How to Excel with Unified Presentations

Since the dawn of business, giving an effective presentation has proven to be one of the fundamental elements of success. After all, persuading customers, partners, or others to make a decision is the sign of an effective salesperson or executive. Presentations have evolved over the centuries, becoming more robust and leveraging the latest technology to convey a particular topic. But technology lies at the heart of one of the most vexing problems with presentations today: They have become gimmicky and filled with irrelevant fluff.

Many presenters have become captivated by the technology available for presentations. Modern presentation tools have made it so easy to plummet off the deep-end (for lack of a better phrase) with effects. Focusing on nifty tricks and visual aids often comes at the cost of clearly presenting important content and creates the risk of watering down the critical message delivered.

Top Tips for Unified Presentations

Advanced tools and capabilities certainly have their place in a presentation, but those effects should be used conservatively and should not distract from the message at hand. When building presentations, you can simplify the process by following some basic rules and rein in your internal Spielberg to deliver a presentation that is high on substance and low on gimmicks:

Use the Proper Equipment: Most presentations involve equipment of some type, either a projector, large display, slides created on a color printer, or simply a laptop computer. Regardless of what equipment you use, it should be reliable and provide a professional tone. For example, don’t expect a presentation to be taken seriously if you use a beat-up projector with poor resolution or a large display that has lots of dead pixels, or even color handouts that are smeared or otherwise low quality. Invest in professional equipment if you want professional results.

If you’re bringing your own device or doing an on-site pitch, always plan to arrive early to set up and test your equipment and test your connections. No one wants to watch you take 10 minutes to get the technology ready for a presentation.

Focus: Organize the presentation so that it focuses on the issue at hand. No one likes a presentation that rambles. Rambling is an indication that the speaker is both self-indulgent and unorganized and leads listeners to mentally shut you down and lose interest. Always create an outline beforehand and practice your presentation for length and flow, paying particular attention to the time you’ll spend per slide. Identify a concise number of takeaways (usually three to five) that you want to communicate to your audience.

Enhance with technology: You can incorporate media, such as audio or video into the presentation to further entice audience members. Other technological aspects to consider include incorporating interactive technology, such as screen casting or screen sharing so that live demonstrations can be part of the experience.

Use stories: Tell stories that captivate the attention of the audience, make sure those stories illustrate the key discussion points to make the presentation much more memorable.

Leave something behind: Although handouts are always a good idea, presenters should go beyond that by recording the presentation with a unified approach. That way audio, video, and interactions are preserved for later playback, creating a record of the presentation that will live beyond the moment.

Making Presentations Memorable

Although presentation technology has come a long way, much of the heavy lifting to create an engaging and effective presentation is still up to the presenter. Organize your materials first to ensure you get your key points across, then create a base presentation. Finally, kick your presentation into high gear with rich visuals, such as charts or videos. In other words, start with a substantive foundation and then enhance the presentation.

Using technology for just the sake of technology and viewing it as the end is usually a recipe for disaster. However, when professional technology is used in an appropriate manner, presentations can become memorable and can effectively forward a narrative to the proper conclusion.

One advantage the latest technology offers comes in the forms of portability and reusability. Presentations can now take on many different forms, ranging from web based, to live in-person, to prerecorded sessions — all built using the same base materials. These base materials can create presentation dynamics that were unheard of or unseen 10 years ago. What’s more, the technology behind presentations have created an opportunity to be more interactive with the audience by introducing polling questions along the way and interjecting live comments, such as tweets or other social media feeds.

One thing is certain, presentations are sure to remain a key part of businesses, but making those presentations memorable and creating a lasting impression takes more than just technology. Learn more about the latest display technology and other solutions for your Small, Medium or Corporate business by visiting: Epson Business Solutions for Corporate or see the lineup of solutions for Small-Medium Businesses here.

