Author Archives: Phyllis Carpenter

AI in the Contact Centre – Striking a Balance

We are already seeing much greater use of robot agents at the front end of customer service, particularly when dealing with the simpler, more routine tasks in the contact centre. Chatbots are great at answering routine questions quickly. Their fast processing speed means they can rapidly provide answers to standard enquiries.

Unlike their human counterparts, they are always available. Moreover, they excel at triaging customers; interfacing with self-service applications and intelligently searching for information to help resolve queries quickly. They are empowering digital self-service but they empower the human agent also, freeing up their time to do the value-added, non-routine tasks, dealing with exceptions and offering empathy to high-value customers.

Contact

There are a wide range of other AI applications in use in the contact centre today. AI can be working in the background of a customer interaction to gather relevant information and present it to the agent to help resolve the customer’s query quickly and efficiently. Real Time Speech Analytics can be used to effectively perform the role of the personal assistant to the agent. The solution analyses agent and customer speech to provide live feedback to agents, team leaders and quality assurance teams about what is being said and how it is being said. It monitors script adherence, speech clarity and even stress levels, all while the call is in progress.

We also expect to see off-the-shelf bots being used increasingly over time, to automate very specific tasks, such as password changes. In this vein, industry specialists will develop bots specific to and for their vertical – developing specific solutions to match the needs of the housing sector or for financial services applications, for example.

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 Sounding a Note of Caution

The capability of the kind of technology we have referenced above is advancing all the time and, in line with that, there is a growing recognition that AI can add great value to an organisation’s customer service efforts. but it can never be the whole answer across the customer service industry generally. A low cost airline may want to automate almost all of its processes but a retailer offering a high level of premium service will certainly want to continue to use human service as a key part of its value proposition and differentiation.

There are a wide range of considerations businesses also need to take account of if they want to ensure they get their AI implementation right. First and foremost, they need to take their staff with them as they move to more advanced automation. Before any organisation deploys AI, it is worth considering that one of the biggest risk factors in any IT implementation, system upgrade or system change are the human users of that system.

If the business does not communicate in an open, honest, transparent way how this technology is going to benefit them, it will find resistance. It needs to get people involved in the process: ensure it can test out the technology in a safe, sandbox environment and make sure certain people are comfortable with it, before it even starts rolling the technology out.  It is critical also that any AI tool brought into the contact centre has a defined business goal. Automation should never be implemented for its own sake. In light of this, it is important to give bots a job description. Humans work far better, when they have clear targets and defined goals. AI is the same.

Businesses need to give their AI-driven technology a defined goal. They also need to measure the performance of their robots on delivering against these targets and focus on making improvements.  In short, businesses need to start treating their automation systems and chatbots like human agents; train and support them and regularly monitor their progress to drive continuous improvement.

It is also important to note here that good knowledge management is key to good AI. Just like a human, a robot needs to have access to relevant knowledge and information to do their best job. Businesses need to ensure that when a question is answered in the contact centre, that knowledge is captured and delivered into the Knowledge Management System (KMS) to allow bots and human agents to feed off it.

After all, how can AI  be used to make decisions when it does not actually know anything? It can learn but it needs relevant data to do that. That is why it is so important for businesses to have processes and procedures in place that enable them to feed accurate data and intelligence into the KMS.

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 Striking the Right Balance

Today, it is clear that the use of advanced automation and AI technologies in the contact centre is growing all the time – and there are a wide range of ways in which these tools can be used to enhance customer service.

It is, however, also encouraging to note that even among organisations, we are also seeing growing awareness that these technologies can never form the basis of a one-size-fits-all or plug-and-play scenario. Businesses are becoming more aware that thought and effort needs to go in to ensure these technologies can proactively support enhanced customer engagement and drive a better customer experience for organisations today.

How to create a cash flow projection (and why you should)

cash Understanding and predicting the flow of money in and out of your business, however, can help entrepreneurs make smarter decisions, plan ahead, and ultimately avoid an unnecessary cash flow crisis.

cash

After all, knowing whether the next month will see a financial feast or famine can help you make better decisions about spending, saving, and investing in your business today.

If, for example, your cash flow projection suggests you’re going to have higher-than-normal costs and lower-than-normal earnings, it might not be the best time to buy that new piece of equipment. If, on the other hand, your cash flow projection suggests a surplus, it might be the right time to invest in the business.

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Cash flow projections: The basics

In order to properly create a cash flow forecast there are two concepts one has to master: accounts receivable and accounts payable. “Receivable” refers to the money the business is expecting to collect, such as customer payments and deposits, but it also includes government grants, rebates, and even bank loans and lines of credit.

Accounts payable, on the other hand, refer to the exact opposite—that is, anything the business will need to spend money on. That includes payroll, taxes, payments to suppliers and vendors, rent, overhead, inventory, as well as the owner’s compensation.

A cash flow projection (also referred to as a cash flow forecast) is essentially a breakdown of expected receivables versus payables. It ultimately provides an overview of how much cash the business is expected to have on hand at the end of each month.

These projections typically take less than an hour to produce but can go a long way in helping entrepreneurs identify and prepare for a potential shortfall, and make smarter choices when running their business.

