IoT’s, I don’t have any IoT’s do I?

IoT devices

IoT devices, do I have any?

Here is a newish term that has been getting brandished around the Internet for some time now. At first as a techie I may think, Institute of Technology devices, Oh, I don’t have any of these. However, I would be so wrong. So what are they and what does it stand for?

IoT’s or Internet of things devices are now all around us whether we like it or not. They are devices that require an IP address to access the network or Internet. I like to think of them as Internet on Technology.

Your mobiles and any tech wear that you have, card reader machines, cash points, smart TV’s Tablet computers and any smart home devices that you may own. Your car, security cameras, home thermostats, amoung other things, even ticket machines and some vending machines.

What does it mean?

It means that things have progressed along a road that had been predicted, but the faster broadband speeds and methods of connectivity have meant it is now a reality.

Let’s rewind a little, A few years ago we have a desktop PC and then maybe a laptop and at first they did not connect to the Internet at all. We then got dial up Internet and we all tentatively put our toes in the water that was the Internet. Well, from there speeds just got faster and faster and Mobile phones came along, then they became smart. This meant connecting to the Internet and using it as a resource to feed you constant information. This meant improving phone signal strength and so we got up to 4G with 5G on its way.

Other devices then came along and allowed us to stream content around our houses and cars, how great was all this connectivity. Well, it is amazing how far we have come in such a short time.

So what’s all the fuss about, surely this is great news?

The reason that these devices are in the news a lot today is that there are now hundreds of thousands of them, being made by well-known companies and also so not so well known but less expensive alternatives and they all connect to the Internet. Now, securing our stand alone network that had no Internet connection was easy, what you put into it was the only danger. Now that these devices are on the Internet all the time they are able to pull all sorts of data into your device and if it is connected to your network, then onto your network as well.

You would think that this was matter of the device being smart and you being able to configure all the settings and hence protecting all that is does. However, loopholes in the software on these devices, not them all, but some are causing the security world a massive headache and some of the attacks to systems that you have read about recently have been because the software on these devices is not well written and is very insecure. Hackers are catching onto the fact that the world has a massive amount of these types of devices and there are more switched on each day and they are targeting their weaknesses.

So really the question is, “When is a smart device not so smart?” when it runs badly written software that has security holes that you can drive a programming bus through.

Here are a few articles to give you some more information: –

http://www.csoonline.com/article/3119765/security/hackers-found-47-new-vulnerabilities-in-23-iot-devices-at-def-con.html

http://www.darkreading.com/vulnerabilities—threats/internet-of-things-contains-average-of-25-vulnerabilities-per-device/d/d-id/1297623

What are your thoughts about this and have you bought into any of these devices and are you using them. I have to admit I have some.

Houston we have a…..Nexus 5X, what’s all the fuss about?

Nexus 5 phone

New Nexus 5X phone

So it seems my love affair with Google’s Nexus range hasn’t been too badly damaged by the Nexus 9 experience, largely due to my painless daily use of a Nexus 5 phone for a good few years now. Like all good things that has now come to an end; it’s time for a change to ensure I get the full use of Android Nougat when it’s launched later this year. With that in mind, I decided to bite the bullet and get a Nexus 5X – after all, it seems the next sensible step after my great experiences with the Nexus 5.

Granted, it has been out for a while now (and I did wait for the price to drop) but a sale made it too good to pass up, so I purchased it. The plan being that the 5X, along with my sim only package on Three, will keep me going for a while now (unless someone wants me to test drive a phone for them?).

What is the Nexus 5X?

Seems a reasonable question for any of you who have not heard of it before. It is the second five-inch handset from Google and LG, and has much-upgraded hardware over the original Nexus 5, as well as some nice built in extras (including a fingerprint reader and one of the best camera’s to be found in a mobile handset).
LG Nexus 5X hardware specifications

Operating System Android 6.0 Marshmallow
Display 5.2 inches
FHD (1920×1080) LCD at 423 ppi
Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Fingerprint- and smudge-resistant oleophobic coating
Rear Camera 12.3MP
1.55 μm pixels
f/2.0 aperture
IR laser-assisted autofocus
4K (30fps) video capture
120 fps slow motion video capture
Broad-spectrum CRI-90 dual flash
Front Camera 5MP
1.4 μm pixels
f/2.2 aperture
Processors Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 Processor, 1.8GHz hexa-core 64-bit
Adreno 418 GPU
Memory & Storage RAM: 2GB LPDDR3
Internal storage: 16GB or 32GB
Dimensions 147.0 x 72.6 x 7.9 mm
Weight 136 g
Sensors Fingerprint sensor
Sensor Hub
Accelerometer
Gyroscope
Barometer
Proximity sensor
Ambient light sensor
Hall sensor
Android Context Hub
Ports Micro USB Type-C
3.5 mm audio jack
Single Nano SIM slot
Battery 2,700 mAh
Other LED notification light

 

The phone came nicely presented in a box with sliding sleeve that, once removed, let you remove the lid and expose the contents as per the cover photo.

