always a good idea to have someone specifically designated for a security role to ensure that your developed code is properly protected from cyber-hackers and other similar security threats.
The final skill that you should work to hone is the concept of troubleshooting. Debugging errors and finding solutions to issues can be tedious, frustrating, and time-consuming. The process of troubleshooting can take a lot of time, but the right types of people may have this skill, and it can significantly improve overall efficiency when solving problems.
A solid development team will have a mix of skills spread across the team. Some individuals may have experience with networking, while others may understand security or troubleshooting. With that being said, everyone should be on the same page in terms of communication. If any of the people on the development team are unable to communicate, then that is a recipe for disaster in the future.
You likely started reading this post with the intent of learning about several innovative coding tools that can improve your coding methods and efficiency. Many other topics had to be addressed before you would completely understand everything about these innovative resources and tools.
The truth is that every developer has an opportunity to utilize specific skills, resources, and plugins to improve the coding experience. This is true for many different programming languages, platforms, and resources across the industry.
CI/CD pipelines were a common topic within this post because they play a significant role in automation and deployment for web apps and mobile apps.
Other concepts were also addressed, including possible pathways for the future of coding. This section discussed artificial intelligence and machine learning, which happen to be two essential topics that will impact the world’s future.
Towards the end of this post, you had the opportunity to learn about some of the most important skills required for team-based software development. These skills come into play for in-person development teams and remote development teams.
You should use all of the information that is available within this post to gain an understanding of the different ways to improve and transform the way that you develop code. Instead of viewing software development from a linear perspective, it might be a good idea to think outside of the box in the future.
Top Image Credit: cottonbro; pexels
Data Privacy – Why Users Should Care and How the Tech Industry Should Safeguard Data – ReadWrite
It is probably obvious to most people that certain personal information should be tightly protected — especially bank details, health records, and passwords. The motivation might be to protect us from criminal activity, embarrassment, or just because it is not anyone else’s business. Users should care about data privacy — and the tech industry should safeguard your data.
It’s essential to understand that ALL personal data is now the fuel of the digital economy.
And that means that there is an entire industry worth billions of dollars devoted to finding everything out about YOU. Your friends. Your shopping habits. Where you live and who you live with. Everything is up for grabs and harnessed for one simple reason. To make it easier to target you with adverts persuading you to buy things you might not purchase otherwise.
Data Privacy – Why Users Should Care and How the Tech Industry Should Safeguard Data
We all know about adverts that follow us around the Internet (a process known as remarketing). Many people have stories about how a conversation with someone about buying something or maybe seeing a movie, somehow led to an advert about it.
They are convinced that their phone is listening to everything they are saying. And, your phone IS listening – but not for the reasons you think. Actually, it’s down to the incredible power of today’s predictive algorithms. They probably know more about what you will want to do or buy next than you do. Based on billions and billions of interactions observed from other people just like you.
Some big life and tech industry questions
The big question is: if you know that your “important” information is protected, does tracking matter? Should you care if your other data is being used to track you? Especially if it results in free or low-priced apps that make your life easier or more pleasurable. Be it Facebook, Instagram, Gmail or Uber.
The first issue is simply a very human one. “I’m just not sure that I’m that comfortable with someone having access to everything that I’m doing.” No one reads 1984 and thinks that seems like a wonderful way to live. It just feels wrong.
There are real and practical data issues that need to be addressed.
There is a lot more at play than simply being sold a new appliance. We now know that democracy itself can be manipulated by the very technology that also sells us washing powder.
1960’s Simulamatics Corporation
The idea is not new. It actually goes back to the early 60s and the rise of the Simulamatics Corporation. It came up with the idea of identifying groups of people and computerizing them so that their behavior could be predicted.
The computer power and availability of data was a fraction of that available today. But the idea was there. And if you believe the Simulmatics Corporation, their data and predictions were enough to forecast and swing elections. (For more information on the dawn of this type of data science, read the fascinating If Then by Jill Lepore.)
Fast forward to the present day, and we are still feeling the effects of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Where the process of mining publicly available data, made it possible to push one country to break with its largest trading partner. And another to elect the worst or best President it has ever had.
One wryly amusing side story from the Brexit campaign is that contrary to popular belief, Cambridge Analytica had no involvement in that campaign at all, according to a three-year probe by the Information Commissioner.
