Will this tablet give you a headache?

Has your computer ever frozen on you? Of course it has but don’t worry, it even happens to the experts.

We’ve all heard of Microsoft and their arch rival Apple.

Although they are often classified together, up until this week there was a major difference between them.

Apple is mainly a hardware company (think iPods, iPads and Mac computers) whilst Microsoft is a software company (think Windows operating systems and Microsoft office software).

It may have come as a bit of a surprise therefore that last week saw the announcement that Microsoft would soon be selling their own tablet computers. At a launch in LA, Microsoft showed their upcoming tablet which goes by the name of mPad (actually, I made that last bit up about the name mPad as it is in fact called “Surface” but personally I prefer mPad).

As a strategic business move this is quite risky. Using their software in their own hardware will have obvious advantages in terms of the potential to win some of the market share from Apple but do they risk upsetting some of their major customers?

OEM’s (Original Equipment Manufacturers) such as Hewlett-Packard and Acer use the Windows operating system in their PCs.

Putting it another way, companies like Hewlett-Packard and Acer have a supplier (Microsoft) who has now suddenly become a competitor.

Are they going to be happy paying a supplier who is now directly competing with them?

Maybe the question is irrelevant though as after all, what other operating system could they use?

The other interesting thing was that the launch was very “Apple like” with the presentation being very slick.

Well, I say very slick but there was one moment when Microsoft boss Steve Sinofsky had just explained to the audience how users could “browse smoothly” when you guessed it, the device froze.

The video below shows Mr Sinofsky in action when the new tablet froze at the opening presentation.

You don’t have to be good at drawing…

In today’s tough economic climate more and more companies are looking at barter arrangements.

A barter arrangement is where goods or services are exchanged by two parties without any cash being transacted. You could argue that a less technical term for barter is simply “swapping”.

A hotel in Sweden has just launched an extremely unusual form of bartering.

The Clarion Hotel in Stockholm are offering free hotel accommodation for one night in exchange for a piece of art created by an artist.

Now this artwork doesn’t have to be by anyone famous such as Picasso. No, it can be by anyone including a middle aged accountant who writes rubbish blogs.

Yes, anyone can classify themselves as an artist and exchange a rubbish drawing piece of minimalistic artwork for a free night’s accommodation at a very nice hotel.

The only requirement is that the artwork is A4 sized and ownership of the piece of art is transferred to the hotel. Oh, and to prevent anyone sketching 365 pictures and then expecting to stay free of charge for a whole year, the maximum number of free nights in exchange for artwork is two.

All in all, a great idea by the hotel and I hope it’s a success.

Good and bad news for PwC…

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If you work for one of the top firms of accountants in the world and you’re an audit partner it must be [a refreshing change/really annoying – delete as appropriate] when you yourself are audited.

Well in the UK this has just happened for some of the major accounting companies.

The Professional Oversight Board is one of the bodies that works towards improving the quality of audit work and audit firms. They have just published their 2011/12 inspection reports and there were some interesting findings.

Their public report on their inspection of PwC for example commented on a number of items including PwC’s “audit transformation programme”.

The POB said that

“During the year, the firm launched its Audit Transformation programme, the stated objective of which is to enable audit teams to focus on key judgment areas, standardise the firm’s approach and improve audit quality. However, the guides issued to date under the programme appear to focus on improving audit efficiency by reducing audit hours.”

The Report then went on to say that

“The programme also includes increasing the use of the firm’s off-shoring capability, now through two overseas centres, one in India and the other in Poland. Work performed in 2011 by these centres accounted for about 4% of the firm’s core audit hours and is expected to increase to 6% in 2012.”

The POB work was quite thorough as they also looked at PwC’s “staff performance evaluation” forms where interestingly they found that “approximately a quarter of the appraisal forms and objectives for the following year were signed off after the due date.”

The good news for PwC was that the vast majority of the 14 audits that were examined by the POB were either performed to a “good standard” or an “acceptable overall standard”.

Unfortunately for them though there was one audit which was singled out as requiring “significant improvement”.

In case any of you are interested in reading the reports on PwC and some of the other major accounting companies, they can all be found here.

Somehow though I don’t think the partner responsible for the “significant improvement required audit” will be showing all his friends a copy of the report.

Are you strong enough to buy this?

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Now let me think. Drinking lots of beer and running as hard as you can into a metal vending machine. What could possibly go wrong?

In today’s competitive business environment it’s normally the case that companies want to make it as easy as possible for their customers to buy their products.

Over in Argentina though a beer company has taken an unusual (but in my opinion a brilliant) approach to selling beer.

