Wiliot Introduces New Ambient IoT Food Safety Initiative to Help the Food Industry Create Safer, More Traceable Supply Chains – IoT Business News

New initiative is launching in partnership with iFoodDS and Trustwell to incorporate Wiliot’s ambient Internet of Things (IoT) data into their software solutions that will enable both companies to add real-time, fully automated, item-level traceability data to their platforms.

Underscoring its commitment to set a new benchmark for food safety, Wiliot, the ambient Internet of Things (IoT) pioneer, today announced a major new food safety initiative that works to create completely transparent and traceable supply chains – soon required for FSMA 204 compliance – through the adoption of ambient IoT technology.

Ambient IoT is a battery-free wireless technology that is being incorporated in multiple wireless standards, such as Bluetooth, 5G Advanced, 6G, and Wi-Fi – allowing food products to be connected to the internet and the power of AI at a fraction of the cost of legacy technologies.

The ambient IoT enables a new real-time inventory paradigm that not only benefits food safety and FSMA compliance, but is the key to more efficient store operations, surviving and thriving in the face of omni-channel competition, and competing on quality as well as value.

As part of this new initiative, Wiliot is partnering with food industry leaders iFoodDS and Trustwell to incorporate its ambient IoT data and technology into both companies’ safety and compliance platforms.

“Empowered by the unprecedented capabilities of the ambient IoT, the entire food industry can move beyond QR codes, advance shipping notices, and electronic documentation to a new traceability paradigm that is infinitely faster, entirely real-time, and drastically reduces the cost of manual labor and technology infrastructure,” said Wiliot CMO Steve Statler. “We look forward to working with iFoodDS and Trustwell to help some of the country’s largest food companies both meet FSMA 204 requirements, while simultaneously adding more value in terms of sustainability, freshness, and operational efficiency that advances the entire food industry.”

Trustwell’s software and consulting solutions are focused on their mission to increase transparency across the supply chain, giving food companies the tools they need to remain always ahead of industry regulations. As innovators and leaders, Trustwell brings together two products, FoodLogiQ and Genesis, to go beyond compliance and set a new standard for safety, transparency, and quality in the food industry.

“The incorporation of Wiliot’s ambient IoT data into our Trustwell Connect Platform will empower brands to have visibility across the supply chain with a trusted single source of truth, fully traceable, compliant and data-driven,” said Julie McGill, Vice President of Supply Chain Strategy and Insights at Trustwell. “More than 2,500 brands around the world rely on Trustwell to manage their regulatory requirements with more than 200 million Critical Tracking Events recorded using our FoodLogiQ Traceability software. The incorporation of Wiliot’s ambient IoT data into our tech solution is going to enable us to take food safety to a new level of traceability with precise execution.”

iFoodDS helps food companies deliver traceable, wholesome, high-quality products to consumers. iFoodDS’ connected traceability, quality, and food safety solutions give companies visibility and insight into their supply chains, reduce food waste, and optimize inventory quality.

“FDA’s Final Traceability Rule, FSMA 204, provides an important framework for the food industry,” Andrew Kennedy, Principal Traceability Advisor, iFoodDS, said today. “The food industry can leverage this framework in conjunction with Wiliot’s Ambient IoT technology and iFoodDS software to significantly enhance food safety, food freshness, and operational efficiency. This game changing technology will help usher in the New Era of Smarter Food Safety.”

Modernizing food safety is critical to the health and wellbeing of people everywhere. The CDC estimates that each year, roughly one in six Americans get sick from foodborne illness. Of those people, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 lose their lives to foodborne disease.

The FDA took decisive action in November 2022, when it finalized its FSMA Rule 204 rule that established a foundation for end-to-end food traceability by focusing on tracking certain foods at each step across the supply chain and expanding beyond ‘one-up, one-back’ traceability. The goal of Rule 204 is to create visibility within the supply chain to enable a better response to foodborne illnesses, contamination, and other public health and safety issues. The food industry has until January 2026 to comply with Rule 204.

“This goal of better protecting consumers cannot be achieved without creating greater transparency and traceability throughout the entire chain of food production distribution system,” said Frank Yiannas, former Deputy Commissioner of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and one of the authors of FSMA Rule 204, who also serves as a Strategic Advisor to Williot.

“Wiliot, iFoodDS, and Trustwell are uniquely equipped to make this transparency a reality faster and more efficiently thanks to their collective embrace of a new technology paradigm unlike anything we’ve seen before.”

Wiliot’s battery-free ambient IoT Pixels can attach to any food product or packaging to connect it to the internet and embed it with intelligence. Once attached, products push out item or case-level information about their location, temperature, carbon footprint, and more – equipping food retailers and companies with the high-definition real-time data that is now required as part of FSMA Rule 204.

Wiliot is already working with iFoodDS and Trustwell on a series of FSMA 204 compliance pilot projects with some of the country’s largest food companies. The depth and breadth of these collaborations will continue to scale throughout 2024, ahead of the January 2026 FSMA compliance deadline.

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Bridging the gap: Transformative strategies for Rural Electrification in Nigeria – Abba Aliyu – Businessday NG

Abba Aliyu brings a wealth of experience to his role as acting MD/CEO of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA). Prior to his appointment, he spearheaded the Project Management Unit for the World Bank and African Development Bank’s $550 million Nigerian electrification project, aimed at attracting private sector investment in renewable energy.

He served as a pioneer staff member at Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Plc and previously held positions at Nigerian Security Printing and Minting, Aso Savings and Loan, where he implemented a performance management system recognised by Microsoft at the 2009 Business Transformation Award, WaterAid, and Family Health International, a USAID-funded health intervention agency.

Most notably, Abba recently led the design of the world’s largest public sector off-grid project, the $750 million Distributed Access Through Renewable Energy Scale-Up initiative, launching in August 2024. He has been instrumental in the implementation of the Nigerian Electrification Project, deploying over 150 mini-grids and 1.5 million solar home systems across the country.

In this exclusive interview with BusinessDay’s Bashir Ibrahim Hassan, Abba Aliyu shares his rich perspectives on Nigeria’s Rural Electrification Agency.

Read also: Rural Electrification Agency implements N45.8bn projects in 3 years – Report

Take me back to the time you assumed office. Did you find strategies in place to support the mandate of the REA?

Prior to my current role, I joined the REA’s project management unit, which specifically focused on implementing the Nigeria Electrification Project. My vision has always been to leverage the excellent work of past leadership, particularly Mrs. Damilola Ogunbiyi’s brainchild, the Nigeria Electrification Project.

Talking about mandate, I must admit that the Honourable Minister of Power, Adebayo Adelabu, has been instrumental in initiatives to significantly increase Nigeria’s power generation capacity. REA’s mission extends beyond simply providing electricity access. We aim to unlock remarkable socio-economic development in underserved communities. Nigeria’s high number of unserved and underserved areas demands a deliberate, impactful approach. One key initiative I’m proud of is establishing Renewable Energy Service Companies (RESCOs). The RESCOs complement distribution companies with utility-scale portfolios (50–100 MW) and aim to contribute to Nigeria’s carbon neutrality goal by 2060, aligning with President Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda. My office plans to support the operationalization of the new Electricity Act, enabling state participation in rural electrification. This fosters collaboration and increases public oversight of REA’s activities, and this framework will guide financiers (debt and equity) in making informed investment decisions for RESCOs (long, short, or medium-term). Transparency and accountability in this sector have traditionally been challenges. To address this, I plan to introduce, for the first time, a capital project implementation plan and publish annual reports to ensure accountability for National Assembly appropriations. This level of transparency has the potential for significant and sustainable change. While our journey has had phenomenal successes and a few hurdles, we’re not stopping there. We plan to establish a National Control Centre within REA to digitally track mini-grid and grid extension projects for nationwide efficiency.

What are the details of the funding model for this project and your strategies for further developing it?

The REA leverages a diversified funding strategy. The National Assembly allocations provide a solid foundation, while bilateral and multilateral partnerships with institutions like the World Bank and African Development Bank offer additional resources. Grant funding from agencies like UNIDO and UNDP also plays a crucial role in designing impactful projects, and we’re actively seeking similar grants to replicate these successes nationwide. Additionally, discussions with a French development agency explored a potential federal government loan structure to subsidise infrastructure development. Beyond transparency, our focus is on replicable funding models that attract future financiers. Building on the successes of previous initiatives like Energising Agriculture and the Africa Mini-Grid Project, we’re establishing a framework to secure long-term financing for similar projects across the country. This multi-pronged approach ensures the long-term sustainability of our electrification efforts.

What is your approach to achieving this vision, and what early results should we look out for?

The Honourable Minister of Power has already set in motion plans to raise electricity generation from around 3,500 megawatts to between 6,000 and 6,500. Under his leadership, the Ministry has focused on leveraging the Nigerian Electricity Act of 2023 to create a fully privatised, competitive electricity market that encourages public-private partnerships and aims for a cost-reflective tariff system. On my part, we are taking a multi-pronged approach to achieve this ambitious vision. High-impact projects are already underway, including 35.5 megawatts for seven universities and a teaching hospital within the next two months. Commissioning with the Honourable Minister and potentially the President is in our plans. An interconnected mini-grid serving over 60,000 in Ondo is set for commissioning next month, and 100 containerised mini-grids have recently been deployed in some healthcare institutions. Our capital project, encompassing diverse mini-grids, grid extensions, and solar home systems, will also begin soon. Underpinning this vision is a detailed, step-by-step plan I created. The Distributed Access Through Renewable Energy Scale-up The project targets electrifying 23 percent of Nigeria’s unelectrified population (around 19.5 million people) through a mix of solar home systems for 15 million Nigerians, isolated mini-grids for 3 million, and interconnected mini-grids for 1.5 million. We’ll leverage a combination of minimum subsidy tenders, performance-based grants, and a results-based framework to achieve these goals.

Tell us more about the performance-based framework.

It is a results-based framework that the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) has tried and found to be quite impactful. This approach emphasises achieving pre-defined outcomes and minimises intervention during project execution. Our team only intervenes when the project is completed. This framework is so effective that it is now being exemplified by an ongoing World Bank project in the agricultural sector called ACRISA. Recognising the REA’s performance-based framework success, the World Bank signed an MOU with us to establish a similar performance-based grant system for ACRISA, and we will be providing technical assistance by embedding our staff within ACRISA’s project management unit to facilitate system development. Overall, while it’s result-based, there is also a clear definition of the standard required for such projects to be deployed or implemented.

Nigeria faces security challenges in certain regions. Given your ambitious vision of universal access, can you elaborate on your strategy for safely deploying projects in areas like the Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast? What specific measures are being taken to mitigate security risks?

The 23 percent electrification plan is across the entire country. The REA has become sort of an “everywhere you go” brand, and this is because there’s either a completed or ongoing REA project in every state or local government. I say this without fear of contradiction. Our modus operandi is to work with developers who know the local area.

