1. The Good News: Microsoft is bringing Gmail, Google Drive, and Calendar to Outlook
Microsoft offices
Microsoft has started testing their integration of Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Calendar into their Outlook.com web mail client on certain accounts. Users will be able to link their Google Account to any Outlook.com account and then Google Calendar, documents in Google Drive, and Gmail will immediately be shown inside Outlook.com. The integration with Google Drive will support files and documents from Google’s service, allowing users to swiftly attach them to emails in both Gmail and Outlook. The integration will also make it easier for individuals who use G Suite email for work and for those who utilize their Outlook account for personal use. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: For those of us who can remember the days of Windows or nothing at all, this type of news continues to be a revelation. It’s all part of Microsoft’s ongoing plan to help its customers be more productive in the cloud, and that may not necessarily mean using all of Microsoft’s applications to do it. The end result? If you’re an Office 365 user, but you prefer Gmail or Google Drive, then now you have options. (My company, The Marks Group PC, is a Microsoft Partner.)
2. The Bad News: Microsoft will be dropping its Invoicing, Outlook Customer Manager, and Skype Translator bot products
Microsoft has announced that it will be phasing out and discontinuing three of its small-business products over the next year: Microsoft Invoicing, Outlook Customer Manager, and Skype Translator. Microsoft Invoicing and Outlook Customer Manager are likely being phased out due to low usage, while Microsoft’s new Translated Conversations feature will be replacing Skype Translator. Microsoft started letting customers of both Customer Manager and Invoicing know recently that the products would be discontinued in the first half of the new year. Customers impacted by the changes will be given offers to replace the apps. (Source: ZDNet)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Is Microsoft abandoning small businesses? By getting rid of these tools you might think so, but I don’t believe that’s happening. As I write here, instead of dealing directly with difficult smaller customers, Microsoft has politely punted the obligation to its partners — and that’s OK.
3. Better News: Microsoft Teams is getting Outlook integration, tasks support, and more
Last month, Microsoft also announced several new features for clients using Microsoft Teams. One of the most prominent features being added is the Outlook integration, which will make it possible for users to share and move an e-mail — including all of the attachments — into a specific chat channel. In addition to the Outlook integration, Microsoft Teams will now provide some more vital improvements through a task pane that will include the ability to see and monitor personal and team tasks, customize charts, lists, schedules, and more. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Microsoft is clearly going after rival Slack here. So which is better for your business? The answer is actually not too difficult and I give my reasons here.
4. Middle-market companies are boosting their tech upgrades to help drive growth
According to a new survey, investing in technology is becoming more and more of a priority for middle-market companies, who are now putting a stronger emphasis on computer software and hardware upgrades. The survey revealed that 92 percent of business leaders in the middle market felt that investing in technology would be critical in order for them to attract new customers and retain current ones. Sixty-eight percent of the participants also confirmed that investing in technology allowed their businesses to grow in the previous 12 months. The survey also pointed out the fact that skilled employees — coupled with an investment in technology — are key when it comes to providing high-quality customer service and overall business performance. (Source: ABL Advisor)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Does this come as a surprise? Hopefully not. But if you’re running a small business it’s important to recognize the priority that’s being given to technology by middle-market companies. Are you doing the same?
5. BlueVine raised $102.5M more for banking services for small business
Financial Service startup BlueVine, which provides financing, among other banking services to small businesses, announced a massive round of funding in order to address the need to provide small and midsized businesses with more specified banking service support. The startup has raised $102.5 million from a combination of notable strategic investors as well as financial investors. With the funding, BlueVine plans to create and offer a more complete array of options in order to retain users and become a stronger competitor for banks that are providing full services to small businesses but at a higher cost. (Source: Tech Crunch)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: BlueVine has been changing the way people think about accounts receivable factoring, and as a result is providing way more options for small businesses looking for financing. I write more about them here.
