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.

5 Podcasts Every Software Developer Should Check Out

August 27, 2020 / in Software Development, / by Number8

Podcasts have dramatically increased in output and popularity in recent years. They have gone from providing an interesting educational background track for your commute, workout, or house chores to addressing niche topics in an engaging and accessible manner. Luckily, the influx of new podcasts means that there’s something for everyone. There are a number of great Software Development podcasts for professional developers, students, and laypeople alike. In this post, we will provide an overview of some top picks.

Syntax

Web developers Wes Bos and Scott Tolinski have created this long running podcast for other web developers. In 2019, Overcast listed it as a top 20 technology podcast. In the podcast, they delve into CSS, Javascript, Wordpress, and Software Design/Methodologies. They also share tips on work/life balance, self-improvement, mental health, and how to build a small business. Often comical, this podcast breaks down complex information into useful nuggets of information, or “tasty treats” as they call it. Therefore, Syntax is a must-listen for any developers who want to expand their skills while listening to entertaining conversations.

Developer Tea

With over 13 million downloads, Developer Tea is another smash-hit podcast. Run by Jonathan Cutrell, co-founder of Spec and developer at Clearbit, it is designed to fit into the duration of a tea break. According to its website, it “exists to help driven developers connect to their ultimate purpose and excel at their work”. In short, this podcast is great for those with a busy schedule seeking relevant insight beyond just technical issues.

Coding Blocks

Another highly-rated podcast is Coding Blocks. Professional programmers Allen Underwood, Michael Outlaw, and Joe Zack host the show. This podcast is unique in that it provides a number of alternative resources for listeners. For instance, they include videos, informative articles, episode summaries, a newsletter, and links to tips and tricks referenced in the podcast. As a result, these alternative tools can be great for developers-in-training or visual learners. Also, the amount of dedication and passion put into this podcast is obvious and refreshing.

Software Engineering Daily

Run by software engineer Jeff Meyerson, this daily podcast is especially focused on addressing new trends and cutting-edge technologies. Meyerson has also interviewed a diverse group of relevant business leaders, such as Facebook Execs and Cryptocurrency investors. Overall, this podcast is a must listen for anyone seeking to keep up with the front-lines of technology and software development.

Cloudcast

Founded in 2011, Cloudcast is one of the oldest and most reputable software engineering podcasts. According to their website, “Co-hosts Aaron Delp and Brian Gracely have interviewed technology and business leaders that are shaping the future of computing. Topics will include Cloud Computing, Open Source, AWS, Azure, GCP, Serverless, DevOps, Big Data, ML, AI, Security, Kubernetes, AppDev, SaaS, PaaS, CaaS, IoT.” Cloudcast has continually remained at the front lines of technology podcasts. Intimidated? Fortunately, you can look through years of content on their website’s comprehensive archive. Podcast statistics suggest that nearly one third of the U.S. population listens to a podcast once a month and just under a quarter listen weekly. So, with over 850K active podcasts currently available and new ones entering the market all the time, we'll be adding new recommendations to this list in the months ahead. 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.

7 Insights From 12-Year-Old App Developer Thomas Suarez

August 20, 2020 / in Entrepreneurship, / by Number8

It probably comes as no surprise to any of us how well younger people adapt to technology. There are all those jokes and stories of how children are teaching their elders how to navigate even the most basic applications. This is a story about Thomas Suarez, a 12-year-old boy from southern California who taught himself to program. Thomas is now famous for having developed and sold a number of applications.

Thomas Suarez's Story

At a university, you can learn programming in classes. But for a 9 year old, that is not a viable option. Thomas Suarez started by teaching himself computer programming. He worked in Python, C, and Java, so that he could learn the basics of software development and implementation of computer applications. Then Apple released its iPhone. Along with the device came a software development kit. This is a suite of tools that allows a user to produce his or her own iPhone app. He started by testing the waters with “Earth Fortune”. This is a program that will predict the future through the colors displayed. Then he went on to a very popular variation of whack-a-mole called “Bustin Jieber”. These were not only available to play on the iPhone but also the iPod touch and iPad. Next was a big jump. Apple allows developers to sell independent apps through their retail stores for a $99 fee. Thomas went on to sell “Earth Fortune”. This app was followed by others with the encouragement of family, teachers, friends, and the folks at Apple. Inspired by Steve Jobs, this young man formed an app club at his school. Sponsored by a teacher, it is part of the iPad Pilot Program. This endeavor focused in part on the best ways to use iPads including which programs should be downloaded for use. Through both student and teacher feedback, participants identify favorite types of programs. When the application is ready for publication, local school districts can use it for free. Plus, anyone can buy the application, with proceeds going to local educational foundations.

Founding CarrotCorp

In 2009, at the age of 17, Thomas founded CarrotCorp selling mobile applications on the iOS platform. He developed four apps. Two were free downloads and two cost $0.99 each. In 2015 he created another corporation, Teleportal (formerly WiTag). This is to develop real world augmented reality experiences and platforms. Teleportal is a private, for profit-corporation. Learn more about Thomas Suarez by watching his TED talk. This YouTube video has had over 11 million hits to date. Currently, he is on a leave of absence from the Georgia Institute of Technology in order to devote his time to Teleportal. According to its website: “Teleportal's mission is to provide the world access to the most secure and intuitive computing tools. We believe Spatial Computing will define the next era of the Information Age. How the technology powering this future is built determines what it can do. Teleportal is helping build it right so it can do good. The decentralized networking core in Teleportal is designed to respect users' right to privacy. The Teleportal SDK empowers creators everywhere to help build a better future." In 2013 Thomas (along with other outstanding children) was interviewed to discuss the future of learning. He explained that the key was offering programming as a primary opportunity. His vision is for more opportunities that encourage collaboration and encouragement between students. He also felt this could inspire critical thinking skills learners could apply to many other fields of study. 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.

