The flying drones that can scan packages night and day

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Media captionPinc’s flying drone scans warehouse packages

Flying drones and robots now patrol distribution warehouses – they’ve become workhorses of the e-commerce era online that retailers can’t do without. It is driving down costs but it is also putting people out of work: what price progress?

It could be a scene from Blade Runner 2049; the flying drone hovers in the warehouse aisle, its spinning rotors filling the cavernous space with a buzzing whine.

It edges close to the packages stacked on the shelf and scans them using onboard optical sensors, before whizzing off to its next assignment.

But this is no sci-fi film, it’s a warehouse in the US – one of around 250,000 throughout the country, many gargantuan in size: retail giant Walmart’s smallest warehouse, for example, is larger than 17 football fields put together.

And these automated drones are now doing the jobs humans – on foot, or operating fork-lift trucks and mechanical lifts – used to do: and they’re doing them more cheaply and more accurately.

“Every year companies lose billions of dollars due to misplaced items and faulty inventory records in their warehouses,” says Fadel Adib, an assistant professor of media, arts and sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Image copyright
Hardis Group

Image caption

Hardis Group’s EyeSee drone can fly autonomously

“Today’s inventory management requires workers to scan items manually, which is a very time consuming and error-prone process. It’s impossible to keep track of all items in the warehouse.”

Two drones can do the work of 100 humans over the same time period, according to supply chain specialist, Argon Consulting. This means they can do several tours of a warehouse – even at night – compare results, identify discrepancies, and build up a much more accurate picture much more quickly.

Drone makers claim scanning accuracy of close to 100%.

Matt Yearling, chief executive of Pinc, one of the firms offering such aerial robots, says they can save warehousing and logistics companies millions of dollars.

“Nobody has 100% accuracy – including Walmart and Amazon,” he says. “For a warehouse that is 95% accurate, it means that 5% is ambiguous. So if the warehouse is storing $100m [£75m] worth of inventory, then $5m is uncertain.

“Typically the retailer will have more than one warehouse. So, if you multiply the problem across the warehouse network you are talking big dollars.”

Pinc’s drones use hydrogen fuel cells, enabling them to fly for up to two hours – four times as long as some battery-powered drones.

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French firm Hardis Group has also launched an inventory-scanning drone – EyeSee – and emphasises how autonomous it is.

“Flight orders and flight plan execution are ensured by our Android application,” says Stephane Cadenet, manager of the firm’s drone programme.

“Our solution is simple to use: no installation, no infrastructure adaptation and no driver. The only thing to do is unpack the drone. The calculation of the flight plan is automatic.”

Other companies, such as Infinium Robotics, have also developed drone scanning systems.

Of course, retailers have been using robots and automated systems in warehouses for some years. In 2012, fashion brand Net-A-Porter said its robot pickers were already 500% faster than humans, while online retailer Amazon’s Kiva robots have almost become famous.

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Media captionInstead of humans walking miles to pick goods, these robots take the shelves to the pickers

“Innovators are working to make drones and robots an integral part of warehousing, inventory, and logistics,” says JP Gownder, a principal analyst at research firm Forrester.

“Over the next 10 years, these technologies look set to revolutionise these spaces.”

But all this cost saving and efficiency comes at the expense of jobs for humans.

The $2.3tn e-commerce industry is huge and growing, but almost 75% of e-commerce companies employ no more than four people.

So it is no coincidence that in the US some 89,000 shop workers were laid off between October and April this year, while employment in New York City clothing stores has declined for three consecutive years.

Forrester estimates that automation technologies, including artificial intelligence, will replace 17% of US jobs by 2027. And growth in new types of employment will not be enough to compensate.

“Automation does create opportunities for new jobs – equivalent to 10% of today’s jobs,” says Mr Gownder.

“But that still leads to a net 7% loss of jobs due to automation, which has to be made up by macro-economic growth, non-automation related jobs, and monetary policy.”

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionThe Ocado warehouse run by robots

Ryan Bax, industry analyst for mobility at research consultancy Frost & Sullivan, concedes that the use of drones and robotics in warehousing will lead to job losses, but believes growth elsewhere will compensate for this.

“As automation reduces the demand for lesser qualified jobs, the need for specialised skills within the logistics sector will grow,” he maintains.

And he thinks automation tech may even become mandatory once it has been shown to reduce accidents in the workplace.

“The use of automated technologies will permit warehouses to operate 24-hour days and improve stock management accuracy, but beyond this they will provide significant benefits to safety within the workplace.”

This will be small comfort for the thousands of warehouse workers displaced by drones and robots, but it is the inevitable consequence of our desire for online convenience, cheaper prices and faster deliveries.

  • Follow Technology of Business editor Matthew Wall on Twitter and Facebook
  • Click here for more Technology of Business features

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41737300

The flying drones that can scan packages night and day

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionPinc’s flying drone scans warehouse packages

Flying drones and robots now patrol distribution warehouses – they’ve become workhorses of the e-commerce era online that retailers can’t do without. It is driving down costs but it is also putting people out of work: what price progress?

It could be a scene from Blade Runner 2049; the flying drone hovers in the warehouse aisle, its spinning rotors filling the cavernous space with a buzzing whine.

It edges close to the packages stacked on the shelf and scans them using onboard optical sensors, before whizzing off to its next assignment.

But this is no sci-fi film, it’s a warehouse in the US – one of around 250,000 throughout the country, many gargantuan in size: retail giant Walmart’s smallest warehouse, for example, is larger than 17 football fields put together.

And these automated drones are now doing the jobs humans – on foot, or operating fork-lift trucks and mechanical lifts – used to do: and they’re doing them more cheaply and more accurately.

“Every year companies lose billions of dollars due to misplaced items and faulty inventory records in their warehouses,” says Fadel Adib, an assistant professor of media, arts and sciences at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Image copyright
Hardis Group

Image caption

Hardis Group’s EyeSee drone can fly autonomously

“Today’s inventory management requires workers to scan items manually, which is a very time consuming and error-prone process. It’s impossible to keep track of all items in the warehouse.”