The Hidden Gems of Data Analytics

Much like the rallying cry of the prospectors of the 1840s of “there’s gold in them thar hills,” many businesses are seeking to mine their data lakes to find value in the minutia that makes up structured and unstructured data. However, realizing the value of Big Data takes a lot more than a mule, a pickax, a shovel, and a dash of luck.

Merely deploying the appropriate tools isn’t enough. Today’s modern data treasure hunts require that data scientists and their staffs know what treasure to look for. In most cases, technology professionals just focus on the obvious — such as customer engagement, sales goals, and so forth to justify their mining efforts — potentially ignoring the hidden gems of insight that data analytics can deliver.

The biggest challenge may come in the form of the data itself: For proper analytics, you must have good data. That said, technologies are evolving that help to gather data and format it in such a way that it’s more usable. Technologies such as AI, machine learning, and even big data analytics platforms go a long way towards normalizing data, which helps to eliminate the tendency of “playing it by ear,” where gut instincts of what the data will deliver could potentially lead to disaster.

Types of data

Data is normally broken down into two distinct forms: unstructured data and structured data. In its simplest form, unstructured data refers to data that does not adhere to a predefined data model and is not organized in any particular way. For the most part, unstructured data consists of text or other elements that are not indexed or defined. Unstructured data can contain important data elements, such as dates, numbers, links, and so on.

Structured data is data that is stored in a highly organized fashion, using indexes, tables, columns, schemas, and so forth. Most structured data takes the form of a database (either relational or query based), making it easier to identify and mine critical data elements.

Realizing the value of data

Knowing what to ask of the data is the most important step of a data analytics process. Asking those questions means having an understanding of business processes, as well as sense of the value that can be derived. For most, that is an obvious step, consisting of simple questions such as “what were the regional sales of last quarter” or “what were the busiest times for tech support.” The possibilities are almost limitless when focusing on traditional business operations questions.

However, those standardized questions and queries are only a small part of what data analytics can offer. The trick here is to work with the data in such a way to develop insights, ones that can deliver on the “what ifs” of business processes.

For example, a business may want to judge the impact that a particular change might have. Case in point would be a customer services department looking to expand their hours and better serve customers. That analysis would require developing an algorithm that looks at missed calls (outside the scope of normal hours), calls that exceeded the normal termination of business hours, as well as emails and other content related to support.

It’s those what-if scenarios that can deliver the biggest value to businesses. Instead of focusing on how everything was done in the past, data scientist need to develop the concepts of cause and effect to derive the most value out of data.

The path forward

Improving the value offered by data means understanding what problems are facing the business. Companies are starting to ask questions about customers, products, and partners in new ways. For example, is the business looking to better manage customer interactions using in-depth and customized information about that customer?

As part of the drive towards continuous improvement, companies are beginning to focus on real-time analytics that deliver scenarios such as “How can I bring happiness to this customer and anticipate their specific needs?”

Solutions such as that require defining and analyzing data sources. In other words, analysts have to code algorithms to deliver the information needed to make the right offer to a customer deciding on a purchase. Furthermore, data analysts may seek to glean data from outside sources such as social media data. Or determine what big data sources are available internally that were previously underutilized. One example is the use of text analytics to garner insight about customers from call center notes, emails, and voicemails.

For many organizations, the key goal with big data analytics may be to look for patterns and relationships that apply to the business and then filter that data based upon a particular business context. In that way, big data analytics will help you find those small treasures of information in your big data.

Using the right equipment to scan and provide data to your system is the first step in many analysis processes. Epson provides a lineup of solutions for your business, including high-speed document scanners and cloud-service enabled point-of-sale receipt printers, that are cost-effective and backed by world-class service and support. Learn more by visiting Epson Business Solutions for Corporate, or see the Epson solution lineup for Small and Medium businesses here.

Tips to Avoid The Hidden Costs of Archiving Data

It’s an unavoidable fact that every business must preserve some data. The reasons for this are many, ranging from tax purposes to compliance requirements to business analytics. Any way you slice it, preserving data can be a costly operation, especially if long-term planning is not part of the mix.

