The next time you tuck into a restaurant pizza, your enjoyment may owe as much to data crunching as to cooking.
The ingredients, the ambience, the pricing, the location – all these elements will have been finessed thanks to clever analysis of mounds of data.
This is because computing power and the range of available data sets have increased so much we can now make business decisions based on hard evidence, not gut instinct or guesswork.
“Casual dining” chain Pizza Hut Restaurants UK has been applying data analytics to its £60m ($94m) refurbishment programme, begun after private equity firm Rutland Partners bought the brand from US owner Yum! Brands in 2012.
Pizza Hut is just one of many firms embracing data analytics, which was pioneered in the UK by high street supermarket Tesco and its Clubcard loyalty scheme.
“We’d seen sales fall off over a number of years as more entrants came in to the marketplace between 2000 and 2010,” says strategy director Andy Platt. “Operators like Nando’s had done
Budding South African film producer Meg Rickards was struggling to raise the money for her new feature film, Whiplash, when she came across the idea of crowdfunding.
“We had about 70% of the budget and were battling to raise the rest,” she remembers.
Meg decided to try local South African crowdfunding site Thundafund, and launched a campaign to raise the rest of the cash for her feature film project. Three months later, she had raised 106,800 rand (£5460; $8665).
“The crowdfunding indeed gave us vital cash flow during the development phase, and also helped to build an engaged fan base,” she says.
Launched in 2013, Thundafund co-founder and chief executive Patrick Schofield says the platform was created with the intention of driving innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa, by encouraging the public to back individuals with great ideas.
“Crowdfunding has been a phenomenal driving force of creative development in the US and Europe, we believe that it can become an equally powerful force in Africa,” he says.
“Hence, Thundafund was launched
Along with several assistants, aviation engineer Li Jieke, 66, a tall, elegant man, is giving a tour of the grounds along with an assistant. Foreigners are an uncommon sight here, and foreign journalists are especially rare. “No photos, please,” says Li, as we approach the airfield, where several People’s Liberation Army jet fighter are parked in formation. “Let’s take a drive over to our building instead, to the civilian aircraft.”
In Dr. Li’s hangar, photographs are only permitted in selected locations, and only from specific angles. The ARJ21 Xiangfeng is being assembled there. It is China’s first domestically developed modern airliner, the pride of its engineers and the hope of its aviation industry. ARJ stands for “Advanced Regional Jet,” and Xiangfeng means “Flying Phoenix.” The number 21 stands for the 21st century.
Development of the short-haul aircraft began in 2002, and it took off on its first test flight in 2008, after a few delays. But then the wings proved to be too weak, and there were problems with the aircraft’s electronics, landing gear and ice testing. Certification had to be postponed several times.
COMAC, the Chinese state-owned aviation company, plans to deliver the first
But Diekmann decided to make the trip anyway, from Vechta, an administrative district in northern Germany, to Iran. His two egg-laying farms in Damme, in the southern Oldenburg region of northwestern Germany, produce 310,000 eggs a day. “When I started going to school, I couldn’t even speak High German,” he says, referring to the standard form of German spoken in Germany. Like other country boys, he says, he only spoke Low German, a dialect used in some parts of the northern end of the country. Diekmann was the youngest of nine children. His mother died when he was 10. “That made me strong. I wanted to succeed.”
And that’s why Diekmann, of Alfons Diekmann GmbH, is standing at check-in counter 40 at Imam Khomeini Airport early in the morning, together with 98 other representatives of small and medium-sized companies from Lower Saxony. They include logistics and waste disposal experts, leading manufacturers of turbofans, plaster products, port cranes, special paints and pumping equipment, dump trucks and reel slitters, and now, at 2:30 a.m., they want the same thing: to get into Iran, at last.
After years of talks, the agreement on the Iranian nuclear program was signed
Over the past few months, I’ve read articles and answered questions from many people who are concerned about declines in organic reach for their Facebook Pages. Organic reach refers to how many people you can reach for free on Facebook by posting to your Page. My colleagues and I at Facebook understand that this has been a pain point for many businesses, and we’re committed to helping you understand what’s driving this change so your business can succeed on Facebook. To that end, today I’d like to answer some questions we’ve been hearing.