Be realistic with your cash flow forecast

Cash flow projections are only as strong as the numbers behind them, so it’s important to be as realistic as possible when putting yours together. For example, being overly generous in your sales estimates can compromise the accuracy of the projection. Furthermore, if you provide customers with a 30-day payment schedule and a majority pay on the last possible day, make sure that cycle is accurately reflected in your projection.

On the payables side of the equation, try to anticipate annual and quarterly bills and plan for an increased tax rate if the business is likely to reach a new tax level. Those who pay their staff on a bi-weekly basis also need to keep an eye out for months with three payroll cycles, which typically occurs twice each year.

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Put it all together: How a cash flow projections looks on paper

In practical terms, a cash flow projection chart includes 12 months laid out across the top of a graph, and a column on the left-hand side with a list of both payables and receivables. This column typically begins with “operating cash,” or unused earnings from the previous month. For example, if your cash flow projection for January suggests a surplus of $5,000, your operating cash for February is also $5,000.

What now: Use your cash flow forecast to make data-driven decisions

Building the chart itself is an important exercise, but it’s only as useful as the insights you take away from it. Instead of hiding it away for the remainder of the month, consult your cash flow projection when making important financial decisions about your business.

If, for example, you anticipate a deficit in the months ahead, consider ways to cut your costs, increase sales, or save surpluses to help make up the difference. If you notice that payments often come in late, consider introducing a late penalty for bills past due.

Improving the accuracy of cash flow projections over time

Once you’re in the habit of creating cash flow projections, it becomes easier to improve their accuracy over time.

Comparing projections to actual results can help you improve the accuracy of their projections, and help identify longer-term patterns and cycles. Seasonal changes in revenue, patterns that contribute to late payments, and opportunities to cut costs will all become more apparent with each new projection.

While all these benefits won’t come all at once, entrepreneurs can use their cash flow projection to become better operators and better decision makers with each passing month.

A Guide to Hiring Decision-Making for Cultural Fit

But the only way we can provide that level of support for our customers consistently is to have an amazing team in place — each of whom understands how important our mission is and will happily jump in and help personally on customer issues.

Hiring

We think that hiring for cultural fit is particularly important for bootstrapped companies like The Receptionist. We are committed to growing steadily, carefully, and deliberately in the right direction with customer satisfaction (not revenue) as our primary metric for success. At companies like ours, even one poor hiring choice can damage the customer-centric culture that we’ve worked so hard to build from the ground up.

That’s why we’ve made some changes over the years to improve the way we find the best people to join our team. We think these extra efforts have made a big difference in our ability to hire for cultural fit. Here are the practices that we can enthusiastically recommend to other businesses hiring for cultural fit.

Get clear on your values first.

It’s worth mentioning upfront that you can’t hire for cultural fit if you don’t know which values are central to your culture. At The Receptionist, we used the Entrepreneurial Operating System to really drill down to which values were the most important to us. We discuss that process here on our podcast.

Tend to the hiring funnel.

In the case of a sales funnel, it’s understood that in order to eventually land a sale, you must start by generating a big group of leads. You go in with the understanding that only a few will advance through each successive stage of the funnel to become future customers.

Similarly, if you want to find job candidates that you’re really excited about, you’ll need lots of quality applicants.

At The Receptionist, we decided a few years ago to start working with a firm that specializes in attracting this kind of big group of high-quality leads.

Scalability Solutions, located here in Denver, has been a big help in our hiring process. They work with our team to understand what we need out of each potential new hire, help us craft our job descriptions, and then help screen the hundreds of job applicants — which saves our own team hours of work. Plus, their services are structured in a way that incentivizes them to make sure that each hire stays for the long-term.

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Ask good screening questions.

One of the best ways to select the most culturally aligned job candidates out of a large group of applicants (besides enlisting the help of a professional firm) is to ask thoughtful screening questions when they apply for a position.

Requiring these questions (in addition to the standard resume and cover letter) improves the odds that you’ll only get applications from people who take the process seriously.

Plus, reading applicants’ brief responses to screening questions can give you very valuable insights early on into whether the applicant understands what the job will demand and has the skills and talents to do it well.

Our Director of Sales Tom Foster mentioned in this podcast interview that when he applied for his current job at The Receptionist, he was impressed by these screening questions. Right away, he could tell that our company was invested in finding the right person — a far cry from trying to fill a seat as quickly as possible.

Watch job candidates in action.

At The Receptionist, all job candidates who reach a certain point in the interview process undergo a “customer experience simulation.”

They hop onto Intercom, the program we use to communicate with our customers and track their issues, and try to help “customers” via chat and email. Tom even got on the phone with our President, Andy Alsop, for a simulated sales call.

Tom was also given a chance to put together a brief “go to market” strategy on the spot and discuss a few things he would do to improve the way we make sales.

For most jobs and positions, hiring managers can find creative ways to give applicants the chance to “try out” for their roles demonstrating a little bit of what they can actually do before they’re hired.

As Tom said, this kind of experience in the hiring process can help a hiring manager analyze whether or not a job candidate is willing to be bold and is comfortable jumping in to their new role. Of course, it also gives potential employers very unique insights into how the candidate might handle similar situations once they’re actually on the job.

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Get the whole team involved in the hiring decision-making.

