4 Ways Small Businesses Can Benefit From Automation and AI Today By Ashish Deshpande

Small Business Planning

Big businesses tend to be at the forefront of revolutionary technology both because they have the budget to invest in costly products and the most to gain from transforming processes. Nevertheless, for small businesses, it would be short-sighted to dismiss artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and related automation technologies as expensive, complicated and even somewhat alien solutions. In reality, the time has come for small businesses to take advantage of automation today.

AI technologies are now more accessible and cost-effective than ever, making them a viable tool for small businesses on relatively scanty budgets. It’s like all other technologies. As more and more companies develop and adopt automation and AI solutions, the competition has increased and the costs have come down. After all, small businesses account for more than 40% of US GDP and more than half of net job creation. They also represent over 99% of actual businesses in the US. Obviously, every AI solution vendor wants their products to be accessible to this massive potential pool of customers.

Like any other type of technology, AI has a wide range of uses. Small businesses can take advantage of AI and automation technologies today in numerous important areas – marketing automation tools to reach new prospects, chatbots to improve customer service, process automation software to improve back-office efficiency, and talent management solutions to hire smarter.

Of equal importance – automation produces digital data. Data fuels machine learning and drives AI. No business, however small, can afford to ignore automation. Doing so exposes your business to nimbler competitors lurking around the corner with a fully digital operating model.

Let’s look at some of the ways small businesses can benefit from automation and AI right now.

1. Use Chatbots for effective and fun customer service

According to Gartner, 85% of all customer service interactions will be non-human by 2020. Some of the immediate benefits chatbots can offer any small business are providing 24/7 customer service and pulling up relevant information within seconds, drastically reducing the time and energy normally involved in the process.

But depending on your industry, there are many creative ways to use chatbots to offer not just speedy and quality service, but an engaging experience for users.

Create a unique, engaging customer service experience

When NatGeo was promoting its show about Einstein, viewers could directly message them on Facebook to speak with a chatbot named “Einstein” who spoke in a unique, distinct voice developed to engage with them and spark interest in the show and its historical figure.

Reach customers where they are, instead of asking them to come to you

Restaurant chains like Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Burger King allow customers to place orders directly on social media, making their promotions and products more readily accessible than those who don’t use chatbots for order placement on social media.

Taco Bell Chatbot

Taco Bell’s “TacoBot” on the chat platform Slack. Source

Businesses can build their own chatbots or partner up with existing chatbot companies. The costs of deploying chatbots depend on the level of the chatbot’s complexity and the range of platforms you want them to work on.

Chatbot company GoHire’s founder Jonathan Duarte says, “Most chatbots with 1,000+ interactions with contacts will range at the low-end of $500 per month, depending on the integrations, levels of script, reporting, debugging, AI and NLP requirements, and future enhancements.”

There’s room for small businesses to leverage AI technology with chatbots at multiple budget levels. You can utilize the tech on a smaller scale than big brands, but still benefit from the investment.

2. Automate processes to prepare for a data-centric future

Just about everything in administration can benefit from some level of process automation. Scheduling meetings, processing forms, and organizing files are things that don’t require much skill. Yet, manual tasks like these eat up a large chunk of time that takes away from the more fundamental aspects of running a business.

Worse still, relying on paper, email and Excel for everyday activities locks up your business data in hard-to-find places like file folders, SharePoint repositories or filing cabinets.

Without digital data, your small business cannot take advantage of machine learning and AI.

Purchase Order Process Automation

Let automation take care of necessary but time-consuming tasks

Every business relies on day-to-day processes – things like on-boarding new hires, processing purchase orders, and handling time off requests. These core activities are essential to operate but, at most small businesses, they’re riddled with inefficiency.

Employees waste too much time chasing paperwork and correcting mistakes. Small businesses already have resource constraints when it comes to talent. They simply cannot afford unproductive employees.

Process automation software removes these inefficiencies and improves productivity. Modern systems reduce data entry and errors when filling out forms, automatically send to the right people for approvals, send notifications and reminders, and facilitate record keeping.

Prepare for a future awash in data

Most important, these digital processes generate digital data. This is a critical step towards becoming a data-driven organization that’s likely to flourish in the 21st century. After all, without process automation you cannot access your proprietary business data. Without access to your data, you cannot deploy ML and AI.

Modern process automation platforms are easy to use, cloud-based and do not require skilled programmers. They’re increasingly accessible to small businesses who stand to benefit significantly.

3. Find and hire the right people

Attracting and retaining world-class is one of the top determinants of success in the 21st century. Small businesses generally don’t have the HR resources of larger companies to find the right talent. They might struggle to hire people with the right skill sets in their own networks, which tend to be smaller.

36% of HR functions are introducing AI

Source

There may even be plenty of interest and more than enough applicants for an opening. Nevertheless, small businesses don’t have the time and the staff to go through them all. Screening candidates is the biggest headache for recruitment professionals, with 52% saying it’s the hardest part of their job.

