5 Ways Big Data is Driving Business

September 17, 2020 / in IT Trends, / by Number8

We live in an increasingly digitized world. Many aspects of daily life are now online—news, products, social media, work, entertainment, and more. At 51 years old, the internet may no longer be a new frontier, but it still feels like a platform of infinite possibility and growth. In order to remain competitive, organizations must be able to tap into the forces that drive consumers digitally. A key element of this is big data. Big data is just that—a lot of data. It is collected rapidly, and at high volumes, in order to analyze the trends and patterns that drive customers, industries, and life itself. Using software, companies can easily analyze big data for their specific purposes. Since 2012, big data analysis for large companies has grown by 40%. Here are 5 ways it is being used to expand business.

1. Marketing Strategies

Although human creativity and reasoning is important in developing effective marketing and advertisements, it is also true that the numbers never lie. Big data allows companies to form marketing campaigns based off of their target audiences’ personal information, interests, location, digital interactions, financial transactions, and more. Although big data is entirely objective, it can make advertisements a more relevant experience for consumers. It is even available to smaller companies through tools such as Google Analytics, which break down marketing stats for you.

2. Personalized User Experience

Beyond just marketing efforts, big data can help provide recommendations and more personal experiences for existing/subscribing costumers. This is particularly relevant within entertainment industries. For example, Spotify uses big data to create curated playlists for users. Amazon Prime and Netflix use big data to provide movie/tv recommendations based off of your prior viewings. In this instance, it not only helps gain new costumers, but also provides a better experience for existing customers.

3. New Product Development and Improvement

Big data can also help with product innovation. Every step of launching a product utilizes analytics. This includes figuring out the viability and demand for a product, analyzing the short-term success of a product, and projecting its long-term results. The rapid nature of data collection allows firms to make quick decisions and reduce the chance of pursuing failing projects. For example, Starbucks uses big data to analyze the viability of a new store location before developing it by examining average income, population density, and traffic levels in the area. There are no longer “shot in the dark” scenarios—there are only quantifiable results.

4. Risk Management

Big data is being utilized to aid in risk management tactics. For example, it can aid in identifying discrepancies/outliers that could insinuate fraudulent activity or security risks. Businesses, governments, and banks can use this tactic to try to prevent hacking or data theft. Another risk management tactic is analyzing finances within a company. Large trends can reveal evidence of misuse or “loopholes”. This provides airtight financial protection.

5. Supply Chain Expansion

For manufacturing and natural resources, big data is a fairly untapped resource. A study by Deloitte broke down some aspects the supply chain that can utilize it. These include forecasting demand, improving GPS/tracking capabilities, improving robotics in manufacturing, expanding integrated business planning, and analyzing competitive advantage. It seems the possibilities within this more tangible industry are still developing. Many experts agree that we are really only at the beginning of the impact that big data will have on business and technology. Select colleges and universities are now going so far as to offer majors focused specifically on the field. Read more information on big data for additional insights and applications. We are an information technology company with years of experience. We have helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to become more efficient and increase profits. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call at 502-212-0978 and we can get the conversation started.

What You Need to Know About Microsoft xCloud

September 10, 2020 / in IT Trends, / by Number8

Microsoft has announced that it will release xCloud sometime during 2020. This is its new streaming service for video gamers to instantly stream down to any device. This will include console games as well as PC versions. Through an internet connection, the games will stream directly from the Microsoft servers, thus avoiding the need to download. This is similar to Google Stadia but will use Azure Cloud architecture. With 54 different Azure regions around the world, it is expected that the users will find stable service almost anywhere. In fact, Microsoft is reportedly closing Mixer and transferring the xCloud streaming service to Facebook Gaming. Microsoft has previously provided Xbox One and PC games through discs, digital downloads and vault versions through Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft plans to leave these options in place. The new xCloud is designed for those who don’t want to invest in the hardware just to enjoy a game they might want to try.