This might not be possible with larger teams or teams that work more remotely. But at The Receptionist, we involve the entire team in the hiring process. In fact, we have each team member rate each job candidate on a scale of one to five on the factors of experience, teamwork, competency, and culture fit.

They can do that because toward the end of an applicant’s interview process at The Receptionist — subsequent to the initial screening and an interview with the leadership team — the applicant spends an entire day in the office and meets the rest of the people they will be working with.

Meeting face-to-face allows people to make a more meaningful connection, and it gives everyone an even better idea of how they would mesh together if working together in real life.

It also shows each existing team member that we value their opinion, and it makes them feel more invested in helping the hiring process (and new hires) succeed.

This step is time-consuming compared to the way other companies hire. However, we have found it to be well worth the effort. Plus, once we do make a final decision, that new hire feels like part of the team right away because they’ve already spent time with everyone. An intensive hiring process, in our opinion, cuts down on onboarding time later.

Take your time (and don’t be afraid to start over).

We’ve all heard the advice to “hire slow and fire fast,” and it’s absolutely true.

As The Receptionist President Andy Alsop mentioned in our podcast episode How We Hire, it can be frustrating to reach the end of the interview process and realize that you don’t have any applicants that you’re thrilled about .

Repeating the hiring process is expensive and time-consuming, and starting over can seem daunting — especially if you have pressing needs.

However, hiring the wrong person won’t help you meet urgent needs or get caught up. It more than likely will end up with you starting the interview process over again later, with even more time wasted on onboarding and training.

Increase User Engagement with Google Analytics

Google For every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. These words are said in common to almost every work we do. By correlating this quote with our digital marketing strategy earning more out of your campaigns is simple than anything in this world.

Google

We all know that in bound marketing is the best, easy and effective strategy every marketer use to increase Return of Investment. In order to do this a webpage must contain an appealing content that worthwhile our effort put over it. To calculate the revenue from any of our webpage Google is offering a most effective and free tool called “Google Analytics” to every webmaster.

From the above mentioned tool one can get useful insights that make our website more stronger than our competitors. In this article we are going to discuss about, how to maintain a descent user engagement with below metrics.

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Number of Returning Visitors:

Regardless of domain, unless and until a business has returning visitors it is obvious that it is bad time for the entrepreneur. The same theory applies here too. Typical visitors are of different kind, some might subscribe to your website’s content via RSS feed or newsletter or email subscription (if and only if you provide worthy content). But the chances of these subscribers visiting your blog are very less.

Few returning visitors would be like dedicatedly waiting for your site’s content for update. Though the visitor’s count is very less it would help us a lot. So, in order to calculate the exact graph of returning visitors to your blog just visit the “Frequency and Recency” section in “Audience” tab. After viewing the overview of this section you shall increase your content to have a very good number of returning visitors.

Visitor Engagement:

According to Google or any other major search engines, user engagement is calculated on the basis of how visitor navigates or moves through pages. This metric is available at the “Engagement” section in “Audience” tab. The timings are calculated starting from 0-10 seconds. If you closely examine the statics, the 0-10 seconds portion will be always high, because Google never calculates the time spent on a specific page for bounce rate.

Average time on a site & Bounce Rate:

To calculate this consider the below metrics,

Average Pages per visit: This metric tells you that how many pages your visitor goes to in your website? It is already said, for a blog page the user engagement will be 0-10 seconds. To improve the engagement it is advised to provide related or recent posts links at the bottom or side of the blog post. This would increase the user engagement and says that our visitors are navigating through internal links.

Time on site: Every page in a website has its own time period. For example the number of pages is low and the time spent on site is high and it’s a blog then users are entering into the particular post, reading it for some time and then leaving the website. This shows the difference between various blog posts and the one the needs maximum care.

Bounce: This explains nothing but, if a visitor come to your site and leaves the page without engaging with other pages in your site. Many times a very high bounce rate is to be expected so to keep your visitor engaged and reduce bounce rate including call to action or video in the post are wise action. Hope this infographic by kissmetric will be helpful to you,

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Email Conversions:

If you are trying to increase your email subscribers list it is wise to monitor the email subscription rate. If your content are really good visitors will obviously subscribe to your newsletter. The prominent way of monitoring the total number of visitors subscribing for your newsletter is by re-directing them to a Thank you page after subscription by setting a Goal with Google Analytics. This tell you how far you have achieved your goal.

There is on option to measure how many visitors are returning to your website through email marketing in Google Analytics.

Engagement by Various Channels:

Like measuring engagement through email marketing, it is possible to measure the other source that leads to your page visits. For instance if you are getting more visitors from your tweet that contains your link, then it is a wise decision to concentrate more on that source to increase visitors. To calculate this, navigate to Traffic -> All sources. The nature of this feature is to let you know which channel is working and not working.

How Blockchain Support IoT Data Security?

Blockchain has been involved in various technology fields and its increasing adoption can be noticed in recent years. Blockchain is accepted by many businesses, researchers, and customers for its underlying framework in crypto assets.

The adaptive nature of Blockchain paves the way for a lot of industries to be as a part of their security and admit the growing realization of the technology. But how Blockchain is related to IoT data security?