Yet the first hires for a business are crucial for setting the stage correctly. This is an area where AI can reach out and identify those people that you may not have access to otherwise, as well as help you hire those who are likely to be more invested in your company.

The potential for AI technology in the hiring space is vast. From analyzing facial expressions to patterns in the resume or speech to predict future behavior or interests, AI tech in recruitment at times sounds exactly like the kind of futuristic stuff out of science fiction.

However, on a purely practical level for small businesses, at the very least AI can help by combing through applications for you, identifying relevant skill sets and removing implicit biases such as education, gender, and ethnicity. More and more, companies are using AI tech in hiring to reach candidates they might have overlooked because of other factors but have the right skills for the role.

Companies like Arya, Mya and SEEK offer AI-based solutions to help the hiring process for all types of businesses. Small companies struggling with their hires may benefit from this type of technology to save time and produce better results in recruitment.

4. Understand your marketing data

Laptop with marketing data

One of the biggest benefits small businesses can receive from AI technology lies in marketing automation. When you’re strapped for resources, it’s hard to dedicate any time to combing through data like customer behavior, preferences, demographics, and anything that might help you understand your customers.

Yet having access to this kind of data, analyzing it and applying to your business can make an absolutely drastic difference for your company.

When food company Dole used AI to analyze its customer data, they found that focused geo-targeting would help them grow market shares for one of its food categories. As a result, after applying this insight to their marketing campaigns, they saw 12 times the normal social engagement as well as an 87% increase in sales for the targeted region.

Marketing automation technology is accessible through companies like Marketo and HubSpot. Both offer plans in different tiers based on business size and needs, so small businesses can benefit from the tech just as much as enterprise companies.

Automation and AI are accessible to everyone

It’s not hard to see how, given enough resources, businesses can invest in the latest automation and AI technology to improve processes. Today, the technologies have already reached a point where even individual business owners can readily use automation solutions to further various business goals.

As artificial intelligence continues to seep into our everyday lives, small businesses can no longer continue to ignore automation and AI solutions. Yes, they reduce costs and provide a competitive edge. However, in a world awash in data, automating processes and analyzing the resultant data is a must to thrive in the 21st-century.

Anything else is short-sighted at best and could destroy your business at worst. Think about how quickly Barnes & Noble and Blockbuster were upended by well-funded competitors with a fully digital operating model.

The good news is that the market for automation and AI-based solutions is vast and abundant, offering a range of options for businesses of all sizes, needs, industries, and budgets.

via Technology & Innovation Articles on Business 2 Community http://bit.ly/2YKET7t

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4 Ways Small Businesses Can Benefit From Automation and AI Today By Ashish Deshpande

Small Business Planning

Big businesses tend to be at the forefront of revolutionary technology both because they have the budget to invest in costly products and the most to gain from transforming processes. Nevertheless, for small businesses, it would be short-sighted to dismiss artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and related automation technologies as expensive, complicated and even somewhat alien solutions. In reality, the time has come for small businesses to take advantage of automation today.

AI technologies are now more accessible and cost-effective than ever, making them a viable tool for small businesses on relatively scanty budgets. It’s like all other technologies. As more and more companies develop and adopt automation and AI solutions, the competition has increased and the costs have come down. After all, small businesses account for more than 40% of US GDP and more than half of net job creation. They also represent over 99% of actual businesses in the US. Obviously, every AI solution vendor wants their products to be accessible to this massive potential pool of customers.

Like any other type of technology, AI has a wide range of uses. Small businesses can take advantage of AI and automation technologies today in numerous important areas – marketing automation tools to reach new prospects, chatbots to improve customer service, process automation software to improve back-office efficiency, and talent management solutions to hire smarter.

Of equal importance – automation produces digital data. Data fuels machine learning and drives AI. No business, however small, can afford to ignore automation. Doing so exposes your business to nimbler competitors lurking around the corner with a fully digital operating model.

Let’s look at some of the ways small businesses can benefit from automation and AI right now.

1. Use Chatbots for effective and fun customer service

According to Gartner, 85% of all customer service interactions will be non-human by 2020. Some of the immediate benefits chatbots can offer any small business are providing 24/7 customer service and pulling up relevant information within seconds, drastically reducing the time and energy normally involved in the process.

But depending on your industry, there are many creative ways to use chatbots to offer not just speedy and quality service, but an engaging experience for users.

Create a unique, engaging customer service experience

When NatGeo was promoting its show about Einstein, viewers could directly message them on Facebook to speak with a chatbot named “Einstein” who spoke in a unique, distinct voice developed to engage with them and spark interest in the show and its historical figure.

Reach customers where they are, instead of asking them to come to you

Restaurant chains like Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Burger King allow customers to place orders directly on social media, making their promotions and products more readily accessible than those who don’t use chatbots for order placement on social media.

Taco Bell Chatbot

Taco Bell’s “TacoBot” on the chat platform Slack. Source

Businesses can build their own chatbots or partner up with existing chatbot companies. The costs of deploying chatbots depend on the level of the chatbot’s complexity and the range of platforms you want them to work on.