Play Anywhere

The plan is to use the same cloud-saving system currently in place for Xbox Play Anywhere. This would mean that you could resume play almost anywhere. This will require a strong network connection. Options will include multiple controllers which means that an Xbox One controller through Bluetooth (already in place for all new Xboxes) and touch should be possible. The outline says that the games will be equipped with setups to accommodate the players’ moves. The storehouse of games will include the entire spectrum of Xbox One plus any released on PC. It should be a seamless transition for the games to perform as written using xCloud. This will mean an almost limitless number of choices. At this point it is not planned to offer any games exclusively through xCloud. So all of the same games will be available through a mobile device, PC, or console. Beta testing has begun in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and South Korea. The criteria for this version is Android 6.0 or newer and Bluetooth 4.0 or newer. For the Xbox consoles, it needs either 5GHz Wi-Fi or a mobile data plan with 10Mbps minimum download speed. It is being tested on about 50 games. Test users will be leaving comments on Reddit. There has been no indication of what Microsoft will charge for xCloud. Guesses are between $15 and $20 per month, but there is no solid information to support that amount. Also unknown is whether there will be any offer of discounts or credits for the purchase of console games you expect to run on xCloud.

Final Release

The final release date is still up in the air, but it is still anticipated to be in 2020. Next on the agenda is PS4 controller support and Windows 10 streaming. There is an anticipated xCloud integration with Xbox Game Pass that is designed to let users stream games from the subscription service directly from the cloud. There was a demonstration held on Inside Xbox where Forza Horizon 4 was streamed onto an Android phone. To the observers it seemed on a par with the console version with no slow down or other impediments. Since nothing has been definitively released, the final edition will still need to be evaluated by the users who will pay the money to try the experience. What is clear is a pattern of continuing advances in the intersection of gaming and mobile devices. Microsoft, Google, and other companies are looking to the future of streaming and uninterrupted play in order to advance in the field. We are an information technology company with years of experience. We have helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to become more efficient and increase profits. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call at 502-212-0978 and we can get the conversation started.

What Differentiates the Top 5 Search Engines?

September 3, 2020 / in IT Trends, / by Number8

Despite the shared “search bar”, the top search engines are set up in varying formats that yield alternate results. Each search engine is a product in and of itself, providing competitive sub-tools and differing user experiences. Let’s take a look at the top 5—Google, Yahoo, Bing, Baidu, and Ask.com—and explore more about what differentiates these internet behemoths.

Top 5 Search Engines: An Overview

1. Google

Google holds clear domination with over 75% more searches than the next highest competitor (Bing). In fact, the word “google” has become a household verb, synonymous with searching the web. Google’s minimalist search bar featuring the iconic “doodle” icon and highly navigable results pages make it the go-to for many people. It offers a plethora of easily accessible platforms through a single free login—Gmail, Google Photos, Google Chrome, Google Drive, Google Slides/Sheets/Docs, Google Maps, and many more—that are useful for all aspects of day-to-day life and work. Furthermore, Google has expanded into the tangible realm of devices with Google Pixel phones, tablets, Google Home, Google Chromebooks, and more.

2. Bing

Bing’s search page is much more visual than Google, featuring rotating MSN news, facts, and photos. Owned and operated by Microsoft, it is the default search engine on Microsoft computers. Bing’s “in-your-face” approach provides easier access to trendy videos, games, and nearby restaurants, but can also feel cluttered compared to Google’s streamlined, neutral homepage. Bing and Google also employ different algorithms and require different methods of SEO. While both search engines, for example, place a value on the number of links/backlinks to a site, Bing is thought to give favor to domain age, and “official” pages such as .edu and .gov’s, while Google has developed it’s own PageRank metric to weight the importance of individual backlinks.

3. Yahoo

Yahoo, like Bing, provides news and links to information on its homepage while maintaining a slightly more minimal Desktop format, similar to Google. However, it stands behind the two due in part to its dated algorithms and vision. Yahoo lagged behind others when moving cleanly to mobile devices and struggled to expand beyond its email and news service. Yahoo hasn’t continually developed its algorithm like Google. The title of a page/website is its biggest ranking keyword, which may seem simplistic compared to Google’s semi-mystifying and constantly changing algorithm.

