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integration and implementation of technology-focused business solutions

What you need to know about Oracle APEX prebuilt apps

April 16th, 2019

How would you like to be able to build web-based applications with a limited amount of code? What about using prebuilt applications that run in an easy-to-use web environment?

If this sounds interesting at all to you, you need to dig into Oracle Application Express (APEX) prebuilt applications.

Maybe you’re already using APEX. A lot of companies are. In previous iterations, some of the prebuilt applications that came with APEX started to be used in contexts they weren’t intended for, and that could create some issues.

That’s all changed now. Oracle decided to make them ready for use in other contexts, and they’re now hardened for security. With newer iterations of APEX, you have a handy little toolbox of applications that you can deploy for a multitude of useful tasks.

Packaged applications are your IT multitool

The prebuilt applications of Oracle APEX are a unique feature that businesses with some level of Oracle integration can already utilize. Even if you’re not a bigger business that uses Oracle’s frameworks, you can use the free Oracle XE edition if you can work around the limitations.

The applications included in this environment were originally something on the back end-a toy for developers. But those developers realized the value early on and said, “Hey, these are pretty good!”

For a lot of tasks, the APEX prebuilt apps might be all you need. Say you have Amazon Cloud web service and you want to deploy time tracking or product management. It’s already there ready for use. Project tracking? Right there at your fingertips. Competitive analysis? Easy. And all you need is someone with a little knowledge of the APEX framework and a few hours to set it up.

Why would Oracle do something like this?

From what I can gather, they were interested in demonstrating the potential of the framework. In addition, the prebuilt point solutions are an easy way to show best practices to both newbies and curious tinkerers. If you want to make something useful, it’s a great tool for showing you how to do it.

If you’re as intrigued as I am with the many uses of the Oracle APEX prebuilt applications, it’s worth taking a little time to familiarize yourself with them. Take a look. You’ll find plenty to like.

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Database administration: more important than ever with the cloud

April 2nd, 2019

If you haven’t moved your database from a traditional server structure to the cloud, 2019 is your year. The time is now.

Oracle’s Cloud Infrastructure has gone from Generation 1 to Generation 2, and the pace of change has been incredible. It’s changing so fast that you can’t even keep up. If you’re running a business, your primary concern is your area of business and not database changes, but these changes are big.

With Generation 2, Oracle’s changed the game. We’ve been running their Cloud Infrastructure for a little while now, and for the first time, we can do something that we never could have approached before.

We can take a large enterprise’s data centers from a regular on-site setup to an entirely cloud-based setup. That’s an exciting and scary frontier.

Database administration has changed

A question we often hear in our business is, “Why can’t we do it the way we used to do it?” And it’s a question that’s coming more frequently every year.

With everything moving to the cloud, we’ll be hearing it a lot more. Things are changing-fast. Even going from one generation to the next is a big jump. We’re not just dealing with navigation changes. It’s not just reupholstery. Automation is a big thing. The cloud is a big thing.

Across the industry, we’re seeing a push towards faster and faster iteration, but that comes with a real-world cost for businesses. How do you keep up?

People sometimes think if they put a system and a database on the cloud, it’s all going to work by itself. But that’s not the case.

The easy button doesn’t exist

With the pace of change, businesses are struggling to keep up with all the changes that occur in their database system, even from week to week. That’s where a managed database administration (DBA) solution comes in.

Database administration is more important than ever before, because most businesses don’t have the time to figure out how things work behind the scenes. You can’t just trust that things will run at their best-you have to stay on top of them. And that’s what DBA services are for.

Cloud-based databases don’t make a DBA’s role go away; it just changes. More than anything, when you peel back all those layers, the DBA managed services that LSG Solutions offers do different things. Whether it’s one-time upgrade services or on-demand help, we’re here for you. We can help you worry less about resources and more about the running of your business-the part you actually care about.

The move from physical data centers to the cloud is a sea change for businesses everywhere. Don’t get left behind. Stay ahead of the technological trends with a little help from the people who do it for a living.

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Key steps to reduce database administrator turnover

March 19th, 2019

Are your database administrators leaving? You’ve probably seen it happen before. You bring someone on board, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to do the job. They stick around for a little while, then right when you’ve trained them and gotten them to the point where they can contribute, they walk out the door.

It’s a waste of time and money, a drain on your organization, and a total disruption to the databases your business needs to truly thrive. If you’ve been dealing with this problem, you’re well aware something has to be done.

