Accounting Today

Big Brother at work, and other tech stories you may have missed

By March 17, 2021March 18th, 2021No Comments

(This article originally appeared in Accounting Today)

From businesses monitoring remote workers to the impending end of Skype for Business, here are ten developments in technology from the past month and how they’ll impact your clients and your firm.

Note: Some of these stories also appeared on Forbes.com.

1. More bosses monitoring remote workers

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Brian Jackson – Fotolia

Recent research released by YouGov and Skillcast revealed that more businesses are starting to track their employees’ activity online while they continue to work from home during the pandemic. According to the research, one in five companies are already utilizing such technology or planning to in the near future. Related research also conducted by YouGov indicated that two-thirds of workers did not feel comfortable with the concept of their companies keeping track of things such as keystrokes or screenshots as they work from home. (Source: ZDNet)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Do you monitor your employees when they’re out of the office? Some of my clients feel that they could be spending their time better and I agree. I feel that these types of applications will decline, not grow in popularity as more business owners learn that the best way to manage remote workers is not to breathe down their necks and supervise every action they take, but rather to give them specific tasks and goals and evaluate them based on their results.

2. Accounting software startup raises $10M

Online accounting

Picasa/thodonal – stock.adobe.com

Seattle-based startup Lockstep — which uses the cloud and specific software to help make accounting procedures more efficient and to help businesses better manage cashflow — recently raised $10 million. Lockstep plans to use the new funding to speed up go-to-market initiatives and ramp up product development. (Source: GeekWire)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Lockstep utilizes tools such as automating emails as well as special accounting inboxes for items such as accounts payable and receivable to help negate cash leaks and traps that can often happen when humans handle company books. Its automation system sends out reminders via email to help keep cash flowing and also lets customers and vendors see into their accounts.

3. LinkedIn building a gig marketplace

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Professional networking site LinkedIn has announced plans to launch their own gig marketplace called Marketplace. Similar to Upwork and Fiverr, Marketplace will post freelance projects and work from home jobs while taking 13-27 percent. The new platform will primarily focus on jobs such as writing, marketing, and consulting. Microsoft — the parent company of LinkedIn— is also focusing their efforts on creating a digital wallet that will be compatible throughout several of its platforms, including Marketplace. (Source: The Hustle)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Despite pressures by Washington to force employers to reclassify more independent workers as employees, the “gig” economy continues to expand. That’s why LinkedIn is jumping in. What I like about this is that when clients ask me for consultants or independent workers for projects, I generally tell them to search on LinkedIn. Now the platform is making it easier to find these people…and pay them too.

4. Microsoft to increase integration between Teams, Outlook, and Dynamics 365

Microsoft offices

Microsoft announced that it plans to ramp up the way Dynamics 365, Outlook and Teams integrate. According to the company, users can expect improved integrations between Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Teams, such as streamlining how information is exchanged and improving various business processes. Similarly, a collaboration between Dynamics 365 and Teams will allow Dynamics users to utilize calling, meetings, chat and records directly within 365 apps such as Customer Service and Sales. Microsoft also plans to make improvements between Dynamics 365 Marketing and Teams integrations. (Source: ZDNet)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: This makes me happy because my company sells and implements these products (full disclosure). Microsoft knows it needs to do more to bring their Office and operational applications together under one interface and to provide more integration of data. But it won’t solve all the problems. A big question I get from my clients is what application to use for what purpose and how to avoid overlap and duplication of effort. Integration is great, but Microsoft will need to do more to reduce complexity.

5. The best MacBook Pro alternatives for 2021

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The editors at CNET — a science, culture, and tech website — have shared their picks for top alternatives for the MacBook Pro, categorizing them by size, appearance, purpose, and price. According to the site, the HP Spectre x360 is the best 13-inch two-in-one alternative, coming with a longer battery life than the Pro. For the best 14-inch two-in-one alternative, the Lenovo Yoga C940 was picked for its features and 360-degree screen, while the Dell XPS 9700 was singled out as the best MacBook Pro 16 alternative that provides users more screen control. Lastly, the Razer Blade Stealth was touted as the best MacBook Pro lookalike, the Dell XPS 13 as being best for commuters, and the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 as the best budget option. (Source: CNET)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: My company is a Microsoft shop, so we use Windows-based devices. But unfortunately that sometimes means sacrificing the quality and functionality that you find in some Apple products. Which is why when it comes to buying new laptops, I tend towards the ones that are more like Apple’s. I’m also motivated to recommend these devices for employees that are more familiar with Apple products, but must operate in a Windows world for their jobs.

