Healthy Air Fryer Pakoras!

Pakoras (pakodas) are one of the most loved snack in India. You can eat them all day, every day, and still not get sick of them! They are most wonderful on a rainy day with a cup of chai in your hand. They are so irresistible, you would invariably grab them while they are still piping hot, and bite into them immediately only to go ooh and aah, juggling the little bite in your mouth, trying not to burn the roof of your mouth!

Pakoras consist of two main items – vegetables (any, really), and besan (chickpea flour). You basically make batter by mixing the two with some spices of your choice and deep fry them.

WOAH. Deep fry them?

Yeah, that’s the thing. They are so delicious because they are deep fried! But fret not – Use an air fryer! Air fryers take away the shame and guilt that come with consuming deep fried food because there’s barely any oil being used for “frying” – it’s all hot air blowing inside a basket that’s doing all the cooking! Also, the end result is absolutely amazing, and doesn’t feel like it’s fake frying at all!

Making pakoras is super easy. It will take probably 10 minutes to prepare and 10 minutes to “fry”. When I made this batch of pakoras, I used bell peppers (capsicum), onions, and carrots (because we got excessive carrots from Imperfect Produce!) but really, you can use any vegetable(s) you want. Most popular pakoras are potato, cauliflower, onion, paneer or a combination of any of these. Or like i said earlier – ANY VEGETABLE REALLY.

This is how you make them:

Chop your veggies. Here, I have bell peppers, onions and carrots.

Pro tip: Add a bit of grated ginger to give your pakoras a kick!

Add all your chopped veggies to a bowl.

Now get the most important ingredient that will add the awesome in “awesome pakoras” – Besan (Gram Flour)!

So, I am using half a biggish bell pepper, half a biggish onion, and a large carrot here. This will make me around 10 pakoras in the air fryer. For those many pakoras, use probably 1/4th cup of besan.

You can certainly add more besan if you’d like. Using less make the pakoras more crunchy because you bite into more veggies. Adding more besan will take away the crunchiness of veggies but will be delicious nonetheless!

Next, add some spices. Salt, red chilly powder to taste.

Secret spice to make the pakoras even more exciting: Amchur Powder (you can get it at any Indian grocery store) – maybe two pinches of it

Now, there are only two things you need. add just a tiny bit of oil – maybe a capful from your oil bottle, and a flick of water. Yes, a flick! Wet your fingers, and flick your fingers over the besan.

You don’t need any more water than that. If you add a lot of water, your batter will be super watery. That will be a problem because it will just drip down the holes in your air fryer basket.

So have your batter super thick.

Once you have the oil and water in there – mix. Mix well with your hand! Your hand will obviously get soiled but that’s the only way to get batter ready for pakoras. Don’t compromise this step, folks!

Pro tip: Once your batter is ready, lick your fingers to use up what’s stuck to your hand. Don’t waste it by washing it off in the sink! It’s precious.

Your batter should look something like this – notice how the veggies are still prominently visible.

Now, preheat your air fryer: 350 F and between 5 and 10 minutes.

Pro tip: Start preheating your air fryer before chopping the veggies to save time!

Now make small balls and place them in the air fryer basket. be especially careful reaching the corners. Your basket will be hot and it will definitely burn you if you are not cautious!

Put the basket back in, and bake for 10 minutes. Shake the basket after first 5 minutes.

Once ten minutes are over, get the pakoras out, put them in a bowl, and ENJOY!

Best served with any sort of chutney, ketchup or chunky chat masala.

If you end up making these, tell me how they turned out!

Five Things To Consider While Building PowerApps

If you are in the Business Applications realm, you know what PowerApps is. When it started popping up innocently a few years ago, it was easily dismissed (actually, not even considered) by many because of how limited and broken it was. However, when Microsoft announced last year that PowerApps would become a part of Business Applications along with Dynamics 365, it was time to give it a little attention, if not a lot.

Within a matter of months however, it became a lot more prominent and relevant, and before we even realized how that even happened, it became a lovable force to reckon with! Well, not completely lovable because it still had major issues, but it showed everyone what it was capable of. (a lot!) For us Dynamics 365 maniacs, it showed us how it could plug holes created by Dynamics in an easy, quick and cost effective manner. Not only that, it made it so easy to build solutions that interact with many systems. In the Dynamics world, the word “Integration” played a major role when it came to making two or more systems talk. PowerApps, somehow, was managing to make integrations as we knew them seem not so rigid and difficult. (“just use a connector to connect to SharePoint..”)