4. Baidu

Since Google is banned in mainland China, Baidu is the top search engine there. Similar to Google in visual form and function, but entirely in Chinese, Baidu has many sub-platforms including “Baidu Wiki”, “Baidu Music”, “Baidu Videos”, “Baidu Answers”, etc. that are very popular in China. Like Google, Baidu has a confusing SEO interface and uses highly complex algorithms. Baidu also has more restrictions on advertisements including what is promoted and who can run them. Despite being a massive tech company that has also delved into AI, the Baidu search engine is used very little outside of China.

5. Ask.com

Ask.com is another major search engine, although its scope is far more limited. It is focused solely on “question-answering” which is a major reason why people use search engines in the first place. Despite being an early competitor of Google, it fell far behind due to its more specialized purpose and lack of expansion. It remains relevant due to its search method—by aggregating results from other search engines such as YouTube. It is also notable due to its better response to “human formatted” questions, based in complete sentences vs singular keywords. While not covered in the article above, other search engines are still notable and some are gaining in market share. For example, DuckDuckGo has gained in popularity more recently, with its focus on protecting the privacy of searchers. Yandex and Naver are also notable. We are an information technology company with years of experience. We have helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to become more efficient and increase profits. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call at 502-212-0978 and we can get the conversation started.

Safely Reopening the Office: James Ludwig’s TED Talk Insights

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the structure of businesses all over the world. Companies have scrambled to create temporary fixes, from work-from-home options to layoffs to total shutdowns. With no end in sight, uncertainty pervades the workplace. Recorded June 16th, this new TED talk could not be more relevant. James Ludwig, vice president of global design and product engineering at the office supply company Steelcase, engages in conversation with TED curator Chee Pearlman about the long term future of organizations. Here are some notable insights into the talk and James' perspective on the future and potential reopening.

3 Insights About The Workplace Illuminated By The COVID-19 Pandemic

1. This is a massive technological shift and generation-defining moment

Ludwig proposes the idea that there is “now, the near, and the far” for companies. We are only just beginning to understand and approach the “now”, which is to remain safe within the pandemic. The near is how companies will return to the physical workplace, if ever. The far, long-lasting impacts of this crisis are not yet conceptualized. Ludwig refers to this time as an “experiment” for companies, and in a sense, it is. It is a test of resiliency at all levels, from employees to CEOs. But, it is also an opportunity for change.

2. People need to physically collaborate and connect to sustain most workplaces

Ludwig makes the claim that it’s simply unsustainable for most companies to stay remote forever. He emphasizes that being together as a team shapes the culture of brands. Competitive advantage is formed through this culture, through interpersonal connection and cultivation. For many businesses, Zoom meetings and emails can’t recreate the ecosystem of a good team. Connecting as individuals, pushing each other and learning from each other, sharing food and humor, growing and adapting together—this is what makes a good workplace.

3. Now is the time to see what is truly essential for offices when reopening

Taking a step away from the cookie-cutter workplace allows the opportunity for tremendous positive change. We can delve into individual-focused design that supports employee wellbeing both physically and mentally. Companies have the chance to be creative and strip away redundancies that hinder productivity and safety. Additionally, how businesses respond to future crises is contingent on how workplaces are shaped right now. To follow up with this point, Ludwig lays out what is essential to the generations of now and the future. He sees a technologically-rich, human-centric environment with strong values that connect individuals as key. Ludwig claims that after the pandemic is over, people will continue to lean into what is authentic and fulfilling in the workplace. After spending months in lockdown working from your couch, you get a better grasp of what is really necessary to be productive and what you sincerely miss about your office. A high-walled cubicle or private office may now seem constrictive. So, looking for the insights during this unusual time seems to be a good strategy for organizations. While quarantines and forced remote work scenarios have challenged many, this time also presents unique learning opportunities.

Questions to Consider

Here are just a few questions to think about as you work to gain greater insight into the impact COVID-19 has had on you and your work. What redundancies can you identify in your work processes that may slow down productivity? Also, are there things you miss about working in an office environment that you previously took for granted? What components of your work flow are most important to keep you productive, organized and happy? Are there long term changes would you like to see implemented at your company or on your team, that were inspired by this pandemic? Plus, what does a thriving office culture look like after reopening? Asking these questions will help ensure a strong organization, and safe reopening if and when the time is right. We are an information technology company with years of experience. We have helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to become more efficient and increase profits. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call at 502-212-0978 and we can get the conversation started.