The box contained the phone, USB C charger and cable, a small tool to remove sim port cover, and the usual quick start leaflets etc. The handset has a very nice feel in the hand, and the weight is Ok. Side by side, the screen appears to be larger height wise than my old Nexus 5, but the width looks very similar.

Moving data across

This is always the time-consuming part, but it’s not anywhere near as bad as it used to be. With the use of a Google account, and your data being backed up online in various guises, it is now a much easier process when it comes to re-establishing a phone, or setting up a new one.

I choose the option on setup to transfer account information from a previous device. Following the onscreen instructions, I simply touched the back of the devices together and the transfer started. In a short time the account and then all the apps and setting came across to the new handset.

I still had to do some final tweaking in various apps to allow them to update on the new device, as well as some minor setup on the device itself, before I transferred the music and files I wanted across to my new device from my old one. But that was it, the phone was running and Bob’s your uncle. (Well I did have an Uncle Bob.)

Out of the box, the phone updated the Operating system – getting all the security fixes it had missed while it was hibernating. So here we are, after around 40 minutes for account transfer and updates, with a handset that’s ready to go.

How has the last 5 days been?

I have been using it for around 5 days at the time of writing, and here are my initial thoughts and experiences.

First of all, I must say I am impressed, it is great to use and feels great in the hand – I have it in a new case for extra protection. My biggest issue, if I had one, would be the USB C charging scenario – it sounds great and gives fast charging. Sadly the cable supplied with the phone has USB C at both ends and does not plug into my ANKER charging hub, it only plugs into the charger that came with the phone. I can’t even use it at my laptop to charge via a USB port. This is a bit of a nuisance and needs to be addressed – it has required me to purchase a separate cable with USB C at the phone end and a standard USB plug at the other. I will now need a few of these for the car and other areas I charge the phone a lot, leading to extra costs.

My other issue is no QI charging. I have a pad in my lounge that I used to drop my Nexus 5 onto and it charged. At my desk, I had a stand that I placed my Nexus 5 into and it charged. Sadly now neither of them can be used. Why drop this great way of charging a device?  It was very easy and meant there was no need to fumble about with cables. It seemed like the future, and yet it has been now taken out of the equation again.

The phone use itself is similar to the Nexus 5, in my day to day use the battery doesn’t seem much improved – I am still charging each night for the next day’s use. Screen seems sharper, and I am impressed by the fingerprint unlock – this means I can pick the phone up with either hand and it can be instantly unlocked with the touch of finger. The camera delivers very clear pictures, and the video allows for slow motion and delivers a nice clear picture as well.

I’ll be back!

Had to fit in a terminator quote somewhere. I will be back over the next few weeks with my findings as I use it for work and social purposes. But so far so good. Just need Google to sort the Nexus Tablet range out and I’ll be a happy chappy again.

Are you a trail blazer?

White noise

information overload

Information overload

With all the feeds we get each day, whether they be Tweets or Facebook or email or news reports or telephone calls or even, yes, even a face to face meeting. It has been occurring to me that there is a lot of interference and traffic out there. Noise if you like. A white noise that obscures sometimes some very useful and genuine comments and info.

Filtration

Do we have a good method of filtration going on or are we being guided by everything that comes our way. I liken it to a video I once saw of an ant colony and the researchers were studying their behaviour and determining how they travelled and how they made their way back to base.

Obviously, they must use sent trails and they lay them down and everyone else follows them as well. Hey presto a fool proof system to get about and never get lost. Being researchers off course they have to test their theories and after the ants had created their best laid plans and trails the researchers created a circle of scents and trails all around some ants to see how they coped and would they get past it. Basically they surrounded them, with too much information to process, or white noise if you like, and they could not get back to the well laid plan. They were too distracted and could not get outside the circle. They really needed a method of filtration to find that one trail and stay on it at all costs and against all other distractions.

Unsung heroes

I know in amongst everything that bombards me every day there are unsung heroes who have gems of wisdom to help me on my way and keep me focussed and yes I do get a bit overloaded and distracted, but I do try and say to myself, be yourself,  do not try and be anyone else. Because someone finds a certain feed or path the way to go that is maybe not for you and you need to focus and keep going on the scent trail that you have visualised an laid down.

So do we curb our appetite for more info?

So what are the solutions and how do we cope? Do we simply switch off a lot of the noise and, I know a lot of contacts who have done this and are off various platforms and are in their case thankful for it. Bur remember that is maybe not the best approach for you.

Can we apply a filter to things then and just cherry pick what we see and what we interact with?