How To Create A Positive Remote Work Culture

August 6, 2020 / in Remote Workers, / by Number8

In these times of uncertainty, many teams and companies have gone remote. Because of this, many people are making big transitions. Going from working in an office, which is typically a controlled environment focused mainly on work, to working from home, where there can be many distractions and less support from coworkers, presents unique challenges. However, there are simple ways to create a remote work culture that supports coworkers and is conducive to productivity. When working with others remotely, there is a heightened need for communication and trust. In order to build a remote work culture that includes both of those things, there are certain measures that many remote workers find useful. In this article, we will look at some ways in which you can create a positive remote work culture for you and your team.

5 Things You Can Do To Make Remote Work Culture Better

Whether you are a business owner, manager or team lead, you likely already know the important role a positive work culture has on the ways employees and clients perceive you and your company. While it may sound overly simplistic, happy employees and happy customers are often at the heart of any successful business. Creating a positive work culture at the office during face to face interaction may present different challenges and opportunities than the current remote work environment. Follow along for five ways in which you can build a positive remote work culture for yourself and your team.

1. Communicate the goals and mission of your team clearly

When a team is working remotely, especially if this is a newer development, listing out your short-term and long-term goals, as well as clearly going over the mission of the team is very important. This gives everyone a sense of being on the same page and allows everyone to understand exactly where they are headed. Developing purpose and maintaining a sense of order are more important than anything in these uncertain times.

2. Keep an open line of communication

Being available and openly communicating with your team makes all the difference. Whether it be an email thread or a group text message, or even daily or weekly Zoom calls, being there and discussing matters at hand is important. It will not only keep productivity levels up, but it will also encourage your team to come together and work as one.

3. Establish a schedule that works for everyone

Whether your remote team is all working in the same city or from different parts of the world, having a set schedule that works for everyone is crucial. This shows your team that everyone matters and they are equally involved. Now, it may be a bit difficult to do, but even if everyone has different schedules, try to compromise week by week. Make sure everyone feels that their time has value.

4. Set clear expectations and lead by example

Working remotely has its perks, like a more flexible schedule. But make sure that everyone knows exactly what is expected of them and then lead by example. Keep up your end of the deal and follow through on your promises.

5. Make sure to leave some time for fun

Celebrate victories with a virtual cocktail party or host a virtual game day. Something that shows your team that you care and you want them to enjoy their work. Building a positive remote work culture is crucial for the success of any company. Your team must feel unified, even from afar. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end, this will be relevant. Practices for remote team building will likely continue to be of great interest to many businesses. 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.

Common Misconceptions About Staff Augmentation

Staff augmentation has become popular in recent years. Being a new concept, there are certain things that people don’t understand about it. Simply put, staff augmentation is a way that a company fills the gaps between the skills they possess and those that they lack to complete a certain project by means of hiring temporary help. Companies often try to just redistribute workload to cover the area that is missing. However, by doing this, they are only taking away from the regular tasks they have and often won't get the end results that they want from the new project.

Answers to 4 Common Misconceptions about Staff Augmentation

Why do companies choose to flounder instead of looking for outside help through staff augmentation? Many people still have misconceptions and don’t exactly understand the idea, or they are simply unaware of the concept entirely. Continue reading to hear about the truth behind these misconceptions.

“It is a waste of money or more expensive than permanent employment.”

Many employers believe that since augmented staff is often paid by the hour rather than salary, it comes out to be more expensive. Some also believe that it does not save the company any money to contract someone just for one project. Looking at the comparison of the augmented staff’s hourly pay compared to the salary of permanent employees can be deceiving because this does not look at the whole picture. In reality, hiring augmented staff can help bypass in-house costs that it would take to search for, hire, and train a new member of the team. “There is too much risk and no long-term benefits.” Teams sometimes think hiring augmented staff is risky. They may be hesitant to relinquish power over certain projects. Or, they might not believe that someone working remotely will follow through on their promises. They may even be worried about work quality. However, staff augmentation teams are specifically trained to acclimate to different environments. This includes effectively working with varied teams and types of people. After all, this is their job—to work on one project and then move to another company or team. They are used to adapting and achieving goals within deadlines.

“Communicating and managing an augmented staff is too difficult.”

Because augmented staff often works remotely, many people believe that communication and management is more difficult. However, if you can keep open communication by way of email, phone calls, or virtual meetings, everything will be fine. Augmented staff expects to be very responsive and communicative, looking for opportunities to align with teams and increase efficiencies and productivity.

“Technical support is just as constructive.”

While technical support can be helpful, staff augmentation fulfills a different role. Staff augmentation actually brings in another person and skillset to help with a project. In contrast, technical support aids people already on the team with technical issues. Staff augmentation can provide benefits to many different types of businesses and teams. Companies can approach projects in a more dynamic and successful manner. They can meet more aggressive deadlines and objectives. Really, the questioning of staff augmentation isn’t about whether or not it is a good idea. It's about who provides the best services for the specific skillsets you are seeking. Not all staff augmentation services are equal, though. You have to find experienced staff augmentation companies with successful track records in a given sector. 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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