Jun 192015
 
Accountants and bookkeeping ledger

Investment advisers could be the next occupation to face automation reports Bloomberg Business with the prediction two trillion dollars worth of investment funds could be managed by computers by the end of the decade.

An important aspect of the change to computerised investment advice is the reduced fees that makes professional knowledge far cheaper and more accessible.

The downside, as Bloomberg points out, is that there may be fewer investment advisers enjoying corporate hospitality and conventions in future so there may be other industries feeling the job losses too.

Jun 092015
 
Telstra_consumer_insights_centre_insight_ring

The Twentieth Century was defined by abundant and cheap energy while this century will be shaped by our access to massive amounts of data.

How do managers deal with the information age along with the changes bought about by technologies like the Internet of Things, 3D printing, automation and social media?

Management in the Data Age looks at some of the opportunities and risks that face those running businesses. It was originally prepared for a private corporate briefing in June 2015.

Some further background reading on the topic include the following links.

 

May 142015
 
HEXO+_ autonomous drone front view

An old saying is necessity is the mother of invention and nowhere is this shown better than walking the exhibition floor of the Internet of Things World conference in San Francisco today.

The Wallflower is a good example of this, thought up of after the founder had to rush home when his partner thought she’d left the stove on (she hadn’t), he thought there had to be something that could monitor this on the market and when he discovered there wasn’t, he invented it.

Snowboarding needs

Probably the sexiest device on the floor is the Hexo+, an autonomous drone designed for video shots. Use the app to tell you what shot you want and it the drone will take off and video you.

Hexo+ was founded by Xavier de Le Rue, a French professional snowboarder who wanted to get shots of his maneuvers but couldn’t afford a crew or a helicopter to do so. The preprogrammed flight patterns represent the most common camera sequences optimised for the GoPro camera.

Probably the most trivial is the MySwitchMate, a mechanical device that fits over a wall light switch. Set it up and you can use its app to flick your lights on and off.

The device was born out of the founder wanting to remotely control his college dorm lights from his bed. While the market seems to be those who don’t want to get out of bed, its main market are those who would like remotely controlled lights but can’t install a smart lighting system.

A niche from a need

What all three of these devices show is how a need by an inventor spurred a  product’s development, in that respect the Internet of Things is no different from any other wave of innovation.

So if you wonder “why doesn’t someone sell this?” it might be an opportunity to set up your own business or invent an IoT device to meet that need.

May 102015
 
Microsoft-HoloLens-MixedWorld-RGB

A few weeks ago the source of all wisdom for micro-businesses, Flying Solo, and I did a webinar on Future Proofing Your Business.

During the presentation we looked at the big trends that will affect business over the next decade with a focus on some of the demographic, economic and technological changes that are happening today.

The technologies are evolving rapidly and some of those we focused on as being business changing are the driverless car, automation, robotics, the internet of things and cloud computing.

As with all good presentations we took as many audience questions as possible and the feedback was particularly pointed on one topic, “given the degree of automation, where do the jobs come from?”

Finding the jobs of the future

While to some it might be surprising to hear this from a business audience, it’s very much a valid question given most of the solo operators tuned in are in consulting type roles that will probably be eliminated or affected by algorithms or robotics, if not outsourcing through o-desk, Airtasker or similar services.

Exactly what will be the jobs of the future is a difficult question to answer as predicting what tomorrow will look like is a fraught task, predicting in 1990 that web designers and online analytics would be a growth field ten years later is a good example.

A changing economy

What we can be sure of though is that business and employment does change and evolve around technological advances. The third slide of the presentation shows Sydney’s Circular Quay in the 1920s.

The economy though was still predominantly farm based, in Australia around a quarter of the workforce were in agriculture – in the US 27% of the population were farmers – in both countries today it’s below three percent.

All of those displaced eventually found jobs, although the transition costs were great as John Steinbeck documented in the Grapes of Wrath.

Free your mind and the rest will follow

So the key to future proofing your business lies in not being one of Steinbeck’s Oakies and that requires a mental shift, we need to be data literate and deploy the tools that mean our companies are more responsive to changing markets.

One of the keys to business survival in a changing world is to use the right tools, particularly cloud computing services some of which I’ve listed below.

We only touched on a small number of ways that the world is changing, for instance the image illustrating this post is Microsoft’s Holo Lens and we haven’t mentioned Virtual Reality at all. The key is to keep an open and flexible mind.