Well, yes off course you can, but there is always the fear that you filter out and disconnect from some info and miss a great nugget of gold and a gem that would benefit your business and your life. But hey, that is always the case, sometimes it is about being in the right place at the right time. Don’t let anyone tell you anything else.

Conclusion

I have to admit and say that it is an every changing medium for me and do encourage business owners to use the social media platforms and get out there. Join groups and contribute to what people and business are saying. I am, always changing what I look at and I am rather pleased with myself in the fact that I am now not getting as worked up about some of the feeds. No longer thinking every post is a nugget of gold but applying my filters, where do I want to be and how am I getting there, who can help and what can I do to contribute. I seem to be surviving OK.

How do you cope with all the info and what are your measures of filtration? Would be good to see some comments here. I hope to learn a lot.

Big Brother is watching you and has been for a while

data capture nline

Big Brother is watching you

“‘Who controls the past’, ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'” Part 1, Chapter 3, pg. 37

The above is all inspired by someone the other day putting up a quote about the fact they had read 1984 and couldn’t believe how bad things were back then. Which made me laugh.

George Orwell’s 1984 was a book I read at high school for my higher in English prep. I was into science fiction and that genre and this sort off ticked some of those boxes. Obviously, it was about the state watching everything that the populate did and the perceived freedom people had was really not freedom at all. Orwell based it on the communist state in 1948 and his publisher’s enforced that he change the title to 1984 to make it more sellable and not offend the communist state of Russia.

History lesson over now, I came across a comic photo of Cortana, Microsoft’s office help in Windows 10, based on their game character from their Halo franchise. She will listen to you and answer questions to help. Similar to the OK Google in Android Google NOW.

But what are these helps really doing?

In the comic photo I saw that someone was happy that Cortana was there and they could chat, until eventually they had to switch Cortana off as she was so intrusive the person’s privacy ceased to exist.

My title is that Big Brother, the state in Orwell’s book that spied on everyone, has been watching us for a long time is in fact very true. Since the Internet has been around we have been spied on and catalogued in our preferences and histories and then email allowed us to be spied on. Particularly when it went online and became web based. Our shopping habits are spied on by supermarkets and stores, again with loyalty cards, as we scan, they record. We get vouchers emailed and sent through the post that give us money of the things we buy each week and use. Isn’t it amazing how do they know?

Should we be worried and concerned?

I meet a lot of different people in my IT travels from training to techie talks with geeks like myself. They range from the extremists who are so paranoid that they don’t use a lot of the available tech and systems that are around just now, to the laid back who use everything and deal with the aftermath.

I must admit to being nearer the second type of person with some criteria on what I would and would not do. I do love the latest tech and am slightly addicted to where it is taking us.

I would suggest to you that you are kept on record on the World Wide Web at a host of locations from government bodies who use your ID and unique NI number to shops and web page stored info. (Cookies and their friends). So worrying would be a fruitless activity and probably not get you any real benefit. Paranoia is the other extreme I find and people go to amazing lengths to avoid their real data and identity getting out there. It will get out there and to be honest it already is out there, is the amazing and correct answer to that.

Precautions

Of course I am not saying forget everything and lay abandon to any security and common sense, now that would be absurd, and I do meet that category of person as well.

We really need to use the latter, common sense and be aware of what we are doing.

  • Not clicking on everything that pops up.
  • Not filling in every form of filed that is asked of us by companies.
  • Unticking boxes that want to store our info and sent us data all the time.
  • Have all updates on and installed.
  • Make sure we have the latest and up to date Anti-Virus and spyware/Malware kit on our machines.
  • AND above all use common sense.

What are your thoughts on this and what do you do? Are you paranoid or very open?

Great to hear your comments.

The Communication Revolution

communication revolution

Communication Revolution

Nice to talk to you, how are things going?
Can you drop me a day and time for a meeting?
When can we talk about the training you need?

You know I see around a hundred questions a day coming my way in various guises and usually keep on top of them, but I have noticed recently that I have dropped the ball on a couple and  wondered why.

I use technology for most things and particularly admin, tasks and communication so how can this be happening? Well in fact the very saviour that I use to keep me organised is the very thing that is making me drop the ball.

How is technology failing me?

I have been doing some historical research and asking the question of how we communicate and of course using my age, no comments here please, as I remember using various versions of communication over my years in industry and business.