Blockchain

In earlier times, Blockchain is literally used as a base for Cryptocurrency trading. As a valuable decentralized ledger, the participants can make entries under the approval of authorized member in the group. Thus Blockchain records all the entries in different blocks across the chain and each block contains the cryptographic hash of previous block timestamp and transaction data.

The nature of how the data spread as a block in the chain is, therefore, carrying the useful information needed by more than one source. IoT allows more than one device to be connected with each other without the need for human as intermediate. Hence the data flow from one device to others has to be secured and this is how Blockchain came into effect.

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Few Basic Facts About Blockchain

Basically, Blockchain is designed as a decentralized open ledger that had the capability to store information as blocks in an immutable way.

The popularity of Blockchain had tremendously increased with the introduction of cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency analysts have forecast the popularity of Blockchain would increase up to 20 billion dollars by 2024.

Recent research conducted by financial institutions shows that 15% of banks will soon adopt Blockchain to overcome security issues.

Internet of Things Security Challenges

Tagged to the above points, Blockchain stores data in blocks across the chain. As a ledger, the process is not easy to create blocks as it takes a lot of processing time to create even a single block and the information is linked as chains with reference to previously added data in blocks.

On the other hand, IoT functionality includes receiving and transmitting the data to different devices and make real-time linkages.

Any business requires privacy and security when coming to the storage of data in clouds. The major challenge here is the protection of all data and communication records maintained up to date.

The data flow across various kinds of devices, development platforms and pass through an administrative line of boundaries each having its own setup. Therefore it becomes necessary to consider the safe functioning of the IoT system, accurate data management and safe delivery of data to the right destination on time.

Another problem is that the data is stored in one location and is easy for hackers to target. A small breach in the security system can allow hackers to access a whole lot of information. With Blockchain technology, that data exists in decentralized chain making it hard for hackers to breach. The unbreakable technical base construction and strategy parameters make an ideal technology for data storage.

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Centralized IoT Network Issues

The IoT systems are the centralized model. This means it connects only to identified and verified devices through cloud services that have high data storage capabilities.

Business including this centralized model needs to deal with high maintenance cost and infrastructure added with best IoT solutions.

Added to the above issue, there is also one more important matter to be considered. What if a number of IoT devices is interconnected at a time? Yes, the number of communication will increase which cause economic, scalability engineering issues. If these issues go beyond the limit, disruption of cloud services occur leading to security issues.

Large business ecosystems are facing this issue and the only solution lies in a decentralized network that is nothing but Blockchain.

Advantages of Blockchain

The answer to how Blockchain helps IoT security issues lies in its benefits. The first point to consider is that the members in the Blockchain verify themselves at every entry. This creates a genuine entry and the information once entered in blocks cannot be changed.

Blockchain does not require the third-party presence or no need for anyone to check thus saving time. Another point to remember is that the information is scattered all along the chain thus creating a challenging situation to hackers.

IoT Explained

Though most of us are familiar with the term “Internet of Things” yet there are few more things you need to know to understand IoT in detail.

Internet of Things technology allows the devices to connect and communicate but do you know IoT can help us in the identification of damaged parts in a device? Yes, IoT can help you or alert you about the damaged or expired parts in a device as well as provide complete information of the device. These devices use internet service to connect with outside devices. Thus these IoT devices hold a lot of data communication information which are to be secured.

How Blockchain Help IoT Security Issues?

  • Blockchain is decentralized to track down billions of devices
  • Assist in IoT requirements in industries and ensure compliance
  • Cannot alter data in Blockchain and ensure the safety of data
  • Blockchain makes data distribution possible and protects from attacks
  • Blockchain allows IoT to maintain a ledger of all transactions

Challenges in Incorporating Blockchain to Prevent IoT Issues

  • Controlling a large number of IoT devices is a challenging task to the present Blockchain version
  • Blockchain can be adapted only for securing the data and is still not the solution to IoT security issues
  • Must include a suitable framework in order to prevent unwanted interferences
  • Device manipulation is possible even within the Blockchain network
  • The smaller device does not have the capability to meet the computational power of Blockchain
  • The tracking of corrupt devices and their elimination is still a topic

Final Note

It is true to the fact that IoT technology continues to grow and expand but the challenges it faces for data security is to be accepted. Sensitive data handled by IoT networks can be subjected to serious thread attacks and there is a need for powerful technology to support the issue.

How to work with a financial planner

Tax time is the best time to start planning financially for the future. And this is where a financial planner comes in. Hiring a certified professional can help you better reach your financial goals throughout your life. Though they may not seem financially-oriented at first, many of your goals are likely related to finances: saving for retirement, purchasing a home, helping your children attend college, or starting your own business. A good financial planner can help you to reach those goals by setting up a financial plan.

planner

Keep in mind; it’s important to find a financial planner whose expertise matches your situation and needs. Before you begin working together, be sure you understand what it will cost — both directly, in fees, and indirectly, in commissions.

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Find a financial planner that understands you

Almost everyone needs some financial planning. Many people find it all too easy to put off planning for years, even up to retirement when they suddenly find there isn’t enough money. You might know your financial goals, such as buying a new home or paying for your child’s college or university education, but you may not know how to meet those goals.