With the sky literally being the limit, and possibilities being endless, a lot of us dived right into PowerApps development and started building “low code/no code” apps. Very soon, we learnt that low code/no code was somewhat of a lie ( :-)), but we will talk about that on a different day! What we did stick to was the default UI/UX PowerApps came with. That was and is (if you are still sticking to it) a bad idea! The default look is forgettable and irritating – bland, boxy, and mediocre. However, many folks who work in technology tend to shy away from colors, and anything beautiful. They tend to focus more on function – make things work rather than look good.

Why?

Why is it not important to put thought into how things look and feel in addition to how they work? Anyone who is developing an app in PowerApps has direct access to the UI/ UX, especially with canvas apps. Then why is it that we don’t want to enhance how the app looks? Not only that, it becomes really important that we make the entire experience pleasant. Remember, when we are using an app on the phone, we are literally using just A thumb to interact with the interface. Then why are we adding too many text boxes in our app, for example? In the grand scheme of things, we are not building an app for someone – we are making them more successful at their jobs. The app is just a gateway to their success, which comes from them being a lot more productive and efficient than they already are.

With that said, there is a lot more we can do to make apps a lot more user friendly with nicer UI/UX. Even if you are not a UI/UX person, you can still get inspired by the Internet, and create something much more pleasing to the eye, and easier to the thumb.

Do Not Use Default PowerApps Interface

Recently, a client of mine told me that one of his developers created a PowerApp that was “ugly as sin”. I couldn’t help but laugh. He said it not once, but twice! He was so upset about the design. The developer, who built the app, is a C# guy, so, one might say UI/UX is not his forte, to which i say why not? He doesn’t have to be a top notch designer but he can definitely make a few tweaks here and there to the god awful default interface and make it a lot more pleasant.

Default UI

Consider the default UI for a second.

BARF! Yes, that is the biggest sin right there. That UI should only be used if you want to burn holes through your end users’ eyes. If you are developing PowerApps, you need to promise yourself never to use the default look, controls and colors. How about changing some of the properties to make it completely different? Something that’s pleasant AND professional, and makes the user actually use the app.

Depending on what you are building, it is so easy to have a design that’s something like this:

Free design at pinspiry.com

There are lots of free designs and inspirations all over the Internet. Do some research before you start building the app, and start envisioning how you want the app to look.

Avoid Textboxes

For the love of god, don’t make people type with their thumbs! Every time they are designing and building an app for someone, they should first think about how they use an app, ANY app! How often does an app make you type? It’s needed only when, for example, someone is entering an address to go somewhere (Lyft), searching for something like restaurants (Yelp), or adding a comment to a post (Facebook).

In most cases, typing is absolutely minimal. In case of apps for business users, a “note”, “description” or “details” screen probably warrants a text box. Maybe first and last name too. But for the most part, textboxes can be avoided. Even in the case of multiline textboxes, a user can invoke the mic on the phone keyboard and speak their notes into the field. If you really want to eliminate that step (click) too, you can write an Azure function that uses the Speech to Text API to convert what you bark into the phone to words.

Dropdowns

BARF!

I prefer to avoid dropdowns too. Dropdowns are always two clicks – one to bring up the list of values, and the other to select a value. You can easily eliminate a click in this scenario by using a gallery in various creative ways. Also, dropdowns are ugly. 🙂

Avoid Clicks, Scrolls, Swipes

This applies to business users for sure. There is a general consensus around clicks, scrolls and swipes in that they are hated by practically everyone. “Don’t make me click so much!”, “Don’t make me scroll so much!” are common frustrations I hear from many. For this reason, when you are designing your screens and navigation, see how you can eliminate these actions. Should I keep adding fields on a screen and make it overly scrollable? Or can I use an overlay for some extra fields or options? How about I provide some sort of a menu on the footer so every user has access to all options all the time? [Hint: use reusable components] Depending on where the user is, can I provide them a menu of related entities so they can navigate to any related area with minimal clicks? (one!)

A lot of thought needs to go into this. We are creating an experience for the end user, not just screens with fields on them. Making them navigate away from where they are to get to somewhere else definitely causes frustrations that can be avoided easily.

Work With UI/UX Designers

If you have access to designers, please use them! Designers are awesome, and they can make an app look really slick with their creativity and talent. Sometimes customers have their own designers too. If they do, see if they can help you. In many cases, they would want control over the design of the app so the UI is consistent with their corporate branding, so it becomes even more important to work closely with them.