Database administrators are the unsung heroes of your organization, managing data from multiple databases and keeping it safe, collated, and easily accessible. Here’s how you can keep them happy and productive so you can stop losing your best people.

1. Give them the authority they need

Putting your DBA in the position of administrator without giving them the authority to do their job will hamstring you before you even start.

Some databases may be department-specific, but often they need to be accessed across multiple different departments. Your database administrator needs the power to say “no.” Without that, they’re a firefighter, not an administrator.

They need to be able to implement data standards and give teeth to their enforcement. They need to be able to control access to resources so unauthorized or under-qualified users can’t wreak havoc. And they also need to be able to pursue or veto new projects across departmental lines.

If you don’t give them the authority, they won’t be able to do the job that you hired them for. Don’t stop them before they start.

2. Don’t give them too many hats

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is lumping their database administrators in with IT, then giving them general IT tasks to do that pull them away from their primary job.

It would be like hiring a roofer to redo the roof of your house, then asking them halfway through to take a look at the weird noise coming from your air conditioner. Sure, you might be lucky enough to get a contractor who knows enough about air conditioning to give you a general idea. But just because it’s in the same house doesn’t mean it takes the same skillset, and your roof’s going to take longer to get done (and so will your air conditioner).

Why would you take a DBA and ask them to do help desk work? Or bring them on only to monitor databases instead of letting them make improvements? Sadly, too many organizations insist on their specialized employees wearing too many hats. Don’t be one of them.

3. Prioritize building systems, not fixing problems

A good DBA is an architect and a technician, both maintaining databases that already exist and coming up with ways to do things better. In the day-to-day work, they’ll find ways to prune out databases and processes that are obsolete or useless. They’ll create relationships and pathways that will streamline your business. And they’ll make everything run more efficiently.

But that’s only if you give them the chance.

Many organizations concentrate on firefighting first instead of trying to figure out where the fires come from. Give your DBAs time to learn and stay on top of their profession. Give them the time and resources they need to create processes that stop fires before they start. No one wants to spend their workday in a perpetual state of half panic. Let them get ahead of the problems instead of working behind.

4. Appreciate them before things are on fire

Most employees in the IT sector have this problem-it’s not unique to the DBA. During day-to-day operations when everything runs smoothly, no one thinks about them. But when something breaks, all of a sudden they become the pressure point.

If 80% of the interactions you got from the people higher up in the organization were related to problems, what kind of life would that be? Make sure you involve them in the day-to-day. Convey your appreciation and take the time to listen when they ask for help.

Skilled DBAs are tough to come by, and they’re worth hanging on to when they come around. If your DBA is bogged down in mundane work and firefighting and can’t do the things that really matter in their job, they’re probably going to leave. Take some of that work off their plate and empower them to do the work that really matters-the work they probably enjoy more.

Outsourcing some of the mundane day-to-day monitoring and grunt work can help your DBA have a better experience. If you think this is something that can help your organization, check with us at 405-285-2500 or at sales@lsgsolutions.com. We’ll help you keep your DBA happy-and a happy DBA is one who’s likely to stick around.

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Three reasons you shouldn’t neglect software upgrades

March 5th, 2019

Everyone knows what happens to an asset that doesn’t get regularly maintained and updated-it eventually fails.

Trucks break down, which results in costly repairs and inconvenient downtime. Roofs wear out and leak. Inventory spoils or becomes obsolete. It’s obvious to the naked eye when these things aren’t taken care of regularly.

So why do so many businesses believe they can neglect updating their software?

For some business owners, it may be a matter of priorities. Some may feel that so long as the software still functions, it’s fine. Others may fear an upgrade, either because of the risk of something going wrong or the need to change established processes. Still others may not understand technology at all, preferring not to deal with it and assuming that once installed, software takes care of itself. Unfortunately that’s not true.

There are three very important reasons you should maintain, monitor, and update your software regularly.

1. Safety and security

The longer a piece of software is out, the more time people have to find vulnerabilities in it. Software companies are constantly patching and correcting issues in their software, and if those patches are neglected, they leave holes that are easily exploited by hackers.

The headlines are full of companies that have unknowingly exposed huge troves of customer data. Others have been hit with damaging ransomware attacks. If you found out one of the windows in your home could be easily removed from the outside, would you ignore it? The same principle applies to software.

