Is too much data dragging you down?
We live in a world of Big Data. Businesses are collecting a wealth of information on everything from daily transactions to customer preferences and detailed sales metrics. And while having a depth of usable data helps companies make smarter decisions and grow their business, it can also become increasingly overwhelming to sift through and determine what is useful and what is clutter.
Are you drowning in data? If so, you're not alone.
A recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and the American Institute of CPAs showed that one of the top contributors to poor decision making in business is information overload. Only 37% of respondents said that big data has helped them in their decision making processes, while 36% said their organization is not coping with information overload at all, and 32% claimed big data has actually made the decision making process worse.
However, the same survey revealed that among high performing organizations, 86% are successfully using the information presented to management. The difference is that these organizations are focusing on the key value drivers of their business models rather than being bogged down by all possible data points.
So instead of allowing too much data to overwhelm their organization, successful businesses harness only the data that is useful to their decision making process. They don't necessarily discard the rest of the data, but they don't focus on it either.
But how can a company streamline their data? There are a number of steps you can take to reduce your data overload.
Identify Vital Information:
You may collect hundreds of details about your customers, your business processes or your revenue stream, but if the most vital details are getting lost in the sea of data, they do you little good. So the first step is to identify the information most vital to your organization. You may need to know that most of your customers shop on Thursday afternoons, or that they spend an hour comparing companies online prior to making a decision, but is it important to know that 18% of them are single and 48% have two kids? Determine which details are most important to the decision making process in your business and focus on those.
Develop a Distribution System:
Once you've determined which data is most important to your business, it's equally important to develop effective methods of communicating that information to the decision makers in the business. Make sure your data is accessible to all pertinent parties and limit the chance that data will be corrupted by human error or poor communication as it moves downstream. This is most often accomplished by having a dashboard where everyone can access pertinent data at any time, without relying on spreadsheets or emails to compile and distribute information. The benefits of a dashboard are many, but one of the most important is that it reduces user error, ensuring that the data points that drive your business are correct.
Define Information Roles:
Your accounting department may not need to know about your surge in Thursday shopping, while your management team may not need to know that 95% of transactions are made via credit card. But this information is important to specific users, so be aware of who needs what information, and ensure that they have easy access to what matters most, without being bogged down by data that is irrelevant to their daily processes.
Visualize the Most Important Metrics:
Does your CEO want to spend 30 minutes reading a thorough report, or would he rather see the high level view via a chart or graph with the option to drill down into more details as time (or interest) allows? Make sure your data is delivered in such a way that it's not only easy to understand, but also visually rendered to allow for greater engagement. By using charts and graphs to highlight your most important data, you're more likely to increase engagement while reducing the time needed to consume vital data.
Regularly Review and Update Your Data Priorities:
Growing businesses are rarely static in their processes. The same goes for the data they need to process in order to make important decisions. So regularly review your data distribution system to ensure that the data that matters is making it into the right hands. There's little worse than missing out on big opportunities because you ignored your business' evolution and defined new processes by old priorities.
If you want to know more about making your data work for you, Spud Software is here to help. We can assist you in defining which data is most important to your business, and then help you design a system that will not only put vital information in the right hands but will also scale with your business as it grows. For more information, visit our website or feel free to give us a call at 810-695-0001.
Save your company from the potential disaster of a poorly designed software solution.
By now you've probably heard about the alert that was sent to the inhabitants of Hawaii, erroneously warning them of an imminent ballistic missile attack. What you may not have heard is that this accidental warning that resulted in widespread panic happened because of a poorly developed software interface.
It breaks a little something in our tech-loving hearts every time we hear of a company or organization utilizing old, outdated and poorly designed software, but we haven't seen anything this bad in quite some time. The screenshot below shows you the interface that the operators in Hawaii use for sending out test alerts and actual warnings. The difference between the drill and the warning: one word.
The link for PACOM (CDW) - STATE ONLY sends out the actual missile threat while just below it is the DRILL - PACOM (CDW) - STATE ONLY link, which runs a test of the emergency alert system. There's very little separation between the two "buttons", and this is a massive failure on the part of the User Interface developers.