Office applications

One of the biggest costs for business is the software for writing letters and working on spreadsheet. There’s free and paid for services that you can use on the cloud that cut your costs and increase your office productivity.

Google Docs
Evernote
Zoho Docs

Website platforms

There’s plenty of free, or cheap, tools to get your name out on the web. Don’t forget to register you business name’s domain though.

WordPress
Blogger
Wix

Design software

In a crowded world good design matters, Canva is a good quick way to get a good looking logo and graphics for your business.

Canva

Accounting services

One of the greatest challenges for small business is doing their books and accounting software is a must have for every commercial operation. Online services reduce costs and increase flexibility for businesses of all sizes.

Saasu
Xero

MYOB Business Essentials

Customer Relationship Management

CRM software helps you monitor and understand who your customers are and what you’re doing for them.

Salesforce
Sugar CRM

Backups

Backing up is critical for your business. Having an online automated backup helps you ensure essential data is safe.

Carbonite

Shared storage

Sharing files with others helps your business be more efficient as teams can get work done without using the same computer.

Dropbox
Box.net

Communications

Voice over IP, or VoIP, is a massive cost saver and most of them are cloud services.

Skype
MyNetFone

Project management

Running and managing projects is a complex task made much easier with a good project management program to keep track of tasks and time.

Basecamp
Zoho Projects

Outsourcing

Cloud computing and online services are making outsourcing possible for small businesses. With a browser and a credit card, you too can be in the outsourcing business.

Upwork (formerly O-Desk
Freelancer

Mar 012015
 
The Australian wine industry has problems

The crowd is as smart as wine experts claims review app Vivino in a blog post comparing its users’ ratings of wines against the long established industry standards of Wine Spectator and Robert Parker.

Crowdsourcing’s advantage claims Vivino is “the experts can’t rate everything. But 8 million (and growing) Vivino users just about can. Will a 4.0 wine on Vivino be the new ’90 point wine’?”

Although Vivino are talking up their book on this, the message here is that the wisdom of crowds – or the Cult of the Amateur as author Andrew Keen described it in 2007 – is taking the place of all but the highest profile experts’ opinions.

Removing the informed commentator

This is true in almost every critical field from journalism to food and travel writing, if you don’t have, or a can build, a big following in your chosen niche then you’re just one of the crowd punching out a blog, Facebook posts or Instagram feed.

Wine writers and experts are in the same position, if the aggregated opinions of eight million users can give you an informed opinion about a vintage then why spend good money to consult someone who has spent years studying and working in the industry?

In some ways this is the downside of blogging; suddenly anybody with an internet connection can hold themselves out as being an informed critic. A case that stands out is an Australian food blogger who criticised a Sydney cafe for it’s ‘weird sushi sandwiches’ and strange Japanese fusion food without realising he was eating a Scandinavian open sandwich.

One of the effects of the web is that it’s both diffused and concentrated influence – a vast array of informations sources meaans small international group of high profile experts find their standing grows as they become more accessible while most of the industry is drowned out by forums, apps and social media sites.

The challenge for many of us is how are we going to stand out from the crowd.

Jan 292015
 
Windows Phone 8 is essential for Microsoft

One of the challenges for parents in connected households is managing how kids use their screens, a survey released by Telstra this week is a good reminder of how parents create an example for children when it comes to computer usage.

In December last year the telco ran an online survey asking Australian adults and children about their use of technology devices with 1,348 parents and 507 Australian children aged 12-17 responding.

Sadly the survey isn’t available online however the parents were scathing of their own performance with two thirds of the parents believing they’re not good role models when it comes to device usage. Interestingly, half the kids believed their parents were.

A generational shift

If anything, this survey describes the shifting generational changes with parents unsure about how they should be managing computers in their home, something that isn’t helped by inconsistent messages about internet and technology use coming from schools – “I need it for my homework” is the constant cry from teenagers when the computer or router is shut down.

More concerning is how many kids are on the computer late at night with the survey showing 74 per cent of children use their device between 9pm and midnight on school nights, with 39 per cent falling asleep while using their device.

How we use our computers is setting an example to our kids says Telstra’s Cyber Safety Manager, Shelly Gorr who points out the survey is a reminder to parents that they’re a key influencer on their children’s online behaviour.

“Children model their parents’ behaviour so it’s only natural for them to copy the example set by their mum or dad in relation to the way they use their device,” Gorr said. “So, for example, if it’s important to you that mealtimes are device-free, make sure you put your mobile away during dinner because children are happier if everyone in the family follows the rules.”