2. Speed and efficiency

As software packages mature, the companies developing them figure out ways to make them more efficient and more optimized. This results in speed gains. In this chart of Magento load speeds, you can see a huge difference in both the version of Magento being run and the version of PHP.

The performance benefits speak for themselves. A faster website or application helps you retain customers and make their user experience better. A faster program suite for your employees helps them be more productive. Sure, there are always issues that can arise when you upgrade, but the benefits in the long run outweigh any short-term headaches.

3. Better features

Upgrading or updating software allows you to capitalize on features that are added in newer versions of the program-features that can be hugely helpful to your business. Something like WordPress adding support for Progressive Web Apps can create opportunities you might never have thought of.

Some of the consequences of not regularly updating your software may be minor and seem like only a small annoyance. An extra step to convert a file perhaps, or some tinkering to be done to make a stubborn process work. But some can bring your organization to a halt.

Just like maintaining a vehicle, maintaining and upgrading your software is essential to keeping your enterprise humming along like a well-oiled machine. If you’re having trouble keeping up with it, feel free to reach out to us at 405-285-2500 for a checkup and some help getting things back under control.

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Everyone is vulnerable to security breaches

February 19th, 2019

We recently had a client who became the victim of a ransomware attack, specifically a Dharma variant called the .adobe variant. It attacked their file server and encrypted a portion of the files, which meant the company was unable to operate until it was resolved.

The hackers demanded $5,000 in ransom for the encryption key to unlock the data. That was a significant increase from one of our prior experiences with ransomware with a ransom request of $250. Thankfully, because our clients had the right plan in place for backup and recovery, we were able to resolve the situation quickly without paying the ransom. If you have the right backup systems in place, you can simply roll it back to before the ransomware infected the server.

The attack took place on a Sunday afternoon rather than mid-day of a workday, so their overall data loss was minimal. They did lose some productivity as we worked to get their systems fully functional again, but the downtime was pretty minimal overall because they were prepared for something like this to happen.

It wasn’t a sophisticated attack, but these attacks don’t have to be sophisticated to cause a lot of damage for businesses. Basically, hackers can buy an exploit kit with the code they need to launch the attack and then customize it a bit, or put their stamp on it, based on how they name the files.

When it comes to security breaches and cyber attacks, everyone is vulnerable. And I mean everyone. Yes, there are some things you can do to lessen the chances or lessen the impact, but no one is immune to cyber attacks regardless of what protocols they have in place. Many people don’t realize just how vulnerable they are.

At a recent conference we attended, one of the speakers asked anyone who had been impacted by a security breach or cyber attack to raise their hand. There were some people who didn’t raise their hands, and the speaker said that they’ve either been a victim and didn’t know it or would be before too long.

The sheer volume of attack attempts happening make it a numbers game so that it’s just a matter of time. The volume also makes it nearly impossible to stop. We can slow it down, but we can’t really stop it completely.

There are a couple of ways that small businesses are especially vulnerable, though the same issues can impact larger businesses as well. First, the use of single passwords to protect information. In lots of companies, there’s just one password standing between the hacker and the data they want to steal. Things like two-factor authentication can help, as can other methods for encryption keys and secure access.

The second vulnerability for a lot of businesses is the frequency of remote work. Anytime someone’s accessing your system from outside your system, there’s a risk there. Each time an employee logs in remotely, it’s creating another door into your system that hackers can try to break down. Most people view those actions as simple everyday activities they do in order to work, but it’s a risk to your company. I’m not saying don’t allow remote work, but rather be aware of the vulnerabilities it creates and have a plan to reduce that risk.

About 70% of all security issues come through email, so education can be key for your employees to understand the risks and to avoid clicking on any links without checking the sender and the link URL first. Online ads and websites are another potential point of access. When you go to a website, your computer starts downloading files associated with that website to your cache so you can view the site. If a virus sneaks through and your antivirus software doesn’t pick it up, that virus goes to work quickly.

Every company should have a plan in place to reduce their risk of cyber attacks and security breaches plus a recovery plan should one occur. The risk is simply too great to not have a plan in place before an issue arises.

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Lessons learned from the Oklahoma Digital Government Summit

February 5th, 2019

We recently attended the Oklahoma Digital Government Summit, which we also sponsored. It was a great networking and learning event with IT professionals from state and local governments, education, and other organizations across the state. We enjoyed the opportunity to connect with some of our clients outside of the office and partners we work with regularly, as well as meet new people.