How affordable is it for the people, and how does the REA approach billing in communities?

The REA prioritises long-term sustainability in its mini-grid projects, and they aren’t entirely free. Users pay a regulated tariff reflecting generation, transmission, and maintenance costs, set by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). Importantly, this tariff fosters transparency and affordability through community participation in open discussions. A portion of the tariff is also allocated for future battery replacements, ensuring long-term grid operation without additional user burden. The REA avoids a one-size-fits-all approach to billing. While tariffs stay within a similar range, flexibility exists to account for community agreements with developers and specific needs. This means communities with complex logistics or demanding maintenance might pay slightly more compared to less demanding areas.

In terms of geographical reach and population served, how would you describe the REA’s impact on electricity access across Nigeria, and how does the agency safeguard mini-grid infrastructure within communities?

I would say that because the Minister of Power’s approach and the REA’s combine leveraging new legislative frameworks, fostering public-private partnerships, and focusing on technological integration to meet Nigeria’s growing energy demands and support economic development, we’re committed to tackling the challenge posed by vandalism head-on, aligning with President Buhari’s focus on impactful projects. Just like the government’s large-scale infrastructure initiatives, we’re determined to make significant progress in a short timeframe. Our vision extends beyond immediate electrification.

We envision Renewable Energy Service Companies (RESCOs) evolving into sustainable utilities managing portfolios exceeding 50 megawatts, with the potential to export expertise to other African countries. Regarding safeguarding mini-grid infrastructure, sustainability is paramount. The Honourable Minister has always emphasised the need for reforms to enhance the national grid’s reliability, reduce outages, and improve overall efficiency in power distribution. So, before deployment, we proactively foster a sense of community ownership by establishing user cooperatives that take ownership and protect the mini-grids. This not only mitigates vandalism but also promotes community participation.

Beyond your day-to-day work, what longer-term impact do you hope to make on this office and project?

Within two to three years, I envision at least five high-performing renewable energy service companies (RESCOs) managing significant portfolios exceeding 100 megawatts. These RESCOs will evolve beyond mini-grid development into comprehensive service providers encompassing generation, distribution, metering, and customer care across diverse regions. Transparency is core to my vision. I’m committed to providing readily accessible reports on REA activities and strategic goals. Additionally, I’m developing a national electrification plan to track progress, attract investment, and guide impactful project location decisions. Beyond these initial goals, I see immense potential for REA. We’ll undergo a rebranding to instill a “scale-up” mentality across all employees and develop a new business plan with clear KPIs. Electrification is just the first step. My goal is to leave a legacy of vibrant rural economies. We’ll achieve this by strategically intervening in the value chain to unlock economic growth and activity. Ultimately, I’m driven to significantly reduce Nigeria’s electrification deficit, granting access to 23 percent of the unelectrified population. This will leave a legacy of a robustly funded sector and a demonstrably impactful initiative.

What collaborative opportunities are open to the Nigerian public with REA to accelerate progress towards nationwide electrification?

Echoing the Honourable Minister’s concerns, I urge the public to be our partners in safeguarding electricity infrastructure. Report any suspicious activity near installations. Collaboration is key to securing a sustainable energy future. Timely payment for REA services ensures continued quality service. My commitment to open communication remains steadfast, and we will share regular progress reports and performance data, allowing public scrutiny and accountability. Together, we can build a brighter Nigeria powered by clean and reliable energy.

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Top Ways to Trade the Potential $25 Trillion Artificial Intelligence Opportunity



The artificial intelligence story shows no signs of cooling. Instead, according to McKinsey the AI market could swell to $17 trillion to $25 trillion by 2030. In addition, AI related spending will make up about 8% to 10% of IT budgets in 2024, according to Wedbush. “This demonstrates a remarkable acceleration in AI spending after it comprised less than 1% of IT budgets in 2023,” added Seeking Alpha. All of which could have a powerful impact on AI-related stocks, such as VERSES AI (CBOE: VERS) (OTCQB: VRSSF), Nvidia (NASDAQ: NVDA), Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Meta (NASDAQ: META), and Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ: AMD).

In addition, “Gartner forecasts global spending on AI software will surge to $297B by 2027 as software vendors continue to integrated AI tools into products. The research firm expects more than 70% of independent software vendors will embed GenAI into their enterprise applications by 2026. That figure was less than 1% in 2023,” added Seeking Alpha.

Look at VERSES AI Inc. (CBOE: VERS) (OTCQB: VRSSF), For Example

VERSES AI Inc., a cognitive computing company developing next-generation intelligent software systems, today announced an upcoming public beta preview of its platform, Genius™. CEO Gabriel René, Chief Product Officer, Hari Thiruvengada, and President, James Hendrickson conduct a webinar on June 20th to demonstrate the software and discuss future rollout plans.

“We’ve designed Genius to empower developers to create a new class of intelligent software systems that transcend the capabilities of today’s AI platforms,” said Thiruvengada.

René comments, “That’s why major players like JPL and Volvo Cars are working with us and why thousands of other developers have signed up for access to Genius. Today we’re thrilled to announce that we will begin rolling out beta access to the broader developer community starting June 20th. We look forward to collecting feedback and feature requests and improving Genius to enable a smarter world.”

Interested parties can register here for the webinar starting today and developers can sign up for Genius beta here.

To learn more about Genius, please visit: https://www.verses.ai/genius

Other related developments from around the markets include:

Driving a fundamental shift in the high-performance computing industry toward AI-powered systems, NVIDIA announced nine new supercomputers worldwide are using NVIDIA Grace Hopper™ Superchips to speed scientific research and discovery. Combined, the systems deliver 200 exaflops, or 200 quintillion calculations per second, of energy-efficient AI processing power. New Grace Hopper-based supercomputers coming online include EXA1-HE, in France, from CEA and Eviden; Helios at Academic Computer Centre Cyfronet, in Poland, from Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE); Alps at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre, from HPE; JUPITER at the Jülich Supercomputing Centre, in Germany; DeltaAI at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; and Miyabi at Japan’s Joint Center for Advanced High Performance Computing — established between the Center for Computational Sciences at the University of Tsukuba and the Information Technology Center at the University of Tokyo.

Microsoft announced a broad investment package designed to strengthen the role of Southeast Wisconsin as a hub for AI-powered economic activity, innovation, and job creation. These investments include $3.3B in cloud computing and AI infrastructure, the creation of the country’s first manufacturing-focused AI co-innovation lab, and an AI skilling initiative to equip more than 100,000 of the state’s residents with essential AI skills. President Joe Biden will join Microsoft President Brad Smith at Gateway Technical College to announce the new investment.

“Wisconsin has a rich and storied legacy of innovation and ingenuity in manufacturing,” said Brad Smith, Vice Chair and President of Microsoft. “We will use the power of AI to help advance the next generation of manufacturing companies, skills and jobs in Wisconsin and across the country. This is what a big company can do to build a strong foundation for every medium, small and start-up company and non-profit everywhere.”

Meta Platforms reported financial results for the quarter ended March 31, 2024. “It’s been a good start to the year,” said Mark Zuckerberg, Meta founder and CEO. “The new version of Meta AI with Llama 3 is another step towards building the world’s leading AI. We’re seeing healthy growth across our apps and we continue making steady progress building the metaverse as well.”

Advanced Micro Devices showcased its ongoing high-performance computing (HPC) leadership at ISC High Performance 2024. For the third year in a row, the Frontier supercomputer housed at Oak Ridge National Lab – powered by AMD EPYC™ CPUs and AMD Instinct™ GPUs – remains the fastest supercomputer in the world with a High-Performance Linpack (HPL) score of 1.2 exaflops based on the latest Top500 list. The Top500 list also includes three new systems from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL), the El Capitan Early Delivery System (EDS), RZAdams, and Tuolumne, coming in at number 46, 47 and 48 respectively on the Top500 list with a single cabinet early submission scores of 19.65 petaflops. These three systems are the first supercomputers on the Top500 list powered by the AMD Instinct™ MI300A APU, launched in December 2023. AMD now powers 157 supercomputers on the latest Top500 list, a 29 percent increase from the previous year, and 157 systems on the Green500 list of the most efficient supercomputers in the world.

Legal Disclaimer / Except for the historical information presented herein, matters discussed in this article contains forward-looking statements that are subject to certain risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by such statements. Winning Media is not registered with any financial or securities regulatory authority and does not provide nor claims to provide investment advice or recommendations to readers of this release. For making specific investment decisions, readers should seek their own advice. Winning Media is only compensated for its services in the form of cash-based compensation. Pursuant to an agreement Winning Media has been paid three thousand five hundred dollars for advertising and marketing services for VERSES AI Inc. by VERSES AI Inc. We own ZERO shares of VERSES AI Inc. Please click here for disclaimer.

Contact:

Ty Hoffer
Winning Media
281.804.7972
[email protected]

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Unlocking Knowledge: Revolutionizing Education with IT Integration – IoT Business News

Introduction

In today’s fast-paced digital world, the integration of Information Technology (IT) into education has become more than just a trend—it’s a transformative force reshaping the way we teach and learn. From interactive online courses to virtual reality simulations, technology is revolutionizing education, unlocking new possibilities for students and educators alike. In this article, we’ll explore the various ways in which IT integration is revolutionizing education and unlocking knowledge for learners around the globe.

The Role of IT in Education

Information Technology encompasses a wide range of tools, systems, and applications that facilitate the storage, retrieval, and dissemination of information. In the context of education, IT plays a crucial role in enhancing the learning experience, expanding access to educational resources, and promoting collaboration and engagement among students. Here are some key ways in which IT is transforming education:

Online Learning Platforms

With the rise of online learning platforms such as Coursera, Udemy, and Khan Academy, students can access a wealth of educational resources anytime, anywhere. These platforms offer a diverse range of courses on various subjects, allowing learners to pursue their interests and acquire new skills at their own pace.

Interactive Learning Tools

IT tools such as interactive whiteboards, educational apps, and multimedia presentations enhance classroom instruction by making learning more interactive and engaging. These tools enable educators to create dynamic and immersive learning experiences that cater to diverse learning styles and preferences.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies are revolutionizing education by providing immersive learning experiences that simulate real-world environments. From virtual field trips to anatomy simulations, VR and AR allow students to explore complex concepts in a hands-on and interactive manner.

Personalized Learning

IT enables personalized learning experiences tailored to individual student needs and preferences. Adaptive learning algorithms analyze student performance data to deliver customized learning paths and recommendations, helping students learn at their own pace and maximize their potential.

Collaborative Tools and Platforms

IT facilitates collaboration and communication among students and educators through collaborative tools and platforms such as Google Workspace, Microsoft Teams, and Slack. These platforms enable real-time collaboration on projects, assignments, and group discussions, fostering teamwork and communication skills.