Two drones can do the work of 100 humans over the same time period, according to supply chain specialist, Argon Consulting. This means they can do several tours of a warehouse – even at night – compare results, identify discrepancies, and build up a much more accurate picture much more quickly.

Drone makers claim scanning accuracy of close to 100%.

Matt Yearling, chief executive of Pinc, one of the firms offering such aerial robots, says they can save warehousing and logistics companies millions of dollars.

“Nobody has 100% accuracy – including Walmart and Amazon,” he says. “For a warehouse that is 95% accurate, it means that 5% is ambiguous. So if the warehouse is storing $100m [£75m] worth of inventory, then $5m is uncertain.

“Typically the retailer will have more than one warehouse. So, if you multiply the problem across the warehouse network you are talking big dollars.”

Pinc’s drones use hydrogen fuel cells, enabling them to fly for up to two hours – four times as long as some battery-powered drones.

More Technology of Business

Image copyright
Getty Images

French firm Hardis Group has also launched an inventory-scanning drone – EyeSee – and emphasises how autonomous it is.

“Flight orders and flight plan execution are ensured by our Android application,” says Stephane Cadenet, manager of the firm’s drone programme.

“Our solution is simple to use: no installation, no infrastructure adaptation and no driver. The only thing to do is unpack the drone. The calculation of the flight plan is automatic.”

Other companies, such as Infinium Robotics, have also developed drone scanning systems.

Of course, retailers have been using robots and automated systems in warehouses for some years. In 2012, fashion brand Net-A-Porter said its robot pickers were already 500% faster than humans, while online retailer Amazon’s Kiva robots have almost become famous.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionInstead of humans walking miles to pick goods, these robots take the shelves to the pickers

“Innovators are working to make drones and robots an integral part of warehousing, inventory, and logistics,” says JP Gownder, a principal analyst at research firm Forrester.

“Over the next 10 years, these technologies look set to revolutionise these spaces.”

But all this cost saving and efficiency comes at the expense of jobs for humans.

The $2.3tn e-commerce industry is huge and growing, but almost 75% of e-commerce companies employ no more than four people.

So it is no coincidence that in the US some 89,000 shop workers were laid off between October and April this year, while employment in New York City clothing stores has declined for three consecutive years.

Forrester estimates that automation technologies, including artificial intelligence, will replace 17% of US jobs by 2027. And growth in new types of employment will not be enough to compensate.

“Automation does create opportunities for new jobs – equivalent to 10% of today’s jobs,” says Mr Gownder.

“But that still leads to a net 7% loss of jobs due to automation, which has to be made up by macro-economic growth, non-automation related jobs, and monetary policy.”

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionThe Ocado warehouse run by robots

Ryan Bax, industry analyst for mobility at research consultancy Frost & Sullivan, concedes that the use of drones and robotics in warehousing will lead to job losses, but believes growth elsewhere will compensate for this.

“As automation reduces the demand for lesser qualified jobs, the need for specialised skills within the logistics sector will grow,” he maintains.

And he thinks automation tech may even become mandatory once it has been shown to reduce accidents in the workplace.

“The use of automated technologies will permit warehouses to operate 24-hour days and improve stock management accuracy, but beyond this they will provide significant benefits to safety within the workplace.”

This will be small comfort for the thousands of warehouse workers displaced by drones and robots, but it is the inevitable consequence of our desire for online convenience, cheaper prices and faster deliveries.

  • Follow Technology of Business editor Matthew Wall on Twitter and Facebook
  • Click here for more Technology of Business features

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41737300

What’s behind the rise of Asia’s stock markets

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Image caption

Analysts believe the strong appetite for Asian stocks can continue

Memory chips and China’s economic muscle are among the factors that have put a rocket under Asian stocks this year, pushing markets to record or multi-year highs.

“Everyone hated Asia markets for a long time,” says Josh Crabb, head of Asian equities at Old Mutual Global Investors. “Now we’ve moved on from there”.

Moved on indeed: South Korea’s Kospi sits at a record; Japan’s Nikkei 225 index is above a two-decade high; Hong Kong’s Hang Seng is around a 10-year peak, while markets in India, Taiwan and Indonesia are among the others scaling fresh heights.

It’s an unusual moment for equities in the region as strong corporate profits, economic stimulus and growth are overshadowing nearby political risks.

“Markets seem impervious to events,” says CMC Markets analyst Michael McCarthy. “Sabre-rattling from North Korea barely makes a dent”.

And some analysts argue that as long as US markets keep their cool, there’s plenty of good times for investors in Asia still to come.

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Image caption

Many markets in Asia are trading at historic or multi-year highs

Since the 2009 crash, global markets have been moving steadily higher – with a few stumbles en route.

Regional growth

Massive liquidity coupled with ultra-low interest rates has created a fertile environment for stocks to thrive. Asia has enjoyed a tailwind from record gains on Wall Street.

At the same time, China’s economy – aiming for 6.5% growth this year – has been underpinning the broader region for some time.

The world’s second largest economy has a big impact on the fortunes of other countries, even as its growth rate moderates. Take South Korea: It’s seen double-digit export growth for the last 11 months, thanks largely to China, which buys about one-quarter of its products sold offshore.

  • China third-quarter growth hits 6.8%
  • Japan economy grows at fastest pace in more than 2 years

“China’s improving economic conditions can really be seen as a trigger for the equity run in Asia,” says IG Markets analyst Jingyi Pan.

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AFP

Image caption

Asia is home to two of the world’s three largest economies, China and Japan

Japan’s economy is also gathering steam.

Exports are climbing and strong domestic spending on devices like cameras and computers from China is driving growth. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s re-election, and the likely continuation of his Abenomics policies, was met with cheers from investors.

Ed Rogers, chief executive of Rogers Investment Advisors in Japan believes the benchmark Nikkei index can track even higher.

“Japan has a long way to go. There’s $18tn in cash on the sidelines,” he says, adding that most of that money is currently invested in low-yielding Japanese government bonds.

“There’s a similar boat load of money that wants to get out of China,” Mr Rogers says.