Not surprisingly, security was a hot topic at the event. It’s something we face every single day as IT professionals. Another great presentation was a keynote speaker talking about improving communications, which is also an important topic of discussion in the IT world.

Cyber security

The number of cyber security attacks continue to increase every year, and I don’t see that trend changing anytime soon. It’s all about the money for the people who orchestrate these attacks, and honestly no company is safe from cyber attacks. If you have customer data of any kind in your system, you’re a target.

Many of the presentations talked about how to prevent cyber attacks and the importance of having a process in place if an attack occurs. What steps will you take to secure your systems? If something happens, how will you notify your customers that their data has been compromised?

Because it was a government conference, there was lots of conversation about citizen expectations around data privacy and protection. In state and local governments, there’s not a significant return on investment for the systems themselves as there can be in the private sector. But there is a public return on investment and the morale factor to think about with citizens and their expectations.

Communications in IT

One of the keynote presentations centered around improving communications in IT. It wasn’t about talking to each other more, but rather about how to be more clear and concise in making your point, which can apply to sales, customer communication, or even interpersonal communication. One of the tips he mentioned was to know the key points you need to make in a meeting and ensure you have a plan for how you’ll get those points across in a concise way.

The conference didn’t include many sessions specifically about application development or software solutions, though we were certainly happy to talk about those topics with anyone interested. But mostly, there was lots of conversation about cyber security and data protection, which is important for government agencies and businesses of all sizes to be thinking about.

Overall, it was a great conference and a wonderful opportunity to network with state and local governments.

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The end of Oracle Reports

January 22nd, 2019

For many years, Oracle Reports has been a go-to option for reporting data, particularly out of applications built with Oracle Forms. But since Oracle announced it will discontinue support for both resources, it’s time to start thinking about alternate options.

When Oracle Reports first came out, it was incredibly complex and pretty exciting. You could tell it was built by Oracle based on its structure and the complexity. And you could do so much with it! It was really amazing what you could do, but it was also challenging for a lot of people to learn because of the complexity.

One feature it offered was the ability to show or hide data on reports, and it was really the first tool to offer that based on user levels. With most reporting tools, you couldn’t hide anything based on the user. If someone had access to a report, they could view the entire report. It was pretty complex and sophisticated when Oracle Reports launched the user-level controls to show or hide report data.

Of course, over time the complexity frustrated many users, and they found easier systems to use. There were a lot of layers to things in Oracle Reports, and if you messed one thing up, it could mess up a lot of other things. The error messages weren’t exactly friendly or all that helpful either. So, over time, the software ran its course.

In contrast to the ongoing support currently available for Oracle Forms, Oracle dropped support for Reports pretty quickly unless you’re using a specific version alongside Forms. They’ve had some other reporting tools available through the years, but they’ve primarily left reporting to other vendors in the market.

If you’re still using Oracle Reports, it’s time to look at some of those other options and decide which one best fits your reporting needs and will best interface with your other systems.

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Transitioning away from Oracle Forms

January 8th, 2019

Oracle Forms is a legacy product that’s nearly as old as Oracle itself. For decades, it was what you used to build software for data entry or data retrieval. In fact, it dates all the way back to the late ’80s and software applications that were character-based on green screen terminals. That approach was still used by an automative parts store up until pretty recently, in fact. And it’s still in use by many companies but in its more modern form as a web-based application.

In the late ’90s, Oracle started using their own Oracle Forms to develop off-the-shelf applications that they sold to the public, such as Oracle Financials and other business tools. They were the first ERP software vendor to provide a web-enabled version of their system, and Wall Street loved it. It took off like crazy, but then in recent years they began slowly migrating their own offerings away from Oracle Forms.

Back in 2017, they announced that Oracle Forms was coming to an end. They’re no longer going to provide new updates and will only release patches when necessary. Premier support is available through the end of 2020, and then an extended support cycle will be available for an additional fee through 2023.

When Oracle first announced this in 2017, it seemed like it was a long way off. But here we are in 2019, and 2020 is not that far away. That means companies need to start thinking about what they have in place and how they will make a transition in the future.

Many applications that are running on Oracle Forms will continue to function just fine for a few years. But if you upgrade to a new version of Windows or Linux, there’s no guarantee your application will be compatible. And if something stops working in your application, there may not be support to help fix it in the future.

We’ve already been talking with many of our clients about next steps for their applications. There are lots of options out there, including Oracle Application Express, as well as applications based in .net, php, and java. But the first step in the process is to truly understand what you have currently.