A financial planner can help with:

  • planning for taxes
  • planning for private school or post-secondary education
  • managing your insurance
  • planning your retirement
  • planning your estate
  • planning your investments

In addition to a written financial plan, an adviser may offer other services such as income tax preparation, investment management, and insurance sales. Depending on your financial situation, you may need a financial planner to advise you not only in setting your financial goals but also in helping you put your plan into action.

Working together on your financial plan

A planner will work with you to examine your current financial situation and suggest a plan to help you meet your financial goals. The planner might set up a series of meetings with you to gather information, help you define your goals, and provide written recommendations on financial strategies. You’ll want to understand what it will cost — both directly, in fees, and indirectly, in commissions — before you begin working with a financial planner.

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Other tips:

  1. Clarify your financial situation. A financial planner will help you look carefully at your current finances. He will help you list your assets (what you have) and liabilities (what you owe). Your planner will most likely ask you for tax returns, securities records, insurance policies, and other papers to help determine your net worth (what you have minus what you owe).
  2. Identify goals. Next, the planner will want to understand your personal and financial goals. She will ask if you wish to save for a special vacation, help support ageing parents, reduce your debt, plan for a child’s education, or save and invest for retirement.
  3. Identify roadblocks. After understanding your goals, the planner will work with you to figure out what roadblocks might keep you from meeting your goals. These might include investments that don’t provide sufficient yield; lack of insurance to protect your home, savings, or income; or spending habits that are pushing you into debt.
  4. Create a plan. The planner will create a written plan outlining how you can meet your goals. The plan will include types of investments and insurance products, suggestions for budgeting, and a time frame for achieving short- and long-term goals.
  5. Implement the plan. You may implement the plan yourself or have the planner help you choose and purchase appropriate investment and insurance products.

It’s a good idea to meet with your planner each year to review your progress toward your goals and revise the plan accordingly. You should also talk with your planner whenever your personal or economic situation changes, for example, due to marriage, divorce, having children, health changes, an inheritance, unanticipated significant changes in income or expenses, or a change in your financial goals.

Small Businesses & PCI – What You Need to Know

Businesses Running a business in today’s data-driven world requires compliance with various federal regulations. Depending on the industry and the type of data that you deal with, there are several such regulations to abide by and failure to do so can lead to big consequences.

Businesses

One such regulation that many small business owners don’t fully understand is the Payment card industry (PCI) compliance. PCI covers the technical and operational standards that must be followed in order to ensure that customer provided credit card data is protected.

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So, how does PCI affect your small business? Let’s take a look.

The Breakdown

Any and all companies that store, process or electronically transmit credit card data are required to follow PCI compliance guidelines. Compliance is enforced by the PCI Security Standards Council. PCI compliance standards, known as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS), require these organizations to securely handle credit card information in a regulated manner that helps reduce the likelihood that sensitive financial data will be intercepted or stolen.

The PCI DSS requirements are managed by major credit card companies such as MasterCard, American Express, Visa, Discover, and others and were released in December 2004.

Identity theft and big data breaches almost always make the news in some fashion or another and one of the last things you want is press coverage due to not handling credit card information properly.

The PCI guidelines outline a series of twelve requirements that you must continually follow. We’ll go more into those requirements in the next section, but as a general overview, you’ll need to assess your IT  infrastructure, the overall business processes, and the organization’s credit card handling procedures from top to bottom in order to help identify potential threats.

After that, you’ll need to address any gaps in security and have your structure set so that you avoid storing sensitive cardholder information such as driver’s license and social security numbers unless absolutely necessary. Additionally, you’re also required to provide compliance reports to the credit card companies that you work with, such as MasterCard and Visa.

The PCI Dozen

As mentioned above, there are twelve requirements for building and maintaining a secure network and system in order to fall within PCI compliance requirements. Here’s a quick look:

  1. The installation and proper maintenance of a firewall configuration in order to protect cardholder data.
  2. Eliminating the use of vendor-supplied default passwords.
  3. Implementing the use of encryption, hashing, masking, truncation and other security methods to protect stored cardholder data.
  4. Encrypting cardholder data when transmitted over open, public networks.
  5. Performing regular updates of anti-virus software in order to protect the systems against malware and other attack attempts.
  6. The development and proper maintenance of secure systems and applications.
  7. Access to cardholder data must be restricted to a “need to know” basis.
  8. Ensuring that each person with access to system components is assigned a unique identification (ID). This enables the accountability of access to critical data systems.
  9. Physical access to cardholder data must be restricted.
  10. Access to cardholder data and network resources must be monitored and tracked.
  11. There must be regular tests of your security systems and processes.
  12. You must maintain an information security policy for all personnel.

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The “Fine” Print

Just counting bad press, word of mouth, and initial financial impact, suffering a data breach is bad enough for any business. However, when you start adding in PCI compliance fines, the total cost to your organization can quickly add up beyond your worst fears.

Depending on factors such as the size of your business and the degree and length of your non-compliance, fines can range from $5,000 to $100,000 a month. If issues aren’t resolved quickly, fines can rise each month until you’re in compliance. Furthermore, failure to comply can eventually result in your ability to take credit cards being completely revoked.

It can get worse!

The credit card brands themselves can actually fine you for a data breach, even if you’re in compliance with PCI rules. That’s right, they can impose separate penalties and while they don’t publicly publish the amounts of these additional levies, those organizations that aren’t within compliance are highly likely to be fined more than those that are.