In fact, if you’re talking in strategic exam business terminology, an unusual approach to the outbound logistics found within Michael Porter’s value chain.

Salta beer has designed a vending machine for all the rugby fans out there.

In order to get your can of beer dispensed from the vending machine you put your money in and then you have to body slam into the vending machine as hard as you can.

The nice twist to this is that there is a meter on the vending machine which is similar to the “hammer strength tests” that used to be found at old carnivals and fairgrounds. In other words, the beer will only be dispensed if you can run into the machine with a hard enough force and reach the “strength meter”.

It’s been designed to appeal to rugby fans who are used to seeing rugby players tackling their opponents.

The machine can be seen in action below and the next time you are sat down in a quiet Argentinean bar enjoying a relaxed drink lookout for the big guy behind you taking a long run-up and heading with his shoulder down towards the vending machine…

Would a chocolate bar motivate you to…

It’s a great feeling in the office when you’re working hard in a team and you achieve a good result.

Whether it’s delivering on a project, winning a new client or deciding on the location of the Christmas party that will take place in six months time, achieving a good result can result in some great feelings.

As well as the intrinsic rewards (i.e. feel good factors!), there can also be extrinsic rewards such as bonuses when things go well.

Torbay Hospital in the UK recently won a prestigious award. The hospital was chosen as the “acute healthcare organisation of the year”.

20 of the hospital’s senior staff celebrated the achievement at the awards in London but there were in fact 4,000 staff who worked for the hospital. Management decided to reward these other people in a way that may certainly be memorable for them, but possibly in the wrong way!

Whilst the 20 senior staff enjoyed a great time at the awards in London, the rest of the team were all given a voucher.

Now let’s just think about this for a moment. The organisation you work for has just won a prestigious award. You’ve been working hard to contribute to this. You receive a voucher as a reward.

So what voucher would you have been happy with?

Well, the excitement was no doubt building for the 4,000 workers when they realised they were getting a voucher but alas for them when they saw the voucher it was for a chocolate Kit Kat bar.

Yes, after the hospital won the prestigious award the team members were given a voucher to buy a chocolate bar with a value of 60p.

Now, I’m never one to turn down a free chocolate bar but I’m not sure that a 60p Kit Kat bar is a suitably motivating reward.

Then again, if they offered two chocolate bars…

It doesn’t matter how good your answer is, if the markers can’t……

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It doesn’t matter how good your answer is, if the markers can’t read your handwriting you won’t get the marks. It’s as simple as that.

As well as having the requisite technical knowledge students must have the necessary exam technique to ensure a pass. One of the more common complaints from markers is that sometimes the handwriting on exam scripts is so bad that they simply cannot read the answers. If they cannot read the answers then they cannot give you any marks.

Whilst it’s probably a bit late now to radically change your handwriting style, there are some simple steps you can take to make your script more readable. An easy one is to leave a gap between each paragraph. This breaks up the text on the page so that it doesn’t look too cluttered and will be easier for the marker to read.

Another point is to practice writing answers under exam conditions. Some of the papers are “written style” papers rather than a numerical one so you must get used to writing under exam conditions. The last time you probably wrote for 3 hours was at the last exam session! Everybody tends to use computers more and more these days and it’s relatively unusual to be writing significant amounts by hand. Practice writing answers under exam conditions and then give your answer to a friend or family member and see if they can understand it!

This was brought home to me the other day when I was talking to my niece. When I mentioned that as a child I used to write notes to fellow students and pass them around the class, she looked at me as though I was a dinosaur. Nowadays they don’t handwrite them but instead send phone text messages to their fellow students. Writing by hand will soon become a thing of the past…

Should you stop being an accountant?

So, you’re working hard to get a professional qualification. But is finance and business the area you should be in? Will there still be a need for finance professionals in the future?

These are all good questions but my personal view is that I think there will be a need for finance professionals going forward. Individuals will always be needed to analyse, interpret and advise on financial areas.

What about other occupations? What about taxi drivers for example?

Taxi drivers have been around for many years. Starting with the horse and carriage and now moving up to date with the latest cars and limousines, taxi drivers are a common sight in most towns and cities.

The drive in a London black cab for example is in my opinion a mixture between a personal “Disney style ride” through the sights of London combined with having a driver who knows more about everything than all the websites on the Internet (at least if the driver of the taxi I was in this morning is anything to go by…).

Had I had the opportunity this morning to get a word in edgeways there would have been an interesting discussion about whether taxi drivers will be needed in the future though.

The state of Nevada in America has just approved America’s first self driven vehicle licence. Wow, let’s just slow down a moment and review that last comment.

