Microsoft has announced three new apps to help small businesses find and engage with customers.
The products are part of its Office 365 cloud subscription service. The apps let users advertise online, manage email campaigns and send invoices.
Microsoft Listings, Microsoft Connections and Microsoft Invoicing were unveiled during the company’s Inspire partner. They followed the introduction of Microsoft 365, a new all-in-one subscription service that bundles Windows 10 Enterprise and Office 365 into a single monthly fee.
While Microsoft 365 primarily targets larger companies, Listings, Connections and Invoicing are apps better suited to smaller firms. They’re part of Office 365 Business Premium and you don’t need the new Microsoft 365 to access them. Microsoft said the services are meant to help you “win customers and manage your business.”
Listings helps you publish your business information to multiple sources online. You can simultaneously update your details on Facebook, Google, Bing and Yelp, saving you the time of individually altering each outlet.
Using the single Listings dashboard, you can monitor website pageviews, ratings and reviews across all the supported services. If you need to make a change, updating your information on the dashboard will push the modification out to all your linked accounts. Listings is meant to let you promote your brand to prospective customers without having to leave Microsoft’s platform.
If Listings is about gaining customers, Connections is built to help you retain them. It integrates a fully-featured email marketing tool into Office 365. Microsoft provides a set of templates you can use to craft email newsletters and promotional campaigns. Connections comes with tools to let subscribers remove themselves from a list. It also offers detailed built-in analytics capabilities.
Invoicing simplifies the generation of invoices for your company. It can automatically create you an invoice based on one of several included templates. You can view all your invoices from the Office 365 dashboard, letting you check up on clients who have outstanding bills.
The app integrates with PayPal so customers can send you money using their card without you having to do any work yourself. You can also link Invoicing to QuickBooks if you need to transfer invoicing details to an accountant.
Office 365 Business Center
The three new apps are a clear attempt by Microsoft to reinforce the value of Office 365 to small and medium-sized businesses. They address some of the most common issues emerging businesses face on a regular basis, offering solutions to pain points at every step of the customer procurement process.
The apps are also a strong move against established independent providers. Connections aims to eliminate the role of dedicated email campaign apps while Invoicing seeks to win over customers of Freshbooks.
Like the rest of Office 365, all the apps sell each other. You can access the entire platform with one subscription, making it more likely you’ll cancel plans with other providers. Microsoft is adding yet more value to Office 365, making it more likely businesses will sign up and become trapped in its ecosystem.
Listings, Connections and Invoicing are rolling out now in preview form to Office 365 Business Premium Subscribers in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. They’ll launch widely later this year. Microsoft is also debuting a new Office 365 Business Center, a centralized dashboard that surfaces the new apps and existing business tools.
The importance of data access for digital initiatives
A new report from MuleSoft found that just 37% of organizations have the skills and technology to keep up with digital projects.
In a global survey of over 1,700 line of business employees in organizations with at least 250 employees, MuleSoft found that just 37% of organizations have the skills and technology to keep up with digital projects.
The resulting report — The State of Business and IT Innovation — reveals four key ideas that IT leaders need to know in order to drive digital innovation forward.
The @MuleSoft 2020 global survey of 1,739 line-of-business (LoB) employees in organizations with at least 250 employees revealed only 37% of companies have the skills and technology to keep pace with digital projects during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://t.co/yZBlJsdc08 pic.twitter.com/OM54WZ6QqA
— Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) December 7, 2020
These four key findings are:
- Collaboration is key
- 68% of respondents believe IT and LoB users should jointly drive digital innovation.
- Keep up the pace
- 51% expressed frustration with the speed at which IT can deliver projects.
- Integration challenge
- 37% cite security and compliance as the biggest challenge to delivering new digital services, followed by integration (i.e. connecting systems, data, and apps) at 37%.
- Data access
- 80% say that in order to deliver on project goals faster, employees need easy access to data and IT capabilities.
“This research shows data is one of the most critical assets that businesses need to move fast and thrive into the future,” said MuleSoft CEO Brent Hayward.
“Organizations need to empower every employee to unlock and integrate data — no matter where it resides — to deliver critical, time-sensitive projects and innovation at scale, while making products and services more connected than ever.”
Want to read through the whole report? Download it from MuleSoft.
Where is the financial value in AI? Employing multiple human-machine learning approaches, say experts
According to a new study, only 10% of organizations are achieving significant financial benefits with AI.
AI is everywhere these days — especially as we work to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Even in the “before times,” AI was a hot topic that always found itself in the center of most digital transformation conversations. A new study from MIT Sloan Management Review, BCG GAMMA, and BCG Henderson Institute, however, prompts a crucial question:
Despite the proliferation of the technology and increased investment, according to the report, just 10% of organizations are achieving significant financial benefits with AI. The secret ingredient in these success stories? “Multiple types of interaction and feedback between humans and AI,” which translated into a six-times better chance of amplifying the organization’s success with AI.