Here is a rough breakdown of what I experienced: –

  • Phoned into the office once or twice a day to see if there were any messages for me
  • Got a pager that bleeped when the office needed me, then found a phone and phoned into the office
  • Technology improved and I got given a pager that had a scrolling screen across the top and I could read the messages. This was amazing, where was technology taking us?
  • Got my first company car with built in car phone, large box in the boot and aerial on the roof. The handset took up most of the foot well and a microphone hung in your face as you drove. But, hey that was advances in technology and don’t be fooled I loved it. It also meant I now couldn’t hide anywhere.
  • The next was a company car with a cradle and no large box in the boot and no aerial on the roof. The phone had it all built in and could be removed from the car. What…I was lost for words and it was great. It fitted in my pocket and I could call the office or any clients I wanted. This was just amazing.
  • Then on top of all this I was given a small portable compute that had all my product range on it that I was selling and could work out a quote on the spot for a client. I was then hooked on technology. The tech kept me informed and allowed me to be more flexible in what I was doing, simply brilliant. I could juggle all these no problem and I was mobile even back then.

So where are we now? And I still haven’t answered why technology is letting me down?

Yes, sorry was caught up in nostalgia when times were developing fast and things were simpler.

Now I sound like my gran.

Well, now we have the Internet, the cloud, the web, back then we didn’t so communication was done differently. Now I can get communication from all sections of the Internet that I am active in and believe you me there are a lot of them. Because I am also mobile a lot of the time these communications come in as I am on the hop and I read them quickly and think I will answer that when I get back to base and have time to think it through and check a few things out.

So where do my communications come from now? Well here is the current list and I may have missed some: –

  • Letter, or snail mail as it is called.
  • Emails, quite a lot of emails to various accounts I use
  • Direct messages I get from Facebook, three possible accounts
  • Direct messages I get from Twitter, three possible accounts.
  • Emails I get from LinkedIn
  • Messages I get from my blog I founded and write
  • Messages form my website activity
  • Messages from any LinkedIn groups I am in
  • Messages from Facebook pages I manage
  • Google Hangouts, sometimes a few open at one time talking to more than one person, like holding two phone calls at once.
  • Skype, which I must admit I don’t use a lot really
  • Phone calls on landline and on mobile
  • Text messages
  • Even my file server at home emails me when it updates or has had a problem…….

So my dilemma is that I have on occasion been out the office and mobile and got a message through one of these mediums and read it over and thought I will answer that once I can put a reasonable response together. I then get back to base and there is something in my mind about a message I must answer so I open my emails and check each account, all emails have been read, which of course they have as I looked at it when I was out and about. So it doesn’t jump out at me.

Or on occasion I can’t find an email and think how else did the message come in and spend a bit of time going through all of the above until I hopefully stumble across it. An example recently was one that I had read over when I was out and about that it was a direct message and then my day got busy and confusing. When I got back to base I looked and it wasn’t there. I checked emails and other areas and couldn’t find it. Finally I think found it as a direct message to one of my Twitter accounts I use.

So maybe you can see my dilemma, the very thing I have embraced to make my profile and business public and found easily is also the very thing that is causing me to be juggling so many forms and ways to communicate that I occasionally drop the ball.

What’s the solution, or is there one?

Well, the solution is obviously a difficult one. I could peal back the activity to the essential areas and not over complicate things. Hence only check and receive important messages. But being into all the aspects of the current Internet I find this difficult to rationalise. I even teach people to use it to its fullest. No I will just have to be more organised again and make sure I am aware of the source of communications that come my way and prioritise and deal with them as appropriate. A few extra hours each day might be useful.

What are you experiences of this phenomenon, is it something you have experienced or is it just me?

The Deep Web?

deepweb

The Deep Web

In today’s ever changing world we are becoming more and more adept at creating names for things. Being into technology and the uses of it, I always think I am ahead of the game or at least trying to be and then a term pops up and I think, here we go again.
So when the term Deep Web came around I thought let’s actually look at how this is being used and what does it mean to the layman, now and in the future?

So how is it being used?

Well it is a term that talks about areas of the Internet that main stream, search engines just cannot reach. It is so buried that they don’t see it or how to get to it. Here is one definition I found for it.

Deep Web (also called the DeepnetInvisible Web, or Hidden Web) is the portion of World Wide Web content that is not indexed by standard search engines.” This is from Wikipedia and can be found here

This of course this has led to other definitions and I love the idea of standard search engines being like a fishing net cast across the sea and only catching fish in the top layers, then deep web is at the bottom layers and the net doesn’t go that far. Traditional search engines cannot see or retrieve content in the deep web. So they have named the section of the web that is indexed by standard search engines as the Surface Web, Yes another term to get your head around. You tend to wonder if Spiderman has all this trouble.

So is this the same as the Dark Internet?

The popular thinking is that the Deep Web should not be confused with the Dark Internet, which refers to network hosts and the Internet that no one can reach.

Why should we even be aware of the Deep Web?

Well most of the use of the deep net is perfectly OK and the usage need not be thought of anything other than perfectly innocent. However, government agencies and enforcement agencies are concerned that it could be a place where serious criminals can hide and carry out some unscrupulous activities. This of course will lead to, what seems to be the main way that things are handled today, passing laws that treat everything as the same and where this maybe catches some of the intended targets it also causes the innocent who were going about their normal business up to this point to have issues and have to change almost everything they do at present.