Benefits of IT Integration in Education

The integration of IT into education offers numerous benefits for students, educators, and educational institutions alike. Here are some of the key benefits:

Expanded Access to Education: IT enables access to educational resources and opportunities for learners around the globe, regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status. Online courses, digital textbooks, and virtual classrooms make education more accessible and inclusive.

Enhanced Engagement and Motivation: Interactive learning tools and multimedia content captivate students’ attention and increase engagement in the learning process. Gamified learning experiences, interactive quizzes, and virtual simulations make learning fun and enjoyable, motivating students to actively participate and learn.

Improved Learning Outcomes: Research has shown that integrating IT into education can lead to improved learning outcomes, including higher student achievement, increased retention of information, and better mastery of subject matter. Personalized learning experiences cater to individual student needs, resulting in deeper understanding and mastery of concepts.

Efficiency and Productivity: IT streamlines administrative tasks, communication processes, and instructional delivery, saving time and resources for educators and educational institutions. Automated grading systems, online collaboration tools, and digital assessments increase efficiency and productivity in the classroom.

Preparation for the Digital Economy: By integrating IT into education, students gain essential digital literacy skills and technology competencies that are increasingly important in today’s digital economy. Familiarity with IT tools and platforms prepares students for success in the workforce and equips them with the skills needed to thrive in an increasingly digital world.

Challenges and Considerations

While the integration of IT into education offers numerous benefits, it also presents challenges and considerations that must be addressed. These include:

Access and Equity: Ensuring equitable access to technology and digital resources for all students, regardless of socioeconomic background or geographic location, is essential for addressing digital divides and promoting inclusive education.

Data Privacy and Security: Protecting student data and privacy rights is paramount when integrating IT into education. Educational institutions must implement robust data privacy policies and security measures to safeguard sensitive information and comply with regulatory requirements.

Professional Development: Educators require ongoing training and professional development opportunities to effectively integrate IT into their teaching practices. Providing educators with the necessary support, resources, and training programs is essential for successful IT integration in education.

Digital Divide: Bridging the digital divide and ensuring equitable access to technology infrastructure and internet connectivity is critical for ensuring that all students can benefit from IT integration in education. Efforts to address disparities in access to technology and digital resources are essential for promoting educational equity.

Safeguarding Digital Learning Environments

In an era of increasing cyber threats and data breaches, safeguarding digital learning environments against cyber attacks and security vulnerabilities is paramount. Cyber security certification equips educators and IT professionals with the knowledge, skills, and certifications needed to protect sensitive data, secure digital infrastructure, and mitigate cyber risks in educational settings.

Importance of Cyber Security Certification in Education

Data Protection

Educational institutions collect and store vast amounts of sensitive student data, including personal information, academic records, and financial details. Cyber security certification ensures that educators and IT staff are equipped with the expertise needed to protect this data from unauthorized access, breaches, and cyber threats.

Network Security

With the proliferation of digital learning platforms and online resources, educational networks are increasingly susceptible to cyber attacks and security breaches. Also, cyber security certification enables IT professionals to implement robust network security measures, including firewalls, encryption, and intrusion detection systems, to safeguard against cyber threats and vulnerabilities.

Cyber Hygiene

Educators play a crucial role in promoting cyber hygiene and best practices among students, teaching them how to recognize and respond to cyber threats, phishing attacks, and online scams. Cyber security certification provides educators with the knowledge and resources needed to educate students about cyber security awareness and digital citizenship.

Compliance and Regulations

Educational institutions must comply with data protection laws, regulations, and industry standards governing the handling and storage of student data. Cyber security certification ensures that educators and IT staff are familiar with relevant laws and regulations, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and are able to maintain compliance in their digital learning environments.

Future Trends in IT Integration in Education

Looking ahead, several emerging trends are shaping the future of IT integration in education. These include:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning

AI-powered educational tools and intelligent tutoring systems are revolutionizing personalized learning by providing adaptive and responsive learning experiences tailored to individual student needs.

Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT devices and sensors are being used to create smart learning environments that enhance classroom instruction, monitor student engagement, and provide real-time feedback to educators.

Blockchain Technology

Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize credentialing and certification processes in education by providing secure and tamper-proof records of academic achievements and qualifications.

Immersive Technologies

Advances in virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) are enabling immersive learning experiences that simulate real-world environments and enhance student engagement and retention.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the integration of Information Technology (IT) into education is revolutionizing the way we teach and learn, unlocking new opportunities for students, educators, and educational institutions alike. From online learning platforms and interactive tools to virtual reality simulations and personalized learning experiences, IT integration is transforming education and unlocking knowledge for learners.

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Big Girl Small World: Humorous look at middle-class struggles in Nairobi

At the beginning of the year, I was fascinated by the release of the most streamed shows of 2023. What intrigued me most was that most of the top 10 shows were not modern productions; they were predominantly made up of older nostalgia.

Maybe, but I believe this was because modern shows have strayed from their primary purpose, which is to entertain, and have instead become platforms for social and political commentary.

Creators have forgotten that while addressing important themes is valuable, audiences ultimately want productions that entertain. I mean, there’s enough politics and social commentary on social media already.

So, when you hear about a show, written entirely by women about a reasonably plump career woman, those tired of “modern entertainment” you might be quick to dismiss it.

Big Girl Small World

Not to be mistaken with Lizzo’s 2015 album Big Grrrl Small World, Big Girl Small World is a 13-part 2024 Kenyan drama-comedy series that follows Ciku, a plus-size woman on a journey of self-discovery after a humiliating scandal.

The series is directed by actor-turned-director Nick Mutuma, known for his work on You Again and Sincerely Daisy. Mutuma also serves as a series producer alongside Kevin Njue.

While the end product is the most important aspect, it’s worth mentioning that the series features an all-female writing team, including head writer Angela Ruhinda (Binti), Gathoni Kamau (Murder Camp), Wanjiru Kairu (The Agency), Safina Iqbal (Disconnect), and Kui Mwai.

The good

So you might think this show is just about a struggling plus-size woman, full of tropes that will leave you more depressed than entertained. However, this is a very entertaining and well-written show. There is much more to the story, and in fact, the weight issue takes a back seat for the majority part of the series.

The show explores other relatable themes, such as family, relationships, friendship, and shifting media culture. It’s a well-thought-out, often funny, and familiar story that uses the ‘plus-size’ aspect as an anchor.

Diana Njuguna’s performance as Ciku is incredible. As the story revolves around her, you can see Diana getting lost in the character and evolving with her Ciku’s arc. There are scenes in which by just an adjustment of the costume she transforms into a different person.

The other performances are also generally good, with the exception of Kwame (more on that later). There are many characters with their own interesting arcs that will remind you of someone you know, and there are surprisingly good cameos throughout the episodes that will leave you with a smile on your face.

As a Kenyan, the story is relatable across the board, from the visuals to the stereotypical Kenyan tropes. What makes them funny is that most of us have experienced them, and we can now look at them, but from the outside. Thanks to good character arcs, the story evolves organically. When the inciting incident is introduced in the first episode, the drama escalates relentlessly with each subsequent episode.

Each episode is around 30 minutes, and thanks to good and creative editing and pacing, a lot is explored in a single episode. The B-rolls and drone shots don’t overstay their welcome. Speaking of drone shots, if you’ve watched any Kenyan production, you might have noticed the long, wide shots of the Nairobi skyline that take up the better part of the opening scene in the name of ‘establishing the scene’. In this show, the drone shots are used creatively. They are very short, and small visual elements are added that, apart from adding visual flair, help drive the story forward.

The cinematography is good enough for what it needs to be, and the scenes are competently composed and look visually appealing. There’s a good use of Kenyan music, though sometimes it feels untimely.

Shout out to the costume department, the characters look different, diverse and appropriate throughout.

The stand-up comedy angle with Kassim, while it’s the big set-up for the primary conflict, was an accurate reflection of the changing trend of the entertainment scene in Nairobi.

Nitpicks

This show feels “safe.” It’s very entertaining, and most Kenyans will definitely enjoy it, but it doesn’t venture beyond that or carve its own unique path.

While it is enjoyable, the concept is overly familiar. For example, I knew a character would visit their rural home, and the depiction of that rural home would follow predictable patterns, which it did. However, I can’t take away the fact that the establishing wide shots for the rural scenes are fantastic.

If you didn’t mention that it was written by an all-female team, no one would notice any difference. So, outside of the marketing angle, the “all women writers” aspect doesn’t noticeably influence the show. I struggled to see what was new or different about that. But don’t get me wrong this is a well-written show.

Kwame (Fidel Maithya) was the most frustrating character for me. Unless it was intentional, while his arc was interesting, Kwame was just Fidel, from his costume to his characterisation.

At times, you can “see” the script and the message might be thrown on your face, but these moments were few and far between.

A Nick Mutuma production

A Nick Mutuma film—or in this case, a show—typically features an ambitious female character whose life is thrown into turmoil, forcing her to confront her deficiencies, usually related to confidence and romance. Plus every now and then, there’s a wardrobe malfunction.

Am I trying to insinuate that he can’t do anything outside of this formula and that all his future projects should revolve around it? Not at all. My issue has always been that most Kenyan directors lack a distinct style or identity in their work, a pattern that makes their productions easily distinguishable, visually or thematically.

Conclusion

This could have easily been one of those productions that beats you over the head with its themes—weight, self-discovery, and self-worth. Yes, there’s a bit of that here and there, but the majority of the show is a very entertaining and well-written look at the struggles the plague your typical middle class Kenyan.

The dramatic moments are grounded by relatable and humorous ones that are familiar and for some may hit home hard.

The performances are really good, shout out to Ciku’s mom and sister. The guest appearances are pleasant surprises, and most importantly, thanks to good editing, the show knows how to effectively utilise drone shots.

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How your credit score affects your business loan

For Filipino small and medium enterprises (SMEs), access to financing remains one of the biggest challenges when trying to grow their business. Everything costs money — from labor to day-to-day operations — and your working capital can quickly dry up with one cash flow gap or one delayed client payment. Financing sources, such as savings, credit lines, business loans or investors, can be the rescue, but each of them comes with its own set of risks and complexities before SMEs can get their funds.

One important factor that SMEs must consider when securing financing is their credit score. A credit score is a three-digit number that defines a person’s creditworthiness based on their past and ongoing financial behaviors. It is calculated using various factors, such as your credit history, total amount of credit owed, credit utilization, and the types of credit you have used. A high credit score is a sign of good financial health, unlocking easier access to financial opportunities, such as loans, credit lines, and favorable interest rates.

In other countries, such as the US, credit scores are used for almost everything involving credit — such as buying a smartphone or screening apartment renters. While the Philippines does not have a unified and widely used credit reporting system, all local credit scoring models used by banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions are managed by a government-sanctioned credit organization called the Credit Information Corp. (CIC).

