1. A bookkeeping company owned by Lendio now does tax prep
Sunrise Bookkeeping, which is owned by online finance company Lendio, says that users can now take advantage of its free tax preparation service, which will alert users of potential tax liabilities in advance of deadlines. While the features do not allow filing taxes through the Sunrise platform, it will help small-business owners better organize their documents, categorize transactions, and reconcile accounts. (Source: PR Newswire)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Frankly, the tax features offered by Sunrise aren't yet powerful, but they're a good start. More importantly, they're indicative of a trend that will affect your business and mine: the merging of our accounting and tax data with our banks and finance firms. More financial services firms are offering bookkeeping and tax services for small firms or are partnering with larger small-business software providers like Intuit. I expect to see this trend continue throughout the next year.
2. An HR startup promises to help you choose candidates better
The U.K.-based Gloat, which just raised $25 million from a group of investment firms, offers artificial intelligence technology that helps employers to compare both current and prospective employees' skills, strengths and interests and then recommends potential projects and jobs that would best suit the person. The company, per its website, says that its software will "engage employees with career opportunities that align with both their professional goals and with your current organizational needs." (Source: CTech)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Gloat counts among its customers mostly big companies, but it won’t be long before we'll see more affordable, simple AI-based technology like this that will help us solve the mystery of hiring and matching people with the jobs most suited to them.
3. A payroll startup called Hourly gets $7.5 million
Hourly, a Palo Alto, California-based startup that simplifies workers’ comp insurance, payroll and time tracking for small-business owners, raised $7.15 million in seed funding. (Source: Yahoo Finance)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: There are a lot of payroll companies competing for your business. So what's so unique about Hourly? It's that it focuses on small firms that have challenges reconciling their payroll, particularly for workmen’s compensation reporting. According to the company's press release, Hourly can “save employers thousands of dollars on workers’ comp insurance by partnering with insurance providers and leveraging real-time payroll data. Its platform also ensures accurate reporting down to the penny and helps avoid over- or underpayment of workers’ comp insurance premiums.”
4. You can now forward emails as attachments in Gmail
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Google has announced that they will be rolling out a new Gmail feature to help when it comes to forwarding multiple emails and attachments. With the new feature, users will now be able to combine multiple emails and attachments — that they otherwise would have had to forward individually — into one email, including the would-be forwarded emails as attachments. When composing an email, users will be able to provide an explanation for the series of emails being attached and simply click in order to enable the feature to attach each email they want to forward as attachments. There will be multiple ways for users to attach the desired forwarded emails as attachments, each effectively negating the need to forward multiple emails at once. (Source: ZDNet)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Seems like a significant time saver. As a Gmail user, I’ll be taking advantage and hope you will too.
5. Apple rolls out its most expensive computer ever
Customers shops in an Apple Inc. store in Sydney, Australia.
Apple revealed their new Mac Pro, touting massive storage capacities as well as unparalleled processing capabilities that will come at a big cost. While the basic Mac Pro costs $5,999, it’s the high-end add-ons that will make the total cost add-up quickly. Some of the add-ons include a $7,000 processor, a $25,000 RAM, and an optional $2,000 add-on if users want to include the Afterburner accelerator card, wheels and trackpad for the newest model. If a user wants to purchase all of the new add-ons in order to make the most out of storage capacities and processing capabilities, the total cost could come to $52,599, not including the monitor. (Source: SFIST)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: I doubt there will be many takers for the fully souped-up version of the new Mac Pro. But what Apple is doing is not inconsistent with other hardware makers. New laptops are being sold with bare-boned specs, even without keyboards, and many buyers are forced to add additional capacity to make them worthwhile. In other words: Don’t believe that initial laptop price. It will likely cost more.
6. Yahoo gives users more time to download Groups data
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Yahoo is doubling back on an announcement made this past October that all content posted on Yahoo Groups would be deleted as of Dec. 14. Yahoo will now allow users to request Yahoo Groups data up until 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 31, 2020. However, users still will not be able to view content on Yahoo Groups after December 14 and — as of October 28 —Yahoo no longer allows users to upload content, making the platform relatively limited already. The company also shared that they will be extending the deadline for restricting public groups, meaning that users will need to request an invite or be invited by a group administrator after Jan. 31. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: Many small businesses have created Yahoo Groups over the years and many small-business owners I know participate in other groups. It’s all going away soon, so if there’s data on a Yahoo Group you want to preserve, time is running out.
7. Facebook built a chatbot to help employees deflect criticism
Facebook campus
The New York Times reported that Facebook rolled out a new tool named “Liam Bot” which has been designed to help employees through difficult discussions regarding the many controversies the social media giant has been facing. The artificial intelligence chatbot was built by Facebook’s public relations team — although the company has not specifically disclosed why — and provides answers that coincide with public statements dealing with areas such as election meddling and free speech, to name a few. Liam Bot was first tested this past spring and was given to Facebook employees just before the Thanksgiving holiday. (Source: The Verge)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: This is another great example of how AI technology can deliver conversational bots that will help solve problems and answer customer questions. Coming soon: easy-to-use tools that will help small businesses configure similar chatbots.
8. Google is adding AI smarts to G Suite and updating Google Assistant and Docs
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The most recent addition from Google’s AI experts will provide users with the ability to access specific G Suite apps using Google Assistant, and Google Docs will also see the addition of Smart Compose text suggestions. Currently, a beta version of AI voice assistant in G Suite exists, where users are able to use voice commands in order to navigate and manage their Google Calendar schedules, events and invitations. The new Smart Compose capability being brought to Google Docs will allow users to utilize AI to assist with drafting documents, even helping reduce redundant language, slowly adapting to the user’s personal style. (Source: Computer World)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: I will continue to report on new artificial intelligence features that software vendors are adding to their products and I will continue to remind my clients — and all small-business owners — to embrace these features. With a little bit of configuration and learning time, you can find yourself automating processes that were previously done by humans and thereby increasing productivity and decreasing your overhead.
9. Sequoia Capital leads a $65M round for sales conversation analytics startup
Gong — an Israel-based conversation analytics startup — recently raised $65 million during a round that was lead by Sequoia Capital, bringing their total funding to $134 million. Gong builds speech recognition technology that helps sales representatives gain access to details regarding their conversations and interactions with their customers — in real time — by taking recorded phone calls and analyzing them through tracking keywords/topics used or discussed during the conversation. The company plans on hiring 150 more employees by the end of next year, as well as save much of the funding in order to secure their future. (Source: CTech)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: See what I mean? Gong is just a number of startups building tools to help businesses of all sizes configure their own AI-driven chatbots to help with sales, service and marketing. Soon enough you won’t need to be as big as Facebook to have your own AI software that will enable better customer engagement and increase productivity.
10. Microsoft’s Seeing AI app helps the blind in five more languages
Microsoft offices
Microsoft recently updated their Microsoft Seeing AI app to support Dutch, French, German, Japanese and Spanish, providing the opportunity for many more people to interpret facial expressions, read signs, and overall have support for other daily tasks. Although Seeing AI is free, there are still many individuals without access, primarily in areas that are highly populated, such as India and China. Some other areas of concern regarding the app include the nonexistence of Android support, and the fact that iPhones and iPads are difficult to afford in many parts of the world. (Source: Engadget)

Why this is important for your firm and clients: So obviously this technology still has some ways to go. But think of the help it could provide to your employees or contractors around the world who suffer from visual impairments.