According to Gartner, there will be at least 20.8 billion connected devices by 2020; other research predicts as many as 100 billion. And the largest possessors of IoT devices will be consumers – people who want to control everything from their refrigerators and home security systems to their utility costs, cars, and beyond. In fact, according to data published by SYK Cleaning:
61% of older generations want smart technology for its cost savings’
52% of Gen X’ers have priorities for home security
39%of millennials just think smart devices are trendy and cool. And 72% of them would pay up to $3000 more for a home that has smart technology.
Generation Z, just entering the consumer marketplace will consider IoT a given part of their lifestyles.
But all of this boom in manufacturing and distribution of IoT technology does not come without its challenges. And manufacturers have much work to do in some key areas in order to truly ensure that IoT will and can become fully mainstream. Here are the six of them.
What that means for manufacturers is that they must take off their competitive “gloves” and collaborate on standards for the good of everyone. In doing so, they will all reap the benefits of greater consumer adoption and market demand.
This is an ongoing concern for both businesses and individual consumers. When an entire ecosystem can be threatened through hacking into just one individual device, the concern is real.
Security testing of all devices must include identifying any potential vulnerabilities, processes for validating user access, and data encryption, etc. fortunately, there are some pilot programs investigating the use of blockchain technology, and this may indeed hold some effective solutions.
3. User Experience
For IoT devices to go thoroughly mainstream, users have to be comfortable with them, and they have to see them as more valuable than traditional devices. This means ease of understanding and use.
Manufacturers must conduct a lot of testing of devices before putting them on the market, including the following:
Compatibility of device hardware, operating systems, software versions, and communication protocols
Reliability of all components in a variety of environments and conditions.
User friendliness of application as well as usability in a variety of network connections, so that everything operates seamlessly regardless of platform.
This will be the key to success of any manufacturer of IoT devices. Devices and connectivity will certainly become less expensive, making them more attractive, but applications that allow devices to connect and share information with other devices, aka platforms, are numerous and growing That manufacturer who will be able to bundle multiple platforms into a single product will meet a challenge that will give him a huge competitive edge.
These will proliferate in the coming years, and there will definitely be “battles” among them. Ultimately, however, a few will emerge victorious and will dominate entire sectors – smart homes, smart cities, healthcare, etc. This is just another reason why manufacturers need to find ways to collaborate to achieve standardization.
6. The Need for Real-Time Data Streams and Scaling.
While a refrigerator will not necessarily need to provide real-time data to its owner (other than alerts if there is a malfunction), the need for real-time data will become critical in some IoT device use and management, for instance - smart cities. For manufacturers of devices that require real-time data streams, there will be a need for continual updating as newer technologies and apps are developed.
Blockchain, again, has been named among the possible solutions to more efficient, near-real time data exchanges. Yet, this technology currently lacks proper scaling mechanism, making it a questionable choice for larger ecosystems i.e. those created for smart cities.
IBM, however, may be close to solving this issue. The new pending patent application outlines a solution that would ditch the proof-of-work algorithm utilized by most public blockchains in favor of a dynamically adjusted alternative mechanisms that would limit the mining difficulty and associated power consumption by IoT devices to a determined threshold. This adjustment becomes possible after limiting the number of nonces – one-time-use numbers required to validate a transaction on the blockchain. This way, each IoT device connected to the blockchain will have equal chance to solve proof-of-work problem.
For any business that is gearing up to achieve success in the IoT marketplace, there will need to be a shift in thought processes that may actually involve a change in its corporate structure. Producing smart devices is simply not the same as producing a physical object. Mechanical engineers and product developers design physical objects. But smart device manufacturing will involve far more than these traditional roles. Interdisciplinary structures that provide for the necessary collaboration between physical and technological leader and developers may change the entire corporate landscape.
If you’ve taken the leap towards starting your own business or going freelance, you probably envision days of flexible scheduling, self-determination, and direct dealing with clients. What doesn’t figure into this idyllic picture is the endless flow of back end accounting and communications—the turning gears of your business operations.
Luckily there are a seemingly infinite number of startups out there trying to smooth the way for this burgeoning generation of “solopreneurs” by making sure that these tasks take up as little of your precious time as possible. It’s no secret that we live in an increasingly customizable and automated world where our phones track our daily movements, supermarket checkout lanes are becoming obsolete, and email servers generate auto-responses.
Rather than shortcuts, think of automation as a set of tools that help you leverage the work of your business along the pathway towards growth. Automation allows you to streamline many aspects of your interaction with clients, leaving you more energy to devote to the things that matter— the creative work that only you can customize.
1. Accounting and Invoicing
Keeping up with your accounts and sending invoices to clients is an inescapable part of running a business. Sloppy accounting can hurt your relationships with clients and late or incorrect invoices will only lead to late or incorrect payments.
Rather than slogging through manual invoicing, you can use free online invoicing platforms such as Invoice Ninja which provides the ability to transform approved quotes into invoices and automate reminders for ongoing clients. Rather than maintaining project management, account tracking and payment processing across separate platforms, Invoice Ninja offers the option of integrating all of these functions into one.