Data security simply has to be a top consideration for all organizations, especially those that deal with credit card and health information. PCI compliance may seem like “much ado about nothing,” especially when you consider how many data breaches there are each year, but these days you definitely don’t want to get caught without it.

A PCI Solution

If your business relies on accepting, processing or storing credit card information, PCI can be your biggest burden. However, choosing the right partner with the right experience can take a rather large part of that burden off your shoulders.

Contact Connectria for more information. We’re a partner that will ensure that your PCI compliance needs are met and maintained. Our engineers can help you set up your environment so that it meets your regulatory compliance needs and if you desire, we provide ongoing, 24/7/365 managed services to help ensure that your environment stays compliant.

Are Bonds a Good Investment for 2020?

A ‘bond’ is an instrument of the fixed income variety. It is representative of a loan from an investor to a borrower, typically being corporate or governmental. One could interpret a bond as being an I.O.U. between the lender and the borrower. Specifically, one that includes the details of the loan, as well as its payments.

The typical users of bonds are companies, municipalities, states, and sovereign governments to finance projects and operations alike. Those who are the owners of bonds are the debtholders, or the creditors, of the issuer. Details of a bond include the end date when the principal of the loan is due for payment to the bond owner. Most of the time, it includes the terms for variable or fixed interest payments as established by the borrower.

Bonds

 

Governments – at all levels – and corporations frequently use bonds as a way for them to borrow money. Governments need money in order to fund roads, schools, and various types of infrastructures. The sudden expense of an impending war may also result in high demand for raising funds.

In a similar fashion, corporations will regularly borrow for the purpose of expanding their business. They also need to buy property and equipment and to undertake profitable projects. Not to mention they need to conduct research, work on development, and hire employees. The common problem that large organizations run into is that they need a lot of money. More than the average bank can provide, even. Bonds provide an effective solution by way of allowing individual investors to take on the role of the lender.

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How they work

More often than not, bonds are referred to as fixed-income securities. They are one of three asset classes that individual investors are typically familiar with. The other two asset classes are stocks (equities) and cash equivalents.

A majority of corporate and government bonds are subject to public trading. Others, meanwhile, trade only in an over-the-counter (OTC) manner. Alternatively, the trade is private and occurring between the borrower and lender.

There will come a time when a company or other entity will need to raise money to finance new projects. Moreover, they will need to maintain ongoing operations and/or refinance existing debts. To do this, they may go on to issue bonds directly to investors. The borrower (issuer) issues a bond that includes a few key factors:

  • The terms of the loan.
  • Interest payments that will eventually be made.
  • The maturity date. This is the time at which there is a reimbursement of the loaned funds (bond principal).

The interest payment (i.e. the coupon) is part of the return that bondholders earn. They acquire it in exchange for loaning their funds to the issuer. The interest rate that is responsible for determining the payment is the ‘coupon rate’.

The initial bondholder can sell most bonds to other investors following their issuance. In other words, there is no need for a bond investor to hold a bond throughout the duration of its maturity date. Furthermore, it is also not unorthodox for the borrower to repurchase bonds. Especially not if interest rates are on a decline or if the borrower’s credit is improving. It can even reissue new bonds at a comparatively lower cost.

Basic characteristics

A majority of bonds share some common characteristics, some of which include:

  • Face value: This is the money amount that the bond will be worth upon reaching its maturity. Additionally, it is the reference amount that the bond issuer uses when they are calculating interest payments. Let’s say, for example, an investor purchases a bond at a premium $1,090. Moreover, another investor buys that same bond at a later time when it’s trading at a discount price for $980. By the time the bond matures, both investors will receive the $1,000 face value of the bond.
  • The coupon rate: This is the rate of interest that the bond issuer pays on the face value of the bond. It is typically expressed as a percentage. For instance, a 5% coupon rate means that bondholders will receive a 5% x $1000 face value. This equals out to $50 on an annual basis.
  • Coupon dates: These are the dates on which the bond issuer will conduct the interest payments. Executing these payments can be during any interval, though the standard is semiannual payments.
  • The maturity date: As you may recall, this is the date on which the bond matures. The bond issuer pays the bondholder the face value of the bond at this point.
  • The issue price: This is the price at which the bond issuer originally sells the bonds.

Interest rates

A bond has two features that are the principal determinants of a bond’s overall coupon rate. Those are the credit quality and time to maturity. Say that the issuer happens to have a poor credit rating. In this case, the risk of default is much greater and these bonds pay considerably more interest. Moreover, bonds that have a very long maturity date, more often than not, pay a higher interest rate. This higher compensation stems from the bondholder’s heavy exposure to interest rate and inflation risks for an extensive period.

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Impact and high-yield bonds during the pandemic

With the pandemic continuing its spread, investors desperately seeking safety are looking to buy bonds. However, interest rates are declining, so traditional bonds will provide them with very low financial returns. Some are starting to look into impact investments as a way to diversify their portfolios.

An ‘impact bond’ is a loan to an organization, typically one that is non-profit. It offers investors a financial return on top of making a direct social or environmental impact for the better. Each bond possesses a different minimum investment, interest rate, and maturity date. A variety of impact bonds will usually generate different types of impact.