Chatbot company GoHire’s founder Jonathan Duarte says, “Most chatbots with 1,000+ interactions with contacts will range at the low-end of $500 per month, depending on the integrations, levels of script, reporting, debugging, AI and NLP requirements, and future enhancements.”

There’s room for small businesses to leverage AI technology with chatbots at multiple budget levels. You can utilize the tech on a smaller scale than big brands, but still benefit from the investment.

2. Automate processes to prepare for a data-centric future

Just about everything in administration can benefit from some level of process automation. Scheduling meetings, processing forms, and organizing files are things that don’t require much skill. Yet, manual tasks like these eat up a large chunk of time that takes away from the more fundamental aspects of running a business.

Worse still, relying on paper, email and Excel for everyday activities locks up your business data in hard-to-find places like file folders, SharePoint repositories or filing cabinets.

Without digital data, your small business cannot take advantage of machine learning and AI.

Purchase Order Process Automation

Let automation take care of necessary but time-consuming tasks

Every business relies on day-to-day processes – things like on-boarding new hires, processing purchase orders, and handling time off requests. These core activities are essential to operate but, at most small businesses, they’re riddled with inefficiency.

Employees waste too much time chasing paperwork and correcting mistakes. Small businesses already have resource constraints when it comes to talent. They simply cannot afford unproductive employees.

Process automation software removes these inefficiencies and improves productivity. Modern systems reduce data entry and errors when filling out forms, automatically send to the right people for approvals, send notifications and reminders, and facilitate record keeping.

Prepare for a future awash in data

Most important, these digital processes generate digital data. This is a critical step towards becoming a data-driven organization that’s likely to flourish in the 21st century. After all, without process automation you cannot access your proprietary business data. Without access to your data, you cannot deploy ML and AI.

Modern process automation platforms are easy to use, cloud-based and do not require skilled programmers. They’re increasingly accessible to small businesses who stand to benefit significantly.

3. Find and hire the right people

Attracting and retaining world-class is one of the top determinants of success in the 21st century. Small businesses generally don’t have the HR resources of larger companies to find the right talent. They might struggle to hire people with the right skill sets in their own networks, which tend to be smaller.

36% of HR functions are introducing AI

Source

There may even be plenty of interest and more than enough applicants for an opening. Nevertheless, small businesses don’t have the time and the staff to go through them all. Screening candidates is the biggest headache for recruitment professionals, with 52% saying it’s the hardest part of their job.

Yet the first hires for a business are crucial for setting the stage correctly. This is an area where AI can reach out and identify those people that you may not have access to otherwise, as well as help you hire those who are likely to be more invested in your company.

The potential for AI technology in the hiring space is vast. From analyzing facial expressions to patterns in the resume or speech to predict future behavior or interests, AI tech in recruitment at times sounds exactly like the kind of futuristic stuff out of science fiction.

However, on a purely practical level for small businesses, at the very least AI can help by combing through applications for you, identifying relevant skill sets and removing implicit biases such as education, gender, and ethnicity. More and more, companies are using AI tech in hiring to reach candidates they might have overlooked because of other factors but have the right skills for the role.

Companies like Arya, Mya and SEEK offer AI-based solutions to help the hiring process for all types of businesses. Small companies struggling with their hires may benefit from this type of technology to save time and produce better results in recruitment.

4. Understand your marketing data

Laptop with marketing data

One of the biggest benefits small businesses can receive from AI technology lies in marketing automation. When you’re strapped for resources, it’s hard to dedicate any time to combing through data like customer behavior, preferences, demographics, and anything that might help you understand your customers.

Yet having access to this kind of data, analyzing it and applying to your business can make an absolutely drastic difference for your company.

When food company Dole used AI to analyze its customer data, they found that focused geo-targeting would help them grow market shares for one of its food categories. As a result, after applying this insight to their marketing campaigns, they saw 12 times the normal social engagement as well as an 87% increase in sales for the targeted region.

Marketing automation technology is accessible through companies like Marketo and HubSpot. Both offer plans in different tiers based on business size and needs, so small businesses can benefit from the tech just as much as enterprise companies.

Automation and AI are accessible to everyone

It’s not hard to see how, given enough resources, businesses can invest in the latest automation and AI technology to improve processes. Today, the technologies have already reached a point where even individual business owners can readily use automation solutions to further various business goals.

As artificial intelligence continues to seep into our everyday lives, small businesses can no longer continue to ignore automation and AI solutions. Yes, they reduce costs and provide a competitive edge. However, in a world awash in data, automating processes and analyzing the resultant data is a must to thrive in the 21st-century.

Anything else is short-sighted at best and could destroy your business at worst. Think about how quickly Barnes & Noble and Blockbuster were upended by well-funded competitors with a fully digital operating model.

