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5 ways the cloud is reshaping business in 2015

(Business) Everyone knows about the cloud, but do you know how it is reshaping business right before our eyes?

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Cloud technologies are changing our world

The cloud has become widely adopted by brands of all size as a money saving expense and globe-busting tool. With cloud technologies, staff can be scattered all over the nation, yet effectively working in one spot, and it has changed the way companies operate.

The changes have come quickly and the intensity of these changes is ramping up. So what is on the horizon, and how can you benefit?

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Kira Makagon, RingCentral’s EVP of Innovation points out five ways that cloud technologies are reshaping the future of business, in her own words below:

1. Pay-as-You-Grow

Cloud is enabling businesses to grow faster than traditional on-premise infrastructure could accommodate. From a management perspective, setting up new locations and users on a cloud-based system is as simple as installing software or an app and making a few clicks to configure specific settings. Features and user access privileges can be added or revoked from a single management console in seconds, without having to rely on time-consuming and costly outside technical support.

In addition to offering a flexible and scalable technology, ease of use and minimal management, cloud based business communication solutions are a pay-as-you-grow. Subscription fees are based on the number of users and features, rather than a blanket monthly fee that you must pay regardless of whether you use the full capacity or feature set of your plan. And, an all-inclusive cloud-based system eliminates the need for multiple vendors, which adds even more savings.

2. Eliminating Geographic Costs

Over the last decade, we’ve seen a tremendous shift in how and where employees work. Broadband Internet accessibility, Wi-Fi and cellular technology have ushered in an explosion in mobility. Many employees are no longer confined to an office, or even a specific building, and now enjoy the freedom to work quite literally anywhere at any time – the corner coffee shop at 6 a.m., at home after midnight or on the beach while soaking up the midday sun.

At the same time, companies have leveraged the power of cloud technology to branch out, setting up distributed office locations while still connecting staff with shared resources like cloud-based productivity software, document storage and collaboration suites, not to mention an entire industry of apps that have emerged to fulfill specific niche needs.

3. Reapproaching Integration

Adding new locations or new users can be very costly and time-consuming, and existing technologies often don’t integrate. That leaves companies forced to pay exorbitant fees for disparate systems that don’t scale and require specialized third-party assistance to maintain, all while taxing internal IT resources and the bottom line.

Adding new features is cumbersome and expensive, and complex systems require massive IT involvement and investment to maintain. Conventional landlines simply don’t work at the pace of modern businesses. Cloud solutions are enabling businesses to integrate without the land-locked ties and costly means of integrating at scale.

4. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Challenges

Add in the mobility challenge and things really get messy. Companies can either provide devices to employees and assume the responsibility for device management and cost, or allow employees to use their own. But, BYOD environments can pose a major security threat if not handled properly.

Not only does it require employees to give up their personal identity (their cell phone number) to business associates – something they’d never do with a home phone or personal email address – BYOD is also difficult to control from a cost standpoint. For BYOD environments, cloud communication solutions are designed for mobility, with apps that keep business contacts, conversations and data usage separate from users’ personal information for added security.

Now, employees can have one number that works to reach them anywhere – no more dialing three numbers and still not getting through.

5. Changing the Perception of IT

Cloud communication solutions can have a powerful impact on raising the overall perception of IT within the organization. Often IT is viewed as a cost center – a necessity of doing business in the modern age, tasked with keeping the systems up and running to enable the “real” business drivers, like sales, marketing, manufacturing and customer service, to do what they do best.

However, by initiating strategy to evaluate and switch to a cloud-based communications platform that saves time and money, and supports the business growth objectives of the organization, IT can transform from a cost center into a value center. Elevating IT’s position as a strategic business component allows any company to adopt a more integrated growth strategy with all departments and services contributing directly to grow the bottom line.

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

Tech News

Amazingly fun tech toys that are secretly educational

(TECHNOLOGY) STEM toys for children are fun *and* educational – here are some that have caught our eye.

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STEM tech toys for kids

There’s a new trend amongst startups – and amongst kids’ toys: educational playthings that teach your little ones STEM skills like programming and coding.

Toys that double as learning tools are nothing new, but digital, connected technology still is, and so is the idea that your toddler can get a leg up in the tech industry by getting an early start.

Parents, universities, and economists seem concerned that acquiring STEM skills will soon be the only way to guarantee a good job, despite reports from the U.S. Census Bureau that 3 out of 4 STEM majors end up in non-STEM fields anyway.

So if your kid is more into, say, baseball or dancing than computers, you might be wasting the pretty pennies these high-powered educational toys will cost you.

Kids, with their alarmingly short attention spans, are as likely to toss these toys back into the toybox as any other. But if your wee one seems to have a knack for all things technical – or if you’d just rather see them learn how to build a device than passively stare at one all day – then check out TC’s guide to STEM toys.