If you don’t have access to designers, and you think you are a dummy when it comes to design, just remember that there is help out there. All you have to do is ask.

Think Beyond Dynamics

If you are predominantly in the Dynamics 365 realm, it’s time to get a little uncomfortable and get out of the little bubble you’ve been living in for the longest time. Why? Because it’s amazing out there! Things that were not possible a few years ago with Dynamics are now easily doable with simple PowerApps and Flows. For example, a lot of people drive every day to meet their clients because of which they expect route optimization. A simple Flow can actually provide you that in your app using Google’s Transportation API. If your customers are asking for something that seems unreasonable (because you are still in the Dynamics bubble), step back, and research a bit before you say “it’s not possible” because it’s quite likely that not only is it possible, it can be achieved in a very quick and inexpensive manner too.

Bringing It All Together

At the end of the day, we should not forget that we are not just building an app so end users could enter data, we are building an experience that gives them access to the information they need, and make them successful at their jobs.

Save their thumbs and eyes!

Featured Image by picjumbo.com from Pexels

I Signed Up For Apple News + For These Five Reasons

So, I signed up for Apple News +. Here are the reasons why:

So many magazines!

It gives me access to more than 300 magazines and a few newspapers. That is very exciting! These magazines cover science & technology, travel, politics, lifestyle, cooking, outdoors, photography, and many more. I am excited to read about practically everything BUT in a restricted capacity. There’s no chance of me going down a rabbit hole or getting overwhelmed by the boundless amount of information, which is a dominant characteristic of websites. If I do decide to read an  issue right from the beginning, I know I will reach the end. That, is always satisfying.

Can easily recover 10 bucks

The catalog has Time, New Yorker, Wired and a bunch of other magazines that I have always wanted to read. Even if I am unable to read all 300 magazines in a month (!), reading just a few of these will make up for the money spent.

Fodder for my blog

I want fodder for my blog. I am really looking forward to getting access to some interesting material about assistive technology that I can write about. As a matter of fact, right after signing up and browsing for 5 minutes or so, I found a very interesting article on brain machine interface (BMI) that I can use in an eBook I want to write about the same topic.

Death of Facebook

Substitute for Facebook: Facebook has become the de-facto source of news for me but it also comes with its own share of noise. Honestly, Facebook has become a nuisance, an addictive nuisance if I may say so myself. I plan to replace Facebook with News +.

Pictures are pretty!

Even if I don’t read much, flipping through magazines and just looking at pictures is always fun.

I cancelled my Washington Post subscription through Amazon which was $4 per month. I am hoping Apple News adds more newspapers to the list. So far, LA Times is the only legit newspaper that it has in its catalog. I am okay with that.

If you are planning to sign up for it too, just know that many of the magazines look super small on the iPhone. It is definitely much better on the iPad.

Seven Things I Will (Continue To) Do This New Year

“New Year, New You!” is the anthem that has been driving (or at least pretending to drive) us creatures of habit to re-invent ourselves  on  January 1 every year!  Just like you, I am a victim of this perpetual new year hysteria. In the past, On January 1, ____ (pick a year of your choice),  I have tried to start new habits and cultivate new talents, but by middle of February or March (tops), I go through the proverbial act of “giving up”, after clashing with my inner desire to actually not pursue these wild new activities. It’s not because I lack motivation or enthusiasm – I mean, it may be true to some extent, but overall, I have realized that my brain is just not wired to dive into certain activities.

A few years ago, I tried to teach myself how to draw comic strips. I convinced myself  that drawing (and even painting) is an ability that would help me get creative in other aspects of my life. I would impress people with my aptitude to sketch a mean strip that will not only make people guffaw with uncontrollable bouts of coughing but also make them realize what an amazing message I conveyed through art.

None of that happened. After several attempts of me coaxing my brain to learn, my heart made me put a stop to it, and encouraged me to learn other things that I have an inclination for. This has happened many times in my life, and after several (failed?) attempts at various things, I am coming to terms with the fact that certain things are just not meant for me.

That’s not a bad thing! The good news is that there are certain other things I am more interested in (and good at), and for me, personally, keeping those other things alive , and using them creatively in various aspects of my life , will be more fulfilling.

So, for this year, here is a list of things I plan to keep doing and enhancing in my life.

Write

I have always enjoyed writing. When I was in graduate school, I maintained a personal blog where I dumped all of my every day thoughts, and the four of you religiously and regularly consumed them. I realize only now how therapeutic it was for me back then – there was something so amazing about jotting down mundane details of my every day life.  It helped me deal with (and sometimes forget) many frustrations that came with being a student.