Remember most of the Deep web is Ok.

Of course there are loads of conspiracy theorists out there who claim all sorts about the use of the Deep Web, from one article I saw when researching saying that contract killers use it for activities, again this was from a tabloid known for it’s out there opinions that have sometimes little basis in fact. Down to webmasters keeping their websites away from standard search engines for security and other reasons.

To summarise

I think the problem, like many times in the past: is going to be unscrupulous people using an area of the Net that can be of benefit to organisations in a safe and useful way. This will cause paranoia and worry to users, governments and authorities. So legislation will come about and whether this causes all sorts of issues in using the Internet in the future we will have to wait and see. With everyone becoming more mobile and more and more dependent on the cloud and net technologies then these are going to be interesting times.

Your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman…….

BIG DATA EXPOSED

big data

An SME owner’s (non-technical) perspective on the impact of Big Data.

People like to compare, categorise and count. From basic ‘one, two, many’ counting systems to hyper-complex variations on different types of infinities, we seem to be impelled to view patterns, detect trends and evaluate our daily experiences, individually and collectively, through numerical frameworks. At a mundane level, we value our work input in terms of money earned and measure business performance by accounting for profit or loss; more imaginatively, we give dimension to the universe by calculating light-years between galaxies to which none of us could ever travel, but which we like to count anyway!

Over the last 60 years, computers have enabled us to count (and record our totals) at an increasing pace and to a magnitude that would have appeared both incomprehensible and functionally senseless to many of those early IT pioneers. “Why would we ever need to count so much, so quickly?”, they might have asked. The current benefits of storing petabytes of data on the internet on a daily basis (Google processes lots of petabytes, by the way) were not so obvious in the 1950s, when the technological challenges were focused on making the great mainframes hulks more reliable and keeping them cool enough to work. But now, our IT capabilities have made the compilation of massive data-sets seem almost routine. Big Data, as a concept, is emerging as the latest evolutionary step in a line which includes its earlier diminutive cousins – relational databases and data-warehousing.

But doesn’t the ‘Big’ in Big Data signify that it is only of relevance to big organisations and groups which can access and analyse it? As a small B2B business owner, I don’t believe that to be the case, so here’s my take on what the existence of Big Data means for SMEs. I’ll start with two brief scene-setting questions – How have we created it and why do we think it’s worth having?  

How have we been able to collect so many data-sets, public and private, in such a comparatively short period of time from the birth of the modern computer? The expansion of IT and the internet into daily living– and their adoption and understanding by the masses in the last two decades via PCs and smartphones – have allowed us to record our counts super-massively and with unimaginable speed. The sense of amazement I felt in the late 70s when hearing that a program would be able to carry out the calculations necessary for a college project OVERNIGHT appears embarrassingly naïve today. We’ve all heard the one about the computing power that guided the first men to land on the moon – that there’s more ‘oomph’ in a modern washing-machine chip now than in the whole of NASA in 1969 – stretches the comparison somewhat, but it makes the point that almost-microscopic processors are now orders of magnitude more powerful than their pioneering mainframe progenitors. And today, when we can link up computers in very large arrays to view the universe, analyse statistics on diseases via PCs connected across continents or announce our every waking thought on vast social media ‘soapboxes’, then our sense of conquest – that there is no piece of recordable data out there which we cannot collect and store – becomes limitless. Which leads me to ‘why’?

Why is having Big Data beneficial? That’s been part-answered in my introductory comments. We like to collect, compare and count things, and to me, in a sense, the numbers we can define and then amass on our storage systems have become those ‘things’. So, some of the answer as to why we deem it worthwhile creating evermore data is because “we can” (the mountain’s there, so climb it).  Big Data’s existence, as a by-product of the internet-age, reaffirms to us that we can keep tallies of what matters to us. However, whereas, for the first 50 years of the technical development of IT, increasing memory and speeding up the circuitry to pipe the 1s and 0s to their storage point was the main focus (the digits were the means to the end), once the engineering reached a level of efficiency and reliability to guarantee operating stability, deciding what could now be done with the data thereby collected – the things as objects – became the scientific quest.

So, the question has moved on to become ‘what’s the point of Big Data – how can we extract information we believe to lie in the layer upon layer of digital substrates that form the internet’? Can Big Data, envisaged as a constantly growing entity it itself, a real-time flow of interactions across networks  between people and organisations, now be mined by those with the sophisticated analytical skills and insight to ask the right questions, to yield motherlodes of information that could improve our understanding of human behaviour in a vast range of contexts? The answer, of course, is yes it can.