Unlike other online invoicing platforms, Invoice Ninja also includes the option of partial payments or deposits and live PDF creation for ease of transferring data. Flexibility can be a boon to those running their own businesses, and having one online suite of apps creates ease of access for you and your clients alike.
2. Marketing Across Platforms
Social media presence has become a must for any business, and while information moves across platforms at a seemingly breakneck pace, there’s no need to strain yourself when it comes to coordinating content and maintaining your presence. Tools such as HootSuite and Buffer offer the capability of scheduling content alongside integrated analytics. Let your social media work for you by setting aside a weekly or monthly time to generate content and scheduling it to keep your accounts live and relevant.
3. Email Communications
While platforms such as Slack have changed the shape of workplace communications, email is not going away anytime soon. Email communications are essential to interfacing with current and potential clients, but they can also take up a great deal of time and attention.
The problem with email communications is that you can’t schedule when you receive them. Except...you can. Tools such as Boomerang for Google Suite allow you to snooze emails that aren’t high priority, schedule responses for appropriately timed delivery, and turn on read receipts for outgoing messages.
The free version of Boomerang only provides 10 message credits, so its usefulness is limited. More affordable options such as Gmelius exist, but the bottom line is that scheduling responses is a savvy move that ties in to effective marketing. As your business grows, platforms such as Constant Contact and MailChimp provide a comprehensive email marketing and automated messaging that can ramp up your communication capacity.
4. Backing Up Your Information
Automating backups is not only easy, it’s an essential safety measure. Keeping a backup of your digital data should be a natural housekeeping task, equivalent to locking the doors and shutting the windows of your office overnight.
If you have a Mac, it’s easy to set up backups to the cloud or an external drive in time machine. Simply enter “Time Machine Preferences” and check the “Backup Automatically” box. Windows has a similar function called (funnily enough) “Backup and Restore.”
Both functions allow you to schedule automatic backups and choose which folders and files should be included. So if you have certain files that are updated frequently, you can prioritize those. Carbonite and other services offer backups in the cloud for an added level of security that goes beyond an external disc drive.
5. Client Data Collection
A Customer Relationship Management Platform (CRM) such as Salesforce, Zoho, and Pipedrive could be the next step in scaling your business. CRMs allow you to track customer relationships on one integrated platform and generate reports based on that data.
Effective client relationship tracking is crucial to growing your business, and centralizing data collection ensures that wires don’t get crossed and clients receive tailored attention. By storing data in a digestible format, CRM software also allows you to come up with effective strategies based on real life input from your customers. Most CRM platforms offer free trials, and this automation could be a game-changer in managing your client relationships.
While there is certainly no shortage of administrative tasks associated with running a business, the good news is that there are countless startups devoted to automating these processes to allow you to focus on the relevant data you need to grow your business. What’s more, most of these platforms offer their services for free so that you can continue to grow your business at a sustainable rate without increasing your overhead.
Mainstream sectors have come to see the value of blockchain and the potential it holds for businesses and governments alike, especially financial services, insurance, logistics, healthcare, travel, law, education and more.
What every sector is beginning to notice is that the option to have a distributed, immutable ledger to record and store everything from contracts to records and data holds great promise of innovation.
But blockchain technology is not without some major challenges. Sectors and even individual businesses are looking at blockchain for solutions and are working with developers for customized blockchain functionality. Many developers/firms are also working on their own to garner a market edge as they see the future of blockchain technology going mainstream.
Still other businesses, in an attempt to move quickly, are “piggybacking” on existing public blockchains. This may or may not hold the ultimate solution for them, because customized, private and permission-based blockchains seem to hold the real promise.
That said, there are a few technologies currently in the works that should resolve current challenges and propel blockchain technology as a far more mainstream business solution.
Solving The Interoperability Challenge
Imagine this scenario. You own Ether and you want to use it to trade for Bitcoin. You cannot send that Ether directly to Bitcoin to make the trade, because the two blockchains cannot talk to one another. You will have to sell your Ether first, exchanging it for a fiat currency and then purchase Bitcoin as an entirely new transaction. The same is true for exchanging different tokens built atop of the Ethereum blockchain. The good news is that the Ethereum platform now includes a standardized protocol for creating new tokens: ERC-2 that solves the interoperability problem of Ethereum-based tokens.
Another solution for crypto trading is to use a third-party “transactor.” There are many of those cropping up globally and the announcement of eToro launching in the US offers just one prime example of this. One of the key features of eToro’s investment platform is its easy usability and while it does have a social media element available to those who want to use it, it can also act like a clearing house, enabling investors to make coin trades with ease without the inefficiency of personal interaction.
But blockchain is moving far beyond these public ledgers for crypto, and here is where the real issues come in. As it moves into use by businesses and governments, private blockchains are being developed, and they cannot “talk” to each other.
Consider this: a citizen of Canada has all of his identification and travel documents stored in the Canadian government blockchain. He can travel about Canada with no paper documents. If he should travel to another country that has its own blockchain, however, he must carry physical documents. Those two blockchains cannot communicate and transfer his documents back and forth.
The same is true for businesses and sectors that are developing private blockchains.
The solution, of course, is for there to be a method of relaying messages, data, and records among separate blockchains, and this is just what many developers are working on right now.