The good news is that the market for automation and AI-based solutions is vast and abundant, offering a range of options for businesses of all sizes, needs, industries, and budgets.

via Technology & Innovation Articles on Business 2 Community http://bit.ly/2YKET7t

How to Secure Mobile Devices in a Zero Trust World By Louis Columbus

  • 86% of enterprises are seeing mobile threats growing the fastest this year, outpacing other threat types.
  • 48% say they’ve sacrificed security to “get the job done” up from 32% last year.
  • 41% of those affected say the compromise is having major with lasting repercussions and 43% said that their efforts to remediate the attacks were “difficult and expensive.”

Bottom Line: The majority of enterprises, 67%, are the least confident in the security of their mobile assets than any other device or platform today according to Verizon’s Mobile Security Index 2019.

Why Mobile Devices Are the Fastest Growing Threat Surface Today

Verizon found that 86% of enterprises see an upswing in the number, scale, and scope of mobile breach attempts in 2019. When broken out by industry, Financial Services, Professional Services, and Education are the most commonly targeted industries as the graphic below shows:

The threat surfaces every organization needs to protect is exponentially increasing today based on the combination of employee- and company-owned mobile devices. 41% of enterprises rate mobile devices as their most vulnerable threat surface this year:

Passwords and Mobile Devices Have Become A Hacker’s Paradise

“The only people who love usernames and passwords are hackers,” said Alex Simons, corporate vice president at Microsoft’s identity division in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Username and Password Hell: Why the Internet Can’t Keep You Logged In. Verizon found that mobile devices are the most vulnerable, fastest-growing threat surface there is, making it a favorite with state-sponsored and organized crime syndicates. How rapidly mobile devices are proliferating in enterprises today frequently outpace their ability to secure them, falling back on legacy Privileged Access Management (PAM) approaches that hacking syndicates know how to get around easily using compromised passwords and privileged access credentials. Here’s proof of how much of a lucrative paradise it is for hackers to target passwords and mobile devices first:

  • Hacker’s favorite way to gain access to any business is by using privileged access credentials, which are increasingly being harvested from cellphones using malware. Hacking organizations would rather walk in the front door of any organizations’ systems rather than expend the time and effort to hack in. It’s by far the most popular approach with hackers, with 74% of IT decision makers whose organizations have been breached in the past say it involved privileged access credential abuse according to a recent Centrify survey, Privileged Access Management in the Modern Threatscape. Only 48% of the organizations have a password vault, and just 21% have multi-factor authentication (MFA) implemented for privileged administrative access. The Verizon study found that malware is the most common strategy hackers use to gain access to corporate networks. MobileIron’s Global Threat Report, mid-year 2018 found that 3.5% of Android devices are harboring known malware. Of these malicious apps, over 80% had access to internal networks and were scanning nearby ports. This suggests that the malware was part of a larger attack.

Securing Mobile Devices In A Zero Trust World Needs To Happen Now

Mobile devices are an integral part of everyone’s identity today. They are also the fastest growing threat surface for every business – making identities the new security perimeter. Passwords are proving to be problematic in scaling fast enough to protect these threat surfaces, as credential abuse is skyrocketing today. They’re perennial best-sellers on the Dark Web, where buyers and sellers negotiate in bitcoin for companies’ logins and passwords – often with specific financial firms, called out by name in “credentials wanted” ads. Organizations are waking up to the value of taking a Zero Trust approach to securing their businesses, which is a great start. Passwords are still the most widely relied-on security mechanism – and continue to be the weakest link in today’s enterprise security. That needs to change. According to the Wall Street Journal, the World Wide Web Consortium has recently ratified a standard called WebAuthN, which allows websites to authenticate users with biometric information, or physical objects like security keys, and skip passwords altogether.

MobileIron is also taking a unique approach to this challenge by introducing zero sign-on (ZSO), built on the company’s unified endpoint management (UEM) platform and powered by the MobileIron Access solution. “By making mobile devices your identity, we create a world free from the constant pains of password recovery and the threat of data breaches due to easily compromised credentials,” wrote Simon Biddiscombe, MobileIron’s President and Chief Executive Officer in his recent blog post, Single sign-on is still one sign-on too many. Simon’s latest post MobileIron: We’re making history by making passwords history, provides the company’s vision going forward with ZSO. Zero sign-on eliminates passwords as the primary method for user authentication, unlike single sign-on, which still requires at least one username and password. MobileIron paved the way for a zero sign-on enterprise with its Access product in 2017, which enabled zero sign-on to cloud services on managed devices.

Conclusion

Mobile devices are the most quickly proliferating threat surface there are today and an integral part of everyone’s identities as well. Thwarting the many breach attempts attempted daily over mobile devices and across all threat surfaces needs to start with a solid Zero Trust framework. MobileIron’s introduction of zero sign-on (ZSO) eliminates passwords as the method for user authentication, replacing single sign-on, which still requires at least one username and password. ZSO is exactly what enterprises need to secure the proliferating number of mobile devices they rely on to operate and grow in a Zero Trust world.

