Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A.I. Can Sell Pastries and Diagnose Cancer

 Artificial intelligence is one of the most intriguing technologies that has come down the pike. For the small and medium-sized business, it may seem more like science fiction than a solution to their business’ operational problems. Today, AI is more accessible for the SMB than ever, and today, we thought we would share with you a situation where the technology—designed to help out in a bakery—is being used to diagnose cancer. 


Why Would a Bakery Use AI in the First Place?

In Japan, where the technology was developed, they have a lot of cafeteria-style restaurants. An AI-aided software was developed to automate the role of cashier. Instead of having a human cashier on staff to count out the shopper’s selections at checkout, an attendant simply instructs customers to place the baked goods they want to buy out on the counter. Once they are ready to check out, the whole process takes seconds. The AI effectively identifies the pastries, calculates the price owed and calculates a total for the customer. This allows each customer to be rang up much more quickly.

By streamlining the process with automation, these Japanese bakeries, which usually carry large selections of items, were able to check out more people and it increased their revenue. It also cut down on the packaging required as the AI would identify each individual pastry. The development of this AI-integrated application was spearheaded by BRAIN Co. Called BakeryScan, it is now in over 400 retail establishments in Japan and costs around $20,000 to deploy. 

By the way: if you’re worried about the prospect of unwrapped baked goods being sold in the past year or so, the technology has since improved to recognize pastries through protective wrapping just as accurately.

This technology has obvious benefits for retail organizations, but what you won’t expect is that nearly the same software could find another use: Diagnosing cancer.

A doctor at Kyoto’s Louis Pasteur Center for Medical Research saw a segment on TV and the connection was made. Turns out that some baked goods look similar to some cancer cells observed through a microscope. Making an association with the utility of the BakeryScan AI, it was repurposed as AI-Scan, a medical tool. 

AI-Scan can spot differences in cancerous urinary cells with its Cyto-AiSCAN offshoot (with accuracy measuring over 99 percent), and has been adopted for many other purposes. Today, organizations are using it to distinguish pill types, one company uses it to identify bolts and other fasteners that may have some problem. Toyota has also started using the technology to help design more effective airbags. 

This gives you a good idea about how AI is being adopted to further the technology used to improve the outlook for humanity, but it can also be used to help your business. Today, there are a number of software solutions that have integrated an AI or machine learning system that can help you streamline processes or, like AI-Scan, change the way you view your business.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Why Every Business Should Seriously Consider Virtualization as an Option

 Business hardware is never a small investment to make, so for a business to make the best use out of their invested funds, their hardware needs to be seriously considered. One way to do so is to use a virtualized environment, whether that environment is hosted onsite or in the cloud. Let’s consider the inherent benefits of virtualization.


The Shift in Business Computing

It wasn’t all that long ago that a business’ options were limited. Smaller businesses that wanted to expand their infrastructures had to purchase a new server and use it for a specific purpose. Given the hardware, data, and application control this gives the organization, it makes the most sense for a business with an IT support team onsite—assuming the business has a budget that can support it.

This is because a server used in this way doesn’t make use of its full capabilities. With each server dedicated to a single, specific purpose, there are a lot of resources potentially going to waste each time. However, in a virtualized environment, this hardware can be used for multiple processes, helping to vastly reduce the investment needed to support them all.

How Does Virtualization Work?

Instead of dedicating an entire server to each application you’re hosting, several virtual servers can share the resources on one piece of hardware. This means that the same processes that would once require four separate servers could now be accomplished with one.

Some Benefits of Virtualization

While virtualization does bring some significant up-front costs, the overall reduction in hardware costs can make these expenses worth it for many organizations, with the added accessibility this strategy provides serving as a nice externality. Not only can you reduce the infrastructure required to support your processes, but you can also reduce the need for your entire team to congregate into one place. These factors can combine to help result in hardware cost reductions ranging from 40-to-60 percent, with the cost of management, business utilities, and maintenance also reducing.

Businesses can then take these cost savings and reinvest them into forward-thinking initiatives while also making use of their improved capabilities. With new environments able to be created in mere minutes, and backups and security management consolidated substantially, efficiency is gained.