Gorr suggests the following tips to help manage kids’ computer time;

1. Agree limits

Talk to your children about the amount of digital time they’re living and then, based on what you agree is a healthy balance, set ‘switched off’ times of day. Help your children create a media use roster allocating blocks of time for homework, chores and their screen time.

2. Be an offline supporter

Support and encourage your kids in activities that don’t involve a digital device. A ball game or reading a book are all great ways to show kids how they can enjoy themselves without a mobile, tablet or computer.

3. Set family rules

Make sure you’re seen as a positive example. Do you want the dinner table to be a device-free zone? If so, then have everyone (including Mum and Dad) turn off their mobile phones and devices during dinner, or when taking part in family activities. Children are happier following rules if everyone in the family plays by them.

4. Turn off devices before bedtime

Lack of sleep can affect alertness, concentration and memory. For a better night’s sleep try encouraging children to switch off at least one hour before bedtime. Create a charging station and charge all household devices in the one spot overnight.

5. Make the most of parental controls

Many parental controls tools allow you to set time-of-day restrictions on children’s device usage. We recommend Telstra Smart Controls® for mobile devices and Telstra Online Security for your home network.

6. Consider the difference between types of screen time

Not all screen time is created equal. Think about the differences between using a device for homework or creative expression versus using it for passive entertainment.

One of the things that becomes clear when talking to researchers about household computer use are the changes in the family dynamic and the differences in the way age groups use technology. It’s not surprising we’re all struggling with this given the magnitude and speed of change.

Dec 182014
 
How can we save costs using cloud computing and online tools

One forecast about 2015 that’s very easy to make is businesses with high costs are in for a tough time.

As competition steps up, global forces puts pressure on prices and technological change allows new competitors into marketplaces, the companies that aren’t flexible and keeping an eye on where they are spending money are going to find 2015 will not be a happy year.

For the tech industry the predictions for next year are easy – there will be more security beaches, governments will want more powers to access our data while proving they can’t be trusted with what they already have, a new hot social media network will appear, well known brands will collapse, the net will get faster, more devices will be connected to Internet of Things and prices will continue to fall.

It’s the falling prices that will be what defines business in 2015 as we enter deflationary times; not the economists’ nightmare of prices falling in the face of collapsed demand – although that’s not out of the question – but in the more positive sense of business inputs being cheaper.

Things are going to get cheaper

A few weeks ago I wrote of futurist and academic Andrew McAfee speaking about the accelerated rate of change in business at the Gartner Gold Coast Conference. One of the immediate effects of that changing world McAfee describes is that a lot of thing are going to get cheaper.

Part of this is driven by newer cheaper sources of energy and labour, other driving factors are increased automation in fields where wages have historically been the biggest cost and  manufacturing processes are putting pressure on prices for most goods. The commodities prices collapse may also be a key factor in 2015.

For some industries, such as the IT industry, falling prices aren’t a new concept. Any computer superstore or local PC repairer who holds inventory gets a nasty reminder of the sector’s economics every time they do a stocktake. However many businesses operate on the assumption prices will always rise overtime, a not unfair assumption given the inflation we’ve seen over the last fifty years.

Getting costs down

With falling prices, it means businesses have to be more aggressive in cutting costs; whether it’s telephone or power bills through to professional services or banking fees, the onus is now on managers to squeeze as much value for the dollar as they can.

In the technology field the targets are obvious; are your old computer preventing you from using new software? Do cloud services offer a better deal than your old server based systems? Are your service providers charging too much?

For the wider business looking at how newer technologies affect your workflow could well prove rewarding, it may well there’s whole range of areas your company can become more efficient through adopting new systems.

A good candidate for slashing costs and improving flexibility is transport where too many companies are still paying Cabcharge’s overpriced fees when apps like Ingogo or Uber are cheaper and better. Why have company vehicles when car sharing services like GoGet can offer more value. Do you still need an expensive Yellow Pages listing when a free Google My Business entry will get you in front of more potential customers, particularly on the all important mobile platforms?

Then there’s the whole outsourcing question where it’s becoming easier to hire knowledge workers on an as needed basis through the various online platforms like O-Desk and Freelancer.

Over the break, it’s worthwhile reviewing your operations and seeing where you can use technology to cut costs and become more flexible in face of a rapidly changing marketplace. One prediction is certain; those with bloated costs and inflexible management are in for a tough 2015.