At a practical level, I’ve mentioned Big Data being analysed by astronomers and medical researchers to give but two small examples of how it is being exploited to test theories and hypotheses. There are, of course, other areas where Big Data is providing previously unavailable opportunities for other types of organisations and individuals to delve into data-sets to ask their own questions, be they commercial, not for profit or academic. For example, the main accountancy firms are in the process rapidly developing their capabilities to purchase and analyse Big Data as the value of their compliance services (making sure tax and other statutory returns are being made on time) diminishes and business-advisory (selling knowledge back to a business to help it grow or manage itself better) increasingly generates larger margins from their clients. My focus, however, now turns to what impact Big Data is having on SMEs by considering two cases based upon real contemporary events.

My first scenario originates from the world of banking, admittedly not the most popular of professions currently, but an essential commercial service for SMEs. The analyses emerging from the masses of Big Data on our transactions the banks own are revealing the fundamental changes in the way we use and interact with our money.  Retail banks are closing branches and laying off staff in their thousands, not without complaint or customer reaction, but nevertheless with confidence that it’s the right thing to do. Why? Because they know, from near real-time Big Data analyses, that more customers are using internet banking and a decreasing number see any need to visit a branch (knowing your local bank manager is no longer a selling feature for your banking services – if it ever was for the majority of us). Having access to your accounts from your mobile phone has much more relevance, and therefore more value, for customers. This is not some banker’s hunch; the analytics prove it, right now! They see cash transactions dropping as cards and smartphone payment facilities are used to make 60% of purchases below £20 by some client demographics – and this is not being restricted to younger customers.

So what’s the impact on SMEs of this evidence from banking Big Data analyses? Well, at a basic practical level, it forcefully shows the more ‘cash-based’ trader that offering cashless payment facilities to customers will definitely bring in more business. However, for me there’s an additional learning point that has emerged from the banks’ current infrastructural changes – it demonstrates that Big Data can now be analysed in such a way as to provide reliable answers to increasingly specific and complex questions about commercial activity.

The banks and other organisations utilising Big Data are not ‘taking a punt’ when they decide to implement radical changes in their structure or operations. Rational decisions are being made, after analysing near real-time information, on product development, marketing campaigns and organisational structure because Big Data supports adaptive change to take place based upon what is required today. Likewise for ambitious SMEs, the opportunities are expanding to access meaningful information about their markets in their geographies that is near-real time, not months out-of-date or carelessly slung together from national marketing samples and sold at extortionate rates. Sure there will be a cost to obtain such intelligence, but there are more data-analysis organisations in the market which will provide more relevant and reliable external information than was available before. Big Data will allow SMEs to be more informed decision-makers, just as it has made large organisations more adaptive decision-makers.

My second scenario arises from a recent Big Data analysis conducted by an expanding financial management app company which provides services specifically for SMEs. Basic, easy-to-use (but perfectly functional and compliant) bookkeeping and accounting apps are now being marketed with the small business owner being viewed as the main purchaser, not their accountant. For most of the UK’s 4 million SMEs, getting over the unappealing bookkeeping hurdle could be made really simple (even enjoyable, for some) by adopting any one of the online financial management services such as Free Agent, QuickBooks and Sage Online. These make simple accounting very affordable and straightforward to do and allow the working relationship with one’s accountant to become more productive as the streamlined and rapid data-input process removes the drudgery of the paperwork, allowing a business to keep close to its most valuable asset – its information, i.e. those facts and figures that let it know how it is performing operationally and commercially. And here Big Data and small business inevitably and fortuitously collide.

Every online transaction is securely recorded in the Cloud by the SaaS providers – so they collectively have the records of their customers’ businesses writ very large. They know, from the transactional data that we pass to them, how we behave as organisations. For my example, Xero.com, a financial management app specialising in the SME market in the US, UK and the Antipodes, has used its anonymised data-sets to demonstrate that businesses which invoice promptly using online delivery methods can reduce their debtor days by 40%. Big Data on how SMEs manage their finances, once more in near real-time, has provided contemporary evidence not only that efficient invoicing gets you paid quicker (which we already knew) but also that using email to send out your bills and offering payment services to your customers can get you paid in 24 days rather than 40; this insight could be worth a fair bit to a cash-strapped business. So SMEs, utilising cloud-based financial, administrative and operational apps, can benefit from contributing their transactional records to a vast data-pool which can be analysed to give back information on comparative performance when measured against their peers.

The development of key performance indicators (KPIs) for SMEs will be an increasingly active market in the next few years. Competitive advantage will attained by those businesses which understand the value of devising and measuring KPIs which are specific to sector, geography, technology or markets and which have access to insightful analysts who understand the product or service being offered to customers. Analysis for its own sake has never been sufficient, but Big Data now makes more purposeful, commercially-focused analysis possible for even the smallest of businesses. Knowing why customers accept or reject what the market is offering can be gleaned from Big Data examinations of purchasing behaviour married to key-word reviews of social media comments. While the vast majority of SMEs are not able to do this for themselves, the opportunities to benefit from the existence of Big Data are beginning to open up through the growth in the tailored data-analytics market.