The proposed solutions fall into two categories:
Developing side-chains that connect two or more blockchains together, operated by a third-party with verification of all transactions before they are passed from one chain to another.
Development of what is known as “atomic” swaps, which users themselves control, without the intervention of a third party. Both users must verify a transaction for it to be relayed.
Blockchain To Satisfy Individual Consumer Demands
Currently, consumers who make online purchases must provide their personal and financial information to a third-party processor, and the recent hacking of those payment systems has resulted in a plethora of expense and inconvenience.
While the blockchain technology may not be ready to handle a large volume of consumer transactions just yet, it can serve another important purpose - protect customers’ personal data. As the legislature is changing towards increased data protections, there may be an increased demand for blockchain-based identity management systems that will empower the consumer to selectively give access to their personal and payment data, and preference. Consumers will “own” their own information rather than giving it up to someone else and leaving it open to cybercrime.
Currently, Microsoft is working on a pilot blockchain-based identity management system that will let users secure and control access to their personal and financial information, through an encrypted database.
Alternatives To Current Consensus Algorithms
When blockchain was new, and still today, the verification process occurs by what is called PoW, or proof of work. Miners attempt to solve cryptographic problems, and the one who first hits the solution confirms the transaction and packs it into a block. The reward for this is financial, of course, and so there is plenty of incentive for a miner to get that solution.
But there are clear drawbacks to the PoW consensus mechanism:
It is costly, and miners must have plenty of funds to engage in the activity. With so many thousands of miners working on the same problem, the energy costs are huge; and they also must buy the latest hardware to function competitively.
Centralization of power can occur as well. Miners can set up collaborative agreements that allow them to control a large chunk of the processing power, and the possibility for nefarious action is increased.
For these reasons, some developers have turned to Proof of State (PoS). This model of consensus algorithm and recording is based upon a miner purchasing a “stake” by buying tokens used in the blockchain system. One individual miner is then selected for each new block commitment, usually occurring every few minutes. This eliminates the need for costly equipment and thousands of miners draining energy resources by working on the same problem and the need for such sophisticated hardware is also eliminated. The one drawback here is that miners who hold the most tokens are usually given preferential treatment – the rationale being that the more a stakeholder has, the more he will be incentivized to do it right. He will not attack his own investment.
There are drawbacks to the PoS model too, one of which is that miners will operate on more than one chain. A Delegated Proof of State (DPoS) has been an early modification, but more consensus algorithms are certain to come, as newer technologies continue to be developed. Here are just three other alternatives that may hold promise.
Proof of Authority: This is actually a centralized system in which transactions are verified by approved “administrators” of a system. Other miners will receive the “truth” from these authorities. This may be a valuable consensus algorithm for private blockchains.
Block Lattice: This is a structure in which each user gets their own chain and only they can write to it. But everyone has a copy of all of the chains. Each transaction is broking into the sender’s and the receiver’s blocks. If the potential for attacks can be eliminated, this might prove an extremely usable algorithm for business-to-consumer and business-to-business transactions.
Clearly, 2018 will bring new innovations and technologies with respect to blockchain. These three plus those to come will all help to push blockchain into the mainstream, both for sectors and individual organizations. It is a classic case of “supply meeting demand.”
It’s hot – blockchain, that is. By now, almost everyone has heard of Bitcoin and many have heard the term for the underlying technology – blockchain. In fact, it is being touted as the “latest and greatest” method for recording and storing transactions, contracts, public and confidential data, and more. What started out as the best “fit” for fintech has expanded to be a “fit” for governments, education, travel, insurance, real estate, etc. – any business niche that needs permanent and secure (and transparent) records.
Blockchains can be public or private. Bitcoin, and most cryptocurrencies, use public blockchain, and the technology is pretty well standardized. But, more and more, individual businesses are developing their own private blockchain, with proprietary technology used only by and for themselves.
There is clearly a lot of excitement about this technology, and so there should be. It promises to bring a new level of trust between consumers/users and the businesses they frequent. It also cuts out costs of middlemen and their fees. And this is why businesses are looking to the technology as they develop their apps.
Is blockchain a Fit for Your App – Some Initial Questions
This, of course, is the question. And it has to be answered by looking at the benefits and challenges of both developing and implementing the technology. So, here are some initial questions you should ask yourself before you rush into adoption.
Why do you need blockchain technology?
Is your niche engaging in business activity that is subject to fraud? This is a common issue with travel and insurance sectors. Is there a need for security and confidentiality in transactions? Bitcoin sales require transparency in a similar way to the healthcare industry. Are there contracts involved in your business, and do you need an immutable record of them? Do you need to track purchases and transport of goods? Those involved in logistics and transportation niches could find blockchain valuable.
How Will You Develop the Technology?
As new as it is, skilled developers are not as prevalent as they should be, and the demand is high. And in the development process, there are all sorts of challenges. Building and testing distributed applications is hard and full of hurdles and roadblocks. In-house developers with expertise in traditional databases will not be useful here. For most businesses, any app using blockchain will probably be an outsourced project.
