The Cloud: Changing the Game for Small Businesses

There is a consensus among cloud experts that the onset of cloud computing will benefit small organisations the most. In fact, many even go as far as saying that the cloud and small businesses are a match made in IT heaven. How much of this is true and how much of this is merely part and parcel of the hype surrounding cloud computing?

The Cloud as the Great?Equaliser

If you closely examine the essential characteristics of cloud computing, particularly public cloud services, you will see why small organisations would be very interested in the cloud, and would eventually flock to it, like moths to a flame. And why not? Cloud computing is turning out to be the weapon that can allow small and medium organisations to compete on a more level playing field against large enterprises.

Here are some cloud computing benefits that may just close the gap between the two.

  • Significantly lower IT spending. With little to no investment at all on hardware infrastructure and practically zero maintenance costs, SMBs that would have required substantial capital for IT are now finding it easy to get a business started from scratch or develop and test out new products by using the cloud as the backbone of their IT set-up. The pay-as-you-go pricing scheme that cloud computing offers allows companies to start small and scale up as needed, or when the revenue starts coming in.
  • Higher employee productivity. Licensing fees for software applications can run high even if you don’t have a large staff. Good thing there are now a host of cloud-based office tools – word processors, spreadsheets, presentations, accounting systems, etc. – that can boost employee productivity without the corresponding costs that small businesses can ill afford. Plus, team members in remote locations can continue to collaborate with the rest through any internet-connected device in real time.
  • Easier, better communication. The easy accessibility of communication apps has also changed the way employees interact with fellow employees and more importantly, with customers. Whether through email, instant messaging, or social networks, cloud services have given individuals and businesses more ways of giving and getting feedback. The best thing about it is that most of these services don’t cost much or are even free, giving SMBs ample tools to create better products and improve service.
  • A Look at the Figures Many small businesses are already seeing the potential in the cloud, with SaaS (Software as a Service) applications most commonly used among the early adopters. These services include email and other communication apps, file sharing, and backup.

In a February 2012 Edge Strategies survey (commissioned by Microsoft) of 3,000 small businesses in the US, the following data came to light:

  • The number of small companies with 2 to 10 employees using paid cloud services will triple in the next three years;
  • Current cloud users report purchasing an average of 4 services in the cloud now and expect to use 6 in the future;
  • Fifty percent agree that cloud computing is going to become more important for businesses such as theirs.

Further, a survey of 323 SMBs recently released by social business site Spiceworks and sponsored by EMC reveals that from 48 percent at the start of 2012 and 28 percent a year ago, 62 percent of the businesses surveyed now use some type of cloud app.

What these numbers show is that cloud adoption among small and medium enterprises is starting to gain ground and for sure, more will do the same as understanding and awareness increase. Yes, these businesses should still perform their due diligence as there is no one-size-fits-all cloud solution. But for those companies who have managed to find the right cloud apps and services for their needs, it’s all sunny skies up ahead.

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Introduction to Matrix Management

A leader is responsible to empower his people and get the best out of them. Yet an organisational structure can either help or hamper performance. Worst, it can make or break success.

Looking at the fast-changing world of the global economy, whatsoever slows up and obstructs decision-making is a challenge. Hierarchical management is rather unattractive and functional silos are unlikable. Instead, employees desire to create teams equipped with flexibility, cooperation and coordination.

Recognising that companies have both vertical and horizontal chains of command, the matrix model is created. The concept of this principle lies in the ability to manage the collaboration of people across various functions and achieve strategic objectives through key projects.

Consider this scenario:

Ian is a sales executive of a company. His role is to sell a new product under the supervision of a product manager. The manager is expert about the product and she is accountable to coordinate the people across the organisation, making sure the product is achieved.

Moreover, Ian also reports to the sales manager who oversees his overall performance, monitors his pay and benefits and guides his personal development.

Complicated it may seem but this set-up is common to companies that seek to maximise the effect of expert product managers, without compromising the function of the staffing overhead in control of the organisation. This is a successful approach to management known as Matrix Management.

Matrix Management Defined

Matrix management is a type of organisational management wherein employees of similar skills are shared for work assignments. Simply stated, it is a structure in which the workforce reports to multiple managers of different roles.

For example, a team of engineers work under the supervision of their department head, which is the engineering manager. However, the same people from the engineering department may be assigned to other projects where they report to the project manager. Thus, while working on a designated project, each engineer has to work under various managers to accomplish the job.