The CIC is the Philippines’ central repository of credit information. They collect and provide standardized credit information to banks and other financial institutions to assess a borrower’s potential risk. The CIC also oversees and accredits local credit bureaus, such as CIBI Information, Inc., CRIF Philippines, and TransUnion Philippines. These credit bureaus are authorized to access CIC’s credit data and provide standardized credit scores upon the request of financial institutions and individuals.

In the Philippines, credit scoring ranges from 300 to 850. A score of 650-850 is considered fair to excellent credit; a higher score suggests better financial standing and creditworthiness, which means you are likely to access credit and other financial services at favorable interest rates and terms. Anything lower than 650 is considered a poor credit score.

To know your credit score, you must obtain your credit report — a document that provides you with a detailed summary of your credit score, credit and payment history, and other important information that may influence your credit score, such as bank disputes and employment history. You can obtain your credit report in near-real time via the Lista PH app, which is partnered with the credit bureau CIBI Information, Inc. Just install the app, submit a valid ID, and pay P199 via e-wallet or debit/credit card.

So, how does your personal credit score impact future loan applications and other forms of credit? Since your credit score is a measure of your creditworthiness, a higher credit score signals to lenders that you manage debts well and have a history of paying back what you owe on time — thus making you a lower-risk borrower. Loan processing and approval becomes faster, and you are likely to obtain more favorable loan conditions, such as lower interest rates, higher borrowing limits, or longer repayment terms — especially if you also have a high annual income to match. Insurance providers rely on credit scores when setting premiums for your auto loan, home loan, or insurance; even government social services, such as SSS and Pag-IBIG, consider credit scores when approving and disbursing housing loans and salary loans.

So, what is the relationship between your personal credit score and business loan application? When you apply for a business loan, lenders assess the personal finances and credit history of its key owners and stakeholders. Credit scores reflect an individual’s ability to manage their finances, and lenders view them as an indicator of the stakeholders’ skill in handling company finances. From personal credit history, lenders also gauge if the company’s stakeholders are likely to assist in debt collection should the business default — either by liquidating business assets or using their personal assets.

Unpaid personal loans, penalties for late payments, and other markers of a negative loan history can increase your company’s risk profile — which, in turn, can lead to a higher interest rate or even a denial of your business loan application. Thus, it’s crucial for all company stakeholders to settle any personal loans on time and maintain a good credit score in order to demonstrate good financial skills and solid financial health.

So how do you build and maintain a good credit score? Aside from being responsible when it comes to your finances, be consistent in modeling good financial behavior. First, pay your bills, especially loan and credit dues, on time. If you can’t, negotiate for a loan rescheduling or loan restructuring with your lender to ease your monthly payments. You may end up with a higher final repayment for both options, but you’ll minimize the appearance of late repayments or penal-ties on your credit report.

Second, make it a habit to review your credit report regularly. If you find inaccuracies, such as incorrect account details and fraudulent activities, you can dispute these with the credit bureaus to have them corrected. Your credit score also refreshes every 30 days, so it’s a good idea to request a new report before applying for credit to gauge your likelihood of approval.

Third, use 30% or less of your available credit. This refers to your credit utilization ratio, which is the percentage of your total credit limit that you are using. Maintaining your credit use to 30% or less signals to lenders that you are not overly reliant on credit. Going beyond 30% or maxing out your credit card limit leads to a lower score because it suggests financial strain and a higher likelihood of missing future repayments.

While having multiple types of credit can be a good idea, applying for credit successively in a short period raises red flags and hurts your credit score. It implies that you are desperate for funds and unable to handle financial obligations responsibly. It is also ideal to settle previous debts before opening a new credit card or applying for a new loan; multiple debts signal to lenders that you are at a higher risk of missing repayments.

Having too little credit can also cause your credit score to stagnate. This is because you don’t have much credit history that can be used to assess your creditworthiness. To responsibly build your credit history, you can open an entry-level credit card with no annual fees for life, apply for a secured credit card, or request for a credit card limit increase. This reduces your credit utilization ratio and makes the amount you borrow seem smaller.

Lastly, focus on paying off any previous debts or delinquent credit accounts that are collecting interest or penalties. You can negotiate with creditors to reduce your monthly payments, or consolidate multiple debts with high interest rates into a single loan so you can pay less in penalties and interest rates.

By implementing these strategies, you can work towards building a stronger credit profile over time, enhancing your financial health and improving your ability to secure loans and credit on favorable terms.

Credit scores play an indispensable role in the financial landscape for Filipino business owners. By understanding and managing your credit score effectively, you can enhance your ability to secure business loans with favorable terms, thus supporting the growth and sustainability of your business in the competitive market.

This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP.

 

Benedict S. Carandang is a member of the MAP ICT Committee and the vice-president for External Relations of First Circle. This article is co-written with Jess Jacutan, First Circle’s content marketing lead.

[email protected]

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Elevating Your Project Success With A Dedicated Developer

Dedicated developers play a pivotal role in the success of any project, serving as the backbone of innovation and execution. In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, where technology drives business growth and competitive advantage, the need for skilled and committed developers has never been greater.

As businesses strive to deliver cutting-edge solutions and remain agile in a rapidly evolving market, the need to hire a dedicated developer continues to rise. Whether you’re embarking on a software development project, building a mobile application, or enhancing your online presence, having a dedicated developer on board can make all the difference.

Throughout this article, we’ll delve into the multifaceted role of dedicated developers, exploring their responsibilities, advantages, and best practices for harnessing their full potential. By understanding the nuances of working with dedicated developers, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the complexities of project development and achieve unprecedented levels of success.

Understanding the Role of a Dedicated Developer

In the realm of project development, a dedicated development team serves as an invaluable asset, bringing technical expertise, creativity, and reliability to the table. Unlike freelancers or contractors who may work on multiple projects simultaneously, dedicated developers are exclusively committed to your project, ensuring undivided attention and focus and ensuring your project’s success.

Explanation of the specific responsibilities and contributions of dedicated developers

Dedicated development teams are tasked with a wide array of responsibilities, depending on the nature and scope of the project. From coding and programming to troubleshooting and optimization, their role encompasses various aspects of software development. They work closely with stakeholders, project managers, and fellow team members to translate ideas into functional solutions, adhering to project timelines and quality standards.

Importance of understanding the distinction between dedicated developers and freelancers/contractors

It’s essential to differentiate dedicated developers from freelancers or contractors to grasp their unique value proposition. While freelancers may offer flexibility and scalability, dedicated software development companies or teams provide continuity and reliability. They become part of the in-house team, working alongside the business. Unlike freelancers who may juggle multiple commitments, dedicated developers are fully immersed in your project, fostering a deeper understanding of your objectives and requirements.

Dedicated developers also offer a higher level of accountability and commitment compared to freelancers. With a vested interest in your project’s success, they align their efforts with your business goals, prioritizing quality, efficiency, and long-term sustainability.

In summary, dedicated developers play a crucial role in project development, offering specialized expertise, unwavering commitment, and seamless integration with your team. By understanding their distinct advantages and contributions, you can harness the full potential of dedicated developers to drive innovation, accelerate project timelines, and achieve unparalleled success.

Advantages of Hiring a Dedicated Developer

When it comes to project development, hiring a dedicated developer offers a multitude of advantages that can significantly impact the success and efficiency of your endeavors. In this section, we’ll explore the key benefits that dedicated developers bring to the table, empowering businesses to innovate, iterate, and thrive in today’s competitive landscape.

Exploration of the expertise and specialized skillset offered by dedicated developers

One of the primary advantages of hiring a dedicated development team is access to specialized expertise and a diverse skill set. Dedicated developers possess in-depth knowledge of programming languages, frameworks, and technologies, allowing them to tackle complex challenges and deliver innovative solutions tailored to your specific needs. Whether you require front-end development, back-end integration, or full-stack capabilities, dedicated developers have the technical skills and experience to bring your vision to life.

Consistent focus and commitment dedicated developers bring to projects

Unlike freelancers or contractors who may juggle multiple projects simultaneously, dedicated developers offer a consistent focus and unwavering commitment to your project. By dedicating their time and energy exclusively to your endeavors, they immerse themselves in your objectives, priorities, and challenges, ensuring optimal outcomes and alignment with your business goals. This level of dedication fosters trust, collaboration, and accountability, laying the foundation for successful project delivery and long-term partnerships.

Seamless integration with your team and project workflow

Another key advantage of hiring a dedicated developer is the seamless integration with your team and project workflow. Dedicated developers become valuable members of your extended team, collaborating closely with internal stakeholders, project managers, and fellow developers to streamline communication, foster synergy, and drive results. Whether they work onsite or remotely, dedicated developers adapt to your workflow, tools, and methodologies, ensuring a smooth and efficient development process from start to finish.

In conclusion, the advantages of hiring a dedicated developer are manifold, encompassing specialized expertise, consistent focus, and seamless integration with your team and project workflow. By leveraging the unique capabilities of dedicated developers, businesses can accelerate innovation, mitigate risk, and achieve unprecedented levels of success in their project development endeavors.

Factors to Consider When Hiring a Dedicated Developer

The process of hiring a development team requires careful consideration of various factors to ensure the right fit for your project and organizational needs. In this section, we’ll explore key considerations that can help you navigate the hiring process effectively and make informed decisions when selecting a dedicated developer.

Assessing skills, experience, and cultural fit

One of the foremost considerations when hiring a dedicated developer is assessing their skills, experience, and cultural fit with your team and organization. Look for candidates with a strong technical background and relevant experience in your industry or domain. Evaluate their proficiency in programming languages, frameworks, and technologies relevant to your project requirements. Additionally, consider their compatibility with your team’s values, communication style, and work culture to ensure smooth integration and collaboration with your existing team.

Evaluating communication and collaboration abilities

Effective communication and collaboration are essential components of successful project development, particularly when working with a dedicated developer. Prioritize skilled developers who demonstrate strong communication skills, both verbal and written, as well as the ability to collaborate effectively with diverse teams and stakeholders. Look for evidence of past collaborations, client interactions, and contributions to team projects to gauge their communication and collaboration abilities.

Review track record and portfolio of past projects

Another critical factor to consider when hiring a dedicated developer is their track record and portfolio of past projects. Review their previous work, including code samples, project documentation, and client testimonials, to assess the quality of their deliverables and their ability to meet project deadlines and objectives. Look for evidence of successful project outcomes, innovative solutions, and positive client feedback to validate their expertise and reliability.

In summary, when hiring dedicated software developers, it’s essential to consider factors such as skills, experience, cultural fit, communication abilities, and track record. By thoroughly evaluating candidates based on these criteria, you can identify the right fit for your project and ensure a successful collaboration that drives innovation, efficiency, and ultimately, project success.

Best Practices for Working with a Dedicated Developer

Effective collaboration is key to harnessing the full potential of dedicated developers and maximizing project success. In this section, we’ll explore best practices for establishing productive working relationships and optimizing collaboration with dedicated developers to achieve your project’s objectives.

