Smart devices that can speak to each other and help you do better business? It’s happening – and more is on the way
Small businesses may be getting a grasp on how mobile technology, big data and the cloud are making their work more effective and efficient. But the next step is already here – the ‘Internet of Everything’ (IoE).
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Internet of Things’, IoE refers to the interconnection of a whole range of physical objects through electronics, software and sensors, and with the people who interact with them.
Stephen Wilson, an independent security and privacy consultant and managing director of Lockstep Consulting, says that a lot of the buzz around IoE is not necessarily useful to understand how it will begin to change the way we work.
“The stuff that gets the most press, like changing your thermostat from your mobile phone, are frankly a little bit gimmicky,” says Wilson. “The real business value in these type of things is a lot more modest than the headlines often suggest.”
Some small businesses are already beginning to leverage IoE technology to help become more efficient, he says.
“The useful thing to consider is that smart devices will be making autonomous decisions about their context and circumstances, and becoming intelligent agents for their users,” he explains.
How is IoE making a difference?
Mackenzie Health, a regional hospital in Ontario, is using an IoE platform developed by BlackBerry with the aim of creating a ‘smart hospital’. A network of sensors, smart beds and phones is being developed which allows hospital staff to anticipate and respond to patient needs in real time.
The IoE is also starting to become more prevalent in the automotive industry. Drivers can create individual profiles and change in-car temperatures, seat position and steering wheel tilt from mobile devices. Cars can also record critical performance data which can help determine when they need maintenance or servicing. In the field of asset tracking, packages can be followed every step of the way from delivery to the door and followed in real time.
“I think that were going to be surprised by the possibilities of IoE,” Wilson says. “The real value for businesses is mobility and connectivity.
“If we understand the cloud is sitting in the background and all these connections are mediated by the cloud, your way in is through mobile technology.”
He points to Google Maps as an example of how data from IoE technology is gathered to create a traffic analysis portrait with information sourced from customers’ phones.
“We should be seeing more and more applications like that available for businesses and business owners,” he says.
Privacy still matters
This data will be able to provide valuable insights into customers. But Wilson warns that businesses need to be wary of the privacy and security implications.
“There’s already so much big data sourced from computers, but the data we’re going to get from phones, cars and fitness trackers – we haven’t seen anything yet!”
Security and also privacy are key as businesses start to work with connected machines. Businesses also need to remember that if they’re collecting information through smart devices that privacy obligations still apply.
“Data flow is complicated enough on the internet,” says Wilson. “But when things are reporting by themselves and everything has an IP address, business that are sucking in this data often don’t know what they’re getting.
“Companies need to make sure they know what data they’re receiving and why they’re receiving it. They need to think about if they are ‘over collecting’, and have a really good reason to collect it.”
Wilson advices caution, not only because of privacy concerns to individuals, but because of the security risk to the companies collecting it.
“Everyone gets breached these days and before you do you want to make sure you know what you have in your database and make sure it’s necessary,” he says.
“There’s nothing worse than having a major database breach and finding out you had a whole lot of data you didn’t even know was there.
“It’s really straight forward to a do privacy obligation assessment for your business and, for all sorts of reasons, you need to be on top of data flow and understand what it is.”
Technology can seem overwhelming, but if applied well, it can make life easier for under-the-pump business owners
There’s no doubt recent advances in technology have made working much more efficient, however, many SME owners and managers feel busier than ever.
While most business owners expect to take on a lot of work, the constant need to attend to small tasks can leave them exhausted and unproductive.
Think To Act founder Paul Higgins estimates roughly 50% of a professional’s day is misused due to interruptions from technology: “It’s a massive impost on people’s thinking time, technology. Obviously, it’s a double-edged sword. If used well, it can aid. If not, it can hinder.”
Attending to emails or other technological interruptions might seem like productive work, but the ‘busy-ness’ trap – the constant feeling of being busy without actual concrete results – can be a symptom of unproductive working.
Simon Kinsella, executive director of the Institute of Performance and Wellbeing, says these distractions can impact an organisation’s financial health: “Inefficient individuals can really slow a business down.”
Disruptions to a business’s flow of work can lead to mistakes, which cause extra work or even fines or penalties. The busy-ness trap, says Higgins, can also increase hidden opportunity costs. For example, a business owner with their head buried in technology might miss an important conversation that leads to a deal.