The cost – It’s Important
The average loss to business, due to fraud alone, is about 5%. For an airline, for example, this is a large amount. It makes sense, then, for companies that look at large annual losses to go the cost of developing blockchain technology, where identities, sales, etc. can be verified, recorded, and stored. For a small online retailer, not so much.
As the technology evolves, and as more skilled developers enter the marketplace, costs will obviously go down. It may make sense, then, to wait until that happens, depending on your current business needs.
Weighing the Benefits
There is no doubt that blockchain provides some key attractions:
Transparency: Because all transactions are entered into immutable blocks, with access permission provided to those involved (but not modification capabilities), anyone involved in a transaction, contract, etc. can see it in original and verified form.
Reduction in Costs, Disputes, and Errors: Because all transactions and data are stored in blocks, and time-stamped, there is a permanent record. Errors that occur with “paper-heavy” documents are eliminated; legal disputes will be reduced; and, as stated, earlier, middlemen and fees go away.
Fraud and Hacking Prevention: Again, as stated earlier, it is almost impossible for hackers to get into a block and alter documents or records. This provides a level of security that a lot of niches demand.
Weighing the Challenges
In addition to those listed above, businesses must also consider the following:
Compatibility: Public blockchains use standardized technology. As private blockchains continue to be developed, there will be lack of consistency, and varied technologies will not be able to “talk” with one another. Standardization for private blockchains will eventually come, but it may be a way out yet.
Government Acceptance: Currently, a few states recognize the validity of contracts within blockchains as evidentiary material for legal disputes. But the majority do not. This obviously poses problems for businesses engaged in interstate commerce. Ultimately, there may need to be some federal regulations that speak to the validity of transactions and contracts that involve parties from different states.
Security: Yes, this is a huge benefit of blockchain. But there is also a human factor involved. When access keys are given to involved parties, how they store those keys will be critical. One irresponsible individual can create a crisis.
Blockchain holds great promise, and the technology will probably prove to be a huge disruptor in every sector of public and private enterprises. The concepts of trust, transparency, immutability, security, reduced costs, and greater efficiency are too attractive to ignore. Is this technology beneficial for your app? Take time to consider the questions listed above to find out.
In the days before the Internet, how did businesses keep their customers happy? They greeted them when they entered their premises. They directed them to the place where they could find the item(s) they wanted. They took care of returns and exchanges in a friendly way that left the customer satisfied. If customers had a good experience they came back, and they “brought” their friends by recommendations. If the experience was bad, they also told their friends.
In this digital age, where face-to-face customer service is fast giving way to web-based interactions, businesses need to be mindful that customer relations must emulate those traditional experiences as much as possible. It’s not enough to have a call center and/or a live chat feature. Customers need to feel that they are receiving personal, friendly, and satisfactory care, or they will simply go elsewhere.
How Great CRM Software Can Provide Customer Satisfaction
Fortunately, there is technology that can accomplish great customer experiences, in the form of customer relations management software (CRM). And businesses that are growing beyond a hundred customers will need to acquire this software if they intend to continue to grow.
Basically, the purpose of CRM software is to be able to collect, store and retrieve all information related to each individual customer, so that when that customer makes contact, they understand that the business “knows” them and is ready to serve their needs.
Some CRM software products are quite complex; others quite simple. Only you can gauge your needs, and thus you need to find a product that satisfies those needs and that can also grow in features as your needs expand. So, the first thing you need to look for are the basics that are going to work, not only for your customers but also for your customer service personnel.
In 2017, CRM usage by all types of businesses increased from 56% to 74%.
80% of consumers will go online to research products and services prior to a purchase
87% of these consumers will use mobile devices as they research and shop and engage in customer service activities with businesses
47% of businesses surveyed state they plan to increase spending on customer service software. Any business that intends to remain competitive, keep existing customers, and generate new leads will take heed.
So, what should a solid CRM package include? Given today’s consumer and given that a business needs to reach that consumer where he is and provide the kind of personalized service he expects.
Obviously, consumers want to reach and be reached on mobile devices. And customer service staff, often from remote locations, also need to be able to use their mobile devices to connect with customers. Businesses are actually seeing higher satisfaction and adoption rates, when staff have options of devices to use.
Other research shows that 65% of sales staff that can use mobile CRM have achieved sales quotas, while only 22% of those not using mobile devices have. This alone should drive businesses to ensure that any CRM they choose has mobility features.
As for consumer use of mobile CRM – it is obviously becoming a preferred method as the above stats show.
This is an area that is perhaps the biggest challenge for customer relations. Business do not see their customers in person. It is critical that they use all of the technology available to reach customers at a personal level. Recent studies show that businesses intend to increase their email marketing budgets for both sales and customer service by 60%. This will allow them to segregate leads, current customers, etc. into groups for far more personalized service. Any CRM package a business purchases must provide for this.
And do not discount the value of “old school” direct mail campaigns. Consumers still go to their physical mailboxes, and there can be those who do so more than others, especially older leads and consumers. Adding a software piece, such as Physical Address that will provide a physical address and virtual mail handling services, can be valuable in certain circumstances.
Compete Customer History in One Place
Probably the most important aspect of CRM is that all of the information on the history of leads and customers be housed in a database that allows sales and customer relations personnel to bring up that entire history on one screen.