Since then, I have definitely maintained my writing prowess. I started Assistive Technology Blog in late 2010, and have been continuously writing about technology for people with disabilities since then. I also started Accessibility with Echo as well as my personal website (this) for the sole purpose of sharing information.  So, writing never saw a departure from my life but what I missed was expressing in words the mischiefs my neurons in my brain were up to.

So, what’s changing this year? I will definitely continue to write blogs. Besides that, I will journal my thoughts regularly. There is something so refreshing about journaling – it keeps my mind clear, and helps me plan and think through things. It is especially helpful when you have so many thoughts in your mind and you want clarity on one of those. (the  most important one, perhaps!) In my case, a lot of it will go into my personal journal but some of them may end up on my website.

h/t to my Wonder Woman to help me revive my habit of journaling. She is an avid journaler and that habit of hers definitely rubbed off on me!

In addition, I plan to write a book. Yes, you read that right – I will write a book! Announcing my goals in public is my mechanism to make sure I complete them. So, yes, I will write a book this year mofos! More details to follow but it will be on a topic I am quite comfortable with.

Read

Or continue to read. Reading is an ongoing source of self-schooling, delight, peace and frustration. Frustration mostly because there is so much to read but so little time. I am surrounded by books that I haven’t finished – some not even started! The good news is that the antilibrary keeps me grounded, and constantly reminds me about a) how much I still don’t know, and b) how much I still need to learn.

I got more books as gifts this holiday season! I am now surrounded by some really exciting books, thanks to my very thoughtful Wonder Woman who is always encouraging me to read and learn.

See for yourself:

a stack of books resting on a desk.

Some of these I was already reading, and the others are brand new. To not get intimidated, and to not make these wonderful books end up in the antilibrary, I have decided that  I will read one chapter from each of these books every day. If a chapter is too big, I will read at least 15 pages of that chapter and move on to the next book. The plan is to mark these books “read” from “currently reading” on goodreads! So, yes, a bit of an aggressive goal but the idea is to read a lot more, and on a daily basis. I will keep you posted on how I fare.

PS: A couple of years ago, right around this time, I went to a bookshop in Bangalore to buy some books. On my way out, I grabbed around 2 dozen free bookmarks. Soon after, I felt pretty dumb for doing that. What was the need for picking up those many bookmarks? Will I EVER read those many books simultaneously? Well, turns out, the Universe has a plan for me. It’s not 2 dozen books that I am currently reading, but it’s pretty darn close. Yes, I DO need all those bookmarks!

Photography

Taking photos is another activity I consider therapeutic. I haven’t taken photos regularly in maybe a couple of years, and i plan to change that this year. The plan is to take a little bit of a structured approach – through “projects”, If you will. There are three projects I have in mind:

A Photo A Day

I will take at least one purposeful photo a day and post it somewhere – either in my personal journal or on my website. The photo should resonate with me, and I should find some meaning in it. A condition I have set for myself for this project – It will not be taken with my phone camera! I will use my compact mirrorless camera that I will keep in my backpack all the time, along with the USB powered shaver (!) that my sister gave me for Christmas.

Community Project

Just like any other city, Minneapolis has segregated pockets of ethnic communities in different parts of the city.  My goal is to get to know the local Somalian, Ethiopian, Hmong communities better by getting actively involved in these communities, taking photos and sharing them with everyone.

Data Project

I love data. I am not a data guru by any means but just like many others, I am fascinated by it. This project, that I have a rough idea about, will be an amalgamation of data and photography. We will just have to see what I come up with.

Music

I haven’t touched my guitar in a while too. I plan to play the guitar at least for five minutes every day. I miss the ability to be invincible in front of an imaginary crowd. I miss the calluses too.

PS: Solomon Linda turned in his grave after watching this.

Fun With Wonder Woman

This is not necessarily a resolution but more of a relationship goal. I will continue to do fun things with my Wonder Woman. I need to make a conscious effort to make sure all these personal projects listed above do not become obstacles in my relationship. I am fascinated by Wonder Woman’s brain and heart, and how they operate on a totally different level. I wouldn’t want to put a stop to all the fun we have together because of my selfish goals!

So, these are what I consider “major”  goals for the coming year. They are not necessarily brand new. They don’t have any shock factor. I am already familiar and comfortable with them. I just need to continue working on two of them (reading, writing), and pick back up the other two (photography, music) and be as creative as possible.