But remember, when implemented effectively, technology can also help business owners recover their time. Here are six expert tips to escape the busy-ness trap:
1. Prioritise and organise
Prioritising can be one of the hardest tasks for business owners. “One of the big problems that small business owners have is that they wear so many hats,” Kinsella explains.
“They can be the face of the business, the marketing department, the IT department, the accounts department, and the HR department.”
If all these tasks need personal attention, allocate specific times in the week to address each of them individually. Higgins also recommends making a master task list at the beginning of each day so vital duties are handled methodically.
2. Filter your messages
Unfiltered emails lead to so much wasted time, says Higgins. He recommends incorporating a system to filter messages. Some might hire an assistant to help sort through emails; others set up filters through their email accounts to automatically designate certain messages to certain folders, to be addressed at the appropriate time. Simply unsubscribe from emails that go unread.
3. Work on the go
Rather than using productive office time to attend to messages or menial tasks, Kinsella recommends working on the go with mobile technology to ramp up out-of-office productivity.
“If you can respond to messages while travelling to or from work, or while waiting to pick up the kids from school or at the airport, you can get tasks out of the way that would take up time in the office or in the evenings at home.”
4. Outsource where possible
“Outsource anything your staff or external suppliers can do for you,” advises Kinsella.
“Keep working on staff to build their capacity – it’s great for their engagement at work, and helps you out as they become more effective. Try to shape your role so you are doing mostly things you are naturally good at, and naturally enjoy.”
5. Automate with software
Unproductive back-and-forth between staff members can be avoided with automated technology, explains Higgins: “Use an automatic calendar system rather than going through the ping pong of ‘Where should we meet? What time?’”
Other software that automates payments, transfers between devices and task reminders can also cut time.
6. Communicate well
Technology can streamline communications, reducing the need for endless unnecessary emails.
“Shared diaries and project management platforms are great for working in teams,” says Kinsella.
With a methodical, practical approach to working, and by embracing the best technology available such as the cloud, managers can use IT to their advantage, rather than their detriment.
With the ‘bring your own device’ culture growing, businesses are at major risk of data breach unless they take tech security seriously
Mobile technology has helped businesses become more flexible, efficient and well connected than ever before. But with more devices accessing their information, companies are putting their intellectual property and competitive edge, at risk.
According to David Markus, founder and managing director of IT services firm Combo, the importance of digital security is often underestimated: “In small business, there’s a real lack of understanding and appreciation of what’s at risk… most attacks are still not even perceived. Data’s going missing, and they’re not even noticing it.”
Steve Wilson, principal analyst at Constellation Research, agrees: “There is a market for personal data that flows behind users’ backs. You need a great deal of data sophistication to know this. In fact, IT professionals cannot keep track of it all.”
Beware the BYOD culture
The bring your own device (BYOD) culture, which encourages employees to provide their own tablets, phones or laptops, can increase the risk of information theft.
As more devices access confidential information, the security of the data is compromised at multiple points, whether through apps or insecure WiFi networks. For example, personal data (such as contacts) is routinely uploaded by apps without users’ permission, says Wilson.
“Location traces are available that show where (and when) your phone has been in great detail. When you use cloud computing, the service provider has copies of all your files.”
Those files might be personal contacts, company documents or financial details, and Wilson notes the risks of using commercial email accounts that are associated with social media accounts.
“If you use Facebook ‘Find Friends’, your whole contact list gets uploaded and then searched by Facebook.”
While Facebook doesn’t have access to the contents of that user’s emails, there can still be negative consequences, especially for business owners with sensitive contacts.
“One result is that patients of the same therapist can get ‘Friend Suggestions’ from Facebook,” explains Wilson, “if that therapist is say a mental health counsellor, then the status of their patients gets exposed.
“It’s almost a mission of social media companies to join everything up. And if you use the same mobile for work calls and social networking, then your worlds can collide.”
Always put security first
While many small businesses have some form of digital security – perhaps anti-virus software – most are unaware of how best to utilise it, and its limits in a mobile context, says Markus.
“Even if they have a firewall, anti-virus software and security management on their systems, it isn’t refreshed and managed,” he observes.
“They bought a firewall at some stage because someone told them they needed one, but they haven’t upgraded it.”
Businesses should also ensure the cloud providers themselves have promised not to exploit their data, advises Wilson.
“When you pay for a commercial private cloud service, generally speaking the service provider promises to leave your data alone.”
