Newsletter – September 2014
Five technology trends you need to know
In the world of technology, sorting out the fads from the game changes is tricky. Here are five trends you should follow:
One day soon you’ll be able to use the ATM through retina scan and voice recognition. Smartphone developers are adding fingerprint scanners to devices, financial institutions are testing voice and facial recognition security to identify customers, and the British government already uses the technology for residency applications. BCC Research predicts that the global biometrics market will grow to nearly US$27.5 billion by 2019, with annual growth of 19.8 per cent. However, not surprisingly, privacy remains a discussion point.
2. 3D printing
3D printers have the potential to change markets in a way we’re only starting to grasp. Broke your coffee cup? Just print another one. The technology will allow companies to rethink inventory, especially low-volume obsolete parts which still need to be available. A PwC report suggests manufacturers that print parts otherwise warehoused, could make big savings and get products to customers faster.
3. The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (“IoT”) is the continuing expansion of data networks so the Internet becomes integrated into almost every kind of device. According to ABI Research, more than 30 billion devices will be wirelessly connected to the IoT by 2020. Most gaming consoles are now connected and in the near future our motor vehicles and household appliances will be hooked in. This concept is not new but businesses need to understand its value and applications to their specific industries. Microsoft is trialling loT to provide faster access to patient data for doctors while Tesla is testing loT to support vehicle maintenance.
Smart watches, glasses, bracelets and other devices have brought technology into situations beyond the reach of PCs, laptops, and even smartphones. What Deloitte has termed ‘just in time digital logistics’ has the potential to give companies a much deeper understanding of their customers, while allowing them to interact in a more personalised way. We are still in the early days, but Gartner values the wearable fitness and personal health devices market at US$5 billion by 2016.
5. Big data
The key is understanding how to leverage “big data” in your business – for example by crunching sales patterns to plan inventory levels, cutting staff expenses by analysing employee overtime and rearranging work schedules or using social media data to gauge what customers think about your business and competitors. For the tech-savvy business leader, these hot technology trends offer opportunities and solutions that shouldn’t be ignored.
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6 Sins of Data Dashboards
“Big data” raises big questions about how to make meaningful business decisions without getting lost in the detail. The concept of “Data Visualisation” is all about how you interpret your data to best understand what is going on in your organisation in a real and meaningful way.
Dashboards are a great way to get a visual snapshot of your data. Many of you might be familiar with website dashboards such as those offered by Google Analytics, and medium-large organisations regularly implement executive dashboard tools such as iDashboards and Domo to track performance of Key Performance Indicators across each department.
If it’s time to implement or upgrade your data dashboards then make sure you avoid these six common mistakes:
Mistake 1: Starting with complex goals
It is easy to get overly ambitious and aim to provide highly detailed, real-time dashboards across multiple areas in your business that also allow users to customise many dimensions. Instead, focus on a couple of key areas of the business where quick improvements will bring big rewards, work through several short cycles of “prototype, test and adjust”. You can expand the spectrum later as your proficiency improves.
Mistake 2: Using metrics no one understands
Your business metrics are probably so familiar to you that common terms seem obvious to you. Make sure your dashboard uses metrics or concepts that your broader audience (staff and stakeholders) understands.
Mistake 3: Cluttering the dashboard with unimportant graphics and widgets
Keep your dashboard simple but visually appealing. Resist the temptation to make your dashboard too flashy or over-designed, sometimes the art in painting is knowing when to stop painting.
Mistake 4: Underestimating the time or resources to create and maintain the dashboard
Because your business dashboard is typically compact, it is easy to think that it should be quick to create and maintain. But in fact, a dashboard project takes on-going resources to design, launch and maintain. Bring in the right skills for each stage and budget resources for the whole project. There are plenty of incomplete, unpublished dashboards around.
Mistake 5: Failing to match metrics to the goal
Often, working dashboards showcase activities of a single department. Instead, consider how your dashboard could connect each department’s efforts to your organisation’s critical goals and objectives. In this way you can drive top level management objectives via performance dashboards delegated to every level of the organisation.
Mistake 6: Using ineffective, poorly designed graphs and charts
Take care in how you design your graphs and charts. There are some great books around on chart design but the best option is often experimentation in a tool that lets you use different display types to see what works. Don’t use complex displays where simple ones will convey the message and ensure colours are visually appealing rather than distracting.
Getting quick wins with your dashboard project will build the momentum of your project and help you to find funding for further development. Certainly the end goal is a set of dashboards that report across all areas of the business but this may take months or years to achieve especially where there are different systems used in different parts of the business. This is all the better reason to start work sooner rather than later.
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Building a small office network
The computer network is the back bone of your small office IT infrastructure so it’s important you design and build it to support both your current and future needs.
Understanding the basics
You should start by understanding the common networking equipment in your office: namely switches, routers and access points. These devices may look similar but they perform quite different functions in a network.
A switch connects multiple devices (computers, printers, servers) on the same network within a building or campus. A switch enables connected devices to share information and talk to each other. Building a small office network is only possible with switches that tie devices together.
A router connects multiple networks together. When building a small office network you will need one or more routers. A router connects your computers to the Internet so all connected computers can share one single Internet connection. A router acts as a dispatcher, choosing the best route for your information to travel. It connects your business to the world, protects information from security threats, and can even decide which computers get priority over others.
With wireless capabilities you can build or extend your network without the need for cabling. Wireless allows your staff to remain productive while they roam the office and you can expect very high speeds from the latest technology (over 1Gbps for 802.11ac). An access point connects many wireless devices to your network. It acts as a central transmitter and receiver of wireless radio signals including WiFi and as your business grows you can install more access points to improve your wireless range.
When buying networking equipment for you small office network you should keep the following in mind:
- Buy “business-grade” equipment for reliable communications. Networking equipment used in the home is generally not as hardy or feature rich and comes with inferior warranty and support options.
- Consider technology that will grow with your business. Depending on your growth plans you may want to check that the products can support video surveillance, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), integrated messaging, and wireless applications.
- Think about how much time it will take to install and maintain your networking equipment. For example, switches with in-line power (known as “Power over Ethernet”) allow you to place equipment, such as wireless access points and IP phones, anywhere there is a network wall jack without requiring a separate power plug. This saves you money and time.
- Think about your fail-over plan if you lose internet connection or if one of your networking devices fails. Do you have a back-up Internet connection? Do you have redundant networking equipment? Make sure your mission-critical systems can stay online in the event of unforeseen downtime.
If you are not sure about what to do then seek advice because your network is only as strong as the weakest link.
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