In the majority of cases, businesses archive data as part of a backup scheme, where on a regular basis, backups are performed and stored on some type of removable media. Over time, some of that media is recycled, while some of it is relegated to long-term keeping to act as an archive if that data is ever needed again.

However, many problems arise with this archiving methodology, especially considering that the primary purpose of backup is to recover data in the case of a disaster. In other words, the saved data is only suitable for restoring operations as quickly as possible, and is not meant for posterity purposes. What’s more, tapes, disks, and other removable media can be expensive, have a limited shelf life, and do little or nothing more than just preserving recent transactions. All told, using backup technology for archiving quickly builds hidden costs, while not truly helping to preserve long-term data or build effective archives. Businesses sometimes discover this only during audits or other time-and-data intensive events.

Archiving: A Different Mindset than Backup

Although archiving can be considered a complementary technology to backup, there is much more to building an effective archive than there is to preserving data for restoration in an emergency. First and foremost, enterprises must realize there is much more to building an archive than there is to simply backing up data.

Archiving may require saving more than just transactions, emails, and so forth. In fact, there are a lot of paper documents that are still critical to businesses, such as contracts, agreements, correspondence, forms, and countless other physical documents. And, naturally there is a cost associated with storing and protecting those physical documents. For many businesses, that may mean shipping those documents off to a storage facility, which can be costly. However, the real costs come into play when a physical document needs to be retrieved for an audit or other purpose. Pulling those physical documents out of storage can be costly, time consuming, and inefficient.

When archiving physical documents, an electronic element should also be introduced — one consisting of scanning and organizing those documents into a database that can be easily accessed, indexed, and searched. The physical document still exists, yet for all intents and purposes, the digital representation of that document suffices for audits, research, analytics, and any other task that is needed.

Finding the Value in Data Archiving

Data archiving is usually viewed as a cost center, a needed expense for meeting legislative requirements. However, effective archiving can bring much more to the table. For example, there is the burgeoning field of business analytics, where data lakes are mined to find insights to business operations.

More and more businesses are looking to their past activities to define what works best and what needs to change or evolve to improve operations. That is one area where archiving can bear fruit and deliver insight beyond just the storage of data.

Archival data may come in two distinct forms, structured and unstructured data. Both of which may need to be preserved for regulatory reasons. However, value can be derived from both types of data using analytics tools available today. For archiving to be successful, it must be embraced by management as well. By demonstrating the value of that data with analytics, it becomes much easier to justify building a data archive.

The Cloud and Beyond

The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) defines an archive as “A collection of data objects, perhaps with associated metadata, in a storage system whose primary purpose is the long-term preservation and retention of that data.” In addition, data that is archived is not usually expected to be readily searchable. This definition sounds simple but presents many problems for administrators. For example, the type of media the data is stored on will affect the speed and ease with which it’s restored. The three basic choices for archiving include tape, disk and the cloud.

An increasing number of organizations are starting to leverage cloud-archiving services, mostly as a method to eliminate the failings of disk and tape, while also choosing a strategy of paying for only the storage actually used. There is many cloud data storage providers, each with their own offerings and feature sets. However, just because a cloud service offers storage, it doesn’t necessarily mean that storage is suitable for archives.

The key here lies in selecting a cloud service that is suitable for archival purposes. For most businesses, that cloud archiving service should provide:

  • Data lifecycle management (with the ability to store structured and unstructured data)
  • The ability to provide long-term, immutable file storage
  • Integrated search and recovery tools
  • Data deduplication
  • Viable service level agreements (SLAs)
  • Data protection tools
  • Ability to meet regulatory compliance requirements
  • A well-defined pricing structure
  • Ability to retrieve data on optical or WORM media

It is important to keep in mind the retrieval and maintenance aspects when archiving. Think of the user and access as a part of your strategy – this long term consideration will save you costs and ultimately serve you well in not just storing, but using this gold mine of data you’ve worked hard to preserve.