For one client, we started to explore their existing application and map out the various pieces involved, and it was much larger than anyone at the company realized. It’s going to be a lengthy process to migrate it over to another system, but they also know it’s something they need to start sooner rather than later. The older a system gets and the less it’s supported, the more risk there is when you think about it suddenly not working.

If you have applications running on Oracle Forms, there’s no need to panic, but it is time to start talking about a transition plan.

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Integrating data to avoid silos

December 18th, 2018

Data silos are a significant challenge for many businesses. You might have time tracking software in one system, payroll in another, invoices in another, production numbers in another, and so on. It can get pretty messy pretty fast with that many different systems in play.

In some ways, cloud computing has made this even worse. There are lots of different cloud vendors to meet the needs of companies in any of these areas. Some will say they can do it all, while others specialize in one specific area. But even among those who say they can do it all, can they really?

When companies are evaluating systems and tools, it’s important to really think about how things go together. If you’re evaluating time tracking software, will it integrate with your payroll software for hourly employees? If it doesn’t, how much time will it take you to manually transfer data between two systems?

While there may not be one single system that fits everything you need, it’s important to realize if you’re headed down the path of multiple data silos. If you don’t want to head down that path, then expect to invest a little more money in a tool that can help prevent those frustrations.

With small businesses, there’s typically a price point issue with some of the higher-level systems as well. You might not need the full functionality of that tool, and it’s not exactly in your budget. But there isn’t a mid-range tool that has what you need within budget, so you end up with a handful of different tools.

In just about every software tool out there, there’s some way to get data in or data out. That’s often where we come in. While we’re a software development company, we’re also a systems integration company. We can help companies pull the data from different systems into one place so it becomes actionable data. We can also help them evaluate new data systems they might be adding to the mix.

If you find yourself dreading the routine of maintaining, downloading, and importing to keep data in sync, there’s a better way. That could mean a more comprehensive system that does multiple things in one place or a custom data integration so that different systems share data automatically.

Data is powerful for companies, but you can’t unlock that power if your data exists in silos. You need the ability to view your data across systems, which is why data integration matters.

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Are your software tools slowing you down?

December 4th, 2018

When it comes to businesses of any size, a lot of us are trapped in a never-ending state of using the wrong tools to accomplish a task. Maybe we think it’s working okay, or maybe we’re comfortable because it’s the software system we know best. And maybe there are workaround procedures in place to help it work as it should.

But there’s a better way with better software tools.

In some companies, the software systems are so old it’s like the treasured stuffed animal that’s been passed down in three generations of a family. It’s pretty dirty and maybe a bit threadbare. But everyone loves it, so when the next hole appears, someone patches it so the stuffing somehow manages to stay inside.

I’ve seen many software systems that looked much the same. Holes, patches, and workarounds to keep it limping along. But software isn’t a stuffed animal that comes with three generations of memories. It’s a tool meant to help you work more efficiently. And if it’s not doing that, it’s definitely time to move on.

Many times, companies are trying to use Microsoft Excel for far more than it was intended to do. There are multiple copies of a spreadsheet floating around, and nobody quite knows which one is the most recent version. Or maybe there’s one copy on a shared drive, but it gets corrupted when three people try to access it at once.

The other issue is when spreadsheets are accessed by multiple people and somebody changes a calculation along the way. There could be hundreds of calculations, and maybe there are some macros in place too. If even one of those gets accidentally changed, you could be looking at completely inaccurate numbers. There’s a better way!

The same is true for companies using Microsoft Access for far more than it was intended to do. While it’s a little bit better in terms of avoiding multiple versions of a spreadsheet, it’s still not the most robust system available.

A lot of times, people are simply working with the tools they have available or the tools they know. They might not realize what other options exist, or they might not have support from their internal IT team to put something new in place.

This is something we help a lot of small businesses with. It’s pretty easy and affordable to transition to better systems, and it can save you a lot of time and hassle in the long run. Upgrading to a better system can also put the data at your fingertips, whether that’s on your phone or from any other device wherever you are.

The data in enterprise data systems also has a better chance of being backed up regularly than individual spreadsheets on an employee’s desktop. And when it comes to data of any kind, regular backups are critical.

There are certainly still some tasks where a basic spreadsheet is sufficient. But as businesses grow, it’s helpful to step back and ask if the systems you’re using are really the most efficient and effective systems or if it’s time to upgrade.

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