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1. A startup raises $15 million to help companies develop their own customer service chatbots.
Canada-based startup Ada, which helps companies develop automated customer service tools, has raised U.S. $14 million in a series A round of funding. Founded in 2016, the company develops chatbots and related AI software to help nontechnical teams at companies set up these chatbots to manage inbound customer queries more quickly. (Source: Venture Beat)

Why this is important for your firm and your clients: Chatbots are artificial intelligence-based software that conduct conversations with unknowing users. Their benefits are significant (cost reduction for companies, quicker responses for customers) and their uses are growing. Many customer relationship management and office productivity applications are including this technology in future versions. But companies like Ada are developing easy-to-use tools for the business owner that wants to construct their own process using chatbots.
2. The Department of Energy has innovation funding for small businesses.
The U.S. DOE has released its second Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs for Fiscal Year 2019. The Phase I Release 2 FOA, with approximately $37 million in available funding, will provide money for innovations that address multiple R&D programs throughout the DOE. Phase I grants are six to 12 months in duration with maximum award amounts of $200,000, and Phase II grants are up to two years in duration with maximum award amounts of $1.1 million or $1.6 million, depending on the research topic. (Source: U.S. Department of Energy)

Why this is important for your clients: Many small businesses don’t realize that various federal agencies – like the Department of Energy – give out free money in the form of grants in return for developing technology that could benefit the government as well as the private sector. If a client has an early-stage technology that requires funding then it’s a good idea to look further into these programs.
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3. Microsoft Teams usage passes Slack in new survey; IT pros expect its presence to double by 2020.
A new survey of 901 organizations conducted by IT network Spiceworks shows that Microsoft Teams is now being used by more organizations than its competitor Slack. The survey demonstrates how far Microsoft’s collaboration app has come in less than two years, with 21 percent of respondents saying they use Microsoft Teams versus 15 percent who use Slack. Skype for Business is still the most popular chat app, with 44 percent of organizations saying they use it. Spiceworks also projects that Microsoft Teams will double its market share by 2020, growing faster than every other chat app, including Skype for Business. (Source: Geek Wire)

Why this is important for your firm and your clients: My firm is a Microsoft partner and we’re telling all of our clients that have Office to take advantage of Teams and Skype. It’s built-in for most of our users and the capabilities are very similar -- if not more beneficial -- than using Slack (which is also a great application.). My recommendation: Hire a Microsoft consultant and get some training.
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4. Eighty-six percent of enterprises are increasing their Internet of Things spending in 2019.
Zebra Technologies’ second annual Intelligent Enterprise Index shows that 86 percent of enterprises plan to increase their IoT spending next year. The Index also revealed that 38 percent of them have company-wide IoT deployments in production today, 67 percent are sharing data in real-time or near real-time, and 82 percent share information from their IoT solutions with employees more than once a day. Enterprises increased their investments in IoT by 4 percent in 2018 over 2017, spending an average of $4.6 million this year. One of the main reasons is the goal of digitally transforming their business models this decade. (Source: Cloud Tech News)

Why this is important for your clients: Smart companies are planning for tomorrow, and tomorrow will be an Internet of Things world. This world will incorporate sensors on machinery, equipment, manufacturing stations, inventory, pallets and trucks. It will be a world where lights turn off by themselves, heating units turn on without humans and security systems adjust to human traffic. Oh, and given the results of Zebra Technologies’ index, that tomorrow is 2019.
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5. McAfee: Cryptomining and Internet of Things malware both rose over 70 percent in Q3 2018.
The December McAfee Labs Threats Report said that cyber-criminals are currently generating 480 new threats per minute, and Internet of Things malware rose 73 percent in the third quarter of this year. In addition, cryptocurrency mining malware was up 71 percent, even though the value of many cryptocurrencies has declined. Even worse: The McAfee report says entrepreneurial cybercriminals have new ways of evading law enforcement. (Source: Venture Beat)

