Tech News : Clubhouse For Android Launched In The UK

Drop-in audio conversation social network app ‘Clubhouse’ has launched its Android (beta) version for download in the UK.

Clubhouse Android Launched In English-Speaking Countries

San Francisco-based Clubhouse announced on May 9 that, starting in the U.S., and quickly following in other English-speaking countries, it was rolling out of the beta Android version of its popular app.

Still Invite Only

Clubhouse has stressed, however, that despite what will be a worldwide rollout over the next few weeks, the app will continue to have the waitlist and invite system in order to “keep the growth measured”.  Clubhouse says that the plan is to continue to scale out the backend over the coming months in order to open up further to the millions of people on its iOS waitlist.  The app will also be expanding its language support and adding accessibility features to help with the growth in membership.

Android users in the UK can now download the Clubhouse app from the Google Play Store.

Problems Earlier in the Year

Clubhouse has acknowledged that the problems that it experienced earlier in the year, such as server outages, notification failures, and surpassing the limits on its early discovery algorithms were a result of rapid growth.  The company says that it has switched its focus from “hiring, fixing, and company building” to investing to enable the growing app to be able function well for the membership.

Hype and Benefits

The Clubhouse app has grown very quickly, accompanied by quite a bit of hype, but also because it appears to offer users the kind of direct access to an audience with influential people and industry leaders from around the world that it would be very difficult, costly, and time-consuming to get normally. Also, the real-time conversations mean that time is saved while issues, ideas and plans can be addressed and discussed instantaneously. As such, it has proven to be very appealing to business users.

Privacy Concerns

Important aspects of the Clubhouse app that were not mentioned in the recent announcement are the possible security and privacy concerns.  For example, the Clubhouse app doesn’t appear to have end-to-end encryption (like WhatsApp), user data is routed through Chinese servers (and by implication, the Chinese state) and the requirement on sign-up that users must upload their device address books, thereby sharing other peoples’ contact details without consent.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The rapid initial growth of Clubhouse has been fuelled by some of the potential benefits valued by businesses (e.g. the possibility of getting direct access to an audience with influential people) and finding new business opportunities, coupled with the exclusivity (invite only) and the other benefits of getting in early before the crowd. The app had some problems due to its growth exceeding its capacity but the promise to invest by Clubhouse may mean that it may suffer fewer outages going forward. Now that Clubhouse is really growing it can expect some stiff competition from other popular meeting apps (e.g. Zoom) and the threat of big social media players quickly launching their own versions (e.g. Twitter’s ‘Spaces’). The security and privacy concerns remain, however, despite the big Android rollout, and for users it may simply be a case of weighing up the known risks against the possible benefits, accepting that this is simply an exclusive space to meet and chat but that it comes with potential privacy and security risks at this stage in the app’s life.

Tech Tip : Using Alexa As An Intercom System

If you have Amazon Echo devices in your home (or office), the ‘Drop In’ feature allows you to use Alexa as an intercom through your Echo devices.  Here’s how:

– Open your Alexa app.

– Tap ‘Devices’ (lower-right corner).

– Tap ‘Echo & Alexa’ to display a list of all of your Echo devices and enable ‘Drop In’ on each device.

-Scroll down to ‘Communications’ and select ‘Drop In’ (to select from ‘On’, ‘My Household’, or ‘Off’). ‘On’ allows only permitted contacts to Drop In, ‘My Household’ is so only devices on your account can Drop In.  For no Dropping In, choose Off. 

To Drop In (use the Echo as an intercom):

– For a specific device: say “Alexa, drop in on Living Room Echo” (or wherever the Echo is). The name of the device can also be used if you know it.

– For a group of devices, if there is more than one on in one area e.g., the living room: say “Alexa, drop in on Living Room.”

– To speak to the whole household/all devices: ask Alexa to “Drop in everywhere.”

– To end the Drop In connection: say “Alexa, end drop in.”

Tech Insight – What Is ‘Business Intelligence’

In this article we look at ‘business intelligence’, how it can be obtained, and why it’s important.

Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence refers to how a company/organisation can use its historical data to improving strategic decision-making and thereby provide a (hopefully sustainable) competitive advantage.

What Data?

In day-to-day operations, businesses and organisations generate, receive, gather, and store large amounts of (sometimes complex) structured and unstructured data from internal systems and external sources.  The more complex data is often referred to as ‘big data’. The kind of historical data that businesses/organisations collect and refine for their business intelligence could, for example, include e-mails, memos and notes, news, user groups, chats, reports, web pages, software reports and stats + analytics, image and video files, marketing material, presentations and more.