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Choosing a Cloud-Based File Sharing Service By Bob Garst

Choosing a Cloud-Based File Sharing Service

Macs haven’t had removable storage for years, so when you want to move files between computers, you can use USB flash drives, email, Messages, AirDrop, or local file sharing. Those techniques are fine, but for a more efficient, effective, and elegant solution, try a cloud-based file sharing service.
These services use special software to integrate into the Mac’s Finder, designating a particular folder to hold shared files. Whenever you add a file to that folder—or any subfolder inside it—the software automatically uploads it to the cloud and downloads it to linked devices. File changes and deletions sync quickly, so the shared folder remains in sync everywhere at all times. iOS’s Files app also provides a single interface to the main services on your iPhone or iPad.
File sharing services provide two key capabilities:

  • They allow you to share files between your own devices, including Macs, iPhones, iPads, and Windows-based PCs. This makes it easy to access your data wherever you are and on whatever device you’re using.
  • They let you share files or folders with others, sometimes with permissions- or date-based restrictions. Such capabilities are incredibly effective for workgroup collaboration.

Numerous cloud-based file sharing services exist, but the most popular are Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, and Microsoft’s OneDrive, all of which offer free plans with limited amounts of storage.

Box is aimed primarily at large enterprises, with plans priced at $5, $15, or $25 per user per month. The main differences between those plans revolve around things like the number of users, administrative controls and security reporting, and custom branding. Box integrates with hundreds of apps and offers a platform on which companies can build their own collaboration and workflow solutions.
Box also offers a free Individual plan with 10 GB of storage. A Personal Pro plan costs $10 per month, but that provides only 100 GB of storage, much less than the competition.

Dropbox

 

 

The 800-pound gorilla of the file sharing space is Dropbox, which popularized the concept starting in 2007. A free Basic account offers 2 GB of storage space, but for $9.99 per month, the Plus plan gives you 1 TB and the $19.99 Professional plan doubles that to 2 TB and provides additional controls. If you need to share a folder with someone, Dropbox is generally the best option because so many people already have accounts.
For teams, Dropbox Business provides Standard ($12.50 per user per month) and Advanced ($20 per user per month) plans that increase the space even further and add administrative controls, increased security options, and more.

Google Drive

 

Conceptually, Google Drive is where Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides store their files. However, it also lets you store any type of file, and Google provides 15 GB of free storage with every Google account. For those who need more storage, Google offers a variety of storage tiers, including 100 GB ($1.99 per month), 200 GB ($2.99), and 2 TB ($9.99).

Google Drive Enterprise extends the service for teams with additional collaboration, workflow, and security tools. It’s priced at $8 per active user per month plus $0.04 per gigabyte of data stored. If you want the full G Suite, which includes Gmail, Google Docs, video conferencing, team messaging, and shared calendars, $6 per user per month buys 30 GB of storage and $12 per user per month buys unlimited storage.

Google generally assumes you’ll do everything in a Web browser or a smartphone app, but with the company’s Backup and Sync software for the Mac, it provides the same level of Finder integration as other services.

iCloud Drive

 

Although Apple’s iCloud Drive is deeply integrated into macOS and iOS and numerous apps, it’s the weakest of the file sharing services. That’s because Apple focuses on individuals, not groups or teams. iCloud Drive works fine for sharing files among your own devices, and it allows you to share individual files (but not folders) with anyone who has an Apple ID.

Apple gives all Mac and iOS users 5 GB of free space in iCloud Drive, although things like iCloud backups of your iOS devices can use that up quickly. For $0.99 per month, you can get 50 GB, $2.99 per month gets you 200 GB, and 2 TB costs $9.99 per month. There are no business plans, but you can share the purchased space with other members of a Family Sharing group.

OneDrive

 

Most of Microsoft’s Office 365 subscriptions include OneDrive storage—a $99.99 per year Office 365 Home plan provides 1 TB for each of up to six users, whereas a $69.99 Office 365 Personal subscription is for just one user. On the business side, you can pay $5, $8.25, or $12.50 per user per month for different Office 365 plans. The low-end plan doesn’t include the desktop versions of the Office apps, and the high-end plan provides Exchange, SharePoint, and Teams in addition to all the Office apps and 1 TB of OneDrive storage for each user.

How to Choose a Service

Which of these services is best for your needs? That’s a potentially complicated question, and we’re happy to talk with you directly to make a recommendation. That said, here are the basics.

If you mostly need to share files among your own devices and want to share the occasional file with another Apple user, iCloud Drive may be sufficient, especially if you are already paying for more storage for iCloud Photos. Those who are heavily invested in Google’s G Suite or Microsoft Office 365 should focus on Google Drive or OneDrive. If you aren’t already in bed with Google or Microsoft, Dropbox is the best bet for most individuals and groups, although larger organizations should also evaluate Box.

Social Media: The fastest and easiest way to share files among your Macs and iOS devices is via cloud-based file sharing services, and they’re also fabulous for collaborating on files with colleagues. Here’s how to choose among them.

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Engineering Smarter Meeting Room Collaboration By William MacDonald

Integrated cloud-based video conferencing and superior meeting room systems are becoming the intelligent workspace for the modern enterprise. Easy to use and reliable meeting room systems ensure users can start their video conferences on time and create effective communications across the enterprise at an instant.