Choosing the correct cloud partner is just as important as choosing the right scanning and storage equipment. Epson provides a lineup of products for your business, including high-speed document scanners, that are cost-effective and backed by world-class service and support. Learn more by visiting Epson Business Solutions for Corporate, or see the Epson solution lineup for Small and Medium businesses here.

Robotic Process Automation and the Back Office – What You Need To Know

Not so long ago, businesses turned to offshoring to reduce the operational costs of the back office. They bundled up the data and sent it overseas for lower-cost workers to process it. However, outsourcing and offshoring have become politically charged, driving businesses to seek alternatives that won’t break the bank.

Back office operations have always been viewed as a cost center, which lent itself to reducing overhead by eliminating much of the in-house expenses. Although it’s unlikely that those outsourced back office jobs will come back to home soil, businesses still need alternatives to outsourcing and offshoring many of those tasks.

In addition to the political aspects of offshoring, newer concerns — such as privacy laws, compliance, and cybersecurity — have increased business responsibilities when it comes to data, and keeping that data in house is one of the first steps for better control over data.

The Robots are Coming

Machine learning, artificial intelligence and other technologies are coming to the rescue in the form of Robotic Process Automation, a technology that can be summed up as automated scripting driven by machine-based decisions. RPA holds a great deal of promise for businesses burdened with tedious and repetitive tasks, which in the past could have only been accomplished by humans. Many of those tasks required basic decisions to be made in how the information was processed — something that was well beyond the artificial technologies of the past.

Today, machines have gotten smarter and now have the ability to learn some simple steps based upon AI algorithms. Although machine intelligence can’t approach what humans can do natively, it has come pretty far in the last few years, making it suitable for many basic tasks that require some form of a decision to be accomplished. That’s exactly where RPA comes in.

Getting Started with RPA

Leveraging RPA means understanding how RPA works and then assessing where automation can improve a business’s operations. RPA products incorporate three fundamental elements: a developer tool set, a robot controller and the robots (or bots) themselves.

Developers use the development tools to define the jobs to be executed by the bots. Jobs are basically step-by-step instructions that a robot follows to accomplish a task. Those jobs (or instructions) must be detailed and can include conditional logic, Boolean logic, and business rules that define how the bot operates. Most of the vendors in the RPA space offer drag-and-drop functionality and simple configuration wizards, which enable business users who have no coding experience to define jobs quickly.

Yet, defining jobs often takes more than leveraging drag-and-drop tools and wizards. Those defining jobs must focus on the exceptions to the rule, creating the logic that deals with events that fall out of norms. Spotting those exceptions up front is a critical task, otherwise the bot may fail to process. Some tools include a “process recorder” that helps to build a job based upon capturing a sequence of user actions. Developer tools are used only for initially modeling processes and modifying those processes to deal with changes.

The robot controller takes on multiple roles. It acts as a master repository for defined jobs and facilitates version control. It also safely stores credentials for business applications and provides them to robots as required. The robot controller also assigns appropriate roles and permissions to users, and it provides controls and workflows to govern the processes of creating, updating, testing, reviewing, approving, and deploying jobs to the robot workforce. Finally, it assigns jobs to single or grouped robots, and monitors and reports on their activities.

Software robots (also known as “bots”, “clients” or “agents”) carry out instructions and interact directly with business applications to process transactions. Robots can perform as many as 600 actions, with additional actions being incorporated using custom coding techniques. Robots also can keep detailed logs of their actions and decisions, which are useful for compliance, auditing, and troubleshooting, as well as helping companies identify additional process improvement opportunities.

