How Cloud Accounting Helps Small Businesses Gain Competitive Edge

Cloud AccountingIn a continuously changing business environment, small businesses have a challenge to keep up. It’s especially expensive to keep pace with ever changing technology. Luckily, with affordable cloud accounting solutions, small businesses can maintain a competitive edge.

What is Cloud Accounting

Cloud accounting involves moving your business books online. Unlike desktop accounting systems, cloud accounting permits you to access accounting software from a web browser without the need to install it on your personal computer.

Companies that offer cloud computing provide their services on remote servers and applications. For a fee, you gain remote access to the services that fit your business needs.

Cloud Accounting Benefits for a Small Business

Here are benefits offered by cloud accounting that enable small businesses to gain a competitive edge:

  • No need to invest in expensive software and hardware
    With cloud accounting, you need only subscribe to a company offering cloud accounting services. This removes the need to purchase the actual software and necessary hardware. It also means there are no extra costs for maintenance, allowing a business to focus on core business activities. 
  • Save on upgrade costs
    Software keeps changing and needs frequent patches and upgrades. This is expensive for a small business running a traditional accounting software, and most end up using outdated software.

    Subscribing to cloud accounting means the service provider takes care of the upgrades, and you have access to new features instantly.

  • No need to hire an in-house accountant or bookkeeper
    If your business is small and running on a tight budget, subscribing to a cloud accounting solution will save you the cost of hiring a person for manual accounting and other bookkeeping processes. By connecting the system with your bank account, the transactions will be updated automatically, thereby saving you time and ensuring accuracy.
  • Easy to scale
    With cloud-based services, you can easily scale your business as it grows by adding to the services you subscribe to. At the same time, if your business is experiencing a slowdown and you need to reduce expenses, you can scale down by reducing the number of subscribed services.
  • Data accessibility
    You can easily access your financial status at any time, unlike when you run a traditional desktop accounting system. This is possible from any device that has an internet connection.
  • Access to various functions, features and support
    Cloud accounting enables a small business to have access to different accounting features and functions, such as project estimates, finance, billing, invoicing, tax summary, and stocks, among others. This is because of the ability to select services depending on the needs of your business and your budget.
  • Enables remote working and collaboration
    Cloud accounting allows for remote working, which is especially important with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and recommendations to work from home. This enhances collaboration with your team and financial advisor because you can all work on the same system at the same time, regardless of your location. The accountant also needs not go through the trouble of importing client data.
  • Financial reports
    Cloud accounting allows for access to regular reports that include insights about the financial state of your business. This enables a business owner to have an up-to-date picture of how the business is performing anytime, whether at home, at work or on the go.
  • Data security
    Data on the cloud is more secure than data stored on a hard drive, which can be accessed if it is stolen. In the case of a natural disaster, your business productivity is not greatly affected because you can still access your data. This is because it’s the responsibility of the cloud provider to ensure data security, make regular backups, scan servers for vulnerabilities and use the latest technology.

Final Words

Cloud accounting enables small businesses to enjoy business efficiency and increased productivity while reducing costs. Businesses of all sizes, even small ones, have to keep up with changing technology. Any business that wants to maintain a competitive edge has the option to do away with traditional accounting desktop software.

How AI Chatbots are Transforming Businesses

When a business moves its services online, it runs the risk of losing the close connection it had with customers. This affects customer loyalty and sometimes means lost revenue. Thanks to technology, some businesses have deployed artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots to keep customers engaged in a two-way conversation. 

What is an AI Chatbot?

An AI chatbot is a piece of software powered by artificial intelligence that is placed on websites and other applications to interact with humans.

Chatbots are not a new technology, and it’s worth noting that there is a difference between AI chatbots and flow chatbots. Flow chatbots follow a pre-determined path defined by a developer; AI chatbots are self-trained, meaning they give feedback depending on the information supplied by the customer. They use natural language processing and machine learning technology to turn complex business interactions into simple conversations through text or voice.

This makes AI chatbots smarter because they learn over time.

According to a report by Markets and Markets, the conversational AI market is expected to grow from $4.8 billion in the year 2020 to $13.9 billion by 2025.   

AI Chatbots in Business

AI is no longer reserved for large enterprises only. Small businesses can now leverage conversational chatbots on applications such as Facebook.