Establishing clear project goals and expectations

Clear communication of project goals and expectations is fundamental to aligning the efforts of dedicated developers with your objectives. Businesses looking to hire dedicated developers should begin by defining the scope, deliverables, and timelines of the project in detail, ensuring mutual understanding and agreement from the outset. Establish clear channels of communication for ongoing updates, feedback, and clarification to prevent misunderstandings and delays. In addition, consider the project budget and the cost-effectiveness of hiring dedicated developers.

Importance of regular communication and feedback loops in optimizing collaboration

Regular communication and feedback loops are essential for maintaining transparency, resolving issues promptly, and keeping the project on track. Schedule regular check-ins, status meetings, and progress updates to discuss project milestones, address any challenges or concerns, and provide constructive feedback. Encourage open dialogue and active participation from all team members to foster collaboration, innovation, and continuous improvement. Consider what communication tools you’ll use, and ensure your team members are on board. This is an area that most skilled professionals excel in, however, it is always worth ensuring that the team you hire values interacting so that you can communicate effectively.

Utilization of project management tools and methodologies

Leveraging project management tools and methodologies can enhance project efficiency, streamline workflows, provide valuable insights, and facilitate collaboration with your dedicated team. Choose tools that align with your team’s preferences and workflows, such as task management systems, version control repositories, and communication platforms. Implement agile or lean methodologies to promote iterative development, adaptive planning, and rapid response to changing requirements.

Providing necessary resources and support for the developer

Lastly, providing the necessary resources and support is essential for empowering your dedicated development team to perform at their best. Ensure access to the tools, technologies, and infrastructure required to fulfill their responsibilities effectively. Offer training, mentorship, and professional development opportunities to support their growth and skill enhancement. Foster a supportive work environment that values collaboration, creativity, and continuous learning.

In conclusion, adopting best practices for working with dedicated developers can enhance collaboration, streamline workflows, and drive project success. By establishing clear goals, fostering open communication, leveraging project management tools, and providing necessary support, you can optimize the effectiveness of your dedicated developer and achieve unprecedented levels of innovation and efficiency in your project development endeavors.

Overcoming Challenges in Hiring and Managing Dedicated Developers

While hiring and working with dedicated developers offer numerous benefits, it’s essential to be aware of potential challenges that may arise during the process. In this section, we’ll explore common obstacles and provide strategies for overcoming them to ensure a smooth and successful collaboration with dedicated developers.

Strategies for overcoming language and time zone barriers

One of the primary challenges when working with a dedicated development team across different geographic locations is language and time zone barriers. To overcome language barriers, prioritize candidates with strong English proficiency or consider utilizing translation tools and language services as needed. Regarding time zone differences, establish overlapping working hours or flexible scheduling arrangements to facilitate real-time communication and collaboration.

Ensuring accountability and productivity

Another challenge in managing dedicated developers is ensuring accountability and productivity, especially when working remotely. Implement clear performance metrics, deliverables, and milestones to track progress and evaluate performance effectively. Foster a culture of transparency, trust, and open communication, providing regular feedback and support to address any performance issues or concerns promptly.

Addressing conflicts and misunderstandings

Conflicts and misunderstandings may arise in any collaborative work environment, including when working with dedicated development teams. Encourage open dialogue and constructive conflict resolution strategies to address any issues or disagreements that may arise. Foster a culture of respect, empathy, and collaboration, emphasizing the importance of finding mutually beneficial solutions to conflicts. In addition, consider tasking one person from your internal team as a project manager to oversee project success.

Strategies for fostering a positive working relationship

Building a positive working relationship with dedicated developers is essential for maximizing collaboration and project success. Invest time and effort in getting to know your dedicated developers, building rapport, and establishing trust-based relationships. Provide opportunities for team building, social interaction, and informal communication to strengthen bonds and foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie.

In summary, while challenges may arise when hiring and managing dedicated developers, adopting proactive strategies and fostering a positive working environment can help overcome obstacles and ensure a successful collaboration that drives innovation, efficiency, and project success.

Measuring Success with a Dedicated Developer

Measuring the success of a dedicated developer requires the establishment of clear and relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with project goals and objectives. In this section, we’ll explore essential KPIs for evaluating dedicated developer performance and tracking project progress effectively.

Tools and metrics for tracking project progress and developer contributions

Utilizing appropriate tools and metrics is essential for tracking project progress and evaluating the contributions of dedicated developers. Implement project management software, version control systems, and task-tracking tools to monitor project milestones, deadlines, and deliverables. Track metrics such as code quality, productivity, and adherence to timelines to assess the performance and efficiency of dedicated developers accurately.

Strategies for optimizing the effectiveness of your dedicated developer

To optimize the effectiveness of your dedicated developer, it’s essential to provide ongoing feedback, support, and professional development opportunities. Schedule regular performance reviews and check-ins to discuss progress, address any challenges or concerns, and set actionable goals for improvement. Offer training, mentorship, and resources to enhance skills and expand knowledge areas relevant to the project.

Measuring success with a dedicated developer involves establishing relevant KPIs, leveraging appropriate tools and metrics, and optimizing the effectiveness of your dedicated developer through ongoing feedback and support. By tracking project progress and evaluating developer contributions systematically, you can ensure accountability, transparency, and alignment with project goals, ultimately driving success and achieving desired outcomes.

Conclusion

Throughout this article, we’ve explored the transformative impact of hiring a dedicated developer on project success. From specialized expertise and consistent focus to seamless integration with your team, dedicated developers offer numerous advantages that can elevate your project to new heights.

Dedicated developers serve as catalysts for innovation, efficiency, and collaboration, driving project success through their unwavering commitment and technical prowess. By harnessing their unique capabilities and fostering a positive working relationship, businesses can overcome challenges, mitigate risks, and achieve unparalleled levels of success in their project development endeavors.

In today’s competitive landscape, investing in dedicated talent is more critical than ever for staying ahead of the curve and delivering exceptional results. By recognizing the value of dedicated developers and prioritizing their integration into your project development process, you can unlock new opportunities for growth, innovation, and success in your business ventures.



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Israel’s National Insurance faces an empty purse by 2036

“In 2036, the fund will be empty, and without further financing or a return of the money taken to the state treasury, the National Insurance Institute will not be capable of fulfilling its full commitments,” the latest actuarial report of the Israel’s National Insurance Institute (NII) states, bringing forward the date that the NII will be insolvent by eight years from 2044 in the previous report.

NII collects insurance payments from employees’ salaries and from the income of the self-employed as a kind of income tax, and pays it out in welfare allowances. About half the payouts are old-age allowances and for nursing care for the elderly, while the other half consists of disability allowances, work injury allowances, child allowances, and unemployment benefits. According to the latest report, until 2023 the NII had more income that outgoings, and so it accumulated a fund of NIS 245 billion, or just over two years’ worth of welfare payments. But since 2023, the ratio has reversed: the NII now pays out more than it receives. To finance the level of expenditure that NII is committed to by law, it will start to take bites out of the fund, until it is finished.

Fixed-income investments

Why is this happening? According to Dr. Alex Kaplun of The College of Management Academic Studies, an expert in longevity finance and a researcher at the Aaron Institute for Economic Policy at Reichman University, the answer begins with demography. “The 75-and-over age group is growing, as is the proportion of haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) in the population. Their participation of haredim in the workforce is low, and they earn salaries that are too low to pay substantial NII contributions. To my mind, the age of exemption from military service should be lowered to 21, so that they can enter the workforce as early as possible. As long as the current situation continues, we have a problem.”

Another reason is the way in which the money is invested. “A pension fund invests in the capital market, and can earn double-digit returns, but the NII buys Israel government bonds at low yields. Technically, the state could even decide not to repay the money.”

The relationship between the NII fund and the Ministry of Finance was set out in an agreement in 1980, under which the NII invests its fund in government bonds. This, however, is a somewhat strange way of looking at the debt, as described by Prof. Avia Spivak, emeritus professor of economics at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, in a study for PIF (The Center for Pension, Insurance and Financial Literacy): “In the state budget, section 081 appears under the innocent looking heading ‘Loan from the National Insurance Institute.’ In general, when the state borrows by issuing bonds, the loan is not part of its revenues, but a way of financing the deficit. But the state treats the NII as a source of taxation, not a source of credit.” Spivak adds that the liability to the NII is not reported as part of government debt. In other words, the Ministry of Finance sees the NII’s income as part of state revenues, even though this is revenue that it supposedly intends to pay back.

“As long as the NII is in surplus, the Ministry of Finance is happy,” Prof. Spivak told “Globes”, “but it needs to be separated from the regular public purse, and given the power to invest the money as it sees fit. Now is a good time, because additional surpluses are not accumulating. If we turn the debt to the NII into a true debt, that will dramatically increase Israel’s national debt. There is confusion here, and a transfer of money from one pocket to another that needs to be regularized.”

Huge expenditure

Since 2008, Israel has not sufficed with the NII alone to ensure dignified retirement. Compulsory pensions savings were introduced, which are materially different. Instead of payment into a general fund that finances predetermined allowances, a pension fund facilitates personal accumulation of money that is invested in the capital market and can yield substantial returns over time. “The employment pension system in Israel works well, and allows accumulation of savings for retirement and insurance against loss of earning capacity at low prices,” says Dr. Sarit Menahem-Carmi of the Center for Pension, Insurance and Economic Psychology and the Aaron Institute for Economic Policy. The pension funds currently hold some NIS 2.25 trillion, which not only serves as a savings scheme but is also invested directly in the economy.

“Nevertheless,” Menahem-Carmi says, “there are factors that can make it difficult to reach a reasonable pension. A lack of employment continuity, withdrawal of severance and pension savings, and employers who do not deduct pension contributions as required by law. At low wage levels that can be done by agreement with employees who do not wish to reduce their income in the present. Such factors are more generally characteristic of the lowest deciles.”

That leaves the universal layer provided by the NII as a safety net for low income earners. But that is the highest expense of the NII, precisely because it is universal. Rich and poor receive almost the same old-age allowance.

The goal: To work more

Ostensibly, the safety net could be left in place for the poor only, which would also enable higher allowances to be paid. For higher income earners, pension contributions could be increased at the expense of NII contributions, which, thanks to the returns on the capital market, would in the long term result in higher retirement pensions. In Dr. Kaplun’s view, however, “It’s fair that Yitzhak Tshuva should receive an old-age allowance. Otherwise, it becomes necessary to answer the question ‘who’s wealthy?’, and that’s a slippery slope. But it would be possible, for example, to provide a supplement up to the minimum wage for anyone for whom their pension and the old-age allowance are insufficient.”