Microsoft Edge: What to Know About Microsoft’s New Browser

July 23, 2020 / in IT Trends, / by Number8

Known for cutting edge technological innovation, Microsoft is always coming up with something new. In January 2020 the company released its new Edge browser. This is a spin off of Chromium, which is an open-source program. Microsoft Edge is very much like the predecessor, Chrome, and in fact supports the Chrome browser extension and has the same rendering engine.

Microsoft Edge Rollout

The next step is for automatic updates of Windows 10 with the new product, Edge. Similar to the updates for Chrome, Edge will be updated every six weeks. If you don’t want to wait for the update, you can download Edge from Microsoft’s website. The old Edge, now named Legacy, will still be in the system. The logo for the new version of Edge is a blue and green swirl as opposed to the Legacy blue E. What if you don’t want Edge? If this is the case, you need to go to the Microsoft website and download the Chromium Edge update blocker toolkit. However, Windows 10 users will automatically get this new browser that promises an open-source rendering engine, more frequent updates, and better support from websites. Bing is also encouraging Chrome users to use Edge. Further, Microsoft is initiating a campaign proposing Edge rather than Mozilla’s Firefox.

Edge vs. Chrome

History sync and extension sync are not implemented but promised for a later release. You’ll still find favorites, settings, passwords, and so on. New features include Collections which will let you gather images and material but prevent tracking. In addition, new Edge will support 4K Netflix with Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision, all of which is an improvement over Chrome. Edge also includes three different blocking levels with the default blocking trackers from sites you have not yet loaded. More track blockers could also result in failure to load all or a part of some sites you want to see. Microsoft is banking on the fact that most users will prefer the privacy of the blocks while still remaining web compatible. These differences, plus some other features, have a lot of people looking to Edge as a viable Chrome alternative.

Additional Features

Speaking of compatibility, Edge for Windows 7 is also planned for release. Windows 7 is generally out of the support range, but Microsoft has committed its support for another year or so. Edge will work on Windows 8.1 and macOS, Android and iOS. Future plans include a version of Linux. Another nice feature offered by Edge is vertical tabs. If you have a tendency to open lots and lots of tabs, it becomes difficult to read and easy to close the wrong one(s). Vertical tabs promise to be simpler to manage with only a single click. Smart Copy will allow you to retain the format from the original material as you copy and paste it into your personal document. This will include images and links. So if you are prone to quote web text, you will enjoy this feature. Password Monitor is designed to help prevent password theft. It will alert you to any attempt to gain access to your autofilled usernames and passwords. Edge will search for matches to your data and notify you of any potential problems. You can then proactively make the appropriate changes before problems occur and have more confidence in your usage. Finally, the Immersive Reader feature is notable. This will be helpful for individuals with reading and learning differences. It will allow the user to adjust the text for easier readability and have the material read aloud. More updates on this feature are planned. As an information technology company with many years of experience, we’ve helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to become more efficient and increase profits. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call at 502-212-0978 and we can get the conversation started.

Web Accessibility: An Overview

Web accessibility is an important concept that every company should use to inform practice. Making sure your digital presence is accessible is an important part of doing social good, improving business outcomes, and engaging more deeply with a wider audience. Here’s a brief overview.

What is web accessibility?

The Web Accessibility Initiative states that ‘Web accessibility means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them.’ The web, in many ways, is a fundamentally accessible idea. The benefits of this accessibility positively impact the experiences of people with disabilities. They also help people with situational limitations (like bright lighting or a lack of audio capability), people using mobile devices, people with slower internet, and more. This is important to think about in the context of disability as a social construction in the physical world. We know that there are structural barriers that exist in the world which prevent equal access to institutions and experiences for some people. The decisions we make about what is worth designing around are fundamentally biased. These decisions inform the environments we construct in the world, and the ways we exclude or include people with different abilities. As a virtual space, the web has the incredible potential to remove barriers to interaction and access that exist in the physical world. This means a lot of potential for a positive social impact. However, any web design must carefully take accessibility into account for this goal to be achieved.