Besides these, I also have some “minor” goals for this year. Starting with:

Close all Browser Tabs

On my computer, I have at least 50 tabs open on each browser window. I tell myself that (almost) every tab has important info, and I will keep them open to revisit them later. Well, I never revisit them. Never! I don’t turn off my computer for weeks because of these tabs, and finally when I do, I feel a bit of a tingle in my body. I just lost all that valuable information that I was never ever going to read! 

That is coming to an end starting today, January1, 2019! No more hundreds of open tabs for weeks/ months. Every night, this computer is getting turned off, whether I like it or not!

Floss

A part of me feels ashamed admitting this in public but for the life of me, I cannot get into flossing. I have no issues with the activity itself but it’s just the intrusive nature of it that I have a problem with. It’s too much work making it get between my wonderful teeth (my dentist’s words!) to clean them. Also,  why is it always the dental hygienist who is all about flossing but the dentist doesn’t really give a shit? [“Your teeth are in excellent condition!”]

Anyway, I am happy to announce that flossing is a go starting today! I bought a water flosser that is a pleasure to use! All it does is shoot a stream of water right through the gaps in your teeth, so it’s not intrusive at all. I honestly don’t know if it’s really cleaning my teeth but according to the 12,363 reviewers on Amazon, it is! So, dare I say it but I look forward to flossing every night now!

So…

here I am. I have a list of things I want to not only do but also succeed at this year. To me, my goals are about making my personal life more meaningful. I do not want to get stuck in a rut involving my professional life, which I absolutely love. These little things will act as reminders to switch off, log out. I want to constantly find ways to be creative, live a wonderful life with my partner, and enjoy more things than just work.

What are you doing to spice up 2019? I would love to hear about your plans in the comments below!

Silver Bay Marina Breakwater: A Beautiful And Rusty Adventure In Northern Minnesota

Serendipity is wonderful.

Sometimes, something passes you by for a split second. You observe it, photograph it in your mind, try to make sense of it, and determine that what you just witnessed seemed exciting, and that you should go back, spend some time re-visiting it, and figure out if it was really that exciting or a damp squib.

It was a cloudy, July morning – not too hot but a bit unusually chilly from all the (Superior) lake wind. Driving back from our camping trip up north in Minnesota, we passed a spot on Highway 61 that had many docked boats. There’s nothing special about docked boats but what really caught my attention was a breakwater extending into the lake. The glimpse that I caught of the breakwater, for a fraction of a second, was enough for me to exclaim in excitement in my mind. It seemed like something I had never seen before, and something told me that it was worth visiting. It seemed like a (not so) hidden gem – something that people would pass by without even noticing. That’s what even we almost did. We did notice it but didn’t stop to see what it really was.

In case you didn’t know, Lake Superior is a giant water body! It’s grandiose beauty extends for miles, in every direction. At various intervals on the north shore, there are several points of interest. However, this, what I had just observed seemed a little unmarked. It had boats which meant that people definitely visited it, but it must only be the ones with boats, right? Why else would you want to go there?

After having stopped at some sort of a garage sale just a few miles down, we decided to head back to this spot. There was something intriguing about it, and I really wanted to check it out. I am glad I saw the name of this place written on a board right at the entrance.

 Silver Bay Marina

We went back a few miles and found this magical spot. It was the Silver Bay Marina on Highway 61. We entered, parked our car, and walked around a bit. There was a little trail, a restaurant, and a bunch of boats. And then there was the breakwater. Made up of giant boulders, it extended quite far into the lake. What was so interesting about this one was that at the other end of this breakwater, it connected to an island, which I later found out was Pellet Island.

The breakwater, and the giant boulders that made it, were very inviting. The boulders looked rugged yet peaceful. They didn’t look dangerous. The path that they made were so wide that there was no chance of us falling/slipping into the lake if we just kept to the middle. The boulders were giant enough to give us stable footholds, although you still have to be a bit cautious about where your foot lands. The breakwater is substantially long, and you wouldn’t want to frolic too much and end up twisting your ankle somewhere in the middle! Pellet Island on the other end is a beautiful reward, and once you start heading towards its direction, coming back without touching it just seemed unsatisfying – like going to a candy store and walking out without buying any.

Rusty Boulders

As soon as you start walking towards the island, you notice that the rocks are really rusty. North shore is a hub for iron ore mining. That area has Taconite and other igneous rocks in abundance, and turns out, the boulders in this breakwater comprise mostly of these rocks that oxidize when they come in contact with water and air, and form a beautiful rusty texture. They are vivid! They are bright, and have a very vibrant marigold-orange hue. Some of these rocks are covered with rust, and they are just so beautiful that you cannot help but stop and look at them in awe for a minute or so. The entire stretch of the breakwater is full of such rusty boulders!