Historical Background

Although some critics say that matrix management was first adopted in the Second World War, its origins can be traced more reliably to the US space programme of the 1960’s when President Kennedy has drawn his vision of putting a man on the moon. In order to accomplish the objective, NASA revolutionised its approach on the project leading to the consequent birth of ?matrix organisation?. This strategic method facilitated the energy, creativity and decision-making to triumph the grand vision.

In the 1970’s, matrix organisation received huge attention as the only new form of organisation in the twentieth century. In fact it was applied by Digital Equipment, Xerox, and Citibank. Despite its initial success, the enthusiasm of corporations with regards to matrix organisation declined in the 1980’s, largely because it was complex.

Furthermore, the drive for motivating people to work creatively and flexibly has only strengthened. And by the 1990’s, the evolution of matrix management geared towards creation and empowerment of virtual teams that focused on customer service and speedy delivery.

Although all forms of matrix has loopholes and flaws, research says that until today, matrix management is still the leading approach used by companies to achieve organisational goals.

Project Management

In a cutthroat market, where the competition is constantly on the attack to break into your market share, implementing a project-based system can give your organisation the necessary tools to be more efficient and agile.

However, rapidly changing consumer demands, technologies and other factors make it ever more difficult to generate a strategic advantage from projects, let alone develop one. Also since a large organisation can easily end up having to manage multiple projects at the same time, the new management paradigm can appear too complex.

What your company really needs is the expertise that can guide you starting from conception and planning, down through procurement and execution in order to maximise whatever resources you have. Each move must be well thought out so that there are clear goals and objectives as well as methods to achieve them.

Programme Management

Are you running multiple projects pointing to an overall strategic direction? Then you’ll need more than just a “scaled-up” version of project management to make sure every component’s work effort is well coordinated to achieve your enterprise’s desired outcomes.

Through our expertise in programme management, we’ll work with your stakeholders, executives and clients to achieve the following:

  • Design a well-articulated management structure and clearly define decision-making roles & responsibilities – This will ensure decisions are made rapidly with zero to minimal overlapping issues and to promote a unified, well-synchronised advance towards the common objective.
  • Set objectives then make sure they are met by guiding your key personnel in coordinating activities across projects.
  • Design or utilise existing financial models such that they adhere to your enterprise’s financial policies.
  • Develop procedures for reporting expenditures specific to the programme.
  • Establish the programme infrastructure, including
    • The appropriate technical environment and tools (e.g. hardware, software, communication, and other IT-related items)
    • IT staff and administrators
  • Evaluate your enterprise’s current IT architecture to determine whether it will suffice to achieve your objectives. If it doesn’t, propose options you can take to meet what is required.
  • Plan out activities that should take place in different levels in the organisation.
  • Implement a periodic review of the programme progress as well as of interim results to ensure everything is aligned with the strategic outcome.

Programme and Project Reviews

Whether we’ve helped you set up your programme or you did it on your own, time will come when you’ll need to know whether everything is going as planned. If it appears like the entire programme is going smoothly, chances are, something’s going awfully wrong somewhere. Remember, even the most well-planned projects and programmes are still under the mercy of unforeseen variables.

We’ve got highly specialised reviews for either projects or an entire programme. We’ll be able to provide you answers to questions like:

  • Are all projects aligned with the programme’s intended direction?
  • Are the people working on your projects as focused with the business rationale as they have been with meeting deadlines and utilising resources?
  • Where are your risks and exposures? How can they be remedied?
  • Is the project viable at all?

We understand how your staff would want to function normally as quickly as possible. Rest assured, our programme and project reviews are conducted swiftly and efficiently so that both interruptions and oversights are brought to a minimum.

After we’re done, you can expect a detailed quantitative assessment of your programme and/or projects’ status.

Basically, we’re not here to find mistakes; we’re here to help you find ways to correct them. If a project rescue is required, we’ll be the first to lend a hand.

Project Rescue

Believe it or not, many of our clients approached us not before or during their project’s planning stages. But rather, after having gone through sloppy execution, when they end up losing control. In other words, we’re usually at the receiving end of the distress signal, after they’ve punched the panic button.

While obviously this isn’t the ideal time to seek the aid of any expert because it means you’ve incurred unnecessary losses already, all is not yet lost. If the appropriate remedial actions are taken in a timely manner, you can still achieve highly acceptable end results.

In fact, in most of our experiences with project rescue operations, we’ve been able to put projects back on track – just the way the planners wanted them to be. We’ll also help you devise airtight strategies to prevent your project from going astray again.

At the end of our project rescue,

  • You’ll regain complete control
  • Milestones will be reached as planned
  • Requirements will be accomplished, and
  • The project will be realigned with ideal business directions

Project Governance Processes

Constructing a firm underlying structure is essential in any organisation. So before we’ll institute project management, we’ll do the following first.