This is often called “contact management.” Being able to track every lead as it moves through a sales funnel is a must for any CRM software. Such software should provide a lead/customer calendar, follow-up reminders, and tickets for all contacts and actions. And it should also provide for the sharing of all of this history by multiple departments within the business. This can improve customer retention rates, as studies show.
Every business is unique. Buying a pre-packaged CRM solution that does not provide for customization is useless. A business needs to be able to integrate CRM with its existing systems, giving that business the ability to mine and analyze data that it needs to modify and improve its customer relations.
Keeping it Simple
Unless sales, marketing, and customer service staff see a CRM package as easy to use, they won’t adopt it. Keep it simple in the beginning. Complexities can always be added later, if the right package is purchased to begin with.
Every customer wants to feel important to you, before, during, and after the sale. You can achieve this through the right CRM software. Identify your needs, your customer needs, do the research and find the package that will work for you right now and grow as your business does.
Moving goods from one place to another – it’s all about logistics and transportation. When an enterprise is in the business of moving goods for clients, it’s focus has to be on coordinating the most effective, efficient, and economical way to move them, on keeping clients informed and happy, on marketing to new clients, and, of course, always keeping an eye on the ROI of any new initiative they undertake to improve all of these things.
Traditionally, these have been manual tasks
keying in data from emails, faxes, and spreadsheets,
tracking shipments and deliveries by those same methods,
keeping clients informed, again via those same methods
coordinating with sales and support departments
managing volume and capacities
managing customer service and interactions by phone, silos of emails, and faxes.
While all of these tasks do not relate specifically to CRM, everything an enterprise does is at least indirectly related, for it contributes to operational effectiveness, and operational effectiveness keeps clients happy.
The Rise of CRM Software Development for Logistics Enterprises
It is the rare mid- to large-sized enterprise that has not implemented CRM software, either of its own development or through one of many vendors who have designed and developed solutions that can be customized for unique purposes.
Selecting an option that meets your specific needs is a matter for research and discussion, both in-house and with potential vendors.
In general, however, there are some key critical features that any option should include.
You will want a solution that is cloud-based. Here is why.
Users need to be able to login from any browser, computer, or mobile device.
The right vendor will be able to provide the infrastructure, hardware, software, and support, so that there is no need to re-configure any in-house systems, or use them for that matter, other than to access the cloud.
The In-House IT department should be involved in the vendor selection process.
Even though the CRM solution will be cloud-based, techies are good at evaluating systems, speed, hardware, and support. They will be able to compare the relative value that each vendor offers in these categories. At the same time, these IT factors cannot be given more weight than the factors that will actually “touch” customers.
Focus On The Functionality That Matters to Your Enterprise
Logistics and transportation enterprises are as varied as online clothing retailers. From a company such as Parcel Delivery, that coordinates small parcel shipping for individuals and enterprises, to a major trucking and/or ocean liner corporation, CRM solutions will require a huge variance in functions.
But, large or small, there are three key functions, in varying degrees, that all CRM solutions should offer.
Support for workflow and business processes in marketing/sales, lead generation, management of bids, contract management, customer service and in-house team collaboration. Security is also a major component, along with what employees can access what on their screens.
Functions of Reporting and Dashboard. You must determine what metrics, analytics, and business intelligence you need and how these will be reported. There is a huge variance among vendors in how this is accomplished, and your people must be comfortable with the chosen option. It will be a top priority to identify the required metrics and make sure they can be easily tracked and reported. Any vendor that is “worth his salt” will allow a business to “test drive” these functions.
Team collaboration is critical. Every customer may be in the systems of multiple departments – sales, contracts, invoicing/billing, customer service, etc. A CRM solution must allow all departments access to one “picture” of the customer. Sales now know when and what the last interaction was with customer service; customer service now has access to contracts and invoicing.
Assess the ROI clearly and carefully. A CRM software solution is a big investment. And you will want to assess the ROI once that big expense has been incurred. Obviously, the most important factor will be increased revenue. The other is in the area of productivity. Both of these can be measured if a baseline is established first and then incremental measurements are taken every 6-9 months.
Expect difficulties in the adoption of the new technology. It’s incredibly hard to implement a new CRM solution. Obviously, this requires training and “buy-in.” And the buy-in only comes if the training is done well. Check out the vendor-supported training, for it is probably “tried and tested.” At the very least, set a schedule of training in modules rather than several consecutive days with people sitting at computers – it will not be retained. The vendor should be able to provide recommendations for the transition to occur in chunks rather than all at once.
A Repeat. Most enterprise employees travel; some area out in the field. When customer contacts are made, speed in response is critical. Any CRM solution must have a full app for both iOS and Android, not just through a browser.
Choosing a CRM solution and then transitioning to it involves a lot of thought, analysis of needs, evaluation of vendor solutions, and then bringing everyone on board. Given the expense and the time required, these six criteria/considerations will be important.
Educational software is nothing new. Once computers hit classrooms all over the U.S. (and the world), educational publishers went to work to develop software that could be used to enhance student learning. Mostly, these were in the form of discs that were purchased, inserted into desktop computers, and used to supplement the curriculum at each grade level, K-12.