The Ladder

A ladder?

After around a half hour of carefully jumping from one boulder to another, we finally get to the end of the breakwater. We reach the adjoining island, only to see a man made ladder hung from the top! Did I say earlier that the breakwater was inviting? There was no way in hell that we could have gone back without climbing up the ladder and going up the island to see the other side. The ladder, made purely of ropes and wooden rungs, was decently sturdy. We climbed up it, walked around a bit only to find another couple of small islands in the back covered in white. They were full of seagulls just sitting there – the wind didn’t seem to bother them at all.

We spent maybe 15 minutes up there before heading back down. Going down these makeshift ladders is always fun! With a bit of nervousness, we went down the ladder, and it took all of 15 seconds or so to set down.

It took us another 20-30 minutes for us to head back to the marina. On our way back, it was really cool to see different rust patterns on the other sides of the boulders that we couldn’t see when we were heading towards the island.

Worth It?

Totally. Check out the photos below to see what it’s like. It’s a different kind of adventure – something that you don’t come across everywhere. If you are heading to Northern Minnesota, definitely check out this breakwater at the Silver Bay Marina.

To show what the breakwater and the boulders look like on a cloudy, windy morning, I decided not to edit the photos. Click on the first one to see bigger sized photos. There’s a video right after the photos too!

 

 

Zen And The Art Of Using PowerApps For Exceptional Customer Experience

There are several touch points that a customer or prospect goes through when they are inquiring or buying a product or service. These touch points can be with a sales person, technical engineer, financial adviser, retail store employees, field technician, and many others. Through all these touch points with the company’s employees, the customer is expecting to have a smooth, easy and great buying experience. For this to happen, all internal employees need to make sure that they provide the right information at the right time to their customers.

But do our employees have access to the right information, tools, and people to provide good and accurate information to the customer? Many times, it’s not even just about providing information to customers or prospects – our own employees may not be familiar with the process in place, and they themselves may need help in getting their questions answered to get comfortable with the process.

“What PowerPoint template should I use for my presentation with the prospect? There are so many!”

“Do we give discounts to not for profits?”

“My prospect is asking for a demo this week. How do i get technical sales involved?”

“Is there a document I can read to get familiar with our sales process?”

These are some questions that typically come up in a selling process. Note that these questions need answers from a subject matter expert internal to our company. Also, know that answers to these questions are ultimately relayed to the customer. What does that mean? A timely response to your own employee’s questions result in 1) your customer getting the right information in a timely manner, and 2) at least providing a satisfactory, if not exceptional customer experience.

Our employees, who accompany our customers in their customer journey, always have such questions. How do we make sure that they are empowered in every step of the customer journey? How do we make sure that they have access to the right information at their fingertips?

PowerApps + Chat bots

Let’s first talk about chat bots real quick and debunk some preconceived notions about them. Whenever i talk to people about chat bots, I realize that they automatically and immediately associate it with customer service – picture a customer wanting an update on their delivery status. They go to a website, start a chat, ask a question about  their delivery status, and boom! They immediately get a response back that was powered by a bot. It’s great that customer service for end consumers is the first thing that comes to people’s minds, however, chat bots can be used in several many scenarios besides just tier 1 customer service.

Let’s revisit one of the questions we posted above: “What PowerPoint template should I use for my presentation?”

An innocuous question asked by a sales person. Can we not have a bot answer that question for them?

Yes. Of course we can. Not just this, but many other process, product or service related questions.

What this means is that your employees are not emailing, texting or calling each other or their bosses to find the right information. In times of needs, a beloved bot can be at their service and help them out immediately!

A Financial Planner goes to an investor, institution or partner meeting and pulls up production-sales data on their mobile device. Can the Financial Planner ask the bot for recommendations  on next best action, product or investment approach?

Yes. Of course they can, and a bot will provide them with responses and guide them through the process.

A consumer walks into a retail store. If they want to know where the slim fit jeans are or where the new fall collection is, can they just walk up to a kiosk and ask these questions?

Yes. Of course they can.

The scenarios, people involved, and circumstances may be different, but a bot can instantly provide the right information with the right context.

So, how do i create a chat bot?

