By Daisy Downes
Mobile communications, particularly the widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets, are driving rapid development in cloud-based applications, explains Daisy Downes.
If you are reading this article on computer, the chances are you’re at work. If you’re on a smartphone you’re most likely on the move; if you’re reading on an iPad or other tablet device, you’re either in the boardroom or lounging around at home while if you’re reading print, you’re probably in bed, possibly with another Chartered Accountant. (Big Data told us the last bit, but more about that later).
While the sweeping claims in the previous paragraph are based mostly on hunch it is certainly true that many readers today consume information on at least two or three devices as well as in print. One of the biggest trends of the last three or four years has been the proliferation of technology that each of us uses at work and on the move. And, increasingly, we rely on cloud-based web services for 24/7 access to our email and documents whatever our location.
Mobile technology plays a bit part in driving this trend and has facilitated very rapid change in the last two or three years. When you compare the life of a typical PC or Mac which is perhaps three or four years with that of a smartphone (one or two years) it helps to explain why mobile is such an important influencer of the speed at which new technology is deployed.
In the first six months of 2013, some 25% of Chartered Accountants who read the weekly eZine Chartered Accountants News did so on a smartphone with the Apple iPhone being the device of choice at the present time (Figure 1 below). Mobile traffic to the www.charteredaccountants.ie increased by 28% in the same period.
The figures for mobile use by trainee Chartered Accountants are similar: about 25% of readers of the monthly student ezine, Accountancy Ireland Extra! access the content from mobile devices of which almost 65% are currently Apple iPhones. (Figure 2 below).
The growing use of mobile by Chartered Accountants mirrors a wider trend.1 Julian Kulkarni, who joined Morgan McKinley as global marketing director at the end of last year, reports that 25% of the recruitment company’s traffic comes through mobile. “We anticipate that will go to 50% across Europe in the next two or three years. Hong Kong are already on 75%,” he told Accountancy Ireland in June.
Let’s not lose the run of ourselves, however, because for many readers around Ireland network and broadband access and speed continue to present challenges. In fact, this was the number one technology issue identified by respondents in the Chartered Accountants Ireland 2012 Technology Survey. As one commentator put it, “There may be all kinds of high end solutions available in the cloud but if you can’t connect they are not much use to you.”
In June 2013, a European Commission study on fixed broadband performance reported that European consumers typically receive only 74% of the advertised headline speed they have paid for, suggesting the speed issue is not a uniquely Irish problem. But there is no getting away from the fact that cloud and mobile are the two most significant current technology trends.
“Cloud has made a massive difference,” commented Kulkarni, explaining that the technology provides SMEs with low cost access to high end solutions that enable them to scale rapidly and observing that even large players like Microsoft and SAP now provide cloud solutions.
“Whereas before you had to set things up on servers, now you can get up and running without investing in expensive technology which gives SMEs access to some very high end solutions for everything from sales and marketing to accounting, analytics and benchmarking. There are a lot of building blocks available for your business either free or for very low cost which mean you can build your front end – your shop window – fairly easily while in other parts of the business such as sales, marketing and finance cloud solutions facilitate scalability and provide a growth path,” Mr Kulkarni explained.
Some 38% of SMEs in Ireland are either already using or have plans to adopt cloud computing technologies in their business, according to research conducted in June 2013 by Sage Ireland. Access to information on the go is the reason cited by 75% of those intending to move as the main driver of cloud adoption but Sage has also found that some 25% of businesses in Ireland are still unaware of what cloud computing is.
“It is clear from our research that freedom of choice of deployment online or on premise is essential for business,” commented Simon Hodgkins, country manager of Sage Ireland at the launch of the new Sage 200 ERP Suite which is provided in both ‘online’ and an ‘on-premise’ versions, the latter running on an inhouse servers. Currently the on-premise version offers more functionality but the cloud-based solution is expected to develop rapidly.
Earlier this year, Relate Software launched Surf Accounts, a cloud-based accounting platform aimed at SMEs and Marc O’Dwyer of Big Red Cloud says that more accountants are leveraging cloud-based accounting systems to grow and expand their business.
“Through online accounts systems the accountant has free access to a client’s data from anywhere once they have an Internet connection. This not only saves travel time but also allows accountants to offer clients a better and more efficient service.”