Yes, Nevada changed its laws to allow self-driven cars in March and Google have been testing a Toyota Prius which has been modified to enable it to be driven without a driver.

This is not science fiction, this is reality.

The car has already driven nearly 150,000 miles by itself but during these journeys it did have a driver sat ready to take action if needed.

However, Nevada is the first state in America to register cars that can drive without a driver and the first driverless journey has now actually taken place.

The car uses video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to find its way around.

This is all clever stuff and as a result if you are just starting out in your career and are planning to be a taxi or limousine driver, will you actually be needed in 10, 20 or 30 years?

That’s a good question but one thing is for sure and that is in the back of your driverless taxi in 10, 20 or 30 years I’m sure there will be an accountant on his way to a meeting…

Exam tips released but don’t crash like this guy…

Obtaining a professional qualification is a tough but ultimately rewarding journey.

It’s important to appreciate that whilst your studying before the exam is the key part of your journey, it’s also vital that you keep calm during the exam and focus on good exam technique.

We’ve just released our CIMA exam tips (the ACCA tips will follow at the end of this month) and whilst only the examiner knows what’s in the exams, our tips highlight areas that we would pay close attention to if we were sitting the exams.

One individual though who no doubt had prepared for his moment in some depth unfortunately lost control at a key moment and the result is shown in the video below.

The person involved was no doubt feeling confident sat in his £150,000 Lamborghinis Gallardo sports car but at the crucial moment he blew it big time.

Nobody was hurt in the incident apart from the driver’s pride and using the exam analogy, remember to stay calm and focussed during the exam no matter how exciting your journey to the exam has been. You don’t want to end up feeling like the guy in the video.

Here are our CIMA exam tips (follow the link to the paper you’re interested in and the exam tips are at the bottom right of the page).

Are Manchester City just copying Manchester United?

Manchester City may have won the Premier league yesterday and beaten Manchester United into second place but are they simply copying the red team of Manchester?

Manchester United shirts are currently made by Nike whilst Manchester City shirts are made by Umbro.

Umbro also sponsored the England kit and the brand has been around for many years. In fact its first major football kit was made for Manchester City back in 1934.

Manchester City though recently announced that next season their shirts would be Nike shirts rather than Umbro shirts. Was this a case of Nike paying lots of money to take the shirt deal away from Umbro?

No, in fact it was a clever strategic move by Nike as Nike in fact own Umbro.

The Umbro company (and brand) was purchased by Nike in 2008 so why the change from Umbro to Nike next season?

Well, Umbro is well known in the UK but doesn’t have the global recognition that Nike does. Now that Manchester City are becoming more globally attractive (i.e. because they are now winning trophies) Nike has decided to roll out the big Nike brand and its associated global footprint. As a result from next season the globally recognised football club will have their kit made by the globally recognised sportswear brand. A nice fit in more ways than one.

So, both Manchester clubs are now wearing Nike shirts. Is this a sign of things to come and will we see a combined Manchester team which is managed by Sir Alex Mancini and the games take place at the City of Trafford Stadium?

Somehow, I just don’t think that’s going to happen…

Apple users are (probably) liars…

Earlier this year we blogged about the CEO of Yahoo telling a lie on his CV. Whilst a number of you no doubt thought this was very bad, here’s a nice ethical question for you – have you lied recently?

My guess is that you have. Now before you get all righteous about it I think that you probably did it without even thinking.

Wow, this is pretty worrying isn’t it? A lot of you are studying for professional exams and if I’m here saying that you have lied without thinking about it then what does that mean for your profession going forward?

Terms and conditions (or T&Cs) are essential for companies which are operating on the Internet. For example, they clarify the relationship between the user and the supplier and make it clear what it provided. In reality, the chances are that they also limit the liability of the provider!

As well as having some great products, Apple also has a pretty significant set of T&Cs.

The consumer watchdog organisation “Which”, has recently released a report which criticises the length of some T&Cs.

For any of you that have loaded the Apple iTunes software onto your computer then in theory you should have read their terms and conditions. After all, you had to tick that you agreed with them.

The T&Cs of Apple iTunes reaches a staggering 19,972 words. To put this into perspective, there are more words in the Apple iTunes Terms & Conditions than there are in Shakespeare’s famous play Macbeth (if you’re interested, a mere 18,110 words).

For those of you that are fans of Shakespeare you may prefer Hamlet to Macbeth. If you’re interested, Hamlet has a total word count of 30,066.

If you’ve ever used PayPal then you would have agreed with their terms and conditions. If you had in fact read their terms and conditions then it would have taken you more time than it would have taken you to read Hamlet as the PayPal T&Cs have a phenomenal 36,275 words – 6,209 words more than Hamlet…