The Benefits of RPA

Although RPA may not be the cure-all for all back-office problems, RPA undeniably brings immediately recognizable benefits to most any business. Obviously, cost efficiency tops the list, but RPA’s many nonfinancial benefits include:

  • processes that are more predictable, consistent, and less prone to errors than those handled by people
  • decreased cycle times and improved throughput: Software robots are designed to perform tasks faster than a person and do not require sleep, making 24/7 operations possible.
  • flexibility and scalability: Once a process has been defined, it can be scheduled for a particular time and use as many robots as required
  • reassignment: Robots can be easily reassigned when more important processes arise because each robot is typically capable of performing many types of processes.
  • improved accuracy: Robots are programmed to follow rules and don’t make mistakes. Robots only do exactly the defined job, but won’t apply intuition to problems and anomalies that a human would.
  • strategic resource deployment: The tasks and processes suitable for automation are typically the most onerous and least enjoyed by employees. Employees relieved of these activities can be refocused on higher-value activities that are often more rewarding.
  • detailed data capture: The tasks performed by a software robot can be monitored and recorded at every step, producing valuable data and an audit trail that enables further process improvement efforts and helps with compliance.

The benefits offered by RPA are clear, so it all comes down to whether your business is ready to deploy robots in the back office or continue to rely on offshoring tedious tasks to the lowest bidder.

When it comes to scanning your documents for RPA, choosing your equipment is an important part of your strategy. Epson provides a lineup of products for your business, including high-speed document scanners, that are cost-effective and backed by world-class service and support. Learn more by visiting Epson Business Solutions for Corporate, or see the Epson solution lineup for Small and Medium businesses here.

Don’t Overlook These 3 Factors When Future-Proofing Your POS System

For restaurant and retail businesses, your POS and payment systems form the backbone of all your transactions. You might not always think of these systems as sources of data analytics, but for a growing number of retailers and restaurant owners, POS devices are playing key roles in omnichannel commerce strategies.

In this new world of POS-driven analytics, it’s essential to future-proof your POS solution. But when retailers focus on their lists of “must-have” features, many of them unfortunately skip over the factors that will be most crucial over the lifetime of their POS system.

Here are three critical factors you won’t want to overlook when planning your next POS upgrade:

1. Your customers want mobile-style transactions

Many customers already use mobile devices to keep in touch with friends, plan their day, and make purchases from merchants around the globe, and that number is only going to grow. What’s more, customers increasingly expect every transaction to offer the streamlined convenience of a mobile app — whether they’re buying online or in a brick-and-mortar store.

Mobile POS systems have been shown to reduce transaction time, raise efficiency, and even increase the likelihood of an upsell. These systems can run on stationary touch-screen kiosks or on tablets or smartphones carried by your staff. A growing number of restaurants are even trying out apps that let customers order and pay right from the table, without ever taking out their wallets.

2. Your POS should help you manage inventory

A cutting-edge POS system will do much more than just streamline transactions. These systems are designed to communicate with one another — and with your existing inventory software. That means you’ll get a steady stream of real-time data on your supply chain, so you’ll always know what to reorder, what to put on the shelf, what’s about to expire, and what to plan to order next week.

That means any business whose POS system doesn’t help manage inventory could be potentially abandoning profit opportunities. This can happen due to inaccurate orders, supply chain hang-ups, and a wide range of other inventory-related inefficiencies – all of which can easily mitigated against with POS-based inventory management. The ability to adjust inventory, see what is available, and even fulfill on the fly, in real time, can really open up sales opportunities and increase the moments you have to wow your customers.

3. Your POS system should talk to your marketing system

You’ve probably heard that many retailers and restaurant owners are linking real-time transactional data with their cloud-based analytics platforms. From those platforms, your marketing pros can set up actions triggered by transactions — so customers automatically receive personalized offers as a direct result of the actions they just took in the store. With real-time POS data being fed directly into your marketing software, you can also easily segment customers based on their real-world purchases and develop automated campaigns that respond to the actions they take in-store.

Looking to replace an ECR or bring on a Mobile POS system? Check out our guide on “Using Better Data to Drive an Increase Share of Wallet” to learn about harnessing real-time data, using what you know about each guest to personalize their experience, up-selling, and checklists for future-proofing your current and next POS system.