Archive for the ‘Business Automation’ Category

As the capstone requirement for my recently-completed MBA degree, I was tasked with the creation of a major research paper in lieu of a thesis. The primary difference between the two is that a thesis requires the generation of incrementally new theoretical thought, whereas a major research paper serves as a synthesis of available academic research to support a core theme or hypothesis.

As I possess a substantial background in purchasing, inventory management and supply chain, and in light of recent public discussions regarding the possibility of repatriating the manufacturing capacity that had been progressively “lost” by the United States to China, I chose to focus on what I considered to be the novel topic of the technological enablers that might justify a case for transitioning manufacturing production back from China.

During the course of my research, I encountered and reported upon a number of originally-anticipated themes – that recent wage inflation in China had progressively eroded the opportunity for labour arbitrage that had originally rationalized outsourcing, and that automation and technological proliferation, coupled with lower energy costs facilitated by renewables, were increasingly evening-out the competitive playing field, from a capital and operating cost, and capabilities standpoint. Specific technologies like additive processes, robotics, and artificial intelligence in particular are offering ever-sophisticated and ever-cheaper options to ever-smaller manufacturers that can be deployed on a cost-parity basis across all geographies, on the push-side of the equation.

What was somewhat unexpected, however, was the research I encountered that supports the strength of the pull-side of the equation. My research reaffirmed that citizens, regardless of their publicly-espoused sentiment, are unwilling in practice to pay any form of price premium or subsidy in order to encourage factories to reestablish themselves within consumers’ borders, and therein solidifying the caveat that reshoring can only be possible through the achievement of cost-parity with foreign outsourcers. However, evolving consumer-driven demands for mass-customization (the preference for consumers to be able to personally customize a product, rather than be forced to accept one that has been standardized for a broad global audience), coupled with increasing levels of price-sensitivity, and demands for vendors to achieve increasingly aggressive lead times, compel manufacturers to seek efficient and effective solutions to address such trends.

Central to a consumer revolution of this nature is the rise in size and purchasing power of the Millennial cohort, and, as I progressively substantiated by poring through the countless psychology journals to reaffirm the fact, their most divergent collective traits are shaped by their high degree of narcissism relative to predecessor generations. I was reluctant to pursue this specific theme initially because it detracted from my core focus of technological enablers, but also due to the fact that Millennials, en masse, are often unfairly characterized as possessing such disparaging traits as selfishness, laziness, impatience, and aggressiveness. Having spent a year with dozens of individuals drawn from the Millennial generation during my MBA tenure, such generic characterizations did not reflect my personal experience, given that I collaborated with superb, intelligent and selflessly hard-working individuals that I couldn’t substantively differentiate through their qualities, from my Generation-X peers. However, as any statistics professor will regularly remind you, “a sample of one is not a valid representative sample”, and I therefore allowed the peer-reviewed data to guide my exploration of this particular theme.

Ultimately, as I discovered through my research, while particular technological forces may enable a resurgence of capacity to transition back to former manufacturing powerhouses as the low-cost benefits of outsourcing are able to be neutralized, complex societal forces may ultimately be the strongest driver of future demand in forcing the repositioning of manufacturing capability nearer to the locale of ultimate consumption. One academic contends that “Only raw materials and data will be transported over long distances in the future” (Matt, 2015), providing us with a glimpse of the dramatic change we might expect to see within the manufacturing, supply chain, and logistics realms, and among the broader society, in the coming years. Whether driven by manufacturers or consumers, we can expect to see a new generation of agile factories proliferating throughout consumer markets in the future.

If you’re interested in reading more, the full text of my research paper can be purchased in both hardcopy and electronic format from a variety of online book sellers, including Amazon.


Today, LightSpeed Retail announced their new product LightSpeed Cloud, a dramatic new offering released as an evolution of their longstanding LightSpeed Pro, Mac OS-based point-of-sale software solution.

LightSpeed Retail has been producing retail point-of-sale software for the Mac for nearly a decade, and moving to a cloud-based solution is a natural evolution of this product.

Unlike the LightSpeed Pro product, LightSpeed Cloud was not written from scratch.  LightSpeed Cloud comes to LightSpeed Retail via an acquisition of the pre-existing Merchant OS cloud-based POS solution, which was then re-tooled to LightSpeed Retail’s look-and-feel and other specifications.

I’ve been both a user and a reseller of LightSpeed’s Mac OS-based “Pro” product for many years, so I was surprised and excited to see their press release today.  I dove right in to sign up for a free 14 day trial to take the new product for a spin.