“The single most critical driver of value from AI is not algorithms, nor technology — it is the human in the equation,” affirms report co-author Shervin Khodabandeh.
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From a survey of over 3,000 managers from 29 industries based in 112 countries — plus in-depth interviews with experts — the report outlined three investments organizations can make to maximize value:
- The likelihood of achieving benefits increases by 19% with investment in AI infrastructure, talent, and strategy.
- Scalability. When organizations think beyond automation as a use case, the likelihood of financial benefit increases by 18%.
- “Achieving organizational learning with AI (drawing on multiple interaction modes between humans and machines) and building feedback loops between human and AI increases that likelihood by another 34%.”
According to report co-author Sam Ransbotham, at the core of successfully creating value from AI is continuous learning between human and machine:
“Isolated AI applications can be powerful. But we find that organizations leading with AI haven’t changed processes to use AI. Instead, they’ve learned with AI how to change processes. The key isn’t teaching the machines. Or even learning from the machines. The key is learning with the machines — systematically and continuously.”
While just 1 in 10 organizations finds financial benefits with AI, 70% of respondents understand how it can generate value — up from 57% in 2017.
BCG research finds that only 10% of companies report financial benefits from implementing AI. Companies that find success do so by thinking of AI as an integral, strategic component of their business and engaging in four key categories of activities: https://t.co/QTO68XLya2 pic.twitter.com/RZUJRCdlL6
— Boston Consulting Group (@BCG) October 24, 2020
Additionally, 59% of respondents have an AI strategy, compared to 39% in 2017, the survey found. Finally, 57% of respondents say their organizations are “piloting or deploying” AI — not a huge increase from 2017 (46%).
One of the biggest takeaways? According to co-author David Kiron, “companies need to calibrate their investments in technology, people, and learning processes.”
“Financial investments in technology and people are important, but investing social capital in learning is critical to creating significant value with AI.”
Bringing DX to the food supply chain in a pandemic
In a new paper, supply chain stakeholders share how COVID-19 has affected the transformation of the sector.
There’s little doubt that COVID-19 had a profound effect on the food supply chain.
As one example, just think back to roughly March of this year, when virus transmission was rapidly picking up speed. Remember the reports of food and beverage companies only producing their most popular or essential products? Or how it would take slightly longer than usual to restock certain products? What about the rush to integrate — or quickly improve the efficiency of — digital and e-commerce.
Panning out a bit, think about food safety and quality professionals. The need to stay safe — and in many cases, stay at home — meant performing the very hands-on job of monitoring, auditing, inspecting at a distance, i.e. digitally.
When the food supply chain was hit by storages, delays, breakdowns, and lockdowns, the end result was — like in so many sectors — a rapid digital transformation.
As The Food Safety Market — an SME-powered industrial data platform dedicated to boosting the competitiveness of European food certification — elaborates in a new discussion paper, “technology has played an important role in enabling business continuity in the new reality.”
Agroknow (Coordinator of the TheFSM project) and 13 distinguished leaders from a variety of supply chain stakeholders discussed the changes we should expect regarding the Digital Transformation of Food Quality and Safety.#foodsafety #foodquality
— TheFSM (@TheFSMeu) November 10, 2020
The paper — Digital Transformation of Food Quality & Safety: How COVID-19 accelerates the adoption of digital technologies across the food supply chain — features industry experts from companies like Nestlé, Ferrero, PepsiCo, McCormick & Company, and more discussing the effects of the pandemic on the supply chain.
A few highlights from the paper:
- John Carter, Area Europe Quality Director for Ferrero put the issue of food access into perspective at the start of his interview:
“The production of food defines our world. The effects of agriculture on our daily lives are so omnipresent that they can be easy to overlook; landscapes and societies are profoundly influenced by the need to feed our growing population. But much has been taken for granted. Only occasionally are we forced to consider: ‘where does our food come from?'”
- Ellen de Brabander, Senior Vice President of R&D for PepsiCo provided insight on the cost benefits of digital transformation:
“The need for customization is a big driver for accelerating digital transformation and moving away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach. This means that the cost to develop and produce a product must be lower and digital technologies provide a clear opportunity here.”
- Clare Menezes, Director of Global Food Integrity for McCormick & Company brought up one area where digital tools need to go:
“There aren’t any areas where digital tools “fail”, but there is a need for tools that ‘prove out’ predictions around where the next integrity event will play out and how it could lead to quality or food safety failure. These tools are an obvious candidate for AI given the number of PESTLE factors that might come into play.”
Want to read all of the interviews? Check out the paper here.