However, they did find that “there are systemic vulnerabilities in our democratic systems” caused by the availability of personal data. That alone should be enough to make us demand that our data is better protected and regulated.
Things are changing. Slowly. And not always in ways where the motives are entirely transparent.
Convenience – not always benevolent
Take two recent examples – Apple vs. Facebook and Google against everyone else.
Apple vs. Facebook
In its latest update to its mobile operating system, iOS 14, Apple has released a new security feature that centers around the IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers — Look it up — too good to miss).
Oh, Joy!! This is a unique identifier for every iPhone and iPad, which allows advertisers to track the effectiveness of their advertising. Apple has decided to make this an opt-in feature for users. It supplies a one-time pop-up box that asks users whether they want to be tracked by Facebook or not. Verizon has made it so on their phone system — you can opt-out.
On the face of it, it seems obvious, why would you wouldn’t want to be tracked?
Mark Zuckerberg, not perhaps someone you would normally feel sympathy with, says this change “threatens the personalized ads that millions of small businesses rely on to find and reach customers.”
The reality is that Facebook also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, and Apple owns iMessage.
Facebook sees the changes, not as a way to protect consumers, but to cripple Facebook. “Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own.”
Google vs. Everyone Else
Google controls the world’s most popular browser, Chrome, and has announced that it is implanting sweeping changes to “third-party cookies.”
These are the nasties that track you across the internet. When your browser knows that you were recently on Site A, looking at a particular product, it can shove an advert at you to tempt you to buy the same thing.
The proposal is that these cookies will be replaced with a type of group ID. This identifies you as part of a particular “tribe” of people who Google thinks have similar interests. Google will supposedly stop third-party cookies — SOMETIME NEXT YEAR — 2022. They will already have all they need in their data storage by then.
We only have to wait another year for the implementation by Google
It sounds fantastic because third-party tracking is considered to be one of the most intrusive aspects of web browsing. Why? Because it sprays your data around the internet in an unregulated manner, leaking privacy with every new site you visit.
So — after another year — the change will dramatically limit the ability of almost every company on the internet to target specific ads at you. Because they will no longer be able to rely on collecting data second-hand through third-party cookies.
Best for Google
Except for Google. Who is one of the largest collectors of *first* party data on the internet? Google collects data from your searches through Gmail and Google Maps. If the company’s ability to target you is better, and everyone else’s is worse, surely this means that more money gets spent on Google ads, at the expense of other advertisers?
What both cases show is that it is unlikely big tech companies will act in your best interest when it comes to the management of personal data.
Especially if that personal data is what fuels their bottom line. Is a degree of regulation and perhaps some technology rethinking needed?
Europe has led the way to protect private data — GDPR
Europe has led the way in terms of the regulation of private data, and the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) is probably the most comprehensive data privacy law ever enacted.
But does GDPR have any real teeth?
It is estimated that $9 billion was spent in preparation for GDPR. For the last calendar year, DLA Piper estimates that fines across the whole of Europe stand at about 114m Euros.
With the enormous focus on data privacy — that fines can be up to 4% of global turnover, it doesn’t seem that GDPR hasn’t quite got into its stride yet.
Data Privacy – Consumer — why you should care. in the
The future of data privacy probably rests in the hands of the consumer. And the willingness of all of us to pay for the services that are subsidized by the money made from our data.
Tim Berners-Lee, famously the inventor of the World Wide Web, has gone on a mission to reclaim personal data with the idea of data “Pods.” These pods put personal data is in the hands of the individual, and are only handed out on a very selective basis. For this to work, we need to rearchitect the internet. And consider how far convenience trumps privacy.
Think about something as simple as email. Who doesn’t love being able to go on to Gmail and search for email? Or start a new email and have Google suggest whole sentences for you?
All of this connection relies (today) on Google having full access to your data.
What about Alexa? How great to walk into the kitchen, and switch on the radio. But more than 20 times a day, that same Alexa device is activating and sending data to Amazon accidentally: And somewhere in an office block in Romania, someone is listening to it.
To secure our data, we must start to think more about local processing of data. Including searchable encryption and homomorphic data processing. All ways of minimizing data leakage. It can all be done. And we can do much of it right now.
But it needs someone to pay. For all our talk about how we want our data to stay “ours,” it is our data that is picking up the tab right now.
Image Credit: andres ayrton; pexels; thank you!