The demand for chatbots has been driven by customers who need round-the-clock assistance from businesses. In most cases, businesses are slow to adapt to new technologies – especially because of the related costs. But the many benefits of AI chatbots make it worth adopting. Below are some of the ways that AI chatbots are being used in businesses:

  • Customer inquiries – The bots help reduce customer service workload and can serve customers outside typical working hours. This means there is no need to struggle to manually respond to inquiries as the AI chatbots can be used to automate customer feedback, including in emails. The customers also no longer have to wait a long time to connect with a customer care representative.
  • Personalizing interactions – conversational AI helps personalize interactions relevant to each user. AI chatbots learn the behavior of a client to provide personalized conversations.
  • Data analysis – Businesses have a greater understanding of their clientele once the conversational data is analyzed.
  • Sales representatives – they offer product suggestions for customers who are not sure what they are looking for.
  • Lead qualifying – instant feedback helps keep a prospect interested and eventually turn them into a paying customer.
  • Candidate vetting – Interested applicants converse with the AI chatbot, which then helps to filter for new hires.
  • Free HR staff time – for businesses that have many employees, the conversational chatbots help answer employee questions depending on their job function, geographical location and date. It’s also useful in reminding employees of tasks that need to be completed. This frees time for the HR staff to concentrate on other tasks that help improve job satisfaction and reduce staff turnover.
  • Increased engagement – the ability to answer emails and queries instantly helps keep the customer engaged. This enhances a business brand differentiation.
  • Fast information retrieval – a human can take a long time to retrieve information, especially for an e-commerce or real estate business. AI chatbots easily connect to the database and provide feedback in real-time as they serve as an internal knowledge base.
  •  Integration with other applications – AI chatbots are integrated with robotic process automation, enterprise resource planning or customer relationship management systems to carry out further tasks. Such tasks include booking appointments, filling out forms and making recommendations.
  • Easy scalability – chatbots handle multiple conversations simultaneously. This means that even when a business grows, the bots still handle large volumes of chats without affecting business costs.
  • In digital marketing – businesses are using AI chatbots to support the collection of customer data, new product launches, lead generation, and to increase brand loyalty.

Conclusion

AI technology is continuously progressing and no doubt chatbots will also keep changing.

As with every technology, there are some limitations, such as lack of emotional intelligence that affects the depth and scope of a conversation. This means that there are still complex communications that will require humans.

Nonetheless, having AI chatbots as an additional resource to run a business is a sure way to help boost revenue, improve customer experience, and provide a competitive advantage.

However, before jumping on the bandwagon, it is best to first identify areas in your business where you can deploy AI chatbots.

Business Process Management Systems Provide Variety of Benefits to Owners

All businesses have one thing in common, and that is processes. Business processes – whether direct or indirect – are crucial when it comes to providing products or services to customers.

Business process management (BPM) plays an important role in enhancing processes and offers numerous benefits to businesses. But imagine what greater benefits can be achieved if you choose to implement a technology product that supports your specific business process management.

Why BPM Software?

First, a little bit about BPM. Business process management was introduced to help accomplish workflow quickly and easily. Simply put, BPM enables users to design, model, implement, automate and analyze business processes of a company or an organization.

Some businesses have been doing things manually or with a number of different software applications. However, the invention of BPM software that came about with the technology evolution allows business processes to be digitized.

With the growing adoption of artificial intelligence, BPM systems are able to offer more. This is because analytics and data can be turned into actionable insights to offer optimized processes. Through machine learning, it is also easy to detect and learn patterns, organize unstructured data, and enhance the user experience with upgraded interfaces that allow voice commands and chatting.

All this is necessary due to high competition, the need to reduce costs, and the need to increase productivity.

Implementing BPM software helps a business design and analyze processes such as employee onboarding, account management, expense reporting, invoice management, customer requests, compliance management, project management, and much more.

Benefits of BPM Software

Apart from the obvious benefits, such as gaining a competitive edge, reducing costs, and improving business agility, BPM software also can provide:

  1. Business process modeling: a visual process design tool that enables you to create and test multiple processes and workflows within your business.
  2. Business rules engine: design business rules and conditions for each business process.
  3. Workflow management: design, test and implement advanced workflows by integrating team members, robust communication, other systems, and data.
  4. Overall visibility of business operations and performance: enhance process automation, allowing you to track how different processes function as well as how they are performing in real-time. This enables necessary improvements.
  5. KPI Monitoring and Measurement: easily monitor and track the performance of different processes.
  6. Integrations: combine various systems from different business domains (both internal and external).
  7. Collaboration: social collaboration software that facilitates effective communication within a company.
  8. Data Analytics: define metrics, get insights in real-time, and run reports on demand.
  9. Produce faster: due to high demands and competition, businesses are required to produce more and at a faster rate. Digitizing your business processes allows for more efficiency.
  10. Scale quickly and easily: as your business grows so do the tasks, causing your workflow to get complicated. A BPM system will help you make necessary adjustments to accommodate the growth.