We’ve come a long way since then. Students now have tablets and smart phones, and download apps of everything from music, to games, to favorite retailers and more. They are tech savvy and want to use their mobile devices for everything.
Why not educational apps that they can access anywhere, anytime, whether they are in the classroom or not? This is the path that educational software is now taking. And publishers are fast developing apps in the following areas:
Courseware Supplements: Whether the course is on the ground or in cyberspace, a lot of educators are developing apps that supplement te in-class content delivery and activities.
Assisted Instruction: These are apps that provide remedial or enrichment activities that go along with regular course content in the classroom
Assessments: Pre- and post-testing is a critical feature to determine initial mastery, structuring learning on an individualized basis, and then providing summative evaluations the demonstrate mastery of course content and skills.
Specific Niche Apps: Students who need to study for a driver’s test, master keyboarding, or learn a foreign language can now access apps for those purposes.
Building an Educational App for Today’s Student Consumer is Tough
It’s a tough audience. These are kids who play sophisticated games, who spend a huge amount of time on social media, who use their devices for everything from communicating with friends, to listening to music, to shopping, and, yes, to accessing news and information for personal and schooling needs.
And they demand that they be engaged and “entertained” while they do all of this. It’s a tall order for an app developer.
Steps in App Development
If you are looking to develop an educational app, your major concern is not the actual technology of the development at this point. Your concerns are educational. Here are the steps in your process:
Establish Your Goals
What are the learning outcomes that you want for your student users? Like any educator, you begin with these, and then plan your course around them. You will have units – smaller chunks of content and skills that you want to deliver in some way.
Plan the Activities
What types of activities will you incorporate to deliver the content and skills to your users? And what features will you use to deliver them in engaging ways? Be aware that kids today will demand a lot of interaction in environments that the find “valuable.” Here are some of the features that you will need to think about incorporating:
How can you integrate social networking, so that students can collaborate and network with other users?
How can you incorporate videos and live streaming? Having lessons delivered in this format are far more easily digested by today’s student consumer.
How about leaderboards? Being competitive and seeing their scores in relation to other users is a big motivator.
Do you need multi-language features for an international audience? This can always be added at a later time, as you expand your reach.
What types of quizes and surveys will you incorporate in each unit?
How will you let students track their progress and achievement and yet not alter that data, so that they have proof of mastery if required.
Do you want cloud streaming so that group activities and projects can occur among “study buddies” and can occur during non-school hours?
How about music? If you have done your research, you know the genres of music that are most appealing to the age group for whom the app is to be built. You can find a huge selection from sources, such as Melody Loops where your subscription will give you access to royalty-free use of music packages. It’s great for introductions of units and activities and small break times in the instructional process.
Check Out the Most Popular Educational Apps on the Market
If you want to get a feel for how learning is structured in an app environment and how some or all of the above features are incorporated into app design and development, it will important to carefully study the educational apps, particularly in your instructional niche, that are already on the market and that are the most popular with student users in the age group you are targeting. You will pick up great ideas that will get your “creative juices” flowing.
Create a Map for Your App
This is a difficult and often tedious step, but it is critical, if you are going to be able to codify what it is you want your app to do for kids.
You will need to specifically describe the learning activities you will be incorporating in each unit of instruction and the features/elements of design and development you want to use for each activity. You will need to set up assessment points as well, and the types of assessments you wish to use.
You cannot begin to speak with a developer until this is in as much detail as possible.
Find Your Developer
Technology is a wonderful thing, and there are some great tools out there for developing apps. If you have the time and want to begin a rather steep learning curve, you can certainly learn how to develop your own apps. Your other option, of course, is to find an experienced and skilled developer.
You will need to discuss your project with several developers before selecting one that seems to be a fit” for your needs. You certainly want one that will keep you in the loop as the development progresses and who is willing to provide you with each piece of the software for your review and approval as it moves forward.
Educational apps are part of the future of teaching and learning. Students want access to learning tools on demand, whether they are in the classroom or at home. They want immediate access, and they want apps that will engage and motivate. Educators have a way to meet the needs of today’s learners – by realizing that it is a product and a service just like any other on the market.
While it’s important for any software offering to be bolstered by great customer support, many customers prefer to figure things out for themselves. Great user documentation can help them accomplish that. It also reduces user frustration, and reduces demand on customer support. Good software documentation can reduce training costs. The most important thing is to make sure the documentation you create works for your users. Here are some tricks for making that happen.
Good User Documentation is Highly Visual
When it comes to helping users understand how to use software, text is helpful. You can use it to add narrative to what the user sees on their screen. However, most users learn best when information is presented visually. There are many ways to incorporate visuals into both printed and online manuals.
For printed manuals, it’s important to include diagrams, screenshots, charts, and other visual elements. These can be used to clarify text, and to ensure users that they are progressing as they should be. You can even leverage the latest augmented reality technology by embedding scannable images. These can be used to bring up video instructions and other helpful content on users’ devices. Ideally, these images should be as clear and colorful as possible. User documentation is not the area to be miserly when it comes to print quality.
The ways in which visuals can be used in online user documentation is pretty exciting. You can use all of the visual elements that you might with printed documentation. Then, on top of that you can add embedded videos, interactive infographics, GIFs, interactive quizzes, and more.