Earnings bump

That money could find plenty of homes in Asia where equities are cheap relative to other parts of the world. Companies in the region are strengthening, and well-received results this earnings season have given markets a boost.

For South Korean firms, the outlook is even brighter. CLSA analyst Paul Choi says at the beginning of 2017, people were expecting 10% corporate earnings growth, now that forecast is around 50%.

It’s got a lot to do with memory chips. Higher prices for chips used in electronic devices have spurred index heavyweights like Samsung and SK Hynix, as well as the broader market.

  • Samsung sees record quarterly profit on chip demand

In fact, Mr Choi says that fluctuations in the value of memory chips is more threatening to South Korea’s market than provocations from its northern neighbour.

Which brings us back to North Korea.

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AFP

Image caption

North Korea insists it needs a nuclear-weapons programme to ensure its survival

Investors appear largely unshaken by displays of military aggression – missile tests and provocations against Japan – and analysts say markets have factored in the risk. Rogers Investment Advisors Mr Rogers describes the North Korea threat as “kind of overblown”.

That attitude will shift dramatically if threats turn to action. Until then, other risks to the Asian rally loom larger.

‘Unknown’ threat

Turning off the stimulus tap and the ratcheting up of interest rates will dampen enthusiasm, while analysts point to China’s ballooning debt as another threat to the region.

Mr Rogers says political risk and “unpredictability” hang over Asian markets and unexpected moves could stunt recent rallies. The threat of the “unknown” is a familiar refrain from market-watchers in the region.

“The most damaging risks are the ones we don’t forecast,” says CMC Markets’ Mr McCarthy.

A final recurring note of caution is the rush on Wall Street. Recent gains have been inspired by strong earnings, along with hopes of tax reform and business friendly policies under President Trump. But the chorus of concern about the market’s sharp rise is growing on Wall Street.

  • US economic growth revised up again
  • US markets are rising – So why are some people worried?

History shows a gradual climb-down from the record highs on US markets is unlikely, and a collapse could shock the world.

“If the US blows up, most things will come off. [Asia] won’t be immune,” says Josh Crabb of Old Mutual Global Investors.

“Markets tend to get euphoric and then they get fearful. Theoretically you shouldn’t have boom and bust, but human behaviour drives stock markets more than logic.”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41651086

The US and Iranian battle over the pistachio nut trade

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Image caption

Relations between the US and Iran have an outsized impact on the global trade in pistachios

There are lots of casualties in international conflicts but this one is nuts, you might say – although strictly speaking the pistachio is a seed.

The international pistachio trade has faced unexpected headwinds due to the tensions between Iran and the US.

The global pistachio industry is a multi-billion dollar a year sector that is continuing to grow in value as its popularity as a foodstuff grows.

The US and Iran dominate the world’s trade in pistachios – collectively controlling between 70% and 80% of yearly output for the last decade.

Over the last forty years, Iran’s growers have faced pressures from sanctions, tariffs and restrictions on their ability to access international financial tools.

Although pistachios themselves were not on the list of sanctioned products, restrictions on global banking made trade difficult for Iranian farmers.

All that changed in 2016 following the Iran nuclear deal, officially The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This agreement with the US and its allies removed sanctions.

It wasn’t just Iranian oil that came flowing back onto the international market, pistachio exports began gaining overseas markets.

Trump’s threat

That progress could face challenges though. US President Donald Trump called the agreement created under his predecessor the “worst” deal the US has ever made.

In October he decertified the agreement. The move passes responsibility to the US Congress to evaluate and determine whether it believes Iran is compliant with the terms and if the US should remain in the deal.

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Getty Images

Image caption

Over 90% of US pistachios are grown in California

President Trump said in the speech announcing his decision that the agreement “threw Iran’s dictatorship a political and economic lifeline,” but had failed to prevent Iran’s “sprint” towards nuclear weapon development.

For Iran’s pistachio industry the threat of losing the deal and reinstating sanctions could mean the return of what Hojat Hassani Sadi, deputy director of the Iran Pistachio Association calls “unfair and unequal competition”.

Ancient roots

The pistachio industry in Iran dates back thousands of years. By contrast, pistachio farming in the US started in the 1930s with Persian seeds.

The boom in commercial pistachio cultivation came after the US severed ties with Iran following the 1979 hostage crisis, after which the US and its allies placed sanctions on Iran.

Over the next several decades, even in countries where Iranian pistachios were welcomed, restrictions on its companies’ ability to access international financing made it hard for the industry to flourish.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Archaeological evidence suggests pistachios were first grown in what is now Iraq in 7,000BC

During that time the US market expanded, with farmers – mainly across California – planting the crop.

But in 2014. hot and dry weather conditions across the western US cost the industry nearly half its crop and cut profits for 2015 – the year those nuts were sold – by close to $1.4bn (£1bn).

Globally, pistachio prices rose, but for Iran’s growers it was also an opportunity.

Price competition

The price of pistachios has been on the rise since 2002. Richard Matoian, executive director of the American Pistachio Growers (APG) trade association, attributes this to increased awareness of their health properties and global demand for healthy snacks.

“The industry has been pushing the products with advertising,” he says, adding that middle-class demand in developing markets has also boosted exports.

Global Trade

More from the BBC’s series taking an international perspective on trade:

Increased demand in China has been key to sector growth. Between 2008 and 2013 Chinese imports of US pistachios rose 146% according to APG.

But the 2014 drought saw the price of California’s nuts rocket from $3/lb (453g) to over $5/lb.

By contrast Iran’s pistachio yield that year was strong. In markets like China, they were able to undercut American prices by close to $0.20/lb.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Pistachio plants grow best in arid climates but that leave crops vulnerable to water shortages

A strong growing year in 2016 has helped the US market recover and led to a moderation in price.

But Iran has another advantage that helps it in global trade – its location.

“Iran has a transportation advantage. They can certainly take markets away and China is an example of that,” says Mr Matoian.

Uphill march

The advantages and disadvantages for Iran are not only linked to sanctions. Iran claims its pistachios have a better taste, as do several large European distributors, though the US and Iran mainly grow the same strain. (Turkish pistachios, for example, are a different variety.)