Considerations Before Purchasing a BPMS

Before purchasing a BPMS because it is popular, it’s important to consider the following: first, define and analyze your business’ key processes. You should also consider your business goals, your budget, return on investment (ROI), future scalability, and deployment options whether on-site or software as a service.

A good BPM system should include a workflow, ease of use, ability to customize and collect data, regulatory compliance, and enhanced business agility.

Final Word

Business process management in any business is vital, and BPM systems are meant to make your business more efficient.

Some business owners might shy away from investing in these systems for fear of high costs. Luckily with cloud computing, you don’t need on-premise solutions – especially if you are a small business. You can choose from available software as a service option.

Businesses today have no option but to work with real-time data that will help in speed, agility, and innovation. This has been especially evident with the global COVID-19 pandemic that has affected many businesses, demanding they have systems in place to deal with unexpected situations.

Standalone 5G Networks: Potential Vulnerabilities that Could Result in Denial of Service for Customers

5G networks promise high speeds, lower latency, and more robust security compared to its predecessors – and this has created a lot of buzz. As a result, there is a lot of competition among operators to roll out the network while manufacturers are already producing 5G devices.

The deployment of 5G around the world has also been facilitated by a need for always-connected computers, widespread internet of things (IoT), and dependence on smartphones. All of this is constraining the 4G LTE technology.

With the current uptake in remote working due to COVID-19, 5G is expected to see more deployment.

However, despite the promised benefits, there are varying concerns about the potential vulnerabilities of this network. Since there are various security concerns, this article will highlight those involving the standalone 5G networks.

What is 5G Standalone Network?

5G stands for the fifth generation of networks that are designed to address gaps and errors existing in the architecture of previous generation networks. However, its implementation is through a gradual phasing out of the existing networks.

Note that the 5G network involves two streams, which include the standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA). The NSA relies on the existing 4G infrastructure because 5G standards are not fully finalized.

On the other hand, the standalone is a completely new, end-to-end 5G network. To offer ultra-low latency and high capacities, service providers will have to fully implement the standalone 5G infrastructure.

Despite the radical and beneficial transformation promised by 5G networks, there are concerns that it might become a multidimensional cyberattack vulnerability.

Vulnerabilities for Subscribers and Mobile Network Operators

Unlike previous networks, 5G is a software-defined network and involves network function virtualization, which makes it more vulnerable.

The previous networks implement hardware choke points because they are centralized and hardware-based; whereas 5G digital routing lacks inspection and control chokepoints.

This new architecture has seen various research carried out to check its viability. As a result, industry professionals and government officials have already raised concern over the network’s security and overall architecture.

An investigation by global cybersecurity firm Positive Technologies focused on 5G standalone core in terms of its architecture security, the interaction of network elements, as well as subscriber authentication and registration procedures.

The examination revealed that “the stack of technologies in 5G potentially leaves the door open to attacks on subscribers and the operator’s network. Such attacks can be performed from the international roaming network, the operator’s network, or partner networks that provide access to services.”

The vulnerabilities were discovered in two protocols that are, PFCP and HTTP/2, which are used in 5G standalone networks.

Exploitation in Packet Forwarding Control Protocol (PFCP) would result in denial of service. This is because the PFCP is used to manage subscriber connections. A PFCP session includes three procedures: session establishment, modification, and deletion. It’s at this point that denial of service can be carried out by attackers through a session deletion request, a session modification request, or redirection of data through a session modification request.

For the HTTP/2, the Positive Technologies research found that an attacker could obtain the network functions profile and impersonate any network service. This is because the HTTP/2 protocol is responsible for vital network functions that register and store profiles on 5G networks. The attacker then would have access to authentication status, current location, and subscriber settings for network access. It’s also possible that an attacker would be able to delete NF profiles, which could result in a financial loss as well as damage subscriber trust.

If not handled correctly, the 5G standalone network security issues will place critical infrastructures such as hospitals, transport, and utilities at risk.