There are various ways you can create a chat bot. What we are talking about here is a very specific bot from QnA Maker.ai. Why are we talking about Qna Maker? Two reasons:

  1. It is a no code solution. Yes, you read that right – it does not require any coding.
  2. It can be surfaced easily in PowerApps through an out of the box connector

QnA Maker is perhaps one of the easiest chatbots out there. All you do is go to QnA Maker.ai, sign in with your microsoft account, and head to “Create a knowledge base”. The page walks you through some very quick and easy steps, and before you know it, your bot is ready!

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Once your QnA Maker chat bot is ready, you can use the QnA Maker connector in PowerApps to surface your bot in your app. Now, anyone, either on their phone, tablet or computer can access this bot to get answers to their questions!

In PowerApps, using the QnA Maker connector, we can surface this bot in our app so that anyone can access this knowledge base at any time, and get prompt responses.

Note: I will write another post with instructions on creating a Qna Maker bot and surfacing it in PowerApps. It is super easy though, and if you don’t want to wait for my post, head to QnAMaker.ai and try it out for yourself!

What is the experience like? See it for yourself.

Sales people, financial planners, field technicians, customers at a store kiosk – everyone has the ability to get their questions answered in a matter of seconds.

Who is it for?

Currently, PowerApps’ licensing does not allow for apps to be exposed to customers, and you must have an Office 365 login to access an app. This means that definitely internal employees can use this bot app to enhance customer experience. In addition, you can also have these apps in a kiosk or computer in a store, office branch or location where anyone (customers) can walk up to it and get answers to their questions. So, even though customers cannot access the app directly on their own devices, you can provide them the ability to “self-serve” at your business’s stores or locations using PoweApps on your devices.

Bringing it all together

Businesses of all sizes have various employees interacting with customers at several stages of their selling process. The goal of any business is not just to close a sale but while doing so, wow their customers and gain their trust for a long lasting relationship. None of this is possible if we don’t provide our own employees with the right knowledge and ability to help our customers. To enhance that experience, solutions like chat bots and PowerApps play a small, yet crucial role. What’s really interesting is that “no code/low code” (which are also no cost/low cost) platforms are becoming more and more viable solutions for many business scenarios, and PowerApps and QnA Maker (and many other) are fine examples of that.

If you are wanting to empower your employees with the right knowledge and abilities, definitely explore these platforms for your needs.

Embedding A Power BI Tile in A PowerApps App For Rich Analytics On The Go

The one thing that Microsoft’s business application platform does is create an amazing amalgamation of things brought from various sources. PowerApps, makes rapid development and deployment of mobile business apps easily achievable. What it also does , very beautifully and easily, is bring in very rich analytics and insights from Power BI, Microsoft’s business intelligence solutions that makes reporting and decision making a breeze.

If you have a lot of visualizations in Power BI, you can easily add them to your PowerApps app with literally a few clicks. Let’s see how.

In Your PowerApps canvas, go to the Insert menu option and select Controls. Scroll to the bottom of the Controls list to find Power BI Tile. Click that option to add it to the app canvas.

Once the tile is on the canvas, another pane opens up that asks you to choose a workspace, dashboard and a tile from that dashboard to be displayed in the PowerApps Power BI tile.

Set those values, and hey, your Power BI tile is now embedded in your PowerApps app! You can add as many Power BI tiles as you’d like.

 

Bringing It All Together

PowerApps has its own visualizations capabilities but they are extremely limited in what they can do and display. The ability to bring in Power BI tiles so easily gives access to very rich analytics. This also lets PowerApps developers use visualizations created by someone else – possibly someone on the data side who understands analytics needs of users better than the developers.

Embedding Power BI Tiles in PowerPoint Slides

Power BI is obviously a great tool to display and discuss analytics. It lets you create dashboards and reports with various types of visualizations that give you insights on various aspects of your establishment. But what if you are presenting a PowerPoint deck to an audience and want to include your Power BI analytics in your session? Exiting PowerPoint and opening Power BI is, of course, always a possibility, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could display your Power BI analytics right in a PowerPoint slide?

(sing the following lines to the tune of Enter Sandman by Metallica)

Exit: Press escape to get out of PowerPoint and open Power BI in a browser window

Enter: an add-in for PowerPoint called “Power BI Tiles”!

Power BI Tiles is an extremely easy to use, third party add-in for PowerPoint that lets you display your Power BI reports and dashboards in your PowerPoint slides. With just a few clicks, it brings in all the insights from your Power BI goodness into your PowerPoint so your audience could be mesmerized without you having to awkwardly press escape to exit PowerPoint and switch to a browser to display your Power BI dashboards!