Test Software to Identify Potential Difficulties And Features
Ideally, good development processes and testing can be used to help eliminate complexities. Unfortunately, sometimes these complexities must remain in order for software to work properly. When this happens, it’s very important to point these out in documentation and then provide whatever content is necessary to explain them and ensure that users can navigate them.
On the other hand, software testing can also identify nifty features that may not be readily apparent. Use documentation to point out little tricks, shortcuts, and hacks that make good software even better. For best results, these pointers should stand out visually. Consider using text boxes or bulleted lists for content like this.
Collect Feedback From Users And Beta Testers
While members of the development team are most knowledgeable about their software, they shouldn’t be the only people contributing to end user manuals. Developers tend to interact with software in the way the develop it. For them, it can be difficult to imagine scenarios where users may interact with software in unexpected ways. They may also miss points where their expectations don’t match the users. Besides, when it comes time to determine whether or not the software functions in a way that helps the user, or that the documentation is clear and complete, shouldn’t that be the role of the users and beta testers themselves?
Remember That User Documentation is Marketing Content
Online user documentation is content, just like blog posts or articles. This means your documentation may be linked in content on other websites, shared on social media, and it can be used to create engagement in product and users forums on your website and elsewhere. Just like any other online content, it can be indexed by search engines.
Because of this, you should make every effort to optimize your online user documentation for SEO, readability, and engagement. You can start by using a plagiarism checker to ensure that you aren’t posting duplicate content. It’s also a good idea to use relevant keywords in your documentation. If your manuals contain any claims or statistics, link out to original source material to add credibility. Finally, make sure online documentation is easy to read. It should use bullet points and numbered lists, bold print to highlight points, headings and subheadings, and plenty of white space. It should, of course, be mobile friendly as well.
Make Accessibility a Priority
It’s so important to create documentation that meets the needs of all of your users. Depending on your audience that might mean creating audio or video documentation, printing manuals in braille, using large text, and identifying colors that improve readability. However, that is just the beginning. User documentation isn’t going to be of much use to someone who is disabled if it doesn’t reflect how they interact with your software. For example, telling someone who interacts with their computer using a voice device to ‘click submit’ isn’t very helpful.
Another important consideration is international users. If your users all speak the same language, and you have no plans of marketing or distributing in foreign locations, this may not be a factor. If you are, you’ll need to start thinking about documentation translation and localization early on. Ensuring that everyone can read your documentation is not as simple as using an online translator.
Write to The User Not The Developer
It’s going to be difficult for users to understand your software if they cannot easily understand your documentation. Make an effort to ensure that all content is highly readable. Avoid technical jargon. If you use acronyms, be sure and explain them at least once in full context. Use relatable examples to explain concepts. Finally, consider having the completed documentation double checked by someone who understands user requirements.
Great user documentation is essential. It acts as first line customer support. It helps users to quickly understand your product. Good documentation can be used as a tool for users to troubleshoot their own problems. You can even use it to create engagement and drive traffic to your website. If you apply the tips above, you’ll be able to provide users with documentation that is noticeably more useful to them.
Up until a couple of years ago, many experts would have scoffed at the idea of influencer marketing becoming a powerful marketing tool. These days? Not so much. According to recent studies, an average influencer marketing campaign has earned $6.85 for every $1 spent.
As more and more brands are starting to find out, word-of-mouth marketing is routinely outperforming all other marketing types by a large margin. Does this mean all businesses should focus exclusively on taking advantage of influencer marketing? It's not quite that simple. Though influencers can play a vital role in your marketing strategy, they also bring a specific set of challenges that can affect your campaign.
Here are three things every business owner needs to know about influencer marketing.
1. Not All Influencers Are Equal
Influencer marketing is still relatively new, so it's probably no surprise to see brands struggling to identify the right influencers for their needs. Many celebrity-level influencers have over 300,000 followers on social media, but their fans might not be the right target audience for your brand. Can you confirm that these followers were not purchased? Can the influencer in question provide quality content? What about the level of engagement their posts are generating? In many cases, you'd be better off focusing on the so-called micro-influencers. These people have considerably smaller media followings, but they're often able to influence more purchases from their audience. Additionally, their rates are generally lower than those of celebrity-level influencers. If you want to find the right influencers for your campaign, your first step should be to define your business goals.
Do you want to focus on getting followers, increasing your conversion rate or driving website traffic? Once you have your answer, look for influencers that are relevant in your industry. With enough research, you'll be able to identify those of them who can engage your target audience.
2. Determining Your Campaign ROI
How can you tell whether influencer marketing is worth your investment? With other marketing strategies, the easiest way to do so would be to calculate your campaign ROI. However, influence marketing is somewhat of an outlier in this regard, as measuring direct financial return is often impossible.
One way to approach this issue would be to provide your influencers with unique money-off coupons. Any time their followers use one of these coupons, you'd be able to measure the conversion rate. This is what Nutrisystem did. Nutrisystem is a diet company that launched Nutrisystem Nation Blogger program some time ago. Through this program it reached out to women bloggers, like Beatrice of Bestiews, who would be willing to try the popular diet, and blog about their weight loss experience. Nutrisystem gave these influencers special coupon codes to offer to their followers. People used these Nuitrsystem coupons to purchase the diet program allowing the company to measure the campaign’s ROI.