Solution and Conclusion

According to the report, the vulnerabilities would appear due to misconfigurations. With vendors competing to launch 5G networks, attackers will take advantage of poor configurations.

Therefore, it calls for proper configuration of the architecture to stop these types of attacks. Unfortunately, errors still might occur. To detect configuration errors in the networks, regular security audits should be performed.

It’s also vital that apart from ensuring proper equipment configuration, security monitoring, and enhancing the implementation of firewalls are also top priorities.

In conclusion, 5G’s high speeds, low latency, and high bandwidth will be highly beneficial. However, potential security holes could cost more than the cost of implementing this technology. As a business owner considering the 5G network, do not let your guard down just because the new network promises to address gaps and errors in previous generation networks.

Will StarLink be the Next Disruption to the Telecommunication Industry?

With every new project comes expectations, uncertainties, questions, opposition, and more. Elon Musk’s StarLink internet is one such project.

Just last month, on Nov. 24, SpaceX launched 60 StarLink internet satellites – making a total of more than 900 of its flat-panel satellites already on low earth orbit (LEO). This also marked the company’s 23rd space launch since the start of 2020.

But just what is StarLink; why is it a big deal; and will it replace existing internet infrastructure?

Follow along for information already in the public domain that will help answer some of these questions.

What is StarLink?

StarLink is an initiative by SpaceX that aims to provide internet from space. Its goal is to do this through a low earth constellation of micro-satellites that promise high speed and low latency internet access to all parts of the world. What this means is that you can access fast internet from any corner of the world, whether in the forest, in the middle of the ocean, or anywhere else.

How Does StarLink Internet Work?

First, a little history. Product development started in 2015, and by February 2018, two prototype test flights were launched. In May 2019, the first large deployment made up of 60 operational satellites was launched. Since then, it has been a continuous process to send more satellites into space. SpaceX intends to have launched 12,000 satellites by 2028, with an ambitious target of 1,440 per year.

So how does StarLink internet work? Unlike other satellites that are placed in higher earth orbits, StarLink satellites are placed in low earth orbits. The high-placed satellites have to travel long distances, which leads to high latency – and this is what SpaceX intends to solve.

Will StarLink Replace ISPs?

Currently, service providers like Verizon and AT&T are already spending millions to reinforce their fiber infrastructure reach to cover more ground. In addition, 5G is already available in many areas and promises superior reliability, negligible latency, and high speeds. Yet more StarLink satellites are being sent to space.

In fact, if the project is successful, there will be a constellation of satellites surrounding the earth as Musk plans to have an additional 30,000 added to the initial approved 12,000 (although this doesn’t go well with astronomers, who have raised concerns that this will ruin the night sky).

So, will StarLink replace other ISPs? There is no telling the long-term plan that SpaceX has, but one thing that Musk has given an assurance on is that he intends to serve only remote areas and mobile applications, such as in planes, trains, and ships.

If we were to compare StarLink and 5G, you would find that they do have different characteristics. However, it would cost a lot more for 5G to cover large areas, while StarLink would be able to cover most of the world if all satellites are placed correctly. Nevertheless, the two may work together. For example, in situations where there is no internet connection, StarLink could provide internet backhaul to 5G remote towers.

If you are in a densely populated city, you will still need your ISP. According to Musk, StarLink can’t work in cities with dense populations due to bandwidth limitations.

When Will StarLink be Available to the Public?

On Oct. 26, 2020, a public beta test was launched in select areas in the northern United States and Canada. StarLink internet is expected to be available in more regions in 2021.

One of the few instances of when StarLink has publicly been reported on is by Washington emergency responders in early August when the organization offered the internet to areas devastated by wildfires. Following an interview with CNBC, emergency telecommunications leader Richard Hall praised StarLink as being quick to set up and reliable.

As we wait for the internet to go public, one sure thing is that there are a lot of interested people. In March 2020, SpaceX got a license for up to one million user terminals from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). By August, there were already more than 700,000 people registering interest across the United States, and so the company asked for expansion for up to 5 million user terminals.

Final Thoughts

As already pointed out, the StarLink internet might not initially disrupt the monopoly of the telecom sector. Instead, it could be a beneficial project and even complement the telcos.

Keeping in mind that the internet has played a great role in improving economic opportunities and easing communication, StarLink could be the bridge to help solve the digital divide by providing internet to remote areas.