Tech Trends: IJYI
Although there are plenty of bleeding-edge technologies making their way to the forefront, there are also many tools, platforms and concepts that are tried and tested, being used in many organisations to improve efficiency, decrease risk and make it less stressful to manage a business.
Here we try to explain some of the terminology:
Software-as-a-Service: Shortened to SaaS and pronounced ‘Sass’, this is making a software product available over the Internet and paid for via a subscription. The benefit is that there often isn’t software to install on your PC; the product is kept up to date for you, new features are added over time, and the initial cost outlay can be much cheaper. You can also access from anywhere with an Internet connection.
Examples of SaaS offerings are Xero, QuickBooks, and Sage for accounting services, BambooHR as an online HR tool, SeedLegals for managing business legal documents and EMI schemes, Trello for task management and collaboration, and even Office365 (now Microsoft365).
There are a few things to consider. Since these products are accessed over the Internet, make sure you understand where your data is kept and that it meets the needs of your clients, For instance, if data is held in the USA, is that a problem? Also, make sure you are getting regular use of the product you’re paying for – it’s easy to sign up for lots of these platforms at a relatively low individual cost, but that soon mounts up over time.
Most of the services listed are hosted in ‘The Cloud’. But what does that mean? Cloud is about commoditising computer services. You only pay for what you use, paying for a cloud service on a monthly basis rather than a large up-front investment. If, for example, you have a big accounting reconciliation process to run at the end of every month, but that machine sits unused for the other 95% of the time, then you may be able to move everything to a cloud provider and only pay when the machine that runs it is started up (plus a smaller data storage cost).
Essentially a cloud provider is managing a building full of computers, along with power, networking, air conditioning, security, hardware failures and in many cases much more.
There’s a whole range of services available, from full blown PCs that you can log on to remotely, to managed databases, data storage accounts, web hosting services, and chatbots.
With many cloud services, if you need more processing power, memory, storage space, or bandwidth, then you’re able to change a setting and benefit in minutes. Depending on the service, you might not need to worry about Windows updates, network settings, or firewall rules, since these are often managed by the cloud provider.
Analytics and Data
All businesses have data, and it may be kept as various sources – HR data, payroll data, sales systems and CRMs, fleet management, inventory management, the list is endless.
Tools that manage, analyse, and draw insight from business data are becoming more accessible and mature. These tools allow data to be collated from different locations and drawn together to make sense of it all. For example, there may be staff identification numbers which match both your payroll and sales platforms that allows targets and commission data to be maintained and reported on.
Data tooling also exists in the cloud such as Microsoft’s Azure Data Factory, which means you’ll only pay for times when data is flowing and needs processing.
Tools such as Microsoft Power BI allows data and KPIs to be presented visually in pie charts, bar charts and maps, allowing you to see data by region for example, and then click to drill down by salesperson.
By automating and delivering data into the hands of key stakeholders and making it easy to understand and pull insights from, you can massively improve the efficiency of staff and board members.
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI)
We’ve all seen the sci-fi movies such as Terminator, Short Circuit, and Alien, where there are machines that speak and understand like we do and are seemingly making human-like decisions. Believe it or not, that sort of technology is getting scarily close!
Commoditised machine learning and AI services are available within cloud platform,s that make it easy to apply some automated decision making. Chatbots can be spun up quickly, to interact with your customers and guide them to the right service or resolve complaints.
You can feed invoices to a ‘computer vision’ service which can pull out key pieces of information and make decisions if this month’s bill is outside of a certain bound. You could also feed customer data through a machine learning package, to decide if a case needs escalation, therefore making more effective use of your staff. The possibilities of this technology are endless.
Virtual Reality is a term used (at least in computing terms) since the late 80s and made popular by the film ‘Lawnmower Man’. But what about augmented reality? This refers to ‘augmenting’ the real world; so instead of seeing just computer-generated images, you’re able to see the real world but with some overlays on top. You might have already experienced this with ‘Pokémon Go’ where you can see Pokémon creatures sitting on a pavement, ready to collect.
The opportunities here are that you’re able to see, for example, a new building that is being planned in-situ, with accurate placement of footings and services. If you’re an electrician or a plumber, you might be able to see the existing wires or pipes within a building overlaid, or as an apprentice mechanic, you’ll be able to see parts of an unfamiliar engine pointed out, along with part numbers and descriptions.
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Kevin Linsell is CEO at IJYI. This article summarises just a small selection of some of the technologies available. IJYI is evangelical about technology and if any of the above sparks a new idea that you feel would benefit your business, please get in touch.