Technology Isn’t Always Productive – Here’s How to Use it Appropriately – ReadWrite
Technology has revolutionized the way we live, work, and play. It’s a field of miraculous, magical developments that always have the power to help us save time, do more, and ultimately become more productive.
Technology Isn’t Always Productive
You might have had some experiences with technology that make you question whether a new app, a new gadget, or a new system is actually adding value to your life.
For example, you might have upgraded to a new project management system that ends up taking twice as much time to use. Or, even more commonly, you might have found yourself endlessly scrolling through your Twitter feed in the middle of an important project.
As a generalized, overarching trend, technology definitely makes us productive.
We’re capable of far more than we were even 10 years ago, and new industries and opportunities emerge every year from new tech. But technology isn’t always productive – in fact, it can sometimes rob you of productive time.
What steps can you take to ensure that all your technology choices end in higher productivity (or at least neutrality)?
Here’s How to Use Technology Appropriately
Outline Your Goals in Advance
Before adopting any new technology, it’s important to outline all your goals in advance. What, exactly, are you hoping to achieve?
Many new technologies make vague promises about making your life better, and many consumers end up buying those products because they seem, in some ambiguous way, “better” than what you currently have.
For example, you have the option to upgrade your refrigerator to a smart fridge. But what are you actually hoping to achieve from this upgrade? Do you want your food to spoil less often? Do you want to stay better organized with your food purchases? A refrigerator upgrade may not be necessary to achieve these goals.
What does productivity mean to you?
You’ll also need to think about what “productive” actually means to you. If a piece of new technology improved your productivity, what would that look like? Some technologies automate or simplify some aspect of your job (or life), only to introduce new problems.
For example, you might develop an algorithm that automatically generates a reading list for you – but it doesn’t always work quite right, so you have to sort through the list manually. You’ve saved an hour on task A, but you’re spending an hour on a new task, task B.
The clearer your goals are, the less likely you’ll be to use technology that has a net negative effect.
Rely on Objective Data
When choosing new technologies and evaluating their ability to improve your productivity, you need to rely on hard, objective data. What, specifically, is this improving and how much is it improving it?
This will help you filter out:
- Cognitive biases. Human beings aren’t very logical creatures. We’re afflicted with a variety of cognitive biases that can distort how we perceive things.
- Subjective feelings. You might feel like your phone is making you more productive, but the data may say something otherwise. This frequently happens with new acquisitions; we often like to justify our investments and pretend there are benefits when there aren’t any.
- Claims and anecdotal reports. Tech companies often promote their products by citing good reviews and happy customers. But anecdotal evidence and personal claims rarely tell the full story.
Always Review Your Options in Depth
When searching for new technology, you’ll probably have many options to choose from. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of competitors in almost every imaginable niche, so it’s important to review your choices carefully before making a final call.
Consider these choices for your technology:
- Features and functionality. What does this product have that other competing products don’t have? Even more importantly, what does it do to boost your productivity?
- Flexibility and scalability. How much can this product change, grow, and evolve with your company? This is especially important if you’re going to scale your business.
- Intuitiveness and learnability. How long will it take to learn how to use this system properly? Low intuitiveness can compromise even the best tech investment.
- Ratings and reviews. When combined with other considerations, ratings and reviews can be valuable in helping you make up your mind.
- Objective metrics. More importantly, though, you’ll need to look at the numbers. How many hours could this save you? What new tasks will it require?
- Costs. There may be a new app or gadget that can boost your productivity by 10 percent. But if it costs $10,000 a year, it may not be worth it. Consider the costs as well.
Automate Whatever You Can – but Understand the Limits
Automation is one of the best ways to save time and increase productivity in a business environment. Accordingly, you should strive to automate whatever you can.
That said, there are some limitations to what you can automate effectively. Automation relies on predictability and consistency; in an environment with unknown variables or areas that require human creativity, automation becomes less practical.
Excessive automation can also compromise certain aspects of your business; for example, you might be able to automate all your email marketing and sales campaigns, but it could turn people off for being too repetitive and “cold.”
For the most part, you should strive to limit the number of apps you rely on, both to simplify your infrastructure and to minimize time spent jumping between systems.
You can do this by consolidating the functionality of several apps into one, relying on integrations to send data to and from various apps, and by resisting the temptation to buy new apps just because they’re new and look cool.