However, free services often reserve the right to access users’ data.
The key to good digital security, says Markus, is to seek plenty of advice by speaking to an expert or using the services of a well-resourced company: “The first step is moving away from getting PC support from the kid next door.”
Ultimately, strong and up-to-date security is a priority for any company that wants to secure its information.
“Set and forget management of security isn’t okay,” says Markus, “these things need to be managed today to stay ahead of the game.”
A great mobile strategy can help your team work more flexibly and, at the same time, see your business reach new markets and even cut costs
Working on a plane, a tropical island or from the sports field is easier than ever for business owners and their teams – but getting mobile (and secure) still requires an element of careful planning.
As cloud and mobile collaboration technology booms, SMEs are ripe to take advantage of the freedom it offers. The key is planning to ensure a boost in productivity while keeping costs in check and data safe.
Freeing workers from the office
Amanda Rose, founder and chief executive of The Business Woman Media, says mobile working can enable employees to work when they’re at their most efficient. And flexible working arrangements can potentially increase productivity while cutting down on the overheads associated with physical office spaces.
But despite the potential benefits, some managers struggle with the concept. Embracing mobile technology, says Rose, requires “a shift of mindset away from someone doing a 30-hour week for x amount of money”.
Instead, results-based managers are fixed on “someone delivering a, b and c for x amount of money”.
For those struggling with the idea of letting their staff work without supervision, Rose recommends having solid performance indicators. She says many mobile workforces fail when there is no expectation from management ensuring targets are met.
“If people don’t know what you expect from them, they won’t deliver,” says Rose.
Saving time, saving money
Not all companies use mobile technology to just give their employees freedom from the office. For some businesses, embracing mobile technology is about enabling employees to spend less time and money on travel.
This was the experience of Melbourne-based company, STENTOFON, during its international expansion phase. The business provides intercom and public address services across Australia and New Zealand, and technical manager Richard Adams says that when seeking clients overseas they looked for ways to communicate effectively without facing prohibitive travel costs.
“We are only a small team, and to spend time on the road or in the air to provide product and technology presentations is taxing, both in time and cost,” says Adams.
When the opportunity to present a webinar to a New Zealand government department arose, the company began investigating mobile collaboration software. Having used BlackBerry products for five years, Adams turned to BBM Meetings, mobile collaboration and scheduling software that allowed for native control from his BlackBerry Passport.
“Our webinar went very well, with the client mentioning that the audio quality was exceptional,” recalls Adams.
“We began with a PowerPoint presentation from my desktop PC, and moved to a visual demonstration of equipment using the camera on my Passport, without having to stop and start the presentation.”
According to Adams, mobile technology has proven a cost-effective method of communicating internationally.
With real-time online collaboration, businesses can show off their products in the best light, while cutting down on travel costs.
Adding value to a business
Getting mobile doesn’t just grant businesses flexibility, the chance to reach new markets and to cut down on costs, it can also increase employee satisfaction.
With less time spent on the road, employees using mobile technology are able to spend more time working productively. And when freed from their daily commute – the four walls of the office and the nine-to-five work routine – employees might become more satisfied, and more productive.
“If structured properly, it’s a win-win,” says Rose, “the company is happy, and the worker is happy.”
If you’ve ever had to wait for your systems to do their job then you’re waiting too long, but there are steps to get moving fast
Whether it’s trying to fix a broken server or addressing security issues, as a business owner you might find yourself doubling as the IT expert rather than focusing on the core of your business.
According to an EY Australian Productivity Pulse study, 35% of Australian workers have reported they’re being held up by legacy IT systems, and 70% say productivity would improve if they had faster access to better data and analytics systems.
“SMEs are scared of spending – there’s a growing gap between those that are investing in technology and those that aren’t,” says David Markus, founder of Combo, an IT services company that assists businesses with IT solutions.
“As an analogy, think about the early 1970s – when manufacturers put seatbelts into cars it wasn’t compulsory to wear them. Some conservative people started to wear them but not everyone. Today, we wouldn’t even think twice.
“It’s the same in IT. Now you can’t sell a car unless it’s got a five-star safety rating because people are paying attention. We should all demand a five-star IT rating, too.”
If you find yourself bogged down in time-wasting inefficiencies, chances are you’re caught in a bad tech set-up. Here are five signs to watch out for.