If we ignore the horrors of using a text-link based interface, which looks like it surfaced from the 1990's, we have to say that at the very least, the interface should have two separate columns - one holding all of the actual alert options and another for testing the system (additional color coding would be a plus). And the confirmation boxes that appear upon clicking a link should provide clear instructions rather than just asking "Are you sure?"
While we recognize that your business is probably not going to be sending out disaster alerts to an entire state, that doesn't mean that the usability of your software and its User Interface (UI) isn't equally important. A poorly designed UI can result in disasters for your company - from wasted time, increased employee turn-over, lost sales or revenues and added stress on executives and employees alike.
If your employees find your software solution difficult to navigate or use, chances are they'll create their own work-arounds to your system, or, in extreme cases, stop using it all together. This can significantly impact the functionality and profitability of your company.
One example of this is Microsoft's big UI blunder. In 2012 Microsoft released its Windows 8 operating system to mixed reviews. While there were significant upgrades to security and performance overall, the user interface was confusing and difficult to learn. This resulted in an abnormally low adoption rate for users. Much of the time and effort Microsoft put into developing Windows 8 was wasted as users simply refused to use it - or complained so heavily about being forced to use it that they lost out on other potential sales (an estimated 21% in its first month on the market).
So in 2015 Microsoft released the Windows 10 operating system, which returned to its desktop oriented interface and saw higher adoption rates across the board as its interface was designed the way users expected. More comfortable users meant increased usage.
If you're using an outdated system (we hope it's not all text-based like Hawaii's!) or if your user interface requires a lot of unnecessary or confusing steps to accomplish a simple task, it may be time for you to consider an updated UI. Having a custom-built system not only ensures your UI is easy-to-use for your employees, but it also means your system will work to your business instead of you having to organize your business processes around an out-of-the-box solution.
When you're considering adopting a new software solution, there are several points to keep in mind regarding its user interface:
Spud Software releases PAC Manager, their customizable project and cost management system.
Do your employees know what's expected of them and what's required to get the job done? Is your current workflow easy to use and understand? Do you have project management software that is customized to your company's unique needs?
If you answered "No" to any of the questions above, Spud Software has the solution for you.
We are proud to announce the release of our PAC Manager project and cost management software solution. This software, which has been running Spud Software's own processes for over 20 years, is a customizable workflow system that will not only identify the work to do, but when it needs to be done. This allows your employees to work toward achievable goals and enables them to be more successful and productive.
PAC Manager is not a standard off-the-shelf or SaaS solution. Most off-the-shelf systems look appealing at first, but many companies quickly find out the limitations of using a boxed solution as their users begin sidestepping processes that just don’t work.
"Everyone knows that streamlining processes and cutting out as much wasted effort as possible is an ongoing battle that in itself drains resources, distracts the team from their core responsibilities and usually gets put at the bottom of the to-do list," said Derek Sommer, Spud Software's founder and CEO.
Unlike boxed solutions, PAC Manager is not confined to a finite list of options that in time forces your business to fit around its limitations. PAC Manager is designed to your specific processes, meaning it works the way you and your team work.
Part of the process of customizing PAC Manager to your unique business is the initial discovery phase where we learn about who you are and how your business works. During this process, we develop detailed flowcharts and a design specification document to identify areas where PAC Manager may need to be modified to make your processes easier and more efficient for your team.
Of course, PAC Manager is a complete system from the start, so you can use it without customizations, or we can make desired changes in phases to best fit your budget and business.
Included in the core functionality of PAC Manager are:
Also included is hosting, SSL encryption, and maintenance. We handle any necessary security updates or hosting server upkeep to allow you to focus on what matters most – your business.
Another powerful aspect of PAC Manager is that it can integrate with existing tools, making it a robust solution for all of your business needs. Included in our integration capabilities are: Quickbooks, Salesforce, Gmail, DocuSign, Paychex, ADP, Mailchimp, SharePoint, Dropbox, custom APIs and more.
"Spud can minimize the effort needed to get your business more efficient. Our process for reviewing your business and putting together a strategy to match your time and budget requirements is effective and affordable," said Sommer.