Set Limits and Restrictions
Some apps and devices make it hard to be productive because they occupy too much of your time or interfere with your life in some crucial way. Accordingly, it’s advisable to set limits and restrictions for yourself, sometimes within the apps themselves.
- Screen time. Most smartphones and modern devices have built-in settings and apps to help you track your screen time. You might even be able to limit it. This is especially important for apps and devices that tend to distract you or pull you away from more productive work.
- Notifications and distractions. You should also be aware that even one small distraction has the potential to harm your productivity for nearly an hour; it takes time to build focus and momentum, and even a seemingly small distraction can ruin that. Turn off notifications wherever and whenever possible and consider closing out apps that might distract you (such as your email account during a busy workday).
- Communication. Communication is valuable in any workplace or home, but modern technology makes it all too easy to get in touch with someone – even when they’re busy. Don’t drop everything you’re doing every time you get an email, instant message, or request for a video call; use your communication apps intentionally and mindfully.
Measure and Reflect
Rely on a combination of built-in tech tools, time trackers, and other analytics dashboards to keep track of your productivity and your progress. How are you using the various tools available in your arsenal? How much time are you spending on various platforms and on screens? How many hours are you working and how much were you able to get done?
Consistently measure your productivity and observe how it changes over time.
Don’t just assume that a new piece of tech is boosting your performance; try to prove it. If it’s not working for you, consider cutting it and moving onto something else.
If you aren’t careful, a new app, a new gadget, or another high-tech investment can end up working against you, either by distracting you, interfering with your work, or making something you were already doing harder.
As long as you think critically about your new tech adoption and continue to be discerning in your tech infrastructure, you can end up benefitting from new tech.
Image Credit: curioso photography; pexels; thank you!
Top No-Code Tools to Automate Your Approval Process – ReadWrite
If your business hasn’t automated its approval process, you’re probably losing valuable staff time to repetitive tasks. Approving timesheets, time-off requests, purchase orders, work orders, and more involves processes with many steps. In fact, just the act of sending emails to verify approvals can eat into your staff’s time.
Creating apps that automate your approval process no longer requires a web developer, thanks to the array of no-code tools available. These tools feature easy editors with drag-and-drop functionality that allow anyone to create an app and a workflow that automates the approval process.
Available at various price points, any one of these apps could streamline approvals and pay off in many other ways for your business.
The Best No-Code Tools that Automate Your Approval Process
No-code tools that can automate your approval process run the gamut from user-friendly options for small businesses to more comprehensive platforms suitable for large enterprises. Whether you’re looking to create one app or want to design dozens that can handle every facet of your business, these no-code tools can help.
JotForm Approvals streamlines the approval process without the need to do any coding. The drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to set up a workflow that includes approvers, conditional branches, and automated emails.
With the JotForm Form Builder, you can easily build an online form to quickly collect submissions. Those submissions might be timesheets, work order requests, inventory purchase requests, or any other type of request that requires approval.
Once someone completes the approval form, the submission triggers the approval workflow you created. JotForm Approvals makes it easy to track and manage the process, and the automated tasks prevent staff from spending time sorting requests, following up on missing information, and so on.
You can set up your approval process to send automated emails to approvers when they receive a new task. And as tasks are approved, form respondents will receive an automated email notification.
Approvers don’t have to manually draft and send emails, so they can stay focused on the work of approving requests, rather than all of the repetitive work that goes along with approval.
All approval requests are saved in a central location, further saving approvers time. Information gathered through forms populates a database in JotForm Tables that supervisors and approvers can access for a broad-picture view.
The database makes monitoring the entire process simple, and supervisors can potentially spot problems and holdups early on in the process.
The JotForm Mobile Forms app, which is available for free on iOS or Android, enables approvers to manage both forms and approval flow from their phones.
JotForm Approvals is free.
Checkbox features a convenient drag-and-drop design that makes for easy and fast workflow automation. This app enables you to create parallel workflows, including reminders, scheduled tasks, and approvals, to keep your business running smoothly and efficiently.
Checkbox’s predetermined logic options make for streamlined processes that are accurate and appropriate. Including calculations, digital spreadsheets, if-then logic, and decision-tree logic in your workflows help to avoid holdups and reduces the demand for staff to make decisions and sort requests manually.
This no-code platform is comprehensive. Not only does it handle workflow creation and approvals, but Checkbox also features a calculation engine capable of creating complex rules and logic.