6. Microsoft releases all-in-one Office app for iPads

The Apple logo outside the company's flagship store in San Francisco

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Last month, Microsoft released a new Office app for iPads. The new all-in-one app is changing the way Office appeared on iOS and Android, combining PowerPoint, Excel and Word, as well as several tools specific to mobile devices such as a file browser as well as PDF management features. This feature was released last year for Androids and iPhones, while also appearing on certain Android tablets. However, after only being available on iPads in a modified mode, the newest version now specifically integrates fully with iPad features (Source: ARS Technica)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: It’s great to see more convergence between Microsoft and Apple and a great benefit for those who use iPads as their primary device. It’s also good to see Microsoft investing in technologies for non-Windows devices. Can you imagine such heresy 10 years ago?

7. Trello redesigns project management platform for remote work

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Ģirts Raģelis/Girts – stock.adobe.com

Productivity, managing, and project organizing platform Trello recently announced that they are undergoing a significant redesign as well as adding a few features that will be able to assist businesses in managing and integrating third parties. While Trello is getting a visual facelift to both the illustrations used throughout its apps and websites and its logo, the platform will be adding new approaches to make it easier for companies still working remotely due to the pandemic. Updates to features such as its whiteboards and customized cards will allow companies to be more flexible in sharing information and connecting to additional tools. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: We have many clients that use and love Trello. The project management app industry is crowded, but Trello has always been among the most popular. Hopefully these changes will motivate small-business owners to continue investing in this platform.

8. HR startup creates a virtual program for diversity training

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Reverb, a digital human resources consultancy based in Seattle, is working on a program of virtual online coaching and webinars in order to help HR and diversity professionals develop or further efforts to recognize and improve diversity in the workplace. (Source: Geek Wire)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: The program currently will be made up of 4.5 hours of one-on-one coaching with a diversity, equity & inclusion expert as well as 7.5 hours of breakout sessions and workshops, with the hope that those participating will be able to develop a specific statement, hiring plan, and DEI strategy for their company. Diversity is a very, very important issue for businesses of all sizes.

9. Sunset coming for Skype for Business, warns Microsoft

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Tony Avelar/Bloomberg

As of July 31, 2021, Microsoft’s Skype for Business Online will be no more. The tech giant has released a reminder that users should begin to migrate immediately if they haven’t started the process yet. Microsoft originally made the announcement on July 30, 2019, which gave customers two years to make the move. While the company understands that the coronavirus pandemic may be responsible for some migration delays, it does not plan to make a deadline extension. (Source: ZDNet).

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Microsoft’s actions with Outlook, Hotmail and Skype are meant to clean up their confusing business offerings and bring users under the full Office 365 umbrella. I realize that for some small businesses these changes can be annoying, disruptive and even more expensive. But then again I hear many complaints from clients about the confusing complexity of Microsoft products, so hopefully this will simplify our choices and make us all better users. (My company implements Microsoft products.)

10. Chromebooks just had their best year ever

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A recent analysis has revealed that Chromebooks had their strongest year to date, with more than 30 million laptops being shipped during 2020. Just in the fourth quarter, approximately 11.5 million were shipped, which is 287 percent greater than what was shipped the previous year. With Chromebooks being a popular buy in the education field, analysts believe that remote education has had a lot to do with the success of the Google laptop, due to the coronavirus pandemic forcing schools to go to remote or hybrid schedules. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: The pandemic drove millions of kids to virtual learning and schools needed an affordable device, which is why Chromebooks had such a strong year. I always paused when considering a Chromebook because of its reliability on the Internet and that it wasn’t a Microsoft or Apple operating system. But have you heard of any major complaints? Any big problems? Speed? Accessibility? I haven’t. Seems like my concerns weren’t that serious. What this tells me is that these devices, after being significantly tested in 2020, are good options for a budget-conscious small-business owner.

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