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17-Jan-14

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How to Run Your Small Business with Free Open Source Software

15-Dec-17

Businesses can take advantage of the vast open source software that is available for download for free. The major setback for this software is lack of support though it can be sought at a fee from the author or third parties. The support for free software is also readily available on the commercially licensed versions of the software. There are various options that make it possible for businesses to run on free software. They include:

Office productivity Suites from Open Source

The Microsoft office can easily be substituted with the open source software available at no fee, thus making financial savings for the business. Even if one was to use the Microsoft Office software, support from Microsoft would not be necessarily required. Only a few companies get such support from Microsoft. Therefore, when a business acquires a free software that pretty much works the same as a Microsoft Office, it can work without requiring day-to-day help from the authors of free software. Though the open software suites don’t have as comprehensive features as other proprietary software, the features available are sufficient for running a business. In fact, most users don’t make full use of all the features available on the proprietary software.

Accounting Applications from Free Software

The open source applications provide good alternatives to the existing commercial packages. For instance, the GnuCash has lifted the workings of the small businesses by helping them in applying principles of accounting. This ensures that the businesses balance their books professionally and are able to make reconciliations with the bank accounts. It helps the businesses, particularly the small businesses to make accurate financial reports.

Businesses that sell their products online can also get support from the open software by using the available open source e-commerce tools. The tools have all the features that support the end-to-end process of the e-commerce business. That is, from the presentation of the products, the shopping carts, checking out and making payments for the goods selected. Examples of such tools are the OpenCart and Prestashop.

Open source software is also available for the customer relationship management.

There are good alternatives to the Oracle system and Salesforce.com which are widely used by most companies. The alternatives to this widely used software include SugarCRM Community Edition and OpenCRX. These softwares have the capability for full automation of the sales force. The software comes a long way in improving the relationship between the business and the partners, customers, suppliers and the intermediaries. This is a good alternative for small and medium-size businesses as it saves a lot on their expenses while at the same time enjoying the benefits enjoyed by users of the similar but proprietary software.

How to Build a Bot that Travelers Will Love

09-Dec-17

Chatbots have become crucial tools in the travel industry. They are programs that use artificial intelligence to simulate human conversation. The programs are expected to take the lion’s share of digital bookings in the next two years as they are expected to be responsible for about 70 percent of the mobile bookings. This will highly disrupt the travel business, and it’s therefore, important that the travel agencies build the best bots for their businesses. For the travel agencies to build bots that travelers will love, the following points are essential.

Security

Safety measures are a primary requirement for online trade platforms. The platform users need to be assured that their payment details and other personal details like passport numbers remain safe, after using these platforms. The customer’s information should be safeguarded irrespective of the platforms that the travel agency uses. This can be done through the use of end-to-end encryption, having timeouts on the system, requiring retina scanning or touch ID, and self-destruction of messages, that are deemed personal and private. These measures will encourage users to use the platforms and have confidence in them. Consequently, it will increase the uptake of the programs, and this is a definite boost to the business.

Choose a Single Skill

One should adopt a chatbot after analyzing the most challenges that the customers are facing. This will ensure that the chatbot developed, has skills that can respond to most of the questions that the customers will ask. Before adopting a bot for the business, the buyer must ensure that it is personalized, in a unique way that is different from others in the market, and that it meets the needs of the target market. Proper analysis of the customer segment is important as this determines the kind of chatbot adopted for that business segment.

Provide Human Support for the Artificial Intelligence

A lot of companies using chatbots allow them to communicate with customers, using artificial intelligence only. The only point when the customers are transferred to human operators is when bots are unable to find a solution to the customers. This is not a good practice as chatbots alone cannot reply to custom requests. They should be assigned only the roles and tasks that can be fully automated. As a result, the customers must be made aware that they are talking to bots, as this will minimize confusion and disappointment to the users.

User Experience

The user’s experience should be improved by having a bot that can provide all the details required. This is because customers can be impatient, or lack time to browse through all the details they are looking for. A bot should, for example, give several options for hotels that the customers are searching for and also provide details like cancellations fees.

Be in Touch with Users

The users should be followed up even after they have been served. This helps in getting feedback on the services offered by the company. The messages sent to customers express their care and concern, and also make suggestions for local restaurants, which they could consider as alternatives. A good chatbot will convert a user into a lifelong customer by encouraging them to come back for services.