The US also imposes a 241% tariff on Iranian pistachios meaning even without sanctions the US market has been all but cut off for Iran.

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Getty Images

Image caption

Aging water infrastructure in Iran is a major difficultly for Iran’s farmers

Water shortages are another problem for Iran. According to Mr Sadi it is the “major obstacle to growth” for his industry.

Iran’s pistachio sector is second in the world following the strong 2016 season in the US. And with the two countries dominating so much of the global market, Iran isn’t in dire need of a comeback.

But for the growing number of pistachio fans around the world increased access to Iran’s pistachio exports and decreasing prices would be a sweet outcome.

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41640066

The 350 million people who don’t officially exist

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Whenever any report has a “global” subject matter it’s never long before there’s a massive, global-size statistic, counting people by the millions and billions.

News reports on global problems like to gesture to devastation and deprivation on an epic scale, counting out the suffering in numbers so big that they almost lose meaning.

And maybe they actually do go astray.

Because the annual monitoring report on education from the United Nations education agency, Unesco, makes the point that global figures on access to education could be out by a factor of 350 million.

That’s not a minor gap in the headcount. That’s the equivalent of the combined populations of the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

Undocumented and invisible

These “invisible” people, below the demographic radar, are described as “the poorest of the poorest”. These are families growing up in places where censuses and administrators do not reach.

These are millions of unregistered lives in sprawling slums around some cities in the developing world, or in families living illegally and undocumented as migrants.

Unesco’s report says that the conventional means of gathering information – such as household surveys, censuses and records of birth and death – are only likely to be accurate for populations that are settled, visible and accessing services.

Image copyright
EPA

Image caption

How accurate are international figures on education targets?

Shifting and excluded populations, even in their tens of millions, are harder to identify and can slip away from the spreadsheets and the data gatherers.

Children living on the streets might not show up in the numbers not making it to school. They won’t even count enough to be absences. The homeless or nomadic are missing from population studies going from house to house.

Unwanted refugees driven over borders by political violence can be left uncounted and unrecognised by reluctant hosts.

The UN agency estimates an undercount of 250 million in household surveys used in developing countries and says another 100 million are likely to be outside the reach of official statistics, including those living as illegal immigrants in wealthier countries.

Taking account

This year’s education monitoring report focuses on accountability.

But the Unesco study highlights that holding governments accountable for failing to deliver education services depends on knowing how many people need to be supported.

More from Global education

Ideas for the Global education series? Get in touch.

International goals to cut illiteracy and increase access to school places need to recognise that some of the most disadvantaged are not even part of the target.

Unesco says that it raises the question of who is responsible for people who don’t even appear in national figures.

Such discrepancies appear in the UN agency’s own range of figures.

Unesco says that its annual statistics for children without access to school include an estimate for those hard to reach communities.

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Getty Images

Image caption

More pupils are getting access to school – but 264 million are still missing out

But in comparisons for inequalities in access and public spending on education, Unesco says these “invisible” millions are not included.

The UN agency makes the point that if the “mantra” of the current development goals is that “no one is left behind”, for hundreds of millions, they never even get as far as being recognised as existing.

As such, “no one is ultimately held to account for protecting their rights”.

Missing school

This year’s newly-released figures show 264 million young people without access to primary or secondary school.

The report warns of six successive years in which education has received a declining share of aid budgets.

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Getty Images

Image caption

Undocumented migrants and the homeless can go below the radar of official figures

And an international group of former education ministers, the Atlantis Group, including former UK education secretary Nicky Morgan and US education secretary Arne Duncan, has called for a greater commitment to aid for education.

Last month, another UN agency, Unicef, reported there had been “nearly zero progress” in the past decade on improving access to school in the poorest countries.

And earlier this month, Unesco’s Institute for Statistics warned of a “staggering” problem in lack of quality in schools, with more than 600 million young people who have been to school but are lacking basic skills in literacy and numeracy.

Counting in education and making education count remain a challenge.

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41730606

Why businesses are saving the humble text message

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Media captionThe firm that sends two billion text messages per year

If you think that WhatsApp is killing the humble text message you may need to think again.

A growing number of us are sending far fewer text messages than we used to.

Armed with our fancy smartphones, in recent years we have instead switched to the likes of Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, Snapchat, and of course WhatsApp for our chats.

As a result, the number of text (or SMS, as they are officially known) messages being sent per day around the world has now fallen far behind the more hi-tech rivals.

At WhatsApp alone, 55 billion messages are now sent globally every day, more than twice the 22 billion figure for SMS messages.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

People are switching from texts to the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger

Yet while the number of text messages being sent by people in the developed world has fallen since 2011, there continues to be one big growth area – notification SMS messages sent from businesses to customers.

Most of us are now increasingly receiving such text messages on a regular basis, such as when you are being reminded of an opticians’ appointment, when an engineer will come to repair your boiler, or when a delivery is going to arrive.

One company at the forefront of this business text messaging industry is a small English firm Esendex, based in Nottingham, in the East Midlands.

With just 200 employees, it now sends out two billion text messages per year, on behalf of 30,000 businesses and other organisations, up from 100 million texts in 2010.

Image caption

Businesses are now increasingly sending text messages to their customers

Esendex is already the biggest player in the UK, France and Italy; it is growing strongly in Germany, Spain and Australia.

And it is a lucrative business. Esendex has annual revenues of £23m a year, as firms pay it a fee for every text sent. Meanwhile, a report earlier this year predicted that the global business text message industry would be worth $70bn by 2020, up from $55bn in 2014, as more and more texts are sent out to customers.

Geoff Love, Esendex’s chief executive, says while friends may like to chat over Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, there are a number of key reasons why businesses prefer to send out text messages instead.

“SMS is the only app that’s on every phone in the world, so no matter who you are trying to communicate with, you know they can receive a text message.”

Test messaging facts

  • SMS stands for Short Message Service
  • The first text was sent in 1992 by British software engineer Neil Papworth. It read simply “Merry Christmas”
  • 15.2 million texts are sent globally every minute
  • Text messages are read, on average, within five minutes of being received
  • Text messages are up to 160 characters in length
  • Google is working on a new version of text messaging called RCS or Rich Communication Services, which aims to make it more similar to WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger

“That’s not the same with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or any of the other applications. SMS is simply ubiquitous,” he says.