Analysis & Processes

The idea of business intelligence is to be able to analyse and gain meaningful value from much of this data. Types of analysis of data can be descriptive, diagnostic, predictive or prescriptive. The analysis can uncover trends in large datasets and reveal important insights that a business can use to its advantage.

Analysing company data can involve processes such as data preparation, data mining (of databases), stats and machine learning, statistical analysis, performance metrics and benchmarking, data visualisation (turning data into charts/graphs), and reporting the findings of the analysis and the conclusions with decision makers and other stakeholders.

How?

Processing and interpreting large amounts of different types of data to get a bigger picture and reveal opportunities is challenging, and usually requires the use of business intelligence software/tools. Popular examples include:

– Microsoft Power BI, a desktop app for Windows that draws upon automated, cloud-based technology.

– Board International, which combines predictive analytics and performance management. 

– Domo, a cloud-based platform that offers business intelligence tools tailored to different industries.

– Dundas BI, can be tailored for 19 industries, creates dashboards and scorecards, and performs reporting (standard and ad-hoc).

– MicroStrategy, can also be tailored for a broad range of industries and offer cloud, on-premises, or hybrid deployment.

Why?

Business intelligence software/tools can benefit a business by:

– Revealing valuable market trends and business insights as well as flagging up areas for improvement.

– The ability to aggregate different data sources to gain a much fuller picture of what is happening within the business.

– Increasing customer satisfaction by enabling a better understanding of customer behaviour and patterns. This, in turn, can lead to more successful marketing, increased ROI, better customer loyalty and increased profits.

– Improving operational efficiency.

– Enabling better, more informed decisions to be made, thereby improving the business strategy, improving competitiveness, and helping to avoid costly errors.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Businesses generate, gather, and store large amounts of data. Rather than being a cost, challenge, and/or risk to the business, finding a way to draw together, analyse, interrogate, and present the data as useful information can add value by identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. It can also give managers a much clearer, all-round view of the business which can lead to better and smarter decision making. This can reduce risk and make business more efficient and competitive.

Tech Tip – Add Or Remove Comments In Word

Using comments in Microsoft Word is a good way to leave feedback and reply to feedback in documents that you and your team are working on. Here’s how:

– To add a comment, click the ‘Review’ tab (top of the screen).

– Highlight a word in the document or place your cursor on the screen and click ‘New Comment’. This opens a comment box (on the right) which has a line leading to the specific comment.

– Other ways to add comments are to highlight text or right-click on the text and select ‘New Comment’ from the context menu that appears, or to select a word or place your cursor, go to ‘Insert’ at the top of the screen, and choose ‘Comment’.

– To reply to an existing comment, click the speech bubble at the top-right corner, and write the reply in the text field that opens. Alternatively, right-click on an existing comment, and select ‘Reply to Comment’ from the menu.

Tech Insight : What Is An MSP?

In this article, we take a brief look at what an MSP is, what services they provide, and what benefits businesses get from using an MSP.

MSPs

A Managed Service Provider (MSP) is a company that delivers outsourced IT services and support to businesses and organisations.  The MSP remotely and proactively, manages, monitors, updates, reports on (and has responsibility for) the customer’s IT infrastructure and/or end-user systems for a subscription fee. Typically, these managed services are network, application, infrastructure, and security, and are delivered by providing support and administration on customers’ premises, in their MSP’s data centre/hosting, or in a third-party’s data centre. MSPs may also provide hardware, software, mobile device management, training, and many other IT and communications-related services to their customers.

Evolution

Many traditional IT Support companies evolved into what are now known as MSPs when application service providers (ASPs) helped make it possible for remote support for IT infrastructure.

In the late 90s/early 2000s, ASPs delivered apps (sometimes their own) and related services over the internet or via a private network for subscription, thereby giving rise to the remote provision of services. Some ASPs became MSPs, although ASPs are now generally referred to a software as a service (SaaS) providers.

Services

MSPs can now provide a broad range of services including networking, application and infrastructure services, cybersecurity, email and help desk, data storage and backup (and restore), cloud integration, software migration (e.g., to 365), patching, communications and more.

Benefits of Using and MSP

Typically, the benefits that companies and organisations get from using an MSP include:

– Savings from not having in-house IT staff/departments, saving on maintaining/replacing software and hardware, and from better advice and deals offered by MSPs (hardware, software, networks, communications).

– Fast resolution of IT problems due to on-demand availability of IT expertise.

– Becoming more up-to-date, efficient, and competitive, and future-proofing as MSPs reduce technology adoption barriers and help manage the changes and processes needed to enable a company to quickly, adopt new technologies, and take advantage of new opportunities and ways of working.