After establishing your account, there are a few brief screens to complete in order to set up your account.  You’ll need to provide LightSpeed Cloud with some basic info such as business name and address, categorization of your businesses’ industry, and you’ll need to tell it whether you’d also like to activate some of the Optional Modules such as Service (if your business needs to record service repairs for clients), Advanced Item Types (such as serial numbers on your inventory items), Gift Cards (which you can issue and track with an unique number), or the Time Clock (employee time tracking for payroll).  After that you’ll just need to record your sales tax rates.  LightSpeed Cloud, incidentally, does allow you to track multiple sales tax rates for those jurisdictions, like mine where there is both a Federal and Provincial sales tax.

Once the initial setup is completed, LightSpeed Cloud will ask you to schedule an optional appointment with one of their employees (AKA “Customer Heroes”) to answer any questions you may have.

Add a few inventory items, then you are ready to begin invoicing.  It’s not unrealistic to say that you can begin generating invoices within minutes of signup.

Generally speaking, LightSpeed Cloud allows you to manage and invoice your inventory, print invoices, purchase and receive inventory, print price tags, manage your customer database, track employee work hours, and generate a myriad of reports.  Its Multi-Shop feature allows you to manage inventory in, and sell inventory from, multiple warehouses/stores, and its Service module allows you to manage customer service repairs.  Additional add-ons are available to integrate with Quickbooks accounting, Shopify ecommerce, Perkville customer rewards and social networking management, and Mailchimp email marketing campaigns.  There is also a Public API available to allow you to build your own custom add-ons or integrations with existing solutions.  The full feature set is available here.

LightSpeed Cloud can also be used with bar code scanners, credit card swipers, and cash drawers, to provide a complete POS solution.

As a cloud-based application, LightSpeed Cloud runs via any HTML5-compliant web browser.  Unlike its Mac OS-only predecessor, this means LightSpeed Cloud will operate on any platform – Mac OS, Windows, Linux, Android Tablets, Chrome Laptops, etc.  There is also an iPad app available on the App Store which appears to offer the same interface and feature set as the web browser version, with the main difference being that it is touch-driven.

LightSpeed Cloud does not have the broad and robust feature set of the venerable Mac OS-based LightSpeed Pro app (yet…) and there is no official upgrade path from the Mac OS app to Cloud.  LightSpeed Cloud, as it currently stands, would be well-suited to small-to-medium sized businesses that are just starting out, or are transitioning from an older and less-robust POS solution.  It is possible to import your existing Inventory and Customer databases in to LightSpeed Cloud.

The initial [low] costs of setting up a LightSpeed Cloud installation are the major benefit over the LightSpeed Pro (Mac OS) app.  I have performed plenty of very basic single-user LightSpeed Pro installations in the past that would have been well-served by the new Cloud version.  LightSpeed Cloud carries an price as low as $69/mo for a single cash-register with 3 employees.  Compare this with the single user version of LightSpeed Pro at $1098, plus an additional ~$1200 for the entry-level iMac the software would need to operate on.  Thus it would take 33 months to reach cost-parity with the Pro version.  We can also presume that Cloud will receive ongoing feature enhancements – new fields and buttons will simply magically appear on your browser window from time-to-time.  [Incidentally, receiving new feature upgrades in Pro requires an ongoing renewal of a Maintenance subscription, starting at $399 per year for a single user.]

Bearing in mind that this is a Cloud-based app, this means you’ll lose access to inventory and invoicing temporarily if your Internet connection drops or if LightSpeed experiences technical problems in their data centre – but it also means you don’t have to maintain your own server and you don’t have to deal with the technical challenges associated with that (including remembering to perform local backups, and the possible theft of your server).

The only other thing I’ll mention as a caveat is that MerchantOS appeared to use Amazon for their hosting, so I presume that practice will continue under LightSpeed Cloud’s oversight.  For those of us not operating our businesses in the United States, this means that under the terms of the Patriot Act, the US Government has the legal right to look at your data without a warrant (because it physically resides within their boundaries).  Some of us outside of the US are not comfortable with a foreign government reviewing our private customer data and financial info, so be aware of that.  If your data resides on your own server, only you have access to it.

As many business applications transition from proprietary OS-based applications to the platform-agnostic Cloud, it has been a foregone conclusion for some time that point of sale software would follow this trend.  While LightSpeed Retail isn’t the first company to enter the cloud-based POS space, their longstanding experience in building a feature-rich and graphically robust solution will surely make them a leader in this new space.

For the past couple years I have been blogging about how to save money while roaming internationally with your mobile phone, by providing instructions on how to obtain cheap domestic SIM cards, and by pointing you in the direction of smartphone apps that enable cheap or free voice calling.

I have been a business owner for over 20 years and have a great deal of experience with finding more efficient and inexpensive ways to run a business, so I figured it was time I broadened my horizons a bit and talked about more than just data roaming.

In the coming days and weeks you’ll see more frequent posts, covering a much broader range of business topics.  Thanks for watching!