“SMS is also very powerful – people read text messages. 95% of text messages are read within five seconds, so you know your message will get there quickly and cheaply.

“And with SMS we know that the text message has been delivered to the person’s phone.”

Image caption

Geoff Love says firms use SMS because it is on every mobile phone in the world

Majority-owned by a private equity firm, Esendex is continuing to quickly expand overseas through a determined acquisitions policy.

Given that the global marketplace is a crowded one, with a large number of firms touting to help businesses send out text messages to their customers, mobile phone industry expert Ben Wood, says Esendex is right to have wanted to grow quickly.

“It is a cutthroat business, down to fractions of a penny in terms of margins,” says Mr Wood, who works for research group CCS Insight.

“So scale is all important, companies need to be growing in the space in order to make sure that they’re able to buy messages at scale, and therefore compete when they’re tendering for business.”

Image caption

Esendex’s head office is in Nottingham

With its main overseas offices in Barcelona, Spain, and Melbourne, Australia, plus others in France and Italy, Mr Love says an attempt to break into the US market failed.

“Melbourne and Barcelona grew quickly, [but] things were tougher in America, and we ended up closing down our American operation.

“Not all of the [US] mobile telephone networks could communicate with each other, so you’d be in a situation where you might send a message and it wasn’t received because the two networks didn’t have any kind of agreement between them to receive messages, which was crazy.”

This is the second story in a new series called Connected Commerce, which every week highlights companies around the world that are successfully exporting, and trading beyond their home market.

The first feature in the series, looked at a Canadian winemaker who has to battle winter temperatures of less than -25C.

“In Europe, whilst it appears to be more complicated because people speak different languages, in reality they are far more similar,” says Mr Love.

Yet there are some differences in Europe, he adds, with companies in Germany demanding far more stringent tests on the software and technology.

Image caption

The global mobile phone market is taking over the world

Entering the Australian market also brought an unforeseen issue – due to the time difference it can’t shut down its UK head office computer systems overnight for maintenance, because it is daytime in Australia.

“It forced us to become a 24/7 business,” says Mr Love. “That was quite hard to begin with because it meant changing the way we operated… but in the end it turned into quite an advantage because the companies we are working with are using us for mission-critical stuff 24/7 anyway.

“Our customers are in every single industry you can think of, it could be a very small business or a massive enterprise. But typically it’s organisations who really need to communicate with a large number of people very quickly.”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41666820

Could this 10-year-old fix Pakistan’s waste problem?

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Media captionZymal Umer has discovered there is money to be made in recycling

“If people just thought for a moment before dumping their rubbish then maybe they wouldn’t do it as it harms our environment.”

Zymal Umer, 10, sighs as she takes in the view of a makeshift rubbish dump on the outskirts of her hometown Sargodha in Punjab, Pakistan. But could the girl dubbed the country’s “youngest social entrepreneur” by many have a solution?

For now, there are colourful piles of plastic bags, metal and general waste as far as the eye can see.

Wafts of smoke fill the air with a putrid and toxic stench as much of the refuse is set on fire.

What’s in front of Zymal is just the tip of the iceberg that is Pakistan’s problem with waste.

According to the country’s environment protection department, 20m tonnes of solid waste is generated a year and the figure is growing by 2.4% annually.

Landfill issues

“This is a situation you can find across all of Pakistan – these bags are not biodegradable and people carelessly discard them. They don’t really think about recycling,” Zymal says.

Image caption

Zymal turns old newspapers into gift bags

Proper solid waste management has never been practiced in the country; only half of the rubbish generated is collected by the government and there is a severe lack of adequate landfill sites.

Dumping and burning remain the most common methods of disposal and much of the uncollected waste poses serious risks to public health.

Beautiful bags

Zeebags is Zymal’s bid to try to reduce pollution and increase awareness about the environment.

The schoolgirl turns old newspapers into bright and beautifully decorated gift bags which are then sold to family and friends and most of the profits distributed to various local charities.

In the space of just three years she has gone from selling a few bags to selling hundreds – worth $4-5,000.

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Pakistan has a real problem with waste

“I learnt to make the bags by watching YouTube.

“It is hard to balance my schoolwork with running Zeebags, so I make them at the weekend or during the holidays with my cousins.

“My father and grandfather pay for my raw materials and if they didn’t help me, it would be very hard to keep my project going,” she says.

One charity Zymal’s money goes to is called SOS Children’s Villages, which helps orphaned and destitute children across Pakistan.

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Zymal has used the money she has raised to help other children

“Through my income I’ve been able to pay for water coolers, washing machines, batteries and the type of things they need for daily life,” Zymal explains. “To see the happiness on their faces gives me a lot of satisfaction and motivation to carry on.”

Her innovative and charitable enterprise has attracted a fair bit of attention with TV and newspaper coverage labelling Zymal as “Pakistan’s youngest social entrepreneur”.

Award winner

Zeebags has also won a number of awards in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the USA.

“I was very excited to get some international recognition for my work and proud to get some positive exposure for my country and parents.”

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Zymal believes her business has the potential to grow much larger

Selling online has opened up her business to a new world of possibilities.

“In Pakistan it’s thought girls cannot work independently but I haven’t faced any difficulties and my aim is to continue my work.

“I want to become a businesswoman in the future and expand Zeebags through my website and showcase other people’s products, too.”

The BBC’s Innovators series reveals innovative solutions to major challenges across South Asia.

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“My biggest ambition is to grow my project not just in Pakistan but also globally,” she says.

Kalsoom Lakhani is founder of Invest2Innovate, an organisation that helps start-up companies in Pakistan grow and attract funding. She says the country needs to think about the future for entrepreneurs.

“While we have this enormous potential we need to be always thinking, how we enable that potential and how we continue to not only allow young people to start a business but allow them to grow businesses.”

Pakistan has already begun to tackle its environmental problems through legislation, establishing government agencies and accepting technical help from international donors.