Why is organic reach declining?
There are two main reasons.
The first reason involves a simple fact: More and more content is being created and shared every day. You’ve probably felt this change yourself. Just a few years ago, sharing important moments and experiences, articles you’ve read, and photos and videos of your loved ones was a relatively labor-intensive process. Today, thanks to devices like smartphones, many people can share this content with just a few swipes of the finger or
Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Most successful business owners will tell you they could not have accomplished their goals without help–from a mentor, colleague, even mom and dad. For many, their ability to evaluate, internalize and act on the counsel they received was instrumental in getting their companies off the ground.
In an effort to tap some of this wisdom, we called on business gurus to tell us the very best piece of advice they’ve received. From hiring to philanthropy and more, their responses were as varied as the companies they run.
Dennis Crowley, CEO, Foursquare
After co-founding two businesses, reportedly turning down a $125 million acquisition offer and being named to just about every “40 under 40” list imaginable, Dennis Crowley, CEO of Foursquare, still cites the advice his mother gave him repeatedly as a child: to follow his heart.
This was the mantra he adhered to when he decided to get his master’s degree at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program instead of going for an MBA. It was also behind his launch of social networking companies Dodgeball (which he sold to Google in 2005) and Foursquare,
When Apple started selling its iPhone 5S with a Touch ID fingerprint reading sensor, all of us entered the biometric age a bit.
Apple acquired the technology when it purchased AuthenTec in 2012.
Samsung followed quickly with its own version of the tech in the Galaxy S5 and soon-to-be-released S6.
With telecoms company Qualcomm promising to release a 3D-fingerprint reader shortly, having one in your pocket could become increasingly standard in the next two years.
And RBS and NatWest have recently announced that customers will be able to log on with Touch ID to do their banking.
German hacker Starbug – whose real name is Jan Krissler – is not impressed.
He hacked Apple’s Touch ID roughly a day after its launch, replicating the last fingerprint that had touched the glass iPhone surface with kit that included a scanner, a printer, and a bit of glue.
And he followed this up in December by reproducing the fingerprint of German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, using photographs from a press conference at a distance of about 10 feet.
Starbug believes that proper protection requires “two-factor authentication, based on two
For decades “passive” tracker funds that mirror stock market indexes have been shown to outperform ones actively managed by humans.
And now so-called ‘robo investors’ – algorithm-based systems that manage investments on our behalf – are soaring in popularity with the public.
A key advantage to automated funds is that they bypass human emotions like fear and greed, which often lead to poor investment decisions.
However, a new wave of tech start-ups say they can redress the balance – by helping fund managers overcome their deepest cognitive biases.
Using big data and behavioural finance techniques, they say they can help you invest more wisely and ethically – as well as outflank the automatons eating your lunch.
Fear and loathing
Clare Flynn Levy was a hedge fund manager for 10 years before she set up Essentia Analytics, a forerunner in the space. Its clients include the likes of Man Group, Union Investment and Artemis Fund Managers.
“Fear and greed drive us to do irrational things, but a lot of it is subconscious. We’re driven by our wiring to avoid losses, to be afraid of missing out and to follow the
Banks once had a near monopoly on moving money around the world, and they charged a pretty penny for it.
But since the 2008 financial crisis, their reputations have taken an almighty battering, and a growing number of technology-focused start-ups are intent on getting a slice of the action.
Cost has become the battleground and technology the weapon in this huge business: people send more than $500bn (£334bn) abroad each year.
TransferWise, for example, says banks and independent money transfer giants such as Western Union and MoneyGram, charge about 5-8% in fees when transferring money abroad, and these fees are often concealed within the exchange rate.
It charges just 0.5% of the amount being converted. This can equate to a £100-£150 saving on a £5,000 international money transfer.
Founded by Estonians Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Kaarman, the firm achieves this by matching people transferring money in one direction with people transferring it in the other – so called peer-to-peer transfers.
In other words, you are in effect buying your currency from other individuals, thereby cutting out a big chunk of exchange rate and “foreign transaction” charges normally levied
What do Thomas the Tank Engine, lifeboats, pilates, and the Bee Gees have in common?