So what should be done? According to Prof. Spivak, the problem is not as bad as it’s made out to be. “Chiefly, it’s necessary to raises taxes and the retirement age, and then there will be no problem.” For Dr. Kaplun, “The term ‘retirement’ should be expunged from the lexicon. People should stop working when they feel like it. A goal of the State of Israel is to encourage people to work for as many years as possible, so that they will pay taxes and earn a living. In practice, in the public sector, people are currently laid off automatically when they reach the retirement age.”

Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on May 19, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.


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Earnings call: Eastside Distilling reports robust Q1 results amid challenges By Investing.com

Eastside Distilling, Inc. (NASDAQ: EAST) has presented a strong first quarter for 2024, with consolidated gross sales reaching $2.5 million, driven by a surge in digitally printed can sales and steady bulk Spirit sales. Despite a net loss of $1.3 million and an adjusted EBITDA of negative $800,000, the company has shown optimism in their Craft Beverage and Spirits businesses. The Craft segment, in particular, is experiencing a record number of digitally printed can sales, contributing to incremental customer sales and improved margins expected in Q2. The Spirits segment is navigating through consumer trends of trading down, yet volumes remain on target. The company is refocusing its spirits investment in profitable segments and regions, and the mobile canning business has achieved positive EBITDA. With new leadership hires and strategic partnerships in the works, Eastside Distilling is positioning itself for growth and NASDAQ compliance.

Key Takeaways

  • Eastside Distilling reported Q1 gross sales of $2.5 million, with printed can sales compensating for a decrease in bulk Spirit sales.
  • Craft Beverage services achieved a record number of digitally printed can sales, expected to improve Q2 margins.
  • The Spirits business maintained volumes despite consumer trends of trading down.
  • The company is refocusing its spirits investment in profitable segments and regions.
  • New leadership hires and strategic partnerships are expected to drive sales and growth.
  • Eastside Distilling is working towards NASDAQ compliance and is optimistic about future prospects.

Company Outlook

  • Eastside Distilling is optimistic about the ramp-up of their digital can printer and the broader customer base it is attracting.
  • The company is focused on driving revenue growth and profitability in both the Craft and Spirit divisions.
  • Digital printing is identified as the main growth opportunity, with mobile canning also contributing positively to EBITDA.
  • Eastside Distilling is actively working on improving its balance sheet and achieving compliance with NASDAQ listing requirements.
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Bearish Highlights

  • The company reported a net loss of $1.3 million for Q1 2024.
  • Adjusted EBITDA remained negative at approximately $800,000.
  • Consumer trends of trading down are creating headwinds for the tequila market.

Bullish Highlights

  • Craft segment saw record sales of digitally printed cans, which are 100% recyclable, durable, and efficient on production lines.
  • The hiring of Business Development Manager Kevin Mann is expected to form strategic partnerships and drive sales.
  • The company won three new large volume customers, establishing credibility and becoming a key player in their customers’ supply chain and marketing platform.

Misses

  • There was a decrease in bulk Spirit sales, although this was offset by an increase in printed can sales.

Q&A Highlights

  • The company discussed its focus on key core markets and the need to downsize manufacturing to achieve a cost-leading position.
  • Success in selling bourbon wholesale at record prices and achieving high margins was mentioned.
  • A potential partnership is close to being finalized, which could further enhance the company’s market position.

Eastside Distilling is navigating a competitive market with strategic shifts towards its most promising segments. The focus on digital printing and the Craft Beverage market, combined with efforts to streamline the Spirits division, underscores the company’s commitment to adapt and thrive amidst changing consumer behaviors. With incremental investments aimed at long-term gains and a clear path to NASDAQ compliance, Eastside Distilling is poised to capitalize on its unique product offerings and operational strengths.

InvestingPro Insights

Eastside Distilling, Inc. (NASDAQ: EAST) has recently faced significant challenges, as reflected in the real-time data and InvestingPro Tips. With a market capitalization of just 1.66 million USD, the company’s financial health is under scrutiny, especially considering a substantial Price to Earnings (P/E) ratio of -0.17, suggesting that investors are wary of the company’s profitability prospects. The adjusted P/E ratio for the last twelve months as of Q1 2024 further declines to -0.26, highlighting ongoing concerns.

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The company’s revenue has experienced a decline, with a decrease of 22.61% over the last twelve months as of Q1 2024. This is compounded by a gross profit margin of only 6.03%, indicating that Eastside Distilling is struggling to convert sales into meaningful profit. Additionally, the company’s operating income margin stands at a concerning -49.38%, suggesting that the company’s costs are significantly outpacing its revenue.

InvestingPro Tips suggest that Eastside Distilling operates with a significant debt burden and may have trouble making interest payments on its debt. This is a critical issue for investors to consider, as it could impact the company’s financial stability and future growth potential. Moreover, the stock has taken a significant hit over the last week, with a price total return of -40.28%, reflecting investor sentiment and market reactions to the company’s performance.

However, it’s not all bleak for Eastside Distilling. Analysts anticipate sales growth in the current year, and net income is expected to grow as well. These insights could signal a potential turnaround for the company, provided it successfully capitalizes on its strategic initiatives and market opportunities.

For investors looking for a deeper dive into Eastside Distilling’s financial health and future prospects, InvestingPro offers additional insights and metrics. With the use of coupon code PRONEWS24, readers can get an additional 10% off a yearly or biyearly Pro and Pro+ subscription, gaining access to a wealth of InvestingPro Tips that can guide investment decisions. Currently, there are 16 additional tips listed in InvestingPro for Eastside Distilling, each offering valuable perspectives on the company’s market position and financial outlook.

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Full transcript – Eastside Distilling (EAST) Q1 2024:

Operator: Good evening, and welcome to the Eastside Distilling First Quarter 2024 Financial Results Conference Call. All participants will be in listen-only mode. [Operator Instructions] After today’s presentation there will be an opportunity to ask questions. [Operator Instructions] Please note, this event is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to Tiffany Milton, Controller. Please go ahead. Thank you.

Tiffany Milton: Good evening, everyone, and thank you for joining us today to discuss Eastside Distilling’s financial results for the first quarter of 2024. I’m Tiffany Milton, Eastside’s Controller. And joining us on today’s call to discuss these results is Geoffrey Gwin, the company’s Chief Executive Officer; and Conor Kilkenny, Craft CEO. Following our remarks, we will open the call to your questions. Now before we begin with prepared remarks, we submit for the record the following statement. Certain matters discussed on this conference call by the management of Eastside Distilling may be forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 as amended, Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 as amended, and such forward-looking statements are made pursuant to the safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. The forward-looking statements describe future expectations, plans, results or strategies and are generally preceded by words such as may, future, plan or planned, will or should, expected, anticipates, draft, eventually or projected. Listeners are cautioned that such statements are subject to a multitude of risks and uncertainties that could cause future circumstances, events or results to differ materially from those projected in the forward-looking statements. Such matters involve risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to differ materially, including, but not limited to, the company’s acceptance and the company’s products in the market, success in obtaining new customers, success in product development, ability to execute the business model and strategic plans, success in integrating acquired entities and assets, ability to obtain capital, ability to continue its going concern and all the risks and related information described from time to time in the company’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including the financial statements and related information pertaining to the company’s annual report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2023, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Now with that said, I’d like to turn the call over to Geoffrey Gwin. Geoffrey, please proceed.

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Geoffrey Gwin: Great. Thank you, Tiffany, and welcome to our first quarter 2024 conference call. We have a lot to discuss this quarter. In addition to Tiffany, I’m excited to have Conor Kilkenny join us today. Conor joined Eastside in January as the CEO of Craft and comes to us with an extensive background in manufacturing. Conor will share some of his first impressions of Crafts business and outlook in a moment. Now if you’re new to the company, we operate two distinctly unique businesses, including a Craft Beverage services business, which we refer to as Craft. And we also have a Spirits business, which sells a number of great brands, including Burnside whiskeys, Portland Potato Vodka and Azunia Tequila, primarily in the Pacific Northwest as well as other regional markets. Now one particular highlight in our company is the investment craft and digital can printing a couple of years ago. This is a very new technology that allows us to decorate 100% recyclable aluminum cans for the Craft Beverage segment. This is a very exciting business opportunity for us as one of the most dynamic and competitive spaces in consumer packaging. Now new entrants in this category are faced with tough decisions as they chart at out to market. It’s a crowded space and extremely expensive to launch a new beverage brand. Think about it. How many new products have you come across in your daily life over the last year? Now I’d be surprised if you actually guess that number correctly. I suspect you’d be way off on that number. But the reality is many new products are simply out, go unnoticed. They simply show up. You may notice them briefly, but they fade away and the morass of all the new ideas and concepts we see daily. Now for a startup, reaching you a potential consumer, just getting your attention, but alone actually building brand equity with you is a huge challenge. Now there are many paths you can take to try to build your brand. Take for example, the influencer space, which at times feels like a tsunami from me. People fill my inboxes daily suggesting that they can introduce us to influencers in the spirit side. There is an unknowable army of people claiming to have access to this social media large segment of promoters who can get your product in front of large numbers of virals. For many brands, navigating that road is fraught with challenges. Now why is this important for us? It’s important because marketing around your product has changed. When I say around the product where I’m talking about, where it’s sold on the shelf, the point of purchase, the moment a consumer makes a choice, that moment is huge. It’s a moment of opportunity. Unlike a consumer connecting online, we have to see it, seek it out, find it, purchase it, have intent. On the shelf at retail, you’re at the moment of opportunity as the consumer rolls by. They are there to buy something. So a new brand has a huge opportunity to win a customer. And I’ve said this repeatedly in the past, in the Craft Beverage based, the great equalizer here at the moment of opportunity is the packaging opportunity. You can go right with old boring cans and old technology or you can pick something that speaks to the consumer. Consumer beverage marketing has changed and we deliver the opportunity to run circles around national brands. To see this opportunity you need to start by wandering through the craft beer space in your grocery store. There, you will see great marketing, local brands, fighting successfully for shelf space. We see them win daily with data. Craft beer is not struggling. Those brands that embrace their advantage are winning in that aisle of the grocery store, you will see can decoration and mini forms, old school, screen friended, limited colors, same, seen it there always, same design. You’ll see paper labels not recyclable, shrink rep plastic labels not recyclable. The latter two are difficult because they require high volumes and a lot of working capital. And in our market, you’ll see a new type of digital packaging, digitally printed cans, these cans are extraordinary. They are the digital billboard that can change after 15 minutes when you drive by the stadium on the way home from a concert show. They can be unique, unique for a season, for a day, for a week. They can be a special beer, unexpected hard to get seasonal. The opportunities are endless here. Beverage manufacturers embracing this technology are just getting started. I started talking about this adoption two years ago, we’ve only seen a gain momentum. But now we finally have to see data that shows that these digital trend cans are driving incremental sales for our customers. We saw the adoption expanding again this quarter. In fact, I would say the adoption is accelerating for us. In the quarter, Craft produced a record number of cans. Conor will talk about that in a moment. Now while gross margins were impacted by a number of factors, including transitioning to a lower-priced can contract, expensing new parts and a price investment for large volume, we are pleased with the performance. We expect improved margins in Q2, but most importantly, we see this business growing and evolving very quickly. Now I’m going to let Conor talk in more detail about digital printing and craft, but I want to talk for a minute about the spirits and its performance for the quarter. Spirits had a great quarter, producing the best operating result without bulk sales we’ve seen in some time. EBITDA for that segment was only a $56,000 loss for the core for the entire quarter. Importantly, volumes work and were in line with what our expectations were despite the clear trend of consumers trading down at retail. Now this consumer shift has been ongoing for a few quarters now, and we’ve seen it across multiple categories. Also, it’s important to keep an eye on agave prices. We’re seeing input prices come off all-time highs, and we expect to see savings in the upcoming quarters there. That said, the tequila market is clearly facing strong near-term headwinds as consumers trade down there as well. We embarked on a multiyear effort to refocus our spirits investment in profitable segments and regions. And we will have more to report on that progress in the coming quarters, but suffice it to say, for Q1, I’m really pleased with the results. Now I want to pause there and introduce Conor, our CEO at Craft, and he can take you through his thoughts on the progress there and a little bit more about his background. Welcome, Conor.