But the response is still fragmented and not a particularly high priority in a country racked with more pressing security and political issues.

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Zymal has to balance her social enterprise with her schoolwork

This gives Zymal’s work even more urgency.

She hopes her success will start to change people’s minds about the seriousness of taking care of their environment.

“It is important so future generations can live in a clean and safe world,” she says.

“I want to be able to say I’ve played my part but it’s up to others to do something themselves, too.”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40251360

How you could be Postman Pat for a day and earn extra cash

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Getty Images

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Cartoon characters Postman Pat and Mr Plod represent a bygone era in deliveries

A growing number of start-ups are trying to help retailers deliver goods to customers more quickly and at lower cost. But can they really compete with the big courier and postal firms?

It was a road accident in the Norwegian mountains that inspired the idea for start-up delivery company Nimber.

One of the founders was on his way to a ski-jumping competition near Lillehammer when he saw a postal truck had overturned on the road.

“No one was hurt, but all these cars were just passing by,” says Nimber chief executive Ari Kestin, whose partner Knut Bjerke made the trip.

“He thought, why don’t they stop and carry some of the parcels to their destinations? A light-bulb came on.”

Nimber was launched soon after, joining a wave of new apps aimed at shaking up the delivery market.

The website connects people who want to send large, awkward-to-carry goods, with members of the public travelling in the same direction.

These “crowdsourced couriers” name their own price, Mr Kestin says, but are usually cheaper than using a traditional courier service or postal firm, such as FedEx or Royal Mail.

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Nimber

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Nimber’s crowd-sourced couriers often transport large goods

“If you’re driving from London to Manchester anyway, you will probably accept a lower price to deliver a package than a big delivery firm would,” he says.

“We are making use of spare capacity and allowing people to monetise their movements.”

The site, whose main markets are Norway and the UK, has more than 40,000 registered “bringers” and 80,000 senders. It handles hundreds of deliveries a day of things like bikes, car parts and furniture.

So far it has focused on serving people selling second-hand goods on sites like e-Bay and Norway’s finn.no, but it has just started working with several big retailers, including Norway’s largest meat and eggs producer, Nortura.

“Nimber is a great choice because it is environmentally friendly and doesn’t create more traffic or pollution,” a Nortura spokeswoman tells the BBC.

But using members of the public to deliver goods does have its drawbacks.

Mr Kestin admits that his service may not be as economical as a traditional delivery service for smaller items.

More Technology of Business

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Its crowdsourced couriers are not always available to handle deliveries, and, on occasion, pull out at the last minute – although “that’s quite rare”, he says.

This isn’t stopping other firms experimenting with the crowdsourcing model.

Some, like Uber Rush, Deliveroo and Instacart are using crowdsourced couriers to deliver packages, groceries and hot food locally – often more cheaply and quickly than major couriers could.

Belgium postal giant Bpost and DHL are among those to have experimented with crowdsourced couriers. And Amazon launched its “citizen delivery” service Flex in 2015.

With global retail e-ecommerce sales forecast to rise 23% this year to $2.3tn (£1.8tn), it’s not surprising start-ups are trying to muscle in on a delivery market still dominated by national postal services and courier firms like UPS, DHL, FedEx, Blue Dart and PostNL.

These account for more than 90% of e-commerce deliveries, not including food, estimates Alex le Roy, an analyst at consultancy Transport Intelligence.

“These start-ups are basically serving the needs that the larger delivery companies can’t meet,” he says.

“That’s because typically, traditional postal companies can deliver packages more or less anywhere, but they can’t do it quickly.

“And the big courier firms can deliver quickly, but charge much higher prices when they deliver to out-of-the-way places or carry awkwardly shaped goods.”

Nimbler start-ups can also help smaller retailers reach new markets.

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Fetchr

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Idriss Al Rifai and Joy Ajlouny co-founded Middle East-based Fetchr

Fetchr, for example, is a Dubai-based delivery company aiming to connect retailers with around four billion people worldwide who live in places without street names or house numbers.

“There is this huge demand for online shopping in emerging markets, but many big retailers are facing the same problem,” says Fetchr co-founder Idriss Al Rifai.

“How can you grow if you can’t deliver large numbers of parcels?”

The firm uses a customer’s smartphone GPS location as the address. As soon as one of Fetchr’s couriers has picked up a package from a retailer, it notifies the customer, offering them a two-hour delivery slot.

The customer then shares their location with Fetchr.

“Fifteen minutes before the firm delivers, we will ask the customer to share their location again – and if they have moved elsewhere, that’s fine,” Mr Al Rifai says.

“Even when there is an address, people don’t want to be pinned down for hours to receive a package.”

The firm, which employs 2,000 of its own couriers, serves brands such as supermarket chain Carrefour and Gucci, in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

It hopes to expand internationally, having raised $41m (£31m) in investment in May, but will face competition from the likes of the UK’s What3Words and South Africa’s WumDrop, which are also addressing the “lack-of-address” issue.

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Weengs

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Weengs collects retailers’ goods, packs and delivers them

Some start-ups, such as Red Stag Fulfilment in the US and UK-based Weengs, are offering one-stop-shop services aimed at taking the delivery hassle away from small businesses.

“Shipping companies expect you to have packed your items properly, have done an analysis of your shipping costs, and prepared your customs paperwork,” explains Weengs co-founder Alex Christodoulou.

“But many small businesses don’t have the expertise to do this efficiently – it costs time and money.”

Weengs manages the whole shipping process from end-to-end, collecting your items unboxed and packing them at its warehouse in Kings Cross, London.

“We then measure your item with a laser and create a box exactly fitting the dimensions of your goods,” says Mr Christodoulou.

This reduces costs because some delivery companies charge by volume, not weight, he says.

Big retailers sending lots of parcels can often negotiate bulk discounts on delivery costs. Smaller retailers can’t. So Weengs pools its customers’ orders and shops around between 10 to 30 courier firms to bring down costs, says Mr Christodoulou.

His firm has handled 200,000 orders since launch in 2015, but faces competition from more established comparison services, such as parcel2go.com.