It is important that investors need to evaluate the risk before they buy. What’s more, they should allocate only a small portion of their portfolio to impact bonds. There are three main risks pertaining to impact bonds:

  1. Liquidity risk: The investment is locked-in and is typically for 3 to 10 years
  2. Duration risk: The interest rate is fixed, so investors will fail to benefit if interest rates increase.
  3. Default risk: If the organization experiences bankruptcy, then investors could lose some or all of their money

According to Fitch Ratings, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, almost one-quarter of high-yield corporate bond issues in North America will suffer. Approximately 36% of high-yield corporations “have low rating headroom.” This means that they will probably face substantial rating downgrades. Such issues consist of 50% of those from airlines, 47% from oil and gas, and 44% from restaurants.

Be practical

Are you someone who wants some balance in your portfolio? If so, then adding a bit of bond exposure along with an asset allocation strategy is not a bad idea. However, there are some who show an interest in selling their stocks to replace them entirely with bonds. If you are one of these people, then you are out of luck. It’s likely that you may wind up switching away from stocks at the worst possible time.

The Definitive Guide to Low-Code Software Experience

Low-code is a software application development technique that enables businesses to quickly and easily design and develop applications via graphical user interface (GUI). Compared to traditional programming, which requires a significant amount of manual coding, low-code development only requires you to drag and drop application components into a flowchart-style formation; from there, code is automatically generated and programmed. Low-code development is considered a form of rapid application development (RAD) — which is, itself, a type of agile software development.

Low-Code

It’s important not to confuse low-code development with no-code development. No-code, like low-code, enables business to design and develop applications via GUI — but that’s where the similarities end. No-code truly caters to “citizen developers” — people who lack any prior developing experience or programming skill. By comparison, low-code requires more technical sophistication to use; as a result, it’s possible to build more advanced, more scalable applications with low-code software than with no-code development platforms.

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The Low-Code Software Experience

Ask any developer, and they’ll tell you that coding isn’t easy. Although there are some gifted developers to whom programming comes naturally, they’re few and far between. The vast majority of developers spend years honing the talent and skill to build software from scratch, which is what makes them such a valuable asset to any team — and which has led to the increased demand for senior developers across all industries.

The traditional application development coding process is fairly linear and looks something like the following:

  1. Define requirements. During the first stage of the traditional development process, you will work with the developer to determine what, exactly, you need your application to do — for example, who will use the application, what kind of environment it should support, what performance metrics in needs to meet. This can be a process in and of itself and involves gathering, reviewing, and documenting requirements, as well as identifying known and unknown variables to determine their possible effect on those requirements.
  2. Create a design. During this stage, the developer will create a wireframe or mockup — often in the form of a flowchart — that outlines key elements of the system, including system architecture, modules, components, interfaces, and data. This provides the developer with a framework that they can then translate into code.
  3. Choose a programming language. Which language the developer uses depends on a few factors, including what type of application they need to build, which environment they’re working in, what type of device they’re programming for, and which programming language they’re most familiar with.
  4. Write the code.
  5. Test the program. Once the code has been written, you’ll need to make sure that the system runs as intended. If you encounter any issues with the program or require modifications, the developer will have to go back in and troubleshoot by rewriting relevant pieces of code.
  6. Test it again. If the system runs as intended, move on to performing security, performance, and quality assurance tests.
  7. Push the system live.
  8. Monitor and maintain. The application development process doesn’t end at go-live — you’ll need to consistently monitor system health, look for potential issues and possible system enhancements, and perform maintenance or make upgrades as needed.

Your dev team should take time to carefully document every stage of this process, from initial conversations about the nature of the problem the program resolves to test results from each system iteration.

By comparison, low-code platforms significantly reduce the amount of work that needs to be done to build an application. Although low-code software still requires the user to define requirements and create a design, from there on out the app dev process is far simpler.

Once the system has been designed, all of its components (both on the frontend and backend) are automatically generated. All that’s left to do, at that point, is to test the process and push it live. Pre-built low-code modules are tested prior to publication, reducing the amount of time spent testing. Low-code development platforms even make system maintenance easy by enabling you to push updates live with a single click.

Low-Code Software Features

There are a few key features that can be found in just about any low-code platform:

  • A visually integrated development environment (IDE): This type of IDE uses visual modeling to make application development more intuitive for citizen developers. Most low-code software IDEs also allow for hand-coding, when necessary.
  • Drag-and-drop interfaces: Rather than force them to write out long lines of code, low-code development platforms enable citizen developers to design application workflows with pre-built drag-and-drop modules.
  • Declarative tools: Declarative programming is a programming method that enables you to perform an action by merely naming a task or the desired outcome of that task. Declarative tools use this type of programming to simplify the creation of workflows, making application coding faster and more accessible.
  • Reusability: Speaking of modules, low-code software’s pre-built modules make it easier for citizen developers to use and reuse the same modules for different designs, resulting in a nearly limitless variety of potential combinations. Most low-code platforms also offer additional modules via app store for more advanced development.
  • Continuous integration: Any low-code platform worth its salt will automate the build and testing of code every time a change is made to an application, thereby making it easy for citizen developers to share their code and allowing for greater version control.
  • Cross-platform functionality: While the main appeal of low-code development platforms is their ease of use, another popular feature is their ability to unify development across platforms and devices — which, in turn, enables increased mobility and allows for a truly omnichannel experience.