So, by moving into the era of Big Data, our ability to count has moved one stage further along the developmental path that started with ‘one, two, many’. We now, large and small businesses alike, must now count ‘one, two, how many?’ in order to profit from the advantages that Big Data offers us all to improve our analysis and decision-making.

What are your experiences and thoughts on Big Data and how we can use it?

Guest Blogger this month is
Rory H D Cooper
Managing Director
Canmore in Business
www.canmore.co

 

What do you use to browse the shops?

browser usageImagine the internet as a large series of shop windows from all over the globe. We all need a method of browsing through them, and finding and buying information or physical goods. So, what do you use as your internet browser?

For a long time, Microsoft had the market sewn up – as it built its browser, Internet Explorer, into the Windows OS – and so everyone used it without giving it much thought. If it works, then why change? Well, people did change – and they did it because they felt that IE wasn’t doing a good enough job of displaying the web to you, the customer, in an accurate and intuitive way. So various other browsers have been developed, and the majority run quite happily on the Windows platform.

I have tried various browsers over the years, mainly on my Windows based machines – and now more recently on my Android based devices – and find each browser to have its own set of positives and negatives. The picture above shows a rough breakdown of internet browsers in use at the moment, mainly for desktop machines running Windows.

So what do we look for?

So what do we look for in an Internet Browser? Are they all the same? Should we be bothered?

It is a personal decision, and you should use which ever one you feel most comfortable with, but be aware of the following areas: –

  • Rendering of web content. Some browsers display web content much faster than others, and for you the end user that saves time and frustration waiting for web pages to load.
  • Security features. Each browser claims a set of security features that allow for secure connections and more secure shopping etc. Check them out and make sure you are happy with what they are offering and how they are handling it.
  • Cookie handling. Browsers each handle cookies, which are small text based files that store some details of your path through the Internet. Most cookies are time saving and harmless, but some are Malware – and can cause popup windows etc. Check what settings each browser allows you to change to get the level of security that suit you and your business.
  • Some browsers allow you to save a list of your open tabs and create a snapshot of where you have been – this is then available when you leave your desktop machine and go mobile. Chrome for example lets me see the tabs I was looking at when I was seated at my desk – and this all leads to an easier work environment.
  • The look and feel. Again, this is a personal choice, some of it is down to the look and feel of the browser. You may find some are easier than others to use and navigate around. They all constantly update themselves, and so just as you think you have sussed the settings and where to find stuff they can change it all. But, hey, that’s computers and applications for you.

Why not let us know what browser you use, and why you use that one. Give us your experiences of browsers you have tried and why you moved on to others.

We look forward to reading your posts.

To have Wi-Fi or not to have Wi-Fi that is the question, whether it is nobler …?

free wifiYou get the picture! I write this after having a short break down in Shakespeare country. On my return, I heard a survey being conducted on the radio.

The presenter was telling us that he had recently encountered a survey that rated the most common criteria that young couples (aged 35 years old or less) used to buy or rent a house.

They were asked what the main reason for the choice was. Of course – listeners were thinking about school choice, local area, number of rooms, was it well priced. Considering the age group, I wondered if the need for high speed broadband might play a major part in the choice – it was revealed I wasn’t far off, it was the second top reason for making a choice. The first reason most of them quoted was availability of a good mobile signal. If the house did not have good mobile signal, most of the other factors didn’t matter – how things have changed over the years.

Now, that was a slight aside, as the main topic here is Wi-Fi (as you can tell from my Shakespearean reference in the title). I am slightly sad (as a geek) and when my wife suggested a cottage to hire, I said to make it remote, and that it MUST have Wi-Fi.

Being a small business owner, I often need the flexibility to deal with potential issues – even when away on holiday.

My wife trawled the net, and found a cottage that seemed to tick all the boxes. I checked it over, it all looked great, BUT it had not ticked the Wi-Fi box – so I told her it wouldn’t do. I should point out at this point that she loves looking for holiday cottages, so this isn’t as harsh as you might think. Off she went again, and soon came up with another solution and shortly after the cottage was booked.

We made it down without incident, and settled in. I gained the Wi-Fi key and connected my tablet, only to find that the Wi-Fi was atrocious – the connection slow and not stable. Mobile phone signal was non-existent in the house, and so you had to dance around outside to try and find a signal that worked. I was not a happy chappy. So it was that tearooms and coffee shops were the next best thing, and I was asking at every one: “Do you have Wi-Fi?”

Surprisingly in such a tourist filled area, there were quite a few owners that looked at me like I had asked for a space age technology they hadn’t yet heard of.

So that brings me back to the question, to have Wi-Fi or not to have Wi-Fi?