– Less disruption and increased service levels due to proactive, ongoing expert monitoring, maintenance, upkeep and upgrading of infrastructure, networks, hardware, and other services due to expert MSP help and advice.

– Better security and reduced risk due to patching, updating of anti-virus, threat monitoring and IT security education and advice, and upgrading of network security by the MSP.

– Peace of mind from knowing that effective, secure, and regular backup and restore procedures, and services are in place, and disaster recovery plans exist and are up to date.

– Easier management of IT for the business due to centralisation.

– Flexibility, scope, and scalability, thereby allowing businesses to adapt and change quickly, allowing for growth, changes, and other business realities.

– Time, money, and hassle saved from having on-demand expertise available.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Outsourcing to MSPs allows businesses not just to save money and become more efficient, but it also provides the kind of security, scope, flexibility, and future-proofing that enable businesses to be competitive and make the most of opportunities in the changing business environment. The services of MSPs can be particularly beneficial to smaller businesses because having the expertise-on demand (i.e. not having to try and do everything in house) means cost savings and the kind of up-to-date systems that can enable them to behave like a much bigger company, thereby providing greater value to more customers while being much more flexible and competitive.

Tech Insight : What Is An API?

In this article, we take a brief look at what APIs are, why they are important, and how they are they are used.

What Is An API?

An Application Programming Interface (API) is intermediary software that allows different applications to talk to each other. In essence, it delivers your request to a provider and then delivers the provider’s response back to you. APIs provide operations and queries that developers can use to design and build apps and web applications, for example, using APIs to connect the user-facing front ends with the back-end functionality and data.

Examples of API Use

APIs are widely used, and some popular examples of their use include:

Real-time travel bookings in websites. These websites use third-party APIs to collect and display real-time aggregated flight and hotel availability from providers and use APIs to confirm the bookings with the providers. In other words, the APIs are the intermediaries that enable the website to communicate with the hotel and flight booking systems.  An example of a real-time flight data display API is the ‘Aviationstack’ API which provides flight stats for 200+ countries and more than 13,000 airlines.

Paying with PayPal

The option to pay with and to deposit and withdraw funds from PayPal in e-commerce (e.g shopping, better, booking) websites uses an API. This allows the end application to work without getting access to sensitive data or other unintended permissions.

Logins With Different Options

Websites that enable you login using different platforms (e.g. displaying login with Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn) use an API to authenticate the logins rather than having the security risk of actually logging in the social media account.

Types of APIs

There is a number of different types of APIs which include:

– Open APIs/Public APIs. Anyone can use these as they are publicly available/there are no restrictions.

– Partner APIs. These are not publicly available and are only exposed to strategic business partners through the granting/purchasing of rights or licenses.

– Internal APIs/Private APIs. These are used on a company’s internal systems, e.g. to improve products and services.

– Composite APIs. These enable batch requests, i.e. a client can make one API request with a batch/chain of calls and receive one response.

– Web APIs. As the name suggests, these are specifically for the web, e.g. using a web API to extend the functionality of a web browser or a server API to extend web server functionality.

Endpoints and Request Methods

One of the key ways in which an app interacts with an API is the ‘endpoint’.  This could be the specific web address that links to the functions required.

The ‘request methods’ refers to what action will be taken by referring to the API.  For example, these could be ‘GET’ to request data from a server, ‘POST’ to add new data to a server, ‘PUT’ to change existing information, or ‘DELETE’ to delete existing information.

To use an API generally requires getting an API Key, testing the API endpoints, and creating an App.

The Benefits of APIs

The many benefits of using APIs include:

– Time and money savings in development due to being able to take advantage of the functionality of different applications without having to type code yourself or pay for complicated development work to enable different programmes to communicate with each other.

– Security while tapping into data and external functionality.

– Efficiency as content generated through an API can be published automatically and made available for every channel.

– Improved services and user experience, e.g. on a website, due the ability to automatically display real-time, accurate information (such as flights and bookings).

– Convenience for users of websites with APIs links.

– Better integration leading to better results (whilst reducing development costs).

– Faster innovation by recharging applications with the latest technology, and easier monetisation.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

APIs tie disparate applications together, allowing them to complement and talk to each other, become greater than the sum of their parts, and in doing so they represent ways for businesses to gain efficiencies, improve and enrich services and gain competitive advantages, automate, and innovate.  Companies can develop APIs and apps or use existing APIs to integrate and add value and as such APIs offer many new advantages and opportunities.

Tech Tip – Free Ways to Share Photos

We all take lots of photos with our smartphones, so here is a selection of some of the best free places to share (and back up) photos.