By 2020, Gartner estimates there will be more than 20 billion connected sensors and endpoints, and digital twins will exist for potentially billions of things. Gartner defines a digital twin as a software design pattern that represents a physical object with the objective of understanding the asset’s state, responding to changes, improving business operations and adding value. The benefits of digital twins include asset optimization, competitive differentiation, and improved user experience in nearly all industries. By 2021, half of the large industrial companies will use digital twins, resulting in those organizations gaining a 10% improvement in effectiveness.

An important area of change to video conferencing relates to where the ‘capability’ resides. Smart solutions offer enterprise users a seamless and secure endpoint meeting experience. Crucially, a video conferencing vendor that has a dedicated cloud-based service and enables its clients to communicate directly to one another should ensure that this communication is fully secure. The signaling channel to the vendor’s cloud always remains intact and is the only source of controlling messages to the client, which provides a security guarantee because the signaling stream is encrypted, and the platform is robust delivering redundancy built-in to the overall architecture.

Smart spaces

Integrated cloud environments are like intelligent ecosystems. Upgrades are seamless, frictionless, and cost-effective, and intuitive solutions are now interoperable to work with any third-party standards-based meeting systems. From smart hospitals to automated factories, the use of secure cloud video conferencing capabilities is touching every aspect of our lives and giving businesses the freedom to focus on delivering an enhanced service to customers.

Gartner states in its top 10 strategic technology trends for 2019, “Smart spaces are a natural evolution from isolated, independent systems to intelligent, comprehensive environments. They bring together many technologies and trends to create an experience for targeted personas or industry scenarios.” In addition, they continue to advise, “Prepare for smart spaces by developing connected, interactive and intelligent environments on a scale that tests the concept but can expand to the larger environment.”

The engineers of digital disruption deliver cloud-based video conferencing to help enterprises break the shackles of cumbersome on-premises technology and seamlessly scale their operations to support the widest possible stakeholders. The benefits to the business are enormous:

  • On the go – The ability to join meetings at an instant from any device is a powerful enabler to the mobile workforce. As more people work remotely, the freedom of movement and flexibility significantly reduces unnecessary travel, including long commutes to work, and makes better use of people’s time to focus on what matters. Guaranteed encryption of all media and signaling, ensures users will be communicating securely no matter where they choose to work.
  • User experience – guest participation is another advantage in bringing stakeholders together and bridging the international divide. Cloud-based video conferencing is an effective method to easily invite people on a scheduled or impromptu basis. Users gain a rich experience to converse, collaborate, and message at the touch of a button.
  • Security and reliability – cloud-based technology removes much of the complexity from on-premises video conferencing. Additionally, with tightly integrated solutions, enterprises can securely connect people whilst protecting sensitive transmitted data. Enterprises have greater confidence in video conferencing when security is guaranteed as part of the service. This confidence is further enhanced when the vendors can offer global points of presence which are fully redundant in terms of information backup, power supply, and server hardware. Crucially, the SLA should provide a minimum of 99.999% uptime.
  • Interoperability – The ability to integrate legacy endpoints with new systems enables the extended life of existing video conferencing equipment (H323 and SIP) and will allow a smoother transition from the old to new. Integrated cloud-based solutions serve to better connect users smoothly with any third-party standards-based meeting systems – compatibility and cost-effectiveness all in one.
  • Management and performance – Optimal control makes seamless and frictionless upgrades and allows the enterprise to gain access to important meeting room usage reports and performance analysis to determine the return on investment.

Engineering the ecosystem

Enterprises are embracing change and strategically planning the migration to cloud-based solutions that scale their collaborative objectives, future-proof their investments, and build for the long-term.

As innovation in cloud-based video conferencing gathers pace, more enterprises are enjoying the freedom and flexibility to interact more efficiently. Time and resources are precious. Secure cloud-enabled meeting room systems steadfastly offer reliability and interoperability that help decision-makers to standardize on smarter collaboration tools, so that the workforce can meet at an instant.

via Technology & Innovation Articles on Business 2 Community http://bit.ly/2EjNne6

2019 Engagement Benchmarks for Apps in the Shopping Category By Ashley Sefferman

All apps aren’t created equal, and metrics of success look different across industries based on differences in customer engagement opportunities and goals. In order to fully understand how your app’s experience compares with the market, it’s important to look at benchmarks in your specific app category.

Our 2019 Mobile Benchmarks by App Category report looks at trends and differences across popular app categories, with a focus on Shopping (Retail) apps. Below is a taste of the Shopping-focused data featured in the report, including a “scorecard” showing average engagement and feedback benchmarks for apps in the Shopping category and category-specific tips for success.

The Shopping-focused data and recommendations make it even easier for you to analyze your current strategy, without comparing yourself to apps in other categories who approach feedback and engagement differently due to industry needs. Let’s dive in!

Profile of an average app in the Shopping (Retail) category

Apps in the Shopping category face unique customer feedback challenges. For example, retailers never want to stop a consumer from shopping to gather feedback, but when a purchase has been completed, the consumer is done and they don’t want to be in the app anymore. It can be tough to find a balance between supporting customer goals (i.e. not being disrupted) and supporting business goals (i.e. keeping a pulse on sentiment).