Operating in the mobile world now, where we are asked to trust all our data to the cloud and the great storage in the sky, I want to ask you if Wi-Fi should be more widely available than it is just now. Some Towns are even installing it in town centres (although sadly in my opinion, the setup is generally being chosen by politicians and not by specialists – so the Wi-Fi you get it substandard, and it would probably be better if it wasn’t there).

So, should tearooms and coffee shops see this as a must have for their clientele? Or is it something extra outside of the norm, and not their problem. I know I spend time in coffee shops, usually having meetings and catch-ups with clients and other business owners, and we use the Wi-Fi a lot. Being honest, if it wasn’t there, we would very likely go somewhere else.

What are you experiences of Wi-Fi availability? We’d love to your opinion on the above discussion!

 

Has the Cloud changed the business weather?

Old Car PhoneI have always promoted the ways in which technology can help us, and how its advancement is changing the game in many different areas – from remote surgery via a net connection, to the way we communicate and interact. Some would say that this is great, and these changes are for the better – at least better than the sluggish old ways we used to do things. Others are more sceptical, and suggest some of what is happening is taking away from human interaction, often to the degree that we just can’t interact effectively face to face anymore.

With the above in mind, I must confess that I do a lot more typing than writing, and as a result my writing skills are just not what they used to be. Saying that, some would say my typing skills also leave a lot to be desired.

Anyway, I digress; I titled this article, “Has the cloud changed the business weather?”

This was a direct hit at what the Internet (or as it’s often called, the cloud) is doing to the way we do business. Let’s look back at the history of how it was done; again I will speak from the experience I gained over my working life.

In times gone by

In past lives I have used written reports, sending them back to my direct line manager. Then we got the marvel that was carbon paper copies, which meant I could keep a copy myself.

A fax was installed in my home office and I could fax info straight to main HQ and get it actioned. No more waiting on the snail mail to deliver. This was a revolution.

I was then made the proud owner of a pager. It would bleep to signify that I had to go to a phone and call the office. The next version had a small LCD screen where I could read a streaming text message instead of phoning in. Where was technology taking us?

OK, you have probably guessed by now that I am not a newcomer to the work environment. In fact I have been through a good number of changes to the way things are done.

The next development was a phone mounted in my company car. This was a large brick like device in the cabin, connected to a larger box that was taking up most of my boot space. The aerial was attached to the roof of the car, and off I went. However, my sales area included the highlands of Scotland, and the signal at that time was really very poor, so generally I was uncontactable unless I found a landline.

The car phone I was given after that was the first that could be considered truly mobile, and could be removed from the car and taken, yes taken with you, anywhere. WOW! This was just amazing. I could text and phone from anywhere and no longer needed to be tethered to my car.

I was then simply given a mobile phone, and along with that my first mobile computer. It had details of all the products I used to sell on it, and had the ability to allow searches and pricing on the spot in front of a client…

How could this be I hear you cry? Well that was technology for you, and it was driving sweeping changes to what we were able to do in business.

Obviously things have moved on greatly since these bygone days, and companies have had to accept technology moves one. They also have to deal with the way it has influenced what they do, and landscape of their proposed market places.

Access to the Internet started very slow, I still remember connecting via a dial up modem (33.6k which by today’s standards is the slowest thing ever) but it was new and exciting at the time. Then ADSL has superseded that, and now ADSL is on the wane due to Fibre broadband being rolled out nationwide.

With this advancement, and mobile broadband reaching similar speeds, it finally means that the cloud has come of age. The idea of ‘Always there Internet’ has truly arrived.

What we can do now in the cloud, and through the cloud, is an order of magnitude more impressive than my first work experiences of technology.

Where will it all go?

The question now, I suppose, is where will it all go? But what I want to ask you is where will you take it?

Will you adopt the latest technology and keep pushing what you can do beyond what you do now? Beyond what others are doing? The cloud is truly changing the weather in the business world in ways that a younger me could only dream of.

We can collaborate worldwide as if we were in the same office. We can have instant access to real-time information that allows us to make informed decisions faster than ever before.

We can access information at any time and any place, which means we don’t have to be tied to an office desk. Mobile Internet usage (or cloud usage if you like) has increased year on year to around 68 to 70% of all Internet traffic. Technology has improved beyond a large bulky desktop computer or chunky laptop, the information is now actually in the palm of your hand.

Our mobiles (and remember I started with a brick in my car) have now turned into smart phones. We can do all sorts of tasks using them, and that includes good quality business work.

Conclusion

I am still excited about where technology can take us, and would like to think I’m still a people person. It will never make me a recluse, so that I do not interact, but it can make my life and business world  easier. It can change the weather on the business front, and for me this has meant more sunshine and less rain, even though there will still be clouds.

What are your thoughts on adopting new technology for you or your business?