The why

Motivating factors for web accessibility are numerous and include legal, business, and ethical reasons. Some laws have minimum requirements for government websites and educational institutions’ websites. Additionally, some industries or individual organizations have existing guidelines for best practice beyond legal minimum requirements. These types of motivating factors often drive organizations to compliance-level accessibility. Organizations that deem the negative impacts of non-compliance too great a risk often invest in compliance. Some organizations want to pursue web accessibility because of its business benefits. More usable and appealing web tools and content often mean more engaged customers and stakeholders, an increased market reach, and brand enhancement. The why for some groups is also informed by what they think is right for social good. Organizations that see web accessibility as a way to make the world a more equitable place often want to invest their time and capital.

How to become accessible on the web

There are several levels of design and development where accessibility is important. These include development, content creation, SEO, project management, and more. Your organization's approach will also depend on your immediate context; incorporating accessible design from the beginning of a project is much different than retrofitting a design as an interim measure. Additionally, you may need to build skills and expertise in your team to implement web accessibility. Fortunately, there are a lot of great resources to guide you as you strive for greater accessibility. Here’s a list of a few resources to start with: As an information technology company with many years of experience, we’ve helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to become more efficient and increase profits. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call at 502-212-0978 and we can get the conversation started.

The Benefits of Cloud-Based Integration

Leveraging the cloud for various computing needs of an organization such as memory, data storage, and processing offers numerous benefits to businesses of all shapes and sizes. Cloud-based integration adds flexibility, scalability, and efficiency to any company’s day to day business workings while reducing cost and risk.

At its core, the cloud integration process centers on configuring multiple application programs to share data in the cloud and connect. In a correctly integrated cloud set up, various cloud-based and on-site applications can communicate effectively either via third-party software or directly.

Integrated Cloud Computing Functionality

Properly integrating a robust cloud model into your specific business structure involves significant planning, proficiency and preparedness around the various options and functions available to enterprises. Before looking at the benefits of these platforms, let's understand how they differ from your standard APIs or connectors:

  • Integrated cloud platforms are far more easily programmable than regular connectors. The latter is more like plug-and-play integration that is compatible only with specific applications.

  • While the former includes pre-built connectors, they can also be used to create customized integrations for various in-house applications.

  • These platforms are incredibly useful if you have multiple apps that you need to connect to the cloud or vice-versa.

  • A typical customer utilizes cloud-integrated platforms to connect a minimum of 10 SaaS applications to the existing system.

  • Beyond standard integration, a cloud integration platform will enable you to create an integration process. It means you can build a unique process that outlines an entire series of tasks and activities based on conditions or rules.

  • Cloud integration platforms prove to be value propositions because they are straightforward to use, from development to deployment.

  • With widespread adoption, cloud integration technology is now becoming increasingly affordable, and this has boosted the trend of using it.

Before the current day cloud integration solutions came into existence, organizations that wanted to migrate to the cloud needed to follow a complicated and lengthy process. These issues caused several variations in a company's daily workings affecting their efficiency and productivity. What resulted was a chaotic and highly compartmentalized cloud solution that created chasms between various loosely coupled applications.

Benefits of Cloud Integration Platforms

Today, integration has altered the cloud computing game, and businesses everywhere are taking advantage of it. Some of the notable benefits of modern-day cloud integration in the real world compared to traditional and outdated migration techniques are:

  • Individual users can easily access crucial personal data from various devices in real-time.

  • Users can access all of their data without the need for an Internet connection from any place.

  • Users can use a single login for multiple integrated application programs, which is a very convenient way to access needed information.

  • Individual users can also easily merge their personal data from external applications such as calendars and contacts.

  • An integrated cloud platform shares control and administrative messages among multiple applications.

  • Data conflict and redundancy are avoided.

  • Data security and integrity are maintained very well due to the avoidance of data silos.

  • Cloud-based integration gives you flexibility and you can expand it to accommodate future growth.

Hire Professionals For Cloud-Based Integration Systems

While companies can create in-house systems, functionality and scalability are often not on par with those from third-party providers. If you are considering adopting this technology, it’s advisable to contact professionals with experience in delivering cloud-based integration services.