– Google Photos. Just having a Gmail account gives access to this service you can share photos with family, friends, or teammates, create albums, and grant access to those who want to share photos.

– Apple Photos. This sorts your photos, displays them in grid format for easier browsing, stores them to iCloud for ease of access from an iOS device or Mac, and automatically tags your photos based on location and content.

– iCloud. This allows photos to be shared as email attachments in Photos on iCloud or using an iCloud Link. To share photos with others via attachments from iCloud email, select the photos, tap Share > Email (attachments larger than 20 MB are replaced with an iCloud Link). See https://www.icloud.com/.

– Dropbox.  This popular cloud-based file-sharing, backup solution allows the creation of shared folders and shared links can be sent by email, social media, or instant message. See https://www.dropbox.com/.

– WeTransfer.  This is a fast, free, free file-sharing platform that requires no registration that allows the user to share photos across all devices provided they are compatible with web-based apps. Users can also choose to pay for a premium plan for password protection, 1TB of storage, and an increased transfer limit (to 20 MB). See https://wetransfer.com/.

– Flickr. This photo-sharing platform is user-friendly and has easy-to-use menus, and photo editing tools. Flickr also offers other features like auto-backups, an ad-free experience, unlimited storage, and photo stats. See https://www.flickr.com/.

– AirDrop.  This platform allows photos to be shared/sent between Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, or Mac).  The service doesn’t require a special account and sharing is particularly easy if both the sender and recipient are on a Wi-Fi network, and both have AirDrop and Bluetooth enabled.

– Instagram. Yes, it’s a social media app but if you often share photos, and your intended recipients already follow you, it’s a good free option.  It also has photo editing options. See https://www.instagram.com/.

– Cluster.  This free, private group photo sharing app can be accessed via a web browser or mobile app, users can make as many albums as they like, and can invite and connect with others. See https://cluster.co/.

Tech News : New Amazon AI Tool Monitors Your Business KPIs

In a move to provide more business intelligence, Amazon is launching a new tool that monitors key performance indicators (KPIs) to detect ‘anomalies’ so it can alert the business to potential problems.

Lookout For Metrics

‘Lookout For Metrics’ is the name of the new service from Amazon Web Services (AWS) which uses machine learning for business analytics to monitor KPI’s such as web page views, mobile app downloads, numbers of active users, and income to detect any anomalies and to inform the business/organisation about those anomalies.

Anomalies

The kinds of anomalies / outliers from the norm in business and operational data that AWS is referring to are spikes, dips, and other unusual patterns detected within the analytics that are outside of normal bounds across business functions.

Automated Alerts

Amazon says that that the Lookout for Metrics tool can be easily connected with event and notification services such as Amazon Simple Notification Service and AWS Lambda to created automated and customised alerts and actions when anomalies are detected, such as filing a trouble ticket.

Why?

AWS says that this kind of monitoring can help businesses to better understand customer issues (e.g. churn rates) and take action to improve customer experiences, optimise digital ad-campaigns and prevent overspends, and take action to optimise user engagement by understanding changes in metrics such as new users, app installs, in-app purchases, or retention rates.  The Lookout For Metrics Tool can, therefore, give businesses critical insights to help them make better decisions and create a more productive and efficient organisation, giving them another way to analyse how to keep up with their competitors, and grow revenues. 

AWS also points out that using this tool is a faster and more accurate way than traditional methods for anomaly detection, thereby minimising damage by saving time in finding the root cause of anomalies.  Also, the tool gives businesses a prioritised list of issues, ranked by severity, so that any business can clearly see which issues need immediate attention and which can wait.

Easy To Set Up

Lookout For Metrics requires no specialist machine learning training to start using it and Amazon says that it “connects seamlessly” to popular AWS databases and has pre-built connectors to third-party SaaS applications, thereby enabling the monitoring of metrics and anomaly detection to begin with just a few clicks.

Type of Metrics

The types of popular datasets that Lookout For Metrics can be connected to include Amazon S3, Amazon Redshift, Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS), and third-party SaaS applications, such as Salesforce, ServiceNow, Zendesk, and Marketo.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Having access to accurate and timely business intelligence can help businesses to optimise their marketing, make better decisions, and make a business more competitive. Being able to easily set up an automated tool that’s compatible with popular datasets makes this a convenient and fast way for businesses to get a better understanding of where faults lie and where value-adding improvements can be made, and which areas to tackle first. This gives many businesses access to the kind of expert insights that would be more difficult, time consuming and costly to obtain by traditional methods.  For AWS, this provides a way to show themselves as a provider of Business Intelligence (BI) as well as many other services.

Android Stack Scanner Can Organise Your Documents

Google is launching its ‘Stack’ app for Android, an AI-based scanner that also names and categorises the documents it scans.