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Conor Kilkenny: Thank you, Geoffrey, and I’m very excited to be a part of the team. I look forward to meeting some of you on the call and you’re always welcome to visit our facility in Portland. First, a bit about my background. I have an 11 year career working for a large scale engineering firm focusing on manufacturing efficiency. In 2013, myself and a man from Dublin, Ireland named James Gill started an engineering office in our garages, which focused on large scale high-tech manufacturing. Over the course of the next 11 years, we grew Barry-Wehmiller Design Group’s high-tech consulting practice to the third largest in the United States. This experience gave me insights into the some of the world’s largest and best run operations across multiple sectors and consumer products, but also how to set up a company for rapid scaling. I believe Craft will benefit from a number of process improvements that are already being implemented. For Q1 of this year, Craft’s production output was 320%. I’ll say that again, 320% higher than Q1 of 2023. We had three record months of production in historically the most difficult quarter, and we’re on track for a fourth. Now I’ll start my comments by echoing what I’ve heard over the past four months as I’ve traveled and meet new customers. What is clear is that, digital can printing isn’t just a trend, it’s an industry revolution. Unlike cans burdened by wasteful sticker labels and plastic wraps, our 100% recyclable solution is a game changer. Distribution and retail partners alike are recognizing the environmental impact and the digital printing crashed to the forefront of sustainable packaging solutions. Another primary benefit of our product, shelf presence. Forward thinking brands are unlocking the full potential of our technology to forge deeper connections with consumers. Our technology offers millions of color combinations and a multitude of finishes ranging from metallics, sophisticated mattes and high gloss applications. Furthermore, our technology empowers brands to add another dimension with unique can textures, creating a truly immersive brand experience. And our commitment to producing cans with the highest quality doesn’t go unnoticed. We recently won Decoration of the Year for our Mother’s Day can, featuring a unique texture that personalizes each can with the name of every mother in their company, an award which serves as a testament to our dedication to innovation and eye catching design. Yet another piece that differentiates Craft is our decade of experience of being a world class mobile canner. We have a firsthand understanding of the rigors of our production line and have leveraged our expertise to create cans with unmatched durability. They’ll not only look stunning on store shelves, but also run flawlessly on high speed lines, minimizing downtime and maximizing efficiency. In fact, we’re seeing broad adoption and I’m pleased to report we won three new large volume customers. Winning a customer like that is a big deal because you’re winning their confidence. You become their supply chain and their marketing platform. So performance in between the four walls matters, quality matters and craft means quality. To further increase our quality and throughput, we began making incremental investments to improve our manufacturing and while that impacted margins in the short term, it will drastically improve the end result. Everything we are doing here is being done the right way, no cutting corners. We believe in doing something once and doing it right. In summary, I’m very excited to be a part of this exciting new business and I have a world class team to work with. And I want to take a second to recognize the leadership of that team. We have Bill Anders who leads our manufacturing. Bill has over a decade of experience in mobile canning and printing industry. And in my opinion, he’s also the most knowledgeable pro in the industry when it comes to operating and maximizing the output of a digital printer. Leading our co packing and mobile division is Michael Kilgore, a seasoned industry veteran with over a decade of experience from head brewer to a wide ranges of experience in co packing and mobile canning. His diverse expertise lends to his ability to drive process improvements and maximize efficiency. The last person I want to recognize is our controller, Bruce Wells. Bruce is the most experienced pro in our company and it’s also a manufacturing cost accountant. Bruce’s knowledge allows us to have extremely accurate estimates on our manufacturing costs, which allows us to be very targeted as to where we implement improvements that yield the highest ROIs. One final announcement I would like to make is, we have recently hired a Business Development Manager, Kevin Mann. Kevin is based in Seattle, Washington and was the Marketing and Sales Director for nearly half a decade for a national beverage company, Ninkasi. His leadership led them through an explosive growth period. Kevin has relationships with most of the major beverage companies, distributors and grocers in the Western U.S. He understands the entire lifecycle of our cans from the source to the end consumer and is already forming strategic partnerships that are immediately translating into sales. Now with that, I will turn it over to Tiffany.

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Tiffany Milton: Thank you, Conor. I’ll summarize the financial results for the quarter, and then we will take questions. On a consolidated basis, our gross sales were $2.5 million for the first quarter of $24 million and $2.9 million for Q1 2023, primarily due to bulk Spirit sales of $600,000, offset by an increase in printed can sales. Craft sales were $1.8 million for 2024 and $1.5 million for 2023 as printing is finally gaining its full potential. Spirit sales were $600,000 for 2024 and $1.4 million for 2023, decreasing as a result of the bulk spirit sales in Q1 2023. Our consolidated gross profit was $200,000 for Q1 2024 and $600,000 for 2023, primarily due to our bulk spirit sales in Q1 2023 of $500,000 and — our consolidated gross margins were 8% for 24% and 22% for 2023. Craft had margins of 3% for 24 and negative 7% for 2023. Spirits margins were 23% for 24 and 54% for 2023, primarily related to the book spirit sales. Operating expenses were $1.2 million for Q1 2024 and $1.9 million for Q1 2023, a decrease of almost $650,000. Our lower expenses reflect the success of our restructuring efforts throughout 2023. Our net loss was $1.3 million for Q1 2024 and $1.6 million for Q1 2023, and our adjusted EBITDA was flat at about negative $800,000 for both periods. We will now open the floor for questions. Operator?

Operator: We will now begin the question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] The first question today is from Sean McGowan with ROTH. Please go ahead.

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Geoffrey Gwin: Hi, Sean.

Sean McGowan: Hi, Geoff, how are you? Can you give us a little clearer sense of the ramp-up of output on the digital can printer? Like what kind of ramp up you’re seeing there?

Geoffrey Gwin: I’ll start and I’ll let Conor add anything if you’d like to. I think we’re seeing it really meet our expectation in the first quarter on volume. As Conor said, I mean the year-over-year comparison is there’s really no comparison, we’re really fully into 24/7 printing now. And that basically puts this thing on path to get to full capacity here shortly. There’ll be opportunities to get more out of it here, but I see ourselves really on path here to fill the machine up. And I expect that we’ll be in a position later in the quarter, later in the year to announce more capacity coming online in the facility. So we’ll be able to double what we’re producing with one machine. So I’m very pleased with the ramp-up. And Conan has done a fabulous job debottlenecking it, but more over than that, getting out into the field and really seeing the customer base understand where the market is and pulling people over the fence into the digital printing landscape. I can’t stress how important that is today because once you get them over and you convert their supply chain and you start to really show them what they can do with this new packaging, then you’re really in a position to just build off. And this is a reoccurring business, too, right? So we’re going to resell the stuff every cycle. So Sean, I think I’m pleased with where we are in the ramp-up.

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Sean McGowan: Okay. I don’t know if there’s going to be more details for Conor, but the actual number, the revenue number wasn’t too far off from what I have, but I’m just wondering how we got there. Like are you getting the pricing you’re expecting? Are you getting number of cans up to where you want it to be?

Geoffrey Gwin: We were a little lower on cans than we expected, but part of that was getting into the quarter. We had to really scramble to make sure we had the machine working at the level that we needed to get the volume that we’re expecting and the consistency and the reliability that we’re looking for. But there have been some price investment with larger customers to bring them over, but not as much as could be expected. And again, what we’re seeing and Conor can echo this, probably is the breadth of customers, Sean, that are moving over is wider than I expected. So for example, if you’re going to enjoy Dodgers baseball game this summer, you’re going to be drinking beer out of a can we printed. We’re starting to do business for other college groups that are part of the NIL right? So this is not going after the same large customers and fighting for them over price, these are starting to be customers that specifically need something unique like this who are looking for something where they can really benefit from the advantages that we can with digital printing.

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Sean McGowan: Thank you. And any updates that you can provide would be helpful on shoring up the balance sheet or any changes there, both during the quarter and anything subsequent to grade.

Geoffrey Gwin: That’s a great question. I mean, one of the big things that everybody is obviously aware of and concerned about is the NASDAQ listing issue. Last year, we went down the road and this has been something that I’ve been working on for two years now is to fix the balance sheet. Fixing the balance sheet has been a priority, and we’ve made big changes there. Last year, we reduced a large amount of debt converted to equity. That was a hard choice to make, but it was a choice, I think was absolutely necessary to put us in a position where we could invest in the business and move forward. And I think that’s a focus in the first quarter here and into the second quarter. We’re looking to build a credible plan that’s not just wholly built on balance sheet adjustments, debt to equity, but on really the income statement now. What you’re starting to see in the company is the income statement change, right? We’re seeing Crafts revenue really grow through what it historically did because we’ve realigned the business. But on the Spirit side, we’re at a point where you’re starting to see that business really at breakeven. And we alluded to it in the comments, and I’ll just reiterate now, we’re in advanced discussions with the group and you should expect to hear something from us shortly that really pushes spirits into a new realm of profitability here in the back half of the year. So between the balance sheet, some possible changes that we’re working on to get our in compliance with NASDAQ and finishing some of these priorities on the income statement, driving Craft to full capability out of its one facility, leveraging fixed expenses with multiple digital printers. And then on the Spirit side, finally getting to a point where we’re generating positive cash and net income out of that business. Those two elements are going to be the best fixed for the balance sheet, I think.

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Sean McGowan: Okay. Appreciate that.

Operator: [Operator Instructions] The next question is from Matt Campbell with Laridae Capital. Please go ahead.

Geoffrey Gwin: Hi, Matt.

Matthew Campbell: Hi, Jeff. I want to say it’s been a long haul here. But it was pleasing to hear from Mr. Kilkenny about hiring a business development guy. Now it sounds like we’re now hiring people to go out and get us business, which is phenomenal. Did I hear that correctly?