They are all success stories from the Isle of Man.
The small independent island in the middle of the Irish Sea is now hoping to give a wholesome boost to the bad boy of digital currencies, Bitcoin.
Bitcoin tends to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons – the spectre of infamous Japanese exchange MtGox, which went bankrupt in 2013 after a spate of hacking resulted in the theft of around 650,000 of the virtual coins (today worth around £150/$223 each), still looms large.
It has also gained notoriety as the currency for choice for illegal activity because Bitcoin transactions can be carried out anonymously.
But the Isle of Man government believes a combination of regulation and encouragement can not only reverse Bitcoin’s reputation, but also push it towards the mainstream.
Its attractively low taxes and relaxed legislation have already made the island a popular choice of headquarters for the e-gaming industry.
Over the last 12 months the government has been working on incorporating Bitcoin into its anti-money-laundering laws.
The bald truth is that most companies are pretty bad at recruitment.
Nearly half of new recruits turn out to be duds within 18 months, according to one study, while two-thirds of hiring managers admit they’ve often chosen the wrong people.
And the main reason for failure is not because applicants didn’t have the requisite skills, but because their personalities clashed with the company’s culture.
So these days employers are resorting to big data analytics and other new methods to help make the fraught process of hiring and firing more scientific and effective.
For job hunters, this means success is now as much to do with your online data trail as your finely crafted CV.
Game for a job?
While the internet has certainly made it easier to match jobseekers with vacancies, a number of firms are moving beyond automatic keyword matching to find “suitable” candidates and trying more sophisticated analyses instead.
For example, recruitment technology firm Electronic Insight doesn’t even bother to look at your skills and experience when analysing CVs on behalf of clients.
“We just look at what people write and how they structure their
“It started out as appreciation of a bargain. I’m ridiculously frugal and not a fan of spending money.”
California resident Sara Dunaway-Seitz got married last year. While planning her nuptials a friend suggested an app called Yerdle that offered a modern twist on bartering.
“I was pulled in by the idea of getting things I could use in the wedding for dirt cheap, but the more that I got the hang of it, the clearer it became Yerdle would become an outlet for me to reduce clutter more than acquiring new things,” she says.
“In the 15 months I’ve been an active member, I’ve tallied up 325-plus gives, and at last check was at about a three-to-one give/get ratio.”
Users list items they no longer want or need, priced in Yerdle dollars. They can then be used to buy items from other members of the community.
Ms Dunaway-Seitz is a regular – notable acquisitions include a vintage mink stole and the camera she took on her honeymoon. And in April she’s taking part in a Yerdle for a month – using the site for anything she would normally have bought.
I’m on a date with Amelia. She’s neatly dressed, emotionally intelligent and whip-smart.
But she’s a little too virtual for my tastes.
Amelia is a “learning cognitive agent”, according to her creators IPSoft – like one of those virtual customer service helpers that pop up on corporate websites.
Only not so dumb and a lot less irritating.
But one day, she could end up being your boss, her makers believe.
Amelia can swallow textbooks whole, speak 20 languages, understand concepts and learn from her mistakes. And she can be replicated any number of times.
On my screen I see her absorb a complex engineering manual in 14 seconds then immediately answer questions such as “What are the symptoms of a bent drive shaft?” and “What causes high power demand?”
This may be a far cry from Scarlett Johansson’s uber-intelligent operating system Samantha in Spike Jonze’s sci-fi film, Her, but it’s the future, says Chetan Dube, IPSoft’s chief executive.
The key to Amelia’s intelligence is that she can understand what you mean even if you ask the question several different ways – “what is meant, not
Whatever happened to interplanetary travel, hover cars, and hypersonic jets?
Once it seemed as if there were no limits to how far or fast we could travel, such were the leaps in technological development in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
Inventors dreamed up all sorts wonderful vehicles, from rocket-propelled bicycles to flying cars, propeller-powered railways to monowheels.
In 1895, HG Wells even imagined a machine that could travel through time.
Steam power, the internal combustion engine and flight promised unprecedented levels of mobility and freedom.
Nation competed with nation to travel further, higher and faster by land, sea and air.