Create a Chatbot for Different Languages

It is important that the chatbot communicate in a variety of languages, so that language a barrier can be eliminated as much as possible.

Creation of Extra Value

Lastly, the bot should do an extra thing than what the website or other applications do. The user should get more services and value from the bot unlike when they use the website.

Free Software

07-Dec-17

The opposite of free software is proprietary software. The distinction lies in the freedom the software allows its user, and not in the price. Software is said to be free if it gives the user the freedom to make changes like improvements and other modifications. Users of proprietary software are generally restricted from studying how the software works, sharing it with others, or trying to make modifications. Such attempt could land them in jail or face fines and penalties. The users are supposed to follow the guidelines and restrictions provided, under the fine prints of the terms and conditions of use, which they agree to while installing the software.

Whether a software is obtained free of charge or for a fee, does not define whether it’s free or not. Rather, it is some four basic freedoms that determine whether the software is free or not. These basic freedoms and privileges are.

Freedom to Run the Program

This freedom allows the user to run the program for any purpose, and on any kind of computer system. In this case, the right and purpose of the user override that of the developer. Therefore, the developer cannot impose any restrictions on the user. Consequently, the user can further share the program with a third party, who will as well have the right to use it without any restrictions being imposed on them.

Freedom to Study how the Program Works

This enables the user to do their computing the way they wish. It is paramount for the user to have access to the source code. This right has been instrumental in driving the development of the free software products. The free software users are able to make adjustments to the programs and these adjustments can be adopted by specific users or globally.

Free Distribution of Copies

The users are free to make a distribution of copies of the software at their will. Once a user obtains the free software, they are not restricted from sharing the programs with their friends or any other people they wish to share with.

Distribution of Modified Copies

Lastly, the user can also distribute the modified copies of the software. The user is required to give the community access to the source code so that they can benefit fully. The modified copies can be used privately or shared and there is no precondition to notify anyone of the modifications. The user can also publish the changes if they wish to, and this does not require any preconditions to be met as well.

Company Travel Policies

09-Sep-16

What is a Company Travel Policy?

As travel is an integral part of conducting business, employees are hired with the expectancy that they are prepared to travel in agreement with the Company Travel Policy Guidelines and deliver supporting documentation to the appropriate department.

A well-made policy manages travel expenses each year for the company. Its purpose is to decrease excessive spending and increase company saving. It prevents travel budgets from rising and getting out of control by recording the cost of business travel and entertainment.

It is the employee’s responsibility to use sensible judgment when approving the use of company funds. The company travel policy is put in place to protect employees when they travel, shrink business travel expense and limits potential legal liabilities. In addition, it ensures that employees are getting reimbursed for their out-of-pocket travel costs.

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Company travel policies should be well-written standards in the employee handbook that specifies what kinds of expenses the company reimburses and how the employee must claim expenses. Normally, expense policies also contain a section on the penalties of violating the policy.

A written travel expense policy gives the employee a well-defined explanation of the reimbursement policy for travel expenses to avoid any confusion. It provides sensible accommodations for the employee while decreasing the expenditure to the company for reasonable business and entertainment necessities.

An employee travel expense policy requires all employees to provide written documentation of their expenses to ensure easier reimbursements approval and filing of paperwork. The policy ought to include overnight trips as well as mileage expenses for business related travels.

The travel expense reimbursement policy should include details about what will be covered and how much will be covered for each kind of expenses. Employees should understand travel policies before embarking on any company travel at their own initial expense to be reimbursed later.

How to Write a Company Travel Policy

A well-conceived company travel policy protects your employees when they travel, cuts company travel expenditures and limits legal liabilities.

1. Requests for Traveling

A travel policy should guide an employee with a description of the procedure they must follow to get trip approval. It is the appropriate supervisor’s responsibility to approve each trip.

If an employee has attended conferences from past years, that doesn’t mean they get a one-time approval for every year. The purpose and necessity of the business trip, the department to which the trip will be charged, an estimated total cost and the dates should be included in the written outline needed for the employee’s trip approval.

Do not forget to include the superior employee who is in charge of approving travels for employees!

2. Give Clear Preferences

Don’t just assume employees will book cost-conscious flights or hotel rooms. There is usually an expectation that employees will remain within the budgeted cost. That’s not always the case. The appropriate department should approve bookings flights and hotel rooms beforehand.