While PAC Manager is designed to be an easy-to-use, complete workflow solution for your business, we understand that you may have questions about how your system works. That’s why we include call center support via phone, email and online chat with every purchase. Our call center support staff is located in the same room as our developers, business analysts and project managers, so they know your product and can get you the answers you need. For our customers who are a little more “do-it-yourself”, PAC Manager also includes training videos and documentation.
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We've put over 100 years of combined experience into making sure PAC Manager is customized to be the perfect fit for our clients. Why do we do that? Because our mission is to create a rewarding workplace where employees will end their day feeling they have completed their tasks and can go home feeling less stress, knowing they have contributed to the success of the business.
If you'd like to know more about PAC Manager or how Spud Software can help your business processes, visit the PAC Manager website, or feel free to give us a call at 810-695-0001.
"Alexa, how secure are you?"
Homes across America have turned "smart" thanks, in great part, to the wave of smart home assistants that made their way under the Christmas tree last year. In fact, smart home assistants were among the hottest Christmas gifts, selling millions in their various forms. But as with anything connected to the Internet, there are inherent security risks associated with smart home assistants that every user should be aware of.
Amazon controls the smart home assistant market by a huge margin. Approximately 75% of smart homes feature the Amazon Echo, Echo Spot, Echo Buttons or Echo Dot, and several of their products sold out completely this holiday, spurring Amazon to announce that it was a "record holiday season" for their device sales. More than 20 million people around the world are connecting to Alexa's voice service, and its app has reached #1 in App Store downloads.
But some people are starting to wonder about the privacy of their homes with home assistants listening in, tracking and storing their search history and conversations. Videos are popping up all over social media with people asking "Alexa, is our conversation private?" Alexa's usual response is to shut down. So what are the security concerns associated with having a smart home?
According to a recent study by Symantec, the following are the top security concerns for smart home assistant users:
Digital home assistants are always listening. While they require a "wake up" command, accidental triggering is a fairly common issue, and once the assistant has been triggered, it records what is being said and sends it via a secure connection to storage on backend servers. Most assistants allow you to access and listen to recorded content.
And if someone has hacked your digital assistant, it would be relatively easy to trigger the assistant remotely and listen in on your everyday life. If you purchase an assistant with a built-in camera, there's the added concern of being watched.
So how do you protect your devices and yourself? There are a number of steps you can take to protect your security with smart home assistants.
Change the default username and password immediately.
The first thing a hacker will do when trying to gain access to your system is to attempt to use the username and password that ship with your device. As soon as you get it set up, change the username and password.
Use secure password practices.
To ensure all of your devices remain secure and avoid a single point of failure, each device should have a unique password and they should follow secure password practices. Not sure how to create a good password? Check out our guide to secure password practices.
Update your devices regularly.
Keeping your devices' firmware updated ensures that you have the latest security patches for any vulnerabilities or exploits that have emerged. In many cases, this process can be automated, but you should always check to ensure your device is current on all security and system updates.
Utilize a separate network connection for your smart home devices.
If you allow guests to connect to your home network, consider utilizing a "guest" network option. This allows your friends and family to access the internet without giving them access to your networked devices. You can also set up a separate network for IoT devices entirely.
Turn off Universal Plug and Play (UPnP).
While Universal Plug and Play makes it easier for you to detect and use devices on your network, it can also help hackers discover and compromise more devices.
Secure or disable the purchasing option.
Last year a little girl asked Alexa to buy her a dollhouse and cookies. Her parents were surprised when they received a delivery of four pounds of sugar cookies and a $170 dollhouse. While this was a relatively harmless use of the purchasing feature, it can be exploited more severely. Echo comes with the purchasing option enabled by default. You can choose to require a four-digit PIN for purchases or turn off the feature all together.
Don't use public WiFi to access your home network.
You should never send secure passwords or access sensitive data over a public WiFi connection. It's easy for hackers to compromise these networks and use them to get your sensitive information. If you must access smart home technology remotely, consider using a virtual private network (VPN) to create a secure path to your network.
We love new technology, and anything that lets us actually talk to a computer is a lot of fun. But we also recognize that as smart home technology continues to expand, it's important to make security a top priority. If you have any questions about your network security or how to protect your devices and privacy, we'd love to have you get in touch with Spud Software. And if you did get a new smart home assistant this year, try out, "Alexa, contact Spud Software," and let us know how it goes!