Just as mobile is driving adoption of cloud-based services, so it is contributing to the rise in the use of social media. Today, you would be hard pressed to find a Chartered Accountant who is not aware of the various social networks even if not everyone yet is an active participant. “Tweet” and “Flash mob” were listed for the first time in the Oxford English Dictionary this year – an indication of just how mainstream social media terminology has become. Explaining the inclusion of the term ‘tweet’ which has seen a spike in usage since 2006, the dictionary’s chief editor John Simpson blogged: “The noun and verb tweet (in the social-networking sense) has just been added to the OED. This breaks at least one OED rule, namely that a new word needs to be current for ten years before consideration for inclusion.”2
In a survey conducted by Chartered Accountants Ireland in 2012 some 64% of respondents reported using Facebook at least weekly with over 40% active on LinkedIn and about 26% using Twitter.
Readers of the Institute’s weekly eZine are increasingly ‘social sharing’ content on these and other networks (Figure 3). And, more and more, we are all becoming content creators and curators which together with the exponential growth in our social media activity, is driving business demand for analytics as information gained from our online activities can deliver a better understanding of customer demographics, sentiment, behaviour, competitor activity and can also identify emerging trends.
Not surprisingly, the dramatic rise of mobile has implications for how data is stored. Bring Your Own Identity (BYOID) technology – the technology that allows you to use your Google or Facebook identity to login to other services – signals how profoundly the online landscape is changing.
‘Big Data’ it is usually understood to refer to large data sets of structured and unstructured data – such as Government data – that can be mined to provide insights and improve an organisation’s performance. While there is, as yet, no generally accepted definition of the term, companies like IBM point to certain ‘Big Data’ characteristics such as volume, variety, velocity and veracity.
“This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few.” 3
And, of course, it is not just big organisations with access to vast data banks that can derive benefit from using tools to analyse data from within and beyond their own databases. Growing numbers of organisations are realising that they can leverage internal and external data sources to deliver tangible and measurable business results.
Julian Kulkarni defines the first step in understanding ‘Big Data’ as ‘the moment of truth’ by which he means that you have to begin by finding out the current state of your business.
“The first step is not defining what you’re going to measure but rather how things actually are right now. So, for example, you might identify that x% of our customers haven’t been contacted for the last three years. That is what engages management in the organisation and you often find massive but fixable issues. It could be that you have a prospect base of X but you’ve only contacted Y and so you are swimming in a small pond. By showing the facts, you raise management’s awareness level,” he explained.
The second step is deciding what to do with the information: “The big retailers like the supermarkets and Amazon have lots of data and they are joining the dots but if you are an SME it is better to start with simple, understandable things and align them to your key performance indicators (KPIs). Once you know a certain thing, for example if you know that our retention rate is X then you can ask how that breaks down by business unit, by country, how it maps against last year. Start with what you can understand and then you can analyse and decide how to use the data to predict what might happen next year,” Mr Kulkarni advised.
Beyond your organisation’s resources, lies a lot of freely available data that can be used to identify trends in your sector and benchmark your business. At the most sophisticated levels statisticians can analyse credit card transactions, for example, to predict where fraud might occur but anyone can use Google to find out what words people are searching for, what times of the year are best for you to promote a business, to track competitors, monitor trends in a sector and so on. If you’re not doing so yet, you can be sure that at least some of your competitors are.
As for Accountancy Ireland readers, does Big Data really tell us who’s reading the magazine in bed? Sleep easy, we’re not using Big Data to track you, at least not yet, but even the snail mail mailing list can tell us when more than one copy of the magazine is being delivered to the same address.
Daisy Downes is Managing Editor of Accountancy Ireland.
1 In June 2013, Kantar World Panel reported that inthe 3 month period ending April 2013, Android owned more than half (51.7%) of the smartphone sales market,. iOS remained in second place with 41.4% of smartphone sales. http://www.kantarworldpanel.com/Global/News/While-Android-Leads-iOS-and-Windows-Are-Growing-At-A-Faster-Pace
Readers experiencing network and broadband access and speed issues are invited to share their experiences in the Chartered Accountants Technology Group on LinkedIn.
This article was originally published in the August 2013 issue of Accountancy Ireland.