The Technology

The Stack app is a result of collaborative work between Area 120, Google’s in-house incubator and the DocAI team in Google Cloud, and the technologies from Google’s acquisition of the education start up ‘Socratic’.

How It Works

When users take a photo of a document, the Stack app scans it, automatically names it, and suggests the right category or “stack,” to store it in.

Stack is also able to identify important information in documents (e.g. the “due date” or “total amount due”) and pull that out to make the document easier to find and access, plus users can search through the full text of documents (not just the title) to quickly find what is needed.

When it comes to (secure) storage, Stack uses advanced security and sign-in technology to protect the documents in the app and a face or fingerprint scan can be added as an extra layer to unlock the app.  Copies of documents can also be automatically saved to Google Drive which means that they are still accessible should a user decide to stop using Stack.

Benefits

The benefits of using Stack are that it provides a fast, easy, handy, intelligent, and searchable way to organise all important work documents such as invoices and receipts. The fact that important details in the document (e.g. due date) can be recognised by the app can make it easier to pay bills on time and can provide different (fast) ways to search for documents.  Also, the app’s ability to categorise and store a document accordingly in effect provides an instant time and space-saving filing system that is also secure and always available from anywhere using a smartphone.

Just The U.S. For Now

Unfortunately, Stack is only currently available in the U.S. via Google Play Store.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

When Stack does become available in the UK, this could be a very useful digital filing system for businesses which is fully portable (a phone app), searchable, secure, and provides a backup on Google Drive if the user decides to stop using Stack at any point.  This app sounds like a handy way to finally organise any piles of paper and any disparate pdfs into one central, easily accessible system.  For Google, this has been a productive way to use technology that it gained through an acquisition to add value to its services, and it is another good example of how AI can be put to practical use to tackle real-life daily challenges. There are many other mobile scanner apps available (Adobe Scan, Clear Scanner, Office Lens, Tiny Scanner), but the advantages of this one are the recognising/categorising and searching elements provided by AI plus the fact that it’s from Google and backs up to Google Drive for futureproofing.

Tech News: Live: Teams Transcriptions

Microsoft has announced the launch of an AI-powered live transcription tool for Teams which provides a written record of the spoken text that occurs during a meeting.

How It Works

The live transcription tool identifies each speaker and automatically captures in real-time what is said by each speaker and makes the transcript available during and after the meeting. It uses AI-based Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology to identify and transcribe what is being said by meeting participants. The technology is able to use a meeting’s invitation, participant names, attachments, and more to improve its accuracy and recognise meeting-specific jargon for each transcript automatically, without any human involvement.

Using Live Transcription

To use the tool, the tenant admin must turn on the ‘Allow Transcription’ policy to enable the meeting organizer/presenter to start a meeting transcription. Participants are notified that live transcription is on and can choose to hide it from their meeting view with a click. If attendees choose not to be identified, they can also turn off speaker attribution in their profile settings. The transcripts are shown to meeting participants in a column down one side of the screen.

Accuracy

Whilst Microsoft is clearly proud of the development of the live transcription tool, the company does point out that it is not guaranteed to be 100 percent accurate and “should not be relied upon in life-altering situation”.

Storage

After each meeting, the saved transcript is made available for reference and download in Teams for desktop and web, in the meeting event in Teams calendar, and through the transcript tile in the chat. The live transcription files are stored in the meeting organizer’s Exchange Online account and only the organiser and tenant admin have permissions to delete it.

Privacy and Security

Microsoft says that no-one at Microsoft can see a meeting’s content, the models are automatically deleted immediately after each meeting, and Microsoft doesn’t use or store this data for improving its own AI.

Availability

The live transcription with speaker attribution tool is available for scheduled Microsoft Teams meetings (in U.S. English) to public cloud customers with licenses for Microsoft 365 E3, Microsoft 365 E5, Microsoft 365 Business Standard, and Microsoft 365 Business Premium SKUs.

Zoom

Microsoft’s announcement follows Zoom’s announcement in February that it is “working towards making automatic closed captioning —what we refer to as “Live Transcription”— available to all of our users in the fall of 2021”.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

The introduction of this tool is another move in the market battle between the big remote, collaborative working platform competitors Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams.  In this case, although Zoom beat Microsoft with the announcement of a live transcript feature, Microsoft has beat Zoom in actually delivering the feature to users.  The live transcript tool is likely to deliver value to business users in terms of helping users to either follow meetings more easily, catch up on meeting content (e.g. if late for the meeting or double-booked), helping multi-tasking (and enabling ‘zoning out’), as well as being an extra accessibility feature.