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The big data power of Power BI

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Working with Big Data can be difficult for some SMEs due to the resources it requires, but DAVID SMITH, GM of Worldwide SMB at Microsoft, says Power BI will give companies small and large an easy way to analyse their information.

Despite being the buzzword de jour for large enterprises, the concept of “Big Data” is still in its infancy with small businesses. This is because the process of capturing, storing, extracting and analysing large quantities of data always required far too much in the way of IT resources and technical expertise for the average small and medium enterprise (SME). But just because SMEs don’t want to maintain servers, hire data scientists and pay for expensive analytics suites doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from business insights hiding in their own data.

Microsoft has a business analytics service designed to help the non-data-scientists among us uncover those insights and make more informed decisions about their business. It’s called Power BI, and it gives people working for companies small and large a straightforward way to analyse and visualise their information.

Power BI Brings It All Together

At its core, Power BI is a centralised hub that allows users to easily pull in, visualise and interpret the vast amount of data that their business generates on a daily basis. SMEs use a wide range of tools and services to run the different aspects of their business. By generating unified charts, graphs, maps and statistics, Power BI allows users to spot trends that would be difficult or impossible to identify by looking at an unorganized assortment of different spreadsheets and dashboards.

The greatest analytics tool on the planet is worthless if it doesn’t provide a simple and reliable way to connect with the information that matters to your small business, which is why we created content packs for Power BI. Content packs provide a way to automatically bring together data from different sources so the full picture can be analysed in one place. And these connections extend beyond services like Excel or Dynamics CRM, so even if an SME uses Google Analytics to track website traffic, MailChimp for email marketing campaigns and QuickBooks Online for accounting and payroll they can grab and analyse all of that data instantly (you can find the expanding list of content packs here).

We also know that small businesses aren’t always run from behind a desk. With Power BI apps for Windows, iOS and Android, users can view personalised dashboards and reports anywhere, interacting with their data in a touch-optimized experience.

Power of Data for Small Business

Say you’re the owner of a small online retail shop and you want to run a flash sale on a certain product to a specific set of customers. To do this effectively you need to have access to data that depicts your customer set to gather demographic information, online traffic that shows your most active customers, likely times to buy and historical sales data that shows you what worked well and what didn’t with the last flash sale you ran. Imagine if rather than searching each data set in its respective location and digging through everything manually, you could view all the information in one simple dashboard that illustrates trends and easy-to-spot insights, enabling fast and informed decisions about when to run the sale and who to market it to.

Best of all, you don’t need to learn a whole new set of skills to use Power BI. Power BI uses natural language query technology, which allows you to ask a question like “show me sales data from January to July.” In other words, you don’t need to be a data scientist to get at the information you need.

How Small Business Can Use Power BI

We’re often expounding the virtues of the cloud for small businesses because it provides the benefits of large-scale IT without the cost and complexity. Power BI is a fantastic example of exactly how the cloud is levelling the technology playing field for businesses of all sizes. A few years ago this type of solution would have been out of reach for just about every SME. Now it can be set up in minutes with no up-front costs, making data analytics viable for even a single-person business. In fact, much of the functionality is available for free, without trial period restrictions.

Removing the price and technical hurdles means that many more small businesses will be able to capitalize on the value of analytics as a competitive tool and point of differentiation. Putting your data to use can give you a leg up on your competition. You’ll have real-time insights that allow you to adjust and adapt your business plan, so you can stay focused on what’s really driving results for your company. Basing your decisions on data not only helps you act strategically but allows you to be more in touch with your customer needs.

As an SME, you have a lot on your plate already and exerting unnecessary time mining through endless data across multiple platforms doesn’t need to be one of them. Power BI makes your life easier and allows you to become more nimble and efficient, ultimately driving more results for your business.

And if you’re like the 80 percent of business customers that turn to IT solution providers for cloud products, check out Microsoft’s Pinpoint to find a partner near you that can help. For more info about its features and how to enrol, visit the Power BI site.

* David Smith, General Manager of Worldwide SMB

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YouTube Music announces Smart Downloads, SA playlists

The service has introduced Smart Downloads which takes allowing users to store and play hundreds of tunes offline, automatically.

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The latest updates from YouTube Music, for subscribers of its Music Premium and Premium services, include a new feature that allows users to switch seamlessly between a song and its music video for an uninterrupted experience.