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The Pros and Cons of Low-Code Platforms

PROS

Coding for (Almost) All

One of the key benefits of low-code development platforms is that they democratize programming. Though not quite so simple as no-code development, low-code development is still extremely accessible and makes it so that almost anyone at any level of your organization can have a hand in application creation. This democratization has helped many businesses alleviate the strain caused by the ongoing developer shortage.

Make Better Use of Your Developers’ Time

Low-code platforms not only makes application development more accessible — by making it more accessible, it enables developers to dedicate their valuable time and attention to larger-scale projects and more complex designs.

Extend Your Resources

The beauty of low-code lies in its simplicity. Low-code platforms typically don’t require additional resources such as developer expertise or IT support to function, which means you can push your existing resources to their limits and mitigate costs in the process.

Become More Agile

Low-code makes it possible to build custom applications in a matter of days — much faster than the months-long process associated with traditional app development. With low-code, you’ll save time on manual coding and testing, thereby making your business more agile and adaptable to changes in customer expectations.

Digitally Transform Your Business

In order to truly achieve digital transformation, organizations must shift away from legacy systems and embrace new technology, and their employees must look for innovative ways to leverage that technology. Low-code development platforms can accelerate digital transformation because they make cutting-edge technology available to a wider audience, free up IT and developer resources for higher priority projects, and enable businesses to keep up with the speed of innovation.

 

CONS

Not a Total Replacement

Low-code software might be an easy way for citizen developers to get in on the application development game, but it doesn’t mean experienced developers are no longer necessary. After all, it’s one thing to build an app — it’s another to integrate that app with other apps and systems in your environment, especially if you still use legacy systems. No matter which low-code platform you choose to use, you’ll still need developers to handle more complex tasks. In the end, your application environment should use a combination of low-code, no-code, and traditional software development methodologies to achieve ideal results.

Square Peg, Round Hole

Although they’re convenient to work with, pre-built low-code modules restrict application customization. Most low-code modules are built to serve a specific purpose and are generic in nature. If you require a significant amount of customization in your environment, you might be better off investing in more in-depth, custom application development rather than low-code software.

You’ll Need to Beef up Security

There are definite pros and cons to enabling citizen developers to build applications. On the one hand, citizen developers save money otherwise allotted to hire experienced developers, boost developer productivity, and enable organizations to churn out business-critical applications at a faster rate. On the other hand, citizen developers have near-unrestricted access to your system — should one of your citizen developers (or worse, a disgruntled former employee) make unauthorized changes, it could pose a serious security threat to your environment.

How Can I Use Low-Code Software?

The potential use cases for low-code development platforms are nearly unlimited. You can use low-code software to build business process and database management applications, to give legacy applications a much-needed facelift, to automate essential workflows, to enhance system performance, to drive employee empowerment and customer engagement… The list really goes on and on. What you can achieve with low-code software is limited only by your imagination.

3 things to remember while migrating an Android app

Migrating an app, especially one implemented by someone who should probably do other things for a living, isn’t always an easy business. Nothing overly challenging, nothing technically impossible, but there are still things one should be aware of from the start to avoid excessive hassle, spare the client some of the costs and keep a good reputation. We’ve recently excelled across the board while implementing a project for a Scandinavian client and we’d like to share some of the insights we’ve gained with you. Perhaps, you’ll find something useful for your future migration endeavors.

migrating

Our client, a Swedish innovation agency that caters to several household names that you’ve, normally, been aware of since you were a kid, approached us to improve the performance of one of their mobile apps. The app is intended to conduct advanced employee surveys on the fly. It is part of a larger system that also included a Web-based application.

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1. Large Amount of Code to Migrate: Use React Programming

There were loads of code to deal with. We knew at once this amount of code would overload the system very significantly and slow down the migration process quite a bit. In addition, the number of modifications that would have had to be made across this data would have been very large. In order to avoid this, we decided to bring RX Android into play.

As the technology allows using threads to create queries that retrieve only the data that is required at the moment, we’ve managed to avoid both of the above issues. The code migration process has been smooth and relatively expeditious.

2. Increasing the App’s Responsiveness: Use Custom Android

The client’s app didn’t sport a GUI you could refer to as extremely user-friendly or optimal from the point of view of UX. Moreover, the app was not responsive enough and we were faced with the need to enhance it’s responsiveness very considerably.

While dealing with the latter task, we noticed that the external library utilized by the app, accounted for some 50% of the app’s size.

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3. Use Unit Testing While Migrating: Longer, But Highly Efficient

Moving an app to a new version is bound to make a bunch of bugs surface. Willy-nilly, you’ll have to deal with them in midstream. More so, we had to maintain both versions of the app and ensure compatibility between them. This increased the odds of us making a critical mistake, either in the old version or in the new one, that would then prove to be extremely hard to correct.

We decided that it would be prudent to spend more time on QA than hunt for well-hidden bugs later. We divided the app’s architecture into modules, composed a set of tests and used Mockito to test the app in a modular fashion.