“These firms are already re-distributing the share of delivery volume from traditional delivery companies to smaller ones and individuals,” says e-commerce consultant Kunle Campbell.

“I think more delivery companies will adopt their approaches, and it could cut the costs of delivery across the board.”

That will be music to the ears of all e-commerce entrepreneurs.

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Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41580382

Dolly Parton’s nine-to-five approach to music

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Dolly Parton is known as much for her business acumen as her song-writing skills

Even when she’s talking about cold, hard cash, Dolly Parton manages to seem down to earth.

She’s promoting her new children’s album “I Believe in You” and is in top, self-deprecating form, talking to the BBC.

“It’s hard for me to spend money on tonnes of stuff because I’m going to look the same, no matter what I wear. If I wear diamonds I’m still going to look like a rhinestone,” she tells me.

Still, if Dolly was inclined to buy diamonds, she could afford them. She’s known as much for her business acumen as her song-writing skills.

At the start of her career she took lessons from her dad, she says: “Even though he wasn’t an educated man, he wasn’t able to read and write, daddy had a great sense of business.

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Dolly Parton at Glastonbury – in the past year she’s earned some $37m

“He said, ‘Don’t let other people take advantage of you, keep your mind on your business.’ So when I got into the music business I thought of it as a business.”

Early on she launched her own publishing company and hung on to the rights to her songs, and she says that other artists should do the same.

“As soon as you start making money, you should invest and get into other businesses that you can fall back on if you don’t make it big, or if you make it big and you fall on hard times.”

That attitude has served her well over the years and continues to do so, according to Forbes magazine’s Celebrity 100 list.

It claims Dolly earned $37m (£28m) in the year to June 2017, with most of this coming from her Pure and Simple concert tour and income from her Dollywood theme park in Tennessee.

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Jason Davis

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Dolly visits Vanderbilt children’s hospital in Tennessee

Brian Warner, founder of website CelebrityNetworth.com, estimates her total fortune to be $500m (£379m) but says this is conservative.

“We think that Dollywood alone is worth around $200m; $100m for the land itself and $100m for the brand – you could class it as an intangible asset.

“On top of that she makes a lot of money from touring and has had a 50-year career in which she’s sold millions of records and has also written songs for other artists.”

Mr Warner says “I will always love you”, a hit Dolly wrote and recorded in 1973, has made her more than $20m in total.

He explains that although individual music contracts may vary, “as the writer of a song you might be keeping 50% of the revenue or more and as a writer and performer you could be getting 80%”.

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Wes Ramey for Dollywood

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The Barnstormer ride at Dollywood

Dolly’s own version of “I Will Always Love You” was a big commercial success, topping the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart twice, in 1974 and 1982.

Whitney Houston made the song a hit all over again when she recorded a version for the 1992 film The Bodyguard. It was number one for 10 weeks in the UK charts and for 14 weeks in the US. The song had another resurgence in 2012 after Ms Houston’s death.

More The Boss features, which every week profile a different business leader from around the world:

The proceeds from Dolly’s latest album won’t be adding to her fortune, though; instead they’ll be going to the Imagination Library.

Set up in 1995 it aims to improve child literacy by distributing free books to children in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia.

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Keystone

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Dolly in London in 1977

Dolly says her own impoverished childhood in Tennessee inspired the library and has shaped her attitude to money in general.

“Being brought up poor means I don’t take things for granted, and no matter how much money I make, I’ll always count my blessings quicker and more often than I count my money.

She has “always realised the value of a dollar”, too.

“Even now if I go in a store it’s hard for me to pay a huge amount of money for one item. I say ‘good Lord’, what could mummy and daddy have done with that!”

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Getty Images

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Dolly’s Imagination Library scheme provides books for children

At 71 years old, Dolly’s career has spanned more than five decades and following her Glastonbury performance in 2014 she’s reached a whole new audience. So what’s the secret of her longevity?

“I think a lot of people can relate to me, because of my upbringing and because I’m from a big family. I think people see me as an aunt, an older sister or a cousin. I’ve been around so long I’m part of their family.”

Dolly will be hoping that this loyal fan base will support ambitious plans to expand her empire.

The DreamMore hotel at Dollywood, opened in 2015, is “doing well” and she is thinking of franchising it. She’d also like to do more kids projects and launch a line of wigs, cosmetics and clothes.

“I’ve still got a lot to do… I’m going to be an old lady before I get it done but at least I’m going to be working till I fall over dead!”

Dolly Parton is a force of nature and a tremendously successful one at that; it’s hard to imagine her ever stopping.

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41665701

Is this the most influential work in the history of capitalism?

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Alamy

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Renaissance mathematician Luca Pacioli is seen as the father of double-entry bookkeeping

In 1495 or thereabouts, Leonardo da Vinci himself, the genius’s genius, noted down a list of things to do in one of his famous notebooks.

These to-do lists, written in mirror-writing and interspersed with sketches, are magnificent.

“Find a master of hydraulics and get him to tell you how to repair a lock, canal and mill in the Lombard manner.” “Draw Milan.” “Learn multiplication from the root from Maestro Luca.”

Leonardo was a big fan of Maestro Luca, better known today as Luca Pacioli.

Pacioli was, appropriately enough, a Renaissance Man: – educated for a life in commerce, but also a conjuror, a chess master, a lover of puzzles, a Franciscan Friar, and a professor of mathematics.

Today he is celebrated as the most famous accountant who ever lived.

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy highlights the inventions, ideas and innovations which have helped create the economic world in which we live.

It is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can find more information about the programme’s sources and listen online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

Pacioli is often called the father of double-entry bookkeeping, but he didn’t invent it.

The double-entry system – known in its day as “bookkeeping alla Veneziana,” or “in the Venetian style” – was being used two centuries earlier, around 1300.

The Venetians had abandoned as impractical the Roman system of writing numbers, and were instead embracing Arabic numerals.

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Venice in the 1300s – when Marco Polo set off on his famous travels to the Far East – was already a sophisticated crossroads of trade and ideas

They may have also taken the idea of double-entry book keeping from the Islamic world, or even from India, where there are tantalising hints that double-entry bookkeeping techniques date back thousands of years.