It has also introduced Smart Downloads which takes the work out of downloading music, allowing users to store and play hundreds of tunes offline, automatically. YouTube Music has also announced new playlists for South Africa. 

The updates all reflect features that are popular on the global leader in music streaming, Spotify, and that have been key to its growth.

YouTube said in a statement on Friday: “Imagine listening to a new track by your favourite artist in the YouTube Music app and having the ability to seamlessly switch over to watch the music video – no pauses, no interruptions, just a simple tap that keeps the music flowing. This standout new feature from YouTube Music allows YouTube Premium and YouTube Music Premium subscribers to make a seamless transition between a song and its music video for uninterrupted listening and/or watching. Whether you’re in the mood for listening or watching (or a little of both)… it’s all here – no app switching required.”

With Smart Downloads, YouTube Music automatically saves music at night, when connected to Wi-Fi, helping subscribers to use less mobile data, enjoy a smoother updating experience and save up to 500 songs offline using Liked Songs playlist as well as other playlists and albums. 


Previously, music lovers could use the Offline Mixtape feature to download up to 100 songs, specifically chosen for them based on what they listened to most on the platform. Now, with Smart Downloads, they select the number of songs they would like automatically downloaded by toggling their YouTube Music Settings. This means YouTube Music Premium subscribers with Smart Downloads enabled on their mobile devices can now access hundreds of tracks regardless of connectivity. 

This feature is currently available on Android, with plans to bring it to iOS in the future.

Click here to read more about YouTube Music playlists, and find out what is inside them.

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Make cars, not waste

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Jaguar Land Rover is trialling an innovative recycling process which converts plastic waste into a new premium grade material that could feature on future vehicles. 

It’s estimated that the amount of waste plastic is predicted to exceed 12 million tonnes globally by 2050*. Today, not all of this plastic can be recycled for use in automotive applications – especially in vehicle parts that are required to meet the most exacting safety and quality standards.

Working in conjunction with chemical company, BASF, Jaguar Land Rover is part of a pilot project called ChemCycling that upcycles domestic waste plastic, otherwise destined for landfill or incinerators, into a new high-quality material. 

The waste plastic is transformed to pyrolysis oil using a thermochemical process. This secondary raw material is then fed into BASF’s production chain as a replacement for fossil resources; ultimately producing a new premium grade that replicates the high quality and performance of ‘virgin’ plastics. Importantly, it can be tempered and coloured making it the ideal sustainable solution for designing the next-generation dashboards and exterior-surfaces in Jaguar and Land Rover models.

Jaguar Land Rover and BASF are currently testing the pilot phase material in a Jaguar I-PACE prototype front-end carrier overmoulding to verify it meets the same stringent safety requirements of the existing original part.

Pending the outcome of the trials and progression in taking chemical recycling to market readiness, adoption of the new premium material would mean Jaguar Land Rover could use domestically derived recycled plastic content throughout its cars without any compromise to quality or safety performance**. 

Chris Brown, Senior Sustainability Manager at Jaguar Land Rover, said: “Plastics are vital to car manufacturing and have proven benefits during their use phase, however, plastic waste remains a major global challenge. Solving this issue requires innovation and joined-up thinking between regulators, manufacturers and suppliers.

“At Jaguar Land Rover, we are proactively increasing recycled content in our products, removing single-use plastics across our operations and reducing excess waste across the product lifecycle. The collaboration with BASF is just one way in which we are advancing our commitment to operating in a circular economy.”

This is the latest example of Jaguar Land Rover’s commitment to addressing the challenge of waste plastic. The company has collaborated with Kvadrat to offer customers alternative seat options that are both luxurious and sustainable. The high-quality material, available initially on the Range Rover Velar and Range Rover Evoque, combines a durable wool blend with a technical suedecloth that is made from 53 recycled plastic bottles per vehicle. 

Jaguar Land Rover has already met its 2020 target for Zero Waste to Landfill for UK operations. This includes the removal of 1.3 million m2 – equal to 187 football pitches – of plastic from its manufacturing lineside and replacing 14 million single use plastic items in business operations. 

Together, these efforts are driving towards Jaguar Land Rover’s vision for Destination Zero; an ambition to make societies safer and healthier, and the environment cleaner. Delivered through relentless innovation to adapt its products and services to the rapidly-changing world, the company’s focus is on achieving a future of zero emissions, zero accidents and zero congestion.

Editor’s notes:

https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782.full

** All Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles tested have achieved a Euro NCAP 5* rating.

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