To give you an idea of how the majority of retailers approach gathering customer feedback, below is the profile of an average app in the Shopping category.

Sentiment is the emotion behind customer engagement and is at the heart of understanding, measuring, and improving our relationships. When you monitor sentiment, you try to measure the tone, context, and feeling from customer actions. We tracked sentiment for apps in the Shopping category, and here’s what we found.

3 tips for Shopping (Retail) app success

1. Provide a mobile payment option

Streamlining the checkout process is a smart way to remove friction. Mobile payment makes checkouts faster and easier for customers because they don’t have to pull out their credit cards (or loyalty card and coupons) each time they want to buy something.

For example, Kohl’s is notable for their investment in easy mobile payment capabilities. They recently launched their in-app mobile payment system called Kohl’s Pay, which allows their 25 million credit card holders to save their card in the app’s mobile wallet. Kohl’s took it a step further by incorporating rewards and discounts into the Kohl’s Pay program. When a customer uses Kohl’s Pay at checkout, discounts and rewards are automatically added when the in-app credit card is scanned.

Kohl's Pay

Kohl’s’ mobile app payment process eliminates three steps customers have to take out at the register: their credit card, coupons, and loyalty card. Kohl’s makes their in-store checkout process quick and easy with their mobile app, all while boosting customer loyalty. Retail credit card holders are among the most loyal customers, so allowing them to checkout hassle-free only sweetens the deal.

2. Offer a consolidated digital experience

Similar to consolidated apps with “store mode” (in which consumers aren’t required to download a separate app to aide their in-store shopping experience), retailers can benefit from consolidating the look and feel of their entire digital experience.

For example, eBay executed this strategy by creating a UI that looks, feels, and is organized the same way in-app, on mobile, and online. This allows customers to more easily achieve their goal in eBay without wasting time trying to become acclimated with each channel’s different layout.

eBay app

3. Replace manual chores with digital solutions

People don’t always have the time or desire to stroll leisurely through retails stores picking out clothes to try on. That’s why retailers have created digital solutions for manual chores, essentially turning their apps into time savers.

For example, Nordstrom offers a reserve online, try on in-store option. Customers can browse the selection via the mobile app and select “Reserve Online & Try In Store” from the product detail page items they’d like to try on. Once their items have been located at the nearest store, they receive a text notification, then another when they arrive in-store, which lets them know where they can find the dedicated dressing room with their name and selected items. Not only does this feature make consumers’ lives easier and more convenient, it connects Nordstrom’s world-famous customer service with their mobile experience, so customer expectations can stay high and in-store experiences can be improved.

Nordstrom app

Now it’s your turn

As the above categorical data shows, being customer-centric is not an option anymore. It’s no longer a nice-to-have; it’s the need of the hour.

We release this category-specific benchmark data so Shopping (Retail) brands can understand how effectively they measure their customer experience, communicate with their customers, and earn customer love.

Note on methodology: This report includes data from over 800 unique Android and iOS apps across all app categories, from January 2018 to December 2018. The data was captured by interactions deployed using Apptentive’s mobile communication platform. Benchmarks vary depending on the nature of the vertical and the data in this report will be useful for companies to see how they stack up against the overall market as well as against others in their category.

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How Do We Improve Forecast Accuracy? By Dave Brock

Yesterday, I wrote, Forecast Accuracy, Again. It’s an important foundation to this article. It focuses on why we need forecast accuracy, which may be different from what most sales leaders think.

I’ve actually become very accurate forecasting when and how this topic comes up. There are two peak periods.

The first is about now, midway through the second quarter. This happens because people may have struggled to make their numbers in the first quarter, they are midway through the second quarter, looking forward, seeing both the quarter and the year at risk. Jumping on the topic in the middle of the second quarter, hopefully, helps them get the right things going for the quarter and the year.

The second time this topic is hot is in the last 30 days of the third quarter. These queries come from people and organizations in deep trouble, trying to figure out some sort of recovery strategy–most often, too little too late.

It almost never comes up in the first quarter, people are focused on kick-offs, optimistic about a fresh start. Also, it never comes in the fourth quarter, every one is powering through doing whatever they can to make the numbers.

Often, the query, “How do we improve forecast accuracy,” is really masking the issue, “We’re struggling to make our numbers, how do we fix it?” I’ll focus on improving forecast accuracy, which will also address, how we make our numbers.

When I talk to people about the issue, they inevitably start the discussion in the wrong place–the forecasting process. Somehow they think that’s the problem.

They go into great detail describing the forecasting process and the various levels of “commitment to the forecast.” They use different language, “Firm commitment, commit, possible…..”

One client, the highest level commitment is called the “blood commit.” I, foolishly asked the question, “What’s a pinky finger commit?” You probably can guess their patience with my observation.