1. Low productivity
“Waiting for an IT system to do what it’s supposed to do is wasting money,” says Markus. “A few wasted minutes can add up to a large number of hours and thousands of dollars lost over a year.”
Don’t wait for lengthy delays to occur before planning an upgrade, instead, look at your ageing systems and make plans to replace them before they start costing you more than they save you.
2. Lack of data protection
A data breach doesn’t only waste time; it can cost a company thousands of dollars.
“A simple solution is to move everything to the cloud. If you’re not ready to do that, make sure you have a firewall, anti-spam installed, good backup and a fast recovery methodology.”
Even though installing protective measures requires effort, increasing the cost of security is better than the flipside of increasing the costs of recovery, says Markus.
3. Manual versus automated processes
“In business there are always things we do over and over,” says Markus. “The next step in documenting is automotive manual processes. Today we can automate workflow, administration processes and so on, but often these systems are not being adopted fast enough.”
4. Being tied to a location
BYOD (bring your own device) and BYOA (bring your own application) trends have transformed business operations impacting productivity, data security and collaboration, according to Telsyte senior analyst Alvin Lee.
“As a result, late adopters of mobility solutions have been left behind, and are running with bigger security concerns and slower processing speeds as the market evolves,” says Lee.
SMEs need to have an agile environment and maximise the productivity of employees, says Lee.
5. Document duplication
Typically people store documents and retrieve information haphazardly, says Markus.
“Invest in a structured document system and then make sure you use it. Until you get systems locked down there’s always going to be data bloat and time lost searching for information.
“Ensure you’ve got good access to the cloud so you and your team can search quickly – there’s no simple magic wand.”
To find out how to manage documents more effectively, visit WatchDox by BlackBerry. Or for more information about saving your business time, see BlackBerry’s BES12 Cloud.
From Airbnb to Uber, disruptors can instill fear in even the most established companies, but there’s no reason why SMEs can’t be just as agile and competitive
The disruptors are here, but can SMEs beat them at their own game? It’s the question many companies are asking as they face their fiercest competition ever: savvy, agile, tech-focused startups.
Success stories such as Airbnb and Uber have recently led the charge in shaking up their sectors, giving technology-driven startups a reputation for changing the way traditional economies work.
According to digital specialist Fi Bendall, chief executive of Bendalls Group, disruptors work by either improving an experience or meeting an unexpressed need: “Uber’s created a model where they’ve gone for low-margin stuff and they’ve taken the market.”
However, she also says such disruption is actually nothing new, and shouldn’t be feared by SMEs: “You can blame it on the ‘geeks’ or the ‘techs’, whoever you want. But disruptors have been around forever.”
With documents quickly shared thanks to the cloud and mobile meeting software ensuring real-time collaboration at the touch of a button, SMEs can get agile with the same speed as new players.
And, just like disruptors, focusing on customers first is a great way to get competitive, says Peter Bradd, chief executive of startup advocacy organisation StartupAUS, who believes cloud technology is the ticket to capturing customer insights from all areas of business.
“Entrepreneurs have to start out customer-centric, because they don’t have any previous business models, customer data or revenue figures. So they have to do their research. And that gives them an advantage over companies that have a long history, which traditionally look to their board or their trading history.”
Bendall identifies Virgin Atlantic as a classic example of a business that differentiated itself on the basis of customer service rather than price when it launched.
“If you have software that enables [employees] to share their ideas, you have so much more data,” says Bradd, who comments that it’s often people in the business who have the most interaction with customers and who can therefore provide the best insight into their experience.
It is this data that can enable managers to be adaptive to changing market conditions. Further, when cloud and collaboration technology is used to connect with other businesses, it can foster innovation in changing markets.
“In terms of partnering – big businesses don’t do it very well,” says Bradd, while in contrast entrepreneurs will have an abundance mindset, willingly seeking out collaborators and ideas.
“Never has there been an easier way to partner, thanks to new software,” he says.
Look for ways to upgrade easily
Whether it’s improving communication across a business to become responsive to customer needs, or enabling real-time interaction to make fast decisions, the latest technology can help SMEs get ahead.
Simple-to-download mobile services such as BlackBerry’s BBM Meetings enable true real-time collaboration, while and the newly acquired WatchDox enables DRM-protected secure document sharing, automated processes and data distribution, and they don’t require an expensive overhaul of old technologies.
“It doesn’t have to be a rip it all up and start again process,” says Bendall. “It’s an adaptive process.”