The dashboard and analytics help you identify what’s working and how to improve your business, while integrations with other tools make Checkbox a seamless addition to your existing business technology and systems.
The template gallery is loaded with templates to save you time and make the automation process faster. You can easily customize templates for common approval situations, like performance reviews, document execution approvals, and expense approvals.
Checkbox offers a 14-day free trial, so you can experience it for yourself at no risk.
Decisions is designed for fast implementation, so you can automate all of your business systems. Its rules-driven automation can pivot with the changing business environment, so you can establish systems that will adapt to shifting regulations, demands, and more.
This no-code platform includes powerful and comprehensive features, so you can rely on it for all of your automation needs. There’s no need to worry about integrating other tools or dealing with compatibility issues.
The Decisions visual designer is user-friendly, relying on graphics so that anyone — with or without coding or IT background — can automate processes. The Workflow Engine boasts more than 3,000 pre-built steps, making it easy to create workflows and processes that automate everything from work orders to vacation requests.
The drag-and-drop interface makes building custom reports simple, so you can access the specific information you need for a project, investor, or meeting. With such easy access to trends and business metrics, this platform can help you address processes that aren’t working and improve those that are.
Decisions goes beyond your typical automation platform with detailed reporting and built-in testing and debugging capabilities. Whether you’re just getting started with automation or are working with complex configurations, these testing options can help to head off trouble before you put a process into place.
You can even create permanent rule and workflow unit tests that automatically run with any rule changes. This ensures that your processes perform the way you want them to and allows you to spot errors early on before they become costly mistakes.
With its extensive functionality, Decisions stands to save businesses significant time. It’s well-suited for large-scale enterprises looking to automate their approval processes and systems across their operations.
Pricing starts at $4,839 per month for a single server with unlimited users. Enterprise pricing details are available upon request.
Rindle, a no-code automation platform, allows you to build processes that enhance your business and your team. Trusted by top brands like the YMCA and AudienceView, Rindle features an easy-to-use dashboard and versatile capabilities.
With Rindle, you can create rules that will guide each step of your workflow, including your approval processes. The rules are customizable, so you can implement the steps and requirements that make sense for your business.
You don’t have to be a coding expert to work with Rindle. It comes equipped with more than 20 no-code triggers, the ability to use “and” and “or” logic for conditions, and more than 30 no-code actions. This simplifies the process of building your workflow and rules.
The Rindle dashboard resembles a card system like Asana or Trello but with more sophisticated capabilities. While you can still assign tasks and deadlines, the automation you set up can also create subtasks and take over some of the work.
You can use Rindle to create rule-driven workflows for your approval process. Whether you’re sorting emails based on the responses provided or need to ensure that requests requiring multiple approvals get in front of the right people, this platform can simplify the process and make for faster, more accurate results.
The Rindle Professional plan costs $9 per user, per month, while the Business plan costs $20 per user, per month. All plans include a 14-day trial.
Quickbase allows you to automate business processes without requiring any coding. The drag-and-drop visual builder is very user-friendly, and it helps you visualize how an app will function.
With Quickbase, you can upload data from a spreadsheet or by copying and pasting, to create a database. You can then build an app with that data.
When it comes to automating your approval process, Quickbase’s task management is highly customizable. Automated notifications, reports, and approvals can improve efficiency and keep your business operating smoothly, while reducing the time staff spend on standard tasks.
Quickbase offers a library of templates that can help you set up automated processes, so you don’t have to create a custom app.
The platform also integrates with various popular services, including Box, Gmail, Google Drive, Salesforce, Zendesk, and more.
Quickbase offers a 30-day free trial, and there’s no credit card required to sign up for the trial. Pricing is customized; contact the company for more info.
With the Flowfinity platform, you can create custom apps for enterprise-grade solutions. Top businesses, including Ford, Campbell’s, Pepperidge Farm, and more, trust Flowfinity.
The visual interface is simple, so it’s not overwhelming, but it’s also highly versatile. You can publish apps instantly, and they’ll be automatically installed to save you time. Dashboards allow for data visualizations so you can monitor your business and app performance.
Flowfinity’s point-and-click editor simplifies the process of building an app. The apps are automatically published for users, who might be in the field or in the office.
The apps centralize your data, no matter where your users are located, and integrate it with your backend systems. From there, you can create reports, custom PDFs, export the data as a CSV file, or visualize and analyze it right in your dashboard.