Geoffrey Gwin: Sure. Conor, do you want to talk about your team and the investments you’re making in Seattle?

Conor Kilkenny: Yes. So our first goal was to hire a salesperson up in Seattle. But we laid out kind of a skill set of what we were looking for up there, mainly geared towards a business development manager to help with our sales team and what we went and had and found is a guy who has, like I said, he had five years’ experience as the marketing and the sales director for one of the largest beverage companies in the Northwest. And he’s very, very hungry, but he’s also very skilled at finding how we are a value add for the customer. So we’re not just offering a beautiful can to them, we can also help them with their forecasting also their business strategy as well as how to leverage that. In its first three weeks, he has already sold a tremendous number of cans.

Matthew Campbell: That’s helpful. So it sounds like you guys have gotten the kinks out of the printing side of the equation that you can drive the revenue, which is great to hear. Were there any other onetime items on the Craft side? Like where is mobile canning that side of the business? Is that now breakeven for us, so it’s not going to bleed? We’d love a color there.

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Geoffrey Gwin: Go ahead, Conor.

Conor Kilkenny: Yes. Mobile was actually positive EBITDA in the first quarter. So yes, we’ve gotten the operation down to where the expenses align with what the sales are. And it’s actually it’s above breakeven.

Geoffrey Gwin: So remember, just to remind people on the call, so the legacy business of Craft is mobile, which actually is a fascinating business. I mean, conceptually for the people that don’t know it was, I think, actually originated by Craft and the people, the four rooms of Craft. I mean it was a business that was envisioned where they took a very small filling line, wild goose line and was able to architect it to fit it into a box truck and then they go to a local site that’s like a small brewery and then they basically are successful in bringing the facility and the production capability to the local site. So that sounds complicated and it is, it was. And to scale that business, the company struggled with the return on investment because if you can think about it moving a tiny small factory footprint, and we had 13 of them at our peak and moving them to a customer, bringing them back, you bear a tremendous amount of risk and operational complexity. And then inevitably, when the customer gets large enough, they just moved off and built their own factory or bought their own equipment. Now we haven’t fully exited mobile because the mobile customer base is extremely important to us. I mean it’s part of our DNA, but just also informs the company on how we can better serve our customer. So while we have reduced our mobile activities, we’ve exited Denver, we’ve reduced our activities in Seattle to some degree and also Spokane. We’re still very active in Portland, and we will continue to be very active in Portland. But as Conor said, we’ve got that to a point where we sized the opportunity. It’s a great part of the package that we can cross sell. But the biggest opportunity, as you said, is digital printing. There’s only a handful of people in North America with functional digital printing. There have been investments made in other technologies that are not effective apparently. Fortunately, we have a great partner in Hinterkopf. That’s the technology partner that we have that helps us with our equipment. And we’re doubling down there. So as far as the onetime items, you can imagine, I mean, there’s a lot of things that you have to react to in a quarter. So as we see this volume of demand in front of us and Conor gets that demand. For us, we have to be in a position that we meet the customers’ needs. We cannot win 1 million can deal from somebody and then wake up on a Sunday afternoon and say, we don’t have the spare part to keep this thing running through the weekend. So we did have a number of items in the quarter that we had to expense in the quarter. So for example, we had a large amount of spare prices we bought pulled in. We expensed that. We had a lot of scrap that we caught up with as we ramped up had extra freight. And the other thing that I’ll take my hat off to Conor’s immediately in the door, he worked on our can costs. And our partner on the supply chain on the can side is outstanding, and they’ve helped us source cans cheaper, so we can deliver that on to our customers at a better price. So we work through some higher-priced plans in the quarter that normally we wouldn’t have had. So as I look forward, I think we’re in a position to really see some gross margin improvements. And then as I said before, the bigger opportunity for the business is when you get even more horsepower in that facility. You’re not going to pay for another large number of operators because our operators are outstanding, and they can manage two machines. You’re not going to have to pay another lease payment, you’re not going to have to pay more towards the overhead because that’s going to be leveraged. So as we move the cans, volumes up through $2 million a month and into a much bigger number, you’re really going to see the margins and the profitability here change.

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Matthew Campbell: That’s helpful, Goeff. How do you elaborate on Sean McGowan’s question about the spirits business. You said you’re in discussions to push spirits into profitability. Obviously, you commented on Agave prices now coming down, but we never know where Agave is going to go. So taking that out of the equation, is there a partnership that you envision here? How should we think about that where you do something that can really start to accelerate the opportunity that we have in these brands that haven’t had any tender loving care for a while now.

Geoffrey Gwin: Yes. It’s a big question. I mean for everybody on the call, the company evaluated selling brands two years ago or basically not this past Christmas, but the holiday before that. We went to a full year of looking at the brands, talking to people that were potentially interested in them, and we’ve continued to do that. But one of the things that we’ve realized is there’s a huge opportunity to maximize the value of the brand by continuing on this course to improve their performance, specifically their profitability performance. And one of the challenges that we’ve had and you have to go back in the company’s history of a few years here, the company was built to produce product in larger scale and the vision then was to serve one of our brands that we’re not involved in with anymore, and that’s the Redneck Riviera brand. And we bring in blended whiskeys into Portland. We build product and then we ship it back East. Conceptually, it made no sense as far as trying to keep costs low and inevitably, proved to be a very bad business decision because at the end of the day, what we ended up having was a very expensive position on the shelf, and we weren’t able to compete there. And so as the company downsized across the board in sales, its whole market operation east. And Harold Weber is probably on this call remembers this because he asked these questions, after call about why not be in New Jersey, why not be bringing products to — that whole apparatus was extremely expensive and in the 3-tier distribution system, you have to be super focused on your investment and your go-to-market plan. So in this case, as that came back to reality and we were focusing on our key core markets, we never downsized manufacturing enough. And one of the key goals here in this next step is to be in a cost-leading position, finally. So we want to be in a position where we have significant market share, brand equity in our market. We can drive volumes, but we want to be in a cost-leading position, not just with the packaging, the liquid but also with our overhead. So you’ve seen the liquid already because, I mean, look, over the last two years, we sold bourbon wholesale at record prices and the margins in that you can see in this quarter compared to last quarter, we had a really big profitability year-over-year last year comparing it to this year because we sold wholesale Bourbon at great prices. We have a very low cost position there, and we’re realizing really high prices in wholesale. So my point with that is we’ve got our cost position at down everywhere. Packaging (NYSE:), liquid, we now just finish the overhead piece, and we’re going to have enough gross margin dollars to do exactly what I was talking about on the Craft side, which is market around our brands and spirits. If there’s one thing that’s been a great thing about this company having two diverse groups, spirits business, consumer products spirits business, and then be in the unique digital training business, is it being informed at the importance of marketing around your bottle on the shelf in a liquor store. We’ve spent a ton of money on Portland Trail blazers in the past on billboards, all kinds of things, but we’ve not marketed around the bottle in the store. When we get our cost position right and we have enough disposable dollars to attack the market, we’re going to win, and we’re going to take share, and you’re going to see volumes grow, they’re going to start in Portland, and we’re also going to use what savings we can get in the Agave move down to do the same thing in Azunia. Azunia is a little bit more complicated because it’s a multistate product, and it goes through the traditional distribution system we have to work with our distribution partners, and that’s been a long-running challenge. In Oregon, it’s a control state, so it’s a ship around to market. So I’m really optimistic that we’re in a good position there. So we’re going to see some improvements this year in spirits. I can’t talk yet about that this new potential partnership, but I think we’re really close to having it done.

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Matthew Campbell: Thank you very much and continue good luck for the future. Looking forward to seeing us start to turn the income statement around. Awesome work.

Operator: This concludes our question-and-answer session. I would like to turn the conference back over to Geoffrey Gwin for any closing remarks.

Geoffrey Gwin: Great. Thank you, Gary. And I’d like to thank all of you guys on the call for listening to our conference call, and we look forward to updating you on the second quarter. All right. Great. Have a good evening.

Operator: The conference has now concluded. Thank you for attending today’s presentation. You may now disconnect.

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This quarterly distribution marks a 6% year-over-year increase and is payable on June 28. With an annualized distribution of $1.62 per unit, BIP offers a yield of 5.3%.

Following the Q1 print, BMO Capital analyst Devin Dodge reaffirmed a buy rating on BIP stock, stating that the first-quarter results were largely in line with expectations. However, the analyst lowered his price target to $36 from $40 to reflect the impact of higher interest rates on the stock’s valuation.

Dodge noted that Brookfield’s investment in container-leasing company Triton International is exceeding its underlying assumptions. BIP’s transport business is benefiting from the Triton acquisition as the Red Sea crisis has led to the lengthening of some shipping trade routes and increased global demand for containers.  

Meanwhile, the analyst expects BIP’s capital deployment to be focused on tuck-in opportunities in its existing businesses. He highlighted that the company’s acquisition pipeline also includes large-scale opportunities focused on Asia-Pacific, North America and Europe. The analyst expects new investment activity to pick pace through 2024.

“We believe BIP’s portfolio companies are performing well, the yield is attractive and valuation appears undemanding,” said Dodge.

Dodge ranks No. 582 among more than 8,800 analysts tracked by TipRanks. His ratings have been profitable 68% of the time, with each delivering an average return of 10.6%. (See Brookfield Infrastructure’s Insider Trading Activity on TipRanks)

Realty Income

This week’s final dividend pick is Realty Income (O). It is a real estate investment trust that invests in diversified commercial real estate and has a portfolio of over 15,450 properties in the U.S. and seven countries in Europe.

On May 15, the company paid a monthly dividend of $0.257 per share. Overall, based on the annualized dividend amount of $3.08 per share, the stock’s dividend yield stands at 5.6%.  

In reaction to Realty Income’s first-quarter results, RBC Capital analyst Brad Heffern reiterated a buy rating on Realty Income stock with a price target of $58. The analyst noted that Q1 2024 results slightly exceeded his expectations, marked by an impressive capitalization rate of 8.2% on acquisitions.

Heffern added that the vast majority of the first-quarter acquisitions were in Europe, with the region accounting for 95% of the acquisition volumes. The company attributed the opportunity in Europe to improved confidence in the macroeconomic outlook and motivated sellers. In comparison, higher interest rates and macro uncertainty in the U.S. affected Q1 deal volumes. That said, the company expects the U.S. volumes to pick up in the second half, with a clearer picture of interest rates and the macro outlook.

“We think O has one of the highest-quality net lease portfolios in the space, with an above-average investment grade weighting, a strong industrial portfolio, and a high proportion of tenants with public reporting requirements,” said Heffern.

Heffern ranks No. 505 among more than 8,800 analysts tracked by TipRanks. His ratings have been profitable 48% of the time, with each delivering an average return of 12%. (See Realty Income Stock Buybacks on TipRanks)

 

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