Speed was king.
And when the nuclear age dawned it seemed as if we had another, almost limitless power supply at our disposal, prompting thrilling designs for nuclear-powered rockets, cars, planes, trains and boats.
“On that train all graphite and glitter; undersea by rail; 90 minutes from New York to Paris… What a beautiful world this will be, what a glorious time to be free.”
So sang Donald Fagen in the song I.G.Y. [International Geophysical Year] from his 1982 album, The Nightfly, evoking the
If you want to know if a prospective date is relationship material, just ask them three questions, says Christian Rudder, one of the founders of US internet dating site OKCupid.
- “Do you like horror movies?”
- “Have you ever travelled around another country alone?”
- “Wouldn’t it be fun to chuck it all and go live on a sailboat?”
Why? Because these are the questions first date couples agree on most often, he says.
Mr Rudder discovered this by analysing large amounts of data on OKCupid members who ended up in relationships.
Dating agencies like OKCupid, Match.com – which acquired OKCupid in 2011 for $50m (£30m) – eHarmony and many others, amass this data by making users answer questions about themselves when they sign up.
Some agencies ask as many as 400 questions, and the answers are fed in to large data repositories. Match.com estimates that it has more than 70 terabytes (70,000 gigabytes) of data about its customers.
Applying big data analytics to these treasure troves of information is helping the agencies provide better matches for their customers. And more satisfied customers mean bigger profits.
US internet dating revenues top
Have you heard the one about the computer programmer who bought a failing comedy club in Texas and turned it into a million dollar a year business?
It’s no joke. But Kareem Badr says people did laugh in 2009 when he and two friends paid $20,000 (£13,000) for the Hideout in Austin, when it wasn’t making money and the previous owner decided not to renew the lease.
“We took over a sinking ship and each brought a bucket to bail it out,” says Mr Badr.
“None of us had any experience of running a business. But we loved what we were doing enough that it carried us through.”
Three years ago he was able to quit his day job and draw a salary from the club.
Mr Badr, 37, says it’s still not as much as he used to make as a programmer (about $80,000 a year), but he now employs around 25 part time and contract workers.
And he recently expanded the premises, taking over the adjoining coffee house which sells alcohol, and leasing more theatre space.
Mr Badr says: “I think my background in computer science helped because
As the Denmark-based toy manufacturer Lego expands into the Chinese market, buoyed by unprecedented profits in the wake of The Lego Movie, Canadian toy stores are disappointed to find there may not be enough Lego to go around this winter.
Guy Bagley, co-owner of The Swag Sisters Toy Store in Toronto, was shocked to discover he’d been cut off without notice when he checked online to confirm a birthday order. “At that point, I found out the five orders we had in the system were all gone,” Bagley says. “They were in the ‘completed’ file, and beside them they said ‘cancelled’. I just about had a heart attack.”
Bagley immediately contacted his sales rep. “She explained that, although Lego was expecting a halo effect from The Lego Movie, they hadn’t expected it to be as big as it was, so they oversold production, and because of it, they were cancelling all the Canadian independent toy store orders.”
Lori Parker, co-owner of Treasure Island Toys Limited, another independent Toronto shop, had the same experience when she discovered her October order, “about 15% to 20% of our order for the year,” had been cancelled.
“We were told
Inequality was one of the big issues in 2014 and this is reflected in two of our top 10 most read stories.
Consumer issues featured heavily, from air rage over reclining seats to Black Friday and Boxing Day bargains. And our special investigation into the tiny state that rubber-stamped tax evasion of an industrial scale also made it into the top 10.
Based on the number of visits to each page, here’s the full list of the most popular stories from theguardian.com/uk/business last year.
1. The windowless plane set for take-off in a decade
The vision of a windowless plane that would still would allow passengers to see what’s going on outside, as well as checking their email and surfing the net, really captured readers’ imagination.
In a glimpse of what the next generation of commercial aircraft might look like, windows would be replaced by full-length screens allowing constant views of the world outside. Passengers would be able to switch the view on and off according to their preference, identify prominent sights by tapping the screen or even just surf the internet.
2. Black Friday in Britain: where are the best deals?