Professionals can help you design and deploy a scalable and agile cloud platform that effectively supports complex application architectures. These providers will design a solution that allows disparate applications to effectively communicate with fully-integrated custom cloud solutions.

As an information technology company with many years of experience, we’ve helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to become more efficient and increase profits. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call at 502-212-0978 and we can get the conversation started.

Do’s and Don’ts for Virtual Meetings

The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted every business in the world in one way or another other. While people practice social distancing, many businesses are encouraging or even making work-from-home mandatory for their employees. This has led to an exponential rise in the use of various digital systems and tools, including video conferencing for virtual meetings.

It may seem convenient to jump out of bed at 8:50a.m., and after hurriedly washing your face and brushing your hair, get onto that virtual meeting scheduled at 9:00a.m, However, you should refrain from doing so. Even if you are experienced with online meetings, giving yourself ample prep time to set up and log on sets you up for a much more productive meeting experience.

As a company that has engaged in virtual meetings for years, Number8 has picked up a few things along the way. Follow along for some helpful tips on how to get the most out of virtual meetings.

12 Tips Every Business Professional Should Know

While preparation for a virtual meeting may vary depending on the context, here are some basic tips that can help you get the most out of the experience.

Do’s

  1. Test your microphone before the virtual meeting.

    You can simply conference with one of your colleagues to make sure it's working as it should. Low volume and poor audio clarity can impact communications, especially if you are discussing something crucial. Speak clearly and slowly when you are on the call so that none of the participants miss anything you say.

  2. Be aware of the video settings on your computer.

    Check if you have muted the microphone before delivering a monologue that no attendee will hear.

  3. Be prepared to share your screen.

    While this may be unlikely, if screen sharing is a possibility, you should make sure you are prepared. Shut down or hide other programs like email and unrelated browser tabs, and ensure your computer monitor is ready for sharing.

  4. Try to be in a space with the best internet connection possible.

    Virtual meetings are sometimes full of delays and frozen screens. It is advisable to do what you can to limit the type of distraction this creates. Set up your computer in the best location for connectivity, and limit your movement while on the call, as this can interfere with the quality of your connection.

  5. Wear appropriate attire.

    While you aren’t necessarily expected to wear regular formal office attire while attending virtual meetings, you should always wear professional and clean clothing.

  6. Make sure that your room is appropriately illuminated.

    It can be extremely disconcerting to speak with someone that sits in a dark and poorly lit location. It's best to sit in a place with side lighting. Consider positioning yourself near an open window or switch on an overhead light to brighten up the space.

  7. If you are sitting next to any décor or wall-art, make sure it’s work-appropriate.

    The surroundings should be clean and not cluttered or messy, even if you live alone. If you are sitting at your desk, ensure it isn't covered with trash, dishes, or coffee mugs.

  8. When you are in a group call without any video, introduce yourself before you begin talking.

    Most programs send notifications as to who is talking, but conference line numbers do not. Therefore, it’s advisable to take the extra time to introduce yourself, depending on who is in the meeting and how well the participants know you and the sound of your voice.

  9. Whenever you are talking, look straight into the camera rather than looking at yourself talking on your computer screen.

    It helps others on the video call feel like you're fully present and engaged.

Don’t

  1. Forget to mute your microphone each time you’re not speaking.

    Follow this even if you are alone in the room. Background noises can be an annoyance and distraction, and impact the meeting’s flow.

  2. Position the camera too high or low, or hook it onto a different monitor.

    Strange camera angles can be unflattering and distracting during video conference calls. Set the camera at eye level and on your monitor before getting onto the call.

  3. Read or check emails or read articles when on a video call.

    Do not do any other work while on the call. The rest of the participants can easily tell if you are distracted, and that is disrespectful and unprofessional.

Keeping these helpful tips in mind is an essential part of maintaining professionalism when you are participating in virtual meetings. You should plan ahead as much as you can. There are always unexpected interruptions that can challenge the quality of any meeting.

As an information technology company with many years of experience, we’ve helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to become more efficient and increase profits. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call at 502-212-0978 and we can get the conversation started.

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