6. Small-business banking customers are finally embracing mobile, and customer satisfaction has surged
A new study released by J.D. Power has revealed that 61 percent of small-business customers are actively using the mobile apps for their banks, which is a significant increase from the 53 percent of users who used banking mobile apps last year. The study also detailed that banking customers who use their bank’s mobile app are happier with their banks, compared to those who choose not to use their bank’s mobile app. Additionally, small business customers who use their banking mobile apps are 67 percent more likely to stay with their bank for future transactions, in contrast with 53 percent of small-business customers who do not use mobile services offered by their banks. (Source: Yahoo Finance)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: This is not a surprise. But what is a surprise is how many smaller, independent and community banks are not keeping up. As I wrote here: “They’re still behaving as they did decades before. They’re way, way behind in adopting the fintech tools — like the ones I’ve mentioned above — that could make a life-or-death difference to a small company. Many of my clients are starting to realize this and are frustrated that their own banks don’t provide them with these tools like their competitors get from their larger counterparts.”
7. Adobe digital experience platform is adding small-business offerings
Adobe is making improvements to its marketing software offerings that include Magento Commerce, Marketo Engage, Adobe Analytics Foundation, Adobe Sign for Small Business, Creative Cloud for Teams and more. The addition of each of these products will allow for small and midsized businesses to be more flexible and agile, and to scale more efficiently while saving time and money. (Source: Search Customer Experience).

Why this is important for your firm and clients: These applications were previously mostly suitable for much larger companies, even though many small businesses have the same needs (but not the same budgets) for these tools. The good news it that companies like Adobe are waking up to this opportunity.
8. A startup is making customized harassment training software
Software startup Ethena is making it easier to customize sexual harassment training for employees. The company is aiming to make the delicate topic of sexual harassment training more engaging and less uncomfortable for both employees and executives. Ethena will cater the training to be presented in short segments that will be customized based on what employees already know about workplace sexual harassment. Once the software is more widely distributed, the startup plans to make training customizable based off of specific industries as well. (Source: Tech Crunch)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: In response to the #MeToo movement, states like California and New York are now requiring employers to provide training on discrimination and harassment, and I expect this trend to expand nationwide. Many of my clients are looking for training resources and technologies like the software offered by Ethena to help them better handle these situations. I’m betting more applications like this will be hitting the market over the next year.
9. Google is planning to give slow websites a new badge of shame
google-office.jpg
Google will be experimenting with slow-loading websites in Chrome by providing them with a badge of shame. For the experiment, Chrome will be identifying sites that routinely load slow or fast with a clear badge in the future. The tech giant plans to play around with a few different versions in order to decide which is the most beneficial for users. Through the experiment, Google will be looking at historical data to find out which sites typically run slow, flag them, and provide a badge that will appear, detailing the poor performance of the site. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: One of the many mistakes small-business owners like myself make with our websites is not checking their performance. For years, Google has been penalizing sites that load slowly or perform poorly by pushing them down in search results. This recent experiment is escalating the issue further. So what to do? See how fast your site loads by using tools from Google and read this great how-to guide from SEO firm Moz. Then work with your web developers to identify what is causing your site to slowdown and fix. Because it’s all about being found, right?
10. Spotify will give you podcast recommendations in a daily playlist
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek
Music service Spotify has announced that they are rolling out a new feature titled "Your Daily Podcasts" that will recommend new shows to listen to for users. The new feature will follow a similar algorithm that its Daily Mix and Discover Weekly use, and will generate playlists for users by frequently refreshing lists of recommended podcast episodes and shows that are based off of the listening habits the user has built up over time. Spotify is making Your Daily Podcasts available to both free and premium users. (Source: Engadget)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: If you’re a podcast listener (like me) and a Spotify customer (like me) this opens up the opportunity to find more business-related podcasts to help make us better. If you like to do podcasts, make sure yours is listed on Spotify or you could be missing out on potential listeners … like me!

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