Watch the following video to see how easy it is to embed Power BI tiles in a PowerPoint slide. I made this video on a (late) Saturday night at my partner’s father’s house while everyone was sleeping – hence the awkward whispering!

Two New Charts for Unified Interface in Dynamics 365

With the Unified Interface becoming more and more prominent in Dynamics 365, what with the Spring Release ‘18 announcing that there is a Unified Interface app for every module, it is time to start exploring this brand new interface in a little more detail, as well as new components (like newer charts as you’ll see below) that come with it.

In this post, we will look at charts. How do you access charts in the Unified Interface? Notice how there is nowhere you can click to the right of a view to bring in a charts pane.

Well, you click on the “Show Chart” button on the top left!

And guess what happens next? Yes, the charts pane shows up..to the left of the view!

Now, you can start selecting different charts on this pane.

Note: At the time of writing this post, the Unified Interface doesn’t let you create personal charts.

Two New Charts for Unified Interface: Doughnut and Tag

Unified Interface also has two brand new charts that the web interface doesn’t – doughnut and tag.

I, personally, am not a fan of pie charts and there are several others out there who don’t. If you like Doughnut charts better than pie (or are just a fans of it), the Unified Interface lets you create them! If you open any entity in a solution and go to charts, you will notice two charts – doughnut and tag.

The doughnut chart is very similar to a pie chart. Add legend entries and categories to this chart just as you would to any other chart.

Notice how it doesn’t show a preview of the chart.

After saving and publishing, this is what it looks like in the Unified Interface.

Similarly, the Tag chart lets you create tags with a count, sum, average, min or max in parentheses.

 

Just like the Doughnut chart, Tag chart does not provide a preview either.

Once published, this is what it looks like in the Unified Interface.

One thing to remember is that at the time of writing this post, these two charts are only available for the Unified Interface. Switching to the Web Interface does not display these charts.

 

App Designer In Dynamics 365 Makes Creating Views Easier, Quicker And More Fun!

If  you haven’t looked at the “App Designer” in Dynamics 365 yet, you immediately should. The App Designer totally changes the way we approach designing views, dashboards,  charts, and even the sitemap!

The app designer makes creating and editing various components of your CRM a piece of cake. Not that it wasn’t easy to create them before! The App Designer makes everything more intuitive and faster – it saves a bunch of clicks that traditionally can be a tad bit annoying, especially if you are creating several views, charts, dashboards etc.

Let’s look at how you can use the App Designer to create a new System View.

App Designer

In order to get to the App Designer, go to Settings-> My Apps under Application.

The My Apps area shows you all the “apps” you have access to. Think of an app as the traditional Sales, Customer Service, Field Service, etc. modules. Choose the app you want to add a view to, click the ellipses on the top right corner of that app, and select “Open In App Designer”.

 

In the App Designer canvas, you will see a list of all entities, along with blocks that are labeled Forms, Views, and Charts. On the top, you will also see the Site Map for this app, as well as dashboards.

Clicking on  “Views” for a certain entity will show a list of all system views available on the right. What’s nice about this list is that it categorizes all the views so you know what kind of views are available, and how many. Let’s go ahead, and create a new view by clicking “Create New”.

 

The next screen shows you a canvas with three areas. The top lets you set filters the way you normally do. In addition, you also see what the view looks like right below it. By default, it has one column but you can add as many columns to your view from the list of fields to the right (under Components).

There is also a “Search” box you can use to look for a specific field, in case you have hundreds of fields on your entity. Here, we searched for fields that have the text “phone” in them. From the results, we dragged and dropped “Main Phone” to add as a column to our view.

After adding as many columns as you want (or vice versa), start setting your filters. You will notice that as you add more filters, your search results below update instantly. This is different from how it is with the “traditional” mechanism where, when creating system views, you do not get to see what the results look like unless you publish it and go to the view directly.

This short 40 seconds video shows the process. Notice how the results below change as the filters are added on top.

Once you are satisfied with this view, go ahead and give it a name – either right under “Columns” or under Properties. Then Save it.

Bada-bing-bada-boom! Your view is now ready. Go to Accounts, and look at your System Views. This new view will be in that list now.

This is what it looks like in the Unified Interface.

 

Modifying Views

Making changes to columns is super easy too. As you increase and decrease the column width, you can see the results right there and then. Drag and drop columns to rearrange their orders.

 

Conclusion

As you can see, the App Designer brings a refreshingly new, versatile, quick, and easier way of creating views. This makes creating views much more fun, and saves a bunch of clicks, time, and ultimately frustration.