Monday, October 26, 2015

Hey CPA: What's this machine learning all about?

Harvard Business Review online published a great article summarizing how the machine learning, and analytics works in a business context. It uses an illustrative set of decision trees to show how in a cable business scenario (something we can all relate to) and then ends with the following graphic on how a hypothetical algorithm would determine whether a customer would continue with the cable subscription or join the cord cutter crowd.

It's a great illustration of HBR breaks down these "glob" words like, machine learning, algorithm, etc., and transforms them into digestible concepts. Furthermore, and I would say more importantly, it illustrates a rising level of expectation of technology knowledge for client facing business professionals, like accountants and consultants. 

In a previous post, I had noted the following with respect to a couple of WSJ articles on information security and malware :  
"WSJ is a good litmus test of what the business press can expect a business professional to know about IT security, and technology related controls more generally. 

Although not explicitly mentioned in the first article, one of the key trends that has raised the level knowledge required for the average business professional is consumerization: individual have access to technology, such as tablets, smartphones, networks, etc. that were once the sole domain of corporate IT. Consequently, now the average business professional needs to increase their knowledge of IT and IT risks to avoid a virus or getting hacked. For example, I heard a couple of guys at the gym discussing the risks of downloading illegal movies: getting targeted by regulators and malware infection. "

We could also apply this to the HBR article: it too is a good litmus test of the level of competence that a Canadian CPA should know about leading edge topics such as machine learning and its relationship with analytics. 

We should recognize that the technology and security concepts discussed in these articles represent the minimum standard of what is expected from an accountant.  If we as a profession want to achieve the vision of being the  "globally respected business and accounting designation" [emphasis mine], then we must go above and beyond this minimum and surpass expectations of our clients, employers and business community at large. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Microsoft Strikes Back with Surface Book!

About a month ago, I wrote about Apple's foray into the 2-in-1 market as a reaction to declining tablet fortunes. Ironically, one of the key pieces of evidences to prove my theory was the following:

"The biggest proof, however, that they are going for the 2-in-1 market is that they invited Microsoft to demo how the Microsoft Office leverages the Apple pencil to work with Excel, Word and PowerPoint. As the Verge notes in this article, the pencil can draw shapes that converts to actual shapes. The video also highlights how you can use the multi-window feature to move content between the Office Apps. Microsoft gives more details on these features on post the put up yesterday."

Well, the irony lays in that Microsoft released the Surface book yesterday - just under a month of Apple's announcement:

They also released the Surface Pro 4, however, if YouTube views are any indication of which product got the most excitement the Surface Book nearly had triple the number of views of the Surface Pro.

And the reviews are quite positive.

According to Wired:  "Microsoft’s Surface Book is the most exciting Windows laptop in years. Actually, aside from a few hot-rod gaming rigs, it may be the only exciting Windows laptop in years. That’s great news for people who’ve longed to long for a PC again. And it could be a nightmare for every other PC manufacturer.

If you missed the Surface Book announcement, you’ll want to get acquainted. It’s a 13.5-inch laptop with a killer display, maxed-out guts, a funky cool hinge, and a top half that detaches, like the saucer of the USS Enterprise, to become a thick, powerful tablet. Reattach the display face-up, and the Surface Book enters “draw mode,” which brings the full power of a discrete Nvidia GPU to bear on stylus-based sketches and similar applicationxs" [SIC]

According to The Verge: "I got a chance to take a closer look at the Surface Laptop during Microsoft's Windows 10 devices event in New York City this morning. It's gorgeous.

Microsoft wants its Surface Book to be a MacBook Pro killer, and while it's too early to say whether it is, it's off to a great start."

According to BGR: "Microsoft on Tuesday had its best product unveiling in years and revealed several interesting products that culminated with the announcement of the Surface Book, which it bill as the “ultimate” laptop.

Microsoft dazzled the audience by revealing the Surface Book is actually more than a MacBook Pro clone, as it’s able to transform into a tablet."

There is one catch, however, it is a bit pricey. According to CIO, "Surface Book, at its lowest configuration, will run you $1,499, while the highest configuration retails at $2,699". This works out to be $1,949 to $3,499 Canadian according the Microsoftstore Canada website.

How pricey?

Just to contrast, as I noted in the blog post on Apple mega-pad,

"Although I thought the size of the mega-tablet would throw people off, the price may be a bigger factor that could be an obstacle to consumers. The tablet starts at $799 coming with 64 GB of storage, the keyboard runs about $169, and the pencil is another $99. That puts the starting price at $1,067. In contrast a 2-in-1 Yoga starts at $829."

So are people going to pay basically a $500 premium for the a pure Microsoft experience?

I think corporate IT would have a hard time justifying this premium in contrast to the Yoga. However, from a consumer perspective, it remains to be seen whether this can inject the enthusiasm into PC market.

The other interesting question: is Microsoft hedging its bets by making Office365 available on the iPad?

It seems that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has realized that he has to fight a strategic war on two fronts: the hardware front and the software/services front.

Making the Office365 available on the iPad seems to be the answer to software/services front: truly embrace the promise of the cloud to be made available on any device thereby maintaining Microsoft's dominance in office productivity. This contrasts to what I originally thought: if Microsoft made Office available on the iPad I thought they would be shooting themselves in the foot because who would then by the Surface?

In terms of the hardware arena, Apple has captured the "mind share" for a long time now: high quality PC as well as stunning mobile devices that have enabled what I call the "toasterfication of IT": reducing the complexity of a PC to something that's easy to operate as a toaster.

What Nadella states in an interview with The Verge's Nilay Patel (see below) is that he wants to "stimulate demand for the entire ecosystem". In other words, by setting the bar so high - he is forcing Windows PC partners to try harder and deliver more.  And I can see his strategy working: I recently bought the Dell Inspiron 13 7000 2-in-1 and it could be argued that by pursuing the Surface line of PCs Dell was forced to up its game.

While watching the interview the other announcement that caught my eye was the ability to convert its latest mobile device Lumia 950 XL into a PC. According to The Verge, "Continuum for Phones, it’s designed to take advantage of new universal apps that run across Windows 10 on phones, PCs, tablets, and the Xbox One. If you’re running a mobile version of Excel on your phone it will magically resize and transform into a keyboard- and mouse-friendly version for use on a bigger screen." As Nadella states in the interview, this will help capture marketshare in the developing world. Also, think corporate IT: how many managers would ditch the PC and mobile phone for one of these + a couple of Continuum docks? As I had noted in this post in 2012 regarding the then just-launched Surface: "users will no longer need to carry a laptop and a tablet: the Microsoft window 8 machines can act as a laptop when you are at work or at home and as a table when you are on the go".

Although the ability for Microsoft to recapture the imagination of the masses is up for debate, what is clear is that CEO Satya Nadella has imprinted his vision on the future of the company and he's going to give his competitors a run for their money.