If you're not planning on providing such discounts, though, you can take note of your other campaign factors such as brand advocacy, brand awareness and reaching your target audience.
There are a couple of online tools that can help you with this task. For example, NeoReach is a social media platform that allows you to monitor your campaign results. Thanks to this tool, you'll be able to keep track of your influencers' impressions and the engagement they're generating. In addition to that, you can take note of your overall campaign spending and compare it with the cost per impression and the cost per engagement.
3. Attracting Influencers
When it comes to influencers, their content creation rates can obviously vary wildly. However, there are some statistics that can help you determine how far you should go in order to attract the right people for your campaign. According to Influence.co, the average cost of an Instagram post made by an influencer is $271. Additionally, an average micro-influencer (fewer than 1,000 followers) will demand $83 per post, whereas celebrity-level influencers (over 100,000 followers) will ask for $763 per post.
We should also note that influencers are busy people, and attracting them is far from a walk in the park. In a recent Econsultancy study, it was found that 59% of businesses are struggling with this task. What's the right way to approach them? Well, many experts believe that influencers are more likely to pay attention to marketers who try to befriend them instead of pitching them.
In other words, you should spend some time researching the influencers you want to work with. If you happen to share any common interests or if you liked some of their recent work, make sure to mention that in your emails. Keep in mind that your main goal should be to give them a reason to care about your campaign.
The World Economic Forum has also listed cybercrime as a major global economic risk and warns that more sophisticated cyber-attacks are on the rise. The economic risk is confirmed by a report from a 2017 Cost of Data Study sponsored by IBM which shows that the average total cost of a data breaches is $3.62 million. Further, the study found out that one in every four companies experience a data breach.
Digital devices are increasingly playing a significant role in people’s lives these days, and this is one of the factors that are fueling cybercrime. A recent Norton Cyber Security Insights Report estimated that 35 percent of people across the globe have at least one unprotected digital device that leaves them vulnerable to cyber attacks. These devices are therefore a growing security concern for small business owners given the fact that a good number of them use small digital devices like their smartphones to run their operations.
Some of the major cyber threats small companies face include Hack attacks, Ransomware, CEO fraud, phishing, denial of services, among others.
So how can small businesses protect themselves against cybercrime?
Fortunately for business owners, there are preventative measures they can take to avoid falling victims to cybercrime. Here are some of them:
Use IBM Watson
Watson by IBM is an artificial intelligence of many talents. It works as A.I by day and a cyber crime fighter by night. It improves a security analyst's ability to keep up with sophisticated threats, by drawing from unstructured data (ex. blogs, websites, research papers) and correlating it with local security offenses.
Educate Your Employees
Small business owners need to train their staff on proper security measures. First of all, “employees should not use their work computer for personal business and vice versa”, says information technology expert Dirk Anderson. It is crucial that every employee in your business understands the inherent risk of digital communications. Run regular cyber attack training sessions and let everyone understand that it only takes a single click to compromise the entire system. They should not be quick to open attachments or click on any URLs even if they receive them from trusted friends.
Restrict Access to Important Data
You need to restrict access to your company’s critical data to only those staff members that have to work with it. Don’t forget to shut down accounts of your former employees as quickly as possible. An employee can access the data after leaving your company and use it to compromise your system. Also, it is extremely important to run background checks on potential employees before hiring them.
Be Aware of Unsecured Devices in Your Business
As noted earlier, breaches through mobile devices are on the rise, and this should be a huge matter of concern. You need to understand that any unsecured connected digital device in your business can be accessed easily by cyber-criminals. It is therefore vital to ensure that all the devices brought into your business are secured with very strong passwords which are regularly changed. Have up-to-date security software on all these devices.
Monitor Your Cloud Infrastructure Constantly
Your cloud provider can do this for you. Ensure that all your servers are secure all the time, monitor advanced threat management systems, web application firewalls, security patch management, data storage, among other things. Regularly scan for any vulnerabilities, and take appropriate measures if you find any. You also need to carry out a security assessment of your website regularly.
Install a Combination of Security Software
Use anti-spam, anti-virus, and anti-malware software and make sure you update them regularly. There are many security protection solutions including Symantec and Avast which have practical solutions for small businesses. Antivirus software experts at Qetes advise to always have a firewall software to fend off spyware, virus and phishing attacks.
Back Up Your Data Routinely and Have a Disaster Recovery Plan
Make sure you back up all your data on the cloud, external hard drives, and other locations. Carbonite offers automatic backup solutions for small businesses from as low as $5 per month.
Use Complex Passwords on All Your Computers And Devices
Use passwords with a minimum of 8 characters and make sure you change them regularly. This resilient password policy should also apply to your employees. Ensure they change their passwords often. There are free password management tools like LastPass that you can use to generate very strong passwords and keep track of all them safely.
To sum this up, at times it may be unfortunate that even after doing everything right, you still fall victim to a cyber attack. It is therefore wise to consider having a data breach insurance that will help you mitigate any costs as result of a data security breach including legal fees.