Creating an app with Flowfinity helps to facilitate information flow while eliminating manual processes. You can use these apps to automate your business processes, including streamlining the approval process. The result is enhanced productivity and accuracy, as well as time-saving benefits for your staff and business as a whole.
In addition to automating approval processes, you could potentially use these apps to automate many other processes. Features like skip logic, barcode scanning, personalized emails, and the ability to create custom workflows mean there are potentially endless ways to apply these apps in your day-to-day operations.
Flowfinity offers a 14-day free trial and doesn’t require any credit card information to sign up for the trial. Pricing details aren’t available online.
The Kintone platform simplifies the process of building the custom apps your business needs. This no-code platform doesn’t require any IT or third-party developer assistance, saving you time and money.
Kintone offers a library of more than 1,000 new apps that can serve as a starting point. The apps are all free and customizable, so you don’t have to build an app from scratch.
You can create apps to automate your business approval processes, make for easier inventory management and ordering, facilitate time-off request approvals, and so much more.
As you build, you can also explore the wide selection of available extensions, including very popular programs like Dropbox, Evernote, Eventbrite, Gmail, HubSpot, and more. These extensions can increase your app’s functionality, ensuring it works with the other programs you’re already using for seamless integration with your business.
While Kintone makes the process of building apps easier, it also serves as a central dashboard so you can conveniently access all of your data.
Its in-database collaboration option allows you to easily search, read, and join conversations, which helps keep all of your team members on track and up to date. Teams can communicate through threads, in-record comments, user profile walls, and private messages, ensuring those conversations are stored and available when needed.
Accessible on an internet browser, Kintone is also available as an iOS and Android mobile app, so you can always stay connected.
A professional Kintone subscription starts at $24 per month, per user, with a minimum of five users. Discounted nonprofit and education and government subscriptions are also available.
Kintone offers a free trial that doesn’t require a credit card for signup.
Open as App
With Open as App, you can use your existing data to create an app. This platform pulls data from Excel, Google Sheets, or a database, all without any coding needed.
Once you’ve created your apps, it’s easy to manage them through the centralized dashboard. The dashboard gives you control over rights, security, and access settings. Your app will be visible only to you, and you can decide when and if you’re ready to share it with others.
With Open as App, you can automate your business processes, including approvals. It’s possible to automate time tracking sheets, quote follow-ups, approval notifications, sales system updates, and more. The apps themselves, can include automation like push notifications and automated emails, making them extraordinarily efficient.
Open as App helps you design four different types of apps:
- List apps convert your data into apps that are easy to access both online and offline. Users can update reports and databases, filter data according to specific criteria, and update the data.
- Dashboard apps make it easy to access your Excel or Google Sheets dashboards right from your phone. Charts update automatically, and you can customize colors and chart types.
- Calculation apps make it simple and intuitive to use complicated spreadsheets. Formulas from your spreadsheets are automatically added to an app, so other team members can use the formulas and logic.
- Survey apps make gathering survey information easier and more efficient. With this app, users can quickly fill out survey information on their phones, increasing the response rates.
While you can build a custom app from scratch, Open as App also offers a wide assortment of apps online. They can serve as an inspiration and are available publicly, so you can see what’s possible with Open as App and what type of app might work best for your business.
Open as App offers a free plan that allows you to create one app and share it with one user. The Business plan, which allows you to create 10 apps and share them with five users, costs $106 per month. A custom Enterprise plan is also available.
Choosing the Right No-Code Tools for Your Business
With so many no-code tools available, whether you’re running a small startup or a larger enterprise, you can find a tool that has the functionality and capacity you need.
Choosing the right tool for your business.
When choosing the best app, you’ll start by outlining the processes that you want to automate and the other potential uses for apps within your business. Many of these tools can help you create apps for all sorts of purposes, so write up a list of potential apps and look for a tool that can help you create those apps.
Many of these tools feature pricing that depends on the number of seats or the number of users.
It’s helpful to review the roles that each employee in your company will play, whether that’s developing an app or using an app. Having this information can help you assess both pricing and value as you consider these different tools.
Automation gives you accuracy, productivity and costs savings.
Keep in mind, too, that automating the approval process (and other business processes) pays off in enhanced accuracy, productivity, and cost savings. While you might invest in a no-code tool to develop the apps you need, remember that it’s really an investment in your business’s success and efficiency.
Image Credit: cottonbro; pexels; thank you!