Why this is important for your firm and your clients: As the popularity of digital currencies and the Internet of Things rise, so does malware associated with them. Your technology investments for 2019 should include machine-learning security software that can adapt to these changes, training for your employees and a good online backup application that can restore data if infected.
6. Firefox 64 brings better browser tab management and smart recommendations.
Firefox’s newest version for desktop and Android — Version 64 — launched this week, and it comes with new features for more intensive tab and extension use. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for your firm and your clients: According to Mozilla, your users who use the browser will now “see suggestions in regular browsing mode for new and relevant Firefox features, services, and extensions” based on how they use the web. This feature won’t work in private browsing mode and is not based on browser history. Another new feature is “enhanced tab management,” which enables users to select multiple tabs in the tab bar and group them together to move, close, bookmark, or pin them.
 Samsung debuts its new Galaxy Note 8 smartphones on Sept. 12, 2017
7. The Galaxy S10 could be Samsung’s last flagship with a headphone jack.
Samsung’s latest smartphone, the Galaxy A8S, is its first without a headphone jack and the first with high-end features in a mid-range device. Bloomberg reported in October that Samsung has been experimenting with prototype phones without the 3.5mm port, but since then there have been several unconfirmed reports suggesting it will be included. Customers who want to use older headphones with a Galaxy S10 will still be able to, since Samsung said it’s keeping the jack for that device. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for your firm and your clients: I use a Samsung and so do many of my clients. Wireless headphones are certainly growing in popularity but most of the business owners I know prefer to limit the number of devices that need charging. That said, if Samsung decides to abandon the headphone jack you and your employees are not going to have much choice.
Microsoft offices
8. Microsoft is building its own Chrome browser to replace Edge.
In an effort to improve web compatibility for Windows, Microsoft will soon announce that it is building its own Chromium browser to replace the default on Windows 10. The reason is that the underlying browser engine (EdgeHTML), introduced in 2015 with a redesign to replace Internet Explorer and compete with Chrome and others, has had a hard time keeping up with Chromium — so the company realizes it is finally time to move its default Windows 10 browser to Chromium. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for your firm and your clients: One of the reasons why Microsoft has seen so much success over the past years is its ability recognize what’s not working … and fix it. As mentioned before, my company sells and uses Microsoft products – but not Edge. Why? Because Chrome is a great browser. It’s fast, customizable and integrates most of my apps. I’m glad that Microsoft realized this and is adapting a version of Chrome for its user base. Now that will be something I’ll consider – and so should you.
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9. Amazon to expand cashier-less technology to Whole Foods.
Former co-CEO of Whole Foods Walter Robb, who was on the board when the company was sold to Amazon in 2017, says Amazon’s push for a cashier-less experience in larger stores like Whole Foods will revolutionize retail by giving consumers more options. “This says that physical retail does matter,” Robb explains, “and it’ll make it more streamlined so it competes better with online retail.” Amazon plans to open as many as 3,000 Amazon Go locations in larger spaces within the next few years by adapting its “Just Walk Out” technology to handle high amounts of foot traffic. (Source: CNBC)

Why this is important for your clients: More and more brick and mortar retailers are discovering that technology really can replace humans. But will consumers adapt? And will they like it? If your clients are in retail, keep a close eye on Amazon, Whole Foods, Walmart and other big box stores as they test cashier-less locations. If it’s catching on, you’re going to need to make sure your retail clients are making similar tech investments to keep up.
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10. Walmart to use robot janitors to clean stores.
Walmart said that it will have 360 “Auto-C” robots working as janitors in its stores by the end of January 2019. The robots are similar to the Zamboni machines used to clean ice rinks, only smaller. After their cleaning route is programmed by Walmart employees, the robots will be able to autonomously scrub floors and clean store aisles, with the help of sensors that allow them to safely navigate around customers and other objects in their paths. The retailer already uses robots to help manage store inventory and prepare online orders. (Source: Fox Business )

Why this is important for your clients: Technology isn’t just replacing cashiers at stores. It’s also replacing janitors and maintenance people. How much are your clients paying their cleaning service? Perhaps a robotic vacuum cleaner may help eliminate some of their time and therefore reduce costs. There are plenty of less-expensive consumer devices available that may be perfectly suitable for your small business.

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

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