This whole concept is intriguing, in itself. We want to have very accurate forecasts, yet we set up a forecasting process that has various levels of certainty about the forecast. Implicitly, this process sets up uncertainty and inaccuracy in the forecasting process.

It seems to me, there is a commitment or not. There can’t be degrees of commitment because those degrees of commitment usually have nothing to do with the customer’s readiness/urgency to buy, but with the sales person’s opinion. In this case, it seems we would be more accurate by running trend analysis and analytics because this process has more to do with the number and not with the deal (or collection of deals).

Lesson 1: We don’t fix the forecasting process by fixing the forecast meeting/review process.

If we don’t improve forecast accuracy in the forecasting process, how do we improve forecast accuracy?

The next place to look is the pipeline. If our pipeline is filled with crap, if our pipeline is inaccurate, we can never have accurate forecasts! There’s the old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

We have to have high quality and high integrity pipelines to begin to have higher degrees of accuracy in the forecast.

We have to inspect our pipelines, are the deals real or wishful thinking? Are they high quality? Are they accurately positioned in the pipeline? Do we have an accurate view of the target close date, the value of the deal, what the customer will buy?

Quickly, we realize these questions are less about the pipeline, but more about the deals themselves. The pipeline is just a representation of all the deals we are working on and where they are in the buying process.

Lesson 2: So isn’t forecast accuracy is really more about a deal and the quality of the deal/customer engagement, than the pipeline and forecasting process?

But then we have to start asking some questions about the deal? Too often, we ask the wrong questions, focusing n what we are doing and what the competition is doing, and how we are positioning ourselves to beat the composition. The customer ends up becoming the poor victim upon who we inflict these activities.

But the most important questions about the deal end up being about the customer. What problem are they trying to solve? What is the impact of this problem? What happens if they don’t solve the problem? What is the urgency the customer has about solving the problem? When do they need to have a solution in place? What happens if they miss that target date? Do they agree with this and are they committed to achieve the date?

Unfortunately, too often we don’t ask ourselves these questions, we don’t ask the customer these questions, the customer may not even ask themselves these questions. But until the customer can answer these questions, in a quality manner, we have no idea about “when” a certain deal will happen, or even the likelihood that anything will happen.

Once we and the customer have answers to these questions. We have a start to forecast accuracy.

But there are a lot of other questions that impact the accuracy of forecasts. Unfortunately, they are about the customer again. We know customers struggle to buy. 53% of their buying journey’s end in no decision made–even though they have a need to buy.

As a result, the next series of questions that contribute to forecast accuracy has to do with the customer’s ability to navigate their buying process and make a decision–for anyone. We can make an assessment, perhaps flip a coin (at 53% No Decision Made, I’d tend to bet tails).

Do they know how to buy? Do they know how to align interests and agendas? Do they have a project plan and are managing to that? If they have a compelling urgency and a deadline they have to make something happen, we have much more certainty.

This struggle to buy has a huge impact on forecast accuracy.

Lesson 3: Forecast accuracy is more about what the customer is/isn’t doing, not what we are doing. Yet we make forecast discussions all about what we are doing and our confidence level with those activities.

But we can have a huge impact in this process–helping the customer discover how to buy. If the customer wants to buy, but fails in their buying process, they don’t buy. If we want to sell, we only do that when the customer buys. Consequently, we achieve our goals when we help the customer navigate through their buying process.

Lesson 4: A key issue in forecast accuracy is, what are we doing to help the customer buy, how are the incorporating our leadership in their buying process, is this creating differentiated value for them?

Finally we get to the issue of vendor/product selection. Yet this is where we focus our forecast discussions—“What makes you think they will choose our product over the competitors’?” The reality, is any supplier on the customer’s shortlist will solve their problem. So it probably is not the key to success in winning and in forecast accuracy.

Magically, it’s comes back to the customer–but how we are helping the customer through their buying journey.

Lesson 5: Forecast accuracy has little to do with what we sell and how we stack up against the competition. It is always all about the customer.

Bottom Line: We make forecasting and forecast accuracy about things that have very little to do with what cause a customer to buy and what causes the customer to select us. It’s no wonder that forecast accuracy is terrible. Regardless of our “blood commits,” or whatever commitment we make, we are assessing the wrong issues, so we might as well flip a coin or do some sort of trend analysis. We’d probably be more accurate and waste less of sales people time.

Second Bottom Line: We don’t need to do this stuff just to get accurate forecasts. In fact, these things are critical to building differentiated value with customers and and executing value based deal strategies.

If we are doing these things, qualifying opportunities where the customer has a compelling need to change, helping the customer understand the importance of making the change, helping the customer navigate the buying process—we are doing the most impactful things, the things most important to the customer, the things that create value for and with the customer. If we do these things we maximize our differentiation and value and maximize our ability to win deals.

So doing these things is critical to high performance selling–and, by the way, improves forecast accuracy. By doing what we should be doing in each and every deal, we will be improving our performance and our accuracy.

Final conclusion: We need to do these things to hit our numbers. We need to do these things to improve forecast accuracy.

However, it will never be perfect. Sometimes, shit happens.

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