Something to drone on about…

Years ago, when I was an audit junior, I remember having to attend year-end inventory counts. Given that a lot of clients had 31 December year ends then a number of these inventory counts took place on 1 January which was never conducive to a great New Year’s Eve night out.

Things have moved on though and PwC has just undertaken their first inventory count using a drone.

The drone, which was manufactured and operated by UK drone company QuestUAV, was used to take over 300 images of a coal reserve in Wales owned by the giant German energy company, RWE.

The images were then used to create a “digital twin” on the coal pile in order to measure it’s volume. Impressively, the digital twin enabled the value of the coal to be calculated to within 99%+ accuracy based on the volume measurement.

Richard French, audit partner at PwC, commented:

“Coal stock has a material value on RWE’s balance sheet, so we carry out an annual stock observation and evaluation as part of our audit process. We observe the manual coal count carried out by RWE’s external surveyor, then assess the resulting data which feeds into the financial statements. The traditional stock count method involves climbing over the coal pile and using a two metre GPS tracking pole to measure the area and elevation from the ground at various points. The data is then used to build a contour of the reserves and estimate its volume.

“While the traditional method remains reliable and will still be used for RWE’s formal year-end financial statements, the drone trial was conducted to explore ways of challenging the traditional method of stock counting. It was a classic example of new technology challenging the old – and based on our results, the potential is groundbreaking.”

PwC went on to mention that there were several benefits including:

  • The traditional method of manually traversing the coal pile can take around 4 hours, whereas using a drone it can be done in half an hour – a reduction of 85%;
  • The drone captured c.900 data points per cubic metre, obtaining impressive overall accuracy levels of 2cm. This is compared to c.1,200 readings taken across the whole site using the traditional method, therefore the drone enhances accuracy by providing a true, continuous representation of the coal pile;
  • The preparation for the drone flight requires access to only a limited area of the coal pile and therefore poses less of a health and safety risk, particularly when parts of the coal pile are unstable; and
  • The flight does not interrupt normal operations on the coal pile, e.g. movement of machinery, and therefore is a less disruptive method.

All in all, a great use of technology and for any audit team members who previously had to climb over the coal, the use of a drone is no doubt very welcome news.

Banking benefits for babies…

Life can be tough for new mums when they go back to work after having a baby. Being away from the new arrival, tiredness and getting back into things at work can all increase the pressure on the new mum.

Goldman Sachs, the giant investment bank, used to have a pretty tough reputation when it came to employees. For example, they reportedly only used to give staff four hours off of work for bereavements.

Times are changing though and they have now becoming more flexible and family friendly for their workforce.

Goldman Sachs employs 6,000 people in the UK and they have become the first company in the UK to offer to pay for its breastfeeding working mums to courier their expressed milk back to their babies if they are travelling with work.

The bank told their staff that “Parenting and work can sometimes feel at odds. Goldman Sachs aim[s] to make the balancing act a little easier”.

Whilst some people may feel that this is a way of putting pressure on mums to return to work as soon as possible, it has to be said that the company offers some of the most generous maternity leave out there. They currently offer six months’ full paid maternity leave to new mums.

Whilst Goldman Sachs are the first company in the UK to offer this benefit to new mums, there are already several companies in the US that provide a similar “baby milk shipping” service to their staff.

IBM, Twitter, EY and Accenture all provide this benefit.

All in all, a nice initiative and I’m sure the new babies are especially happy.

Who are you sat next to?

If you’re in the office at the moment take a look at the person next to you. Would you say that he or she is a “good worker” or a “toxic neighbour”?

A recent bit of research by economists from Harvard Business School has shed some light on the type of person you should be sitting next to.

If you’re an “average worker” and you sit next to a hard working and diligent person then your performance is likely to improve.

Unfortunately though the opposite is true and if you’re an average person who sits next to somebody who isn’t very good at their job then that badly performing person could well take you down to their level.

The researchers studied data from seating plans and reports from over 2,000 employees. The performance of these employees was rated based on the time they spent to complete a task as well as quality and effectiveness. Their efficiency was based on how often they had to ask for help.

One of the interesting bits of the research was finding out whether when a person sat next to a high performing individual that person’s performance improved because they learnt from the better performing individual or they were inspired by him or her.

When the research team split these people back up again the average worker’s performance reverted back to the average level rather than stay at the high performing level. This implied that the improvement was not due to learning new skills but instead was due to being inspired by the good worker.

When it comes to sitting next to a “toxic employee” who doesn’t perform, the bad news is that the negativity rubs off on the good employee almost immediately.

So it may well be worth trying to sit next to the stars of the office rather than the toxic ones

A quick word of warning though and if the person you sit next to has recently asked their boss to move away from you asap then the chances are that you aren’t the star of the office but instead are…

Remind me – what was I going to buy?

Do you wish you had a better memory? Perhaps you do but you can’t remember whether or not you do.

If this is the case then help may be at hand.

University researchers have recently suggested a simple technique which could improve your memory.

Dr Mark Moss from Northumbria University led a research study which found that students studying in a room with the smell of the herb rosemary (in the form of essential oils) achieved 5% to 7% better memory results than students undertaking similar studying in a room without the smell of rosemary.

Dr Moss reported that the sense of smell in humans is highly sensitive and sends messages to the brain which can set off reactions and responses.

In the case of rosemary, the smell could well result in a better memory.

This view isn’t new though as ancient Greek students used to wear garlands of rosemary in their exams and Ophelia, the young noblewoman in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet said “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

So, in conclusion, the next time you are studying hard for an exam it may be an idea to buy some rosemary essential oils to help your memory.

That is of course, if you can remember to buy some in the first place…

(Details of some of the work done by Northumbria University can be found here).

Happy New Desk

Well it’s that time of year again when a lot of people set themselves a New Year Resolution.

On average, approximately a third of people in the UK will set themselves a New Year Resolution with the most popular ones being to be exercise more, eat healthily and give up smoking and drinking alcohol.

New Year Resolutions have their origins in a variety of places.

The Babylonians, an ancient culture from the Middle East, used to make promises to the gods at the start of each year and the Ancient Romans used to start each year by making promises to Janus – the Roman God of beginnings and after whom the month of January is named.

The majority of resolution nowadays though are unsuccessful and a study from the University of Bristol found that 88 per cent of people who make New Year’s resolutions fail.

But what can you do if your resolution is to be healthier but you’re working long hours at the office?

After all, long working hours and keeping fit don’t tend to work well together.

Well, now there’s an answer to this problem as you can buy a treadmill desk.

Yes, lifespanfitness.com offer a selection of treadmill desks and treadmill desks can be pretty expensive. Some cost nearly £3,000.

That’s quite a lot of money and I’m not sure your boss would react too favourably if you asked him or her to buy you a desk which nearly £3,000.

Then again, you could point out that if you had a treadmill desk instead of the normal desk then you would be more productive as you would be running and wouldn’t be able to drink the bottle of wine that you normally have in the office whilst sat at your desk…