  • Set up a PMO or Project Management Office to ensure, among others, that
    • Utilisation of facilities, budgets, technical support and other resources will be well coordinated
    • Work products can be tracked and reviewed
    • Issues regarding methodology and processes will be given appropriate attention
    • Training can be organised
    • Project management discipline be instilled in the IT department
  • Establish a steering committee to oversee the implementation of IT and business strategies
  • Fill up slots for a project manager, IT executive and a business sponsor and define the roles of each
  • Infuse project management practices to all affected units of the enterprise

Establishing PMOs, steering committees and other management structures is the easy part. Many organisations spend so much in order to create the structures related to project management, only to find out later that the effort has been all for naught. That’s why we won’t end there. Our objectives will therefore include the following:

  • To plant and cultivate an environment appreciative of project governance i.e. one that does not project it as just a bunch of bureaucratic processes and protocols.
  • To establish an organisational culture that starts at the top.
  • To make everyone involved understand that the power of project governance still lies in the hands of those who will ultimately implement it.

A project-driven enterprise is never propelled by a single project. Since multiple projects require a more complex governing structure, you’ll need to understand the intricacies of programme management.

The Better Way of Applying Benford’s Law for Fraud Detection

Applying Benford’s Law on large collections of data is an effective way of detecting fraud. In this article, we?ll introduce you to Benford’s Law, talk about how auditors are employing it in fraud detection, and introduce you to a more effective way of integrating it into an IT solution.

Benford’s Law in a nutshell

Benford’s Law states that certain data sets – including certain accounting numbers – exhibit a non-uniform distribution of first digits. Simply put, if you gather all the first digits (e.g. 8 is the first digit of ?814 and 1 is the first digit of ?1768) of all the numbers that make up one of these data sets, the smallest digits will appear more frequently than the larger ones.

That is, according to Benford’s Law,

1 should comprise roughly 30.1% of all first digits;
2 should be 17.6%;
3 should be 12.5%;
4 should be 9.7%, and so on.

Notice that the 1s (ones) occur far more frequently than the rest. Those who are not familiar with Benford’s Law tend to assume that all digits should be distributed uniformly. So when fraudulent individuals tinker with accounting data, they may end up putting in more 9s or 8s than there actually should be.

Once an accounting data set is found to show a large deviation from this distribution, then auditors move in to make a closer inspection.

Benford’s Law spreadsheets and templates

Because Benford’s Law has been proven to be effective in discovering unnaturally-behaving data sets (such as those manipulated by fraudsters), many auditors have created simple software solutions that apply this law. Most of these solutions, owing to the fact that a large majority of accounting departments use spreadsheets, come in the form of spreadsheet templates.

You can easily find free downloadable spreadsheet templates that apply Benford’s Law as well as simple How-To articles that can help you to implement the law on your own existing spreadsheets. Just Google “Benford’s law template” or “Benford’s law spreadsheet”.

I suggest you try out some of them yourself to get a feel on how they work.

The problem with Benford’s Law when used on spreadsheets

There’s actually another reason why I wanted you to try those spreadsheet templates and How-To’s yourself. I wanted you to see how susceptible these solutions are to trivial errors. Whenever you work on these spreadsheet templates – or your own spreadsheets for that matter – when implementing Benford’s Law, you can commit mistakes when copy-pasting values, specifying ranges, entering formulas, and so on.

Furthermore, some of the data might be located in different spreadsheets, which can likewise by found in different departments and have to be emailed for consolidation. The departments who own this data will have to extract the needed data from their own spreadsheets, transfer them to another spreadsheet, and send them to the person in-charge of consolidation.

These activities can introduce errors as well. That’s why we think that, while Benford’s Law can be an effective tool for detecting fraud, spreadsheet-based working environments can taint the entire fraud detection process.

There?s actually a better IT solution where you can use Benford’s Law.

Why a server-based solution works better

In order to apply Benford’s Law more effectively, you need to use it in an environment that implements better controls than what spreadsheets can offer. What we propose is a server-based system.

In a server-based system, your data is placed in a secure database. People who want to input data or access existing data will have to go through access controls such as login procedures. These systems also have features that log access history so that you can trace who accessed which and when.

If Benford’s Law is integrated into such a system, there would be no need for any error-prone copy-pasting activities because all the data is stored in one place. Thus, fraud detection initiatives can be much faster and more reliable.

You can get more information on this site regarding the disadvantages of spreadsheets. We can also tell you more about the advantages of server application solutions.

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