Even though these toys are marketed towards the younger set, I found myself a little envious, wishing I could take a few for a test drive – especially since many of them are modern, high-tech reboots on old standbys from my childhood.

Lego’s Boost Creative Toolbox uses the same classic Lego blocks, but allows you to animate and program your creations.

Several products cross-market with some of my childhood favorites; Dash Robotics has teamed up with Mattel to make Jurassic World robots, and Kano makes a Harry Potter Coding Kit that teaches kids to program a wand that can interact with digital content. There’s even Electro Dough which is basically electrically-conductive Play-Doh that can light up and make sounds. I want!

In fact, a lot of the toys combine arts ‘n’ crafts with STEM lessons. Adafruits makes a marker with electronically conductive ink that can light up circuits and interact with computer programs, and an electronic pencil that synthesizes music. Root Robotic’s little bot can draw pictures and compose songs.

For the more straightforward tech nerds, Makeblock, Evo, Robo Wunderkind, and Wonder Workshop all make programmable robots – a big step up from the “artificially intelligent” Furby’s of my childhood. Sphero’s Bolt is a ball-shaped robot, while Airblock makes a programmable hovercraft.

There’s the Pi-top Modular Laptop that teaching kids coding, and there are even opportunities for kids to build their own electronics; Kano offers a build-it-yourself computer.

The holidays are just around the corner – but whether STEM educational toys will be the next Tickle Me Elmo remains to be seen.

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Tech News

This AI program wants to be your graphic designer

(TECH NEWS) If you’re a small business looking for branding or to re-brand but don’t have the time nor budget, this tool can help you get it done!

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AI is growing, now it can even be your own personal graphic designer.

The new company Brandmark uses AI to create custom brand identities in minutes. All you need to do is describe your business and leave the designing up to them.

Brandmark describes their system as “more than just a logo,” as they aid people in developing an entire brand identity. This includes a complete style guide, color scheme and even a WordPress compatible website template.

It is the perfect tool for small businesses and entrepreneurs who may not have the budget to hire an in-house designer to join their team.

The creators of Brandmark have attempted to give the platform personal elements as well, so that you can understand the design decisions and even have the chance to make it your own.

The process is as simple as it can get. All that Brandmark requires is for you to type in a few keywords that best describe your business. For example, a coffee shop might type in “coffee, hot, lounge, mocha, books, relaxation.” These keywords are anything that can be associated with your brand so it is important to include adjectives as well. Consider how you want customers to feel when they see your product or walk into your shop for the first time.

All of these details will help Brandmark create a unique and personal identity for you.

The creators of the tool wanted it to feel like a true designer. That is why they have developed a system that understands design principles. After creating a look, Brandmark will explain the design choice and how it relates to your brand. In addition, you have access to features that allow you to customize the design.

Just like any professional service, Brandmark provides a style guide that can be used to apply your brand - including logo, color scheme and font - to various type of products. Click To Tweet

For instance, the same coffee shop would know how to apply their logo to coffee cups, bags, mugs and menus by following the guide. In addition, website layouts are offered to get your online business started. It’s an all-in-one package to get your business up and running with a professional look.

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Tech News

Why chatbots may never fully catch on

(TECH NEWS) We’ve cheered on plenty of chatbots in the past, but the truth is that chatbots aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be.

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Ah, the chatbots. Why talk to a human being when you can send countless messages into the void and receive canned responses in return? Due in part to the convenience and potential for free engagement, we’ve supported iterations of this unnatural evolution of the automated call center in the past; however, there are a few reasons why chatbots may never fully catch on.

The main difference between a chatbot (e.g., the kind of automated message you may find on a tech support site) and something like Siri is that chatbots, for all their portrayed eagerness, don’t do much outside of addressing specific questions with specific answers.

Where a true AI suite like Siri or Alexa can learn and respond accordingly, chatbots are doomed to stay within their glorified voicemail-esque confines.

Of course, the main incentive behind using a chatbot is to simplify your resulting interaction with a customer: if the chatbot is able to identify the main concern or query on the customer’s behalf, it saves you time and mutual frustration. In theory.

Unfortunately, customers are statistically more likely to click off of your page or service before they even receive a second message from the chatbot than they are to follow through.

Chatbots can also be extremely confusing to navigate, making them tedious and clunky to “talk” to, and their limited responses can quickly aggravate hurried or less-tech-savvy clients.

Whether you’re using a chatbot to automate the filtering process or simply gather some more information, you can assume that the chatbot isn’t always saving you as much time as it’s costing other people.

Ultimately, it seems that chatbots aren’t saving you time, aren’t providing a hospitable environment for customers, and aren’t contributing much in the way of useful analytics — so why are we still using them?

Frankly, a multiple choice form or a blank text box in the middle of your website’s landing page might better serve inbound customers; giving folks a few choices and an option to explain in further detail their problem will give you all the same information with the added benefit of not having a confused, angry client to deal with at the end of the process.

Beep boop bye.

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