Cloud-Based Company Benefits

A virtualized environment can also be hosted in a bigger virtualized environment, as cloud resources are now more accessible, affordable, and secure than ever before. Pairing the benefits of cloud and virtualization can deliver even more substantial advantages for the cost of a modicum of data control.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Profiting Off Your IT Investments

 Revenue generation is the name of the game for every business and sometimes technology is looked on as more of a hindrance to profitability than a tool to cultivate it. To turn this notion around, a business needs to make strategic investments that will return some type of benefit, whether that be the availability of alternate revenue streams, a boost in productivity, improved collaboration, and more. Today, let’s take a look at some ways that businesses can invest in their IT and improve their profitability as a result. 


Using IT to Boost Operational Efficiency

One of the things technology is great at doing is making inefficient systems more efficient. Today, many of the problems small and medium-sized businesses have are that they lack the efficiency in their human resources to make gains on the balance sheet. Automation can change any business’ fortunes in this regard.

Think about it this way, one of your employees has to produce something in order to be viable, right? If half of that person’s job is working on the business, whether it be small mundane and repetitive tasks that waste their focus or their time, or if they are being asked to support the same product they are charged with creating, they won’t be nearly as productive as they should be (or they would like to be). Go on like this for a while and anyone can be frustrated.

By automating some of the things they do--that is, using computer-run systems to take over those mundane and repetitive tasks--they will be able to truly focus on the job you hired them for, and therefore you can expect a happier, more productive person. Additionally, all those little tasks that kept them from being more productive will be done without error, every time, building efficiency and keeping downtime to a minimum. 

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The technology your business uses is expensive, this much is true. Servers, workstations, networking: they all cost an arm and a leg to purchase, but also to monitor and maintain properly. One way that the modern SMB can avoid these massive capital expenditures is to utilize the numerous IT-related services at their disposal. 

Considering cloud computing is a great way to start. Today there are Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings that require next to zero capital expense. You can get all the computing and services from cloud vendors and you will pay per month or per gigabyte for them. This means that your business’ computing resources can be an operational expense, easier to budget, and available from anywhere on nearly any device. 

For those companies that like to have their IT onsite, outsourcing your IT support and management to a managed service provider (MSP) is a great way to get all the value of having a dedicated IT staff, at a fraction of the cost. Not only does the MSP keep your technology running effectively, minimizing downtime, it also offers a myriad of useful services including backup and disaster recovery, patch management, vendor management, and more. If you want to take a chunk out of your IT support costs, while maximizing your business’ ability to function by reducing downtime, managed IT services are a great option for any SMB.

Considering the Current State of Phishing

 We will never pass up the opportunity to draw attention to the importance of cybersecurity awareness, as it is a crucial element for any business to consider. One serious issue that has caused significant stress amongst businesses is phishing. Let’s consider some recent statistics to evaluate where we stand right now, specifically in terms of the prevalence of phishing attacks.


What is Phishing, Again?

Let’s break down the basic idea of a phishing attack (if only briefly):

Rather than relying on fancy coding or malware, a phishing attack targets the user to try to fool them into handing over their credentials, financial information, and other valuable and sensitive data rather than undermining their technology in some way.

These attacks are, in a word, effective… and in another word, prevalent. After all, around the world, a full 88 percent of organizations experienced a direct phishing attack (known as spear phishing) in 2019—which actually marked a decline in phishing’s popularity amongst cybercriminals. In 2020, phishing resurged once again to make up approximately one of every 4,200 emails or so sent, and Google has registered over two million phishing sites as of January 17th of this year (compared to just over 1.6 million at the same point the year prior).

These attacks have resulted in lost and stolen data, compromised accounts, malware and ransomware infections, and of course financial losses.

Unsurprisingly, Phishing Has Exploded

While phishing has always been an issue, the events of 2020 made it particularly impactful. 75 percent of organizations worldwide were targeted by phishing of some kind over the year, while 74 percent of United States organizations were successfully attacked. Considering the cost that phishing attacks can incur for a business—$3.92 million on average—and the variety of ways that these costs are incurred, phishing can safely be referred to as one of the biggest issues that businesses face on a regular basis right now.

Naturally, this is not good, and strongly suggests that more needs to be done to help prevent successful phishing attacks from taking place.