Employees may be able to book flights or hotels that offer frequent flyer miles or room points, rather than choosing the most cost-effective for the company. If the company permits employees to keep frequent flyer and room points, the proper department should reserve or approve all reservations to acquire the best rates for the company. If the company uses the frequent flyer or hotel points to cover travel expenses, this should be included in the company travel policy.

3. Explain Expenditures

Keep the policy simple with helpful guidelines to explain what employees can and cannot claim on expenses. This section should outline acceptable and in-policy travel related expenses. Establish daily per diems that cover food, tips, transportation, parking, phone calls and other incidentals. Make note that not all expenses require a receipt for reimbursement. Be sure to outline which expenses will require one. Some companies may allow credit card statements as sufficient documentation. To avoid confusion, specify what kind of reimbursement documentation is required. Some companies request receipts instead of credit card statements.

4. Incorporate Safety Procedures

In an event of an emergency, employees need to include the name and phone number of the hotel at which they will stay and a personal phone number. Companies should have a detailed itinerary of their employee’s travel, hotel, and business schedule. At the time of travel, employees should remain in communication with their supervisors, even during after-hours. Overseas traveling provisions should be outlined asking employees to provide proof of a valid passport, additional government ID and the phone number and address of the U.S. embassy in that country.

5. Include Expense Reimbursement Procedures

Employees should be given a reimbursement form to file when they arrive from their trip. Offer a sample copy with notes on any section you want to highlight. The procedure for submitting an expense reimbursement request should be visibly clarified.

The form, any receipts, and the name of the supervisor that the request must be submitted and the deadline for submitting requests may be included. It is a wise practice to keep a daily log of expenditures to ensure that the employee will be guaranteed reimbursement given that they are in compliance with the company’s travel policy.

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Why is a Company Travel Policy Important?

Company travel policies are imperative to improve company compliance to travel policy. The travel policies are agreements within the business to limit over expenditures of the costs of sending employees on work trips. Companies encounter challenges when employees overlook the company’s travel policies. Sometimes their unawareness of the policy can be in part of trying to find the lowest rates without understanding the travel program’s structure and savings negotiations. They may think the policies are just guidelines that are not mandated. Or they just don’t fully understand about the company’s policies. This type of unawareness limits prospective savings.

To ensure company compliance and increase savings, all employees should get the same standards. This means that the CEO should follow suit alongside everyone else. Just because they earn more, this doesn’t mean they should book a first-class plane ticket when everyone else has to fly economy. Having a policy in place should eliminate employee resentment towards the higher up managers.

Another important thing to incorporate is a list of satisfactory and permitted travel agents and hotel chains in the policy. This eliminates added decision making for employees when they are organizing their business travel. Having a key group of trustworthy agents and hotels that the company uses regularly will eliminate potential budget wasting costs.

Managers should keep employee comfort in mind when approving travel accommodations. They should choose a hotel that is sanitary, comfortable, and livable. When a company policy offers accommodating choices for the employee, this can increase an employee’s productivity and trust for the company.

Balance is the key concerning travel costs and a perceived business advantage. A well thought out travel policy will work to boost costs in a number of ways.

Outlining services that are reasonable is clearly the first choice. Having choice words in the details could save the company a lot of money. For example, the company should state employees should book a single occupancy hotel room instead of stating they should book a suite hotel room.

A travel policy means that the company puts limits and standards on the type of services reserved by company employees. The policy safeguards that there is no confusion over the way to spend company money. It offers reimbursement policies and procedures to protect company costs and avoid legal liabilities as well as treating the employee fairly in regards to travel expenditures and refunds.

Data is knowledge

When a company can clearly see how and when employees are booking travel then analyze that data, this understanding can indicate where to implement cost reduction strategies. Companies that utilize a well-managed travel program have better knowledge when it comes to considering revenue and costs.

Even if the cost of traveling increases and the company revenue is not sufficient to accommodate that, what decisions do the companies have to make regarding how often employees travel for business? What do they have to do in order to ensure the company is keeping up with their clients and business practices?

Company travel policies can provide businesses with collected data that can be used to benchmark the company’s spending habits. It is a great tool to analyze company performance, by a competitor or against an industry. The information can be used to identify gaps in the company’s processes in order to save money.