Or it may have been a local Venetian invention, repurposing the new Arabic mathematics for commercial ends.

Intricate transactions

Before the Venetian style caught on, accounts were rather basic. Early medieval merchants were little more than travelling salesmen. They had no need to keep accounts – they could simply check whether their purse was full or empty.

But as the commercial enterprises of the Italian city states grew larger, and became more dependent on financial instruments such as loans and currency trades, the need for a more careful reckoning became painfully clear.

We have a remarkable record of the business affairs of Francesco di Marco Datini, a merchant from Prato, near Florence, who kept accounts for nearly half a century, from 1366 to 1410.

They begin as little more than a financial diary, but as his business grew more complex, he needed something more sophisticated.

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Alamy

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We can see how Datini tracked his increasingly intricate financial transactions

Late in 1394, Datini orders wool from Mallorca.

Six months later the sheep are shorn. Several months after that, 29 sacks of wool arrive in Pisa, via Barcelona. The wool is coiled into 39 bales. Of these, 21 go to a customer in Florence and 18 go to Datini’s warehouse, arriving in 1396, over a year after the initial order. They are then processed by more than 100 separate subcontractors.

Eventually, six long cloths go back to Mallorca via Venice, but don’t sell, so are hawked in Valencia and North Africa instead. The last cloth is sold in 1398, nearly four years after Datini’s original order.

Fortunately, he had been using bookkeeping alla Veneziana for more than a decade, so was able to keep track of this extraordinarily intricate web of transactions.

Enormous influence

So what, a century later, did the much lauded Luca Pacioli add to the discipline of bookkeeping? Quite simply, in 1494, he wrote the book.

“Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita” was an enormous survey of everything that was known about mathematics – 615 large and densely typeset pages.

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Stockholm University Library

Amidst this colossal textbook, Pacioli included 27 pages that are regarded by many as the most influential work in the history of capitalism. It was the first description of double-entry bookkeeping to be set out clearly, in detail and with plenty of examples.

Pacioli’s book was sped on its way by a new technology: half a century after Gutenberg developed the movable type printing press, Venice was a centre of the printing industry.

Symmetry and balance

His book enjoyed a long print run of 2,000 copies, and was widely translated, copied, and plagiarised across Europe.

Double-entry bookkeeping was slow to catch on, perhaps because it was technically demanding and unnecessary for simple businesses. But after Pacioli it was always regarded as the pinnacle of the art.

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Alamy

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This 1585 woodcut shows a German merchant’s accountant doing double-entry bookkeeping

As the industrial revolution unfolded, the ideas that Pacioli had set out came to be seen as fundamental to business life. The system used across the world today is essentially the one that Pacioli described.

Pacioli’s system has two key elements.

First, he describes a method for taking an inventory, and then keeping on top of day-to-day transactions using two books – a rough memorandum and a tidier, more organised journal. Then he uses a third book – the ledger – as the foundation of the system, the double-entries themselves.

Every transaction was recorded twice in the ledger. If you sell cloth for a ducat, you must account for both the cloth and the ducat.

The double-entry system helps to catch errors, because every entry should be balanced by a counterpart, a divine-like symmetry which appealed to a Renaissance Man.

Practical tool

It was during the industrial revolution that double-entry bookkeeping became seen not just as an exercise for mathematical perfectionists, but as a tool to guide practical business decisions.

One of the first to see this was Josiah Wedgwood, the pottery entrepreneur. At first, Wedgwood, flush with success and fat margins, didn’t bother with detailed accounts.

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Josiah Wedgwood used the insight gleaned from detailed accounts to weather a severe recession

But in 1772, Europe faced a severe recession and demand for Wedgwood’s ornate crockery collapsed. His warehouses began to fill with unsold stock and workers stood idle.

Wedgwood turned to double-entry bookkeeping to understand where in his business the profits were, and how to expand them.

He realised how much each piece of work was costing him – a deceptively simple-sounding question – and calculated that he should actually expand production and cut prices to boost business.

Others followed, and the discipline of “management accounting” was born – an ever-growing system of metrics and benchmarks and targets, that has led us inexorably to the modern world.

More from Tim Harford:

How the invention of paper changed the world

The warrior monks who invented banking

How the world’s first accountants counted on cuneiform

What tally sticks tell us about how money works

But in that modern world, accounting does have another role.

It’s about ensuring that shareholders in a business receive a fair share of corporate profits – when only the accountants can say what those profits really are.

Here the track record is not encouraging.

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AFP

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Enron’s collapse in 2001 was the biggest in US corporate history

A string of 21st century scandals – Enron, Worldcom, Parmalat, and the financial crisis of 2008 – have shown us that audited accounts do not completely protect investors.

A business may, through fraud or mismanagement, be on the verge of collapse. Yet we cannot guarantee that the accounts will warn us of this.

Complacency

Accounting fraud is not a new game. The first companies to require major capital investment were the British railways of the 1830s and 1840s, which needed vast upfront investment before they could earn anything from customers.

Investors poured in, and when railway magnates could not pay the dividends that the investors expected, they simply faked their accounts. The entire railway bubble had collapsed in ignominy by 1850.

Perhaps the railway investors should have read up on their Geoffrey Chaucer, writing around the same time as Francesco Datini, the merchant of Prato.

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Getty Images

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Accountancy did not protect Chaucer’s Shipman character from an audacious con

In Chaucer’s Shipman’s Tale, a rich merchant is too tied up with his accounts to notice his wife being wooed by a clergyman.

Nor do those accounts rescue him from an audacious con.

The clergyman borrows the merchant’s money, gives it to the merchant’s wife – buying his way into her bed with her own husband’s cash – and then tells the merchant he’s repaid the debt, and to ask his wife where the money is.

Accountancy is a powerful financial technology – but it does not protect us from outright fraud, and it may well lure us into complacency. As the neglected wife tells her rich husband, his nose buried in his accounts: “the devil take all such reckonings!”

Tim Harford writes the Financial Times’s Undercover Economist column. 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy is broadcast on the BBC World Service. You can find more information about the programme’s sources and listen online or subscribe to the programme podcast.

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41582244